Tag Archives: history

Remembering Christopher Columbus (Observed)

Sebastiano del Piombo (1485-1547)
Public Domain

Today is Columbus Day in the United States.  Celebrating Columbus began in 1792 in New York City and became an annual tradition.  As a result of 11 Italian immigrants being murdered by a mob in New Orleans in 1892, President Benjamin Harrison declared Columbus Day as a one-time national celebration. This was also part of a wider effort to ease tensions and to placate Italian Americans and Italy, which had expressed official dismay at the murders. Italian Americans began using Columbus Day to not only celebrate Columbus but their heritage as well. Serious lobbying was undertaken to enshrine the holiday in states and ultimately the federal government. Colorado proclaimed it a holiday in 1905 and made it an official holiday in 1907. In 1934 after lobbying from the Knights of Columbus and New York City Italian leader Generoso Pope, Congress passed a statute requiring the president to proclaim October 12 as Columbus Day each year and asked Americans to observe it with “appropriated ceremonies” in schools, churches, and other places. However, it was a not yet a federal holiday. The effort to make it a federal holiday began in 1966 when the National Columbus Day Committee lobbied to make it a federal holiday. This was achieved in 1968 and has been a federal holiday since then. Like most federal holidays, it is often celebrated on a Monday of the week the date it falls on. The exception being if falls on a Saturday, it would be celebrated on Friday. Columbus is recognized for his discovery of the New World. He, like many, were eager to discover the riches of Cathay, India, and Japan. Since the Ottoman Empire closed off using Egypt and the Red Sea to Europeans (land routes were closed as well), European explorers were eager to find a sea route. Columbus (and he was not the only one) held the belief that by sailing west they would be able to get to the Indies. While many educated Europeans (like Columbus) believed the Earth was round, they had no concept of how it big it really was. Thus, they thought East Asia was closer than it was. After securing financing from the Spanish monarchy, Columbus set sail on 3 August 1492 with three ships-Santa Maria, the Pinta and the Nina–from Palos, Spain. On 12 October 1492 land was sighted. They would find Cuba later and Columbus thought it was Japan. They landed on Hispaniola in December and left a small colony behind. Returning to Spain in 1493, he was received with high honors by the Spanish court. Columbus would lead four expeditions to the New World exploring the Caribbean, the Gulf of Mexico, and South and Central American mainland. His original goal of finding a western ocean route to Asia was never accomplished. And he likely never truly understood the full scope of what he had accomplished. The New World–North America, the Caribbean, Central and South America–would open new opportunities for exploration and wealth. Spain would become one of the wealthiest and powerful nations on Earth as a result. Sea travel of great distances in the 15th century was quite a challenge, fraught with all kinds of uncertainty and dangers. They had to depend on the wind, current and favorable weather, and the stars. The sextant had not been invented yet, so they used a procedure called Dead Reckoning. This required the use of simple arithmetic and process to determine their location. A long rope was used, a piece of wood, an hourglass, and a compass. The navigator would record in a log book the daily speed and direction. The rope was knotted every four to six feet along its length. Arithmetic tells us that distance traveled in a single direction can be measured by multiplying the speed with the time. You might have done some of this in grade school. A car traveling at 30 miles per hour for two hours would travel 60 miles (speed x 2). A navigator would log the speed, direction, and time in the log. In this way they could measure the distance traveled to and from where they departed from. Changes in wind speed and other things would be recorded as well. Columbus used his own version, gained from experience sailing, of determining the speed and direction to enter in his log. He could feel the keel moving through the water and with his sense of the wind, knew what the speed of his ship was. It was a remarkable and historic undertaking. Long sea voyages were often avoided because you were away for years at a time and dependent a great deal on nature to survive. And there was the terrible specter of scurvy. Many would die on long sea voyages from this scourge, which came from the lack of vitamin c in the diet. Fresh water in kegs often wet bad after a month, so beer and spirits (often rum), was where you got water from. Fruits and vegetables would only last so long, and meat had to be cured for long term use. So food was rationed carefully. Later when it was realized that having citrus would alleviate this condition, sailors would get lime or lemon juice as part of their daily food ration. It became so common on British Royal Navy ships the sailors were called Limeys. Italians and Spanish are rightly proud of his accomplishment. Others had touched upon America (the Vikings for one) prior to Columbus but none had opened the door as he did to a new part of the world that had been undiscovered. Like all our accomplished heroes of the past, he had his faults. In fact, not one hero you can point to doesn’t have faults. The ancient Greeks knew this and what defined a hero was someone who rose above them to do something extraordinary. The Greek hero Heracles (Hercules in Latin) had all kinds of faults but did things that rose above them. Columbus should be remembered for the courage, bravery, and fortitude to sail over the horizon to see what lay beyond. It would change the world and end the Venetian and Ottoman control of trade to the East forever. Columbus died on 20 May 1506. Gout was considered the cause of his death, but doctors today believe it was reactive arthritis. For information about Christopher Columbus, here are some sources online to view: Britannica Online History.com

 

 

Battle of Lake Erie (10 Sept 1813)

Battle of Lake Erie by William Henry Powell (1823–1879)
U.S. Senate Art Collection, U.S. Capitol, Washington D.C.
Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

Battle of Lake Erie (10 September 1813)

 During the War of 1812, control over Lake Erie and the Northwest were crucial to both the British and the United States. The War of 1812 between the British and the United States resulted from simmering tensions between the two since the end of the American War of Independence. Though long over by this time, tensions existed between the two.  The British had attempted to restrict U.S. trade. During the Napoleonic Wars, the U.S. was neutral, but the British were not happy with American merchant ships supplying the French with supplies. Another issue was the forced impressment of American seamen. To fill out their crews, the British Royal Navy would stop merchant ships and take some of their crews forcing them into Royal Navy service. Additionally, tension over the U.S. desire to expand its territory led to clashes with the British as well.

These and other things led President James Madison to declare war on Great Britain on 18 June 1812. While it passed Congress (barely), it was not popular in New England since they heavily relied on trade. Western and Southern states generally supported the war. However, the realities of war would soon set in. The attempt to take Canada was a failure and resulted in a humiliating defeat on 16 August 1812 with Detroit being surrendered without firing a shot. The American Navy was aided early on with the fact the British were also fighting Napoleon so not all their ships were committed. One notable naval battle was at Lake Michigan in 1813. At stake in this battle was control of Detroit, Lake Erie, and nearby territories the U.S had claims on.

The American naval forces were led by Captain Oliver Hazard Perry, who had nine ships. The British had six warships led by Commander Robert Heriot Barclay. Barclay was an experienced naval officer who had served under Nelson at Trafalgar. The British were armed with long gun cannons that gave them a range of about a full mile, while the Americans used carronades that had half the range of the British cannons. This meant that Perry would inflict a lot of damage but at closer range. At first the wind was against Perry in the morning and then shifted giving him an advantage. He would raise a famous navy-blue banner written with the words “DON’T GIVE UP THE SHIP” as the slogan to rally his officers.

The ensuing battle would last for hours, and Perry would lose his flagship Lawrence. He transferred his flag over to the Niagara and then sailed straight into the British line firing broadsides that ultimately gave him the win when they surrendered. Perry lost 27 sailors and 96 wounded, while the British lost 40 dead and left with 94 wounded. Perry sent a famous dispatch to U.S. General William Henry Harrison that said, “We have met the enemy, and they are ours.” The British were forced to abandon Detroit after the Battle of the Thames resulting in American control of the area.

Aftermath

The victory was an important one when many battles had gone against the United States. The Royal Navy was still fighting Napoleon so not of its navy was committed to North America. This would change in April 1814 when Napoleon was defeated. With both ships and troops now freed up, they raided Chesapeake Bay and moved on the capital of Washington D.C. burning it and other government buildings to the ground on 24 August 1814.

On 11 September 1814, the American navy defeated the British fleet at the Battle of Plattsburgh at Lake Champlain, New York. A furious battle at Fort McHenry in Baltimore took place on 13 September 1814 and withstood 25 hours of bombardment by the British navy. After the bombardment had ended, the Americans raised a large flag over the fort to show they had survived the bombardment. Seeing the flag being raised inspired Francis Scott Key to write a poem that later would be set to music called “Star Spangled Banner.” British forces withdrew and prepared to act against New Orleans. Negotiations for a peace settlement were undertaken not long after in Ghent (modern day Belgium). The resulting Treaty of Ghent would abolish the taking of American sailors from merchant ships for British naval service, solidify the borders of Canada as we know them today, and end British attempts to create an Indian state in the Northwest. The treaty was signed on Christmas Eve, 1814. Formal ratification would be in February 1815.

It was during this time that the famous Battle of New Orleans would occur. On 8 January 1815, British forces (unaware of the peace deal yet due to slow communications of the time) launched a major attack on New Orleans. General Andrew Jackson led the Americans in this famous battle and defeated the British soundly. News of the battle was another boost to American morale and likely convinced the British that they were right to get out of this war as well. For Canadians and Native Americans, it ended their attempt to govern themselves. For Americans, it ushered in a new time of good feelings ending the partisan divisions that had grown since the Revolutionary War. National self-confidence would ensue and a growing spirit of expansionism that would shape the rest of the 19th century. The country resulting from it would be comprised of states and territories that went from New York on the Atlantic Ocean to San Francisco on the Pacific making it one of the largest countries in the world.

Sources:

Gold! (16 Aug 1896)

Seattle Post Intelligencer Announcing Arrival of Yukon Gold, 17 Jul 1897
Seattle Post Intelligencer
Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

The Klondike Gold Rush would begin when George Carmack, fishing for salmon in the Klondike River in Canada, would spot gold nuggets in the creek bed. This would lead to the last gold rush of the American West. While stories differ as to whether he or his other two companions actually spotted the gold nuggets, word of the gold strike spread across Canada and United States. Carmack and his companions staked a claim to the creek bed thick with gold. Over 50,000 would rush to the area to mine for gold. “Klondike Fever” ran high in both countries.

The fever reached its highest pitch in mid-July 1897 when two steamships from the Yukon arrived in San Francisco and Seattle bringing two tons of gold with them. This would spark the imagination of many to head north to strike it rich. A mine-fitter industry boomed selling what was called “Yukon kits” to these prospectors. These contained food, clothing and tools for the Yukon bound miner. Few, however, would strike it rich. The famous novelist Jack London, a young man at the time, found nothing but wrote short stories later of his Klondike experience. Many found when they got to the Yukon that the most promising areas had already been claimed by earlier prospectors.

Carmack would become rich and had over a $1 million worth of gold when he left. Many would sell their profitable stakes to mining outfits or organize themselves into their own mining companies. The gold fever would fade but the large scale gold mining in the Yukon would continue until 1966. By that time some $250 million in gold had been taken out of the Yukon Territory. Small gold mines still operate in the region.

Sources

History Channel (www.history.com):

National Park Service (www.nps.gov)

Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org)

YouTube:

The Klondike Gold Rush


Remembering the 1932 Flight of Amelia Earhart

Amelia Earhart circa 1928 Public Domain (U.S. Library of Congress digital ID# cph.3a22092)
Amelia Earhart circa 1928
Public Domain (U.S. Library of Congress digital ID# cph.3a22092)

On 20 May 1932, five years after Charles Lindbergh made his famous solo nonstop flight from the U.S. to France, Amelia Earhart set out to be the first female aviator to accomplish the same feat. Unlike Lindbergh, Earhart was already well known before this flight. She gained fame in 1928 as part of a three person crew to be the first woman to cross the Atlantic in an airplane. On that trip, she kept the plane’s log.

Early on 20 May 1932, her Lockheed Vega 5B took off from Harbour Grace, Newfoundland. She intended to replicate Lindbergh’s flight but encountered strong northerly winds, mechanical problems, and icy conditions. Instead of landing in France, she landed in a pasture at Culmore(north of Derry)in Northern Ireland. When asked by a farmhand how far she had flown, she famously said “From America.” Her feat received international acclaim. She received the Distinguished Flying Cross in the U.S., Cross of Honor of the Legion of Honor from France, and the Gold Medal from the National Geographic Society. Her fame allowed her develop friendships with many important and influential people such as First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt.

Earhart would continue to make solo flights and set records. Sadly her next most famous mission would forever be shrouded in mystery. In 1937 she attempted–along with copilot Frederick Noonan–to fly around the world. On 2 Jul 1937, her plane disappeared near Howland Island in the South Pacific. Despite extensive searching by the U.S.Navy and Coast Guard, no trace of the plane or its pilots were ever found. The search was called off on 19 July. Earhart was declared legally dead on 5 Jul 1939 so that her estate could pay bills. Since then numerous theories as to what happened have been put forth. Many believe her plane either crashed and sank or that they landed on an island and perished awaiting rescue. Some intriquing evidence recovered in 2012 off Nikumaroro might be from their plane which supports the crash and sank hypothesis. More speculative theories have her being a spy for FDR or being captured and executed (along with Noonan)by the Japanese on Saipan (the area checked for the pilots bodies revealed nothing). A 1970 book claiming she had survived, moved to New Jersey, and changed her name to Irene Craigmile Bolam. There really was an Irene Bolam who had been a banker in New York in the 1940’s. She sued the publisher and obtained an out-of-court settlement. The book was taken off the market. National Geographic throughly debunked it in 2006 on Undiscovered History.


Titanic News: April News Review (March 31-15 April 2022)

This is a curated list of Titanic news for the first part of April 2022.  I will be posting the second half soon.

===
Titanic News-April 2022

March 31-April 15, 2022

*29 Shipwrecks Found Since the Discovery of the Titanic
247wallst.com, 31 Mar 2022

29 Shipwrecks Found Since the Discovery of the Titanic

Finding a shipwreck has been the stuff of fantasy for as long as people have sought opportunities beyond the horizon. There is no shortage of wrecked vessels to find; it’s estimated that there are more than three million undiscovered shipwrecks around the world.

*Molly Brown House Opens New Titanic Exhibit With More Unseen Artifacts
4CBS Denver, 1 April 2022

Molly Brown House Opens New Titanic Exhibit With More Unseen Artifacts

Many of the artifacts are associated with “Unsinkable” Molly Brown, who survived the Titanic’s sinking and is one of the most well-known women in Denver’s history. “Heroine of the Titanic” opened on Friday at the Molly Brown House, 1340 Pennsylvania Street. It will be open for visitation on select days through late September.

*12 Artifacts Brought Up From the ‘Titanic’
Mental Floss, 2 April 2022
https://www.mentalfloss.com/posts/titanic-shipwreck-recovered-artifacts

Since 1987—two years after the Titanic wreck was discovered—seven trips have been made to the ship’s debris field, and more than 5500 artifacts have been salvaged. Here are a few of them.

*Titanic Artifact Goes On Display For The First Time Since 1912
Attractions Magazine, 2 April 2022

Titanic artifact goes on display for the first time since 1912

On April 5, 2022, Titanic Museum Attraction will unveil the charm-like embellishment, which was once attached to Straus’s watch fob chain, to a gathering of select members of the media, Straus’s great-great-grandson David Kurzman, and others, marking the first time the public will see it since 1912.

*Rare Illustrated Brochure Is Set To Sell At Auction For £6,000
Daily Mail, 2 April 2022
https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-10679139/Rare-111-year-old-brochure-Titanic-set-sell-auction-6-000.html

A rare holiday brochure for the Titanic has surfaced 111 years after it was originally produced. The brochure is being sold by a private collector who uncovered it in Northern Ireland several years ago on April 23 and is expected to sell for £6,000.

*Woman Shares Stories of Titanic Passengers for Anniversary of Sinking
Newsweek, 4 April 2022
https://www.newsweek.com/woman-shares-stories-titanic-passengers-anniversary-sinking-viral-tiktok-1694891

A series of videos is gaining traction on TikTok as a woman has decided to share the stories behind various passengers on the Titanic for each day in April—the month the ship sunk over 100 years ago. TikToker @kjdish, whose name is Kaylee Jukich-Fish began the series on April 1 which she calls “Titanic Month” by going through a stack of “boarding passes” from passengers on the ship. The first video has now received over 1 million views in which Jukich-Fish talks about the life of passenger, and survivor, Annie “Nina” Harper.

*The Legend of Jenny, the ‘Titanic’ Cat Said to Have Predicted the Ship’s Fate
Mental Floss, 4 April 2022
https://www.mentalfloss.com/posts/jenny-titanic-cat

Titanic’s resident feline, who joined the ship while it was still in Belfast, didn’t receive the same first-class treatment as the canine passengers that boarded the ocean liner with their owners. Jenny was a ship cat, meaning she was allowed to roam the decks freely and help keep the rat population under control. With no one to smuggle her into a lifeboat—as was the case with two lucky Pomeranians and one Pekingese on board—Jenny’s story likely didn’t have a happy ending. The cat never turned up after the ship sank into the Atlantic, and she was presumed dead.

*Isidor Straus Fob On Display At Pigeon Forge’s Titanic Museum
WVLT8, 5 April 2022
https://www.wvlt.tv/2022/04/05/isidor-straus-fob-display-pigeon-forges-titanic-museum/

The fob, a charm for men’s pocket watches, is on exclusive display for the first time since 1912 at the museum. Isidor Straus wore the fob the night he died during the Titanic’s sinking. Straus’s body was found and the artifact was returned to his family, who has had it for over 100 years.

*Grimm Prospects: Jack Grimm, the Eccentric Billionaire Hell-Bent On Finding the ‘Titanic,’ Bigfoot, and Noah’s Ark
Mental Floss, 5 April 2022
https://www.mentalfloss.com/posts/jack-grimm-explorer-titanic-bigfoot

It was 1980, and Grimm, an oil tycoon, was organizing yet another of his seemingly impossible quests. After searching for the remains of Noah’s Ark, evidence of Bigfoot, and proof of the Abominable Snowman, Grimm had set his sights on finding the wreckage of the Titanic, which had sunk to the depths of the North Atlantic in 1912. No one had located the ship. Grimm believed he could—with the aid of a monkey named Titan.

*Titanic Survivor Molly Brown’s Blanket To Go Under The Hammer
Independent, 6 April 2022
https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/belfast-harland-and-wolff-errol-flynn-new-york-american-b2052008.html

“As part of the sale, Molly’s White Star Line embroidered deck chair blanket, which was in her possession when she was travelling on the Titanic, will be going under the hammer, as will an engraved trinket box that was given to Molly by her husband upon her safe return to New York,” he said. The auction catalogue for the sale, which will take place on April 26 in house and online, is now available to view: www.bloomfieldauctions.co.uk

*Titanic’s 110th Anniversary: One Of Only Six Life Jackets Remaining From Ship To Be Displayed In Belfast Museum
Belfast Telegraph, 7 April 2022
https://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/archive/titanic/titanics-110th-anniversary-one-of-only-six-life-jackets-remaining-from-ship-to-be-displayed-in-belfast-museum-41529595.html

One of only six life jackets remaining from the Titanic has gone on display at the Titanic Belfast museum to commemorate the 110th anniversary of its sinking. This is the first time the life jacket has been on public display on the island of Ireland and it is free for the public to view in the Grand Atrium of Titanic Belfast until Sunday, April 24.

*110th Anniversary Of Titanic To Take Place In Cobh Over The Weekend
Irish Times, 7 April 2022
https://www.irishtimes.com/news/ireland/irish-news/110th-anniversary-of-titanic-to-take-place-in-cobh-over-the-weekend-1.4847141

The 110th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic with the loss of 1,504 lives will be remembered in Cobh this weekend. Members of the British Titanic Society (BTS) will travel to the Cork Harbour town to lay a wreath at the spot that the White Star liner departed from on her ill-fated maiden voyage. Over 80 members of the British Titanic Society will travel to Cobh for the society’s 2022 convention where they will travel to Roches Point on Friday to lay a wreath at the point from where the liner departed from Ireland en route to New York.

*6 Facts About ‘Titanic’ Survivor Eva Hart, One of the Last to Remember the Disaster
Mental Floss, 8 April 2022
https://www.mentalfloss.com/posts/eva-hart-titanic-survivor-facts-history

Seven-year-old Eva Hart boarded the Titanic with her family on April 10, 1912, not knowing that her life was about to change forever. In her later years, she had the distinction of being one of the last living Titanic survivor with first-hand memories of the disaster. Here are six facts about Eva Hart’s role in history.

*Key Facts On Titanic And Belfast — 110 Years After It Sailed On Its Fateful Transatlantic Voyage
News Letter, 10 April 2022
https://www.newsletter.co.uk/heritage-and-retro/heritage/key-facts-on-titanic-and-belfast-110-years-after-it-sailed-on-its-fateful-transatlantic-voyage-3648285

(The article is fine but they should have edited it more carefully. In some places, time travel took place as dates such as 2011 are used!)

The Titanic link to Belfast has its origins almost half a century earlier, when White Star Line in 1869 chose Harland and Wolff in the city to commence construction of vessels to rival Cunard Line, which was the main shipping service across the Atlantic.

*Remembering Titanic Victim ‘Tom’ Kerley Of Bowerchalke
Salisbury Journal, 10 April 2022
https://www.salisburyjournal.co.uk/features/journalfeatures/20055511.remembering-titanic-victim-tom-kerley-bowerchalke/

William Thomas Kerley lived at Woodminton Cottages, Bowerchalke and on the release of the Titanic film ‘A Night to Remember’ in 1957, many locals came forward to say they knew “Tom” Kerley. Mr Will Case knew the Kerley family, as did a Mrs Hardiman, of Shaftesbury, who reported in 1957: “The young man Tommy Kerley, as he was called, had two brothers and four or five sisters. The family left Bowerchalke soon after the disaster.”

*Brooch From Titanic With Jack And Rose-Like Love Story Up For Auction
New York Post, 11 April 2022
https://nypost.com/2022/04/11/brooch-dating-back-to-the-titanic-ship-goes-up-for-auction/

Titanic survivor Roberta Maioni was just 20 years old when she found romance with a young gentleman steward aboard the ill-fated voyage. The first-class passenger fell in love with an unnamed crew member, who gifted her a white brooch the night of the ocean liner’s sinking.

*When Did Titanic Sink And How Long Did It Take? A Timeline Of The Disaster
History Extra, 13 April 2022
https://www.historyextra.com/period/edwardian/when-did-titanic-sink-how-long-timeline-disaster/

As day turned to night on 14 April 1912, little did passengers and crew on board Titanic know of the horrors that lay ahead. Nige Tassell tracks a timeline of how the disaster unfolded…

*Divine Mercy And The Sinking Of The Titanic
National Catholic Register, 12 April 2022
https://www.ncregister.com/blog/titanic-and-divine-mercy

Father Byles worked as quickly and as calmly as he could to usher the women and children to the lifeboats. The characteristic of the priest most in evidence, and the one most remarked on later by survivors, was his presence of mind throughout. It was as if this moment was the one for which he had been preparing all his life. Seeing the first batch of women and children safely aboard lifeboats, and declining an offer to join them, he quickly descended once more below decks.

*Titanic Passengers: 8 Stories Of People Who Sailed On The Liner
History Extra, 13 April 2022
https://www.historyextra.com/period/edwardian/titanic-passengers-stories-people-who-sailed-on-board/

Titanic brought people together from all levels of society – from the wealthy to those seeking a new start. From a future Olympian to the architect who went down with his ship, uncover the tales of those who were on board…

*Titanic Shipyard Wins Britain’s First Cruise Ship Contract In 50 YEARS As UK Economy Soars
Express, 13 April 2022
https://www.express.co.uk/news/uk/1595204/Titanic-shipyard-queen-victoria-belfast-cruise-ship-P-O

Harland & Wolff will now undertake works on P&O Cruises’ ship Aurora and Cunard’s Queen Victoria. When the work begins, the Queen Victoria will be the largest cruise ship ever to have dry docked in a UK yard. Prior to the planned work, the last cruise liner built by Britain was the Saga Ruby, built in 1973 in Newcastle upon Tyne.

*Enduring Mystery: Do These Photos Show The Iceberg That Sank The Titanic?
Yahoo, 13 April 2022
https://news.yahoo.com/enduring-mystery-photos-show-iceberg-172036577.html

One such photo showing an iceberg that, experts say, the massive Titanic ocean liner may have likely struck before sinking to the bottom of the Atlantic, is the first one believed to be taken by a passenger on the S.S. Carpathia, a passenger ship re-routed to help to the sinking Titanic.

*The Titanic Sank 110 Years Ago. An Indy Newspaper Got The Story Very Wrong.
IndyStar, 15 April 2022
https://www.indystar.com/story/news/history/retroindy/2022/04/15/titanic-anniversary-indianapolis-star-newspapers-covered-tragedy/7008835001/

By now, we all know this story. One hundred and ten years ago, during her maiden voyage, the RMS Titanic — then the world’s most luxurious liner, deemed “unsinkable” because of her state-of-the-art safety features — struck an iceberg in the north Atlantic Ocean and sank, killing 1,500 passengers. Although, for Indianapolis residents in 1912, that kind of depended on where you got your news.

Remembering Christopher Columbus

Sebastiano del Piombo (1485-1547)
Public Domain

Today is Columbus Day in the United States.  Celebrating Columbus began in 1792 in New York City and became an annual tradition.  As a result of 11 Italian immigrants being murdered by a mob in New Orleans in 1892, President Benjamin Harrison declared Columbus Day as a one-time national celebration. This was also part of a wider effort to ease tensions and to placate Italian Americans and Italy, which had expressed official dismay at the murders. Italian Americans began using Columbus Day to not only celebrate Columbus but their heritage as well.

Serious lobbying was undertaken to enshrine the holiday in states and ultimately the federal government. Colorado proclaimed it a holiday in 1905 and made it an official holiday in 1907. In 1934 after lobbying from the Knights of Columbus and New York City Italian leader Generoso Pope, Congress passed a statute requiring the president to proclaim October 12 as Columbus Day each year and asked Americans to observe it with “appropriated ceremonies” in schools, churches, and other places. However, it was a not yet a federal holiday. The effort to make it a federal holiday began in 1966 when the National Columbus Day Committee lobbied to make it a federal holiday. This was achieved in 1968 and has been a federal holiday since then.

Like most federal holidays, it is often celebrated on a Monday of the week the date it falls on. The exception being if falls on a Saturday, it would be celebrated on Friday.

Columbus is recognized for his discovery of the New World. He, like many, were eager to discover the riches of Cathay, India, and Japan. Since the Ottoman Empire closed off using Egypt and the Red Sea to Europeans (land routes were closed as well), European explorers were eager to find a sea route. Columbus (and he was not the only one) held the belief that by sailing west they would be able to get to the Indies. While many educated Europeans (like Columbus) believed the Earth was round, they had no concept of how it big it really was. Thus, they thought East Asia was closer than it was.

After securing financing from the Spanish monarchy, Columbus set sail on 3 August 1492 with three ships-Santa Maria, the Pinta and the Nina–from Palos, Spain. On 12 October 1492 land was sighted. They would find Cuba later and Columbus thought it was Japan. They landed on Hispaniola in December and left a small colony behind. Returning to Spain in 1493, he was received with high honors by the Spanish court.

Columbus would lead four expeditions to the New World exploring the Caribbean, the Gulf of Mexico, and South and Central American mainland. His original goal of finding a western ocean route to Asia was never accomplished. And he likely never truly understood the full scope of what he had accomplished. The New World–North America, the Caribbean, Central and South America–would open new opportunities for exploration and wealth. Spain would become one of the wealthiest and powerful nations on Earth as a result.

Sea travel of great distances in the 15th century was quite a challenge, fraught with all kinds of uncertainty and dangers. They had to depend on the wind, current and favorable weather, and the stars. The sextant had not been invented yet, so they used a procedure called Dead Reckoning. This required the use of simple arithmetic and process to determine their location. A long rope was used, a piece of wood, an hourglass, and a compass. The navigator would record in a log book the daily speed and direction. The rope was knotted every four to six feet along its length. Arithmetic tells us that distance traveled in a single direction can be measured by multiplying the speed with the time. You might have done some of this in grade school. A car traveling at 30 miles per hour for two hours would travel 60 miles (speed x 2). A navigator would log the speed, direction, and time in the log. In this way they could measure the distance traveled to and from where they departed from. Changes in wind speed and other things would be recorded as well. Columbus used his own version, gained from experience sailing, of determining the speed and direction to enter in his log. He could feel the keel moving through the water and with his sense of the wind, knew what the speed of his ship was.

It was a remarkable and historic undertaking. Long sea voyages were often avoided because you were away for years at a time and dependent a great deal on nature to survive. And there was the terrible specter of scurvy. Many would die on long sea voyages from this scourge, which came from the lack of vitamin c in the diet. Fresh water in kegs often wet bad after a month, so beer and spirits (often rum), was where you got water from. Fruits and vegetables would only last so long, and meat had to be cured for long term use. So food was rationed carefully. Later when it was realized that having citrus would alleviate this condition, sailors would get lime or lemon juice as part of their daily food ration. It became so common on British Royal Navy ships the sailors were called Limeys.

Italians and Spanish are rightly proud of his accomplishment. Others had touched upon America (the Vikings for one) prior to Columbus but none had opened the door as he did to a new part of the world that had been undiscovered. Like all our accomplished heroes of the past, he had his faults. In fact, not one hero you can point to doesn’t have faults. The ancient Greeks knew this and what defined a hero was someone who rose above them to do something extraordinary. The Greek hero Heracles (Hercules in Latin) had all kinds of faults but did things that rose above them. Columbus should be remembered for the courage, bravery, and fortitude to sail over the horizon to see what lay beyond. It would change the world and end the Venetian and Ottoman control of trade to the East forever. Columbus died on 20 May 1506. Gout was considered the cause of his death, but doctors today believe it was reactive arthritis.

For information about Christopher Columbus, here are some sources online to view:
Britannica Online
History.com

 

 

Battle of Lake Erie (10 Sept 1813)

Battle of Lake Erie by William Henry Powell (1823–1879)
U.S. Senate Art Collection, U.S. Capitol, Washington D.C.
Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

Battle of Lake Erie (10 September 1813)

 During the War of 1812, control over Lake Erie and the Northwest were crucial to both the British and the United States. The War of 1812 between the British and the United States resulted from simmering tensions between the two since the end of the American War of Independence. Though long over by this time, tensions existed between the two.  The British had attempted to restrict U.S. trade. During the Napoleonic Wars, the U.S. was neutral, but the British were not happy with American merchant ships supplying the French with supplies. Another issue was the forced impressment of American seamen. To fill out their crews, the British Royal Navy would stop merchant ships and take some of their crews forcing them into Royal Navy service. Additionally, tension over the U.S. desire to expand its territory led to clashes with the British as well.

These and other things led President James Madison to declare war on Great Britain on 18 June 1812. While it passed Congress (barely), it was not popular in New England since they heavily relied on trade. Western and Southern states generally supported the war. However, the realities of war would soon set in. The attempt to take Canada was a failure and resulted in a humiliating defeat on 16 August 1812 with Detroit being surrendered without firing a shot. The American Navy was aided early on with the fact the British were also fighting Napoleon so not all their ships were committed. One notable naval battle was at Lake Michigan in 1813. At stake in this battle was control of Detroit, Lake Erie, and nearby territories the U.S had claims on.

The American naval forces were led by Captain Oliver Hazard Perry, who had nine ships. The British had six warships led by Commander Robert Heriot Barclay. Barclay was an experienced naval officer who had served under Nelson at Trafalgar. The British were armed with long gun cannons that gave them a range of about a full mile, while the Americans used carronades that had half the range of the British cannons. This meant that Perry would inflict a lot of damage but at closer range. At first the wind was against Perry in the morning and then shifted giving him an advantage. He would raise a famous navy-blue banner written with the words “DON’T GIVE UP THE SHIP” as the slogan to rally his officers.

The ensuing battle would last for hours, and Perry would lose his flagship Lawrence. He transferred his flag over to the Niagara and then sailed straight into the British line firing broadsides that ultimately gave him the win when they surrendered. Perry lost 27 sailors and 96 wounded, while the British lost 40 dead and left with 94 wounded. Perry sent a famous dispatch to U.S. General William Henry Harrison that said, “We have met the enemy, and they are ours.” The British were forced to abandon Detroit after the Battle of the Thames resulting in American control of the area.

Aftermath

The victory was an important one when many battles had gone against the United States. The Royal Navy was still fighting Napoleon so not of its navy was committed to North America. This would change in April 1814 when Napoleon was defeated. With both ships and troops now freed up, they raided Chesapeake Bay and moved on the capital of Washington D.C. burning it and other government buildings to the ground on 24 August 1814.

On 11 September 1814, the American navy defeated the British fleet at the Battle of Plattsburgh at Lake Champlain, New York. A furious battle at Fort McHenry in Baltimore took place on 13 September 1814 and withstood 25 hours of bombardment by the British navy. After the bombardment had ended, the Americans raised a large flag over the fort to show they had survived the bombardment. Seeing the flag being raised inspired Francis Scott Key to write a poem that later would be set to music called “Star Spangled Banner.” British forces withdrew and prepared to act against New Orleans. Negotiations for a peace settlement were undertaken not long after in Ghent (modern day Belgium). The resulting Treaty of Ghent would abolish the taking of American sailors from merchant ships for British naval service, solidify the borders of Canada as we know them today, and end British attempts to create an Indian state in the Northwest. The treaty was signed on Christmas Eve, 1814. Formal ratification would be in February 1815.

It was during this time that the famous Battle of New Orleans would occur. On 8 January 1815, British forces (unaware of the peace deal yet due to slow communications of the time) launched a major attack on New Orleans. General Andrew Jackson led the Americans in this famous battle and defeated the British soundly. News of the battle was another boost to American morale and likely convinced the British that they were right to get out of this war as well. For Canadians and Native Americans, it ended their attempt to govern themselves. For Americans, it ushered in a new time of good feelings ending the partisan divisions that had grown since the Revolutionary War. National self-c0nfidence would ensue and a growing spirit of expansionism that would shape the rest of the 19th century. The country resulting from it would be comprised of states and territories that went from New York on the Atlantic Ocean to San Francisco on the Pacific making it one of the largest countries in the world.

Sources:

Krakatoa Eruption In 1883 Kills Thousands and Heard 3,000 Miles Away (20 May 1889)

The eruption of Krakatoa, and subsequent phenomena. Report of the Krakatoa Committee of the Royal Society (London, Trubner & Co., 1888)
Public Domain

On 20 May 1883, Krakatau(Krakatoa)–a small volcanic island west of Sumatra in Indonesia–came alive with an eruption noticed by a passing German warship. Other eruptions would be noticed by commercial liners and those living on nearby islands for the next two months. Then on 26 Aug an enormous blast took place that destroyed nearly two-thirds of the island. Pyroclastic flows and huge tsunamis would sweep over nearby islands and coastlines. But the worst came the following morning, 27 Aug, at 05:30 am. Four eruptions would took place with the resulting sound heard over 3,000 miles away. Ash was propelled fifty miles into the air and would circulate around the globe creating colorful sunsets but also lowering temperatures worldwide by several degrees.

36,000 deaths resulted from the eruption and 31,000 were from the tsunamis created when much of the island fell into the water. The highest waves were 120 feet high when they washed over neighboring islands stripping them of people and vegetation. Pyroclastic flows that stretched as far as 40 miles claimed about 4,500.

The Krakatau eruption of 1883 is considered one of the most violent volcanic activities in modern times and even recorded history. However volcanic activity continues in that area. In 1927, a submarine lava dome was detected in the area that had been destroyed by the eruption in 1883. A new island volcano began to emerge spewing ash. Other islands also started appearing as well but eroded away by the sea. Ultimately a fourth one appeared in August 1930 and was able to last. It was named Anak Krakatau and continues to grow taller each year. It is an active volcano and seemed similar to Stromboli in its eruptions. However more recent eruptions have resulted in volcanologists to warning people to keep a safe distance away. And more ominous is that a large lava dome is growing in its crater. Signs point to one day a very explosive event occurring at this volcano.

Sources:

 


Remembering History: Napoleon Defeated and Seward’s Folly (March 30)

Napoleon Defeated (30 March 1814)

The Emperor Napoleon in His Study at the Tuileries, 1812
Jacques-Louis David (1748–1825)
Public Domain/Wikimedia Commons

Napoleon Bonaparte, who rose to power during the French Revolution and became emperor of France, was defeated when allied troops entered Paris on 30 March 1814. Since 1803, the Napoleonic War had inflamed Europe. England and other powers had united against France during this period. France had expanded its power into the heart of Europe, Portugal, Spain and the Mediterranean. His failed foray into Russia and his forces being ejected from Portugal and Spain, weakened his once powerful forces allowing for the invasion of France and the taking of Paris.

Why this Is Important

Napoleon was a major figure in European and French history. He reformed the French state after French Revolution, established and streamlined the justice system under the Napoleonic Code, and sought better relations with the Catholic Church. His military tactics (wins and loses) are still studied today in military academies around the world. The Napoleonic Code laid the basis for legal administration in France today and many of its former colonies.

Sources:

Britanica.com
Biography.com
History.com

Seward’s Folly

William H. Seward, Secretary of State 1861-69
Date Unknown
Public Domain/U.S. Library of Congress, digital id cph.3a23003

In a purchase ridiculed at the time, U.S. Secretary of State William Seward purchased Alaska from Russia for $7 million. While it only cost 2 cents an acre, it was widely jeered in the press and politicians alike. It was nicknamed “Seward’s Folly” and other names as well. Russia had tried to sell it to the U.S. prior to the Civil War, but talks stopped when the war began. Seward believed the landmass was important for the country. Others were not so sure and took a lot of convincing to get the Senate to ratify the treaty. The U.S. Senate ratified the treaty on 9 April 1867 and the formal transfer was at Fort Sitka on October 18, 1867.

At first settlement was slow (getting there required taking a ship on the Pacific side and sailing up to a port) but in 1898 gold was discovered causing a rapid influx of prospectors and of course businesses to support them. Other resources were found in due course allowing Alaska to grow into a prosperous territory (albeit a cold one). Alaska would become the 49thstate when it was admitted to the union on 3 January 1959. The folly turned out to be golden instead.

Why this is Important
The purchase of Alaska expanded the territory of the United States substantially. The West Coast borders of the country were now forming up. California and Oregon were now states and Washington would soon follow in 1889. The rich resources of Alaska would also contribute as well. By the end of the 19th century, the United States had grown across a continent with cities and settlements on each end and within it.

Sources:

American.historama.org
History.com
Wikipedia


Remembering History: Alexander Graham Bell Patents Telephone

The old reliable rotary dial phone. The basic rotary dial had different looks but remained the same until the 1980’s when touch tone replaced it. A remarkably simple device that needed no batteries or internet connection.
Photo: R Sull (Wikimedia Commons)

It is hard to remember a time without telephones. Important messages and correspondence was limited by foot, horse and sail. Mail sent overseas could take, depending on the distance involved, weeks or months (and even longer when you depended on wind to power your sails). When the railroad arrived, mail could be loaded onto trains but still had to be delivered at the end. The telegraph had speeded things up enormously. Messages could be sent fast from point to point but it had its limitations as well. It required hand delivery of messages from the telegraph to its recipients. Enter Alexander Graham Bell and his invention called an harmonic telegraph that would combine the telegraph and a record player so that people could speak with each other over long distances.

On 7 March 1876, his patent for this device was registered. He had begun work on the device in 1871 and was able to get investors to back his idea. By 1875 with the help of his partner Thomas Watson, he had come up with a simple receiver that could turn electricity into sound. Two other scientists, Antonio Meucci and Elisha Gray, were working on similar technologies as well.The prototype that he and Watson developed allowed sound waves to create an electric current causing a soft thin iron plate (called the diaphragm) to vibrate. It was these vibrations when transferred magnetically to another wire connected to another diaphragm in another distant instrument that would replicate the original sound. A few days after the patent was filed, Bell called his assistant and uttered the now famous “Mr Watson, come here, I need you.”

Aftermath

The Bell Telephone Company was founded in 1877 (now AT&T) to market the new product. The first telephone line from Boston to Somerville, Massachusetts was completed in 1877 and by 1880 there was an estimated 49,000 telephones in the United States. It would spread to major East coast cities and by 1915 transcontinental service had begun. Bell Telephone grew quickly and bought out competitors or merged with them to form American Telephone and Telegraphy Company. Since they held the patent on this technology, they had a monopoly on the industry. And one they would not give up until a 1984 settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice requiring them to end control over state markets.

Litigation by those who claimed to have invented the telephone before Bell would last for over 20 years. At one point there was an attempt by the U.S. government to withdraw the patent over the numerous claims in 1887. However the Supreme Court ruled in 1897 that the U.S. government lacked standing. Simply put the patent had been duly registered as required by law with the Patent Office. In order cancel a patent, it must show that the patent had been fraudulently obtained requiring such fraud to be proved by testimony. Since the case lacked that determination, the Supreme Court told the government you have no standing to cancel a patent. 

The telephone system that was created resulted in major changes, large and small. It was easy in many places to now call for a doctor, the police, or fire department. Likewise other important business and government information could be done by phone rather than by sending a messenger or a telegraph. Speaking long distance was possible as well instead of telegraph. And dialing O for the operator meant a live human person would respond to assist.

Telephone technology would continually change over time. Calling long distance sometimes took a while depending on where you were located in earlier times (direct dialing was not yet possible due to many local exchanges, so the local exchange would set up the long distance call with other exchanges and that would take sometime to do that). In some rural locales, you had party lines where everyone was on the same line. So when you picked up the phone, you might find someone already talking! Dialing a number meant just that, you dialed a number on the old rotary phone. Speed dialing was not really possible except by mechanical means.

When touch-tone came into being, it made dialing a whole lot faster and easier. Phones changed as well from the old standard wall and desk types to more functional and even stylish types. And technology changed how phone calls were made too. Direct dialing ended the need for having to go through local exchanges for long distance calls. Now you just dialed an area code and the local number to speak with your favorite relative who lived far away. And as predicted by some futuristic science fiction, we now have wireless phones these days without the need of a phone line. Bell’s invention has certainly had an impact on us all. We cannot imagine a world without a phone.

Sources

History.com:
Alexander Graham Bell
Samuel Morse
This Day in History

Thought.co
Supreme.Justia.com