November 20, 1984 The Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence

“The feeling is constantly growing on me, that I had been the first to hear the greeting of one planet to another.” Nikola Tesla, 1901

In the 5th century BC, the Greek philosopher Democritus taught that the world was made of atoms. Physically indestructible and always in motion, these atoms are infinite in number, differing only in shape and size. Democritus taught that everything around us is the result of physical laws without reason or purpose, the only question to be answered, “What circumstances caused this event?

Philosophers like Aristotle and Socrates took a less mechanistic approach, asking “What purpose did this event serve?” Plato disliked Democritus so much that he wanted to burn all his books.

The prevailing view throughout antiquity was that our planet is special.  That we are alone in the cosmos. Democritus believed there were infinite numbers of worlds such as our own, with inhabitants like ourselves.

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The 13th-century Paisley Abbey in Scotland, had its deteriorating gargoyles refurbished in the 1990s. One of their stonemasons was clearly, an Alien fan

In the time of Copernicus, it was widely believed that there was life on other planets. Astronomers saw several features of the moon as evidence, if not of life, then at least that intelligent life had once paid a visit.

Interest in Mars began to develop in the 1870s, when the Italian astronomer Giovanni Virginio Schiaparelli described physical features of the red planet as “canali”. The word means “channels” in Italian, but it was mis-translated as “canals”. The English speaking world was off to the races.

Speculation and folklore about intelligent life on Mars was soon replaced by the popular near-certainty, that canals were excavated by Martians.

The idea was near-universal by the turn of the century.  In 1900, the French Academy of Science offered a prize of 100,000 francs to the first person to make contact with an alien civilization. Provided that it was anything but Martian. That would have been too easy.

In 1901, Nikola Tesla believed he had picked up electrical disturbances “with such a clear suggestion of number and order”, they could only be signals from Mars. “The feeling is constantly growing on me,” Tesla said, “that I had been the first to hear the greeting of one planet to another. A purpose was behind these electrical signals.”

Guglielmo Marconi said essentially the same in 1919, commenting about “queer sounds and indications, which might come from somewhere outside the earth.”

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In 1924, the idea was put to the test. American astronomer David Peck Todd believed that martians might well attempt to communicate on the day the two bodies were in closest proximity on August 21, 1924.  The date became “National Radio Silence Day”. Americans were urged to observe “radio silence” for the first five minutes of every hour, while a radio receiver at the U.S. Naval Observatory, two miles aloft on board a dirigible, listened for the signal that never came.

The British author H. G. Wells wrote the War of the Worlds in 1897, telling the story of an alien earth invasion by Martians fleeing the desiccation of their own planet. The story was adapted to a radio drama broadcast on Halloween, 1938, a production so realistic that many listeners sued the network for “mental anguish” and “personal injury”.

The idea of life on Mars persisted until the 1960s, when close observations of the Martian surface were made possible by the Mariner series of spacecraft.

SETI_Logotype_RGB_reduced_resWhile much of “mainstream” science seems to steer clear of the subject, the University of California at Berkeley jumped in with both feet on this day in 1984, founding the SETI Institute for the “sharing [of] knowledge as scientific ambassadors to the public, the press, and the government”.

The Berkeley SETI Research Center conducts a number of search operations at various wavelengths from radio through infrared spectrum and visible light, including:

SERENDIP: Search for Extraterrestrial Radio Emissions from Nearby Developed Intelligent Populations
SEVENDIP: Search for Extraterrestrial Visible Emissions from Nearby Developed Intelligent Populations
NIROSETI: Near-InfraRed Optical Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence
Breakthrough Listen:  Launched with $100 million in funding in 2016, it is “the most comprehensive search for alien communications to date.”
SETI@home:  A “scientific experiment that uses Internet-connected computers in the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence.”

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The Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope (GBT) in Green Bank, West Virginia is only one such installation put to use for project Breakthrough Listen, begun in 2016 as “the most comprehensive search for alien communications to date.”

Launched on May 17, 1999 with a worldwide objective of 50,000-100,000 home computers, to date more than 5.2 million SETI@home users have logged over two million years of aggregate computing time. Since the introduction of the Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing, or “BOINC” (I didn’t make that up), SETI@home users can even compete with one another, to see who can process the most “work units”.

You, too can participate at http://setiathome.berkeley.edu/, on your Windows, Apple or Network PC, or your Sony PlayStation 3.  Don’t try it at work though, an act known as “Borging”.   You might not be “assimilated”, but you will get fired.

Let me know if you make contact.

SETI-at-HOME-SETI@HOME

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November 19, 1864 Lincoln’s Avenger

Women’s groups, tent meetings and Sunday schools clamored to hear from “Lincoln’s avenger”, but his speeches were wandering and incoherent.  Nobody ever clamored to hear the man speak, a second time.  

Thomas Corbett was born in London England in 1832, immigrating with his family to the United States at age 7, and settling in Troy, New York.  There he apprenticed to a hat maker, a profession he would hold off and on for the rest of his life.

19th century hat makers used an orange colored mercury solution to treat fur, and to make felt in a process called “carroting”.  Mercury attacks the nervous system, causing drooling, hair loss, a lurching gait, difficulty in speaking, “brain fog” and a convulsive shaking called “hatter’s shakes”.

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Felt hat

There were plenty of “Mad hatters,” in Lewis Carroll’s time, long before Alice’s Wonderland.  Danbury Connecticut was once the hat making capital of the world, with 56 factories producing five million hats a year.  By the time of the Civil War, mercury poisoning had reduced countless numbers of factory workers, to physical wrecks.  Everybody knew the “Danbury shakes”.

Erethism mercurialis or “Mad hatter’s Disease”, goes a long way to understanding Thomas Corbett.

As a young man, Corbett married.  It nearly broke him to lose his young wife in childbirth.  He moved to Boston and continued to work as a hatter, but heavy drinking left him unable to keep a job for long and eventually, homeless.  One night, Corbett was confronted by a street preacher, who changed his life.

He immediately quit drinking and became fanatically, religious.  He was “the Glory to God man,” growing his hair long to emulate Jesus.  The “local eccentric’ who took up his own street ministry and changed his name to “Boston” after the city of his re-birth.

“God has called on you to preach, my son, about four blocks, that way”.

Corbett was propositioned by two prostitutes in 1858, while walking home from a church meeting. Deeply troubled by his own temptation, he returned to his boardinghouse room and took up the Gospel, according to Matthew: “And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out and cast it from thee….and there be eunuchs, which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake“.  He knew what he needed to do.  He castrated himself, with a pair of scissors.  Then he ate dinner and went to a prayer meeting before seeking medical attention.

boston-c-300x208In the first months of the Civil War, Boston Corbett enlisted as a private in the 12th Regiment of the New York state militia. Eccentric behavior quickly got him into trouble. He would carry a bible with him at all times, reading passages aloud and holding unauthorized prayer meetings.  He would argue with superior officers, once reprimanding Colonel Daniel Butterfield for using profane language and using the Lord’s name, in vain. That got him a stay in the guardhouse, where he continued to argue.

Corbett decided an arbitrary date, on which his enlistment would end.  When that day arrived, he laid down his gun at midnight, and walked away.  That got him court-martialled and sentenced to be shot, but the sentence was reduced. He was discharged in August, 1863, and re-enlisted the same month.

Harper’s Weekly of May 13, 1865 described the annoying habit of adding “er” to his words, as in “O Lord-er, hear-er our prayerer.” His shrill, sharp voice would shout out “Amen,” and “Glory to God,” whenever anything pleased him. He was often thrown in the guard-house, with a knapsack full of bricks as punishment. There he would be, Testament in hand, “preaching temperance, and calling upon his wild companions to “seek the Lord.””

Boston CorbettOn June 24, 1864, fifteen members of Corbett’s company were hemmed in and captured, by Confederate Colonel John Singleton Mosby’s men in Culpeper Virginia.

They were sent to the notorious prison camp in Andersonville Georgia, where he escaped once, but the bloodhounds put an end to that.  Only two, ever returned.  Starved and skeletal, his body wracked with scurvy, Boston Corbett was paroled on November 19, 1864.

Following the Lincoln assassination, a twelve-day manhunt led to the farm of Richard Henry Garrett near Port Royal, Virginia. The life of John Wilkes Booth came to an end in a burning tobacco barn in the pre-dawn hours of April 26, the bullet fired through a crack in the boards and entering his spine, just below the point where his own bullet had entered the President’s head.

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Thomas “Boston” Corbett

The paralyzed, dying man was dragged from the barn, and onto the porch of the Garrett farmhouse. In his dying moments he asked that his hands be lifted where he could see them.  John Wilkes Booth uttered his last words. “Useless. Useless”.

In his report to Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, Lieutenant Colonel Everton Conger recommended that Sergeant Boston Corbett be punished for disobeying orders that Booth be taken alive, stating that Corbett had fired “without order, pretext or excuse.”

Corbett was treated like a conquering hero, despite Conger’s recommendation.  He returned to making hats after the war, returning first to Boston and then to Danbury and finally, Camden New Jersey.  He could never hold a job for long.  Frequent pauses to pray for co-workers, did little to endear him to supervisors.

Women’s groups, tent meetings and Sunday schools clamored to hear from “Lincoln’s avenger”, but his speeches were wandering and incoherent.  Nobody ever clamored to hear the man speak, a second time.

Corbett became increasingly paranoid over time, convinced that important men in Washington, were out to “get him”.  Hate mail directed to Wilkes Booth’s killer, didn’t help.  At a Blue & Gray reunion in 1878, Corbett pulled a gun on several former soldiers, during an argument over whether Booth still lived.  He was hustled off before he could fire, but this was only one of several such episodes.

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Example of a dugout house, this one in New Mexico

He moved to Kansas in 1878 and built a dugout home, and tried his hand at homesteading.  That didn’t work out, either.

Corbett received an invalid’s pension in 1880 and the Grand Army of the Republic made him a doorman to the Kansas state legislature, seven years later.  The man’s mental status was questionable before the war and put beyond dispute in 1887, when he entered the legislative chamber, with two loaded revolvers.  Lawmakers dove for the exits and hid behind garbage cans and doors, as Corbett shot up the Kansas House of Representatives.  Two guns, twelve bullets.  It was a miracle that no one was hit.

The following day, a judge declared Corbett to be out of his mind, and remanded him to the Topeka Asylum for the Insane.  On May 26, 1888, Corbett was marching along a road with other inmates, when he spotted a horse, tied to a post.  Corbett dashed from the line and jumped into the saddle, and rode off into history.

Boston Corbett is believed to have died in the Great Hinckley Fire on September 1, 1894, a conflagration which killed more than 400 and destroyed over 200,000 acres of Minnesota pine forest, but there is no proof.  The fate of the man who shot the man who shot Abraham Lincoln, remains unknown.

If you enjoyed this “Today in History”, please feel free to re-blog, “like” & share on social media, so that others may find and enjoy it as well. Please click the “follow” button on the right, to receive email updates on new articles.  Thank you for your interest, in the history we all share.

November 18, 1944 The Cages of Münster

The European Reformation exploded with startling intensity, spawning a “peasant rebellion” in 1524 in which about a third of 300,000 poorly armed farmers, were slaughtered.  There were any number of reformers, few more radical than the baker turned Anabaptist prophet, Jan Matthias.

A popular legend depicts the Augustinian monk Martin Luther nailing a parchment to the door of the Wittenberg Palace Church in 1517, his “ninety five theses” a direct challenge to the authority of the pope, and the Catholic church. It likely never happened that way. Luther had no intention of confronting the Church. This was a list of topics, an academic work.  Ninety-five propositions framed and submitted for scholarly debate.

Luther enclosed his “ninety five theses” in a letter to the Archbishop of Mainz on October 31, the date now considered to be the beginning of the Protestant Reformation.

Major Christian Denominations

H/T Wikipedia

To the modern reader, theological issues such as the “moral bank account” of saints or the transubstantiation of the body and blood of Christ, may seem mere doctrinal interpretations. In the late middle and early modern ages, such theological issues were matters of life and death.  The Czech theologian Jan Hus was burned at the stake for such heresy, in 1415. The English philosopher John Wycliffe, dead some forty-four years by this time, was dug up and burned, his ashes cast on the waters of the River Swift.

The European Reformation exploded with startling intensity, spawning a “peasant rebellion” in 1524 in which about a third of 300,000 poorly armed farmers, were slaughtered.  There were any number of reformers, few more radical than the baker turned Anabaptist prophet, Jan Matthias.

Münster was a divided city in 1530, made even more so when the evangelical Lutheran minister Bernard Rothmann, began preaching against Catholic doctrine.  Rothmann was tireless, vitriolic, a relentless stream of anti-Catholic invective both from the pulpit, and a series of pamphlets financed and printed by his ally, the wealthy wool merchant Bernard Knipperdolling.

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Alarmed at Rothmann’s growing influence, church authorities banned him from the pulpit.  A mob of supporters stormed St. Lambert’s church in February of 1532, and installed Rothmann as its preacher. Conflict escalated and took the form of armed rebellion that December, between nine-hundred armed townspeople and the highest ranking Church official in town, prince-bishop Franz von Waldeck. This time, the conflict was settled peaceably. Von Waldeck signed a treaty of religious toleration on February 14, 1533, allowing Protestant pastors to preach from the parish churches of Münster.

The next time, would be different.

Word got back to Matthias and his followers, who came to see Münster as the “New Jerusalem”.  Jan Matthias and his Anabaptist followers were radicals even among their fellow “protestants”, and Rothmann was happy to come along.  Theirs was an extreme, radical egalitarian ideology with no use for childhood baptism.  They believed that Jesus Christ would descend to earth that Easter and bring about the End of Time.  The Apocalypse was nigh. All good Christians needed to prepare, and only adult baptism held the key to salvation.

Four years earlier, Holy Roman Emperor Charles V ordered that every Anabaptist he could get hold of “shall be brought from natural life to death with fire, sword, or the like.”  Now Anabaptists poured into Münster, baptizing some 1,400 adults in the first week after their arrival, about 20% of the adult population.

Equal numbers fled the city, and the “share-the-wealth” economic policies that would make the most fervent communist, blush.  Armed city employees warning those who refused adult baptism to flee:  “Get out of here, you godless. God will punish you!

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Matthias demanded the execution of all Catholics and Lutherans, warning that “Everywhere we are surrounded by dogs and sorcerers and whores and killers and the godless and all who love lies and commit them!”  That was a bit too much even for the crazies, so Catholics and moderate Protestants were expelled from the city.  About 2,000 of them, as equal numbers of Anabaptist radicals, poured in from the countryside.

Matthias ordered every contract, account and ledger in town destroyed, in an attempt to abolish all debt.  Rothmann preached from the pulpit of St. Lambert’s “Everything that Christian brothers and sisters have belongs to the one as well as to the other.”

Waldeck looked on with increasing alarm and before long, a mercenary army was assembled outside the city walls of Münster.  The place was now under siege.

Easter Sunday arrived, April 5, 1534, but Jesus, did not. With his apocalyptic prophesy shattered, Matthias claimed to have a new, divine vision. He would ride forth from the city walls, and personally break von Waldeck’s siege of the city. So it was that the Anabaptist prophet saddled up and rode forth with an entourage of twelve, only to be run through with a spear, his head mounted on a spike, for all the town to see.

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Up stepped the dead prophet’s right-hand man, the charismatic twenty-five year old tailor Jan van Leiden, who delivered a speech reinterpreting the day’s events, and postponing doomsday.

Münster became heavily militarized as Waldeck’s besieging force cut off all access to the city.  Jan van Leiden ruled over the city as the new King David, according to his own prophesy.  He seemed to think he had a direct line “upstairs” and could conjure up fresh prophesy at a moment’s notice.  The seventy-five hundred inhabitants of Münster, believed so as well.

The siege dragged on through 1534 and into the following year.  In May 1535, the Anabaptist carpenter Heinrich Gresbeck attempted to escape, only to be caught.  In exchange for his life, Gresbeck agreed to show Waldeck a lightly defended gate.

200px-MuensterHinrichtungTaeuferThe prince-bishop’s forces fought their way through the streets of Münster for hours, killing some 600 Anabaptists before the city surrendered.

Jan van Leiden, his “viceroy” Bernhard Knipperdolling and Anabaptist leader Bernhard Krechting were taken to the public square and physically torn to pieces, with white-hot pliers. Their corpses were placed in cages and hanged from the steeple of St. Lambert’s Church, as a warning to others.

The bones were removed some fifty years later, but not those cages.  The old steeple was torn down and a new one built around 1880, and those three cages, reinstalled.

British bombs hit St. Lambert’s church on November 18, 1944, knocking the highest, van Leiden’s, to the ground. Another fell into the organ loft, leaving the third, hanging only by a thread. The church rebuilt the tower, four years later.  Workers repaired and replaced the cages, commenting favorably on their sturdy construction.

Thirty years ago, St. Lambert’s church installed a small yellow bulb in each of those cages, a small concession “in memory of their departed souls.”  The cages of Münster remain there, to this day.

 

 

 

November 17, 1968 The Heidi Bowl

“Short of pre-empting Heidi for a skin flick, NBC could not have managed to alienate more viewers that evening.”

For a football fan, November 17, 1968 was shaping up to be one hell of a game.  The second-best team in the world Oakland Raiders if the results of Super Bowl II were any indication, against the future American Football League champion and Super Bowl III winner, New York Jets.

raiders-jets-heidi-bowlNBC executives, were thrilled.  The AFL was only eight years old in 1968 and as yet unproven compared with the older league, the NFL/AFL merger still two years in the future. 

This game was expected to keep viewers in their seats, adding to the already large audience expected for the 7:00pm presentation of Heidi, a modern remake of the children’s classic story from 1880.

Most pro football games were played in 2½ hours in those days, and league executives scheduled this one, for three.  The contract with Heidi prime sponsor Timex specified a 7:00 start and so the order went down.  There would be no delays.

The game did not disappoint, voted among the ten most memorable games in professional football history in 1997, and the most memorable regular season contest, ever.  The rivalry between the two clubs was intense, a high-scoring game where the lead changed, no fewer than eight times.  

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Network brass began to worry as early as 6:20 E.T., that the game wouldn’t end on time.  7:00 arrived with a minute & five seconds left to play and the Jets ahead, 32-29. 

Network and affiliate switchboards began to light up, fans demanding the game be broadcast in its entirety, while others asked if Heidi would begin, on time.  

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NBC Sports executive producer Don “Scotty” Connal and network president Julian Goodman had by this time agreed to “slide the network”, to begin Heidi as soon as Curt Gowdy signed off from the game.

By this time phone switchboards were jammed, solid.  NBC’s CIrcle-7 phone exchange blew twenty-six fuses, in an hour.  Broadcast Operations Control (BOC) supervisor Dick Cline nervously watched the clock as Connal frantically tried to call, but couldn’t get through.

The television audience watched Oakland running back Charlie Smith return the kickoff from the end zone to the Oakland 22-yard line with 1:01 remaining on the clock, when the feed was broken.

Heads exploded across the nation as callers reached out to newspapers and television stations, even local police departments, to demand the score.  And to bitch.   Humorist Art Buchwald wrote “Men who wouldn’t get out of their chairs in an earthquake rushed to the phone to scream obscenities [at the network].”

Meanwhile, the Oakland Raiders staged the most amazing come-from-behind rally in the history of sport, scoring two touchdowns in nine seconds.  Gamblers were apoplectic on learning the news, that the Raiders had beat the 7½ point spread. 

The film was just reaching a most tear-jerking moment as Heidi’s paralyzed cousin Clara was taking her first halting steps, as NBC broke in: “SPORTS BULLETIN: RAIDERS DEFEAT JETS 43-32”.

If half the nation hated NBC at that moment, now the other half did, as well. Sportswriter Jack Clary quipped, “The football fans were indignant when they saw what they had missed. The Heidi audience was peeved at having an ambulatory football score intrude on one of the story’s more touching moments. Short of pre-empting Heidi for a skin flick, NBC could not have managed to alienate more viewers that evening.”

heidi-game-news-bulletin-4-e1348762143862The “Heidi Bowl” was prime time news the following night, on all three networks. NBC’s Huntley-Brinkley Report aired the last sixty seconds while ABC Evening News anchor Frank Reynolds read excerpts from the movie, with clips of the Raiders’ two touchdowns cut in. CBS Evening News’ Harry Reasoner announced the “result” of the game: “Heidi married the goat-herder“.

NBC had no option but self-mockery, to redeem itself from the fiasco. One testimonial read “I didn’t get a chance to see it, but I hear it was great”. It was signed by Joe Namath.

A special “Heidi phone” was installed in the BOC, to prevent future such disasters. In 2005, TV Guide listed the Heidi Bowl at #6 of the “100 Most Unexpected TV Moments” in television history.

Actress Jennifer Edwards in the title role of the film, may have had the final word: “My gravestone is gonna say, ‘She was a great moment in sports'”.

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November 16, 1776 The First Salute

242 years ago today, three thousand American Patriots fought a desperate and losing battle against 8,000 British forces and their Hessian allies for Washington Heights, in New York.  1776 miles away at that very moment, little Sint Eustatius had just become the first nation in history, to recognize American independence.

Sint Eustatius, known to locals as “Statia”, is a Caribbean island of 8.1 sq. miles in the northeastern Caribbean, located between St. Kitts and Puerto Rico.

Throughout the 18th century, Sint Eustatius had close ties with North America, and became wealthy from the trade in a variety of goods.  Sugar, molasses, gin, rum and cotton were only a few of the goods shipped from, or through, Sint Eustatius. Colonial ports from Maine to Virginia shipped products to the island in return, including barrel staves, beans, flour, cod, horses, lumber and tobacco.

At its height, the island was handling over 3,000 vessels per year, making St. Eustatius the “Golden Rock” of the Caribbean.

Andrew Doria
Andrew Doria

As a Dutch Colony, Sint Eustatius was required to remain neutral during the American Revolution. The government in Holland warned Governor Johannes de Graaff to stay away from the American “rebels” fighting for independence, but de Graaff didn’t see it that way.  The trade in powder, ammunition and arms continued throughout the Revolutionary period, with covert support smuggled in from Spain, France and dissident interests in Holland.

For a time, little Sint Eustatius was the only link between Europe, and the American colonies.

On November 16, 1776, the Brig Andrew Doria sailed into Sint Eustatius’ principle anchorage in Oranje Bay, flying the Continental Colors, the first national flag of the fledgling United States.  The brig, under command of Captain Isaiah Robinson, was there to obtain munitions and military supplies. Andrew Doria also carried a precious cargo, a copy of the Declaration of Independence.

This was the Americans’ second attempt to send the Declaration to their Dutch associates, the first having been captured on the way to Holland.  Wrapped in papers containing some obscure espionage code, British investigators labored in vain to unlock this strange new cipher. They could have spared themselves the effort.  That first copy of the declaration was sheathed in notes written in Yiddish, personal greetings to some of the Jewish merchants of Holland.

Fort Oranje on Statia
Fort Oranje, Sint Eustatius

It was traditional in those days, that vessels approaching a foreign harbor fire a gun salute upon entering. Captain Robinson fired a 13-gun volley on entering the bay, one for each of the thirteen American colonies.

Tradition dictated that a salute be fired in return, typically two guns fewer than that discharged by the incoming vessel, but such an act carried meaning.  Such a return salute was an act of overt recognition, that a sovereign state had entered the harbor. Such a salute would amount to formal recognition of the thirteen American colonies, as free and independent states.

St Eustatius 1st Salute
First Salute

The commander at Fort Oranje, overlooking the anchorage, didn’t know how to respond. Governor de Graaff ordered an 11-gun return salute fired from the guns of Fort Oranje.

At the time, none could have known:  242 years ago today, three thousand American Patriots fought a desperate and losing battle against 8,000 British forces and their Hessian allies for Washington Heights, in New York.  1776 miles away at that very moment, little Sint Eustatius had just become the first nation in history, to recognize American independence.

Playing the role of the young tattle-tale to an older sibling, nearby Saint Kitts immediately dispatched a vessel to England, to inform the British government of the event. The British were furious, of course. The trade between St. Eustatius and the American Colonies became the principal cause of the fourth Anglo-Dutch war, begun on December 12, 1780.

Admiral George Bridges Rodney forced the surrender of Sint Eustatius the following February, complaining that “This rock, of only six miles in length and three in breadth, has done England more harm than all the arms of her most potent enemies, and alone supported the infamous rebellion. When I leave the island of St. Eustatius, it will be as barren a rock as the day it erupted from the sea. Instead of one of the greatest emporiums on earth, it will be a mere desert and known only by report.”

Sint_Eustatius_wapenAdmiral Rodney pretty much had his way. The census of 1790 shows 8,124 on the Dutch island nation. In 1950, the population stood at only 790. It would take 150 years from Rodney’s departure, before tourism even began to restore the economic well-being of the tiny island.

Today, Sint Eustatius celebrates the 16th of November as “Statia America Day”, in recognition of that first salute.

An official coat of arms was designed by Sint Eustatius’ Director of Monuments Walter Hellebrand, and adopted on this day in 2004. On the left is a Golden Rock, in memory of the trade that made the island rich. On the right is Fort Oranje, Sint Eustatius’ most important landmark. The angel fish of this pristine diving destination is at the bottom, symbolizing the island’s future. Below is the Latin motto, “SUPERBA ET CONFIDENS”.  Proud and Confident.

Happy Statia America Day!

Feature image, top of page: The silky mosses, orchids and sweet smelling bromeliads of a pocket-sized tropical rain forest occupies the crater of Sint Eustatius’ dormant volcano, known as “The Quill”.

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November 15, 1873 The Heart of a Dog

When it comes to loyalty, there is nothing to beat the heart of a dog.

The first dog may have approached some campfire, looking for a morsel.  Maybe someone took in a sick or injured pup. A wolf pack could have learned to shadow human hunting parties, and the two groups learned to work together for their mutual benefit. The facts surrounding the domestication of that first dog some fifteen thousand years ago, are lost to history.  But one thing is certain. When it comes to loyalty, there is nothing to beat the heart of a dog.

Miguel Guzmán of Cordoba Argentina, died in 2006. The following day Capitán, the family’s German Shepherd, disappeared. Mrs. Guzmán and the couple’s son launched a day-long search, until the dog arrived at the cemetery, some forty-five minutes, away. No one knows how he got there. The family claims they never brought him. Cemetery director Hector Baccega remembers when he first saw the dog: ‘He turned up here one day, all on his own, and started wandering all around the cemetery until he eventually found the tomb of his master”.

Capitán was taken home but he was back, the following day. Baccega describes what has since become, routine: “During the day he sometimes has a walk around the cemetery, but always rushes back to the grave. And every day, at six o’clock sharp, he lies down on top of the grave stays there all night”.

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Capitan. H/T Guardian, for this image

Capitán lived to fifteen or sixteen, old for a large breed, and died this February, in the cemetery in which he had lived. In the end he was crippled and blind, when he went to join his “Dad”.  Who knows, I certainly don’t:  maybe they are together again.

200365253-114256-400“Greyfriar’s Bobby” was a Skye Terrier in 19th-century Edinburgh, who waited 14 years by the grave of his owner, Police nightwatchman, John Gray.  There he died in 1872 and was buried in the Greyfriars Kirkyard, not far from where his master lay.

Artist William Brodie created a life-sized likeness atop the Greyfriars Bobby Fountain in Edinburgh,  paid for by a local aristocrat, Baroness Burdett-Coutts and dedicated on this day, in 1873

Hachikō, an Akita known to Japanese children as chūken Hachikō (“faithful dog Hachikō”), used to tag along with his owner Hidesaburō Ueno, a professor of agriculture at Tokyo University. Ueno would commute to work and every evening, Hachikō would wait at the Shibuya Station, for the professor’s return. Hidesaburō stopped coming home in May 1925, when a cerebral hemorrhage took him away, while delivering a lecture. Every day for nine years, nine months and fifteen days, the golden colored Akita appeared at Shibuya Station, precisely in time for that evening train.

Feeling Ruswarp StatueRuswarp was a fourteen-year old Border Collie who went hiking with Graham Nuttall on January 20, 1990 in the Welsh Mountains, near Llandrindod. On April 7, a hiker discovered Nuttall’s body near a mountain stream, where the dog had been standing guard for eleven weeks.  Ruswarp was so weak he had to be carried off the mountain, and died shortly after.  Today, there is a statue in his memory, on a platform near the Garsdale railway station.

In the early morning hours of August 6, 2011, Thirty American military service personnel including 22 US Navy SEALs were killed along with eight Afghans, SEAL Team 6 handler John “Jet Li” Douangdara and his Military Working Dog (MWD) “Bart”, when their Chinook helicopter was shot down by a rocket-propelled grenade in the Kunar Province, of Afghanistan.

To anyone around at that time, those images of “Hawkeye”, together for the last time with slain Navy SEAL Jon Tumilson,  are hard to forget.

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“Shep” belonged to an unknown sheep herder near Fort Benton, in Montana. In 1936, the man fell ill, and was taken to a local hospital.

For over a week, Shep waited at the hospital, for his master to return. On the 11th day the man died, his casket taken to the local train station and placed in the cargo hold, to be returned home for burial.

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Shep was there throughout and watched the train chug away with the body of his “Dad”. He’d return to that hospital door where a kindly nun would feed him a scrap, but every time he heard that train whistle, there was a sheepdog waiting at the station.

In those days, there were four trains a day. For nearly six years, Shep returned to the station, every time he heard that whistle. He even dug a den for himself, near the track.

Passengers took the Havre to Great Falls rail line just to see the dog. Shep received so much fan mail, the Great Northern Railroad assigned a secretary to help pen responses.

In time, the dog wasn’t quite so fast as he used to be, his hearing not so good.  On January 12, 1942, “Forever Faithful” Shep was struck and killed on the tracks, waiting for a man who could never return.

Stories such as these are enough to fill a book, if not  library.  I see a bumper sticker sometimes, in traffic.  I’m not a big one for those things but, if I were.  This would be my first:  “Lord, make me half the man my dog thinks I am“.

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November 14, 1851 The Real Moby Dick

The eighty-foot bull sperm whale charged in at the great speed of 24 knots according to First Mate Owen Chase, ramming the port bow and driving the stern into the water. Oak planking cracked and splintered as the whale worked his tail up and down, driving the 238-ton vessel backward. Essex had already started to go down when the whale broke off his attack, diving below the surface, never to return.

The whale ship Essex set sail from Nantucket in August of 1819, the month Herman Melville was born. The 21-man crew expected to spend two to three years hunting sperm whales, filling the ship’s hold with oil before returning to split the profits of the voyage.

Essex sailed down the coast of South America, rounding the Horn and entering the Pacific Ocean. The word from other whalers, was that the fishing grounds off the Chilean coast were exhausted, so Essex sailed for the “offshore grounds”, almost 2,000 miles from the nearest land.

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Essex was plying the offshore grounds on November 20, 1820, with two of three boats out hunting whales. The lookout spotted a huge bull sperm whale, much larger than normal, estimated at 85 feet long and 80 tons. The animal was behaving oddly, lying motionless on the surface with his head facing the ship. In moments the whale began to move, slowly at first and then picking up speed as he charged the ship. Never in the history of the whale fishery had a whale been known to attack a ship unprovoked. This one hit the port side so hard, it shook the entire ship.

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The huge animal seemed dazed by the impact, floating to the surface and resting by the ship’s side. He then turned and swam away for several hundred yards, before turning to resume his attack. He charged in at the great speed of 24 knots according to First Mate Owen Chase, ramming the port bow and driving the stern into the water. Oak planking cracked and splintered as the whale worked his tail up and down, driving the 238-ton vessel backward. Essex had already started to go down when the whale broke off his attack, diving below the surface, never to return.

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Captain George Pollard’s boat was the first to make it back, and he stared in disbelief. “My God, Mr. Chase, what is the matter?” he asked. “We have been stove by a whale” came the reply.

No force on earth could save the stricken whale ship. The crew divided into groups of seven and boarded the three boats. It wasn’t long before Essex sank out of sight and they were alone, stranded in 28-foot open boats, and about as far from land as it was mathematically possible to be.

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The whalers believed that cannibals inhabited the Marquesa islands 1,200 miles to the west, so they headed south, parallel to the coast of South America. Before their ordeal was over, they themselves would become the cannibals.

With good winds, they might reach the coast of Chile in 56 days. They had taken enough rations to last 60, provided they were distributed at starvation levels, but most of it had been ruined by salt water. There was a brief reprieve in December, when the three small boats landed on a small island in the Pitcairn chain. There they were able to get their fill of birds, eggs, crabs, and peppergrass, but within a week the island was stripped clean. They decided to move on, except for three who refused to get back in the boats.

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They never knew that this was Henderson Island, only 104 miles from Pitcairn Island, for eighteen years the refuge of the last survivors from the 1789 Mutiny on HMS Bounty.

After two months at sea, the boats had long since separated. Starving men were beginning to die, and the survivors came to an unthinkable conclusion. The living, would have to eat their own dead.

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When those were gone, survivors drew lots to see who would die, that the others might live. Captain Pollard’s 17-year-old cousin Owen Coffin, whom he had sworn to protect, drew the black spot. Pollard protested, offering to take his place, but the boy declined. “No”, he said, “I like my lot as well as any other.” Again, lots were drawn to see who would be Coffin’s executioner. Owen’s friend, Charles Ramsdell, drew the black spot.

On February 18, the British whale ship Indian spotted a boat containing Owen Chase, Benjamin Lawrence and Thomas Nickerson. It was 90 days after Essex’ sinking. Five days later, the Nantucket whale ship Dauphin pulled alongside another boat, to find Captain Pollard and Charles Ramsdell. The pair was so far gone they didn’t notice at first, gnawing on the bones of their comrades.

The three who were left on Henderson Island were later rescued.  Several years later, the last whaleboat was found beached on a Pacific island, four skeletons on board.

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The Essex was the first ship recorded to have been sunk by a whale.  She would not be the last. The Pusie Hall was attacked in 1835. The Lydia and the Two Generals were both sunk by whales in 1836, and the Pocahontas and the Ann Alexander came under attack in 1850 and ’51.  The clipper ship Herald of the Morning was struck by a sperm whale off Cape Horn in 1859, but not fatally.

On this day in 1851, a sailor-turned novelist published his sixth volume, beginning with the words, “Call me Ishmael”.  Thirty-one years nearly to the day, after the sinking of the whale ship Essex.

If you enjoyed this “Today in History”, please feel free to re-blog, “like” & share on social media, so that others may find and enjoy it as well. Please click the “follow” button on the right, to receive email updates on new articles.  Thank you for your interest, in the history we all share.