August 9, 1173 Leaning Tower of Pisa

Italy has no fewer than ten towers with an other than perpendicular relationship to the ground. Three in Venice, one each in Bologna, Caorle, Burano and Rome and two others, in Pisa.

In the world of architecture, a campanile [kampəˈnēlē] is a tower, usually built beside or appended to a larger structure and most often associated with Italian architecture. Since the 19th century, such structures have served as clock or bell towers for factories, colleges and apartments. Earlier examples are mostly associated, with churches.

The earliest Campaniles date to the 5th and 6th centuries, such as those in Classe (c. 532–49) and Ravenna (c. 490). The most famous is the leaning tower of Pisa, construction for which began on this day, in 1173.

Standing 55.86 metres (183.27 feet) on the low side and 56.67 metres (185.93 feet) on the high side and weighing in at 16,000 tons, early planning began on January 5, 1172 when the widow Donna Berta di Bernardo bequeathed 60 Soldi for the purchase of stones, to form the foundation.

Footings were laid on August 9 of the following year, the distinctive white marble of the ground floor begun, five days later. The lean set in in 1178 with the construction of the second floor due to shallow foundations, and unstable subsoil.

Italy didn’t become a nation in the modern sense, until 1861.  In the 12th century, Pisa was an independent city-state, often at war with other such polities, on the Italian peninsula.  Construction halted for nearly a century while Pisa made war on Genoa, Lucca and Florence allowing the soft soil, to stabilize. Otherwise, the thing would surely have toppled.

Interior view of the leaning tower of Pisa

Construction unfolded in three major stages over 199 years. Engineers built the upper floors taller on one side than the other, to compensate, for the tilt. It’s why the thing appears curved, at certain angles. The last of seven bells representing the seven notes of the major musical scale was installed, in 1655.

Surprisingly, the Campanile in Pisa is not the only leaning tower in Italy. It isn’t even the only one, in Pisa. Italy has no fewer than ten towers with an other than perpendicular relationship, to the ground. Three are in Venice, one each in Bologna, Caorle, Burano and Rome and two others, in Pisa.

The Italian polymath Galileo Galilei was from Pisa and famously dropped two cannonballs of different sizes from the tower, to illustrate the Law of Free Fall. Galileo ended his life under house arrest for the heretical notion that the earth, revolved around the sun. The cannonball story was published long after his death, told in a biography written by Galileo’s student and personal secretary, Vincenzo Viviani. To have published such a work earlier would have significantly increased the chances, of the author’s burning at the stake.

Plaque memorializing the experiments, of Galileo

Four severe earthquakes have stricken the region since 1280 but the leaning tower, stands secure. Ironically, the soft soil which produced the lean in the first place has dampened the vibration so the tower, remains still.

The leaning tower was suspected of harboring German observers during World War 2 and US Army Sergeant Leon Weckstein was sent, to investigate. Weckstein was so impressed with the beauty of the cathedral and its campanile he refrained from calling, an artillery strike.

In 1989, the abrupt collapse of the civic tower in Pavia resulted in 280,000 cubic feet of brick and granite rubble leading to the closure to visitors, of the leaning tower of Pisa.

Civic tower of Pavia

Over the centuries, efforts to compensate for the lean have accomplished little. Some even made the problem, worse. More recent innovations have reduced the lean by some 17½-inches including counterweights, excavations and cables. These and the removal of bells to reduce weight have returned the tower to its 1838 position. In 2008, engineers declared the tower stable, for 200 years. In the end, the Italian government has no desire to straighten the thing, all the way. The leaning Tower of Pisa is far to great a draw, for the tourist dollar.

Lead counterweights, installed in 1998.

August 8, 1969 Echo Chamber

No sooner did the Abbey Road album hit the streets, than the “Paul Is Dead” enthusiasts were off and running. It was a funeral procession, couldn’t anybody see that? Lennon, dressed in white, symbolizes the preacher. Ringo Starr was dressed in black. He was the mourner. George Harrison was wearing blue jeans and a work shirt. Anyone could see, he was the gravedigger.

In January 1967, an automobile belonging to singer/songwriter and Beatles’ band member Paul McCartney, was involved in an accident. He wasn’t driving it at the time, but no matter.

Paul is dead

The rumor shifted into gear and the story was told, and retold. Before long, not only had McCartney himself been involved in a violent crash. Now the story was, he’d been killed in it.

Like the child’s game of “telephone”, the story picked up details with each retelling.  There had been an argument at a Beatles recording session. McCartney left in anger, and crashed his car. To spare the public from grief, the Beatles replaced him with “William Campbell”, the winner of a McCartney look-alike contest.

The February issue of “The Beatles Book” fanzine tried to put the issue to rest, but some stories die hard. A cottage industry grew up around finding “clues” to McCartney’s “death”. Hundreds were reported by fans and followers of the legend. John Lennon’s final line in the song “Strawberry Fields Forever” sounded like “I buried Paul”. (McCartney later said the words were “cranberry sauce”). When “Revolution 9” from the White Album is played backwards, some claimed to hear “turn me on, dead man”.

On this day in 1969, photographer Iain MacMillan shot the cover photo for the Beatles’ last recorded album, Abbey Road. The ten-minute photo shoot produced six images, from which McCartney himself picked the cover photo. The image shows the band crossing the street, walking away from the studio.

No sooner did the album hit the streets, than the “Paul Is Dead” enthusiasts were off and running. It was a funeral procession, anybody see that. Lennon, dressed in white, symbolizes the preacher. Ringo Starr was dressed in black. Clearly, he was the mourner. George Harrison was wearing blue jeans and a work shirt. Anyone could see, he was the gravedigger.

Then there was McCartney himself, barefoot and out of step with the other members of the band. Clearly, this was the corpse.

He later explained he’d been barefoot that day, because it was hot. No one ever satisfactorily explained, nor did anyone ask, to my knowledge, how the man got to march in his own funeral procession. No matter, the Abby Road cover put the rumor mill over the top.

On October 12, one caller to Detroit radio station WKNR-FM told DJ Russ Gibb about the rumor and its clues. Gibb and his callers then discussed the rumor on the air for the next hour. Roby Yonge did the early AM shift at the powerhouse WABC out of New York. Yonge spent a full hour discussing the rumor, before he was pulled off-air for breaking format. WABC’s signal could be heard in 38 states at that time of night, and at times, other countries. The Beatles’ press office issued a statement denying the rumor, but it had already been reported by national and international media.

Paul is still with us-Life_magazine_nov_69

The November 7, 1969, Life magazine interview with Paul and Linda McCartney finally put the story to rest. “Perhaps the rumor started because I haven’t been much in the press lately“, he said. “I have done enough press for a lifetime, and I don’t have anything to say these days. I am happy to be with my family and I will work when I work. I was switched on for ten years and I never switched off. Now I am switching off whenever I can. I would rather be a little less famous these days“.

If they had Photoshop in those days, we’d still be hearing the rumors, today.