August 1, 1086 Day One

There were others with claims to the crown now belonging to Harold Godwinson, among them the new King’s brother Tostig, Earl of Northumbria. Tostig’s animosity for his older brother would alter the course of world history and prove fatal, for them both.

Edward the Confessor, King of England, died after a series of strokes on January 5, 1066, leaving no heir to the throne. Anglo-Saxon Kings didn’t normally pick their own successors, but several believed Edward had done just that.  The king’s death touched off an international succession crisis.  The events of the following months, would change the course of world history.

Edward’s brother-in-law Harold Godwinson was elected King by the Witenagemot, an early version of our own Town Meeting.  There were others with claims of their own.  One of these was Harold’s younger brother Tostig, Earl of Northumbria, whose animosity for his brother would prove fatal for them both.

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After conducting a few inconclusive raids in the spring of that year, Tostig went to a Norman Duke called William “the Bastard”, looking for help. William had openly declared his intention to take the English throne, and had no use for the King’s little brother.  Tostig then went to the King of Norway, King Harald III “Hardrada”, the name variously translated as “stern counsel”, or “hard ruler”.

Hardrada believed that he himself had claim to the English throne, and was dismayed at Godwinson’s succession.  The two sailed for England at the head of a powerful fleet of 300 Viking ships and an army of 10,000 warriors, meeting the northern Earls Edwin and Morcar in battle at Fulford Gate on September 20.

The battle was a comprehensive defeat for the English. When Harald came to Stamford Bridge a week later, it was in expectation of formal capitulation and tribute.

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Meanwhile, King Harold stood at the head of an army in the south, anticipating William’s invasion from Normandy. My military friends will appreciate what happened next.  Harold marched his army north, traveling day and night and covering 190 miles in four days, on foot, completely surprising the Viking force waiting at Stamford Bridge. The Vikings must have looked at the horizon and wondered how a peace party could raise that much dust, only to face the “gleam of handsome shields and white coats-of-mail”.

Thinking they were there to accept submission, Harald’s army had left half its number behind to watch the ships.  Worse still, many of Harald’s warriors had removed their heavy armor, and scattered over both sides of the River Derwent.

Battle of Stamford Bridge

The English army charged through the loose ranks of Norwegians, as the rest struggled to form the skjaldborg (shield wall) on the opposite bank.

According to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, one giant Viking warrior stood alone at the top of Stamford Bridge. Swinging the great two-handed Dane Axe. For a time this single warrior held back the entire English army, crowding onto the narrow choke point.   40 English soldiers lay mangled and dead in heaps around this beast, when an English soldier moved beneath the bridge and speared the Viking warrior, from below.

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The savagery of the battle can only be imagined. This was before the age of industrialized warfare, when every injury was personally administered with a bladed weapon or heavy club, of some kind. 5,000 of King Harold’s soldiers would be dead before it was over, about a third of his force. Two thirds of King Harald’s Vikings died that day, about 6,000.  In the end, Harald Hardrada invoked the berserkergang (the state of going berserk), and waded into his foe, madly hacking and slashing all about him until an arrow found his throat.

Thus ends the tale of the last ‘Great Viking’.  Harald was dead, as was his ally Tostig. His reward in the words of King Harold, was “Seven feet of English soil, or as much more as he is taller than other men“.

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Of 300 ships that had arrived on the 20th, the battered remnants of the Viking army required only 24, to sail away.

Meanwhile, William was in final preparations for his own channel crossing, a voyage many considered unlikely at that late time of year.  The Norman landing Harold had waited for took place three days later, just as his battered army was disbanding and heading home for the Fall harvest.

tumblr_la6h4gVLfh1qe23mao1_500A greatly diminished Anglo Saxon army marched south, meeting the Norman invader in October, 1066.   History changed that day, when King Harold took an arrow to the eye, at a place called Hastings.   The last of the Anglo Saxon Kings, was dead.  William was crowned King of England that December.  Henceforward and forever more, William the Bastard would be known as “William the Conqueror”.

In this age of mechanized warfare, isn’t it strange to think you could have eaten your lunch that day on a neighboring hill, and never heard a thing.

Main rivals to the new King were now gone, but William wouldn’t be secure on his throne for another six years. Lands were confiscated from resisting members of the English elite and from lords who had fought and died in service to Harold.

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H/T By Amitchell125 at English Wikipedia

Such lands were enfeoffed, a process of the European middle ages through which land was granted in exchange for feudal allegiance, while the King retained ultimate title. Such confiscations led to revolts and further confiscations, as widows and daughters were forced into marriages with Norman barons.

Castles were built at an unprecedented rate, controlling military strongpoints across the land and, in the words of historian Robert Liddiard, “legitmizing a new elite”. Liddiard remarks that “to glance at the urban landscape of Norwich, Durham or Lincoln is to be forcibly reminded of the impact of the Norman invasion.”

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Beginning in 1085, seven or eight panels of commissioners fanned out across the land, taking sworn statements in every shire and village. Elaborate records were compiled of all lands and estates held by the King through his tenants, down to every agricultural plot and fishpond, and its value in pounds.

It was all done for purposes of taxation, particularly to see what was owed during the reign of Edward the Confessor. You can imagine how that went over but, as always, history is written by the victor.

So complete was the Norman conquest that William himself was able to spend three-quarters of his time, defending his interests in France. According to these records, within twenty years, no more than five percent of all lands remained in English hands.

While exact dates are subject to dispute, the major part of the “Great Survey” is traditionally held to have been bound and presented to King William on this day in 1086, in Salisbury.

1200px-Domesday-book-1804x972Late in the 12th century, King’s Treasurer Richard FitzNeal likened the Great Survey to the Book of Judgement, the book of “Domesday” (middle English for “Doomsday”), because its pronouncements were final and inviolate as the Last day of Judgement.

Nothing even remotely similar to the “Domesday Book” would again be attempted, until 1873. For most English towns and villages (most but not all – no Domesday records are known to survive for London or Winchester), the Domesday book stands as the final and dispositive arbiter of lands and titles held, across the British Isles. Day one, the starting point, of English history.

July 31, 1920 Jackie

Jackie marched with his company in a special uniform and cap complete with buttons, regimental badges, and a hole for his tail.

In 1915, Albert Marr and his family lived at a farm called Cheshire just outside Pretoria, South Africa. It was there that he found a small Chacma baboon and adopted the monkey, as a pet. He called the animal, “Jackie”.

The Great War had not yet reached it second year when Marr was sworn into the 3rd (Transvaal) Regiment of the 1st South African Infantry Brigade.  He was now Private Albert Marr, #4927.

Albert Marr, Jackie

Private Marr asked for permission to bring Jackie along.   Mascots are good for morale in times of war, a fact about which military authorities, were well aware.

To Marr’s great surprise, permission was granted. It wasn’t long before Jackie became the official Regimental Mascot.

Jackie drew rations like any other soldier, eating at the mess table, using his knife and fork and washing it all down with his own drinking basin. He even knew how to use a teacup.

Jackie drilled and marched with his company in a special uniform and cap complete with buttons, regimental badges, and a hole for his tail.

He would entertain the men during quiet periods, lighting their pipes and cigarettes and saluting officers as they passed on their rounds.  He learned to stand at ease when ordered, placing his feet apart and hands behind his back, regimental style.

These two inseparable buddies, Albert Marr and Jackie, first saw combat during the Senussi Campaign in North Africa. On February 26, 1916, Albert took a bullet in the shoulder at the Battle of Agagia. The monkey, beside himself with agitation, licked the wound and did everything he could to comfort the stricken man.  It was this incident more than any other that marked Jackie’s transformation from pet and mascot, to a full-fledged member and comrade, of the regiment.

Jackie would accompany Albert at night, on guard duty.  Marr soon learned to trust Jackie’s keen eyesight and acute hearing.  The monkey was almost always first to know about enemy movements or impending attack, sounding an early warning with a series of sharp barks, or by pulling on Marr’s tunic.

The pair went through the nightmare of Delville Wood together early in the Somme campaign, when the First South African Infantry held its position despite eighty percent casualties. 

The third Battle of Ypres, known as the battle of Passchendaele, began in the early morning hours of July 31, 1917. The pair experienced the sucking, nightmare mud of that place and the desperate fighting, around Kemmel Hill.  The two were at Belleau Wood, a mostly American operation in which Marine Captain Lloyd Williams of the 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines, was famously informed he was surrounded, by Germans.  “Retreat?” Williams snorted, “hell, we just got here.”

Through all of it, Marr and Jackie come through World War 1 mostly unscathed.  That all changed in April, 1918.

Withdrawing through the West Flanders region of Belgium, the South African brigade came under heavy bombardment. Jackie was frantically building a wall of stones around himself, a shelter from the hammer blow concussion of the shells and the storm of flying metal buzzing through the air, as angry hornets. A jagged piece of shrapnel wounded Jackie’s arm and another all but tore off the animal’s leg.  Even then, Jackie refused to be carried off by the stretcher-bearers, trying instead to finish his wall as he hobbled about on the bloody stump which had once been, his leg.

Jackie Portrait

Lt. Colonel R. N. Woodsend of the Royal Medical Corps described the scene:  “It was a pathetic sight; the little fellow, carried by his keeper, lay moaning in pain, the man crying his eyes out in sympathy, ‘You must do something for him, he saved my life in Egypt. He nursed me through dysentery’. The baboon was badly wounded, the left leg hanging with shreds of muscle, another jagged wound in the right arm.  We decided to give the patient chloroform and dress his wounds…It was a simple matter to amputate the leg with scissors and I cleaned the wounds and dressed them as well as I could.  He came around as quickly as he went under. The problem then was what to do with him. This was soon settled by his keeper: ‘He is on army strength’. So, duly labelled, number, name, ATS injection, nature of injuries, etc. he was taken to the road and sent by a passing ambulance to the Casualty Clearing Station”.

No one was quite sure that the chloroform used for the operation, wouldn’t kill him. When the officer commanding the regiment went to the aid station to check on him Jackie sat up in bed, and saluted.

As the “War to End All Wars” drew to a close, Jackie was promoted to the rank of Corporal and given a medal, for bravery. He may be the only monkey in history, ever to be so honored.

The war ended that November. Jackie and Albert were shipped to England and soon became, media celebrities. The two were hugely successful raising money for the widows and orphans fund, where members of the public could shake Jackie’s hand for half a crown. A kiss on the baboon’s cheek, would cost you five shillings.

Fundraising, in London

On his arm he wore a gold wound stripe and three blue service chevrons, one for each of his three years’ front line service.

Jackie was the center of attention on arriving home to South Africa when a parade was held, officially welcoming the Regiment home. On July 31, 1920, Jackie received the Pretoria Citizen’s Service Medal, at the Peace Parade in Church Square, Pretoria.

All thing must come to an end. The Marr family farm burned to the ground in May 1921.  Jackie died in the fire. Albert Marr lived to the age of 84 and passed away, in 1973.  There wasn’t a day in-between when the man didn’t miss his little battle buddy Jackie, the baboon who went to war.

July 30, 1916 Sabotage

[B]etween 1915 and spring 1917, 43 American factories suffered explosions or fires of mysterious origin, in addition to the bombs set on some four dozen ships carrying war supplies to the Allies”

In the early months of the Great War, Britain’s Royal Navy swept the high seas of the Kaiser’s surface ships and blockaded ports in Germany. The United States was neutral at this time, when over a hundred German ships sought refuge in American harbors.

The blockade made it impossible for the Central Powers of Germany and Austria-Hungary to import war materiel from overseas while Great Britain, France, and Russia continued to buy products from US farms and factories. American businessmen were happy to sell to any foreign customer who had the cash but, for all intents and purposes, such trade was limited to the allies.

British-blockadeTo the Central Powers, such trade had the sole purpose of killing their boys, fighting for the Fatherland on the battlefields of Europe.

The first and most overt reaction from the Kaiser came in the form of unrestrained submarine warfare, when even vessels flying the flags of neutral nations came under attack. Less apparent at that time was the covert campaign of sabotage carried out by German, agents on US soil.

“Black Tom” was originally an island in New York Harbor, next to Liberty Island. So called after a former resident, by WWI, landfill had expanded the island to become part of Jersey City. The area contained a mile-long pier with warehouses and rail lines operated by the Lehigh Valley Railroad, and served as a major hub in the trade of war materiel to the allies.

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Black Tom Island, 1880

On July 30, 1916, the Black Tom terminal had over two million pounds of small arms and artillery ammunition in freight cars, and one hundred thousand pounds of TNT on a nearby Barge.

In the small hours of the morning, around 2:00am, guards discovered a series of small fires. Some tried to put them out while others fled, fearing an explosion. The first and loudest blast took place at 2:08am, a detonation so massive as to be estimated at 5.5, on the Richter scale. People were awakened from Maryland to Connecticut in what many thought was an earthquake. The Brooklyn Bridge shook. The walls of Jersey City’s municipal building were cracked as shrapnel flew through the air. Windows broke as far as 25 miles away, while fragments embedded themselves in the clock tower at the Jersey Journal building in Journal Square, over a mile away. The clock stopped at 2:12 am.

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Firefighters were unable to fight the fires until the bullets and shrapnel stopped flying. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Stained Glass windows were shattered at St. Patrick’s Church, and Ellis Island was evacuated to Manhattan. Damage to the skirt and torch carried by the Statue of Liberty alone, came to over $2¼ million in 2017 dollars. To this day the ladder to “Lady Liberty’s” torch remains off limits, to visitors.

The enormous vaulted ceiling of Ellis Island’s main hall, collapsed.  According to one Park officer, damage to the Ellis Island complex came to $500,000 “half the one million dollars it cost the government to build the facility.”

Wrecked_warehouses_and_scattered_debris_after_the_Black_Tom_Explosion,_1916Known fatalities in the explosion included a Jersey City police officer, a Lehigh Valley Railroad Chief of Police, a ten week old infant, and the barge captain.

The explosion at Black Tom nearly brought the US into the war against Germany, but that would wait for the resumption of unrestricted submarine warfare. That, and a telegram from German Secretary for Foreign Affairs Arthur Zimmermann, promising US territories to Mexico, in exchange for a declaration of war against the US.

Black Tom was the most spectacular, but by no means the only such act of sabotage. The archive at cia.gov states that “[B]etween 1915 and spring 1917, 43 American factories suffered explosions or fires of mysterious origin, in addition to the bombs set on some four dozen ships carrying war supplies to the Allies”.

Responsibility for the Black Tom explosion was never proven, conclusively. Early suspicions centered on accidental causes. Legal wrangling would climb the judicial ladder all the way to the United States Supreme Court and continue well into the second World War. Anna Rushnak, an elderly Czech immigrant who ran a four-bits-a-night boarding house in Bayonne was thrown from her bed by the explosion, to find then-23-year-old Michael Kristoff sitting on the edge of his bed, mumbling “What I do? What I do?”

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Lehigh Valley Railroad pier, after the explosion

Kristoff, a Slovakian subject of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Germany’s principle ally in World War 1, was arrested by Bayonne Police, interrogated, and judged to be “insane but harmless.”

In 1922, the Lehigh Valley Railroad was buried in lawsuits, and looking to fix blame on a German act of sabotage. Located in an Albany jail where he was serving time for theft Kristoff came to the judicial spotlight, once again. He admitted working for the Germans “for a few weeks” back in 1916, but was released before the claim could be investigated. Kristoff was finally traced to a pauper’s grave in 1928 and there ends his story, yet that ‘insane but harmless’ label remains open to question. Papers carried on the body exhumed from that potter’s field were indeed those of Michael Kristoff, but the dental records, didn’t match.

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“German Master Spy Franz Von Rintelen and his “pencil bomb” were responsible for acts of sabotage in the United States during World War I”. H/T Smithsonian

Meanwhile, suspicion fell on the German-born naturalized citizen Kurt Jahnke who ran sabotage operations for the German Admiralty out of bases in San Francisco and Mexico City with his assistant, Imperial German Navy Lieutenant Lothar Witzke. Witzke was arrested on February 1, 1918 in Nogales, Arizona and convicted by court martial. He was sentenced to death, though the war was over before sentence could be carried out. President Wilson later commuted the sentence, to life.

By 1923, most nations were releasing POWs from the “Great War”, including spies. A report from Leavenworth prison shows Witzke heroically risking his life, entering a boiler room after an explosion and probably averting disaster. It may be on that basis that he was finally released. Lieutenant Lothar Witzke was pardoned by President Calvin Coolidge on November 22, 1923 and deported to Berlin, where a grateful nation awarded him the Iron Cross, 1st and 2nd Class.

The U.S.–German Peace Treaty of 1921 established the German-American Mixed Claims Commission, which declared in 1939 that Imperial Germany had, in fact been responsible and awarded a judgement of $50 million.  The Nazi government refused to pay and the matter was finally settled in 1953, with a judgement of $95 million (including interest) against the Federal Republic of Germany. The final payment was made in 1979.

Shrapnel damage may be see to this day, on the statue of Liberty

The Black Tom explosion and related acts of pro-German espionage resulted in the Federal Espionage Act signed into law in June 1917, creating, among its other provisions, a “Bureau of Investigation” under the United States Department of Justice. 

Nothing remains today of the Black Tom terminal or the largest foreign terrorist attack on American soil until 9/11, save for a plaque, as seen in the photograph below.  That, and a new law enforcement bureaucracy, called the FBI.

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View of the Statue of Liberty from the site of the Black Tom explosion

July 28, 1957 Broken Arrow

In cold war military parlance, a “Nucflash” is the accidental detonation of an atomic weapon carrying with it, the potential for nuclear war. A “Broken Arrow” refers to a similar incident, absent the potential for war.

At one time, the C-124 was the world’s largest military transport aircraft.  Weighing in at 175,000lbs with a wingspan of 175-feet, four 3,500 horsepower Pratt & Whitney propeller engines drive the air frame along at a stately cruising speed of 246 mph.  Manufacturer Douglas Aircraft called the aircraft “Globemaster”.  Airmen called the plane “Old Shaky”.

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The Air Force C-124 Globemaster transport left its base in Delaware on July 28, 1957, on a routine flight to Europe. On board were a crew of seven, three nuclear bombs, and one nuclear core. The flight would routinely have taken 10-12 hours.  This trip was destined to be anything but routine.

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Exactly what went wrong remains a mystery, due to the sensitive nature of the cargo. Two engines had to be shut down shortly into the mission, and the aircraft turned back.  The nearest suitable airfield was the Naval Air Station in Atlantic City, but that was too far. Even at maximum RPMs, the best the remaining two engines could do was slow the massive aircraft’s descent into the sea.

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An emergency landing on open ocean is not an option with such a large aircraft.  It would have broken up on impact with the probable loss of all hands.   Descending rapidly, the crew would have jettisoned everything they could lay hands on, to reduce weight.  Non-essential equipment would have gone first, then excess fuel, but it wasn’t enough.  With only 2,500ft and losing altitude, there was no choice left but to jettison those atomic bombs.

At 3,000 pounds apiece, two of the three bombs were enough to do the job, and the C-124 made it safely to Atlantic City.  What became of those two atomic bombs remains a mystery.  Most likely, they lie at the bottom of the ocean, 100 miles off the Jersey shore.

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The United States Department of Defense has a term for accidents involving nuclear weapons, warheads or components, which do not involve the immediate risk of nuclear war.  Such incidents are called “Broken Arrows”.

Broken Arrows include accidental or unexplained nuclear or non-nuclear detonation of an atomic weapon, the loss of such a weapon with or without its carrying vehicle, and the release of nuclear radiation resulting in public hazard, whether actual or potential.

The US Defense Department has reported 32 Broken Arrow incidents, since 1950.  To date, six nuclear weapons remain lost, and never recovered.

If you’re interested, a handy “Short History of Nuclear Folly” may be found HERE, including details of each incident along with a handy map. It all makes for some mighty comforting bedtime reading.

July 26, 1887 A Tower of Babel

Today, Google Translate supports 108 languages serving over 200 million users, daily. Esperanto became number 64 on February 22, 2012.

In the first book of the Hebrew Bible known to Christians as the Old Testament, Genesis 11:1-9 explains the origin story, of the world’s many languages. A veritable Tower of Babel.

In the late 19th century Russian town of Białystok, in what is now Poland, a Yiddish speaking majority lived side-by-side with Poles, Belarusians, Russians, Germans, Lipka Tatars and others.  Relations were anything but harmonious between groups. Leyzer Leyvi Zamenhov was part of that Yiddish speaking majority and believed many of the differences, were linguistic.

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As the son of a German language teacher, Zamenhof was fluent in many languages including Russian, German, French, Latin, Greek, Hebrew, Yiddish and English.  He was reasonably proficient in Italian, Spanish and Lithuanian, as well. Zamenhof came to believe that poor relations between Białystok’s many minorities stemmed from the lack of a common language, so it was he set out to create an “auxiliary language”. An international second language to foster communications, between people of different ethnic and linguistic backgrounds.

Writing under the pseudonym “Doktoro Esperanto”, Zamenhov published the “Unua Libro” (First Book) on July 26, 1887, setting forth the rules for the new tongue.

The goal was to create an easily learned, politically neutral language transcending nationality, fostering peace and international understanding between people with different regional and/or national languages.

Esperanto alphabet

The Esperanto alphabet includes 28 letters. There are 23 consonants, 5 cardinal vowels, and 2 semivowels which combine with vowels to form 6 diphthongs. Esperanto words are derived by stringing together prefixes, roots, and suffixes. The process is regular, so that people may create new words as they speak and still be understood.

The original core vocabulary included 900 such roots, which are combined in a regular manner so that they might be better used by international speakers.

For example, the adjective “BONA” means “GOOD”. The suffix “UL” indicates a person having a given trait, and “O” designates the ending of a noun. Therefore, the Esperanto word “BONULO” translates as “A good person”.  The title of Francis Ford Coppola’s 1972 movie “The Godfather”, translates as “La Baptopatro”.  “Esperanto” itself translates as “one who hopes”.

Some useful English words and phrases include the following, along with Esperanto translation and International Phonetic Alphabet transcriptions:

 ○ Do you speak Esperanto? Ĉu vi parolas Esperanton? [ˈtʃu vi pa.ˈro.las ˌes.pe.ˈran.ton]
 ○ Thank you. Dankon [ˈdan.kon]
 ○ You’re welcome. Ne dankinde [ˌne.dan.ˈkin.de]
 ○ One beer, please. Unu bieron, mi petas [ˈu.nu bi.ˈe.ron, mi ˈpe.tas]
 ○ Where is the toilet? Kie estas la necesejo? [ˈki.e ˈes.tas ˈla ˌne.tse.ˈse.jo]

Today, Google Translate supports 108 languages serving over 200 million users, daily.    Esperanto became number 64 on February 22, 2012.

July 17, 2004 Christ of the Abyss

Gonzatti’s fellow diver Duilio Marcante conceived an idea to honor his friend. A monument to the world beneath the waves and dedicated to those who had lost their lives at sea.

Man’s desire to enter the underwater world goes back to antiquity. Aristotle tells of Alexander the Great descending into the waters of the Mediterranean in something called a “diving bell”, as early as 332BC. The Italian polymath Leonardo da Vinci designed a similar apparatus, adding a face mask and reinforced supply hoses, to withstand the pressure of the depths.

Diving bell, 1691

The first on-demand underwater breathing valve came about in 1860s France, thanks to the work of inventors Benoît Rouquayrol, and Auguste Denayrouze. British diving engineer Henry Albert Fleuss developed the first commercially viable “rebreather” in 1878, using an air bag and rope fiber soaked in potash to “scrub” carbon dioxide from exhaled air.

The 20th century brought with it new and improved methods of pumping, and storing, compressed gas. By the 1930s every major belligerent of the coming war, had developed its own underwater breathing apparatus.

Dario Gonzatti was the first Italian to use SCUBA gear and paid for it with his life in 1947, near the village of San Fruttuoso, on the Italian Riviera.

Gonzatti’s fellow diver Duilio Marcante conceived an idea to honor his friend. A monument to a world beneath the waves and dedicated to those who had lost their lives at sea. A 2½ meter tall bronze sculpture, Il Cristo degli Abissi. Christ of the Abyss.

There followed a period of collecting the metal. Cannon and other brass objects, retrieved from wrecks. Mothers and sweethearts sent coins and medals given to sailors, who never returned.

Sculptor Guido Galletti created the clay positive from which the mold was cast. A 2.5 meter (8.2 feet) likeness of Jesus Christ weighing in at 260 kg (573 pounds) without the foundation, eyes raised to the heavens and arms outstretched, in supplication. A benediction for untold numbers, lost at sea.

That first “Christ of the Abyss” was lowered in 57-feet of water on August 22, 1954, near the spot where Dario Gonzatti, lost his life.

The Cove of San Fruttuoso

Over the years, crustaceans and corrosion took their toll. A hand was broken off, by an anchor line. The statue was removed after a half-century and repaired, and re-lowered on July 17, 2004 to a newly-built foundation.

Since that first installation in 1954 two other Christ of the Abyss statues have descended into the depths, both cast from the same clay original. The first was a gift of gratitude given by the navy of Genoa, for assistance from the people of Granada in rescuing the crew of the Italian vessel MV Bianca, destroyed by fire in the port of St. George. That one was placed seven years after the original on October 22, 1961.

Italian dive equipment manufacturer Egidio Cressi donated a third to the Underwater Society of America, in 1962. This one was installed after much debate on August 25, 1965 in the John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park near Key Largo, Florida, the first underwater park in the United States.

Located in only 25-feet of water with hands but 8 to ten feet below the surface, the site remains a popular destination for underwater selfies, from that day to this.

July 16, 1963 A Happy Little Tree

On this day in 1963 and, for that matter, every day between April 22 and August 20, the sun never seems to set in that part of Alaska. A personal friend jokes about a family trip from Fairbanks to Florida in which he learned his kids associate warmth and cold not with the change of season, but the presence or absence of light.

Anyone who served at Eielson Air Force Base in the early 1960s remembers Sergeant Ross. A man with a voice like a jackhammer, striding into the early morning stillness. The sleeping recruits. The voice let loose like the roar of a shotgun, fired over their heads.

RISE AND SHINE DIRTBAGS! EVRYBODY UP! EVERYBODY OUT! LET’S MOVE IT!

For 20 years Ross served as a training instructor, ordering this man to drop and give him fifty, and that one to scrub the latrines.

And yet, here in the last frontier Sgt. Ross grew and nurtured a secret, softer side of himself, one that wasn’t so secret, at all. This was the land of the Midnight Sun, Alaska style, just outside of Fairbanks. Here the Orlando Florida-born 1st Sergeant learned to appreciate the beauty of a fresh fall of snow. The majesty of the Aurora Borealis and the magnificent mountains and tall trees.

Image of the Aurora Borealis from the official website, of Eielson Air Base

First came the art classes, to fill the quiet hours, off-duty. The large brush, wet-on-wet painting techniques that allowed Sgt. Ross to wolf down a sandwich and complete an entire canvas, all in a half-hour lunch. Painting gave the man a moment of joy and then it was…back to work.

COME ON LADIES, WE’RE NOT ON VACATION. LET’S GET THE LEAD…OUT!

On this day in 1963 and, for that matter, every day between April 22 and August 20, the sun never seems to set in that part of Alaska. A personal friend jokes about a family trip from Fairbanks to Florida in which he learned his kids associate warmth and cold not with the change of season, but the presence or absence of light.

So it was this human bullhorn of a man had an abundance of daylight in which to appreciate the beauty of Alaska and to hone and practice, his art. He produced hundreds of paintings during this period perhaps thousands and sold them, for a few extra dollars spending money.

”I developed ways of painting extremely fast. I used to go home at lunch and do a couple while I had my sandwich. I’d take them back that afternoon and sell them.”

Sgt. Robert Norman Ross

All things, must come to an end. Today, Eielson Air Base hosts the 354th Fighter Wing with a mission statement, “[T]o provide USINDOPACOM combat-ready fifth-generation airpower, advanced integration training, and strategic arctic airpower basing”.

Robert Norman Ross left the military after twenty years to pursue different interests and died too soon at the age of 52, of lymphoma. The New York times obituary said simply that the man “Was A Painter On TV.” There was no picture, nor any mention of the ugly battle that was about to break out, over his fifteen million dollar estate.

U-2 Spy Plane, Eielson AFB, Alaska

But, imagine if you will the surprise of any of those Air Force recruits from the height of the Cold War, on turning on the TV. To their favorite PBS channel to see their former drill sergeant. The man with a voice that could crack rocks sporting not the crew cut and close-shaved face of the early 1960s but a beard and an afro, the size of a basketball.

And there it was again, that oversized brush and that voice, now speaking in the soporific tones of Mr. Rogers. The cerulean reds and the burnt umbers, the tranquil almost somnolent words painting a picture, of the Joy of Painting. The happy little tree I think we’ll put…right…Here.

Hat tip to Mike Rowe and a fun podcast he calls “The Way I Heard It”, without which I would remain entirely ignorant, of this tale.

July 14, 1790 It’s Bastille Day

Today the French nation celebrates its own independence. A day to remember the storming of the Bastille and the Fête de la Fédération held a year later, to the day.


In medieval France, the constituent parts of French society comprised the “Three Estates”:  the Clergy, the Nobility and the Commons.

In the late 18th century, all France was in a state of economic chaos. The Nobility refused the tax demands of King Louis XVI. The Commoners reconstituted themselves into a “National Assembly” in June 1789, demanding an audience with the King for the purpose of drawing up a Constitution.

The National Assembly converged on the Estates General on June 20, only to find the door locked. What followed was either hysterical or duplicitous, because the King and his family were still mourning the death of the Dauphin; the heir apparent.  It was customary at that time to hold political matters, until the King came out of mourning.

Tennis Court Oath
Tennis Court Oath

Be that as it may, the entire National Assembly, all 577 members, converged on an indoor tennis court. All but one put their names to a solemn vow, “The Tennis Court Oath”, swearing “not to separate, and to reassemble wherever circumstances require, until the constitution of the kingdom is established”.

The oath itself was a revolutionary act, asserting that political authority came from the people through their representatives, and not from the monarchy. The National Assembly had declared themselves supreme in the exercise of state power, making it increasingly difficult for the monarchy to operate based on “Divine Right of Kings”.

Riots followed as the left and reformist factions moved from anarchy to a coherent movement against the monarchy and the French right.

Built in 1309, the fortress and medieval prison of the Bastille had long been a focal point of the insurrection, representing royal authority in the center of the city. Donatien Alphonse François, better known as the Marquis de Sade, was one of the few remaining prisoners in the Bastille by this time. He was transferred to an insane asylum after attempting to incite a crowd outside his window, yelling: “They are massacring the prisoners; you must come and free them.”

Prise_de_la_Bastille

Paris was “intoxicated with liberty and enthusiasm,” when French revolutionaries converged on the Bastille on the morning of July 14, 1789. The fortress was guarded by 82 “invalides”, veteran soldiers no longer fit for service in the field, and 32 Swiss grenadiers under the command of Governor Bernard-René de Launay, the son of the previous governor and a man literally born, in the Bastille.

The attackers – vainqueurs de la Bastille – numbered 954. Negotiations dragged on until the crowd lost patience, crowding into the outer courtyard and cutting the chain holding the drawbridge. Firing broke out as the bridge slammed down, crushing one unlucky vainqueur while a nearby force of Royal Army troops did nothing to intervene. 98 attackers and one defender died in the fighting.  The mob murdered another 7, after their surrender.

The mob who stormed the Bastille to free the prisoners found only seven: four counterfeiters, two mentally ill and a man sent by his own family for acts of perversion now, lost to history.

Fun fact: Little remains of the Bastille, only a few stones on the Boulevard Henri IV, in Paris. Back in 1790, the Marquis de Lafayette sent the key to the Bastille “across the pond” to his close personal friend, George Washington. Today that key may be found at the home of the first American President – Mount Vernon.

A year later many considered to the Revolution, to be over. All France it seemed gathered on July 14, 1790 to celebrate, the Fête de la Fédération. A new Republic was born. The Marquis de Lafayette led the President of the National Assemblies and all the deputies in an oath of fealty to a constitution, as yet unwritten:

We swear to be forever faithful to the Nation, to the Law and to the King, to uphold with all our might the Constitution as decided by the National Assembly and accepted by the King, and to remain united with all French people by the indissoluble bonds of brotherhood.

Oath of Loyalty to a Constitution, never meant to be. July 14, 1790

“Citizen King” Louis XVI proclaimed his own loyalty to the would-be liberal constitutional monarchy. Queen Marie Antoinette then rose and presented the 5-year-old Dauphin, the future King of France Louis XVII saying “This is my son, who, like me, joins in the same sentiments.”

It was a bright and shining future, never meant to be.

The successful insurrection at Paris had infected all of France as a “Great Fear” spread across the countryside. The absolute monarchy which had ruled for centuries was over, in three years. Louis himself lost his head to the guillotine, in 1793. 16,594 went to the guillotine during a period of national self-immolation known as the “Reign of Terror”, led by the “Committee of Safety” under the direction of Parisian lawyer Maximilian Robespierre.

Among the slain was Queen Marie Antoinette who never did say “let them eat cake”.  The woman’s last words on accidentally stepping on her executioner’s toes were pardon me, sir, I meant not to do it.

Exécution_de_Marie_Antoinette_le_16_octobre_1793
Execution of Marie Antoinette

As many as 40,000 were summarily executed or died in prison awaiting trial, before the hysteria died down.  Robespierre himself lost his head in 1794.

The Napoleonic Wars which followed resulted in a Corsican artillery corporal-turned Emperor, fighting (and winning), more battles than Hannibal, Caesar, Alexander the Great and Frederick the Great, combined.

The saddest part of this whole sorry story may be that of the son of Louis and Antoinette. He was Louis-Charles, the pre-adolescent Duke of Normandy. The boy was King Louis XVII in name only, thrown into a stone prison at the age of 8. He would die in that cell two years later, miserable, sick, tormented and alone.  It all seems so pointless. The Bourbon Dynasty was back in power, within two decades.

July 13, 1908 Apocalypse

In 2018, the non-profit B612 Foundation dedicated to the study of near-Earth object impacts, reported that “It’s a 100 per cent certain we’ll be hit [by a devastating asteroid]”. Comfortingly, the organization’s statement concluded “we’re [just] not 100 per cent sure when.”

The first atomic bomb in the history of human conflict exploded in the skies over Japan on August 6, 1945. The bomb, code named “Little Boy”, reached an altitude of 1,900-feet over the city of Hiroshima at 8:15am, Japanese Standard Time.

A “gun-triggered” fission bomb, barometric-pressure sensors initiated the explosion of four cordite charges, propelling a small “bullet” of enriched uranium the length of a fixed barrel and into a sphere of the same material. Within picoseconds (1/.000000000001 of a second), the collision of the two bodies initiated a fission reaction, releasing an energy yield roughly equivalent to 15,000 tons of TNT.

66,000 were killed outright by the effects of the blast. The shock wave spread outward at a velocity greater than the speed of sound, flattening virtually everything in its path for a mile in all directions.

h13_36

Thirty-seven years before, the boreal forests of Siberia lit up with an explosion 1,000 times greater than the atomic bomb dropped over Hiroshima. At the time, no one had the foggiest notion that it was coming.

The Taiga occupies the high latitudes of the world’s northern regions, a vast international beltline of coniferous forests consisting mostly of pines, spruces and larches between the high tundra, and the temperate forest.  An enormous community of plants and animals, this trans-continental ecosystem comprises a vast biome, second only to the world’s oceans.

The Eastern Taiga is a region in the east of Siberia, an area 1.6 times the size of the continental United States.  The Stony Tunguska River wends its way along an 1,160-mile length of the region, its entire course flowing under great pebble fields with no open water.

Tunguska

On the morning of June 30, 1908, the Tunguska River lit up with a bluish-white light.  At 7:17a local time, a column of light too bright to look at with the naked eye moved across the skies above the Tunguska. Minutes later, a vast explosion knocked people off their feet, flattening buildings, crops and as many as 80 million trees over an area 830 miles, square. A vast “thump” was heard, the shock wave equivalent to an earthquake measuring 5.0 on the Richter scale. Within minutes came a second and then a third shock wave and finally a fourth, more distant this time and described by eyewitnesses as the “sun going to sleep”.

On July 13, 1908, the Krasnoyaretz newspaper reported “At 7:43 the noise akin to a strong wind was heard. Immediately afterward a horrific thump sounded, followed by an earthquake that literally shook the buildings as if they were hit by a large log or a heavy rock”.

Fluctuations in atmospheric pressure were detectable as far away as Great Britain.  Night skies were set aglow from Asia to Europe for days on end, theorized to have been caused by light, passing through high-altitude ice particles.

In the United States, lookout posts from the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory headquartered in Cambridge, Massachusetts, to the Mount Wilson Observatory in Los Angeles recorded a several months-long decrease in atmospheric transparency, attributed to an increase in dust, suspended in the atmosphere.

The “Tunguska Event” was the largest such impact event in recorded history, but far from the first. Or the last.  Mistastin Lake in northern Labrador was formed during the Eocene era 36-million years ago, cubic Zirconium deposits suggesting an impact-zone temperature of some 4,300° Fahrenheit. 

That’s halfway to the temperature, of the sun.

240px-Bolide
“A bolide – a very bright meteor of an apparent magnitude of &−14 or brighter” H/T Wikimedia

Some sixty-six million years ago, the “Chicxulub impactor” struck the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico, unleashing a mega-tsunami of 330-feet in height from Texas to Florida. Superheated steam, ash and vapor towered over the impact zone, as colossal shock waves triggered global earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.   Vast clouds of dust blotted out the sun for months on end leading to mass extinction events, the world over.

The official history of the Ming Dynasty records the Ch’ing-yang event of 1490, a meteor shower in China in which “stones fell like rain”. Some 10,000 people were killed for all intents and purposes, stoned to death.

In 2013, a twenty-meter (66-foot) space rock estimated at 13,000-14,000 tons flashed across the skies of Chelyabinsk, Russia, breaking apart with a kinetic impact estimated at 26-times the nuclear blast over Hiroshima.  This Superbolide (a bolide is “an extremely bright meteor, especially one that explodes in the atmosphere”) entered the earth’s atmosphere on February 15, burning exposed skin and damaging retinas for miles around.  No fatalities were reported though 1,500 were injured seriously enough to require medical attention.

The 450-ton Chicora Meteor collided with western Pennsylvania on June 24, 1938, in a cataclysm comparable to the Halifax Explosion of 1917.  The good luck held, that time, the object making impact in a sparsely populated region.  The only reported casualty, was a cow.  Investigators F.W. Preston, E.P. Henderson and James R. Randolph remarked that “If it had landed on Pittsburgh there would have been few survivors”.

In 2018, the non-profit B612 Foundation dedicated to the study of near-Earth object impacts, reported that “It’s a 100 per cent certain we’ll be hit [by a devastating asteroid]”. Comfortingly, the organization’s statement concluded “we’re [just] not 100 per cent sure when.”

Impact_event

It puts a lot of things into perspective.

July 10, 1943 Where are we Going?

The worst hyperinflation in history peaked on July 10, 1946, when an item that cost 379 Pengö back in September, cost 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000.

You’ve worked all your life.  You’ve taken care of your family, paid your taxes, and paid your bills. You’ve even managed to put a few bucks aside, in hopes of a long and happy retirement.  So…what if you never touched it and that “nest egg” was suddenly reduced by 10%…40%…70%.

The subject of currency devaluation is normally left to eggheads and academics.  Hyperinflation is treated as an historical curiosity.  But I wonder.  Any economic textbook will tell you what fuels inflation.  Even hyperinflation. What makes us think it couldn’t happen here?

Throughout antiquity, Roman law required that coinage retain a certain silver content.  Precious metal made the coins themselves objects of value, and the Roman economy remained relatively stable for 500 years. Republic morphed into Empire over the 1st century BC, leading to a conga line of Emperors minting mountains of coins in their own likenesses. Slaves worked to death in Spanish silver mines. Birds fell from the sky over vast smelting fires, yet there was never enough silver. Silver content was inexorably reduced until the currency itself collapsed, in the 3rd century reign of Diocletian. A once powerful empire and its citizens were left to barter as best they could, in a world where currency had no value.

In the waning days of the Civil War, the Confederate dollar wasn’t worth the paper it was printed on. Paper money crashed in the post-Revolution Articles of Confederation period as well, when you could buy a sheep for two silver dollars, or 150 paper “Continental” dollars. Creditors literally hid from debtors, not wanting to be repaid in worthless paper currency. For generations after our founding, a thing could be described as worthless as, not worth a Continental.

The assistance of French King Louis XIV was invaluable to Revolutionary era Americans, but French state income was only about 357 million livres at the time, with expenses of over half a billion. France descended into its own Revolution, as the government printed “assignat”, notes purportedly backed by 4 billion livres in property expropriated form the church. 912 million livres were in circulation in 1791, rising to almost 46 billion in 1796. One historian described the economic policy of the Jacobins, the leftist radicals behind the Reign of Terror:  “The attitude of the Jacobins about finances can be quite simply stated as an utter exhaustion of the present at the expense of the future”.

That sounds depressingly familiar.

The Austro-Hungarian Empire was on the losing side of WW1, and was broken up after the war.  Lacking the governmental structures of established states, the newly independent nation of Hungary began to experience inflation.  Before the war, a US Dollar would have bought you 5 Kronen.  by 1924 that number had risen, to 70,000.

Hungary replaced the Kronen with the Pengö in 1926, pegged to a rate of 12,500 to one.

Hungary became a battleground in the latter stages of WW2, between the military forces of Nazi Germany and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. 90% of Hungarian industrial capacity was damaged, half of it destroyed altogether.  Transportation was difficult with most of the nation’s rail capacity, damaged or destroyed.  What remained was either carted off to Germany or seized by the Russians, as reparations.

The loss of all that productive capacity led to scarcity of goods, and prices began to rise.  The government responded by printing money.  Total currency in circulation in July 1945 stood at 25 billion Pengö.  Money supply rose to 1.65 trillion by January, 65 quadrillion and 47 septillion July.  That’s a Trillion Trillion.  Twenty-four zeroes. 

47,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000.00

Banks received low rate loans, so that money could be loaned to companies to rebuild. The government hired workers directly, giving out loans to others and in many cases, outright grants.  The country was flooded with money, the stuff virtually grew on trees, but there was nothing to back it up.

Inflation took a straight line into the stratosphere.  An item that cost 379 Pengö in September 1945, cost 1,872,910 by March, 35,790,276 in April, and 862 billion in June.  Inflation neared 150,000% per day as the currency became all but worthless.  Massive printing of money had accomplished the cube root of zero. 

The worst hyperinflation in history peaked on July 10, 1946, when that 379 Pengö item back in September, cost 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000.

The government responded by changing the name, and the color, of the currency.  The Pengö was replaced by the Milpengö (1,000,000 Pengö), which was replaced by the Bilpengö (1,000,000,000,000) and finally the (supposedly) inflation-indexed Adopengö.  The spiral resulted in the largest denominated note in history: the Milliard Bilpengö.  A Billion Trillion Pengö.

The thing was worth twelve cents.

One more currency replacement and all that Keynesian largesse would finally stabilize the currency, but at what price?  Real wages were reduced by 80%. If you were owed money you were wiped out.  The fate of the nation was sealed when communists seized power in 1949.  Hungarians could now share in that old Soviet joke.  “They pretend to pay us, and we pretend to work”.

The ten worst hyperinflations in history occurred during the 20th century, including Zimbabwe in 2008, Yugoslavia 1994, Germany 1923, Greece 1944, Poland 1921, Mexico 1982, Brazil 1994, Argentina 1981, and Taiwan 1949.  The common denominator in all ten were government debt, and a currency with no inherent value, except the tacit agreement of a willing buyer, and a willing seller.

In 2015, Boston University economist Laurence Kotlikoff testified before the Senate Budget Committee.  “The first point I want to get across” he said, “is that our nation is broke.  Our nation’s broke, and it’s not broke in 75 years or 50 years or 25 years or 10 years. It’s broke today”.  Kotlikoff went on to describe the “fiscal gap”, the difference between US’ projected revenue, and the obligations our government has saddled us with.  “We have a $210 trillion fiscal gap at this point”, Kotlikoff said.  11.6 times GDP – the total of all goods and services produced in the United States.

US fiscal operating debt stood at 18 trillion dollars when Professor Kotlikoff testified before congress. That’s just the on-the-books stuff. We are now north of twenty-eight, seemingly hell-bent, for thirty.  The printing presses are working overtime, our currency is unmoored from any objective value.  

What could go wrong?