Category Archives: Historian’s Almanac

Historian’s Almanac for July 12, 2014

Benjamin D. Maxham - Henry David Thoreau - Restored.jpg Today is the birthday of Henry David Thoreau, born in Concord, Massachusetts on July 12, 1817.  That would make him 197 years old, if he were still with us.  Being a figure in American history rather than biblical history, he died at age forty-five, two years shy of what a male born in 1817 could expect to live.   If he was born in1917, he might have lived a little longer, but only a little.  Life expectancy in 1910 was just 48.4 for a male, not much improvement since 1817.  By 1920, it rose to 53.6.  There was more gained between 1910 and 1920, just ten years, than the eighty-three years between 1817 and 1910.

I think my first introduction to Thoreau was as a college freshman when my English Lit professor put WALDEN, OR LIFE IN THE WOODS, on her required reading list.  She has long since gone on to that great library in heaven where I hope to go one day, so I can now confess that I did not actually read the book.  I suspect she knew that at the time.

When I was assigned such an exciting book in a high school English class, I was always able to find it in a Classic Comic Book edition.  Remember those?  They saved many a high school student of my time from the painful task of reading such great classics as SILAS MARNER.  I have checked the complete list of Classic Comics and found that Thoreau’s WALDEN was never published in that format.  Since the internet was more than 30 years in the future, I am not sure how I ever wrote the required paper on WALDEN.  But I did.

I do not recall how much of WALDEN I managed to read, but I have never forgotten the opening sentence and often find myself contemplating it.  “I went out to the woods,” Thoreau begins, “because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”

It is that last bit, “and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived,” that has forever haunted me.  The individual’s ongoing search to find meaning and purpose in his or her life has always interested me.  My favorite books are those written in the first person, whether fiction or nonfiction, where the main character is trying to convince himself that at the end of life’s journey he will not discover that he missed it, that he wasted the brief time allotted to him in a meaningless quest for pleasure and for treasures that in the end will rot away like a fallen tree in the forest.

“Vanity of vanities,
says the Preacher,
vanity of vanities!
All is vanity” (Eccles. 1:1; ESV).

How many people have been born and died through all the ages? The multitude has come and gone without ever being noticed by anyone except God.  They spent their whole lives in daily toil trying to avoid confronting the question of whether or not it would have been best if they had never existed.  This, I believe, is what WALDEN is really about.

Thoreau separated himself from all the distractions around him in order to learn from nature what it had to teach about the real meaning and purpose of life.  He was a romantic who took seriously William Wordsworth’s admonition to find the answers in communion with nature.

“One impulse from a vernal wood
May teach you more of man,
Of moral evil and of good,
Than all the sages can.

Thoreau spent much of his time observing and experiencing all the wonder and beauty of nature.  He did not find evidence of God’s handiwork in nature.  As a transcendentalist, he saw nature as divine.  And since man is a part of nature, he is divine.  In his retreat to Walden Pound Thoreau found what the hippies of the 1970s searched for but never found.

Strangely, Thoreau did not remain in his Garden of Eden around Walden Pound.  After two years, two months, and two days of meditation he returned to civilization, to Concord, Massachusetts, where he lived until his death in 1862.

In the conclusion to WALDEN, Thoreau wrote:  “I learned this, at least, by my experiment; that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.”

Until next time, be good to all God’s creation and always walk under the mercy.

 

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Historian’s Almanac for July 9, 2014

Product DetailsOn the evening of July 8, 1893, James Cornish was stabbed in the chest during a barroom brawl on Chicago’s South side.   He was rushed to Provident Hospital, founded in 1891 by Dr. Daniel Hale Williams (1856-1931).

Dr. Williams was one of only four African American physicians in Chicago at the time.  A former barber and son of a barber, he decided to give up the barber’s trade and follow his growing interest in medicine.  He enrolled in Chicago Medical College, known today as Northwestern University Medical School, in 1880.  After graduating in 1883, Dr. Williams open his own practice.

At the time African American doctors were not allowed to practice in white hospitals.  So, in 1891 Dr. Williams opened America’s first interracial hospital, Provident Hospital, with a total of only twelve beds.

James Cornish was in a desperate state when he was admitted.  He was bleeding internally and sure to die.  Dr. Williams decided to act.  Without the benefit of adequate anesthesia, x-rays, antibiotics, penicillin, or blood transfusion, Dr. Williams opened Cornish’s chest.  The patient’s heart was beating 130 times per minute.  Carefully, Dr. Williams repaired a severed blood vessel and stitched up a one inch cut in the pericardium surrounding the heart.

James Cornish survived the operation.  Fifty-five days later, he left Provident Hospital to live another twenty years.

Dr. Daniel Hale Williams performed the first successful open heart surgery in medical history.  It was not until World War II that heart surgery became an accepted part of medical practice.

Until next time, be good to all God’s creation and always walk under the mercy.

Historian’s Almanac for July 4, 2014

 

  July 4 being a holiday, I find myself with a little free time to think about why so many of my fellow citizens get excited.  July 4 is for many like all other holidays, an excuse to take a day off from their daily, and often boring, routine, to laugh, play, and eat without worrying about tomorrow.  For others, another holiday is but another opportunity to make money off the former.

Let us not forget that other group of our fellow citizens who are denied the enjoyment of leisure, because they must labor for “Ole Masssa,” helping him separate the more fortunate from their hard-earned money.  Holidays are for many just one more day in the daily struggle for survival.  An elderly gentleman who grew up in rural Mississippi during the first half of the 20th century told me that for him July 4 was just another day in the cotton field.

July 4 is an important day of remembrance in the life of American civil religion.  It is a day to celebrate and relive patriotic myths.  Much of what most Americans believe happened on July 4, 1776 is just that, myth.  It just didn’t happen the way our parents said it did.

The Continental Congress did not sign the Declaration of Independence in Philadelphia on July 4, 1776.  Yes, I know that seeing is believing and you have seen the painting by John Trumbull depicting the members of the Continental Congress signing the Declaration of Independence, but that is just an example of “putting a spin on the news,” 18th century style.  As historian David McCullough states in his Pulitzer Prize winning biography of John Adams, “No such scene, with all the delegates present, ever occurred at Philadelphia.”

The historical truth is that the Continental Congress voted on the colonies’ independence on July 2.  For those who want further proof, the PENNSYLVANIA EVENING POST reported:  “This day the Continental Congress declared the United Colonies Free and Independent States.”  History contradicts Jefferson and Adams, both of whom said the signing took place on July 4.  But we are not surprised to learn that those two honorable politicians were capable of telling a lie, or should I say, “correcting” the historical record?

John Adams expected July 2 would become the day for celebrating America’s independence.  In a letter to his wife Abigail, he expressed his belief that July 2, 1776 would be celebrated as the greatest moment in American history.  “It ought to be commemorated,” he wrote, “as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty.  It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.”

As for Thomas Jefferson being the author of the Declaration of Independence, there is both truth and falsehood.  Jefferson received the commission only after both George Washington and John Adams refused it.  Jefferson was a great admirer of the English philosopher John Locke and “borrowed” much of what he wrote from Locke.  In fact, Jefferson’s draft of the Declaration of Independence sounded so much like Locke that James Madison commented “The object was to assert, not to discover truths.”

Pointing out that much of our traditions associated with July 4 are patriotic myths is not meant to in any way diminish the importance of our ancestors’ struggle for independence or their accomplishments.  The United States is not all that we would like for it to be, but we need only watch the evening news to be grateful that we live here rather than most parts of the world.

In closing, I wish to note a few other events that occurred on July 4 in past years.  Both Jefferson and Adams died on July 4, 1826, and James Monroe died on July 4, 1831.  The deaths of both Jefferson and Adams on July 4, 1826 were taken by many as a sign of God’s providence in the founding of the United States.  If that be true, then the fall of Vicksburg to Union forces on July 4, 1863 was a sign of God’s judgment on the Confederate States of America.

Until next time, be good to all God’s creation and always walk under the mercy.

Remembering Robert “Bobby” Kennedy

 

Forty-six years ago I was awarded a B.A. degree in history after five, not the usual four, years of reading books and writing papers.  I was somewhat burned out and in need of a rest before receiving that letter of impending doom from General Hershey, Director of the Selective Service Administration.

Shortly after graduation a letter would arrive from the Selective Service informing me that my 2-S draft status was changed to 1-A, meaning that my deferment was over and I would shortly receive a second letter from Gen. Hershey that began with “Greetings.”  The letter was, of course not an invitation to join the army and become a hero, but a notice that I was selected to become one of Uncle Sam’s mighty warriors.  In all likelihood I would be sent to Vietnam, like other college graduates in 1968, as a fit sacrifice to the god of war.

The summer of 1968 was not a good time for vacationing in Vietnam.  Not too many years ago I had the honor of getting to know a true hero who served as a marine captain in Vietnam.  He told me that the need for new bodies to send out into the jungle on “search and destroy” missions was so great that they were sending over new draftees with very little training.  Yes, at that time they were drafting men into both the army and the marines.  The number of men who were drafted into the marines during the Vietnam War was 42,633.

I felt that I might be able survive through the summer before being drafted.  I always dreamed of going to Europe, and now, before facing death in the rice paddies of Vietnam, perhaps I could fulfill that dream.

I was encouraged to go to Germany for the summer by my German language professor.  She was a native German who married an American officer at the end of World War II.  She introduced me to a foreign language major, who also wanted to go to Germany for the summer.  With encouragement from Frau Helga Leftwich, Jim Sturgis and I made plans to spend the summer studying German and bumming around Germany.

Since I would no longer enjoy the benefits of a student deferment, it was necessary to obtain permission from my draft board to leave the country.  I have to admit that the thought of going to Canada did enter my mind.  As a child I saw one of those Nelson Eddy and Jeanette McDonald movies set in Canada with those red-coated Mounties romancing beautiful girls.  Who would not want to move to Canada after watching Rose Marie (1936)?  Canada?  Perhaps.  The Canadians  speak English, as well as French.  But go to Sweden, the other option?  No way.  Sweden is lovely, and the Swedish girls are beautiful, but how would I ever be able to talk to them?  The draft board proved to be merciful and allowed me to leave the country, so long as I was back by a certain date in September.

A friendly banker who just happened to be from the little German village next door to the village where I wanted to study German agreed to give me a student loan for $1,200 to finance my adventure.  Strange as it may seem today, that was enough money to pay for air transportation to and from France, pay for the two months at the Goethe Institute in Ebersberg, and spend the rest of the time bumming around.  It was also sufficient for me to spend several days in Paris before departing for home at the beginning of September.

Jim and I made reservations on a student charter flight to Paris.  Because Paris was experiencing one of those great romantic moments in her history, our flight was diverted to Brussels, Belgium.  The students from the Sorbonne with the support of members of the trade unions were rioting in Paris in hopes of toppling the government of Charles de Gaulle.  They failed, but when we went to Paris at the end of the summer to catch our return flight, we saw lingering evidence of the riots everywhere in the area around the Sorbonne.

After arriving in Brussels, we and a couple other students, also trying to briefly escape reality, or perhaps as they often said in those days “find themselves,” went to a small café.  While sipping a glass of wine and soaking in the atmosphere, a man ran into the café all excited and tapped the front page of a newspaper on the wall.  You didn’t have to be able to read French to decipher the bold headlines above Robert Kennedy’s picture.  We heard on the news before leaving New York that Robert Kennedy had been shot in California.  We did not know until then, however, that he had died.

Bobby Kennedy was our only hope for ending the madness in Vietnam.  Eugene McCarthy proved in early primaries that a “peace candidate” did have a chance to win the Democratic Party nomination for President in 1968.  Whether he could win the general election was another matter.  Once Robert Kennedy entered the race, there was little doubt that he would be nominated, and if nominated, he would win.

All was lost when Robert Kennedy was gunned down in that Los Angeles ballroom.  Although we could not know it then, we had six more years of killing in Vietnam and six more years of unrest at home ahead of us.  1968 was the high tide of sixties revolution here at home and abroad.  As Bob Dylan said, “the times they are [were] a-changin’.”  Changing they were, but not as we hoped.

With the rise of Richard Nixon, the insecure former carnival barker, onetime champion of McCarthyism, and self-righteous Cold Warrior, America took a sharp turn to the right.  The idealism of the sixties drowned in despair.  Personal peace and affluence became the new mantra.  Students no longer went on to the universities and colleges to obtain an education and discover the meaning and purpose of life.  Instead of education, they sought training so that they could compete for success in a new franchised America.

For just a brief period America’s youth rebelled against the materialism that so characterized life in postwar America.  But they failed, and they embraced materialism with a passion that would have embarrassed their parents.  A lack of critical thinking and an expertise in the Social Darwinist struggle for survival are the desired skills for success in today’s world.

“Little boxes on the hillside,
Little boxes made of ticky tacky,
Little boxes on the hillside,
Little boxes all the same.
There’s a green one and a pink one
And a blue one and a yellow one,
And they’re all made out of ticky tacky
And they all look just the same.

And the people in the houses
All went to the university,
Where they were put in boxes
And they came out all the same,
And there’s doctors and lawyers,
And business executives,
And they’re all made out of ticky tacky
And they all look just the same.”

(“Little Boxes,” words and music by Malvina Reynolds; copyright 1962 Schroder Music Company.)

Would it all have happened differently, if Robert Kennedy had lived, and not been shot by a deranged busboy 46 years ago?  Maybe.  Maybe not.  We historians can only record the past.  We cannot predict the future.

Until next time, be good to all God’s creatures, and always walk under the mercy.

 

SPAM®, Seventy-five Years of Success

Hormel Spam Museum in Austin, Minnesota.

Hormel Spam Museum in Austin, Minnesota. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As a child, it was not unusual for me to carry my lunch to school in a small paper sack or a little tin box with a handle on its side.  I’m not sure, but I do believe I was fortunate enough to own a lunch box with Gene Autry on it.  Gene Autry was “America’s Favorite Cowboy” and my greatest hero.

Descended on both sides of my family from hardworking immigrant stock, those who really built America, not the robber barons who owned it then and still do, carrying my lunch to school was a kind of status symbol.  The sandwich or two that made up the main course was peanut butter and jelly, bologna, or that marvelous canned mystery meat known by its brand name, SPAM®.

Each region of our great nation is noted for some particular cuisine, for example, fried chicken in the south.  But, if there is one dish that more than any other can be described as truly American, it is SPAM.

For those of you raised on fast food, the contents of which remain a closely guarded secret that baffles the brightest of today’s scientists, the ingredients of SPAM are simple and not unhealthy.  Well, perhaps I should qualify that just a little.  Whether the original or the lite variety, SPAM is rather high in salt and fat.

Jay C. Hormel, President of Geo. A. Hormel & Co. developed SPAM to make use of pork shoulders, a largely wasted part of the pig at that time.  At first it was called Hormel Spiced Ham®. The name, “SPAM” resulted from a contest to name the new canned meat during a party on New Year’s Day, 1937.  The winner was the actor Kenneth Daigneau, who received $100 for dreaming up one of the most readily, recognized brand names in history.

The meaning of “SPAM” is not known for sure, but usually assumed to mean “spiced ham” or “special processed American meat.”  Hormel officially registered the name on May 11, 1937, thus giving the product an official birthday, so to speak.

It was World War II that assured SPAM would never disappear from store shelves in America or around the world.  One-hundred million pounds of SPAM were consumed by American and Allied troops who claim that they had it for breakfast, dinner, and supper.  Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev attributed the Russian victory on the Eastern Front in part to SPAM.  “Without SPAM,” he said, “we wouldn’t have been able to feed our army.”

SPAM has been on the menu for American troops in every war since World War II except the Gulf War.  Saudi Arabia would not allow it, since pork is a forbidden food that country.

By 1959, Hormel sold one billion cans of SPAM Classic.  That figure rose to two billion in 1970, three billion in 1980, five billion in 1994, and seven billion in 2007.  If the cans of SPAM were placed in a row end to end, they would circle the earth twelve and a half times.  More cans of SPAM have been sold around the globe than there are people living on the planet.

There are twenty-one varieties of SPAM today, but the connoisseur’s favorite remains the original, the Classic. There is a SPM fan club, a SPAM museum, and T-shirts, mugs, and even underwear with the SPAM image on them.  The really dedicated SPAM will want make at least one pilgrimage to the SPAM museum, located on Spam Blvd. in Spamtown, U.S.A., also called Austin, Minnesota, its birthplace.  Not only is it the subject of uncounted jokes, but also eulogized in songs.

I often look at the cans of SPAM on the grocery store shelf, but have not purchased or eaten any for many, many years.  Formerly it was because I can still taste those sandwiches I had to carry in my school lunches.  These days, I look at the amount of salt and fat in a serving and decide to pass it by.  I convince myself that it is simply not a healthy choice for senior citizen.  That may just be a convenient excuse, because the late Senator Harry Byrd of West Virginia was known to eat three SPAM sandwiches with mayonnaise per week until his death at ninety-two.

Now that I think about it, maybe I will buy a can of SPAM Classic and give it go, just for old times’ sake.

I will close by referring you the song, “Pam Don’t Take My SPAM”:  https://soundcloud.com/spam-brand/pam-spam

Until next time, be good to all God’s creatures and always live under the mercy.

Christmas Eve, 2013

Christmas Eve, chromolithography

Christmas Eve, chromolithography (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today is Christmas Eve, 2013, the day most of us choose to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ.  I say “choose,” because no one knows for sure on just what day Jesus was born.  In fact, even the year is disputed.  Getting right the day of his birth is not important.  That he was born is the single most important event is history.

For those of you who found time to read this humble blog entry, here are a few notable events that occurred on Christmas Eve in years gone by.

The first radio broadcast of both voice and music took place on Christmas Eve, 1906.  Sailors aboard vessels in the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea were astonished when at exactly 9:00 p.m. they received over their ship’s radio in Morse code the message, “CQ CQ CQ,” a general call to all stations within range.  The “dots and dashes” message was followed by the voice of Reginald Aubrey Fessenden.  After a brief introduction, Fessenden played “O Holy Night” on his violin, followed by his reading from the Gospel of Luke: “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to men of good will.”  [A dramatic recreation of Fessenden’s broadcast:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Elu0HF4a8yI ]

Sixty-two years later the Apollo 8 astronauts were orbiting the moon on Christmas Eve.  Mimicking Fessenden’s historic broadcast, the astronauts took turns reading the opening verses from Genesis 1.  They ended their broadcast with “Good night, good luck, a Merry Christmas and God bless all of you — all of you on the good Earth.”   [For live coverage of the Apollo 8 broadcast by CBS News:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1aIf0G2PtHo ]

On Christmas Eve in 1818, a poem by Joseph Mohr titled “Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht,” set to music by Franz Gruber, was performed for the first time during midnight mass at St. Nicholas parish church in Oberndorf, Germany.  On Christmas Eve, 1914, “Silent Night, Holy Night” was sung in German, French, and English during a spontaneous truce along the Western Front at the opening of World War I.  It remains one of the best loved Christmas hymns of all time.  [To hear the original German:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oUb8ySdERKs ]

One of my most memorable Christmas Eves was that of 1968.  It was the 150th anniversary of “Silent Night, Holy Night.”  I attended midnight mass at St. Stanislaus Church in my hometown of Bay City, Michigan.  St. Stanislaus is a neo gothic church in what was earlier the Polish section of the city.  Outside everything was covered in snow.  The beautiful crowded sanctuary was not much warmer.  At the front of the sanctuary were fresh cut pine trees and a lovely manger scene. The smell of fresh pine mingled with the smell of incense drifting through the air, added to the ambiance of the moment.  Since it was the anniversary of the first performance of “Silent Night, Holy Night,” the church’s orchestra and choir performed it in numerous languages, including of course, Polish.

I wish to complete these thoughts on Christmas Eve, 2013 with two of my favorite Christmas poems.  First, the better known “Journey of the Magi” by T.S. Eliot:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BCVnuEWXQcg

Second, the lessor known “Bethlehem BC” by Rod McKuen: http://www.rodmckuen.com/music/bethbc.mp3

Merry Christmas to one and all, and until next time, do good, be good, and always live under the mercy.

The Day Camelot Died

John F. Kennedy motorcade, Dallas, Texas, Nov....

John F. Kennedy motorcade, Dallas, Texas, Nov. 22, 1963 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“What happened fifty years ago on November 22?”

I put the question to one of my history survey classes.  Forty-two students, mostly sophomores, sat in front of me, staring into empty space.  Perhaps I asked the wrong question?  Maybe I should ask who won the Super Bowl fifty years ago.  No doubt then their zombie-like faces would suddenly come to life.  A lively discussion would ensue, as different answers came from all across the lecture hall.

After a moment of silence, not at all surprising, someone said, “World War I ended.”  Another brave soul on the other side of the hall countered with, “Pearl Harbor!”  Before another example of historical revisionism could be heard, a student who was pecking away at the screen on his cellphone looked up and shouted, “President Kennedy died!”

I was not surprised by the response to my question.  The appalling lack of knowledge about our nation’s history, any sense of historical time, not to mention a profound ignorance of geography, is not surprising to those of us who choose to teach college and university students.  I am no longer surprised to discover that many of my students can only read at an elementary level.  Nor am I surprised to learn that some are unable to read or write, at all.

I do not remember where I was, or what I was doing, when I first heard that President Kennedy had been assassinated in Dallas, Texas.  I was a freshman in college.  Classes were canceled.  Many of us gathered in the library to hear a young history professor give an impromptu eulogy.  By the time he finished, he was almost in tears.  We were all silent, aware that we would never forget what happened on that day in Dallas.

John F. Kennedy’s assassination marked the end of idealism and hope of a better future for many of us who wanted to believe that human beings were by nature good and reasonable.  That day darkness descended on Camelot.  Before the decade ended, both Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. would also be assassinated.

John F. Kennedy was not the only public figure to die on November 22, 1963.  Both C. S. Lewis, the lord of Narnia, and Aldous Huxley, author of Brave New World, died that day, their deaths overshadowed by President Kennedy’s.

The number one hit song on November 22, 1963, was “I’m Leaving It All Up to You,” written by Robert Dale Houston and recorded by Dale and Grace.  Houston was standing along the parade route and waved to the President just moments before the fatal shots were fired.

At least ten songs were subsequently written and recorded memorializing JFK’s death, among them Bob Dylan’s “Desolation Row” and Phil Ochs’ “Crucifixion.”

J.F.K.: The Man and the Myth by Victor Lasky was at the top The New York Times Best Seller List for non-fiction.  It was a scathing critic of J.F.K. and the whole Camelot myth.  The book was quickly pulled, only to reappear three years later more damning than at first.

I don’t remember where I was, or what I was doing, when I first heard that President Kennedy was dead.  I do remember, however, that I was on Interstate 79 passing through Wheeling, West Virginia, when I heard over the car radio that Elvis Presley had just been rushed to a hospital in Memphis, Tennessee.  Funny what one remembers, isn’t it?

Until next time, be good to all God’s creation and always live under the mercy.

For Bob Dylan’s “Desolation Row”:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i-EC_egRR1M

For Phil Ochs’s “Crucifixion”:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8UtNDTEqp_k

Historian’s Almanac for November 2, 1213

Harry S. Truman (1884 – 1972), 1945 – 1953 the...

l would be negligent if I did not take time to comment on several notable historical events that occurred on November 2.  So, not wishing to be guilty of such a grievous offense, may I call your attention to the following?

On this date in 1884 that Harry S. Truman was born in the little town of Lamar, Missouri.  It was more than a month later that his parents, John Anderson and Martha Ellen Truman were able to agree on a name.  The county clerk, having grown tired of waiting, chose to register the new infant without any name.  A first name was not difficult to decide on.  “Harry” was to honor his maternal uncle, Harrison Young.  But what was to be little Harry’s middle name?

The dilemma facing John and Ellen was which grandfather to honor, his paternal grandfather, Anderson Shipp[e] Truman, or his maternal grandfather, Solomon Young?  Choosing one over the other would only complicate things Harry as well as his parents.

The solution was simple.  Harry’s middle name would be simply “S” for both grandfathers.  Thus it is technically incorrect to refer to the 33rd President of the United States as Harry S. Truman, since the “S” is not an abbreviation, but in fact his middle name.  However, since Harry S Truman always signed his name Harry S. Truman, so does everyone else.

Daniel Boone

It is the birthday of Daniel Boone, one of America’s great folk heroes, and a legend in his own time.  Boone fought for the British in the French and Indian War, as did George Washington, and against them in the American Revolution, as did Washington.  Daniel Boone was a consistent failure in every business venture he undertook, but a brilliant success and legend as a frontiersman.

Boone married Rebecca Bryan in 1856.  They had ten children.  One grandson became the first white man born in Kentucky.  Daniel Boone died on September 26, 1820, just a few weeks shy of his 86th birthday.  He was laid to rest next to Rebecca who died March 18, 1813.  Their graves remained unmarked until the mid-1830s.  “All you need to be happy,” said Boone, “is a good gun, a good horse, and a good wife.”

And finally, it is the anniversary of the first and only flight of the “Spruce  Goose,” the largest plane ever built.  Made of birch, not spruce, the monster plane has a baggage compartment large enough to hold two railroad boxcars.  It was the brainchild of Henry Kaiser and Howard Hughes.  Hughes piloted the plane on November 2, 1947, as it soared seventy feet above the earth for a distance of one mile in less than one minute.  Those who wish to see this aviation wonder will find it on display in McMinnville, Oregon.

To view a newsreel of the Spruce Goose’s only flight, click on http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wGNyAd2uffg

Until next time be good, do good, and always live under the mercy.

 

Historian’s Almanac for October 29, 2013

President Herbert Hoover.

President Herbert Hoover. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On October 25, 1929, President Herbert Hoover gave a glowing assessment of the nation’s economic health.  “The fundamental business of the country,” he said, “is on a sound and prosperous basis.”  Four days later the Stock Market collapsed.  The Great Depression began.  Workers lost their jobs and millionaires became paupers.  Hunger and despair stalked the land.

People began to speak of “Hoovervilles,” shanty towns where unemployed and homeless people lived, “Hoover blankets,” newspapers used as blankets by unemployed who slept on park benches, and “Hoover flags,” pockets tuned inside out because there wasn’t anything to put in them.

Sir Walter Raleigh lost his head—literally!—on this day in 1618.  Accused and convicted of treason, Sir Walter was sent the scaffold in London.  He was a man of many talents, a poet, historian, adventurer, soldier, and a favorite of Queen Elizabeth I, who knighted him in 1584. But as the sages say, “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned,” and when Raleigh caught the eye of one of Elizabeth’s ladies in waiting, she sent them both to the Tower.

In 1945, Gimbal’s Department Store in New York City began selling the first commercially-made ballpoint pens.  They were an immediate success.  Selling for $12.50 each, $162.41 in today’s money, they earned Gimbal’s a nice profit of $500,000 ($4,496,583.33 today) in the first month.

Until next time, be good to all God’s creation and always go under the mercy.

Historian’s Almanac for October 28,2013

It was 51 years ago today, 28 October 1962, that the world did not come to an end, and we were granted a reprieve.  Thanks to President John F. Kennedy’s refusal to yield to those around him who were advising him to launch a preemptive strike on the Soviet Union, the world’s two super powers pulled back from the brink of a nuclear holocaust.  At no time in history, either before or since, has the world come so close to unleashing a fiery tempest on earth that would rival the cauldron of hell.

On October 14 pictures taken by U-2 spy planes verified the existence of Soviet medium range missiles on the island of Cuba, just 90 miles from the southern coast of the United States.  President Kennedy informed the American people of the danger in a nationwide television address on the evening of the 21st.  Two days later, on the 23rd, the president ordered a quarantine of Cuba.  Naval vessels were given orders to intercept Soviet ships en route to Cuba.  The following day the Strategic Air Command was put on the highest alert ever.  Nuclear war, and perhaps the end of civilization itself, appeared eminent.

There are various scenarios in literature of the world ending in some great fiery cataclysm.   In Norse mythology it is Ragnarök , the last battle marking the doom of the gods and the end of the world:  “Surtr will fling fire in all directions. Ásgarð and Miðgarð and Jötenheim and Niflheim will become furnaces. The worlds will burn and the gods will die. Men, women, and children will die, giants will die, monsters will die. Birds and animals will die. The earth will sink into the sea.”  Many Christians believe that there will be a great climatic battle between the armies of the Antichrist and the armies of the Lord.

The nuclear holocaust that appeared likely 51 years ago would have rendered the whole world like Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  But it didn’t happen.  The dogs of war were not let loose.  Instead, Aleksandr Feklisov (alias Fomin), a AKGB operative based in the Soviet Embassy, met at the Occidental Restaurant with John Scali, an ABC News correspondent.  Together they worked out an agreement by which the crisis could be ended without either party loosing too much face.

On October 27, President Kennedy assured Khrushchev that the United States would not invade Cuba.  The following day, October 28, Nikita Khrushchev announced that he had reached an agreement allowing for the removal of the missiles.

On this day in 1886, President Grover Cleveland dedicated the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor.  The Hon. William M. Evarts gave the presentation address.  His longwinded and very boring speech was cut mercifully short when the sculptor, Frdéric Bartholdi, who was to pull the lever releasing the veil covering the statue, did so before Evarts finished.  The cheers from the crowed convinced Evarts the sit down.

In 1919 Congress enacted the Volstead Act providing for enforcement of the Eighteenth Amendment which stated that “the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors within, the importation thereof into, or the exportation thereof from the United States and all territory subject to the jurisdiction thereof for beverage purposes is hereby prohibited.”  Not until the present Congress have our elected representatives displayed such folly.

In 2009, Angela Merkel was sworn in for her second term as Chancellor of Germany.  Little did she know at the time that the American National Security Agency was listening in on her personal cellphone conversations.  Should she need to settle an argument with her husband over what he or she did or said on any given day or night, she need only check with the clerk on duty at the NSA, likely to be an inexperienced individual without a security clearance working for a private contractor.

It is the birthday of the English novelist Evelyn Waugh, who said, “There is a species of person called a ‘Modern Churchman’ who draws the full salary of a beneficed clergyman and need not commit himself to any religious belief.”

Until next time be good to all of God’s creation and always walk under the mercy.