Archive for the “Historic Dates” Category

u15This year a number of books on the First World War have been published in recognition of its upcoming 100th anniversary: on July 28, 1914 Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia, sparking a chain reaction of hostilities. Serbia’s ally, Russia, declared war on Austria-Hungary. Austria-Hungary’s ally, Germany, then declared war on Russia and Russia’s ally France. Then German troops swept through neutral Belgium to invade France.  In response to the violation of Belgium’s neutrality and sovereignty, the United Kingdom declared war on Germany. The United States remained steadfastly neutral until 1917, when it declared war in response to German attacks on US ships.

Perhaps this all seems remote to people in Massachusetts in 2014. But the war didn’t seem at all remote to the people of Orleans, Mass. on July 21, 1918, when a U-boat surfaced off the Cape and began firing on the tugboat Perth Amboy and the four barges it was towing.   Chatham Coast Guard sailors rowed lifeboats directly into the lines of fire and rescued all 32 people on board the tugboat and barges. The U-boat fired several shells directly at the town. One landed in a pond, the others sank into the sand.  Eventually the U-boat left.  It was the first attack on American soil since the War of 1812.

No one has ever learned why the Germans attacked the Perth Amboy and Orleans. One theory is that the U-boat was chasing a larger American ship, lost track of it, and happened to stumble upon the Perth Amboy. Another suggestion is that the U-boat was on a general mission to damage American morale by attacking the mainland.

However, given that it took an armed U-boat an hour and a half to disable five completely unarmed civilian vessels, the Germans were probably not as threatening as they had hoped. “Germans Prove Poor Shots,” read one Globe headline.

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JFK, Jr and Carolyn Bessette Kennedy on their wedding day

JFK, Jr and Carolyn Bessette Kennedy on their wedding day

Today was a tragic day in US History when John F. Kennedy Jr., his wife Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy and her older sister Lauren died when the airplane JFK, Jr. was piloting when down in the Atlantic near Martha’s Vineyard. A massive search/rescue/recovery mission was undertaken to find the plane and bring home their bodies. This sad story captivated the world over for many days.

But, it was not the only thing that happened on this day in history. Mary Todd Lincoln, widow of assassinated president Abraham Lincoln died of a stroke on July 16, 1882. Czar Nicholas and his family were murdered by the Bolsheviks in Russia (1918) – leading to many stories of the possible survival of their daughter Anastasia. Adolf Hitler ordered preparations for the invasion of England (1940) leading to World War 2. The United States detonated the first atomic bomb in a test in New Mexico (1945). Apollo 11 (1969) headed for the moon. Also Barbara Stanwyck (1907), Ginger Rogers (1911) and Will Ferrell (1967) were all born on July 16th.

You can look up any day in history at either History.com or Historynet.com.

 

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FireworksJuly 4 is coming up, a day for fireworks, cookouts and spending time with friends.   Here’s a brief guide to local fun on Independence Day.

Somerville’s July 4th festivities will be Thursday evening at Trum Field. Live music  starts at 6:15, fireworks at 9:15. Everything you need to know, including rain date information, is here.

If you want to go to the banks of Charles, hear the Boston Pops and see fireworks you need to read this guide by cbslocal.

You could also listen to the Pops and see the fireworks on a big screen at Robbins Farm Park in Arlington. The details are here.

And tomorrow is the start of Boston Harborfest, an annual festival of activities and tours in and around Boston bostonharborfestthat begins July 2 and ends July 6. You can take architectural tours, play eighteenth century games, attend a chocolate-making demonstration, listen to Cape Verdean jazz, and more. Check out their calendar of events.

Have fun and stay safe.

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In honor of Bunker Hill Day, which commemorates the defeat of American forces on a different hill.

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Since the beginning of the Muslim Journeys programming here at Somerville Public Library, I’ve been thinking about how little attention historians have paid to the Islamic elements of “Western” history–such as the Jefferson Administration’s diplomatic relations  and military confrontations with North African states.

 

indians

Today, on the seventieth anniversary of D-Day, University of Michigan historian Juan Cole rightly points out the vital role Muslim soldiers played in the Allies’ victory over the Axis.  During the Second World War the British Indian Army was the largest volunteer army in the world, and more than 30 percent of its soldiers and officers were Muslim.  Allied victories such as Operation Compass and El Alamein would not have been possible without  Indian troops.  Indian troops also fought the Axis in the invasion of Italy.

Muslim soldiers from France’s African colonies also fought on the allied side in the North African and Italian campaigns.  African troops accounted for up to half of all French troops in the liberation of Provence.

Yet today’s commemorations of D-Day present a picture that is Eurocentric, parochial and inaccurate.

 

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Postcard from 1930

Postcard from 1930

Somerville Public Library’s central branch is marking its centennial this year. Way back in January of 1914, the Italian Renaissance-style building at 79 Highland Avenue opened for patrons after its dedication on Dec. 17, 1913.

Famed library architect Edward Lippincott Tilton designed the new building. According to the Somerville Journal in an article dated Dec. 12, 1913, the library was constructed at a cost of $125,000 (which is $2,993,333 in today’s dollars). Great library supporter and steel magnate Andrew Carnegie donated $80,000. The furniture and bookcases were made of oak. The book capacity was 200,000 volumes.

Other events in our library’s life:

- In 1928, the second floor of the central branch – Wellington Hall – was dedicated to library trustee J. Frank Wellington, who at that time had served for 35 years in that capacity.

- The 1975-’76 renovation: $1.7 million was spent on the facelift, which is $7.5 million in today’s dollars. Of that total, $1.5 million came from a bond issue. Staff members recall many books being kept in trailers near City Hall, while staff and some resources were relocated to City Hall’s basement while renovations were taking place.

- In 1976, after renovations were complete, the Children’s Room was dedicated to late Somerville citizen Marguerite “Missy” Alice LeHand, President Franklin Roosevelt’s longtime secretary and confidante. James Roosevelt, grandson of the late president, also attended the dedication.

- In 1981, the library was picked by the Massachusetts Library Association as the Library of the Year.

Can you recognize the difference from today's entrance?

Can you recognize the difference from today’s entrance?

- In 1989, the branch was added to the National Register of Historic Places.

- In 2007, the library was awarded a $40,000 Planning and Design Grant from the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners.

- In 2012, Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners added Somerville to its waiting list for an $18 million construction grant to build a new library in Union Square. In order to receive the grant, Somerville must come up with a solid plan for funding the whole project, which is projected to cost $45 million. Plans are still developing.

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At the dedication in 1913, Drew Bert Hall, Somerville’s librarian, had this to say: “Yet this service, great as it is, is but a beginning of what shall be. For there is not a child or a young man, a housewife or a merchant, a laborer or a banker, a mechanic or a lady in this land to-night who does not need something to be found in good books; whether it be comfort for their sorrows of the day, or of knowledge for the struggles of the morrow, or of inspiration for their visions of the future.”

Can this 100-year-old sentiment still be relevant to us today? You betcha.

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For more information on the history of all three branches of the Somerville Public Library, visit the Local History Room on the second floor of the central branch. Our website has some tips to check out before you stop by. There is also a display on the first floor of the central branch with with lovely pictures of the branch pre-renovation, during the renovation in 1975-’76 and a few from the library right after the renovation.

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For most of us today is just another Monday, or at most an excuse to go out for Mexican food tonight or make a margarita at home. For Mexican-Americans and Mexicans residing in the US, today is a celebration of Mexican heritage. But what is Cinco de Mayo?

pueblaThe holiday commemorates the highly unlikely victory of a Mexican army over invading French forces on May 5, 1862, near the city of Puebla, Mexico. Here’s the background: after the U.S. invasion of 1846-48 and two civil wars, the Mexican government was destitute. President Benito Juarez declared a two-year moratorium on foreign debt payments.  France responded by invading: Napoleon III thought he could take advantage of the situation to establish a puppet state in Latin America that would further French interests.

Unfortunately for Napoleon, most Mexicans weren’t down with this plan. As the French marched inland, they encountered heavy, but unsuccessful resistance. However, outside the city of Puebla a poorly-equipped Mexican army roughly half the size of the French forces defeated the invaders, forcing them to retreat back toward the coast. The Mexican commander, Ignacio Zaragoza Seguin, sent a one-line note to President Juarez: “Las armas nacionales se han cubierta de gloria” (“The national arms are covered in glory.”)

The victory was an incredible gift to Mexican morale: the French army was considered the best in the world, and they had been beaten by a Mexican force half their size.

The French did successfully regroup, march inland, take Mexico City and establish a puppet government. However, their success was brief. The French-sponsored collapsed in 1867. and President Juarez’s government re-convened in Mexico City.

If you have any interest at all in Mexican history, come over to the library and browse the shelves where the books have call numbers beginning with 972. Among some of the most interesting reads in that section are Enrique Krauze’s Mexico: Biography of Power, a fascinating history of Mexico from 1810 to the present. I also love The Mexico City Reader, which is a kaleidoscopic overview of the cultural, social and historic life of one of the world’s greatest megacities. And I think it’s obligatory for Americans to read A Glorious Defeat: Mexico and its War with the United States.

Happy reading. And perhaps have a margarita while you’re at it.

 

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Shakespeare

As my friend and co-worker Ellen noted below, April 23 is traditionally observed as the birthday of William Shakespeare, an anniversary celebrated around the world.

 And this is a big one: the Sweet Swan of Avon is 450.

 But some people don’t see what there is to celebrate.

 Many very smart people don’t like Shakespeare and that’s fine. To each his own.  However, I think everyone should be aware of his influence on our language.  This nobody  from a provincial town (which is how most people thought of him during his  lifetime) transformed English, giving it a vividness, beauty and bite that it had never had before.  And every day most people quote Shakespeare without knowing it.

 Maybe you were the sort of person who liked to lie low in English class, because the difficulty of Shakespeare’s language set your teeth on edge, and you had a stony-hearted teacher who liked to call on you, even though you thought it was all a verbal wild goose chase.  And when you finished school, you thought good riddance, I’m done with Shakespeare.

Well, the more fool you: you use Shakespeare’s English every day, and it’s high time you gave the Devil his due. Let’s say all of a sudden you find yourself in a pickle, or facing something so scary it makes your hair stand on end, and then as good luck would have it your problems vanish into thin air: you’re quoting Shakespeare. 

If you’ve ever had a guest who’s eaten you out of house and home and you waited for them to leave with bated breath (and that seemed to take forever and a day), you’re quoting Shakespeare.

 Now I’m not saying Shakespeare is the be all and the end all.  And I don’t expect this blog post to transform you into a Shakespeare enthusiast  in the twinkling of an eye, so  don’t feel defensive and get up in arms.  I know people who are exceedingly well read who will never pick up Macbeth or Hamlet.  And you can’t just go and read everything that other people consider important: that way madness lies.

 At this point you’re probably thinking this is too much of a good thing or that I’m laying it on with a trowel. And frankly I could do this all the live long day. That’s a foregone conclusion.

 So now I’ll stop.

 Or let’s just say the game is up.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Today is 450th anniversary of the birth of William Shakespeare.  It is also a rainy day, and a day that falls within National Poetry Month.  So without further ado, I give you a rain-themed poem by Shakespeare:

 

 

 

When that I was and a little tiny boy,
With hey, ho, the wind and the rain,
A foolish thing was but a toy,
For the rain it raineth every day.

But when I came to man’s estate,
With hey, ho, the wind and the rain,
‘Gainst knaves and thieves men shut their gate
For the rain, it raineth every day.

But when I came, alas! to wive,
With hey, ho, the wind and the rain,
By swaggering could I never thrive,
For the rain, it raineth every day.

But when I came unto my beds,
With hey, ho, the wind and the rain,
With toss-pots still had drunken heads,
For the rain, it raineth every day.

A great while ago the world begun,
With hey, ho, the wind and the rain,
But that’s all one, our play is done.
And we’ll strive to please you every day.

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Flags will fly at half mast around the City today in remembrance of the victims and families of the 2013 Boston Marathon Bombings.  For details about support services available to community members on the one-year anniversary of these tragic events, click here.

In Boston, a tribute ceremony for survivors and first responders will be held at the Hynes Convention Center at 12:00 p.m.  You can watch the ceremony online here.  Community members are also invited to gather along Boylston Street this afternoon, and to share in a moment of silence which will take place at 2:49.

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