Archive for the “Historic Dates” Category
Our mother has given away our meal
to an elderly woman three houses down,
her husband passing some time in the night.
With the woman’s children already
en route, my mother swaddled our turkey
in aluminum foil, stacked the tins
of buttered rolls, and sealed casseroles
beneath glass-top lids. As the assailable son,
I was enlisted at once, carrying over dish
upon dish, my brother and his bride allowed
to sleep in. I expected to see the postures
of loss: the widow weeping alone at her sink,
perhaps wiping a singular wineglass dry,
a slant of light through the kitchen’s box pane.
But she took each dish without inviting me in,
and as I stood in the yard, she latched
the door. I imagined his body recumbent
in bed, arms folded across the chest, each heavy
palm a lifeless bird. Beside him, she sweeps
closed his eyes, lifts the slightly lagging jaw,
seals his parted lips. In our dining room, the table
is cleared, the abalone china returned to the shelves,
each silver tine slid into its case. My mother nooses
a velvet bag (the candlestick her father brought
from the war) then unhinges the table’s leaves,
drawing out each piece like a galleon’s plank.
My father’s been sent for burgers and fries
while my brother continues his vigil of sleep,
young wife dozing off and on at his side.
Who’s to say when they will rise from their den
as she runs a finger along the ridge of his nose,
lifts an eyelash, come to rest on his cheek?
– Jonathan Fink
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Today is the sixty-fifth anniversary of the atomic bombing of Nagasaki. Paired with the bombing of Hiroshima, these two events hastened the end of World War II and demonstrated the horrible power of nuclear weapons. It’s also arguable that fear of a nuclear holocaust helped prevent a third world war between the United States and the Soviet Union.
The first (and so far, only) use of nuclear weapons has been the subject of narrative, analysis and reflection by some of our finest writers. The classic account of the first use of the atomic bomb is John Hershey’s Hiroshima. Based on the author’s interviews with six survivors, Hiroshima tells what it was like to be on the ground at the site of a nuclear detonation and has been judged one of the finest works of journalism of the twentieth century.
After the Japanese surrender, George Weller became one of the first U.S. Journalists to enter Nagasaki and see the effects of the bombing. He talked to survivors and to their doctors. He also interviewed Allied prisoners who had seen the blast. His dispatches were censored. Every word. After Weller’s death his son found copies of his reports–and the first eyewitness accounts of Nagasaki were finally published after sixty years.
Another route to learning more about Hiroshima and Nagasaki is to read about the atomic bomb’s conflicted creator, Robert Oppenheimer, a man at his happiest dealing with equations in a classroom who was horrified by the reality his brilliance made. Jeremy Bernstein is both a physicist and a staff writer at the New Yorker known for his profiles of scientists. He modestly describes his Oppenheimer: Portrait of an Enigma as the magazine profile he never wrote. Yet most reviewers agree that Bernstein’s work is an exceptionally perceptive and nuanced account of one of the commanding figures of twentieth-century physics as well as a compelling guide to the intertwining of politics and science.
And speaking of politics, the decision to use atomic bombs against Japan has never stopped being the subject of heated debate with both sides fervently taking the moral high ground. In The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb and the Architecture of an American Myth, Gar Alperovitz argues that the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki wasn’t about winning the war at all, but about intimidating the Soviet Union. However, in Weapons for Victory: The Hiroshima Decision Fifty Years Later, historian Robert James Maddox lays out the case for military necessity, arguing that the use of atomic bombs was absolutely necessary to prevent a long and bloody land war in Japan.
There’s some interesting material online about Hiroshima and Nagasaki as well. Life has a collection of never-before seen photos. Gizmodo has interviews with survivors of Hiroshima who recount what they experienced and then there’s this utterly bizarre clip of This Is Your Life, in which a survivor of Hiroshima meets a crew member of the Enola Gay (the plane that dropped the bomb.)
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July 8, 1932: Here’s some perspective for all the pundits bemoaning recent poor stock performance: on this date the Dow closed at 41.
July 10, 1866: Edson P. Clark patents the indelible pencil, which he soon regrets inventing when his five-year-old gets hold of it and tackles the walls of the parlor.
July 12, 1982: In an announcement that completely relieves all anxiety about the U.S.-Soviet arms race, the Post Office assures U.S. citizens that they will continue to receive mail after a nuclear war.
July 18, 1975: The jury in Boston Bruins player David Forbes’ trial for aggravated assault can’t reach a verdict, probably because most of them don’t understand what’s wrong with a hockey player being violent.
July 22, 1975: Apparently desperate for something to do that’s completely unrelated to Watergate or Vietnam, the House of Representatives restores U.S. citizenship to Robert E. Lee.
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…the 225th anniversary of one of the early battles of the War of Independence. Technically, the British won, but the reason we celebrate the battle is because it proved once and for all that Americans could fight, and that the war wasn’t going to be a cakewalk for the royal army. The British captured Bunker Hill, which was their objective, but at horrific cost: out of 2,300 British troops, 828 were wounded and 226 killed.
Actually at SPL we’re only about two and a half miles from the site of the battle, which has a monument that provides a great view of Boston. It’s free so go check it on a day when the weather’s nice.
The American Revolution is the subject of some fascinating books, many of which we have here at SPL. Let’s start with two of my personal favorites. Stacy Schiff’s A Great Improvisation: Franklin, France and the Birth of America, is a masterful account of the diplomacy and intrigues that secured French aid for the United States and made American victory possible. Schiff’s book provides an evocative picture of eighteenth-century Parisian society, a riveting account of the espionage and double-crosses undertaken by French, British and American spies, and a revealing portrait of the 70-year-old Benjamin Franklin, elder statesmen, internationally renowned scientist, and (lucky for us) a born diplomat.
Very different but equally compelling is Christopher Hibbert’s Redcoats and Rebels: The American Revolution Through British Eyes. For an American, it’s an eye-opening account of the other side of the story, if you’ll forgive the cliche. You’ll find out what British intellectuals such as Samuel Johnson (who wrote a pamphlet entitled “Taxation No Tyranny”) thought about the American revolt, get a revealing look at the infighting of the British political establishment, and learn about the plight of Americans whose only crime was to remain loyal to the only government they had ever known.
I haven’t read it myself, but I have friends who would lynch me if I didn’t recommend David McCullough’s John Adams. McCullough always felt Adams has been under appreciated, seen as “that little fat fellow between the two Virginians, Washington and Jefferson,” as he told the New York Times. To McCullough, Adams was a lively, passionate man of outstanding moral courage, without whom American independence would not have happened. People I know say this biography is compulsively readable. If you’re in the mood for TV instead of reading, we also have the HBO series based on the book in AV.
If none of those titles sound appealing come by and browse our section on the Revolution, the call numbers that begin 973.3
If you’re interested in learning more about local events during the War of Independence, come by and sign in to use our Local History Room. We’ve got a file of articles on events that happened in Somerville in 1775, and also some titles that might be of interest. The 1811 Memoir of His Own Life by R. Lamb is a British sergeant’s autobiography that includes an account of his military service in America. The rather elaborately entitled Official Letters to the Honorable American Congress: written during the war between the United Colonies and Great Britain by His Excellency, George Washington is exactly that, and The History of the Rise and Progress of the war in North-America from the time of General Gage’s arrival at Boston in May 1774 is a 1780 history of the Revolution by a British M.P. sympathetic to the Americans. None of the books in Local History can leave the library and they will require careful handling, but don’t hesitate to come by and peruse them here.
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June 4, 1919: Finding themselves with time on their hands now that World War I is over, the U.S. Marines invade Costa Rica. As President Wilson said, “It keeps them off the streets.”
June 6, 1844: The Young Men’s Christian Association is formed in London. Founder George Williams is heard lamenting, “If only we could think of a catchy song.”
June 9, 1790: The Philadelphia Spelling Book is the first book copyrighted under the new U.S. Constitution. Even less entertaining volumes soon followed.
June 18, 1959: Louisiana Governor Earl Long is committed to the state mental hospital. But since he’s still governor, he fires the hospital’s director and appoints a new one who promptly releases him. Public office has its perks.
June 19, 1865: Two years after the Emancipation Proclamation, slaves in Texas are finally told they’re free. Hey, no sense in rushing things.
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Once again, to answer questions you haven’t asked, here are some of the many important events that happened in March.
March 2, 1717: “The Loves of Mars and Venus” opens in London, thus becoming the first ballet ever performed in England. Male audience members hate it, females who attend love it, prompting a nationwide discussion about why men and women are so different.
March 4, 1865: With no trace of irony, the Confederate Congress approves the “final” design of the CSA’s official flag.
March 5, 1946: Winston Churchill’s “Iron Curtain” speech at Westminster College totally steals the limelight from President Truman’s “Shower Curtain” speech at the Bed & Bath Retail Convention.
March 19, 1687: French explorer Robert Cavalier de la Salle is murdered by one of his own men. Employee satisfaction matters.
March 28, 1930: To provide an economic stimulus to the Turkish sign-making industry, Constantinople and Angora change their names to Istanbul and Ankara.
March 31, 1776: Abigail Adams writes to her husband John to “remember the Ladies” (i.e., work for civil rights for women) as he helps form the U.S. government. Talk about husbands not listening to their wives…
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February 2, 1709: Alexander Selkirk is rescued after being marooned on a desert island for four years. It’s 300 years too early for him to become a consultant for a reality TV show, so he has to settle for inspiring Robinson Crusoe.
February 7, 1839: In the Senate Henry Clay makes his famous pronouncement, “I’d rather be right than be President.” Which is just as well, considering he ran for President (and lost) five times.
February 16, 1899: Knattspyrnufelag Reykjavkur, Iceland’s first football club, is established, but they don’t actually play for another six months, which is how long it takes them to figure out how to fit Knattspyrnufelag Reykjavkur on their jerseys.
February 17, 1766: The first volume of Edward Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire is published. No one buys it because the title gives away the ending.
February 20, 1927: Golfers in South Carolina are arrested for violating the Sabbath (makes you wonder what they would have done to Tiger Woods).
February 25, 1932: Austrian-born Adolf Hitler is granted German citizenship, allowing him to run for national office. And people have the nerve to think we have an immigration problem?
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So once again, to answer questions you’ve never asked, here are some of the many historic events that took place in January.
January 8, 794: The church at Lindisfarne, England is destroyed by Vikings. The local bishop is outraged to discover the diocese’s insurance company considers Viking raids in northern Europe a preexisting condition.
January 13, 1854: Anthony Foss patents the accordion.
January 14, 1854: Anthony Foss’s neighbors begin plotting his death.
January 24, 41: Roman Emperor Caligula is assassinated by his bodyguards. His successor the Emperor Claudius asks the imperial bodyguards to re-read their job descriptions.
January 25, 1149: Godfried the Young becomes Duke of Brabant. One of the perks of being duke is making everyone in Brabant keep calling you “the Young” even after you pass forty.
January 28, 1495: Pope Alexander VI gives up his son Cesare as a hostage to the King of France. Let’s start making a list of everything that is wrong with this scenario…..
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Today marks the sixty-eighth anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor and the United States’ entry into World War II. It shocked the nation–and the world (even Japanese diplomats were surprised by the attack). And by pushing us into the Second World War, it spelled the end of an America that thought it could stay untouched by the rest of the world.
If you’re interested in learning more about this momentous event and its aftermath, we have numerous books on the subject, from the classic At Dawn We Slept to the much more recent Pearl Harbor Betrayed. One of the more fascination explorations of the events of December 7 is Pearl Harbor Ghosts, an examination of the attack’s impact on Hawaii, which went from being a sleepy tropical archipelago to a military-industrial boomtown. And if you want to do some armchair traveling, visit the website of the USS Arizona Memorial. Here is footage from the attack that was broadcast to stunned audiences in the following days.
If you want to observe the anniversary in a less studious way, we’ve got the 2001 Jerry Bruckheimer film Pearl Harbor at both the main library and the East Branch.
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December 3, 1586: According to some sources, Sir Thomas Harriot introduces the potato to England on this date–because if there’s one thing Northern Europe doesn’t have enough of, it’s root vegetables.
December 11, 1919: Deciding that monuments to tapeworms or mosquitoes would just be kind of gross, the citizens of Enterprise, Alabama dedicate a monument to the boll weevil.
December 16, 1773: The Boston Tea Party. Disgruntled colonists dump 340 crates of tea into Boston Harbor to protest taxes. Only 50 or so people show up, but some of the louder, more obnoxious town criers exaggerate attendance figures.
December 17, 1875: Violent bread riots in Montreal. When you want croissants, baguettes are as good a reason to smash windows as any.
December 26, 1854: History records that paper made from wood pulp was first publicly exhibited in Buffalo on this date–which tells you more about entertainment options in Buffalo than it does about paper manufacturing.
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