History

Misc

  • Juneau, Alaska, is larger than Rhode Island.
  • After reading Coleridge’s Biographia Literaria, Byron said, “I wish he would explain his explanation.”
  • If A + B + C = 180°, then tan A + tan B + tan C = (tan A)(tan B)(tan C).
  • Five counties meet in the middle of Lake Okeechobee.
  • “Life resembles a novel more often than novels resemble life.” — George Sand

No one knows whether Andrew Jackson was born in North Carolina or South Carolina. The border hadn’t been surveyed well at the time.

Vision

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In short my dear Friend you and I have been indefatigable Labourers through our whole Lives for a Cause which will be thrown away in the next generation, upon the Vanity and Foppery of Persons of whom we do not now know the Names perhaps. — The War that is now breaking out will render our Country, whether she is forced into it, or not, rich, great and powerful in comparison of what she now is, and Riches Grandeur and Power will have the same effect upon American as it has upon European minds.

— John Adams, letter to Thomas Jefferson, Oct. 9, 1787

A Bit Too Dashing

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:G%C3%A9n%C3%A9ral_FRANCOIS_FOURNIER_SARLOVEZE.jpg

In 1794, at Strasbourg, the French Hussar François Fournier-Sarlovèze challenged a young man to a duel and killed him. When his fellow officer Pierre Dupont de l’Étang denied him entrance to a ball on the eve of the funeral, the fiery Fournier challenged him to a duel. The two fought with swords, and Fournier was wounded.

When he had recovered he challenged Dupont to a second duel, and wounded him. In their third meeting each inflicted a slight wound on the other. Finally the two agreed to a private war that would continue until one of them confessed that he was beaten or “satisfied.” They even drew up a contract:

  1. Every time that Dupont and Fournier shall be a hundred miles from each other they will each approach from a distance to meet sword in hand.
  2. Should one of the contracting parties be prevented by service duties, he who is free must travel the entire distance, so as to reconcile the obligations of service with the demands of the present treaty.
  3. No excuse whatever, excepting those resulting from military obligations, will be admitted.
  4. The present being a bona fide treaty, no alteration can be made to the conditions agreed upon by the contracting parties.

Over the ensuing 19 years the two fought at least 30 duels, each eventually rising to the rank of general. Finally, after a particularly savage meeting in Switzerland in 1813, in which Dupont ran his sword through Fournier’s neck, Dupont explained that he would be married soon and wanted to conclude the matter with a pistol duel in a nearby wood. Dupont twice tricked his opponent into firing at empty clothing, then advanced on him with pistols primed and claimed his victory. In The Duel, Robert Baldick writes, “Thus ended after a total period of nineteen years, the longest, friendliest and most mobile duel in history.”

(This story is so absurdly romantic that I doubted whether it happened at all, but every source I can find confirms at least the essentials. Joseph Conrad found an account of the rivalry in a provincial newspaper and turned it into his 1908 short story “The Duel,” and Ridley Scott turned Conrad’s story into the 1977 film The Duellists. I’ll keep digging.)

Tipu’s Tiger

When British forces plundered the palace of Indian prince Tipu Sultan in May 1799, they found an infuriating trophy:

In a room appropriated for musical instruments was found an article which merits particular notice, as another proof of the deep hate, and extreme loathing of Tippoo Saib towards the English. This piece of mechanism represents a royal Tyger in the act of devouring a prostrate European. There are some barrels in imitation of an Organ, within the body of the Tyger. The sounds produced by the Organ are intended to resemble the cries of a person in distress intermixed with the roar of a Tyger. The machinery is so contrived that while the Organ is playing, the hand of the European is often lifted up, to express his helpless and deplorable condition.

Tipu had allied himself with France against the encroaching East India Company, and the Fourth Mysore War brought his downfall. The tiger, it appears, had symbolized his defiance of British colonialism. The instrument was removed to London, where it became a centerpiece in the Company’s Leadenhall Street gallery; John Keats saw it there and immortalized it in The Cap and Bells, his satirical verse of 1819:

Replied the Page: “that little buzzing noise,
Whate’er your palmistry may make of it,
Comes from a play-thing of the Emperor’s choice,
From a Man-Tiger-Organ, prettiest of his toys.”

“Indeed, the horrific image of a wild beast attacking a helpless fellow Briton must have stirred strong reactions in the British audience so few years after the brutal Mysore campaigns,” write Jane Kromm and Susan Benforado Bakewell in A History of Visual Culture (2010). “Contained within one wondrous work of art was an illustration of the intensity of resentment toward European imperialism, the ferocious power of the enemy prince, and the moral justification for colonization.”

Podcast Episode 46: The 1925 Serum Run to Nome

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In 1925, Nome, Alaska, was struck by an outbreak of diphtheria, and only a relay of dogsleds could deliver the life-saving serum in time. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll follow the dogs’ desperate race through arctic blizzards to save the town from epidemic.

We’ll also hear a song about S.A. Andree’s balloon expedition to the North Pole and puzzle over a lost accomplishment of ancient civilizations.

Our segment on the 1925 serum run to Nome was based chiefly on Gay Salisbury and Laney Salisbury’s excellent 2003 book The Cruelest Miles. Here’s the statue of Balto, who led the final sled into Nome, in Central Park:

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Balto_east_hazy_day_jeh.jpg

The inscription reads “Dedicated to the indomitable spirit of the sled dogs that relayed antitoxin 600 miles over rough ice, across treacherous waters, through arctic blizzards, from Nenona to the relief of stricken Nome.”

“The Ballad of Knut and Nils,” Yann and Cory Seznec’s song honoring S.A. Andrée’s disastrous 1897 attempt to reach the North Pole by balloon, is on Yann’s blog. You can find more of the brothers’ music here.

This week’s lateral thinking puzzle is from Paul Sloane and Des McHale’s 1998 book Ingenious Lateral Thinking Puzzles. Sloane invites interested readers to his Lateral Puzzles Forum, where visitors can set and solve these puzzles interactively.

This week’s episode is sponsored by our patrons and by Harry’s — go to Harrys.com now and they’ll give you $5 off if you use the coupon code CLOSET with your first purchase.

You can listen using the player above, download this episode directly, or subscribe on iTunes or via the RSS feed at http://feedpress.me/futilitycloset.

Please consider becoming a patron of Futility Closet — on our Patreon page you can pledge any amount per episode, and all contributions are greatly appreciated. You can change or cancel your pledge at any time, and we’ve set up some rewards to help thank you for your support. You can also make a one-time donation via the Donate button in the sidebar of the Futility Closet website.

Many thanks to Doug Ross for the music in this episode.

If you have any questions or comments you can reach us at podcast@futilitycloset.com. Thanks for listening!

Turning Points

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During the drive on Washington city in July 1863, Confederate sharpshooters were unknowingly presented with a particularly high-value target. Captain Robert E. Park wrote: ‘The sharpshooters and the Fifth Alabama, which supported them, were hotly engaged; some of this enemy, seen behind their breastworks, were dressed in civilians’ clothes, and a few had on linen coats. I suppose they were “Home Guards” composed of Treasury, Post Office and other Department clerks.’ Park’s ‘Home Guards’ were in fact President Abraham Lincoln and his retinue, who had left the White House to inspect the defences around Washington. A doctor standing a few feet away from Lincoln was hit, and only prompt action by a nearby Union officer in throwing the president to the ground prevented a sudden and dramatic change in the course of Civil War history.

— John Anderson Morrow, The Confederate Whitworth Sharpshooters, 2002

[After the Battle of Belmont,] Grant went into a cabin and lay down on a sofa to rest, but he was there only a moment. He got up almost immediately to see what was happening on deck. As he rose a musket ball cut cleanly through the boat’s wooden side and splintered the head of the sofa where he had been lying. And still we waste ink and paper in trying to prove that there is no such thing as luck!

— W.E. Woodward, Meet General Grant, 1928

Podcast Episode 45: Crossing Africa for Love

https://books.google.com/books?id=MT4uAQAAIAAJ

When Ewart Grogan was denied permission to marry his sweetheart, he set out to walk the length of Africa to prove himself worthy of her. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll find out whether Ewart’s romantic quest succeeded.

We’ll also get an update on the criminal history of Donald Duck’s hometown, and try to figure out how a groom ends up drowning on his wedding night.

Sources for our segment on Ewart Grogan’s traversal of Africa:

Ewart Scott Grogan and Arthur Henry Sharp, From the Cape to Cairo: The First Traverse of Africa From South to North, 1902.

Edward Paice, Lost Lion of Empire: The Life of Cape-to-Cairo Grogan, 2001.

Julian Smith, Crossing the Heart of Africa: An Odyssey of Love and Adventure, 2010.

Norman Wymer, The Man From the Cape, 1959.

Martin Dugard, The Explorers, 2014.

Brian O’Brien, “All for the Love of a Lady,” in The Best of Field and Stream: 100 Years of Great Writing from America’s Premier Sporting Magazine, 2002.

“One Incredibly Long Church Aisle,” Times Higher Education, June 15, 2001.

“A Man Who Did Derring-Do,” Telegraph, March 31, 2001.

Listener Ed Kitson directed us to this letter from Jane Baillie Welsh to Thomas Carlyle, dated May 7, 1822, in which she writes, “I am not at all the sort of person you and I took me for.”

And listener Alex Klapheke sent us a copy of Swiss criminologist Karl-Ludwig Kunz’s 2004 paper “Criminal Policy in Duckburg,” from Images of Crime II: Representations of Crime and the Criminal in Politics, Society, the Media, and the Arts, edited by Hans-Jörg Albrecht, Telemach Serassis, and Harald Kania.

This week’s lateral thinking puzzle was contributed by listener Price Tipping.

You can listen using the player above, download this episode directly, or subscribe on iTunes or via the RSS feed at http://feedpress.me/futilitycloset.

Please consider becoming a patron of Futility Closet — on our Patreon page you can pledge any amount per episode, and all contributions are greatly appreciated. You can change or cancel your pledge at any time, and we’ve set up some rewards to help thank you for your support.

You can also make a one-time donation via the Donate button in the sidebar of the Futility Closet website.

Many thanks to Doug Ross for the music in this episode.

If you have any questions or comments you can reach us at podcast@futilitycloset.com. Thanks for listening!

Podcast Episode 43: Ben Franklin’s Guide to Living

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As a young man, Benjamin Franklin drew up a “plan for attaining moral perfection” based on a list of 13 virtues. Half a century later he credited the plan for much of his success in life. In this episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll explore Franklin’s self-improvement plan and find out which vices gave him the most trouble.

We’ll also learn how activist Natan Sharansky used chess to stay sane in Soviet prisons and puzzle over why the Pentagon has so many bathrooms.

Sources for our segment on Benjamin Franklin’s 13 virtues:

Benjamin Franklin, Autobiography, 1791.

Gordon S. Wood, The Americanization of Benjamin Franklin, 2005.

Dinah Birch, ed., The Oxford Companion to English Literature, 2009.

Here’s Franklin’s list of virtues:

  1. Temperance. Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation.
  2. Silence. Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation.
  3. Order. Let all your things have their places; let each part of your business have its time.
  4. Resolution. Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve.
  5. Frugality. Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself; i.e., waste nothing.
  6. Industry. Lose no time; be always employ’d in something useful; cut off all unnecessary actions.
  7. Sincerity. Use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly; and, if you speak, speak accordingly.
  8. Justice. Wrong none by doing injuries, or omitting the benefits that are your duty.
  9. Moderation. Avoid extreams; forbear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve.
  10. Cleanliness. Tolerate no uncleanliness in body, cloaths, or habitation.
  11. Tranquillity. Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable.
  12. Chastity. Rarely use venery but for health or offspring, never to dullness, weakness, or the injury of your own or another’s peace or reputation.
  13. Humility. Imitate Jesus and Socrates.

And here’s a sample page from his “little book”:

https://books.google.com/books?id=w0YSAAAAYAAJ

Related: As an exercise in penmanship, the teenage George Washington copied out “110 rules of civility and decent behavior in company and conversation,” and Thomas Jefferson once sent a “decalogue of canons for observation in practical life” to the new father of a baby boy.

Listener mail: Human rights activist Natan Sharansky’s use of mental chess to keep himself sane in Soviet prisons is detailed in his 1988 memoir Fear No Evil and in this BBC News Magazine article.

Greg’s research queries:

The authority on jumping up steps at Trinity College, Cambridge, seems to be G.M. Trevelyan, who became Master there in 1940. In his Trinity College: An Historical Sketch (1972), he writes:

It is a well-authenticated Trinity tradition that Whewell, when Master, jumped up the hall steps at one leap, a feat that is very seldom accomplished even by youthful athletes. Sir George Young told his son Geoffrey Young that he had actually witnessed this performance; Sir George said that the master, in cap and gown, found some undergraduates trying in vain to accomplish the feat. He clapped his cap firmly on his head, took the run, and reached the top of the steps at one bound.

In a letter to the Times on March 16, 1944, he writes, “On a recent visit to Cambridge, General Montgomery, on entering the Great Court at this college, pointed to the hall steps and said to me, ‘Those were the steps my father jumped up at one bound.’ The general’s father, Henry Hutchinson Montgomery, afterwards Bishop, was an undergraduate at Trinity from 1866 to 1870. He came here from Dr Butler’s Harrow with a great reputation as a runner and jumper.”

He adds, “Now we have a fully authenticated case of which I had not heard. Bishop Montgomery himself told his son the general, and the story was often told in the family. The general has asked me to send the facts to you in the hope that publication may elicit further facts.” I don’t know whether he ever received any.

As far as I can tell, Swiss criminologist Karl-Ludwig Kunz’s essay “Criminal Policy in Duckburg” was published only in a 2009 collection titled Images of Crime 3: Representations of Crime and the Criminal, which I can’t seem to get my hands on. The fullest discussion I’ve been able to find in English is this brief 1998 article from the Independent.

The program to distribute bananas to Icelandic children in 1952 is mentioned in science writer Willy Ley’s 1954 book Engineers’ Dreams.

The credit “Diversions by Irving Schwartz” in the 1966 movie The Sand Pebbles is mentioned (but not really explained) in this 2007 Telegram obituary of character actor Joseph di Reda.

MIT historian T.F. Peterson’s 2003 book Nightwork: A History of Hacks and Pranks at MIT says that the legend IHTFP (“I hate this fucking place”) “has been unofficially documented in both the U.S. Air Force and at MIT as far back as the 1950s.” This MIT page traces it as far back as 1960 and gives dozens of euphemistic variants.

This week’s lateral thinking puzzle was submitted by listener Paul Kapp.

You can listen using the player above, download this episode directly, or subscribe on iTunes or via the RSS feed at http://feedpress.me/futilitycloset.

Please consider becoming a patron of Futility Closet — on our Patreon page you can pledge any amount per episode, and all contributions are greatly appreciated. You can change or cancel your pledge at any time, and we’ve set up some rewards to help thank you for your support.

You can also make a one-time donation via the Donate button in the sidebar of the Futility Closet website.

Many thanks to Doug Ross for the music in this episode.

If you have any questions or comments you can reach us at podcast@futilitycloset.com. Thanks for listening!

Podcast Episode 42: The Balmis Expedition: Using Orphans to Combat Smallpox


In this episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll tell how Spanish authorities found an ingenious way to use orphans to bring the smallpox vaccine to the American colonies in 1803. The Balmis Expedition overcame the problems of transporting a fragile vaccine over a long voyage and is credited with saving at least 100,000 lives in the New World.

We’ll also get some listener updates to the Lady Be Good story and puzzle over why a man would find it more convenient to drive two cars than one.

Sources for our segment on the Balmis expedition:

J. Antonio Aldrete, “Smallpox Vaccination in the Early 19th Century Using Live Carriers: The Travels of Francisco Xavier de Balmis,” Southern Medical Journal, April 2004.

Carlos Franco-Paredes, Lorena Lammoglia and José Ignacio Santos-Preciado, “The Spanish Royal Philanthropic Expedition to Bring Smallpox Vaccination to the New World and Asia in the 19th Century,” Clinical Infectious Diseases, Nov. 1, 2005.

Catherine Mark and José G. Rigau-Pérez, “The World’s First Immunization Campaign: The Spanish Smallpox Vaccine Expedition, 1803-1813,” Bulletin of the History of Medicine, Spring 2009.

John W.R. McIntyre, “Smallpox and Its Control in Canada,” Canadian Medical Association Journal, Dec. 14, 1999.

Pan-American Health Organization: The Balmis-Salvany Smallpox Expedition: The First Public Health Vaccination Campaign in South America (accessed Jan. 18, 2015).

Listener Roger Beck sent these images of the memorial and propeller from the Lady Be Good in Houghton, Mich.:

Lady Be Good memorial

Lady Be Good propeller

And listener Dan Patterson alerted us to ladybegood.net, an impressive and growing repository of information about the “ghost bomber,” including the recovered diaries of co-pilot Robert Toner and flight engineer Harold Ripslinger and some ingenious reconstructions of the lost plane’s flight path after the nine crewmen bailed out.

This week’s lateral thinking puzzle was submitted by listener David White, who sent these corroborating links (warning — these spoil the puzzle).

You can listen using the player above, download this episode directly, or subscribe on iTunes or via the RSS feed at http://feedpress.me/futilitycloset.

Please consider becoming a patron of Futility Closet — on our Patreon page you can pledge any amount per episode, and all contributions are greatly appreciated. You can change or cancel your pledge at any time, and we’ve set up some rewards to help thank you for your support.

You can also make a one-time donation via the Donate button in the sidebar of the Futility Closet website.

Many thanks to Doug Ross for the music in this episode.

If you have any questions or comments you can reach us at podcast@futilitycloset.com. Thanks for listening!

Sound Measure

On Nov. 11 each year the British Commonwealth observes two minutes’ silence to remember the fallen in World War I. Of the first observance, in 1919, the Daily Express wrote, “There is nothing under heaven so full of awe as the complete silence of a mighty crowd.”

In 2001, artist Jonty Semper released Kenotaphion, a two-CD collection of these silences drawn from 70 years of BBC, British Movietone, and Reuters broadcasts — he had spent four years assembling every surviving recording. “I really don’t think people will find it boring,” he told the Guardian. “This is raw history.”

Is this a contradiction, an audio recording of an absence of sound? “Unlike the Cenotaph at Whitehall, these recordings are far from empty, with Big Ben drowning out the coughs and uncomprehending children of the reverent, amid atmospheric weather effects, broadcast static, startled birds, and rifle reports,” notes Craig Dworkin in No Medium (2013). “The ony truly silent Armistice minutes occurred during the Second World War, from 1941 to 1944, when the ceremony was suspended. Absent from Semper’s discs, those years speak the loudest and are by far the most moving.”

Land of Opportunity

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Auguste Bartholdi patented the Statue of Liberty. In 1879, seven years before its dedication in New York Harbor, the French sculptor filed a one-page abstract describing his “design for a sculpture”:

The statue is that of a female figure standing erect upon a pedestal or block, the body being thrown slightly over to the left, so as to gravitate upon the left leg, the whole figure being thus in equilibrium, and symmetrically arranged with respect to a perpendicular line or axis passing through the head and left foot. The right leg, with its lower limb thrown back, is bent, resting upon the bent toe, thus giving grace to the general attitude of the figure. The body is clothed in the classical drapery, being a stola, or mantle gathered in upon the left shoulder and thrown over the skirt or tunic or under-garment, which drops in voluminous folds upon the feet. The right arm is thrown up and stretched out, with a flamboyant torch grasped in the hand. The flame of the torch is thus held high up above the figure. The arm is nude; the drapery of the sleeve is dropping down upon the shoulder in voluminous folds. In the left arm, which is falling against the body, is held a tablet, upon which is inscribed ‘4th July, 1776.’ This tablet is made to rest against the side of the body, above the hip, and so as to occupy an inclined position with relation thereto, exhibiting the inscription. The left hand clasps the tablet so as to bring the four fingers onto the face thereof. The head, with its classical, yet severe and calm, features, is surmounted by a crown or diadem, from which radiate divergingly seven rays, tapering from the crown, and representing a halo. The feet are bare and sandal-strapped.

Bartholdi also received copyright 9939G for his “Statue of American Independence,” and architect Richard Morris Hunt received copyrights for the pedestal.

Barry Moreno’s Statue of Liberty Encyclopedia (2005) recounts the memory of a German immigrant who encountered the statue in 1911: “I remember we see Statue of Liberty. Gus asked me, ‘What’s the statue?’ And then we’re looking … and his father say, ‘That’s Christopher Columbus.’ And I put my two cents out. I say, ‘Listen, this don’t look like Christopher Columbus. That’s a lady there.'”

Two Can Play

At Chancellorsville in 1863, a Confederate sniper was plaguing Union troops until an Army sharpshooter thought of a clever solution:

First he took off his cap, and shoved it over the earthwork. Of course, Johnnie Reb let go at it, thinking to kill the careless man under it. His bullet struck into the bank, and instantly our sharpshooter ran his ramrod down the hole made by the Johnnie’s ball, then lay down on his back and sighted along the ramrod. He accordingly perceived from the direction that his game was in the top of a thick bushy elm tree about one hundred yards in the front. It was then the work of less than a second to aim his long telescopic rifle at that tree and crack she went. Down tumbled Mr. Johnnie like a great crow out of his nest, and we had no more trouble from that source.

Recounted in Adrian Gilbert, Sniper, 1994.

Reflection

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“Sir Winston Churchill once told me of a reply made by the Duke of Wellington, in his last years, when a friend asked him: ‘If you had your life over again, is there any way in which you could have done better?’ The old Duke replied: ‘Yes, I should have given more praise.'” — Bernard Montgomery, A History of Warfare, 1968

Far From Home

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This is a detail from the allegorical painting Taste, Hearing and Touch, completed in 1620 by the Flemish artist Jan Brueghel the Elder. If the bird on the right looks out of place, that’s because it’s a sulphur-crested cockatoo, which is native to Australia. The same bird appears in Hearing, painted three years earlier by Brueghel and Peter Paul Rubens.

How did an Australian bird find its way into a Flemish painting in 1617? Apparently it was captured during one of the first Dutch visits to pre-European Australia, perhaps by Willem Janszoon in 1606, who would have carried it to the Dutch East Indies (Indonesia) and then to Holland in 1611. That’s significant — previously it had been thought that the first European images of Australian fauna had been made during the voyages of William Dampier and William de Vlamingh, which occurred decades after Brueghel’s death in 1625.

Warwick Hirst, a former manuscript curator at the State Library of New South Wales, writes, “While we don’t know exactly how Brueghel’s cockatoo arrived in the Netherlands, it appears that Taste, Hearing and Touch, and its precursor Hearing, may well contain the earliest existing European images of a bird or animal native to Australia, predating the images from Dampier’s and de Vlamingh’s voyages by some 80 years.”

(Warwick Hirst, “Brueghel’s Cockatoo,” SL Magazine, Summer 2013.) (Thanks, Ross.)

The Long View

Hitler’s chief architect, Albert Speer, favored a “theory of ruin value” in which German buildings would collapse into aesthetically pleasing ruins, like those of classical antiquity. “I want German buildings to be viewed in a thousand years as we view Greece and Rome,” he said.

Using special materials and applying statistical principles, Speer claimed to have created structures that in 1,000 years would resemble Roman ruins. “The ages-old stone buildings of the Egyptians and the Romans still stand today as powerful architectural proofs of the past of great nations, buildings which are often ruins only because man’s lust for destruction has made them such,” he wrote.

Hitler liked to say that the purpose of his building was to transmit his time and its spirit to posterity. Ultimately, all that remained to remind men of the great epochs of history was their monumental architecture, he remarked. What then remained of the emperors of the Roman Empire? What would still give evidence of them today, if not their buildings […] So, today the buildings of the Roman Empire could enable Mussolini to refer to the heroic spirit of Rome when he wanted to inspire his people with the idea of a modern imperium. Our buildings must also speak to the conscience of future generations of Germans.

Hitler endorsed the idea, favoring the use of durable materials such as granite to reflect his soaring ambitions. “As capital of the world,” he said, “Berlin will be comparable only to ancient Egypt, Babylon, or Rome!” Ironically, this came true: When ancient Rome collapsed, its greatest buildings were pillaged for building materials, and when the Russians demolished Speer’s grandiose Chancellery in 1947, its marble was reused to build a metro station.

Romance Denied

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James Bosworth survived the Charge of the Light Brigade in 1854 and went on to become a railway stationmaster in Southampton, England, where he died in an accident at age 70. His epitaph reads:

Though shot and shell flew around fast,
On Balaclava’s plain,
Unscathed he passed, to fall at last,
Run over by a train.

(Thanks, Doug.)

Choosing Seats

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Daniel Webster had two chances to become president via the vice presidency. In 1840 the Whig party nominated William Henry Harrison for president and Harrison offered the vice presidency to Webster. Webster turned it down and Harrison died after a single month in office; his death would have made Webster president.

Eight years later Webster competed with Zachary Taylor for the Whig party’s nomination. Taylor won and invited him to be his running mate, and Webster again shunned the office, saying, “I do not propose to be buried until I am really dead and in my coffin.” Taylor won the White House and died 16 months afterward, which again would have made Webster president if he’d accepted.

Related: In the election of 1880 James Garfield simultaneously won the presidency, retained his seat in the House, and won a Senate seat — he’d been elected to all three offices at once.

Appalling Slave Punishments

From A Narrative of the Adventures and Escape of Moses Roper, From American Slavery, 1848:

“A large farmer, Colonel McQuiller in Cashaw county, South Carolina, was in the habit of driving nails into a hogshead so as to leave the point of the nail just protruding in the inside of the cask; into this, he used to put his slaves for punishment, and roll them down a very long and steep hill. I have heard from several slaves, (though I had no means of ascertaining the truth of this statement,) that in this way he had killed six or seven of his slaves.”

Roper himself escaped from slavery at least 16 times throughout the American South, most often from the prolifically sadistic South Carolina cotton planter J. Gooch. Examples:

“Mr. Gooch had gone to church, several miles from his house. When he came back, the first thing he did was to pour some tar upon my head, then rubbed it all over my face, took a torch with pitch on, and set it on fire; he put it out before it did me very great injury, but the pain which I endured was most excruciating, nearly all my hair having been burnt off.”

http://docsouth.unc.edu/neh/roper/roper.html

“This instrument he used to prevent the negroes running away, being a very ponderous machine, several feet in height, and the cross pieces being two feet four, and six feet in length. This custom is generally adopted among the slave-holders in South Carolina, and other slave States. One morning, about an hour before day break, I was going on an errand for my master; having proceeded about a quarter of a mile, I came up to a man named King, (Mr. Sumlin’s overseer,) who had caught a young girl that had run away with the above machine on her. She had proceeded four miles from her station, with the intention of getting into the hands of a more humane master. She came up with this overseer nearly dead, and could get no farther; he immediately secured her, and took her back to her master, a Mr. Johnson.”

http://docsouth.unc.edu/neh/roper/roper.html

“This is a machine used for packing and pressing cotton. By it he hung me up by the hands at letter a, a horse, and at times, a man moving round the screw e, and carrying it up and down, and pressing the block c into a box d, into which the cotton is put. At this time he hung me up for a quarter of an hour. I was carried up ten feet from the ground, when Mr. Gooch asked me if I was tired? He then let me rest for five minutes, then carried me round again, after which, he let me down and put me into the box d, and shut me down in it for about ten minutes.”

“To one of his female slaves he had given a doze of castor oil and salts together, as much as she could take; he then got a box, about six feet by two and a half, and one and a half feet deep; he put this slave under the box, and made the men fetch as many logs as they could get; and put them on the top of it; under this she was made to stay all night.”

Roper finally escaped to the North in 1834 and moved to England, where he published the book and toured making abolitionist speeches. He died in 1891.

“The Sons of Our Sons”

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In 1919 Russian author Ilya Ehrenburg wrote a message to posterity:

The sons of our sons will marvel,
Paging the textbook:
“1914 … 1917 … 1919 …
How did they live? The poor devils!”
Children of a new age will read of battles,
Will learn the names of orators and generals,
The numbers of the killed,
And the dates.

They will not know how sweetly roses smelled above the trenches,
How martins chirped blithely between the cannon salvos,
How beautiful in those years was
Life.

Never, never did the sun laugh so brightly
As above a sacked town,
When people, crawling out of their cellars,
Wondered: is there still a sun?
Violent speeches thundered,
Strong armies perished,

But the soldiers learned what the scent of snowdrops is like
An hour before the attack.
People were led at dawn to be shot …
But they alone learned what an April morning can be.
The cupolas gleamed in the slanting rays,
And the wind pleaded: Wait! A minute! Another minute!
Kissing, they could not tear themselves from the mournful mouth,
And they could not unclasp the hands so tightly joined.
Love meant: I shall die! I shall die!
Love meant: Burn, fire, in the wind!
Love meant: O where are you, where?

They love as people can love only here, upon this rebellious and
tender star.

In those years there were no orchards golden with fruit,
But only fleeting bloom, only a doomed May.
In those years there was no calling: “So long!”
But only a brief, reverberant “Farewell!”
Read about us and marvel!
You did not live in our time — be sorry!
We were guests of the earth for one evening only.
We loved, we destroyed, we lived in the hour of our death.
But overhead stood the eternal stars,
And under them we begot you.

In your eyes our longing still burns,
In your words our revolt reverberates yet
Far into the night, and into the ages, the ages, we have scattered
The sparks of our extinguished life.

Double Jeopardy

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On Jan. 30, 1835, as Andrew Jackson was departing a U.S. representative’s funeral service at the Capitol, troubled English house painter Richard Lawrence confronted him, drew a pistol from his pocket, pointed it at Jackson’s heart, and pulled the trigger.

“The explosion of the cap was so loud that many persons thought the pistol had fired,” said Sen. Thomas Benton, who heard it from the foot of the steps. It hadn’t — only the cap had exploded.

Realizing the misfire, Lawrence dropped the pistol and drew another of the same make and design from his pocket. He cocked it, aimed it at Jackson’s heart, and pulled the trigger. A second shot reverberated through the rotunda, but again only the cap had exploded. The crowd subdued Lawrence, who was later found to be insane.

The sergeant-at-arms at the Capitol recovered both pistols and found that they had been properly loaded. Meriwether Lewis Randolph found that they had contained “powder of the best quality, & the balls rammed tight,” but “the percussion caps exploded without igniting the powder.” Jack Donelson recapped the pistols and tested them to see if they would fire, and they did, perfectly.

An expert on small arms estimated the odds of two successive misfires of perfectly loaded pistols with high-quality powder at about 125,000 to 1. Benton wrote, “The circumstance made a deep impression upon the public feeling and irresistibly carried many mind to the belief in a superintending Providence, manifested in the extraordinary case of two pistols in succession — so well loaded, so coolly handled, and which afterwards fired with such readiness, force, and precision — missing fire, each in its turn, when leveled eight feet at the President’s heart.”

Presidential Misgivings

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George Washington: “So much is expected, so many untoward circumstances may intervene, that I feel an insuperable diffidence in my own abilities.”

John Adams: “If I were to go over my life again, I would be a shoemaker rather than an American statesman.”

Thomas Jefferson called the presidency “a splendid misery.” He said, “To myself, personally, it brings nothing but unceasing drudgery and daily loss of friends.”

John Quincy Adams called his term “the four most miserable years of my life.”

Andrew Jackson: “I can with truth say mine is a situation of dignified slavery.”

Buchanan to Lincoln: “”If you are as happy in entering the White House as I shall feel on returning [home], you are a happy man indeed.”

Lincoln: “You have heard about the man tarred and feathered and ridden out of town on a rail? A man in the crowd asked how he liked it, and his reply was that if it wasn’t for the honor of the thing, he would rather have walked.”

Ulysses Grant: “I have been the subject of abuse and slander scarcely ever equaled in political history.”

Rutherford B. Hayes, on leaving office: “The escape from bondage into freedom is grateful indeed to my feelings. … The burden, even with my constitutional cheerfulness, has not been a light one. Now I am glad to be a freed man.”

James Garfield: “My God! What is there in this place that a man should ever want to get in it?”

Grover Cleveland: “I believe I shall buy or rent a house near here, where I can go and be away from this cursed constant grind.”

Teddy Roosevelt, to the incoming Taft: “Ha ha! You are making up your Cabinet. I in a lighthearted way have spent the morning testing the rifles for my African trip. Life has its compensations.”

Taft: “I’ll be damned if I am not getting tired of this. It seems to be the profession of a president simply to hear other people talk.”

Taft to Wilson: “I’m glad to be going — this is the lonesomest place in the world.”

Woodrow Wilson: “I never dreamed such loneliness and desolation of heart possible.”

Warren G. Harding: “This White House is a prison. I can’t get away from the men who dog my footsteps. I am in jail.”

Herbert Hoover: “A few hair shirts are part of the wardrobe of every man. The President differs from other men in that he has a much more extensive wardrobe.”

Harry Truman: “Being a president is like riding a tiger. A man has to keep on riding or be swallowed.”

Bill Clinton: “Being a president is a lot like running a cemetery: There are a lot of people under you, but nobody’s listening.”

Close Quarters

John Wilkes Booth attended Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural address.

He told a friend, “What an excellent chance I had to kill the president, if I had wished!”

There’ll Always Be an England

From the Daily Telegraph obituary of British Army major Digby Tatham-Warter (1917–1993):

Digby Tatham-Warter, the former company commander, 2nd Battalion, Parachute Regiment, who has died aged 75, was celebrated for leading a bayonet charge at Arnhem in September 1944, sporting an old bowler hat and a tattered umbrella.

During the long, bitter conflict Tatham-Warter strolled around nonchalantly during the heaviest fire. The padre (Fr Egan) recalled that, while he was trying to make his way to visit some wounded in the cellars and had taken temporary shelter from enemy fire, Tatham-Warter came up to him, and said: ‘Don’t worry about the bullets: I’ve got an umbrella.’

Having escorted the padre under his brolly, Tatham-Warter continued visiting the men who were holding the perimeter defences. ‘That thing won’t do you much good,’ commented one of his fellow officers, to which Tatham-Warter replied: ‘But what if it rains?’

Photo ID

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This is the official White House photograph of Bill Clinton. It was taken on Jan. 1, 1993. But Clinton wasn’t inaugurated until Jan. 20. Can this be said, then, to be a photo of President Bill Clinton?

To get an answer to this cosmic question, a reporter called the chairman of the New York University philosophy department, Roy Sorensen. Sorensen said yes.

“Think of it this way,” he said. “A photograph of Clinton does not need to be a photograph of the full spatial extent of his body. Just a representative part of his body will do. The same applies for temporal parts; a photograph of one stage of Clinton is a photograph of Clinton. Even a baby picture of Clinton is a picture of President Clinton.”

(From Sorensen’s A Brief History of the Paradox, 2005.)