Black Monday

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Black_Monday_hailstorm.jpg

Something extraordinary happened to the army of Edward III on Monday, April 13, 1360, as they camped in an open field near Chartres during the Hundred Years’ War.

According to the contemporary historian Jean Froissart, “During the time that the French commissioners were passing backwards and forwards from the king to his council, and unable to obtain any favourable answer to their offers, there happened such a storm and violent tempest of thunder and hail, which fell on the English army, that it seemed as if the world was come to an end. The hailstones were so large as to kill men and beasts, and the boldest were frightened.”

Some sources say that 1,000 men and 6,000 horses were killed. Possibly they died through cold rather than trauma; a London chronicle says the “day was a foul dark day of mist and hail, and so bitter cold that many men died for cold.”

Whatever it was, it shook Edward’s confidence. Froissart writes, “The king turned himself towards the church of Our Lady at Chartres, and religiously vowed to the Virgin, as he has since confessed, that he would accept of terms of peace.”

Podcast Episode 211: Cast Away on an Ice Floe

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

Germany’s polar expedition of 1869 took a dramatic turn when 14 men were shipwrecked on an ice floe off the eastern coast of Greenland. As the frozen island carried them slowly toward settlements in the south, it began to break apart beneath them. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll follow the crew of the Hansa on their desperate journey toward civilization.

We’ll also honor a slime mold and puzzle over a reversing sunset.

See full show notes …

Courtesy

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:East_front_of_Arlington_Mansion_(General_Lee%27s_home),_with_Union_soldiers_on_the_lawn,_06-28-1864_-_NARA_-_533118.jpg

In May 1861, Union troops occupied Arlington House, Robert E. Lee’s mansion overlooking the capital. When Lee’s wife Mary Custis Lee wrote to the army expressing her concern about the house’s safety, she received this reply:

Mrs. R.E. Lee:

MADAM: Having been ordered by the Government to relieve Major-General Sandford in command of this department, I had the honor to receive this morning your letter of to-day, addressed to him at this place.

With respect to the occupation of Arlington by the United States troops, I beg to say it has been done by my predecessor with every regard to the preservation of the place. I am here temporarily in camp on the grounds, preferring this to sleeping in the house, under the circumstances which the painful state of the country places me with respect to its proprietors.

I assure you it has been and will be my earnest endeavor to have all things so ordered that on your return you will find things as little disturbed as possible. In this I have the hearty concurrence of the courteous, kind-hearted gentleman in the immediate command of the troops quartered here, and who lives in the lower part of the house to insure its being respected.

Everything has been done as you desired with respect to your servants, and your wishes, as far as they are known or could be anticipated, have been complied with. When you desire to return, every facility will be given you for so doing.

I trust, madam, you will not consider it an intrusion if I say I have the most sincere sympathy for your distress, and that, as far as is compatible with my duty, I shall always be ready to do whatever may alleviate it.

I have the honor to be, very respectfully, your most obedient servant,

Irvin McDowell

P.S. — I am informed it was the order of the General-in-Chief, if the troops on coming here found the family in the house, that no one should enter it, but that a guard should be placed for its protection.

The Union troops erected tents, dug latrines, and felled trees on the 1,100-acre plantation, but they left the house relatively untouched.

Alone Together

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

Introduced in the early 1800s, the “separate system” of prison architecture kept prisoners isolated from one another, to make them easier to control and to destroy the criminal subculture that could otherwise arise in dense populations. Prisoners were reduced to numbers, without names or histories, and the guards were forbidden to speak to them; in the exercise yard they tramped silently in rows, their faces hidden by brown cloth masks.

At London’s Pentonville prison this separation extended even to the chapel, where the assembled prisoners could see the chaplain but not each other. “Every man, as he enters, knows the precise row and seat that he has to occupy, and though some few pass in together at the same moment, these go to opposite quarters of the gallery,” observed journalist Henry Mayhew. “Each convict is able to get to his seat, and to close the partition-door of his stall after him, before the one following his steps has time to enter the same row.”

After the service, their exit was managed by a curious mechanical device that displayed each stall number in succession. “Thus the chapel is entirely emptied, not only with considerable rapidity, but without any disturbance or confusion.”

Pentonville was considered a model British prison of its time, and some 300 prisons worldwide were eventually built on the separate system. But an official report acknowledged that “for every sixty thousand persons imprisoned in Pentonville there were 220 cases of insanity, 210 cases of delusion, and forty suicides.”

(Henry Mayhew, The Criminal Prisons of London, 1862.)

A Trojan Cow

https://imgur.com/gallery/NoZ0b

On the evening of July 7, 1969, guards at the Berlin Wall stopped a van headed out of East Berlin. It was carrying a life-size cow that the workmen said would be used in a display in West Berlin. Inside the cow the guards found 18-year-old Angelika B. of Karl-Marx-Stadt. Her fiancé in West Berlin had paid her two accomplices 5,000 DM to smuggle her out; if they’d been successful they’d have received twice that. All three were arrested, and the two helpers were sentenced to three years in prison for “subversive people trafficking.” Angelika was sentenced to 2 years 10 months but was later ransomed by West Germany.

Apparently the cow had been used twice before, successfully, to bring escapees to the West.

https://imgur.com/gallery/NoZ0b

The Wooden Horse

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Richard_Edgeworth.jpg

British inventor Richard Lovell Edgeworth (1744-1817) could be stunningly imaginative:

I was riding one day in a country, that was enclosed by walls of an uncommon height; and upon its being asserted, that it would be impossible for a person to leap such walls, I offered for a wager to produce a wooden horse, that should carry me safely over the highest wall in the country. It struck me, that, if a machine were made with eight legs, four only of which should stand upon the ground at one time; if the remaining four were raised up into the body of the machine, and if this body were divided into two parts, sliding, or rather rolling on cylinders, one of the parts, and the legs belonging to it, might in two efforts be projected over the wall by a person in the machine; and the legs belonging to this part might be let down to the ground, and then the other half of the machine might have its legs drawn up, and be projected over the wall, and so on alternately. This idea by degrees developed itself in my mind, so as to make me perceive, that as one half of the machine was always a road for the other half, and that such a machine never rolled upon the ground, a carriage might be made, which should carry a road for itself. It is already certain, that a carriage moving on an iron rail-way may be drawn with a fourth part of the force requisite to draw it on a common road.

This seems to anticipate the caterpillar track, and the tank, in the 1760s. He worked on this idea for 40 years, making more than 100 working models and even patenting the principle. Finally he let the patent expire, as it just wasn’t possible with the technology that was available to him. But “I am still satisfied that it is feasible. The experience, which I have acquired by this industry, has overpaid me for the trifling disappointments I have met with; and I have gained far more in amusement, than I have lost by unsuccessful labor.”

(From his memoirs.)

City/State

http://rosettaapp.getty.edu:1801/delivery/DeliveryManagerServlet?dps_pid=IE2799440

In 1801, distressed at the “incoherence” and “bizarreness” of Paris street names, J.B. Pujoulx proposed turning the city into a stylized map of France in which the streets were named after towns and localities, with the size of each town reflected in the size of the street. Rivers and mountains would be represented by especially long streets that crossed several districts, “to provide an ensemble such that a traveller could acquire geographic knowledge of France within Paris, and reciprocally of Paris within France.”

How fine it would be, he wrote, “for the resident of the South of France to rediscover, in the names of the various districts of Paris, those of the place where he was born, of the town where his wife came into the world, of the village where he spent his early years!” Louis-Sébastien Mercier added, “Paris would be the map and hackney coaches the professors.”

Perhaps unwittingly, Pujoulx was echoing the cartographer Étienne Teisserenc, who in 1754 had offered a “Dictionary, Containing the Explanation of Paris or Its Map Turned into a Geographical Map of the Kingdom of France, to Serve as Introduction to General Geography; An Easy and New Method to Learn in a Practical Manner and on the Spot All the Principal Parts of the Kingdom as a Whole and Each Through the Others” (above). He suggested that this system might be extended to every state in the world.

The Russian Prison Tapping Code

When Yevgenia Ginzburg became a prisoner at Stalin’s Black Lake prison in the 1930s, she and her cellmate noticed a curious pattern. “On the days when our neighbor went to the washroom before us — this we could tell by the sound of the footsteps in the corridor — we always found the shelf sprinkled with tooth powder and the word ‘Greetings’ traced in it with something very fine like a pin, and as soon as we got back to our cell, a brief message was tapped on the wall. After that, he immediately stopped.”

After two or three days, she realized what it meant. “‘Greetings’! That’s what he’s tapping. He writes and taps the same word. Now we know how we can work out the signs for the different letters.” Ginzburg remembered a page from Vera Figner’s memoir in which she described an ancient prison code devised in the Czarist era — the alphabet was laid out in a square (this example is in English):

A B C D E
F G H I J
K L M N O
P Q R S T
U V W X Y

Each letter is represented by two sets of taps, one slow and the other fast. The slow taps indicate the row and the fast the column. So, here, three slow taps followed by two fast ones would indicate the letter L. They tapped out “Who are you?”, and “Through the grim stone wall we could sense the joy of the man on the other side. At last we had understood! His endless patience had been rewarded.”

Prisoner Alexander Dolgun deciphered the same code in Moscow’s Lefortovo Prison, memorizing it with the help of matches. Finally he understood that the man in the next cell had been asking him “Who are you?” over and over — and felt “a rush of pure love for a man who has been asking me for three months who I am.”

(From Judith A. Scheffler, Wall Tappings, 1986.)

A Father’s Advice

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:One_US_dollar_note_0127_22.jpg

Maxims of George Washington:

  • It is better to offer no excuse than a bad one.
  • The most liberal professions of good will are very far from being the surest marks of it.
  • Good company will always be found less expensive than bad.
  • By acting reciprocally, heroes have made poets and poets heroes.
  • When there is no reason for expressing an opinion, it is best to be silent.
  • It is easy to make acquaintances but very difficult to shake them off.
  • Too much zeal creates suspicion.
  • Ridicule begets enmity not easy to be forgotten but easily avoided.
  • Do not conceive that fine clothes make fine men any more than fine feathers make fine birds.
  • Nothing is more useful for the formation of correct habits than the turning of our comments upon others, back upon ourselves.

“Wherever and whenever one person is found adequate to the discharge of a duty by close application thereto, it is worse executed by two persons, and scarcely done at all if three or more are employed therein.”

Misc

https://www.goodfreephotos.com/people/harry-s-truman-portrait.jpg.php

  • By age 14, Harry Truman had read every book in the Independence, Missouri, library.
  • In honor of Ray Bradbury, a web page censored by a government returns HTTP error status code 451.
  • Wyoming, Wisconsin, is in Iowa County.
  • Vincent van Gogh and Salvador Dalí were both named after dead brothers who had preceded them.
  • “Virtue is insufficient temptation.” — George Bernard Shaw