On October 24th 1901, Annie Edson Taylor became the first person to “raft” over Niagara Falls in a barrel and survive. She accomplished this feat on her 63rd birthday with the intent of securing her finances, through speaking engagements and other publicity. Unfortunately, she never made much money from the venture – mostly because her associates swindled her during post-stunt publicity tour. Annie did write a memoir that briefly improved her finances, but not for long. She died in 1921 in relative obscurity. Today, however, Kathleen Ordiway portrays Taylor at the “Encounter Niagara” tour at the falls, ensuring the survival of her legacy.
On this day in 1610, Louis XIII was crowned King of France, following the assassination of his father, Henry IV. The new king was only nine, so his mother, Marie de’ Medici, ruled as regent. Her mismanagement, however, along with widespread hostility toward her Italian favorites, led the teenage Louis XIII to take over in 1617. He then exiled his mother and execute several of her followers. Louis XIII ruled well, thanks in large part to his brilliant chief minister, Cardinal Richelieu. The king died in 1643 and was succeeded by his son, Louis XIV, a.k.a. the Sun King, who made France the greatest power in Europe.
This week in 1910, former President Theodore Roosevelt became the first U.S. chief executive to fly in an airplane. More than 10,000 people attended the event at Kinloch Field in St. Louis. The pilot, Archibald Hoxsey, flew Roosevelt around the field twice, for a distance of about three miles, in a flight lasting three minutes and twenty seconds. Roosevelt greatly enjoyed the experience and waved to the crowd from the circling airplane. Hoxsey, on the other hand, suffered great anxiety, fearing what might happen if the former President were injured or killed. But the plane landed with both pilot and passenger in great spirits.
On this day in 1822, Jean-Francois Champollion announced that he had deciphered the Rosetta Stone, 23 years after its discovery. The Rosetta Stone records a 196 BC decree from the reign of King Ptolemy V Epiphanes of Egypt, and it’s written in 3 different languages. That made it the key to translating ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs, as well as the Egyptian demotic script. The bottom language was Ancient Greek, which was well-known in the 1800’s, and the demotic and hieroglyphic scripts were inscribed above. So Campollion used the ancient Greek version of the decree to translate the other two, giving historians the key to reading hieroglyphs and demotic script on temple walls, ancient manuscripts, and everywhere else. Much of what we know about the ancient Egyptians—including those from far before 196 BC—comes to us thanks to Campollion’s work.
This week in 1904, Wilbur Wright achieved humanity’s first “circular flight.” He did this in the 2nd plane he and his brother Orville built. The Wright Flyer II, pictured here, took one minute and sixteen seconds to complete a circle in the air. The plane made a total of 105 flights in 1904, but this one—on September 20—was the first complete circle.
This week in 1501, Michelangelo began work on his statue of David, one of Renaissance Italy’s most famous works of art. The artist took three years to complete the piece, unveiling it in 1504. David was originally meant to stand on the roof-line of the Florence Cathedral, but it (he) was instead placed at Palazzo Vecchio in the public square. In 1873, David was moved to the Gallery of the Academy of Florence, with a replica standing in the original site.
This week in history, in 1522, the Spanish carrack Victoria returned home with just eighteen crew-members. She had completing the first circumnavigation of the globe. The expedition had begun in 1519 with five fully-crewed ships under the command of Ferdinand Magellan. During the long journey across the Atlantic and Pacific and beyond, most of the initial 260 crew members deserted, died of malnutrition, or were killed in battle. Magellan himself met his end at the Battle of Mactan in the Philippines in 1521. His body was never recovered and so did not complete its journey with the Victoria, but we still credit him with the first circumnavigation of Earth.
© 2019 by David W. Tollen. All rights reserved.
My new novel just went on sale! Secrets of Hominea is a magical middle grade fantasy novel: a tale of giants, gnomes, queens, and adventurers — and of science and history. It’s for readers age 9 to 14.
My first novel, The Jericho River, won multiple awards, including wins at the Next Generation Indie awards and the London Book Festival, as well as a bronze medal in the Readers’ Favorite awards. Continue reading “My New Novel, Secrets of Hominea!”
This is fun …
George Washington infused the American presidency with his personal dignity and restraint. That may seem a hazy contribution, but it has shaped our nation. “President” was a new title for a head of state in 1789, and no well-known republic had ever created such a strong one-man executive. America’s presidency could easily have become a sleazy office known for naked power, with none of the royal charisma the Eighteenth Century expected of national leadership. Such a graceless office might have degenerated into a banana republic strongman’s post. Or America might have suffered the sort of “citizen leadership” that destroyed the French Revolution, with executives relentlessly accusing and slandering each other. But no. Our first president was another sort of man. Continue reading “George Washington and the Dignity of the Presidency”