Monday, March 31, 2014

SPECIAL : New Findings on the Black Death

The following is an article taken directly from the London Observer Website.  It was written by Vanessa Thorpe, and posted on the Observer's website on March 29, 2014.  I bring it to you, my readers of "Today in History" in my continuing efforts to keep you up on the latest developments in the study of history, and to remind you that so often History is Today!! - B.T. Bolten

The actual web address of this article is: 

Black death was not spread by rat fleas, say researchers

Evidence from skulls in east London shows plague had to have been airborne to spread so quickly.

Black death researchers extracted plague DNA from 14th century skulls found in east London. Photograph: Philip Toscano/PA

Archaeologists and forensic scientists who have examined 25 skeletons unearthed in the Clerkenwell area of London a year ago believe they have uncovered the truth about the nature of the Black Death that ravaged Britain and Europe in the mid-14th century.

Analysis of the bodies and of wills registered in London at the time has cast doubt on "facts" that every schoolchild has learned for decades: that the epidemic was caused by a highly contagious strain spread by the fleas on rats.

Now evidence taken from the human remains found in Charterhouse Square, to the north of the City of London, during excavations carried out as part of the construction of the Crossrail train line, have suggested a different cause: only an airborne infection could have spread so fast and killed so quickly.

The Black Death arrived in Britain from central Asia in the autumn of 1348 and by late spring the following year it had killed six out of every 10 people in London. Such a rate of destruction would kill five million now. By extracting the DNA of the disease bacterium, Yersinia pestis, from the largest teeth in some of the skulls retrieved from the square, the scientists were able to compare the strain of bubonic plague preserved there with that which was recently responsible for killing 60 people in Madagascar. To their surprise, the 14th-century strain, the cause of the most lethal catastrophe in recorded history, was no more virulent than today's disease. The DNA codes were an almost perfect match.

According to scientists working at Public Health England in Porton Down, for any plague to spread at such a pace it must have got into the lungs of victims who were malnourished and then been spread by coughs and sneezes. It was therefore a pneumonic plague rather than a bubonic plague. Infection was spread human to human, rather than by rat fleas that bit a sick person and then bit another victim. "As an explanation [rat fleas] for the Black Death in its own right, it simply isn't good enough. It cannot spread fast enough from one household to the next to cause the huge number of cases that we saw during the Black Death epidemics," said Dr Tim Brooks from Porton Down, who will put his theory in a Channel 4 documentary, Secret History: The Return of the Black Death, next Sunday.

To support his argument, Brooks has looked at what happened in Suffolk in 1906 when plague killed a family and then spread to a neighbour who had come to help. The culprit was pneumonic plague, which had settled in the lungs of the victims and was spread through infected breath.

The skeletons at Charterhouse Square reveal that the population of London was also in generally poor health when the disease struck. Crossrail's archaeology contractor, Don Walker, and Jelena Bekvalacs of the Museum of London found evidence of rickets, anaemia, bad teeth and childhood malnutrition.

In support of the case that this was a fast-acting, direct contagion, archaeologist Dr Barney Sloane found that in the medieval City of London all wills had to be registered at the Court of Hustings. These led him to believe that 60% of Londoners were wiped out.

Antibiotics can today prevent the disease from becoming pneumonic. In the spring of 1349, the death rate did not ease until Pentecost on 31 May.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

MARCH 30 = President Reagan is Wounded

"I looked up at the presidential box above the stage where Abe   Lincoln had been sitting the night he was shot and felt a curious sensation... I thought that even with all the Secret Service protection we now had, it was probably still possible for someone who had enough determination to get close enough to a president to shoot him."
- President Ronald Reagan on his visit on March 21, 1981 to Fords Theater.

On today's date, March 30 in 1981 President Ronald W. Reagan was wounded when John Hinckley attempted to assassinate him outside a Washington DC hotel where he had been giving a speech. The Gipper was right in the feeling he expressed in the above quote, but while several men were grievously wounded, nobody was killed, and security was tightened even more following this attempt. And happily Reagan survived to finish this and a second term in office. And the "Zero year jinx" was at last broken. 

Another LOSER Trying to Get Attention

John Hinckley was yet another in a long line of LOSERS both before and since who were mentally unbalanced and sought to get attention by killing someone important, as was the case with the assailants of Lincoln, JFK, McKinley, John Lennon, Gabby Giffords and a host of others.  And in this case, as had been the case with JFK and Giffords, the motivation for the attack was completely un-related to the politics of the target. Hinckley had become obsessed with the actress Jodie Foster after seeing the film "Taxi Driver" (too?) many times. In the film another character attempts to assassinate a U.S. Senator in order to protect Foster's character.  Hinckley sought to impress Foster (whom he had stalked when she was a student at Yale) by assassinating a President,  towards which end he had earlier stalked Jimmy Carter.   

On March 30, Reagan addressed the AFL-CIO Representatives at the Washington Hilton Hotel. The Secret Service had convinced Reagan to wear a bulletproof vest for some public occasions, but on this particular afternoon he was not wearing one because his only fully public exposure was going to be in the thirty feet between the hotel and his limousine. He passed right in front of a crowd of citizens wherein Hinckley was waiting with a .22 caliber pistol. As he waved to the crowd Hinckley fired. The New York Times' Howell Raines reported the next morning:

"A rapid series of five or six shots rang out about 2:30 pm as Mr. Reagan left the hotel.  A look of stunned disbelief swept across Mr. Reagan's face as the shots were fired and he raised his arm to wave to the crowd, Nearby, his Press Secretary James L. Brady, fell to the sidewalk, critically wounded.  Mr. Reagan, apparently at first unaware that he had been wounded, was shoved forcefully by a Secret Service agent into the Presidential limousine that sped (away) with the President in a sitting position in the backseat."

"I Hope You Are All Republicans..."

That Secret Service Agent who pushed Reagan into the backseat was Agent Jerry Parr who at first ordered the limo back to the White House, since the President did not appear to be hit.  But he felt a sharp pain in his chest which they suspected was a broken rib from being pushed into the car. When Parr checked the President for wounds he began to cough up blood, leading Parr to think that the broken rib may have punctured his lung. Parr redirected the limo to George Washington University Hospital.  On arrival, the Gipper was able to walk through the doors on his own power, but collapsed immediately after entering the building.  It was only after a closer examination that the entry wound from a bullet was found, with no exit wound making it clear that the bullet was still in the President's body. Upon being brought to the operating room, Reagan quipped to the assembled medical team "I hope you are all Republicans." The team all laughed and the head surgeon, Joseph Giordano, a liberal democrat,  replied  "Today, Mr. President, we are all Republicans."

Where Were You When You Heard About It?

I was a student at the University of Cincinnati College Conserv- atory of Music at the time. I was that afternoon waiting outside the Orchestral Rehearsal Room for a rehearsal to end, so I could go in and speak to my friend, violinist Alison Peters about playing in my sisters' wedding which was coming up.  Mike Hennesy, a fellow Double Bass Player came up and said "So what's the story with Reagan?" It was then that I heard about it.  I recall saying that Reagan was the next victim due to fall to the "Zero Year Jinx" on U.S. Presidents (see below).  I went in after the rehearsal. spoke to my friend, and then raced to my car which was parked some distance away on Ohio Ave.  By the time I got there and turned on the radio Secretary of State Alexander Haig was making his (in)famous announcement that "I am in control here at the White House..." in a voice that was nervous and quite audibly shaking.  Haig was trying to reassure folks that everything was under control, but in his subsequent remarks that he, as Secretary of State was next in line to the Presidency after Vice President Bush overlooked that the Speaker of the U.S. House is constitutionally next after the Vice President.  It was a bizarre moment and one from which Haig was never able to recover,   

"What A Man!!!"

In his fervor to impress Jodie Foster the idiot Hinckley ended up wounding District of Columbia Police Officer Thomas Delahanty, and Secret Service Agent Timothy Mc Carthy.  In addition, Press Secretary James Brady was wounded by a bullet to his brain which he survived (despite erroneous reports of his death on ABC News), but which left him with a lifetime disability.  Ronald Reagan himself was in fact hit by a bullet which had punctured his lung, and lodged very close to his heart. Happily, the bullet was successfully removed during surgery.  The "Zero Year Jinx" to which I referred is the fact that every US President since William Henry Harrison elected (up until Reagan) on a zero year had died in office.  Harrison, elected in 1840, dies 1841. Lincoln elected in 1860, assassinated 1865.  James Garfield elected 1880, shot in 1881. William McKinley re-elected in 1900, shot in 1901. Warren G. Harding, elected in 1920, died, 1923. Franklin Roosevelt, re-elected, 1940, died, 1945.  JFK, elected 1960, murdered, 1963. Ronald Reagan, elected in 1980 was next in line for this grim coincidence.  But his luck held out and he beat the jinx.  Jodie Foster understandably never made a public comment of any kind on the crime.  John Hinckley was acquitted of his guilt in wounding four men on grounds of temporary insanity.  He continues to exist to this day in a mental institution from which he occasionally gets to leave to visit his parents.The Secret Service now screens any and all public crowds who have a view of the President.  My friend, violinist Stacey Woolley wrote to me at the time from Boston University and after ruefully noting that ABC News had shown that it could not only "take life, but give it back!!" (in reference to the mistaken reporting of the death of Jim Brady) concluded his letter with the sentiment which I, and many Americans shared:

"Ronald Reagan.... what a man!!"

READERS!! If you would like to comment on this, or any "Today in History" posting, I would love to hear from you!!  You can either sign up to be a member of this blog and post a comment in the space provided below, or you can simply e-mail me directly at:  I seem to be getting hits on this site all over the world, so please do write and let me know how you like what I'm writing (or not!)!!


New York Times, March 31, 1981

+ 889.
+ 173.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

MARCH 29 = Baseball Great "Cy" Young is Born

"He's too green to do your club much good, but I believe if I taught him what I know, I might make a pitcher out of him in a couple of years. He's not worth it now, but I'm willing to give you $1,000 ($25,867 today) for him."  Adrian "Cap" Anson to Gus Schmelz on the ability of Cy Young.
 "Cap, you can keep your thousand and we'll keep the rube." - Schmelz's reply.

On today's date, March 29 in 1867, Denton True "Cy" Young was born in the tiny farming community of Gilmore in East Central Ohio. The above quoted Anson was the player/ manager of the Chicago Cubs, and  Schmelz was the manager of Young's team, the Cleveland Spiders. Schmelz was wise to turn Anson down, because Young would go on to become, in the view of many observers the greatest pitcher in baseball history, winning 511 games, a record which stands to this day.  Oddly enough, he also holds the all-time record for the most games ever lost by a major league pitcher, 316. But in 1956, a year after Young's death Baseball Commisioner Ford Frick created the Cy Young Award to honor baseballs' best pitcher for the previous season. And his best years came just after a former owner was getting rid of him.

Young's Early Career - A New Hard Thrower on the Scene

Cy Young made his Major League debut with the Cleveland Spiders of the National League on August 6, 1890, pitching a three-hit shutout.  Early on in his career he earned a reputation for being one of the hardest throwing pitchers around.  In fact he threw hard enough that his catcher, Chief Zimmer frequently would put a piece of beefsteak inside his glove to provide an extra cushion from Young's fastball.  He did well in the remainder of that 1890 season, finishing it off by winning BOTH games of a doubleheader!! It was during this period that Young earned his nickname "Cy" when he tore off several fence boards with his pitches. A bystander remarked that the fence looked "like it had been hit by a cyclone."  The National League moved the pitchers box back five feet from 55 feet, 6 inches to the modern distance of 60 feet 6 inches, and this is said to have been as a reaction to the speed of pitches being thrown by players like Young.  In 1892, Young  led  National League with 36 wins, an Earned Run Average (ERA) of 1.93 and 9 shutouts. In 1895 he added what he called a "slow ball" to his pitching range in order to lessen the wear on his arm.  This pitch is what is commonly known now as the "changeup".  In 1897 he threw the first of three career no hitters against my own Cincinnati Reds.

Young Moves to the American League - "Don't Make Him Mad!!"

Before the 1899 season the Cleveland Spiders owner, Frank Robison bought the St. Louis Browns, thus becoming the owner of two teams, and gutted the Cleveland team to beef up his preferred Browns whom he renamed the "Perfectos".  This new team never finished better than fifth, but the Spiders really dived, losing a ML record 134 games in 1899, after which they understandably disbanded.  Young spent 1899 and 1900 in St. Louis before moving to Boston  to the Boston Americans (later the Red Sox) of the newly formed American League.

In what is clearly a cautionary tale to employers who would seek to belittle, or otherwise bully employees on their way to the opposition, Robison made no great effort to hold onto Young saying that "Young is through.  In the new bush league he may last another year, but we couldn't have used him."  Young was decidedly put out by this remark, saying that he "would not work for Frank Robison again even if (he) offered (me) $10,000.00".  Young went on to back up his talk by leading the league that year in the "Triple Crown" categories of wins, strikeouts and ERA.  

Boston went on to face the Pittsburgh Pirates in the first modern World Series in 1903, with Young pitching the first World Series game ever.  Boston wound up winning the Series 5 games to three, with Young compiling a 2–1 record and a 1.85 ERA in four appearances, In 1904, Young completed the first "Perfect Game" in American League history as a part of an incredible pitching streak. Young set major league records for the most consecutive scoreless innings pitched and the most consecutive innings without allowing a hit; that last record remaining unbroken ever since at 25.1 innings, or 76 hitless batters.Even after allowing a hit, Young's scoreless streak reached a then-record 45 shutout innings. Clearly Robison had exposed himself as a first rate baseball boob by dissing a prize prospect just before he became prized.  The moral: don't make him mad just before you kick him out!!

Later Years and Retirement... Cy Young's Overpowering Legacy

In 1908, Young pitched the third no-hitter of his career. Three months after his 41st birthday, Cy Young was the oldest pitcher to get a no-hitter, a record which remained in place for 82 years until Nolan Ryan surpassed the mark at age 43. Young got a mere walk away from his second perfect game; after that one runner was thrown out stealing, not another batter got on base. At this time, Young was the second-oldest player in baseball. On August 13, 1908, the league celebrated "Cy Young Day." No American League games were played on that day, and All-Stars from the league's other teams came to Boston to play against Young and the Red Sox.  The next season Young was traded back to Cleveland, wherein he had played over half his career, to the Cleveland Naps of the American League. During the 1910 season, he recorded his 500th career win on July 23 against Washington He split 1911, his last year, between the Naps and the Boston Rustlers.  On September 22, 1911, Young shut out the Pittsburgh Pirates, 1–0, for his final career victory. Cy Young was one of, perhaps the most overpowering pitcher of his, or any time.  While his record for games won is never likely to be broken due to the fact that pitchers no longer work with the frequency that they did in his time, his records for strike outs and ERA still rank among baseball's greatest records. His place in baseball history makes him more than worthy of having the premier pitchers award for Major league baseball bear his name.

READERS!! If you would like to comment on this, or any "Today in History" posting, I would love to hear from you!!  You can either sign up to be a member of this blog and post a comment in the space provided below, or you can simply e-mail me directly at:  I seem to be getting hits on this site all over the world, so please do write and let me know how you like what I'm writing (or not!)!!


 by Reed Browning, University of Massachusetts Press, 2000.

+ 446.
+ 99.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

MARCH 27 = Lincoln's Appearance

"Soon afterwards there entered, with a shambling, loose, irregular, almost unsteady gait, a tall, lank, lean man, considerably over six in height, with stooping shoulders, long pendulous arms, terminating in hands of extraordinary dimensions, which, however, were far exceeded in proportion by his feet. He was dressed in an ill-fitting wrinkled suit of black, which put one in mind of an undertaker's uniform at a funeral; 'round his neck a rope of black silk was knotted in a large bulb...his turned-down shirt collar disclosed a sinewy muscular yellow neck, and above that, nestling in a great black mass of hair, bristling and compact like a ruff of mourning pins, rose the strange quaint face and head, covered with it's thatch of wild republican hair, of President Lincoln."

William Howard Russell Observes Lincoln

This was the description of the new occupant of the White House by the British journalist William Howard Russell (pictured below, circa 1854) when first he saw Abraham Lincoln during this week in 1861. It was on today's date - March 27 when he saw the President. On February 4, seven southern states had seceded from the Union, and nobody in official Washington knew what to expect of the new chief executive. Russell further observed:

"The impression produced by the size of his extremities, and by his flapping and wide projecting ears, may be removed by the appearance of kindliness, sagacity, and the awkward bonhomie of his face....the nose itself -- a prominent organ -- stands out from the face, with an inquiring, anxious air, as though it were sniffing for some good thing in the wind; the eyes dark, full, and deeply set, are penetrating, but full of an expression which almost amounts to tenderness....."

The next day, March 28, 1861, Mr. Russell wrote: "In the conversation which occurred before dinner, I was amused to observe the manner in which Mr. Lincoln used the anecdotes for which he is famous. Where men bred in courts, accustomed to the world, or versed in diplomacy, would use some subterfuge, or would make a polite speech, or give a shrug of the shoulders as a way of getting out of an embarrassing position, Mr. Lincoln raises a laugh by some bold west country anecdote, and moves off in a cloud of the merriment produced by his joke...."

Walt Whitman Describes Lincoln After Four Years of War:

Four years later, in 1865, after the strain of civil war had taken it's toll, Walt Whitman (pictured below, 1887) who
was in Washington during much of the war made the following observation of Lincoln's appearance:

"I see the President almost every day. I saw him this morning about 8:30 coming in to business. We have got so we exchange bows, very cordial ones. I see very plainly Abraham Lincoln's dark brown face with it's deep-cut lines, the eyes always to me with a latent sadness in the expression. None of the artists or pictures has caught the deep though subtle and indirect expression of this man's face. There's something else there. One of the great portrait painters of two or three centuries ago is needed."

READERS!! If you would like to comment on this, or any "Today in History" posting, I would love to hear from you!!  You can either sign up to be a member of this blog and post a comment in the space provided below, or you can simply e-mail me directly at:  I seem to be getting hits on this site all over the world, so please do write and let me know how you like what I'm writing (or not!)!!


W.H. Russell -

Eyewitness to America Edited by David Colbert.
Pantheon Books, New York, 1997, pp. 202 - 203.

Walt Whitman -

"The Civil War" Produced by Ken Burns.
PBS, 1989. Episode 8.

 + 130.
 + 53.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

MARCH 25 = The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire

 “I, Rose Rosenfeld, am one of the workers/ who survived.
I left my big-button-attacher machine,
Climbed the iron stairs to the tenth floor
Where their offices were.
From the landing window
I saw girls in shirtwaists flying by,
Catherine wheels projected like Zeppelins
out open windows, then plunging downward,
sighing skirts open parasols on fire."

- From the poem "The Triangle Shirtwaist Fire" by Robert Phillips.

The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory occupying the 8th, 9th and 10th floors of the Asch Building on the corner of Washington Place and Greene Street in lower Manhattan in New York City caught fire at about 4:45 pm on this date, March 25, just over hundred years ago, in 1911. The building was gutted in 18 minutes, and 146 people, mostly young immigrant women who worked there lost their lives in the blaze. Safety measures had been all but non-existent at the Triangle. In spite of this, the owners of the place, which came to define the term "sweatshop", got off scott free in the subsequent trial. But in the end, safety regulations would be greatly strengthened as a result of the lost lives at the Triangle.

Immigrant Laborers in the Garment Industry

In the spring of 1911, the streets of lower Manhattan were filled with horse drawn wagons, and were crowded with fetid tenements housing hundreds of thousands of people. Also bunched within this bustling melange were factories where workers made the shirts and dresses that were worn by the rest of America. There were millions of immigrants pouring into America in these days when Ellis Island was at its busiest. The largest number of those immigrants stayed in New York City, the ultimate "melting pot" of the "American Dream", and went to work in that garment industry. There were more garment workers crowded into Manhattan than in any other place in the world, and most of them fit the same profile. These factories were packed with young immigrants, mostly girls in their early teens working long days, 9, 10, 12 hours every day, starting out at 3 or 4 dollars a week. These were literally sweat shops – the women were expected to turn out as many garments as possible. And there was very little concern about safety. New York had by that point in time been run for two generations by the corrupt Democratic Party machine called Tammany Hall. Tammany operated by delivering the votes of the immigrants, and collecting the "donations" of the moneyed class. Everybody was happy with this filthy arrangement except of course the workers, mostly Italians, Jews, and other newcomers to America. The Triangle factory was typical of the era. Hundreds of workers stitched fabric into women’s blouses. The factory was run by Max Blanck and Issac Harris (below). They were
staunchly anti – Union, deter- mined to manage their business the way they saw fit. Both men were adept at buying influence with Tammany Hall, hiring strike breakers in 1909 and 1910. This corrupt system also had the effect of not requiring basic safety measures to be taken in the factory.

March 25, 1911 - the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Catches Fire

March 25, was a Saturday, but just another work day for the women who sat at the rows of machines in the Triangle factory, which was on the eighth, ninth and tenth floors of the ten story building. It was quitting time on a Saturday afternoon, and somebody catching a quick smoke dropped a match or a cigarette butt into one of the bins holding discarded bits of fabric, and it quickly went up. Within five minutes, the entire 9,000 sq. ft. 8’th floor was consumed in flames. The workers on the 8’th floor had enough time to escape, but hundreds of their co-workers on the floor above were caught in a death trap. As the smoke filled the floor, most of them were unaware that there were stairs nearby that would have lead them to the 10’th floor and safety. As the conflagration spread, the women were engulfed in heat, and flames (Below, the carnage inside the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory).

As the fire department arrived, thousands of people looked up from the streets below, and had the experience of watching helplessly as people came to the windows and had to make that terrible decision of how they were going to die -- in the flames or by jumping to their deaths. Joseph Fletcher an assistant cashier managed to escape to the roof, and witnessed this:

"I looked down the whole height of the building. My people were sticking out of the windows on the ninth floor. I saw my girls, my pretty ones going down through the air. They hit the sidewalk spread out and still."

Some of the Workers Are Heroically Rescued

Across the ninth floor were elevators operated by two heroic young Italian Americans. Time and again, they would move the elevators past the flames of the eighth floor, pick up another load of passengers, and take them to the safety of the street level. These two men rescued more than 100 women who would otherwise have died. But as the elevators dropped the final time they realized that they were not going to make it again as the smoke was filling the floor. Women then began jumping down the elevator shaft. Next to that was the last door out, and it was locked. Some of the women began running down the fire escape at the back of the building, but that began to collapse under their collective weight. The safest place during the fire was the tenth floor wherein Blanck and Harris had their offices. Soon after it began, they got a telephone call telling them about it, and they with about 70 other workers went to the roof, and crossed over to the safety of adjoining buildings.

The Fire Leads to New Safety Standards, But "Women had to burn......"

As a result of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, there was a public outcry which lead to the strengthening of the Garment Workers
Unions, improved work and safety regulations and the passage of some of the most progressive labor laws in the country. Simple things such as clearly marked fire exits, fire escapes, and fire extinguishers have their genesis in that terrible conflagration. In December of that year, Blanck and Harris were tried for manslaughter for having kept so many of the doors on the 9th floor locked. But through the use of their brilliant Defense Attorney, Max Stoyer, they were acquitted. While they personally escaped their just fate in this life, they did not escape entirely. The Labor Unions whom they and their ilk so thoroughly detested became a force to be reckoned with, and remain so down to the present day

But the price for reform had been heavy indeed.  Referring to the laws passed to guarantee worker's safety in the wake of the Triangle tragedy, Samuel Gompers, head of the American Federation of Labor remarked: "Rarely do you get such an opportunity for legislative reform, but women had to burn first in order for this to happen."

READERS!! If you would like to comment on this, or any "Today in History" posting, I would love to hear from you!!  You can either sign up to be a member of this blog and post a comment in the space provided below, or you can simply e-mail me directly at:  I seem to be getting hits on this site all over the world, so please do write and let me know how you like what I'm writing (or not!)!!


by David von Drehle, Grove Atlantic, New York, 2003.

Darkest Hours: A Narrative Encyclopedia of Worldwide Disasters from Ancient Times to the Presentby Jay Robert Nash, Wallaby Books, New York, 1976.

+ 1912.
+ 167.

Monday, March 24, 2014

MARCH 24 = Queen Elizabeth I Dies

On this date, March 24 in 1603, England's Queen Elizabeth I died,  concluding a reign of 44 years. Elizabeth was the daughter of King Henry VIII and his second wife (of six), Ann Boleyn. Her mother was executed after being convicted of adultery and treason when Elizabeth was only three. Henry had parliament declare his marriage to Ann invalid, which made Elizabeth herself illegitimate. But she still was given a thorough education in which she did well, and she spent a good deal of time with her young half-brother, Prince Edward who was King Henry's son and heir by his third wife, Jane Seymour.

Elizabeth Faces Death During Mary's Reign

Upon the death of Henry in 1547, when Elizabeth was 14, Prince Edward became King at the age of 10. But the boy had never been in very good health, and he died in 1553. This left Elizabeth's half-sister Mary (below, right) , who was King Henry's daughter by his first wife, Queen Catherine as
sovereign. The reign of Queen Mary proved to be a brief, but exceptionally bloody affair. Queen Mary had never given up the Catholic faith in spite of King Henry's break with Rome and his conversion of England to the Protestant faith. Mary's drive to return England to the Catholic fold brought about considerable blood-shed through executions, and left Elizabeth in continual danger, even to the point of being jailed in the Tower of London for a time. Queen Mary died on Nov. 17, 1558 and Elizabeth ascended to the throne.

Elizabeth Vanquishes the Spaniards With "the Armada"

There was great public rejoicing at the end of Mary's bloody reign, so Elizabeth enjoyed considerable popularity to start with. The new Queen proved to be a very hard working sovereign, often working late into the night. She reduced the size of her primary governing body, the Privy Council from 39 members to 19. She appointed a number of capable men men as her advisers, such as William Cecil, who served her faithfully for 40 years as Lord Treasurer, restoring stability to English currency. Her reign also coincided with the English Renaissance, which saw the growth of music and literature, such as the works of William Shakespeare. Elizabeth's reign saw a good deal of trouble however, with continued plots to restore Catholicism as the state religion. Much of the intrigue centered on Mary Queen of Scots (pictured, above left), who was Elizabeth's cousin). Ultimately, Mary was imprisoned, and following her implication in a plot of Elizabeth's life, she was beheaded in 1587. There was also a continual rivalry with Spain for supremacy on the world trade routes. This culminated with the naval combat between the Spanish Armada, and a newly built, and solidly designed English navy . The Spanish fleet wound up being annihilated in a series of battles which concluded on August 2 of 1588 (pictured below).

And there was also continual intrigue over the question of whether or not Elizabeth would ever marry. There were several suitors, but none were ever successful. Elizabeth remained unmarried to the end of her life, hence her frequently used epitaph, "the Virgin Queen". Towards the end of her farewell speech Elizabeth looked to the end of her life and her reign:

"I have ever used to set the Last Judgement Day before mine eyes and so to rule as I shall be judged to answer before a higher judge, and now if my kingly bounties have been abused and my grants turned to the hurt of my people contrary to my will and meaning, and if any in authority under me have neglected or perverted what I have committed to them, I hope God will not lay their culps and offenses in my charge. I know the title of a King is a glorious title, but assure yourself that the shining glory of princely authority hath not so dazzled the eyes of our understanding, but that we well know and remember that we also are to yield an account of our actions before the great judge. To be a king and wear a crown is a thing more glorious to them that see it than it is pleasant to them that bear it."

READERS!! If you would like to comment on this, or any "Today in History" posting, I would love to hear from you!!  You can either sign up to be a member of this blog and post a comment in the space provided below, or you can simply e-mail me directly at:  I seem to be getting hits on this site all over the world, so please do write and let me know how you like what I'm writing (or not!)!!


by Gene Gurney, Crown Publishers Inc., New York, 1982.

+ 532.
+ 219.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

MARCH 22 = The First Motion Picture is Shown

On today's date, March 22 in 1895 the first public exhibition of a motion picture was given in Paris.  It was a brief film, less than a minute, but it showed the world a new way to view photography and pointed the way to the future.

The Lumière Brothers

Auguste Marie Louis Nicolas (1862-1954) and Louis Jean (1864-1948) Lumiere were two of the earliest filmmakers in history of the medium (Interestingly, “lumière” translates as “light” in English).
Born in Besançon, France, both boys were good students in their youth, although the education of young Louis was frequently interrupted by terrible headaches.  But at home he pursued an artistic education which included drawing and sculpture.  Both boys attended  La Martiniere, which was the largest technical school in Lyon.  Their father, Antoine was the owner of a photographic company, and both of the brothers worked for him.  Louis, working as a physicist developed a new apparatus for the mechanized production of photographic gelatin dry-plates, which eliminated the need for plates to be stored in a darkroom. This made photography much more convenient and made Lumière & Sons into a major company in Europe by 1900.

Papa Lumiere Comes Back From the U.S. With an Idea....

In 1894, their father returned from a trip to America thrilled with a new invention he had seen: a Kinetoscope, which had been developed by Thomas Edison. The Kinetoscope (right) was a device which created the illusion of motion pictures by projecting light through a series of rapidly moving photographic images.  The Kinetoscope's images were viewed through a small peephole in the top of the machine, and their father suggested that they come up with a way of projecting such images onto a larger screen.  Auguste tried for some time to develop just such a camera and a projection system, but without any success.  But then Louis came up with the suggestion of using a mechanism like that used in a sewing machine to advance the cloth step by step.

The Lumiere Brothers Make it Work

The resulting product was a machine patented in France in 1895 in the name of the two brothers, which was constructed by their engineer Charles Moisson. The mechanism combined camera, projector and printer functions.  The perforated film was moved intermittently by a
claw pulldown - a pair of pins which fit into the perforations on both sides of the film and then moved down, moving the film along with them. This motion film mechanism (left) was the used not only for the Lumière's machine, but forms the basis for such systems down to the present day. A number of test films were made in the early part of 1895.  For the larger projection, the machine was placed on a wooden stand using an electric arc lamp.  And the first public exhibition of this new system was made on today's date for the Society for the Promotion of Industry.  There was only the one feature for this event: a brief little scene of 45 seconds, filmed by
Louis of workers as they left the Lumaire's own factory in Lyon which is called "La Sortie de l'Usine Lumière à Lyon" (which can be seen by clicking on those words). This new system caused considerable excitement at the time with movie posters (above) being produced to advertise this wondrous new novelty.  And this, of course lead directly to the future -- the many films which we enjoy today.


Friday, March 21, 2014

MARCH 21 = Johann Sebastian Bach is Born

With this, as with all postings on "Today in History" when you get to a word or words that have been highlighted in a color, "click on" those words and that will take you to a link... in this case it will take you to a link wherein you will here some of the sublime, wonderful music of today's subject, Johann Sebastian Bach.

"He regarded himself as a conscientious craftsman doing a job to the best of his ability for the satisfaction of his superiors, for the pleasure and edification of his fellowmen, and to the glory of God. Doubtless, he would have been astonished if he had been told that two hundred years after his death his music would be performed and studied everywhere and his name more deeply venerated by musicians than that of any other composer."

So goes the summing up by Donald J. Grout of the life and legacy of Johann Sebastian Bach, who was born on today's   (Above: Patrice Michaels with the Bach Week Orchestra Chorus) date in the year 1685 in the German city of Eisenach. He was the youngest child of Johann Ambrosius Bach, the director of the Stadtpfeifer or town musicians and Maria Elisabeth Lämmerhirt. And what can one say about Bach that comes remotely close to summing up the true meaning of this man and his music? Yes, he wrote in all of the established forms of music of his time, with the exception of opera. Yes, his development was as Grout goes on to say, influenced by various factors including: "underlying all of the (other factors), that inexplicable personal element which we call genius." Yes, his repertoire for the organ "outshines anything any other composer for the instrument has achieved." as author Peter Gammond has written. Yes, as Willliam F. Buckley Jr. once said of him, he was the greatest genius ever to have lived. All of these things could and have been said of Bach. But his real significance lies in his music, and in the effect it has had on musicians and listeners alike for dozens of generations since his brief time on earth.

The Life of Johann Sebastian Bach

A very brief biographical sketch shows that for all of his greatness, in his own time Bach, while certainly respected, was not well known outside of his native area of Northern Germany. He was orphaned at age 10 and thereafter moved in with his brother, Johann Christoph Bach (1671–1721), the organist at the Michaeliskirche in nearby Ohrdruf. It was here that the young Bach first learned the performance, composition and mechanical workings of the organ, In January 1703, Bach took a post as a court musician in the chapel of Duke Johann Ernst in Weimar, a large town in Thuringia. During his seven-month time at Weimar, his reputation as a keyboard player began to spread. In 1708, he became the court organist and concertmaster at the ducal court in Weimar. Bach's post in Weimar marked the start of a long period of composing keyboard and orchestral works. From the
music of Italians such as Vivaldi, Corelli and Torelli, he learned important compositional techniques, and adopted their bright dispositions, dynamic motor-rhythms and decisive harmonies. In 1720, Bach's first wife died.  For an example of the gut-wrenching sorrow that Bach could communicate in his music try listening to the Chaconne from the Partita No.2 in D minor written at this time (my friend Stacey Woolley played this at a Memorial Service for my mother, and I keenly felt the sorrow that Bach felt at this loss of a loved one). The following year, the widower met Anna Magdalena Wilcke, a young, highly gifted soprano 17 years his junior. They married on 3 December 1721. Together they had 13 more children, including Johann Christian who became along with C. P. E. Bach far better known in their own lifetimes than their father. In 1723, Bach was appointed Cantor of Thomasschule, adjacent to the Thomaskirche in Leipzig, as well as Director of Music in the principal churches in the town. This was a prestigious post in the leading mercantile city in Saxony. This was Bach's first government position in a career that had mainly involved service to the aristocracy. This final post, which he held for 27 years saw the greatest musical achievements of his career. His main instrumental, choral and chamber works were written during this period. He died in 1750. In 2008, a computerized facsimile of Bach's head using computer modelling techniques, showed the composer to have been a strong-jawed man with a slight underbite, his large head topped with short, silver hair.

The Meaning of Bach's Music

These are the very barest of outlines of the man's life. For a deeper meaning of what the man and his "genius" was, one can only turn to the music itself. For an understanding of what his large ensemble music was, one could turn to the Brandenburg Concerti. For a measuring of the depth of his soul, one could hear the Concerto for Two Violins. For a true measuring of his ability as a musician, as well as his inventiveness as a composer, one could turn to his famous two-part inventions. For a measure of his meaning to generations of listeners, one could turn anywhere... to the immense popularity of "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring" or to the piece which I chose to be played at my Sister and Brother in Law's wedding when the mothers of the Bride and Groom were brought in: "Sheep May Safely Graze", and which remains my most touching memory of that event. Bach and his music remain timeless, ever remindful of the depth and the breadth that the human soul can reach. And his place in the pantheon of Western Music remains on a level with the very finest composers of history.

READERS!! If you would like to comment on this, or any "Today in History" posting, I would love to hear from you!!  You can either sign up to be a member of this blog and post a comment in the space provided below, or you can simply e-mail me directly at:  I seem to be getting hits on this site all over the world, so please do write and let me know how you like what I'm writing (or not!)!!


by Donald J. Grout W.W. Norton & Co. New York, 1960.

by Peter Gammond CLB Publishing, Surrey, 1995

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Thursday, March 20, 2014

MARCH 20 = LBJ Sends Troops to Alabama

"I am calling into Federal service selected units of the Alabama National Guard, and also will have available police units from the Regular Army to help you meet your State responsibilities. These forces should be adequate to assure the rights of American citizens pursuant to a Federal court order to walk peaceably and safely without injury or loss of life from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama."

These were the words of President Lyndon Johnson on today's date, March 20 in 1965 as he responded to Governor George Wallace's insistence that Federal Troops would be needed to protect the protest march from Selma to Montgomery demanding equal voting rights for the African-American voters in that state. LBJ had been double crossed by the Alabama Governor and he was none-too-pleased about it.

Voting Rights in Alabama in 1965

African-Americans made up more than half the population in the city of Selma, Alabama by 1965. Yet when these citizens attempted to register to vote, they were met with resistance in the form of intimidation and outright discrimination.  A group of 600 demonstrators had staged a peaceful march on the Alabama
capitol of Mont- gomery on Sunday March 7 to protest this violation of their consti- tutional right to vote.  When the marchers attempted to cross the Edmund Pettis bridge, they were met by Alabama State troopers who assaulted them with tear gas and billy clubs.  These scenes were caught on film (above) and caused a national reaction against the police tactics. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., head of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) organized another march for the following Tuesday (3/10) but stopped the marchers at the Pettis bridge until a court order could be obtained guaranteeing their safety.

"Don't you shit me, George..."

Meanwhile, President Lyndon Baines Johnson had been monitoring the situation and attempting without success to contact Alabama Governor George Wallace to discuss the marches and calm things down from the violence.  LBJ was eventually able to contact Wallace through an intermediary, former Tennessee Governor Buford Ellington.  A meeting was arranged at the White House between LBJ and Wallace on Saturday, March 13.  LBJ, who at 6. 4" fairly towered over the comparatively diminutive Wallace sat the governor down,  pulled up his rocking chair and gave Wallace (below) a nose-to-nose grilling over
the whole messy situation. When he asked why Wallace wouldn't see to it that the black voters were registered, Wallace attempted to dodge the question by saying that it was a matter for local officials, LBJ wasn't buying it: "Don't you shit me George about who runs Alabama!" After a long meeting Wallace left, saying that he would extend state protection to the marchers if the court order said he must. LBJ was very reluctant to send in federal officials because that would bring up the old specter of the post-Civil War era of reconstruction, and it would make progress on voting rights even more difficult. On March 15, LBJ addressed Congress and proposed the Voting Rights Act of 1965 which was designed to clear the path to full voting powers for Black citizens all over the United States.

LBJ Orders Federal Protection for the Marchers

The court order came through on March 17, with Federal District Court Judge Frank M. Johnson Jr. ruling in favor of the marchers, saying: "The law is clear that the right to petition one's government for the redress of grievances may be exercised in large groups."  On the 18th, LBJ and Buford Ellington both spoke to Wallace over the phone, and he assured them that he would try to keep it a state matter by using the Alabama National Guard to protect the marchers.  But later that night Wallace went on TV and demanded that LBJ send in Federal troops to take care of the marchers.  At 9:00 that evening, a furious LBJ spoke with Ellington:  "LBJ: Buford.  BE: I'm sorry I left; I thought you were through.  LBJ: I thought so too. You're dealing with a very treacherous guy. You all must not come in even quoting him anymore. Because he's a no-good son of a bitch!" So the following day, March 20, LBJ had a press conference (below) and issued the order quoted at the top of this posting. Quoting his telegram to Wallace, LBJ pointed out:

"Responsibility for maintaining law and order in our Federal system properly rests with the State and local government. On the basis of your public statements and your discussions with me, I thought that you felt strongly about this and had indicated that 
you would take all the necessary action in this regard. I was surprised, therefore, when in your telegram of Thursday you requested Federal assistance in the performance of such fundamental State duties."

Then the President acidly continued,

"Even more surprising was your telegram of yesterday stating that both you and the Alabama Legislature, because of monetary consideration, (the emphasis is LBJ's) believe that the State is unable to protect American citizens and to maintain peace and order in a responsible manner without Federal forces. Because the court order must be obeyed and the rights of all American citizens must be protected, I intend to meet your request by providing Federal assistance to perform normal police functions."

Then the President went on to comment:

"It is not a welcome duty for the Federal Government to ever assume a State Government's own responsibility for assuring the protection of citizens in the exercise of their constitutional rights. It has been rare in our history for the Governor and the legislature of a sovereign State to decline  (once again, the emphasis is LBJ's) to exercise their responsibility and to request that duty be assumed by the Federal Government."

On March 21, 1965 some 3,200 people marched out of Selma, Alabama, headed for Montgomery (above) and they did so under the protection of federal troops. They progressed @ 12 miles a day and slept in the local fields at night. And on March 25, they arrived at the state capitol of Montgomery.  By then, their number had swelled to nearly 25,000.  There, they heard Dr. King declare:

"The end we seek, is a society at peace with itself, a society that can live with its conscience. ... I know you are asking today, How long will it take? I come to say to you this afternoon however difficult the moment, however frustrating the hour, it will not be long."

Five months later, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was passed by the U.S. Congress.  President Johnson signed it into law on August 6, 1965.


"Judgment Days: Lyndon Baines Johnson, Martin Luther King Jr., and the Laws That Changed 
America" by Nick Kotz, 2006

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

MARCH 19 = Albert Speer, "the Good Nazi" is Born

"Speer... (pictured left) made the most straight- forward impression of all and... during the long trial spoke honestly, and with no attempt to shirk his responsibility and his guilt."

- William Shirer on Albert Speer and his appearance at the Nuremburg War Crimes Trials.

Albert Speer was born on today's date, March 19 in 1905, in the city of Mannheim, Germany. Herr Speer was an architect, the Minister of Armaments and War Production for Hitler. And the above quote from William Shirer's book "The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich"  has been the most widely held view of the man until recently when a revisionist view of Speer has appeared in some quarters.  Whereas most of Hitler's henchmen claimed that they didn't know, or that they were only following orders, Speer acknowledged his guilt. But how to view the man?  Is he a good man corrupted by a criminal regime, who tried to make up for it by attempting to undo some of the evil, and by admitting his guilt?  Or is he just like the others, going along with the Nazis when they were winning, and simply feigning a guilty conscience when they lost in order to save his neck? Below, I will briefly present some of the evidence.  But you, the readers of "Today in History" will have to decide for yourselves how to view the man.  I must admit that I have not even fully made up my own mind about this. But this IS an important question for today's world.  For even as the crimes of the Holocaust begin to fade from living memory, we have crimes against humanity being committed throughout the world. And we face these questions once again.

Speer Rises to Become Hitler's Confidant

Speer entered school as a student of architecture in 1923, winding up at the Technical University of Berlin  wherein he studied under  Heinrich Tessenow. In 1930 he was urged by  some students  to attend a speech by Hitler.  Speer described  himself as "a-political" at this time, but he was very impressed with Hitler and his ideas, and he joined the Nazi party in March of 1931. In July of 1932, Speer, who was in Berlin to help the Nazi Party during parliamentary elections, was recommended to Joseph Goebbels (Hitlers' Propaganda Director) to help with the design of the Party's Berlin headquarters.  This soon brought him into frequent contact with Hitler, who as a frustrated artist saw Speer as a kind of kindred spirit. Eventually he became a member of the German Chancellor's inner circle, and ultimately, Hitler's friend.  Hitler spoke of  having  "the warmest human feelings"  for Speer, who  testified at Nuremberg, "I belonged to a circle which consisted of other artists and his personal staff. If Hitler had had any friends at all, I certainly would have been one of his close friends." 
Speer was of course an intelligent man of excellent manners. unlike so many of Hitler's hench- men. But he was also young and ambitious, and any reservations he may have had about Hitler and the men surrounding him took a backseat. Speer, as Hitler's friend was swept up by the proximity to power, and the leadership over German architecture that came with it.  In January of 1938, he was commissioned by Hitler to design the seat of his government, the Reich Chancellery (pictured above).

Speer Takes Over German War Production

On February 8, 1942, Franz Todt, the Minister of War Production was killed in a plane crash, and Hitler named Speer to take his place.  At the time German war production was not fully geared for war production with many consumer goods still being produced. Further he found a situation in which five different ministries had authority over the production of war materials. With the backing of  Hitler who said that he would sign anything that Speer sent him, Speer got all of the war production centralized in himself. He divided the armament production into areas for separate weapons systems, and had each factory producing a
single product. Each department was run by experts in the field instead of civil servants.  His efforts brought results that left him with wide-ranging authority to get his way in any sector of the German economy that he wished. This of course earned him the jealousy of many other top Nazis.  In June of 1943, Goebbels wrote in his diary with some degree of annoyance: "Speer is still tops with the Führer. He is truly a genius with organization." But as the Allied bombing campaigns began to take their toll, Speer showed his true genius for improvisation by transferring much of Germany's war production to underground installations (above).  Both the construction and the running of these facilities was accomplished utilizing the harshest conditions of slave labor on the workers.  But with these underground factories,  he was able to keep up high levels of production until very late in the war.

Judgement at Nuremburg

When the war finally ended in May of 1945, Speer along with other top Nazi officials faced the Allied War Crimes Tribunal held in the city of Nuremburg.  While most of the defendants plead "Not Guilty" claiming either that they had been following orders, or that they had not known of the worst excesses - the wholesale murders of millions of Jews and others, Speer by contrast accepted the overall responsibility for the crimes of the Nazi regime: "In political life, there is a responsibility for a man's own sector. For that he is of course fully responsible. But beyond that there is a collective responsibility when he has been one of the leaders. Who else is to be held responsible for the course of events, if not the closest associates around the Chief of State?" This fairly generalized acceptance of responsibility was what ultimately
saved Speer's life.  When the verdicts were announ- ced on Oct. 1, 1946, Speer was found guilty, but (above, Speer at Nuremburg, top seated row, fifth from right) unlike most of the other top Nazi officials who were given the death penalty, Speer was sentenced to 20 years in prison.  In the years since the Nuremburg trials especially in the years since Speer's death in 1981 there has been considerable controversy about Speer's precise level of knowledge about the worst atrocities of the Nazi regime, some of which occurred in the slave labor conditions of his own underground factories. He had indeed accepted a kind overall responsibility, but denied knowledge of the specific details.  In his book "Inside the Third Reich" (1970) he painted a picture of a basically honorable and decent young man who allowed himself to be seduced by the demonic personality of Hitler.  While it is certainly true that Speer kept much of Hitler's scorched earth orders from being implemented at the end of the war, and alone kept telling Hitler that the war was indeed lost, all of this at considerable personal risk, the exact level of his awareness, i.e. what Speer knew, and when he knew it has never been fully determined. So can his acceptance of guilt be taken as a true act of repentance? That is something that each reader must decide for themselves.  For the moment, I shall close with the following passage from Gitta Sereny's 1995 book "Albert Speer: His Battle With the Truth" :

"Speer talked for hours then about Hitler, and those around him, all of whom he appeared to despise.... Captain Burt Klein listened as we did for hours and then he suddenly said, 'Mr. Speer, I don't understand you.  You are telling us that you knew years ago that the war was lost for Germany.  For years, you say, you have been watching the horrible in-play among those gangsters who surrounded Hitler -- and surrounded you.  Their personal ambitions were those of hyenas, their methods were those of murderers, their morals those of the gutter.  You knew all this. And yet you stayed,  not only stayed but worked, planned with and supported them to the hilt. How can you explain it?  How cam you justify it? How can you stand living with yourself?' And Speer was silent for awhile.  And then he said, 'You cannot understand.  You simply cannot understand what it is to live in a dictatorship; you can't understand the game of danger, but above all you cannot understand the fear on which the whole thing is based.  Nor, I suppose, have you any concept of the charisma of a man such as Hitler.'  Burt Klein just got up and left the room."  


"The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich" - William Shirer, 1960.

"Albert Speer: His Battle With the Truth" - Gitta Sereny, 1995

"Speer. The Final Verdict" - Joachim Fest, 1999

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Monday, March 17, 2014

MARCH 17 = St. Patrick's Day

"I saw a man coming, as it were from Ireland. His name was Victoricus, and he carried many letters, and he gave me one of them. I read the heading: 'The Voice of the Irish'. As I began the letter, I imagined in that moment that I heard the voice of those very people who were near the wood of Foclut, which is beside the western sea—and they cried out, as with one voice: 'We appeal to you, holy servant boy, to come and walk among us.' "

Thus spake Saint Patrick, in Latin that's Sanctus Patricius, and in the Irish (Gaellic) tongue, Naomh Pádraig, born in AD 387 and who died on this date, March 17, in the year AD 461. The man was a was a Romanized-Celt, and a Christian missionary, who is considered the patron saint of Ireland. The above is from one of two  letters generally accepted by historians as having been written by Patrick, and recounts a vision which he had a few years after returning there from Gaul.

St. Patrick Wasn't WHAT??

Well here's a kicker for you: the man was not actually Irish!! Actually, he was not really BORN in Ireland herself. As stated above, he was a Romanized Celt. Remember, the Roman Empire went on for quite a long time. The island of Britain was conquered by the Romans lead by Julius Caesar in @ 50 BC. But it was not until the reign of Claudius Caesar that Britain was brought firmly back into the Roman world in @ 56 AD. Thus the people of this part of the world thought of themselves as being Romans. It was into this world that the young Patrick was born to the given name of Maewyn. His birth place was most likely a small village near the mouth of the Severn River in what is now Wales. And here's the other kicker: he was dragged to Ireland as a slave by Irish marauders! These rogues kidnapped (or Saint-napped) the boy when he was sixteen years old, along with hundreds of other men and women, and for six years he was a kind of captive sheep herder in County Antrim. It was during this period that he came to an increasing awareness of God in his heart.

St. Patrick's Conversion

He managed to escape his slavery in Ireland and went to Gaul (modern day France) wherein he spent a dozen years studying the Christian faith under the eyes of St. Germain, the Bishop of Auxerre, who instilled in his young pupil a desire to convert pagans to the Christian faith. By the time of his return to Ireland, and his installation as Ireland's second Bishop, he had adopted the christian name of Patrick. He had, by all accounts, an imposing physical presence, and a very winning and unaffected manner about him, which enabled him to win over a good number of converts. This made him a burr under the saddle of the local Celtic Druid priests, who were forever having the man arrested, only to watch him escape. In time he managed to travel extensively throughout the green hills of the Irish countryside founding monasteries, and churches. He is said to have given a sermon from a hilltop which drove the snakes from Ireland for good. Once, struggling during a sermon to describe the Holy Trinity of the father, the son and the holy ghost, he happened to look down and saw the clovers growing in the ground. He picked up the herb, and holding it up, asked his listeners to imagine this as the father, the son, and the holy ghost, and the stem as the single God head from which they proceeded. St. Patrick died on this date of March 17, in or about the year of AD 461, and ever after, his converts wore the shamrock or the three-leafed clover as a religious symbol on his feast day. And thus it has come down through the years as a symbol of Ireland and all things Irish.

READERS!! If you would like to comment on this, or any "Today in History" posting, I would love to hear from you!!  You can either sign up to be a member of this blog and post a comment in the space provided below, or you can simply e-mail me directly at:  I seem to be getting hits on this site all over the world, so please do write and let me know how you like what I'm writing (or not!)!!


"Extraordinary Origins of Everyday Things"  by Charles Panati, Harper & Row Publ. Inc., New York, 1987.

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