Sunday, August 18, 2019

23 Countries That No Longer Exist part 1 of 2

This week is part 1 of a 2-part blog about countries that no longer exist.

There are 195 countries in the world today, but this number has changed over the centuries. Borders have rarely remained static. New countries have formed and others ceased to exist.

Many nations were created as a result of a group of people with a common culture and language. Other countries were formed simply because of geography. Some were created following mass migrations, and others were established after the breakup of larger empires or countries into smaller states, and some following wars and treaties.

Depending on how you choose to count them, there could be as many as 207 countries. There are 193 UN members and 2 non-member observer states (the Holy See which governs Vatican City and the State of Palestine). In addition, there are six states with partial recognition such as Taiwan and Kosovo, and several more self-declared countries.

The world's newest country is South Sudan, which declared its independence from Sudan in 2011 following a bloody civil war. The smallest country on Earth is the Holy See, which has a landmass of 0.2 square miles within Rome, Italy. The oldest country is the Republic of San Marino, founded in 301 B.C., was not recognized as an independent country until 1631 and is also surrounded by Italy. Those tiny countries have managed to survive nearly 2,000 years of political upheaval in Europe that included some of the world’s longest wars.

1. Austria-Hungary
Created by the union of the Austrian Empire and the Kingdom of Hungary in 1867, Austria-Hungary was a quintessential multilingual empire, blending of 11 different ethnic groups, that lasted until 1918 as World War I ended. Rising nationalist fervor among ethnic groups began to tear Austria-Hungary apart even before the start of World War I.

2. Czechoslovakia
Founded in 1918 at the end of World War I, Czechoslovakia, a former Central European nation, comprised the former lands of Bohemia, Moravia, and Slovakia. The political union was possible because these regions had similar languages, religion, and culture. Between World War I and World War II, the country functioned as a parliamentary democracy. From 1938-1945, Czechoslovakia was under Nazi rule, and from 1948-1989, it was controlled by the Soviet Union. Communism came to an end in Czechoslovakia in 1989. By 1990, the country had held its first free elections, but disagreements between Czechs and Slovaks grew. The state as peacefully dissolved in 1992, forming the separate countries of the Czech Republic and Slovakia starting in 1993.

3. Confederate States of America
The Confederate States of America, all located in the South, lasted from 1861 to 1865. The states broke away from the United States due to disputes over the issues of states' rights and slavery. Jefferson Davis was the president of the Confederacy. The Confederate constitution supported the institution of slavery but not the African slave trade. There were 11 states in the Confederacy, which fought the Union in America's bloodiest war that claimed the lives of 750,000 people. The Confederacy was never formally recognized as a sovereign nation, although Great Britain considered recognition during the Civil War.

4. East Germany
The Democratic Republic of Germany—East Germany as it was known—was created in 1949 after World War II when the Allies agreed to divide Nazi Germany. East Germany lasted until 1990. The nation was dominated by the Soviet Union, which had conquered that part of Germany during World War II. It remained under Soviet influence as a satellite state. East Germany was half the size of the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany) and its economy paled in comparison with its western counterpart. A year after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, East Germany ceased to exist and the two Germanys were reunited.

5. East Pakistan
Despite existing for barely 17 years, East Pakistan had suffered much turmoil. The country's first constitution replaced what was British rule of an Islamic republic. Not long after, martial law was enacted following a coup d’etat and lasted for several years. In 1970, Pakistan held its first federal general election. The party that won the majority of the seats won all of its seats in East Pakistan but failed to gain even one seat in West Pakistan. This led to East Pakistan declaring independence from Pakistan and a nine-month long Bangladesh Liberation War and the 1971 Bangladesh genocide and the creation of the country of Bangladesh.

6. Gran Colombia
Gran Colombia spanned a massive swath of land in northern South America and southern Central America. It existed from 1819 to 1830 and included what are today Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Panama, northern Peru, western Guyana, and northwest Brazil. The country's short existence of only 21 years was plagued by regional conflicts and struggle between two main groups: supporters of a central government with a strong presidency and supporters of a decentralized, federal form of government. By 1830, it became clear the nation could not survive. In addition to the political discord, growing regional tensions led to the dissolution of Gran Colombia. As a result, Venezuela, Ecuador, and New Granada became independent states.

7. Holy Roman Empire
The Holy Roman Empire (not to be confused with the Roman Empire) was a stabilizing influence through the chaos of the Middle Ages and was a bulwark against Muslim invasions that threatened Europe. It was the largest governing authority outside the Catholic Church in the Middle Ages and provided troops for the crusades. Pope Leo III crowned Charlemagne as the first Holy Roman Emperor in 800, and the Holy Roman Empire lasted for more than 1,000 years. Because of its vast size, the Holy Roman Empire was a decentralized empire that granted regions considerable autonomy. The empire encompassed portions of modern European states France, Italy, Austria, Switzerland, Germany, Poland, the Netherlands, Belgium, Slovenia, and the Czech Republic.

8. Kingdom of Hawaii
Hawaii was not always part of the United States. In 1795, the islands of Hawaii, Oahu, Molokai, and Lanai unified under one government. In 1810, the entire Hawaiian Archipelago was united when Kauai and Niihau joined the Kingdom of Hawaii voluntarily. Two dynasties ruled the kingdom, the House of Kamehameha and the House of Kalakaua. In 1887, this kingdom of islands adopted a constitution that reduced the power of King Kalakaua. King Kalakaua was succeed by his sister, Queen Liliuokalani, who, in 1891 tried to restore royal power that had been removed by a new Hawaiian constitution, but she failed. Hawaii became a republic until it was annexed by the United States in 1898. Due to Hawaii's strategic location in the Pacific Ocean, the U.S. built a naval base at Pearl Harbor. The Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, drawing the U.S. into World War II. In 1959, Hawaii became the 50th U.S. state.

9. Korea
Comprising the Korean peninsula, North and South Korea were once one country. Korea was divided into North and South Korea after World War II, with the United States occupying the southern part, while the Soviet Union, under Joseph Stalin, occupied the northern section. The boundary between the North and South was arbitrarily established as the 38th parallel. In 1948, the Republic of Korea was established in South Korea and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea in North Korea. Both sides claimed a right to the entire peninsula, the conflict erupting into the Korean War which lasted from 1950 to 1953. South Korea was supported by the United States and western allies, while North Korea was supported by China and the Soviet Union. The result was a stalemate that has so far lasted nearly seven decades without an official treaty ending the war.

10. Native American Nations
For thousands of years before the Europeans came to North America, the ancestors of Native Americans occupied the continent. Scholars estimate that more than 50 million people were living in the Americas when the Europeans first arrived in the late 15th century, with 10 million of them in what is now the United States. According to different theories, the ancestors of Native Americans likely migrated to North America over a land bridge from Asia to Alaska some 15,000 to 30,000 years ago. When the Europeans got to North America, they encountered a sophisticated, highly structured society. Armed conflict and the effects of diseases brought by the Europeans reduced the Native American population over time. Native Americans were relegated to reservations either by coercion or by treaties, which generally forced massive land concessions.

Check back next week for a look at another 13 nations that no longer exist.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Important Historical Event in Each State—part 5 of 5

This is the final installment of my 5 part blog series presenting one important historical event in each of the 50 states. This week covers South Dakota through Wyoming.

41. South Dakota
Event: Mount Rushmore
Year: 1941
Location: Keystone
One of America's iconic images is among the newest. Mount Rushmore National Memorial was opened in 1941. The 60-foot high stone images of Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, Theodore Roosevelt, and Thomas Jefferson are framed against the Black Hills of South Dakota. Sculptor Gutzon Borglum selected Mount Rushmore in the early 1920s because of the site's dimensions—1,000 feet long and 440 feet wide. Work started on the project in 1927. The original plans from Borglum called for all four presidents to be shown from the waist up, but there was not enough funding to realize his vision.

42. Tennessee
Event: Scopes Monkey Trial
Year: 1925
Location: Dayton
John Thomas Scopes, a high school science teacher in Dayton, Tennessee, taught his students about evolution in 1925 to protest a new law that would fine anyone who taught a "theory that denies the story of the Divine Creation." Scopes was fined. He called on the American Civil Liberties Union to help prove the law was unconstitutional. Former presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan offered to help the prosecution. Clarence Darrow represented John Scopes. The case garnered so much attention that it was moved to the courthouse lawn over concerns the extra people in the court would cause the floor to collapse. The defense wasn't allowed to question the constitutionality of the law, so it called Bryan to the stand to defend his beliefs. But Bryan couldn't do it, instead making contradictory statements about his faith. The defense eventually requested a guilty verdict so it could later be appealed. Scopes was ordered to pay the minimum fine of $100, but that verdict was later overturned by the Supreme Court which was the ultimate goal of the defense. [For those of you who have never seen the 1960 movie, Inherit The Wind, starring Spencer Tracy as Clarence Darrow and Frederick March as William Jennings Bryan, it's an excellent film about the Scopes trial.]

43. Texas
Event: Kennedy Assassination
Year: 1963
Location: Dallas
Texas certainly has many notable events in its history, but there is one that certainly stands out above the others. Even though the campaign for the 1964 election had not yet started and President John F. Kennedy had not formally announced he was seeking re-election, the Democrat had come to Texas seeking early support for a re-election bid, hoping to garner support from staunchly conservative Texas. Kennedy's popularity was building and he was greeted by enthusiastic crowds in Dallas. Then the unthinkable happened when he was assassinated by Lee Harvey Oswald. Kennedy was prevented from being able to fulfill his ambitious goals for the country. The assassination of Kennedy traumatized the nation and has haunted the city of Dallas for many years. And even now, almost 56 years later, conspiracy theories still run rampant.

44. Utah
Event: Transcontinental railroad completed
Year: 1869
Location: Promontory Point
On May 10, 1869, the transcontinental railroad finally connected both coasts of the United States at Promontory Point in Utah. The task was completed by rival railroads Central Pacific and Union Pacific. The Central Pacific, moving east from Sacramento, California, used mostly Chinese laborers, which was controversial at the time because they were looked down upon due to entrenched racism in the country. The Chinese persevered through terrible conditions in the Sierra Nevada mountains and proved to be indefatigable workers. The Union Pacific, which moved west from Omaha, Nebraska, used mostly Irish workers and Civil War veterans.

45. Vermont
Event: First state to ban slavery
Year: 1777
Location: Statewide
Nearly a century before the Civil War, Vermont became the first state to outlaw slavery, just after the Colonies declared their independence. Vermont was, at that point, an independent republic. The transatlantic slave trade had yet to reach its peak. Other states, such as Pennsylvania, followed suit within a few years, using laws that only gradually released current slaves while preventing any new ones from being brought to the state. Despite the 1777 law, there now appears to be evidence that some Vermonters still held slaves in the 19th century.

46. Virginia
Event: First English settlement in the United States
Year: 1607
Location: Jamestown
Early attempts by the English to establish a colony in the New World had failed, including the "lost colony" of Roanoke in 1587. The English tried again in 1606. King James I issued a charter to the Virginia Company to create a settlement in the New World. About 100 colonists in three ships reached a peninsula on the James River on May 14, 1607. The early settlers fought off hunger and illness, and council leader John Smith forged an understanding with Native American Chief Powhatan. More settlers and supplies came to support the colony to finally secure England's toehold in the New World.

47. Washington
Event: Mount St. Helens eruption
Year: 1980
Location: Mount St. Helens
The 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens remains the largest volcanic event in U.S. history. The explosion was triggered by an earthquake underneath the mountain. It caused huge clouds of ash and pyroclastic flows. It also triggered the largest landslide in recorded history. The volcano, located in the Cascade Mountains, tossed more than 500 million tons of ash into the air and blotted out the sun hundreds of miles away. All told, 57 people were killed as a result of the eruption.

48. West Virginia
Event: John Brown's raid on Harper's Ferry
Year: 1859
Location: Harper's Ferry
John Brown's raid on Harper's Ferry was one of the key incidents leading up to the Civil War. Brown, an abolitionist, came to Harper's Ferry to seize the federal armory and arsenal. His plan was for slaves to rise up in rebellion. The local militia resisted and U.S. Marines, led by Colonel Robert E. Lee, arrived and killed many of the raiders and captured Brown. He was tried for treason, murder, and slave insurrection against the state of Virginia (West Virginia was not its own state yet) and hanged.

49. Wisconsin
Event: Peshtigo Fire
Year: 1871
Location: Northeastern Wisconsin
The most destructive and deadly fire in U.S. history took place in Wisconsin and Michigan in 1871. The Peshtigo Fire killed at least 1,200 people, though some estimates place the death toll at over 2,000. The area around Peshtigo was largely supported by logging, so sawdust and branches littered the surrounding forest. That summer had been unusually dry, putting the area at huge risk of fire. The blaze started on Oct. 8 and moved so quickly that many people were unable to outrun the flames. Coincidentally, the Peshtigo Fire took place on the same day as the Great Chicago Fire. Recovery efforts of the American people, including Wisconsin's governor, were initially focused on Chicago. Peshtigo never recovered. The event is largely forgotten to this day.

50. Wyoming
Event: Establishment of Yellowstone National Park
Year: 1872
Location: Northwestern Wyoming
Yellowstone National Park isn't just the first national park in the U.S., but also in the world. According to legend, explorers came to Madison Plateau in 1870. Struck by the beauty of the place, they decided Yellowstone needed to be preserved. It's unclear if that story is true, but President Ulysses S. Grant did sign a law establishing the park in 1872. Yellowstone stretches well over 3,000 square miles, almost all of it in Wyoming. It's also home to Old Faithful, a world famous geyser. [Note: Yellowstone is technically the first national park, but not the first time the federal government set aside land to be protected for all time. In 1864, Abraham Lincoln took time from the Civil War to set aside Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoia Trees. The National Park Service did not exist and the federal government had no means of administrating this. California was a state, so the federal government deeded the land to the state to be protected for all time. In 1872, when the federal government set aside Yellowstone, Wyoming was not a state—no governing authority existed to take it over. So, the National Park Service was created. California returned Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Grove to the federal government when the surrounding area was set aside as Yosemite National Park.]

As I said at the beginning of part 1 of this series, the important historical event for each state is a list I came across, I did not compile it. I thought the list would make interesting information for my blog. I hope you've enjoyed it.

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Important Historical Event in Each State—part 4 of 5

This week, part 4 of my 5 part blog series about historical events in the states covers New Mexico to South Carolina

31. New Mexico
Event: Atomic bomb testing
Year: 1945
Location: Alamogordo
Scientists detonated the first atomic bomb on July 16, 1945, in the New Mexico desert, and from that moment on the world would never be the same. The nuclear test was code-named "Trinity." The following month atomic weapons were used against the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki with such devastating results that the Japanese surrendered shortly after. The Soviet Union set off its first atomic bomb in 1949, ratcheting up Cold War tensions.

32. New York
Event: Sept. 11 terrorist attacks
Year: 2001
Location: New York City
On September 11, 2001, two hijacked commercial airplanes hit the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City. The skyscrapers collapsed trapping thousands of people and first responders. In all, close to 3,000 people died in the attacks. Another hijacked plane hit the Pentagon and another was brought down in a field in Pennsylvania by the passengers, sacrificing their lives to stop the attack. The destination of the hijackers of the downed plane was believed to be Washington, D.C.—either the White House or the Capitol building.

33. North Carolina
Event: Manned flight
Year: 1903
Location: Kitty Hawk
Though the Wright Brothers grew up in Ohio, they found the perfect place for their flying machine experiments in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. The brothers pored over weather records before determining that North Carolina would suit their needs. The first flight lasted just 12 seconds and covered 120 feet. By the end of the day, the world's first airplane stayed in the air for nearly one minute.

34. North Dakota
Event: Standing Rock protest
Year: 2016
Location: Standing Rock reservation
In 2016 and 2017, a protest against a proposed oil pipeline grabbed the nation's attention. The Dakota Access Pipeline route in North Dakota ran through Standing Rock Sioux Reservation and under the Missouri River, the reservation's source for drinking water. Residents protested, fearing the oil would contaminate the water. Hundreds of Native American activists and their allies descended on the reservation to protest what reservation residents believed was an encroachment on their sacred lands and a threat to their crucial water supply. Dozens of protesters were arrested, and the Obama administration blocked the project. Though the Trump administration has since reversed the decision and construction of the pipeline was completed, the company responsible for the pipeline is facing a litany of lawsuits that claim its security officers used unnecessary force on those protesting.

35. Ohio
Event: Ohio and Erie canal opened
Year: 1833
Location: Ohio and Erie Canal
During the early days of Ohio's history, the area was tough to access from much the country due to its geography and lack of infrastructure. An ambitious construction project which became known as the Ohio and Erie Canal sought to change that. The canal, which took nearly seven years to build, now serves as a 110-mile link between the Ohio River and Lake Erie. In addition to connecting two sides of Ohio, the canal provided an important link between the Midwest and the East Coast. Before the canal, it cost $125 to ship a ton of goods between the Ohio and the east coast. After the canal became functional, the price dropped to $25 per ton.

36. Oklahoma
Event: Federal Building bombing
Year: 1995
Location: Oklahoma City
Before the Twin Towers attack on Sept. 11, 2001, the worst terror attack on American soil was committed by domestic terrorists. The attack killed 168 people, injured about 650 others, and damaged some 300 buildings. Anti-government militant Timothy McVeigh loaded a truck with explosive materials and detonated it outside the Alfred Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. He chose that building because it contained the offices of federal agencies—the Drug Enforcement Agency, Secret Service, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and Explosives. McVeigh was captured and eventually executed. Co-conspirator Terry Nichols was sentenced to life in prison.

37. Oregon
Event: Lewis and Clark Expedition
Year: 1806
Location: Clatsop County
Shortly after the Louisiana Purchase, President Thomas Jefferson asked Meriwether Lewis to lead an expedition to explore the new land west of the Mississippi River. Lewis was joined by William Clark as co-commander and other adventurers who became known as the Corps of Discovery. In 1804, they set out from St. Louis in what is now Missouri. More than a year later, they arrived at the northwestern tip of what is now Oregon where the Columbia River meets the Pacific Ocean. There they constructed Fort Clatsop to ride out the winter. In 1806, they returned to St. Louis to complete their nearly 8,000-mile round trip journey.

38. Pennsylvania
Event: Signing of Declaration of Independence
Year: 1776
Location: Philadelphia
The Declaration of Independence was approved by the Continental Congress in Philadelphia and expressed the ideals of the new nation and why it chose to separate from Great Britain. The document put forth the assertion that all men are created equal, the creator endows men with "certain unalienable rights," and that governments derive their power from the people they govern. Philadelphia, the largest city in the Colonies at the time the Declaration of Independence was approved, was also where the Constitution was adopted.

39. Rhode Island
Event: King Philip's War
Year: 1675
Location: Statewide
King Philip's War, also known as the Great Narragansett War, marked a turning point in the relationship between natives and white settlers. While there had been simmering resentment and some violent skirmishes between natives and settlers for decades, the war became one of the largest conflicts since European settlers arrived. Tribal leader Metacom, called King Philip by the settlers, led a revolt against the Europeans following the execution of three of his warriors who were found guilty of murdering a native who converted to puritanism. During the 14-month conflict, colonial militias attacked and destroyed native villages, with much of the fighting taking place in Rhode Island.

40. South Carolina
Event: Attack on Fort Sumter
Year: 1861
Location: Charleston Harbor
Seven states seceded from the Union, throwing the new Confederate government and existing U.S. government were at odds over who owned what in the South. President Abraham Lincoln wanted to resupply Union forces at South Carolina's Fort Sumter, but Confederate forces turned the supplies away. Months later, in April 1861, Confederate General P.G.T. Beauregard ordered his men to fire on the fort. Union troops quickly ran out of ammunition and were forced to surrender Fort Sumter. Though no people were killed in the fighting, the battle marks the beginning of the Civil War.

Next week is the last of my 5 part series highlighting an important historical event in each of the 50 states. Part 5 covers South Dakota to Wyoming.

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Important Historical Event in Each State—part 3 of 5

This week I'm covering Massachusetts through New Jersey in part 3 of my 5 part blog series showing an important historical event from each state.

21. Massachusetts
Event: Battle of Lexington
Year: 1775
Location: Lexington
Resentment toward the English crown was very intense in Lexington and that was where the militiamen from Massachusetts chose to stand their ground against the British Empire. As battles go, the Battle of Lexington was little more than a skirmish. The British killed eight militiamen and wounded nine others at Lexington, then they continued on to Concord to destroy munitions stored there. But when the British tried to return to Boston, more colonists attacked them, killing or wounding 250 British soldiers. The American Revolution had begun.

22. Michigan
Event: Model T built
Year: 1908
Location: Detroit
The Model T built by Henry Ford revolutionized travel in the United States. It was constructed to make car ownership affordable to average American workers. Ford built more than 15 million of the vehicles, also called the "Tin Lizzie," from 1908 to 1927. Most models were started by a hand crank and reached top speeds of 45 miles an hour. Ford and others decided to build cars in Michigan because of the availability of iron ore and timber, and the rail and water routes made it convenient to ship cars to large cities such as Chicago and New York City.

23. Minnesota
Event: Mayo Clinic founded
Year: 1864
Location: Rochester
The Mayo Clinic has become the standard by which all hospitals are measured. The institution was chosen as the best hospital in the nation by U.S. News and World Report. The Mayo Clinic has its roots in immigrant founders Dr. William Worrall Mayo and Mother Alfred Moes, each of whom took separate routes to Rochester before they founded the hospital. Their visions of hospital care and teams of specialists have been realized today. In 1919, the institution became a not-for-profit organization.

24. Mississippi
Event: Lynching of Emmett Till
Year: 1955
Location: Money
The lynching of 14-year-old African American Emmett Till shocked the nation and served as a catalyst for the civil rights movement. Till, a Chicago resident, was visiting relatives in Mississippi. He was kidnapped and killed after white residents in the town of Money claimed he whistled at a white woman. When Till's body was found, it had been grotesquely disfigured. His mother chose to have an open casket at his wake to show the world the horror of the crime. There was a trial and the accused murders were acquitted by an all-white, male jury. In January 2017, Timothy Tyson, author of The Blood of Emmett Till, said the woman whom Till allegedly made advances toward told him she lied about the incident.

25. Missouri
Event: Admitted as slave state
Year: 1820
Location: Statewide
Tensions between slave states and free states were rising in the United States in the early 19th century, particularly over the issue of whether the expanding nation should admit new states as free or slave states. In 1820, Congress passed legislation known as the Missouri Compromise that maintained the balance of power between free states and slave states. The compromise allowed the admission of Missouri as a slave state and Maine as a free state. Neither the North nor the South was happy with the compromise, but the Union managed to hold together for another 41 years before it finally erupted into the Civil War.

26. Montana
Event: Battle of the Little Bighorn
Year: 1876
Location: Little Big Horn
We've all heard the story of Custer's Last Stand. In 1876, George Armstrong Custer led U.S. Army soldiers to forcibly relocate members of the Sioux and Cheyenne tribes after gold was discovered on their lands. Thousands of Native Americans, led by Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse, rallied at the Little Bighorn River. Custer was ordered to wait for reinforcements, but he attacked the main encampment of the tribes. Custer and his soldiers were overwhelmed and all killed within an hour. That would be the last decisive victory of indigenous tribes against the Army, as the government increased the use of force to put down any rebellions.

27. Nebraska
Event: Kansas-Nebraska Act
Year: 1854
Location: Statewide
The Kansas-Nebraska Act allowed people in the territories of Kansas and Nebraska to decide if the state would be a slave state or a free state. The legislation prompted settlers on each side of the slavery issue to pour into Kansas to affect the outcome of the first election after the law had passed. The election results produced violence, earning the state the name "Bleeding Kansas." A pro-slavery legislature was chosen amid charges of fraud. Because of this, Congress refused to admit Kansas as a state. Anti-slavery settlers eventually outnumbered pro-slavery supporters and Kansas was admitted as a free state just before the Civil War.

28. Nevada
Event: Gambling legalized
Year: 1931
Location: Statewide
With the nation in the throes of the Great Depression, Nevada became the first state to legalize gambling in 1931 as a mean of creating a revenue source. The decision would have profound consequences for the state and the nation. At the time, Las Vegas was nothing more than a desert stopover. The construction of nearby Hoover Dam gave the area a big boost. Gambling and casinos, run by organized crime, turned Las Vegas into an entertainment colossus.

29. New Hampshire
Event: First government independent from England
Year: 1776
Location: Statewide
New Hampshire's state motto is "Live Free or Die," so it shouldn't be surprising that the state was the first to declare itself independent from England. The state set up its own government away from colonial rule in January 1776, months before the Continental Congress. In 1778, it was also the first state to hold a constitutional convention.

30. New Jersey
Event: Battle of Trenton
Year: 1776
Location: Trenton
By the end of 1776, the Continental Army was in trouble. It had been beaten in New York and chased across New Jersey into Pennsylvania by the British Army. General George Washington needed a victory to lift the hopes of the budding. He took a risk by crossing an ice-choked Delaware River the day after Christmas to surprise the Hessian troops billeted at Trenton. The Army killed or captured the entire force of 1,400 Hessians. The victory boosted Americans' belief in the cause of fighting to liberate themselves from British rule.

Next week is part 4 of 5 covering New Mexico through South Carolina.

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Important Historical Event in Each State—part 2 of 5

This week is part 2 of 5 of my series highlighting an important historical event in each State. This week's blog post covers Hawaii through Maryland.

11. Hawaii
Event: Attack on Pearl Harbor
Year: 1941
Location: Honolulu
The Japanese Empire's assault on the United States naval fleet at Pearl Harbor was a surprise attack, though relations between the two nations had been deteriorating for years. The United States did not think an attack would occur near the U.S. mainland, and the naval facilities at Pearl Harbor, where the fleet was based, were not well defended. The attack destroyed 20 American ships, more than 300 airplanes, and killed more than 2,400 people. Fortunately for America, oil storage depots, shipyards, and other facilities in Hawaii were not destroyed. The U.S. aircraft carriers were not in Hawaii at the time. The attack brought the United States into World War II.

12. Idaho
Event: The Big Burn
Year: 1910
Location: Northern Idaho
In 1910, the Western United States suffered a severe drought that left much of the wilderness susceptible to fire. The extreme conditions led to The Big Burn, a massive forest fire that scorched over 3 million acres of land across Montana, Washington, and Idaho killing 87 people with at least 78 of them firefighters. The deaths and wide spread damage started a renewed interest in conservation among the American people. President Theodore Roosevelt attempted to acquire land for the national forest system after his election in 1904, but Congress refused. The Big Burn shifted public interest, and in 1911, Congress passed a law leading to the purchase of more than 20 million acres of land for the national forest system. The National Forest Service's budget was doubled.

13. Illinois
Event: Chicago Fire
Year: 1871
Location: Chicago
Prolonged dry weather and the haphazard construction of wooden structures all contributed to the conditions for the Chicago Fire. The blaze killed 300 people, destroyed thousands of buildings, and damaged an estimated $200 million worth of property. Luckily for the city, its transportation infrastructure was left intact. In the wake of the conflagration, Chicago implemented stricter building and fire codes. From the ruins emerged the nation's first skyscrapers and a teeming metropolis.

14. Indiana
Event: Native American Uprising
Year: 1811
Location: Tippecanoe
By the early 19th century, Native American tribes had enough of white settlers moving into their lands. Shawnee Chief Tecumseh organized a resistance and set up a village in Central Indiana. Gov. William Henry Harrison led approximately 1,100 men to confront them. Tecumseh's brother, Tenskwatawa, initially requested a ceasefire, but he broke it and attacked the militia in the early morning. Harrison's troops endured the attack and eventually forced the native fighters to retreat. Though Harrison lost more troops than the tribes, he developed a reputation as a war hero that eventually helped him get elected president decades later.

15. Iowa
Event: Creation of caucuses
Year: 1976
Location: Statewide
The caucuses are unique to Iowa in its political procedure of selecting presidential candidates. For candidates such as Jimmy Carter, success at the caucuses in 1976 generated momentum toward his eventual nomination for president. The process emerged out of the chaos of the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. For the Democrats, the caucuses are akin to a neighborhood meeting in which supporters of a particular candidate make their pitch to caucus-goers. Caucus attendees then gather in groups in various parts of the room for the candidate of their choice. The elected chairperson of the caucus counts the supporters of each candidate. The Republican process is less complicated.

16. Kansas
Event: Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka
Year: 1954
Location: Topeka
The Supreme Court's decision in the Brown v. Board of Education case provided one of the first major victories of the civil rights movement. Oliver Brown sued the Topeka, Kansas, Board of Education, saying the city's schools for black students were not as good as those for white students. The case made it to the Supreme Court in 1952, where the justices ruled that the idea of public facilities being "separate but equal" was unconstitutional. This decision made racial integration the law of the land and marked a major step forward in U.S. history.

17. Kentucky
Event: Fort Knox starts holding gold bullion
Year: 1937
Location: Fort Knox
Opened in 1937, the United States Bullion Depository in Fort Knox stores the nation's gold reserves. It is one of six U.S. Mint facilities and is located next to a U.S. Army garrison. Shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the holdings swelled to 649.6 million ounces, the highest amount ever held there. The gold is kept in the form of bars measuring 7 inches in length, 3.625 inches in width, and are 1.75 inches thick. The depository has held other valuables such as the Magna Carta, the Declaration of Independence, and the Constitution.

18. Louisiana
Event: Hurricane Katrina
Year: 2005
Location: Southeastern Louisiana
Hurricane Katrina slammed into the Gulf of Mexico in August 2005. The hurricane hit several states, but Louisiana took the brunt of the storm. Katrina battered New Orleans and the surrounding area with 127 mile per hour winds. Most of the levees in New Orleans failed, leading to overwhelming flooding. The Federal Emergency Management Agency estimated that 1,833 people were killed either directly or indirectly as a result of Hurricane Katrina. Over 1,500 of those fatalities were in Louisiana. The storm also caused over $108 billion in damages, making it the costliest hurricane in U.S. history.

19. Maine
Event: The Year Maine Burned
Year: 1947
Location: Statewide
In 1947, Maine received about half of its normal rainfall for the summer and into the fall, setting up dry conditions that led to a fire. The blaze began on Oct. 17 in a cranberry bog. Strong winds fanned the flames, spreading the fire until it eventually engulfed more than 17,000 acres, including 10,000 acres of Acadia National Park. Today, the aftermath of the fire at the park can be seen in the diversity of its scenery. Nature has replaced many evergreen trees by a colorful spread of deciduous trees. That fire was a prelude for the rest of the year. The fall of 1947 saw many other serious fires. By the end of the year, more than 200,000 acres and 1,000 homes had been destroyed. The repeated destruction earned 1947 the nickname "The Year Maine Burned."

20. Maryland
Event: The Toleration Act
Year: 1649
Location: Statewide
The colony of Maryland was settled in 1634 with the intention of expanding religious freedoms compared to England at the time. Anglicans and Catholics were often at odds, which made it a surprise when the charter for Maryland was given to a Catholic family from the Anglican King James. Maryland sealed its reputation as a haven for religious liberty when it passed the Toleration Act, which said that no one who "professes to believe in Jesus Christ, shall from henceforth be any way troubled, harassed or embarrassed for…his or her religion." Although restrictive by today's standards, it was a big step in the 17th century.

Next week in part 3 of 5, I'll present Massachusetts through New Jersey.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Important Historical Event in Each State—Part 1 of 5

I've done a previous blog series showing a weird fact about each of the 50 states. This 5 part blog series highlights an important historical event in each of the 50 states—an event that has shaped that state's history for better or worse. In many cases, the event has had implications beyond the state's borders, with consequences for the nation and, in some cases, the world.

These events include political changes, armed conflict, legal rulings, tragedies, cultural shifts, economic upheavals, ecological episodes, and scientific breakthroughs. But all of them changed the destiny of a particular state. The important historical event for each state is a list I came across, I did not determine or select the specific events. I thought the list would make interesting information for my blog. I hope you enjoy it.

So, in alphabetical order with 10 states represented in each of the 5 blog posts, here are the historical events. Today's blog post covers Alabama through Georgia.

1. Alabama
Event: Selma-to-Montgomery march
Year: 1965
Location: Selma to Montgomery
The 54-mile march from Selma to Montgomery was an effort to register African American voters in Alabama. Marchers were attacked by local police and those opposed to equal voting rights. The incident was broadcast on television, and it horrified the nation. Eventually, the marchers received protection from the National Guard. After three days they reached Montgomery. That August, Congress passed the Voting Rights Act that guaranteed the vote for African Americans.

2. Alaska
Event: Exxon Valdez oil spill
Year: 1989
Location: Prince William Sound
The Exxon Valdez oil tanker crashed into a reef in the Prince William Sound. The hull was pierced and more than 10 million gallons of oil spilled into the water. The problems were compounded as a storm spread the oil even farther across Alaska's Southern coast. As a result, thousands of animals died and hundreds of miles of coastlines were polluted. Much of the coast is still damaged today. The Exxon Valdez spill is now known as one of the of the most environmentally damaging events in history.

3. Arizona
Event: Grand Canyon National Park opened
Year: 1919
Location: Northern Arizona
The Grand Canyon is one of the world's most impressive landscapes. In 1919, the U.S. government declared it a national park. The canyon is 277 river miles long, 18 miles wide at its widest point, and one mile deep. The canyon is famous for its colors and ancient rock formations that tell the geological story of the North American continent. Nearly five million people visit the park each year.

4. Arkansas
Event: Desegregation of Little Rock schools
Year: 1957
Location: Little Rock
Even though the Supreme Court ruled school segregation unconstitutional in 1954, segregation remained in effect in many areas with fierce opposition to the ruling. When nine black children attempted to attend classes at Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas, Gov. Orval Faubus used the Arkansas National Guard to stop them from going to class. The Little Rock Nine were unable to go to class until President Dwight Eisenhower sent federal troops to enforce the ruling. The students attending a previously all-white high school, despite the racial abuse they endured, proved to be a pivotal moment in the civil rights movement.

5. California
Event: Gold Rush
Year: 1849
Location: Sutter's Mill
James Marshall, a carpenter from New Jersey, discovered bits of gold in the American River near Sutter's Mill (an area that is now part of Sacramento, California). This discovery set off one of the greatest gold rushes of all time. Miners took about $2 billion worth of gold during the California Gold Rush. California's non-native population grew from about 800 in early 1848 to 100,000 by the end of 1849. The gold rush fast-tracked California's admission to the Union, and it became a state in 1850.

6. Colorado
Event: Legalization of marijuana
Year: 2012
Location: Statewide
Nationwide support for marijuana legalization has slowly increased since the 1970s. One of the biggest victories for cannabis advocates came in Colorado in 2012 when the state voted to legalize it for recreational consumption for anyone over 21. Previously, states only allowed medical marijuana which required a prescription from a doctor. This law is in direct violation of federal laws banning marijuana, but there has so far been no federal crackdown. Both Colorado and Washington State voted to legalize marijuana on election day in 2012. Colorado was a bit quicker in drafting rules to sell it, so it is considered the first state to legalize marijuana.

7. Connecticut
Event: First colonial constitution
Year: 1639
Location: Hartford
Connecticut adopted the first colonial constitution in 1639, about 150 years before the United States Constitution was ratified. The document was titled Fundamental Orders. Written mostly by lawyer Roger Ludlow, it outlined a framework of government that placed the well-being of the community above that of the individual. The document conveyed the notion that the basis for authority originated from the "free consent of the people." This document paved the way for the U.S. Constitution. Connecticut is still known as the "Constitution State".

8. Delaware
Event: First state to join the U.S.
Year: 1787
Location: Statewide
Known as "The First State," Delaware was the first of the original 13 states to ratify the Constitution, making it the first member of the United States of America. Even though some states were somewhat skeptical of this new document, Delaware's delegation voted 30-0 to unanimously ratify it on Dec. 7, 1787. Other states in the Constitutional Convention were much slower to adopt the Constitution. Virginia and New York held out until 1788; North Carolina refused to sign before the Bill of Rights was introduced in 1789; and Rhode Island became the last of the 13 states to approve the Constitution in 1790.

9. Florida
Event: Launch of Apollo 11
Year: 1969
Location: Cape Canaveral
Neil Armstrong and Eugene "Buzz" Aldrin were the first humans to set foot on the moon, and Apollo 11 got them there. They lifted off from the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral (then called Cape Kennedy) on July 16, 1969. This month is the 50th anniversary of that event. Cape Canaveral became the site for space launches because rockets taking off from an East Coast location got a boost from the Earth's spin. The launching facility was located near the ocean in case of accidents.

10. Georgia
Event: Trail of Tears
Year: 1831
Location: Statewide
The forced removal of Native Americans from their homelands, known as the Trail of Tears, took place across several Southern states. However, it is particularly connected to Georgia as the state was involved in two influential court cases that set the stage for the removal. Cherokee Nation v. Georgia and Worcester v. Georgia affirmed that the indigenous tribes could operate as sovereign nations. However, President Andrew Jackson ignored the rulings. From 1831 to 1840, tens of thousands of Native Americans were relocated west. Thousands did not survive the trip.

Next week on part 2 of 5 of my Important Historical Event In Each State blog series, I'll cover Hawaii through Maryland.

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Famous People Who Possibly Never Existed

In our present age of instant information sources (both real and fake), it's easy to search for the biography of a well-known person. However, it was not always this way. The facts about many historical figures weren't written down until years, sometimes decades or even centuries, after they allegedly lived. With these large gaps of time, any evidence of the person's actual existence may be nothing more than stories with an absence of any real proof.

Here is a list of famous people whose names you will recognize but who may never have existed at all, at least not in their popular and commonly accepted form. This list of 6 is only a small number of famous people who may or may not be real. The original list I came across included 17 people.

The tale of a woman dressing as a man and fighting for a cause (whether family, country, or religion) is a timeless theme (think Joan of Arc). Disney introduced movie fans to the legend of Mulan, though she was already famous in Chinese literature. It's commonly accepted that Mulan was a real person who actually did this. But any evidence of this actually happening is scarce.

The book Chinese Shadow Theatre: History, Popular Religion, and Women Warriors says Mulan might have been a fictional character based in part on Wei Huahu, an actual female warrior from ancient China. As for Mulan herself, the earliest known reference was in an ancient song, The Battle of Mulan. But it doesn't specify when she lived, gives few details of the actual battles she fought, and didn't give a full name for her other than Mulan.

Then there's a text called LienĂ¼ zhuan translated as Exemplary Women of Early China, written by Liu Xiang around 18 BC, and packed with over 120 biographies of famous women from ancient China. Despite supposedly being a prominent person, Mulan is not listed. Even though she supposedly lived several hundred years after Xiang first published his book, there's a section at the end for supplemental biographies. No one has ever added Mulan, even though her alleged exploits were quite exceptional.
Surely the great William Shakespeare was a real person. He has lots of writings and there are portraits of him. So, how could he not be real? I'm been to Stratford-Upon-Avon in England and have seen the house said to be his. Surprisingly, many people are convinced that "William Shakespeare" was a pen name, and whoever wrote those stories might be lost to history.

As presented on PBS, there was a man named William Shakespeare, but we know little about him. We don't know where he learned to write, how he learned so much about law, politics, and history, and his will mentioned no plays or sonnets, which you'd think would be foremost on his mind. It sounds like the real Shakespeare didn't write much more than the daily to do list. If true, then who is the real Shakespeare? Plenty of candidates have emerged over the years, like Francis Bacon, Ben Johnson, and Christopher Marlowe, but these possibilities haven't stuck.

There's another legitimate possibility in Edward de Vere—the Earl of Oxford. According to J. Thomas Looney, a schoolteacher who uncovered a great deal about the man, Vere wrote poetry that reads much like what is attributed to Shakespeare. According to this theory, Vere used an assumed name because being one of the nobility he didn't want to be associated with a low-brow art like playwriting. Then, when he died, his followers published his plays under the pen name of some random commoner named William Shakespeare who had died years before.
Robin Hood
The legendary English folk hero Robin Hood is well-known for robbing from the rich and giving to the poor, residing in Sherwood Forest with his band of merry men, and wooing Maid Marian. The stories are certainly fictitious, but was Robin Hood a real person or simply based on one? It's impossible to say if any one individual inspired the legend's creation. The stories are either totally invented, or are a combination of elements taken from different historical sources.

Identifying a single person as the basis for the famous outlaw becomes even more difficult as the stories began to grow in popularity in the 13th and 14th centuries. Various English outlaws began calling themselves Robin Hood. Nevertheless, some historians speculate that Robin Hood was based at least in part on nobleman Fulk FitzWarin, who rebelled against King John (one of Robin Hood's foes). FitzWarin's life was later turned into its own medieval tale, Fouke le Fitz Waryn, which holds some similarities to the Robin Hood stories. If he was the basis, then a name change was a good decision. The name Fulk FitzWarin doesn't exactly strike fear into the hearts of villains.
William Tell
William Tell is a Swiss folk hero who allegedly lived in Switzerland during the early 14th century, when the Hapsburg dynasty of Austria ruled the land. As the story goes, an Austrian official placed a hat on a pole in city of Altdorf and commanded every Swiss subject to remove their caps in a show of respect as they passed by it. One day, William Tell, a local peasant accompanied by his son, refused to comply. In response, the Austrians forced him to shoot an apple off his son's head at 120 paces or face execution. Tell loaded his crossbow and skillfully shot the apple. He then went on to lead a small revolt against the Austrians.

Tell is essentially the Swiss version of Robin Hood and, much like the outlaw of Sherwood Forest, he probably never existed. The apple story is extremely similar to a Viking folktale, which most likely was imported to Switzerland at some point and used by Swiss patriots as a rallying cry against their Austrian rulers.

Homer (pictured at top) is the Greek poet who wrote two of the books that your English teacher probably required you to read in high school—The Iliad and The Odyssey. Despite the popularity and importance of these mythological epics, their author remains shrouded in mystery. Homer almost certainly was not the creator of these tales, which likely preceded him by about 1,000 years. He was simply the first to write them down. As for the poet himself, some say Homer was blind, while at least one author argues that Homer was actually a woman.

Some historians believe that Homer was not a single person, but rather a group of Greek scholars. In the end, we will probably never know the answer, but the legacy of Homer's works will continue.
King Arthur
We're all familiar with the Arthurian legend. Even if you haven't read the stories, you likely saw Monty Python and the Holy Grail or are familiar with the theatrical production and subsequent movie, Camelot. In any case, the British king is said to have claimed the sword, Excalibur, from the Lady of the Lake and found the aforementioned Holy Grail. These stories are most likely a mishmash of folklore, but was the Arthur of legend based on a real man? The first tales of Arthur appeared in the ninth century and chronicle his battle against the invading Saxon armies, so it's likely that the individuals who served as the basis for Arthur lived sometime before then. Some historians suggest the Roman military commander Lucius Artorius Castus as a possible candidate. Others suggest Riothamus, king of the Britons during the fifth century.

John Henry
John Henry—the steel-driving man has been immortalized in folk music since the 1800s. His Ballad of John Henry tells the story of an ex-slave working on the railroad. He challenged a steam drill to see which could work faster, and he won. He died soon afterwards from sheer exhaustion. The greatest heroes die in the end, and Henry's story has ascended to near-myth because of it.

Thing is, he might actually be a myth. As NPR explains, John Henry is almost certainly a "tall tale," though one based on "historical circumstance." There were obviously men working on railroads back in the 1800s, and steam drills were eventually introduced as a way to speed up labor and reduce costs. More than likely, the rail workers disapproved of a machine taking their jobs, though it's unproven if anybody actually attempted to work faster than one.