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.