This Day in History
1813 — Pride and Prejudice published. Originally published anonymously, Jane Austen novel has been an endearing success for over 200 years. She sold the copyright for a modest amount and never reaped large financial success. Not that it mattered much for Austen died only three years after its publication. The book has sold over 20 million copies and a number of dramatic presentation and movies have been based on it.
I have to confess I’ve never read it. I read many of the classics while in college but missed that one. That classic reading binge, since I was not majoring in Literature, did some damage to my GPA.
1887 — World’s largest snowflake falls. According to the The Guinness Book of World Records, a snowflake measuring fifteen inches across and eight inches thick fell on this day at Fort Keogh, Montana. Fort Keogh, incidentally, was named after Captain Keogh who died with Custer at Little Big Horn.
A fifteen by eight inch snowflake? I don’t know. I wonder what documentation Guinness required. If true, it’s a good thing the snowflake didn’t hit anybody. I doubt it exactly fluttered to the ground.
1922 — Knickerbocker Storm. This was a huge snowstorm that blanketed Washington, D.C. with two feet of snow. Snow accumulation on the flat roof of the Knickerbocker Theater caused it to collapse and gave the storm its name. The Knickerbocker was showing a silent movie that night and a large audience was in attendance despite the snow. Around 9PM the roof groaned and timbers cracked. Panicked people tried to rush from their seats but the collapsing roof fell on most of them. The balcony also fell on those below. 98 people were killed, including a Congressman, and 133 injured. Subsequent investigations revealed there were design flaws in the building’s structure. Both the building’s architect and its owner eventually committed suicide. No lawsuits were ever brought in the disaster.
No lawsuits! My, that was a different era.
1884 — Jean Piccard. Scientist, inventor, explorer.
1884 — Auguste Piccard. Scientist, inventor, explorer.
The twin brothers, born in Basel, Switzerland, came from a family of scientists. Auguste was a physicist and in 1930 became interested in high altitude ballooning. He designed a pressurized gondola that could withstand high altitudes and in 1931 rode a helium filled balloon to the height of 9.8 miles and with his co-pilot, were the first humans to enter the stratosphere. He’s claimed to have been the first person to have seen the curvature of the earth. He also designed a capsule that was capable of descending deep into the ocean. In 1953, accompanied by son, Jacques, he made a record breaking dive of 10,335 feet below the surface.
Jean, a chemist, was also a balloonist and he developed a plastic balloon that was capable of reaching greater heights. He invented a frost free window that the U.S. Navy and Army Air Force used for their planes during WWII. In 1946 the Navy approved his Project Helios and contracted with General Mills and the University of Minnesota to build polyethylene balloons for atmospheric research.
Both men, along with family members, continued their research and inventive ways their whole lives. Auguste died in Switzerland in 1962 and Jean died in 1963 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Other scientists in the Piccard family include Jacques, Bertrand, Jeanette and Don.
That explains a lot. I thought I’ve read the Piccard name many times and wondered how one person could do so much. There was also a Jean Picard, a 17th century French astronomer. And I’ve been told there’s a Picard character in Star Trek but never having seen one episode of that show I wouldn’t know.
1909 — Clarence “Buster” Crabbe. Swimmer, actor. Crabbe won a Gold Medal in the 400 meter freestyle swimming event at the 1932 Olympic Games. He parlayed that into a career on the silver screen. His first claim to fame was playing Tarzan in movie serials. In the 1930s he portrayed all the comic strip heroes of the time, Tarzan, Flash Gordon, and Buck Rogers. Although his career faded in the 1950s he continued acting his whole life.
It’s a good thing he had the nickname “Buster”, I don’t think Clarence Crabbe would make it as a matinee idol.
1911 — Johan von Hulst. Von Hulst was the director of a college in Amsterdam when the Nazis invaded and occupied Holland. They began to deport Jews to concentration camps and the staging area for this deportation was a theater across the street from the college. After they arrived at the theater children would be separated from their parents. While awaiting deportation the children would then be taken to a nursery that had a backyard adjacent to the college. Von Hulst organized an operation where the children were smuggled from the nursery and sent to people seeking adoption. They’d be handed over a hedge to the college’s teachers and students, placed in containers such as laundry baskets, and then spirited to safety by bicyclists. A Nazi appointed German Jew, Walter Suskind, was in charge at the theater and he coordinated the rescue effort with von Hulst. Somewhere around 600 children were saved. In later life von Hulst said: “Now try to imagine 80, 90, perhaps 70 or 100 children standing there, and you have to decide which children to take with you… That was the most difficult day of my life… You know for a fact that the children you leave behind are going to die.” The operation ended when Suskind and the remaining children were sent to a camp. After the war von Hulst became a politician, professor of pedagogy and a noted chess player. He lived 107 years and died in 2018.
I become annoyed when some sports announcer describes a player’s performance as courageous. It’s a game! Von Hulst, Suskind, and the others involved, now they were courageous.