Saturday, April 9, 2016

Bad weather always looks worse through a window

April 9, 1928 -
... If, after hearing my songs, just one human being is inspired to say something nasty to a friend, or perhaps to strike a loved one, it will all have been worth the while.

Tom Lehrer, singer-songwriter, satirist, pianist, and mathematician,was born on this date. (Lehrer entered Harvard at age 15, having skipped several grades. Everyone applying for admission to Harvard was required to include an example of their written work. Lehrer submitted a long verse, in the style of W.S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan. The poem ended with the lines:

    I will leave movie thrillers
    And watch caterpillars
    Get born and pupated and larva'ed,
    And I'll work like a slave
    And always behave
    And maybe I'll get into Harvard...

The poem in its entirety appeared in Scholastic Magazine in 1943. It was Lehrer's first published work.)

Let's all go poison pigeons in the park in his honor.

Today in History:
April 9, 1241
In the Battle of Legnica, Silesia, Mongol armies defeated the Poles and Germans and the Mongols slaughtered the entire infantry. Mongols collected nine bags of ears* after the battle with Henry, Duke of Poland, on this date.

*In case you were wondering, apparently you can fit 25,000 ears into nine bags.

April 9, 1492 -
Lorenzo de' Medici died, turning his face to the wall to avoid the verbal abuse from Savonarola, who commands Lorenzo to confess his sins, indecencies and pride and to give the Florentines back their liberty, on this date.

It's very annoying to have your confessor pester you while you lay dying.

April 9, 1860 -
A short song was captured on by a phonautograph, a device created by a Parisian inventor, Edouard-Leon Scott deMartinville, on this date. The device etched representations of sound waves into paper covered in soot from a burning oil lamp. Lines were scratched into the soot by a needle moved by a diaphragm that responded to sound.

The recordings were never intended to be played. Technicians in 2008 were able convert the digital scan of the paper into an audio file.  The recording consists of about ten seconds of a person singing Au Claire de Lune. The audio file is now recognized as the oldest audible recording of a human voice ever made.

April 9, 1865 -
General Robert E. Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia to Ulysses S. Grant, effectively ending the American Civil  War. On April 5th, Grant sent a message to his old college friend Lee that said, "General: The result of the last week must convince you of the hopelessness of further resistance on the part of the Army of Northern Virginia in this struggle. P.S. If you could help an old friend out, send more bourbon. I've finished all of the Union's supply of that fine sippin' whisky of yours yesterday and I have a powerful thirst."

Lee wrote back to say, "Though not entirely of the opinion you express of the hopelessness of further resistance ... I reciprocate your desire to avoid useless effusion of blood, and therefore, before considering your proposition, ask the terms you will offer, on condition of its surrender. Also expect a barrowful of the heavenly nectar with this dispatch. Please tip the delivery boy, you cheap so and so."

And so they met at the Appomattox Court House on April 9th, Palm Sunday, just after noon. Afterward, Lee rode back to his camp, and crowds of Confederate soldiers along the road began to weep as he passed. Little did Grant know that least than a week later, he would have the sad honor of serving as a pallbearer at the funeral of his greatest champion, Abraham Lincoln.

April 9, 1830 -
It's the birthday of Eadweard Muybridge, born in Kingston-on-the-Thames, England. He emigrated to California in the 1850s, where he took up photography and quickly became one of the first internationally known photographers. Between 1867 and 1872 he took more than 2000 photographs, many of them views of the Yosemite Valley.

It was Eadweard Muybridge who designed a new camera that could take a picture in one-thousandth of a second. To test his improvement, he set up twenty-four cameras along a race track with trip wires to pull the shutters. With those cameras, he managed to take a series of pictures of a horse galloping, proving for the first time that all four of a horse's hooves will sometimes be off the ground at the same time, and winning his sponsor soon-to-be Governor of California Leland Stanford, a businessman and race-horse owner, a $25,000.00 bet. Muybridge's friendship with Stanford proved quite helpful.

In 1874, still living in the San Francisco Bay Area, Muybridge discovered that his wife had a lover, a Major Harry Larkyns. On October 17, 1874, he sought out Larkyns; said, "Good evening, Major, my name is Muybridge and here is the answer to the letter you sent my wife"; and shot and killed him. One is left to wonder what the good Major wrote to warrant such a response.

Muybridge thought his wife's son had been fathered by Larkyns (although, as an adult, the young man had a remarkable resemblance to Muybridge). He was put on trial for the killing, but acquitted of the killing on the grounds that it was "justifiable homicide." The inquiry interrupted the horse photography experiment, but not Stanford's support of Muybridge; Stanford paid for his criminal defense.

April 9, 1939 -
In 1939, the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) refused permission for Marian Anderson, an African-American contralto singer, to perform in front of an integrated audience in Constitution Hall.

With the aid of President Franklin D. Roosevelt and First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, Anderson performed a critically acclaimed open-air concert on this date, on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. to a crowd of more than 75,000 people and a radio audience in the millions.

April 9, 1959 -
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) introduces America's first astronauts for Project Mercury to the press: Scott Carpenter, L. Gordon Cooper Jr., John H. Glenn Jr., Virgil 'Gus' Grissom, Walter Schirra Jr., Alan Shepard Jr. and Donald Slayton. The seven men, all military test pilots, were carefully selected from a group of 32 candidates to take part in Project Mercury, America's first manned space program .

 John Glenn is the only surviving members of the Mercury Seven ( an is still going strong as of April 2016.)

April 9, 1963 -
The first foreigner to receive honorary United States citizenship on this date, was Winston Churchill (whose mother had been American).

Only Sir Winston, Raoul Wallenberg, William Penn  & Hannah Callowhill Penn, Mother Teresa, Casimir Pulaski, and the Marquis de LaFayette share this distinction. But it was the first time that Congress had actually resolved that honorary citizenship be bestowed, by the President of the United States, on a foreign national.

April 9, 1965 -
TIME magazine featured a cover with the entire Peanuts gang on this date.

After the Peanuts made the cover of TIME magazine, an advertising agent for the Coca-Cola company who had seen the Charles Schulz documentary produced by Lee Mendelson. The agent asked if Mendelson had thought about creating a Peanuts Christmas special. Mendelson fibbed that he had; the following day, he and Schulz came up with the story. A Charlie Brown Christmas is the longest-running cartoon special in history, airing every year since its debut in 1965.

And so it goes.

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