Archive for October, 2011

October 15,1917: Mata Hari executed

October 21, 2011

October 15: General Interest
1917: Mata Hari executed

Mata Hari, the archetype of the seductive female spy, is executed for espionage by a French firing squad at Vincennes outside of Paris.

She first came to Paris in 1905 and found fame as a performer of exotic Asian-inspired dances. She soon began touring all over Europe, telling the story of how she was born in a sacred Indian temple and taught ancient dances by a priestess who gave her the name Mata Hari, meaning “eye of the day” in Malay. In reality, Mata Hari was born in a small town in northern Holland in 1876, and her real name was Margaretha Geertruida Zelle. She acquired her superficial knowledge of Indian and Javanese dances when she lived for several years in Malaysia with her former husband, who was a Scot in the Dutch colonial army. Regardless of her authenticity, she packed dance halls and opera houses from Russia to France, mostly because her show consisted of her slowly stripping nude.

She became a famous courtesan, and with the outbreak of World War I her catalog of lovers began to include high-ranking military officers of various nationalities. In February 1917, French authorities arrested her for espionage and imprisoned her at St. Lazare Prison in Paris. In a military trial conducted in July, she was accused of revealing details of the Allies’ new weapon, the tank, resulting in the deaths of thousands of soldiers. She was convicted and sentenced to death, and on October 15 she refused a blindfold and was shot to death by a firing squad at Vincennes.

There is some evidence that Mata Hari acted as a German spy, and for a time as a double agent for the French, but the Germans had written her off as an ineffective agent whose pillow talk had produced little intelligence of value. Her military trial was riddled with bias and circumstantial evidence, and it is probable that French authorities trumped her up as “the greatest woman spy of the century” as a distraction for the huge losses the French army was suffering on the western front. Her only real crimes may have been an elaborate stage fallacy and a weakness for men in uniform.

October 16,1934: The Long March

October 21, 2011

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Well this is interesting for my Birthday date

October 16: General Interest

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1934: The Long March

The embattled Chinese Communists break through Nationalist enemy lines and begin an epic flight from their encircled headquarters in southwest China. Known as Ch’ang Cheng-the “Long March”-the retreat lasted 368 days and covered 6,000 miles, nearly twice the distance from New York to San Francisco.

Civil war in China between the Nationalists and the Communists broke out in 1927. In 1931, Communist leader Mao Zedong was elected chairman of the newly established Soviet Republic of China, based in Kiangsi province in the southwest. Between 1930 and 1934, the Nationalists under Chiang Kai-shek launched a series of five encirclement campaigns against the Soviet Republic. Under the leadership of Mao, the Communists employed guerrilla tactics to resist successfully the first four campaigns, but in the fifth, Chiang raised 700,000 troops and built fortifications around the Communist positions. Hundreds of thousands of peasants were killed or died of starvation in the siege, and Mao was removed as chairman by the Communist Central Committee. The new Communist leadership employed more conventional warfare tactics, and its Red Army was decimated.

With defeat imminent, the Communists decided to break out of the encirclement at its weakest points. The Long March began at 5:00 p.m. on October 16, 1934. Secrecy and rear-guard actions confused the Nationalists, and it was several weeks before they realized that the main body of the Red Army had fled. The retreating force initially consisted of 86,000 troops, 15,000 personnel, and 35 women. Weapons and supplies were borne on men’s backs or in horse-drawn carts, and the line of marchers stretched for 50 miles. The Communists generally marched at night, and when the enemy was not near, a long column of torches could be seen snaking over valleys and hills into the distance.

The first disaster came in November, when Nationalist forces blocked the Communists’ route across the Hsiang River. It took a week for the Communists to break through the fortifications and cost them 50,000 men-more than half their number. After that debacle, Mao steadily regained his influence, and in January he was again made chairman during a meeting of the party leaders in the captured city of Tsuni. Mao changed strategy, breaking his force into several columns that would take varying paths to confuse the enemy. There would be no more direct assaults on enemy positions. And the destination would now be Shensi Province, in the far northwest, where the Communists hoped to fight the Japanese invaders and earn the respect of China’s masses.

After enduring starvation, aerial bombardment, and almost daily skirmishes with Nationalist forces, Mao halted his columns at the foot of the Great Wall of China on October 20, 1935. Waiting for them were five machine-gun- and red-flag-bearing horsemen. “Welcome, Chairman Mao,” one said. “We represent the Provincial Soviet of Northern Shensi. We have been waiting for you anxiously. All that we have is at your disposal!” The Long March was over.

The Communist marchers crossed 24 rivers and 18 mountain ranges, mostly snow-capped. Only 4,000 troops completed the journey. The majority of those who did not perished. It was the longest continuous march in the history of warfare and marked the emergence of Mao Zedong as the undisputed leader of the Chinese Communists. Learning of the Communists’ heroism and determination in the Long March, thousands of young Chinese traveled to Shensi to enlist in Mao’s Red Army. After fighting the Japanese for a decade, the Chinese Civil War resumed in 1945. Four years later, the Nationalists were defeated, and Mao proclaimed the People’s Republic of China. He served as chairman until his death in 1976.

October 17,1931: Capone goes to prison

October 21, 2011

October 17: General Interest
1931: Capone goes to prison

On this day in 1931, gangster Al Capone is sentenced to 11 years in prison for tax evasion and fined $80,000, signaling the downfall of one of the most notorious criminals of the 1920s and 1930s.

Alphonse Gabriel Capone was born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1899 to Italian immigrants. He was expelled from school at 14, joined a gang and earned his nickname “Scarface” after being sliced across the cheek during a fight. By 1920, Capone had moved to Chicago, where he was soon helping to run crime boss Johnny Torrio’s illegal enterprises, which included alcohol-smuggling, gambling and prostitution. Torrio retired in 1925 after an attempt on his life and Capone, known for his cunning and brutality, was put in charge of the organization.

Prohibition, which outlawed the brewing and distribution of alcohol and lasted from 1920 to 1933, proved extremely lucrative for bootleggers and gangsters like Capone, who raked in millions from his underworld activities. Capone was at the top of the F.B.I.’s “Most Wanted” list by 1930, but he avoided long stints in jail until 1931 by bribing city officials, intimidating witnesses and maintaining various hideouts. He became Chicago’s crime kingpin by wiping out his competitors through a series of gangland battles and slayings, including the infamous St. Valentine’s Day Massacre in 1929, when Capone’s men gunned down seven rivals. This event helped raise Capone’s notoriety to a national level.

Among Capone’s enemies was federal agent Elliot Ness, who led a team of officers known as “The Untouchables” because they couldn’t be corrupted. Ness and his men routinely broke up Capone’s bootlegging businesses, but it was tax-evasion charges that finally stuck and landed Capone in prison in 1931. Capone began serving his time at the U.S. Penitentiary in Atlanta, but amid accusations that he was manipulating the system and receiving cushy treatment, he was transferred to the maximum-security lockup at Alcatraz Island, in California’s San Francisco Bay. He got out early in 1939 for good behavior, after spending his final year in prison in a hospital, suffering from syphilis.

Plagued by health problems for the rest of his life, Capone died in 1947 at age 48 at his home in Palm Island, Florida.

October 18,1867: U.S. takes possession of Alaska

October 21, 2011

October 18: General Interest
1867: U.S. takes possession of Alaska

On this day in 1867, the U.S. formally takes possession of Alaska after purchasing the territory from Russia for $7.2 million, or less than two cents an acre. The Alaska purchase comprised 586,412 square miles, about twice the size of Texas, and was championed by William Henry Seward, the enthusiasticly expansionist secretary of state under President Andrew Johnson.

Russia wanted to sell its Alaska territory, which was remote, sparsely populated and difficult to defend, to the U.S. rather than risk losing it in battle with a rival such as Great Britain. Negotiations between Seward (1801-1872) and the Russian minister to the U.S., Eduard de Stoeckl, began in March 1867. However, the American public believed the land to be barren and worthless and dubbed the purchase “Seward’s Folly” and “Andrew Johnson’s Polar Bear Garden,” among other derogatory names. Some animosity toward the project may have been a byproduct of President Johnson’s own unpopularity. As the 17th U.S. president, Johnson battled with Radical Republicans in Congress over Reconstruction policies following the Civil War. He was impeached in 1868 and later acquitted by a single vote. Nevertheless, Congress eventually ratified the Alaska deal.

Public opinion of the purchase turned more favorable when gold was discovered in a tributary of Alaska’s Klondike River in 1896, sparking a gold rush. Alaska became the 49th state on January 3, 1959, and is now recognized for its vast natural resources. Today, 25 percent of America’s oil and over 50 percent of its seafood come from Alaska. It is also the largest state in area, about one-fifth the size of the lower 48 states combined, though it remains sparsely populated.

The name Alaska is derived from the Aleut word alyeska, which means “great land.” Alaska has two official state holidays to commemorate its origins: Seward’s Day, observed the last Monday in March, celebrates the March 30, 1867, signing of the land treaty between the U.S. and Russia, and Alaska Day, observed every October 18, marks the anniversary of the formal land transfer.

October 19,1781: Victory at Yorktown

October 21, 2011

October 19: General Interest
1781: Victory at Yorktown

Hopelessly trapped at Yorktown, Virginia, British General Lord Cornwallis surrenders 8,000 British soldiers and seamen to a larger Franco-American force, effectively bringing an end to the American Revolution.

Lord Cornwallis was one of the most capable British generals of the American Revolution. In 1776, he drove General George Washington’s Patriots forces out of New Jersey, and in 1780 he won a stunning victory over General Horatio Gates’ Patriot army at Camden, South Carolina. Cornwallis’ subsequent invasion of North Carolina was less successful, however, and in April 1781 he led his weary and battered troops toward the Virginia coast, where he could maintain seaborne lines of communication with the large British army of General Henry Clinton in New York City. After conducting a series of raids against towns and plantations in Virginia, Cornwallis settled in the tidewater town of Yorktown in August. The British immediately began fortifying the town and the adjacent promontory of Gloucester Point across the York River.

General George Washington instructed the Marquis de Lafayette, who was in Virginia with an American army of around 5,000 men, to block Cornwallis’ escape from Yorktown by land. In the meantime, Washington’s 2,500 troops in New York were joined by a French army of 4,000 men under the Count de Rochambeau. Washington and Rochambeau made plans to attack Cornwallis with the assistance of a large French fleet under the Count de Grasse, and on August 21 they crossed the Hudson River to march south to Yorktown. Covering 200 miles in 15 days, the allied force reached the head of Chesapeake Bay in early September.

Meanwhile, a British fleet under Admiral Thomas Graves failed to break French naval superiority at the Battle of Virginia Capes on September 5, denying Cornwallis his expected reinforcements. Beginning September 14, de Grasse transported Washington and Rochambeau’s men down the Chesapeake to Virginia, where they joined Lafayette and completed the encirclement of Yorktown on September 28. De Grasse landed another 3,000 French troops carried by his fleet. During the first two weeks of October, the 14,000 Franco-American troops gradually overcame the fortified British positions with the aid of de Grasse’s warships. A large British fleet carrying 7,000 men set out to rescue Cornwallis, but it was too late.

On October 19, General Cornwallis surrendered 7,087 officers and men, 900 seamen, 144 cannons, 15 galleys, a frigate, and 30 transport ships. Pleading illness, he did not attend the surrender ceremony, but his second-in-command, General Charles O’Hara, carried Cornwallis’ sword to the American and French commanders. As the British and Hessian troops marched out to surrender, the British bands played the song “The World Turned Upside Down.”

Although the war persisted on the high seas and in other theaters, the Patriot victory at Yorktown effectively ended fighting in the American colonies. Peace negotiations began in 1782, and on September 3, 1783, the Treaty of Paris was signed, formally recognizing the United States as a free and independent nation after eight years of war.

October 20,1947: Congress investigates Reds in Hollywood

October 21, 2011

October 20: General Interest
1947: Congress investigates Reds in Hollywood

On October 20, 1947, the notorious Red Scare kicks into high gear in Washington, as a Congressional committee begins investigating Communist influence in one of the world’s richest and most glamorous communities: Hollywood.

After World War II, the Cold War began to heat up between the world’s two superpowers-the United States and the communist-controlled Soviet Union. In Washington, conservative watchdogs worked to out communists in government before setting their sights on alleged “Reds” in the famously liberal movie industry. In an investigation that began in October 1947, the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) grilled a number of prominent witnesses, asking bluntly “Are you or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party?” Whether out of patriotism or fear, some witnesses-including director Elia Kazan, actors Gary Cooper and Robert Taylor and studio honchos Walt Disney and Jack Warner-gave the committee names of colleagues they suspected of being communists.

A small group known as the “Hollywood Ten” resisted, complaining that the hearings were illegal and violated their First Amendment rights. They were all convicted of obstructing the investigation and served jail terms. Pressured by Congress, the Hollywood establishment started a blacklist policy, banning the work of about 325 screenwriters, actors and directors who had not been cleared by the committee. Those blacklisted included composer Aaron Copland, writers Dashiell Hammett, Lillian Hellman and Dorothy Parker, playwright Arthur Miller and actor and filmmaker Orson Welles.

Some of the blacklisted writers used pseudonyms to continue working, while others wrote scripts that were credited to other writer friends. Starting in the early 1960s, after the downfall of Senator Joseph McCarthy, the most public face of anti-communism, the ban began to lift slowly. In 1997, the Writers’ Guild of America unanimously voted to change the writing credits of 23 films made during the blacklist period, reversing-but not erasing-some of the damage done during the Red Scare.

October 21,1959: Guggenheim Museum opens in New York City

October 21, 2011

October 21: General Interest
1959: Guggenheim Museum opens in New York City

On this day in 1959, on New York City’s Fifth Avenue, thousands of people line up outside a bizarrely shaped white concrete building that resembled a giant upside-down cupcake. It was opening day at the new Guggenheim Museum, home to one of the world’s top collections of contemporary art.

Mining tycoon Solomon R. Guggenheim began collecting art seriously when he retired in the 1930s. With the help of Hilla Rebay, a German baroness and artist, Guggenheim displayed his purchases for the first time in 1939 in a former car showroom in New York. Within a few years, the collection-including works by Vasily Kandinsky, Paul Klee and Marc Chagall-had outgrown the small space. In 1943, Rebay contacted architect Frank Lloyd Wright and asked him to take on the work of designing not just a museum, but a “temple of spirit,” where people would learn to see art in a new way.

Over the next 16 years, until his death six months before the museum opened, Wright worked to bring his unique vision to life. To Wright’s fans, the museum that opened on October 21, 1959, was a work of art in itself. Inside, a long ramp spiraled upwards for a total of a quarter-mile around a large central rotunda, topped by a domed glass ceiling. Reflecting Wright’s love of nature, the 50,000-meter space resembled a giant seashell, with each room opening fluidly into the next.

Wright’s groundbreaking design drew criticism as well as admiration. Some felt the oddly-shaped building didn’t complement the artwork. They complained the museum was less about art and more about Frank Lloyd Wright. On the flip side, many others thought the architect had achieved his goal: a museum where building and art work together to create “an uninterrupted, beautiful symphony.”

Located on New York’s impressive Museum Mile, at the edge of Central Park, the Guggenheim has become one of the city’s most popular attractions. In 1993, the original building was renovated and expanded to create even more exhibition space. Today, Wright’s creation continues to inspire awe, as well as odd comparisons-a Jello mold! a washing machine! a pile of twisted ribbon!-for many of the 900,000-plus visitors who visit the Guggenheim each year.

October 12,1492: Columbus reaches the New World

October 12, 2011

October 12: General Interest
1492: Columbus reaches the New World

After sailing across the Atlantic Ocean, Italian explorer Christopher
Columbus sights a Bahamian island, believing he has reached East Asia. His
expedition went ashore the same day and claimed the land for Isabella and
Ferdinand of Spain, who sponsored his attempt to find a western ocean route to
China, India, and the fabled gold and spice islands of Asia.

Columbus
was born in Genoa, Italy, in 1451. Little is known of his early life, but he
worked as a seaman and then a maritime entrepreneur. He became obsessed with the
possibility of pioneering a western sea route to Cathay (China), India, and the
gold and spice islands of Asia. At the time, Europeans knew no direct sea route
to southern Asia, and the route via Egypt and the Red Sea was closed to
Europeans by the Ottoman Empire, as were many land routes. Contrary to popular
legend, educated Europeans of Columbus’ day did believe that the world was
round, as argued by St. Isidore in the seventh century. However, Columbus, and
most others, underestimated the world’s size, calculating that East Asia must
lie approximately where North America sits on the globe (they did not yet know
that the Pacific Ocean existed).

With only the Atlantic Ocean, he
thought, lying between Europe and the riches of the East Indies, Columbus met
with King John II of Portugal and tried to persuade him to back his “Enterprise
of the Indies,” as he called his plan. He was rebuffed and went to Spain, where
he was also rejected at least twice by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella.
However, after the Spanish conquest of the Moorish kingdom of Granada in January
1492, the Spanish monarchs, flush with victory, agreed to support his voyage.

On August 3, 1492, Columbus set sail from Palos, Spain, with three small
ships, the Santa Maria, the Pinta, and the Nina. On October 12, the expedition
reached land, probably Watling Island in the Bahamas. Later that month, Columbus
sighted Cuba, which he thought was mainland China, and in December the
expedition landed on Hispaniola, which Columbus thought might be Japan. He
established a small colony there with 39 of his men. The explorer returned to
Spain with gold, spices, and “Indian” captives in March 1493 and was received
with the highest honors by the Spanish court. He was the first European to
explore the Americas since the Vikings set up colonies in Greenland and
Newfoundland in the 10th century.

During his lifetime, Columbus led a
total of four expeditions to the New World, discovering various Caribbean
islands, the Gulf of Mexico, and the South and Central American mainlands, but
he never accomplished his original goal-a western ocean route to the great
cities of Asia. Columbus died in Spain in 1506 without realizing the great scope
of what he did achieve: He had discovered for Europe the New World, whose riches
over the next century would help make Spain the wealthiest and most powerful
nation on earth.

October 4,1957: Sputnik launched

October 10, 2011

October 4: General Interest
1957: Sputnik launched

The Soviet Union
inaugurates the “Space Age” with its launch of Sputnik, the world’s first
artificial satellite. The spacecraft, named Sputnik after the Russian
word for “satellite,” was launched at 10:29 p.m. Moscow time from the Tyuratam
launch base in the Kazakh Republic. Sputnik had a diameter of 22 inches and
weighed 184 pounds and circled Earth once every hour and 36 minutes. Traveling
at 18,000 miles an hour, its elliptical orbit had an apogee (farthest point from
Earth) of 584 miles and a perigee (nearest point) of 143 miles. Visible with
binoculars before sunrise or after sunset, Sputnik transmitted radio signals
back to Earth strong enough to be picked up by amateur radio operators. Those in
the United States with access to such equipment tuned in and listened in awe as
the beeping Soviet spacecraft passed over America several times a day. In
January 1958, Sputnik’s orbit deteriorated, as expected, and the
spacecraft burned up in the atmosphere.

Officially, Sputnik was
launched to correspond with the International Geophysical Year, a solar period
that the International Council of Scientific Unions declared would be ideal for
the launching of artificial satellites to study Earth and the solar system.
However, many Americans feared more sinister uses of the Soviets’ new rocket and
satellite technology, which was apparently strides ahead of the U.S. space
effort. Sputnik was some 10 times the size of the first planned U.S.
satellite, which was not scheduled to be launched until the next year. The U.S.
government, military, and scientific community were caught off guard by the
Soviet technological achievement, and their united efforts to catch up with the
Soviets heralded the beginning of the “space race.”

The first U.S.
satellite, Explorer, was launched on January 31, 1958. By then, the Soviets had
already achieved another ideological victory when they launched a dog into orbit
aboard Sputnik 2. The Soviet space program went on to achieve a series of
other space firsts in the late 1950s and early 1960s: first man in space, first
woman, first three men, first space walk, first spacecraft to impact the moon,
first to orbit the moon, first to impact Venus, and first craft to soft-land on
the moon. However, the United States took a giant leap ahead in the space race
in the late ’60s with the Apollo lunar-landing program, which successfully
landed two Apollo 11 astronauts on the surface of the moon in July 1969.

October 6,1866: First U.S. train robbery

October 10, 2011

October 6: General Interest
1866: First U.S. train robbery

On this
day in 1866, the Reno gang carries out the first robbery of a moving train in
the U.S., making off with over $10,000 from an Ohio & Mississippi train in
Jackson County, Indiana. Prior to this innovation in crime, holdups had taken
place only on trains sitting at stations or freight yards.

This new
method of sticking up moving trains in remote locations low on law enforcement
soon became popular in the American West, where the recently constructed
transcontinental and regional railroads made attractive targets. With the
western economy booming, trains often carried large stashes of cash and precious
minerals. The sparsely populated landscape provided bandits with numerous
isolated areas perfect for stopping trains, as well as plenty of places to hide
from the law. Some gangs, like Butch Cassidy’s Wild Bunch, found robbing trains
so easy and lucrative that, for a time, they made it their criminal specialty.
Railroad owners eventually got wise and fought back, protecting their trains’
valuables with large safes, armed guards and even specially fortified boxcars.
Consequently, by the late 1800s, robbing trains had turned into an increasingly
tough and dangerous job.

As for the Reno gang, which consisted of the
four Reno brothers and their associates, their reign came to an end in 1868 when
they all were finally captured after committing a series of train robberies and
other criminal offenses. In December of that year, a mob stormed the Indiana
jail where the bandits were being held and meted out vigilante justice, hanging
brothers Frank, Simeon and William Reno (their brother John had been caught
earlier and was already serving time in a different prison) and fellow gang
member Charlie Anderson


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