Tag Archives: France

Almanac – March 26

1814 – Joseph-Ignace Guillotin died.  French physician who proposed in  1789 the use of a device to carry out death penalties in France.

While he did not invent the guillotine, and in fact opposed the death penalty, his name became an eponym for it. The actual inventor of the prototype guillotine was Antoine Louis.

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1859 – A. E. Housman born.  English classical scholar and poet, best known to the general public for his cycle of poems A Shropshire Lad.

Lyrical and almost epigrammatic in form, the poems’ wistful evocation of doomed youth in the English countryside, in spare language and distinctive imagery, appealed strongly to late Victorian and Edwardian taste, and to many early 20th century English composers (beginning with Arthur Somervell) both before and after the First World War.

Through its song-setting the poetry became closely associated with that era, and with Shropshire itself.

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1923 – Sarah Bernhardt died.  French stage and early film actress, sometimes referred to as “the most famous actress the world has ever known“. She made her name on the stages of France in the 1870s, and was soon in demand in Europe and the Americas, and  developed a reputation as a serious dramatic actress.

In 1905, while performing in  La Tosca in Teatro Lírico do Rio de Janeiro, she injured her right knee when jumping off the parapet in the final scene. The leg never healed properly, and by  1915  gangrene had set in and her entire right leg was amputated; she was required to use a wheelchair for several months.

She reportedly refused a $10,000 offer by a showman to display her amputated leg as a medical curiosity and  continued her career,  often without using a wooden prosthetic limb; she had tried to use one but didn’t like it.

 She died from uremia following kidney failure in 1923;  believed to have been 78 years old.

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1950 – Teddy Pendergrass born. American R&B/soul singer and songwriter.

Pendergrass first rose to fame as lead singer of Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes in the 1970s before a successful solo career at the end of the decade. In 1982, he was severely injured in an auto accident in Philadelphia, resulting in his being paralyzed from the waist down.

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1959 – Raymond Chandler died. American novelist and screenwriter.

Chandler had an immense stylistic influence on American popular literature, and is considered by many to be a founder, along with Dashiell Hammett, James M. Cain and other Black Mask writers, of the hard-boiled school of detective fiction.

His protagonist, Philip Marlowe, along with Hammett’s Sam Spade, is considered by some to be synonymous with “private detective,” both having been played on screen by Humphrey Bogart, whom many considered to be the quintessential Marlowe.

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Almanac – March 16

1244 – Over 200 Cathars were burned after the Fall of Montségur.

All the people in the castle were allowed to leave except those who would not renounce their Cathar faith. A number of defenders decided to join these ranks, bringing the total number of Cathar believers destined to burn to between 210 and 215.

On March 16, led by Bishop Bertrand Marty, the group left the castle and went down to the place where the wood for the pyre had been erected.

 No stakes were needed: they mounted the pyre and perished voluntarily in the flames.

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1898 – Aubrey Beardsley died.  English illustrator and author.

His drawings in black ink, influenced by the style of Japanese woodcuts, emphasized the grotesque, the decadent, and the erotic.

He was a leading figure in the Aesthetic movement , and his contribution to the development of the Art Nouveau and poster styles was significant, despite the brevity of his career before his  death, aged 25,  from tuberculosis.

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1968 –   My Lai massacre, Vietnam.  Mass murder of between 347 and 504 unarmed civilians in South Vietnam by United States Army soldiers of “Charlie” Company of 1st Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment, 11th Brigade of the Americal Division.

 Most of the victims were women, children, infants, and elderly people. Some of the women were gang-raped and their bodies were later found to be mutilated and many women were allegedly raped prior to the killings.

 While 26 U.S. soldiers were initially charged with criminal offenses for their actions at Mỹ Lai, only Second Lieutenant William Calley, a platoon leader in Charlie Company, was convicted. Found guilty of killing 22 villagers, he was originally given a life sentence, but only served three and a half years under house arrest.

Three U.S. servicemen who had tried to halt the massacre and protect the wounded were initially denounced by several U.S. Congressmen as traitors. They received hate mail and death threats and found mutilated animals on their doorsteps.

The three were later widely praised and decorated by the Army for their heroic actions.

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Almanac – January 21

1789 –  The Power of Sympathy or the Triumph of Nature Founded in Truth published by Isaiah Thomas in Boston. American sentimental novel written in epistolary form by William Hill Brown, and widely considered to be the first American novel.

The novel mirrors a local New England scandal involving Brown’s neighbor Perez Morton’s incestuous seduction of Fanny Apthorp, Morton’s sister-in-law. Apthorp became pregnant and committed suicide, but Morton was not legally punished.

The scandal was widely known, so most readers were able to quickly identify the “real” story behind the fiction: in every essential, Brown’s story is an indictment of Morton and an exoneration of Fanny Apthorp, with “Martin” and “Ophelia” representing Morton and Apthorp, respectively.

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1793 – After being found guilty of treason by the French Convention, Louis XVI of France was executed by guillotine. 

Some accounts of Louis’s beheading indicate that the blade did not sever his neck entirely the first time. There are also accounts of a blood-curdling scream issuing from Louis after the blade fell but this is unlikely, since the blade severed Louis’s spine. It is agreed that while Louis’s blood dripped to the ground many members of the crowd ran forward to dip their handkerchiefs in it.

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1938 – Wolfman Jack born. American disc jockey.

According to author Philip A. Lieberman, the Wolfman persona “derived from his love of horror flicks and his shenanigans as a ‘wolfman’ with his two young nephews. The ‘Jack’ was added as a part of the ‘hipster’ lingo of the 1950s, as in ‘take a page from my book, Jack,’ or the more popular, ‘hit the road, Jack.'”

 In 1973, he appeared in director George Lucas‘ second feature film, American Graffiti, as himself. His broadcasts tie the film together, and Richard Dreyfuss’s character catches a glimpse of the mysterious Wolfman in a pivotal scene.

In gratitude for Wolfman Jack’s participation, Lucas gave him a fraction of a “point” — the division of the profits from a film — and the extreme financial success of American Graffiti provided him with a regular income for life.

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1942 – Edwin Starr born.  American soul music singer,  most famous for his Norman Whitfield produced Motown singles of the 1970s, most notably the number one hit “War”.

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1984 – Jackie Wilson died. American singer and performer. Known as “Mr. Excitement“, Wilson was important in the transition of rhythm and blues into soul. He was considered a master showman, one of the most dynamic and influential singers and performers in R&B and rock history.

Gaining fame in his early years as a member of the R&B vocal group Billy Ward and His Dominoes, he went solo in 1957 and recorded over 50 hit singles that spanned R&B, pop, soul, doo-wop and easy listening.

During a 1975 benefit concert, he collapsed on-stage from a heart attack and subsequently fell into a coma that persisted for nearly nine years until his death in 1984, aged 49.

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 1997 – Colonel Tom Parker died. Entertainment impresario best  known as the manager of Elvis Presley. Parker’s management of Presley defined the role of masterminding talent management, which involved every facet of his life and was seen as central to the astonishing success of Presley’s career.

“The Colonel” displayed a ruthless devotion to his client’s interests and took more than the traditional 10 percent of his earnings (reaching up to 50 percent by the end of Presley’s life).
Presley said of Parker: “I don’t think I’d have ever been very big if it wasn’t for him. He’s a very smart man.”

For many years Parker falsely claimed to have been U.S.-born, but it eventually emerged that he was born in Breda, Netherlands, real name Andreas Cornelis  van Kuijk.

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Almanac – December 19

1111 – Al-Ghazali died. Abū Hāmed Muhammad ibn Muhammad al-Ghazālī , known as Al-Ghazali or Algazel to the Western medieval world, was a Muslim theologian, jurist, philosopher, and mystic of Persian descent.

Al-Ghazali has sometimes been referred to by historians as the single most influential Muslim after the Islamic prophet Muhammad. Others have cited his movement from science to faith as a detriment to Islamic scientific progress.

Besides his work that successfully changed the course of Islamic philosophy—the early Islamic Neoplatonism developed on the grounds of Hellenistic philosophy, for example, was so successfully refuted by al-Ghazali that it never recovered—he also brought the orthodox Islam of his time in close contact with Sufism.

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1843 – Charles Dickens‘  A Christmas Carol first went on sale. It remains popular, has never been out of print,  and has been adapted to film, stage, opera, and other media multiple times.

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1848 – Emily Brontë died. English novelist and poet, best remembered for her solitary novel, Wuthering Heights, now considered a classic of English literature. She died of tuberculosis, aged 30.

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1915 – Édith Piaf born. French singer who became widely regarded as France’s national popular singer, as well as being one of France’s greatest international stars. Her singing reflected her life, with her specialty being ballads. Among her songs are “La Vie en rose” (1946), “Non, je ne regrette rien” (1960), “Hymne à l’amour” (1949), “Milord” (1959), “La Foule” (1957), “l’Accordéoniste” (1955), and “Padam… Padam…” (1951).

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1918 – Professor Longhair born. AKA  Henry Roeland Byrd, New Orleans blues singer and pianist, noteworthy for having been active in two distinct periods, both in the heyday of early rhythm and blues, and in the resurgence of interest in traditional jazz after the founding of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival.

The journalist Tony Russell, in his book The Blues – From Robert Johnson to Robert Cray, stated “The vivacious rhumba-rhythmed piano blues and choked singing typical of Fess were too weird to sell millions of records; he had to be content with siring musical offspring who were simple enough to manage that, like Fats Domino or Huey “Piano” Smith. But he is also acknowledged as a father figure by subtler players like Allen Toussaint and Dr. John.”

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1989 – Stella Gibbons died aged 87.  English novelist, journalist, poet, and short-story writer, best remembered for her first novel, Cold Comfort Farm, the sucess of which tended to overshadow her subsequent work, and of which she later commented  “Cold Comfort Farm is a member of my family; he is like some unignorable old uncle, to whom you have to be grateful because he makes you a handsome allowance, but who is often an embarrassment and a bore.”

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2000 – Roebuck “Pops” Staples died. American gospel and R&B musician. A  pivotal figure in gospel in the 1960s and 70s,  he was an accomplished songwriter, guitarist and singer. He was the patriarch and member of singing group The Staple Singers, which included his son Pervis and daughters Mavis, Yvonne, and Cleotha.

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Almanac – December 09

1897 – Marguerite Durand founded the feminist daily newspaper La Fronde, in Paris. Durand, a well known actress and journalist, used her high-profile image to attract many notable Parisian women to contribute articles to the newspaper, which was run and written entirely by women, and gave extensive coverage to a broad range of feminist issues.  Circulation for La Fronde briefly reached a peak of 50,000 but in September 1903, financial problems forced the paper to cut back to a monthly publication, and to close altogether in March 1905.

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1905 – In France, the law separating church and state was passed. Enacted during the Third Republic, it established state secularism in France. The law was based on three principles: the neutrality of the state, the freedom of religious exercise, and public powers related to the church. This law is seen as the backbone of the French principle of laïcité  (a concept denoting the absence of religious involvement in government affairs as well as absence of government involvement in religious affairs).

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1965 – The Kecksburg UFO incident – A large, brilliant fireball was seen by thousands in at least six U.S. states and Ontario, Canada. It streaked over the Detroit, Michigan/Windsor, Ontario area, reportedly dropped hot metal debris over Michigan and northern Ohio, starting some grass fires and caused sonic booms in Western Pennsylvania. It was generally assumed and reported by the press to be a meteor  after authorities discounted other proposed explanations such as a plane crash, errant missile test, or reentering satellite debris.

However, eyewitnesses in the small village of Kecksburg, about 30 miles southeast of Pittsburgh, claimed something crashed in local  woods.  A boy said he saw the object land; his mother saw a wisp of blue smoke arising from the woods and alerted authorities. Another reported feeling a vibration and “a thump” about the time the object reportedly landed.

Others from Kecksburg, including local volunteer fire department members, reported finding an object in the shape of an acorn and about as large as a Volkswagen Beetle. Writing resembling Egyptian hieroglyphics was also said to be in a band around the base of the object. Witnesses further reported that intense military presence, most notably the United States Army, secured the area, ordered civilians out, and then removed the object on a flatbed truck. At the time, however, the military claimed they searched the woods and found “absolutely nothing”

In December 2005, just before the 40th anniversary of the Kecksburg crash, NASA released a statement to the effect that they had examined metallic fragments from the object and now claimed it was from a re-entering “Russian satellite”. The spokesman further claimed that the related records had been misplaced. According to an Associated Press story:

    The object appeared to be a Russian satellite that re-entered the atmosphere and broke up. NASA experts studied fragments from the object, but records of what they found were lost in the 1990s.

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1979 – The eradication of the Smallpox virus was certified, making smallpox the first and to date only human disease driven to extinction.

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Almanac – October 26

 

899 – Alfred the Great died. King of Wessex from 871 to 899,  Alfred successfully defended his kingdom against  Viking attempst at conquest, and by his death had become the dominant ruler in England. He is the only English monarch to be accorded the epithet “the Great”.

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1440 – Gilles de Rais died. Gilles de Montmorency-Laval (1404–1440), Baron de Rais, was a Breton knight, a leader in the French army and a companion-in-arms of Joan of Arc. He is best known, however, for  his reputation and conviction as a prolific serial killer of children.

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1764 – William Hogarth died. English painter, printmaker, pictorial satirist, social critic and editorial cartoonist who has been credited with pioneering western sequential art. His work ranged from realistic portraiture to comic strip-like series of pictures called “modern moral subjects”. Knowledge of his work is so pervasive that satirical political illustrations in this style are often referred to as “Hogarthian.”


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1881 – The Gunfight at the O.K. Corral took place at Tombstone, Arizona, at about 3:00 p.m. Generally regarded as the most famous gunfight in the history of the American Old West, the gunfight, believed to have lasted only about thirty seconds, was fought between the outlaw cowboys Billy Clanton, Tom McLaury and his brother Frank McLaury, and the opposing lawmen Virgil Earp and his brothers Morgan and Wyatt Earp, aided by Doc Holliday acting as a temporary deputy of Virgil.

Cowboys Ike Clanton and Billy Claiborne ran from the fight unharmed, but Ike’s brother Billy Clanton was killed, along with both McLaurys. Lawmen Holliday and Morgan and Virgil Earp were wounded. Only Wyatt Earp came through the fight unharmed.

The fight has come to represent a time in American history when the frontier was open range for outlaws opposed by law enforcement that was spread thin over vast territories, leaving some areas unprotected.

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1911 – Mahalia Jackson born. American gospel singer. Possessing a powerful contralto voice, and known  as “The Queen of Gospel”,  Jackson became one of the most influential gospel singers in the world and was heralded internationally as a singer and civil rights activist. She was described by entertainer Harry Belafonte as “the single most powerful black woman in the United States”. She recorded about 30 albums (mostly for Columbia Records) during her career, and her 45 rpm records included a dozen  million-sellers.
“I sing God’s music because it makes me feel free,” Jackson once said about her choice of gospel, adding, “It gives me hope. With the blues, when you finish, you still have the blues.”

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1977 – The last natural case of smallpox was discovered in Merca district, Somalia. The WHO and the CDC consider this date the anniversary of the eradication of smallpox, the most spectacular success of vaccination.

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1985 – The Australian government returned ownership of Uluru to the local Pitjantjatjara Aborigines.

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