Nikola Tesla died on this date in 1943. Check out his letterhead circa 1900.
… was killed on this date in 1890.
Sitting Bull was a Hunkpapa Lakota chief and holy man. He was born around 1831 on the Grand River in present-day South Dakota. He became a warrior in a battle with the Crow at age 14, subsequently becoming renowned for his courage in fights with the U.S. Army.
In 1874, an expedition led by George Armstrong Custer confirmed the discovery of gold in the Black Hills, an area that had been declared off-limits to white settlement by the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868. When efforts by the government to purchase the Black Hills failed, the Fort Laramie Treaty was abrogated. All Lakota not settled on reservations by January 31, 1876, would be considered hostile. Sitting Bull led his people in holding their ground.
… died from lung cancer on this date in 1966. He was 65.
The Walt Disney Family Museum formerly provided in-depth background.
Was Walt frozen?
No researcher has discovered where this myth began, but it certainly is widespread. Quite the opposite, Walt’s daughter Diane recalls that her father spoke frequently about his desire to be cremated — and in fact he was. When Disney archivist Robert Tieman researched the issue, he discovered that the first attempts at freezing a person weren’t even discussed until after Walt’s death. In any case, the people who knew Walt and loved him never heard him utter a word about trying it out himself. What’s more, his family lingered around him for some time after his death. No white-smocked physicians rushed his body off to some kind of freezing chamber as would undoubtedly have been the case if he was being preserved.
President Abraham Lincoln, 148 years ago yesterday (1863):
Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
But in a larger sense we cannot dedicate — we cannot consecrate — we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
… is 85 today. I’ve been busy celebrating the national holiday.
You? What have you done to celebrate the birthday of this Great American?
While no individual can be said to have invented rock and roll, Chuck Berry comes the closest of any single figure to being the one who put all the essential pieces together. It was his particular genius to graft country & western guitar licks onto a rhythm & blues chassis in his very first single, “Maybellene.” Combined with quick-witted, rapid-fire lyrics full of sly insinuations about cars and girls, Berry laid the groundwork for not only a rock and roll sound but a rock and roll stance. The song included a brief but scorching guitar solo built around his trademark double-string licks. Accompanied by long-time piano player Johnnie Johnson and members of the Chess Records house band, including Willie Dixon, Berry wrote and performed rock and roll for the ages. To this day, the cream of Berry’s repertoire—which includes “Johnny B. Goode,” “Sweet Little Sixteen,” “Rock and Roll Music” and “Roll Over Beethoven”—is required listening for any serious rock fan and required learning for any serious rock musician.
The duel between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr was 207 years ago this morning. Hamilton biographer Ron Chernow wrote about the duel in 2004. Here are the essentials, but the whole piece is worth reading.
Two hundred years ago today, Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton squared off in a sunrise duel on a wooded ledge in Weehawken, N.J., above the Hudson River. Burr was vice president when he leveled his fatal shot at Hamilton, the former Treasury secretary, who died the next day in what is now the West Village of Manhattan. New Yorkers turned out en masse for Hamilton’s funeral, while Burr (rightly or wrongly) was branded an assassin and fled south in anticipation of indictments in New York and New Jersey. To the horror of Hamilton’s admirers, the vice president, now a fugitive from justice, officiated at an impeachment trial in the Senate of a Supreme Court justice.
So Hamilton, at 49, decided to expose himself to Burr’s fire to prove his courage, but to throw away his own shot to express his aversion to dueling. He gambled that Burr would prove a gentleman and merely clip him in the arm or leg — a wager he lost. With Hamilton’s death, America also lost its most creative policymaker. (The murder indictments against Burr petered out, and he died a reclusive old man in 1836.)
Seeking to regain political power after the duel, Burr allegedly led an expedition to establish an independent nation along the Mississippi River, separating territories from the United States and Spain. He was charged with treason but acquitted.
Thomas Jefferson and John Adams died on July 4th in 1826.
It was the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. Jefferson was the primary author of the Declaration; Adams and Benjamin Franklin were his primary editors.
“We hold these truths to be sacred and undeniable,” Jefferson wrote in his initial rough draft. Franklin crossed this out with his heavy printer’s pen and changed it to “we hold these truths to be self-evident.” Drawing on the concepts of his friend David Hume, Franklin believed that the truths were grounded in rationality and reason, not in the dictates or dogma of any particular religion.
Similarly, Jefferson originally noted that “from that equal creation they derive rights inherent and inalienable.” John Adams, a product of Puritan Massachusetts, appears to be the one who suggested that this be amended to, “they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights.”
Adams and Jefferson were colleagues during the Revolution, but fell apart over political differences during their terms as president (Adams 1797-1801, Jefferson 1801-1809). After Jefferson left office they resumed a remarkable correspondence that lasted until their deaths.
Also, on that same July 4th in 1826, Stephen Foster, the first great American songwriter, was born. “His melodies are so much a part of American history and culture that most people think they’re folk tunes. All in all he composed some 200 songs, including ‘Oh! Susanna’ ‘Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair,’ and ‘Camptown Races.’” [American Experience]
And “Old Folks at Home (Swanee River),” “My Old Kentucky Home” and “Beautiful Dreamer.”
Block quote regarding Declaration from an excellent piece written in 2004 for The New York Times by Franklin biographer Walter Isaacson. Take the time to read it all — it is our nation’s birthday after all.
Earlier today I posted an item about President Harry Truman’s reaction to a critic’s review of presidential daughter Margaret’s performance at Constitution Hall.
This post is about a letter written to Truman. Read the letter, but be certain to read the narrative above it for Truman’s reaction. Wow!
When Abraham Lincoln was elected president on Nov. 6, 1860, most Americans had only a vague idea of what he looked like. Engravings of his likeness had been published in various newspapers around the country, mostly in the North, but some of these illustrations purposely distorted his facial features (the modern version of airbrushing) or simply failed to render accurately his less-than-handsome countenance. In 1856, an Illinois editor, who saw Lincoln in person as he gave a speech, remarked that the politician was “crooked-legged, stoop-shouldered … [with] anything but a handsome face.”
Lincoln was aware of his homeliness. One popular story, which might be apocryphal, claimed that a political opponent called Lincoln “two-faced” during a public debate. Without missing a beat, Lincoln replied to the crowd: “I leave it to you. If I had another face, do you think I’d be wearing this one?” . . .
Glenn LaFantasie writes about The changing face of Abraham Lincoln. A 9-slide show of 1860-1861 vintage photographs accompanies the article.
As noted, Hubert Humphrey was born 100 years ago today. He was, I think, a genuinely great American politician.
Among the many then secret documents I came across at the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library when I was an archivist there long ago, was a lengthy single-spaced typewritten memo from Vice President Humphrey to President Johnson. Humphrey had been to Vietnam and wanted to report his observations directly. Because the document was secret I couldn’t keep a copy, but I remember Humphrey being perceptive about what was really happening.
But mostly I remember the P.S. — the Vice President of the United States apologized to the President of the United States for the typing. Humphrey said he’d come into the office on Sunday and no one was available, so he had typed the memo himself.
UCLA historian Joan Waugh appreciates Ulysses Grant and thinks we should too — How the “Lost Cause” poisoned our history books. Worth your click.
Waugh praises Grant’s Memoirs and so do I. They are superb history, enjoyable and readable. (And free for Kindle.)
The essay includes this famous Grant quotation from the Memoirs, which sums up the American Civil War as well as any one sentence can:
“I felt like anything rather than rejoicing at the down fall of a foe who had fought so long and valiantly, and had suffered so much for a cause, though that cause was, I believe, one of the worst for which a people ever fought, and one for which there was the least excuse.”