Posted on

A Disaster in Luxemburg and Lightning Awareness Week

Yeah, like living in the Great Lakes we’re not “aware” of lightning.

Anyway, 26 June is one of those days that, well, is not blessed with an excess of National Days (except for National Hair Stylist Appreciation Day and (National Chocolate Pudding Day), and a plethora of events including the murder of Pizarro in 1541, the battle of Mechanicsville in 1862, the beginning of the Berlin Airlift in 1948 and JFK’s “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech in 1963.  But today, we have to be obscure…and talk about lightning.

In the early 19th century, during the French occupation of Luxembourg , the 75 year old fortress of Fort Thungen in Kirchberg (now a part of Luxembourg City), was being used as a magazine and gunpowder factory by the ammunition-hungry armies of Napoleon.  On 26 June 1807, a lightning strike touched off the powder, destroying two city blocks and killing at least 300 people.  If my sources are right, most simple gunpowder in the pre-industrial era was made from November to March to avoid dampening the mixture, so its not clear if the powder works was operating.

At this distance it’s hard to say exactly what happened, but either the walls of the fortress were very stout or there wasn’t a great deal of powder there.  This accident took place just twelve days after the battle of Friedland in Prussia, the battle that ended the War of the Fourth Coalition, enabled the Treaty of TIlsit and pulled Russia into the Continental System, at least for a while.  It was also four months after the battle of Eylau, and barely a month after the siege of Danzig ended.  In six months, Napoleon had consumed several magazines of powder so far that year, so it’s just possible that the magazine was lower than normal.

National Lightning Awareness Week was last week (last full week in June), regrettably, but I couldn’t resist the connection.  Neither accidental explosive detonations nor lightning strikes are that rare or unusual, but this one was both.  It’s called the deadliest lightning strike in history by some, but the Lightning Safety Council doesn’t mention it on its web site.  As of 2001 lightning strikes killed about 50 people a year in the US: at this writing that number is about 30.  The Lightning Safety Council claims its because of their efforts, but it seems more likely that people are spending less time outside and electrical codes have caught up with the need for extensive grounding.  I’ve been in airplanes when they were struck by lightning (flash/boom/passenger hollers/PA says “nothing to worry about”), but with modern aircraft the problem isn’t what it once was.

Lightning and gunpowder–dangerous mix.

Advertisements
Posted on

Emancipation and Juneteenth Day

There was a lot going on in history on 19 June: Robert Peel started the Bobbies/Peelers in London, the first organized police force in 1828; USS Kearsarge sank the Confederate raider Alabama in the Bay of Biscay in 1864; Maximilian I of Mexico was executed in 1867; the first Father’s Day was observed in Spokane, Washington in 1910; the Marianas Turkey Shoot (also called the battle of the Philippine Sea) destroyed much of the remainder of Japan’s naval aviation in 1944; and Ethel and Julius Rosenberg were executed for espionage in 1953.

It’s not often that historians can point to a single moment in history and declare: there is where it was all changed, where the fates were fixed.  On 19 June in 1862 and in 1865, such an event occurred, but not for the reasons usually ascribed.  On 19 June 1862, Congress passed a law prohibiting slavery in US territories–not the states, and not everywhere that Federal troops didn’t stand in the Confederacy.: that would come later.

This was landmark legislation because it completely repudiated the Dred Scott decision of 1857, and ended the Southern notion of “popular sovereignty” in the territories being the controlling factor.  Though Lincoln was still on a lawyerly fence about a general emancipation, he was discussing the matter with his cabinet even at this early date.  The Congress’ action on 19 June galvanized and accelerated Lincoln’s thinking. Though the news of the horrible carnage at Shiloh in April had reached Washington and most of the Union by then, it hadn’t sunk in yet to the halls of power or the general public that the river of blood spilled in the Tennessee pine barrens decided that the conflict would not end with two separate countries.  It would, though, soon enough .

Fast forward to 19 June 1865, when Gordon Granger and his XIII Corps landed on Galveston Island.  Lincoln was dead; most of the principle Confederate armies had given up and gone home, but still word of the Emancipation had yet to reach this somewhat remote former Confederate territory.  Granger read General Order #3 almost as soon as he got off the boat:

The people of Texas are informed that in accordance with a Proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection therefore existing between them becomes that between employer and free laborer.

There were a thousand or so slaves in Galveston at the time, and a great celebration ensued.  The next year the anniversary was observed, and has been on 19 June ever since.  The day had been called Freedom Day and Emancipation Day, even though the actual emancipation was 1 January 1863.  But because the commemoration/celebration started on 19 June and the local vernacular “Juneteenth” was catchy, the tradition stuck.

Like most holidays in America, business has grabbed the opportunity, but not as much as other “greeting card” holidays like St. Valentine’s or Grandparent’s Day.  So 19 June didn’t free all the slaves, and it didn’t grant them any more rights than they had before but it did signal the end of chattel slavery in the United States.  And that’s worth taking note of.

Posted on

Anne Frank’s Diary and National Red Rose Day

Connections? Read and find out.  I find it quaintly coincidental that anyone should declare a day celebrating the flower that symbolizes romance and love on the same day that a young Jewish girl in the Netherlands should get the autograph album that would become her famous diary.  Or, for that matter, the same day Medgar Evers was killed on the same day in 1963, or that Gregory Peck died in 2003.  It’s also the anniversary of the Virginia v Loving decision that legalized interracial marriage in the US in 1963. Just coincidence…I suppose.

Anneliese Marie “Anne” Frank was born in Germany on 12 June 1929, but spent most of her short life in and around Amsterdam. Stateless in 1941 after German Jews were stripped of the citizenship, she and her family hid out in various places in Amsterdam until August 1944, when the family was discovered and they were shipped off to the camps.  Anne and her sister died of typhus at Bergen-Belsen sometime between February and March 1945. All but her father died somewhere in the camps.

But between her thirteenth birthday on 20 June 1942 and 1 August 1944–three days before she was captured–Anne made entries in her diary nearly every day. It described everyday life for Jews in Amsterdam, for just over two years.  Her first –and only–romance with fellow attic refugee Peter van Pels is described, as is her exploration of her own sexuality (in the 1995 edition)–a series of entries her father left out in earlier editions but that some educrats have take exception to.  But she was a teenage girl stuck in an attic with strangers, that included her family.  The internal tensions she described with her family and the others that she was enclosed with in that attic.  The food they ate–especially how much–and their attitudes towards nearly everything were carefully compiled. After the war, and after the Red Cross had confirmed Anne’s death, Anne’s father, Otto, went back to the attic and found the diary hidden away. Since its publication in 1947 the Diary of Anne Frank has gone through numerous editions under different names, translation into sixty languages, and has withstood accusations of hoax, forgery and worse, but has been authenticated by more than one authority.

A rose, according to WIkipedia,  “is a woody perennial flowering plant of the genus Rosa, in the family Rosaceae, or the flower it bears.”  According to Gertrude Stein, “a rose is a rose by any other name:” by Shakespeare’s lights “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”  All of that aside for the moment, a rose is a flowering ornamental shrub that thrives nearly everywhere, from Africa and Asia to Europe and the Americas.  Most garden roses (and there are over a hundred different varieties) prefer somewhat temperate climates where they can hibernate for a few months between blooming seasons.  My dear wife struggles mightily with the roses in her garden every spring, and they seem to respond in kind, thriving from year to year.

But National Red Rose Day?  OK, I get the romance part (I never gave a woman a red rose who didn’t appreciate it in some way–and there have only been two), but a national day?  Oh, why not? Today’s Peanut Butter Cookie Day too, and Jerky Day…and Loving Day, after the Loving decision.

So a rose for the famous diarist on what would have been her 88th birthday. We wish you might have gotten one from some young admirer at least once in your short life.