July 31, 1970 marked a day of mourning for sailors of Her Majesty’s Royal Navy around the world. Authorities in the British Admiralty decided that the traditional daily tot was interfering with sailors’ ability to operate the complex mechanics of modern naval vessels. The daily tot referred to their daily ration of rum. Today, therefore, is know as the Black Tot Day and many sailors wore black arm bands to symbolize their sadness over the loss of their official alcohol.
Featured Image. “Measuring the Tot.” By Kjetil Bjørnsrud – Own work, CC BY 2.5.
Source: “Day of Mourning.” Royal Navy Memories.
On Black Tom Island attached by an artificial causeway off Jersey City, New Jersey, rows and rows of warehouses stored arms and munitions intended to be shipped off to Europe to help the Allied powers engaged in World War I despite official American neutrality. One hundred years ago today, on July 30, 2016, a team of German saboteurs started a fire near the warehouses which eventually made its way to the weapons cache causing a massive explosion, killing causing the deaths of seven people in the area – including a police officer and a railroad employee. The explosion showered the nearby Statue of Liberty with shrapnel and blew windows out in Manhattan. The raised torch arm of the Statue of Liberty had several rivets blown out as a result, which led to the immediate closing of the arm to tourists – as it remains to this day.
Source: Warner, Frank. “When Liberty Trembled.” The Morning Call. 4 July 2009.
Featured Image. “Black Tom Pier.” By US government – this CIA page, Public Domain.
On July 29, 1862, Maria Isabella “Belle” Boyd was arrested in Northern Virginia by Union troops after she was discovered spying on Northern movements and reporting them to her father, a soldier in Stonewall Jackson’s regiment of the Army of Northern Virginia. Belle was a member of a wealthy family in Virginia who had strong Southern sympathies. During a skirmish near her family home, Belle was propositioned by a drunken Union soldier who attempted to force himself on her. Belle pulled a gun and killed the man. From there she decided to use the Union soldiers’ perceptions of women to turn the tides on them. She seduced Union officers using her so-called Southern Charm and then proceeded to pass the information she learned from them onto her father and eventually onto Stonewall Jackson himself. Her luck came to an end on this date in 1862 when she was arrested and imprisoned in the Old Capital Prison in Washington, DC. She was eventually released as part of a prisoner exchange, but her role in the war was mostly over. She arranged to sail to London where she waited out the remainder of the war afterwards, she moved back to the United States and settled with her new husband in Wisconsin where she lived out the rest of her life.
Featured. “Belle Boyd.” By Brady-Handy Photograph Collection (Library of Congress) – This image is available from the United States Library of Congress’s Prints and Photographs division under the digital ID cwpbh.01990. Public Domain.
On July 28, 1794, French Revolutionary leader Maximilien Robespierre met his end under the blade of a Paris guillotine, the horrific machine that he put to such efficient use during his Reign of Terror. Robespierre and his radical followers had come into the fullest of power in France in September 1793 with the beginning of the Reign of Terror that saw the execution of King Louis XVI, Queen Marie Antoinette, and approximately 40,000 other French people of both monarchical and moderate republican outlook. That vast majority of these individuals met their deaths by guillotine. In an act of ultimate irony, the author of so many guillotine deaths met his own demise in the same machine largely because he had executed so many people.
Featured Image. “The Execution of Robespierre.” By Unknown – Bibliothèque nationale de France, Public Domain.
Image 1. “Robespierre Executing the Executioner.” By unidentified – La Guillotine en 1793 by H. Fleischmann (1908), page 269 Google BooksInternet Archive copy, Public Domain.
Forty years ago, on July 27, 1976, Kakuei Tanaka, the former Prime Minister of Japan, was arrested under suspicion in a bribery case involving the aerospace company, Lockheed. Tanaka was nicknamed the “Shadow Shogun” due to the enormous influence he wielded even when not in official power. To learn the details of this fascinating and truly strange case, check out “The History of Japan Podcast’s” episode “The Shadow Shogun.”
Featured Image: “Kakuei Tanaka.” By Kakuei_Tanaka_PM.jpg: Bungei Shunjyu Magazinederivative work: Daffy123 (talk) – This file was derived from Kakuei Tanaka PM.jpg:, Public Domain.
This week, in the town of Nitra, Slovakia, the annual World Esperanto Congress is being held. About 1,400 people from 60 countries are expected to descend upon this city of 80,000 in the western part of the country. The representatives are coming together to bring attention to Esperanto and to mark the anniversary of the publication of the movement’s seminal work, Unua Libro. This “First Book” was published on July 26, 1887 in Warsaw, Poland by L.L. Zamenhof who is considered the founder of Esperanto.
So, I’ve thrown around this term “Esperanto” several times, but what is it? Esperanto is the name of the world’s largest constructed language, that is a language designed for a specific purpose. Think Klingon in Star Trek or Elfish in the Lord of the Rings. But Esperanto was not meant for sci-fi or fantasy use. It was meant for the real world. Zamenhof hoped to create a universal language that would bridge the eternal “lost in translation” problem. While Esperanto has failed to allow us to overcome the cultural differences that different languages bring, it hangs on until today as a symbol of hope and human universality.
If you are interested, everything I have read on Esperanto claims that it is quite easy to learn – and no, I have not tried!
“Flag of Esperanto.” By Gabriel Ehrnst GRUNDIN – Own work, Public Domain.
On July 25, 1853, a group of California Rangers ran into a group of suspected cattle rustlers and robbers in San Benito County in central California. The leader of this group was in infamous Joaquin Murrieta. Murrieta is an enigmatic figure: born in 1829, either in Chile or in Mexico (pretty amazing a fact like that would be so widely discrepant!). He and his wife, Rosita, made their way to California during the Gold Rush of 1848-49, but Murrieta proved to not be too successful as a miner. Instead, he turned to a life of cattle rustling and robbery founding a band known as the Five Joaquins. The nature of this band depends on who you ask – the many Mexicans resident in California during the short time since annexation by the United States viewed Murrieta as a hero, fighting against unjust treatment by the new American authorities. To the Americans, he was a common thug. On that fateful day in 1853, California lawmen met up with the band in a narrow pass in San Benito and a shoot-out took place. In the end, Murrieta and another of his men lay dead. His legend lives on, however. Murrieta is often seen as one of the inspirations for Jonathan McCulley’s legendary hero of the west, Zorro.
Featured Image. “The Curse of Capistrano – Zorro.” By Comic Book Justice (Part 2), Public Domain.