Tom's Book of Days
      December 11-20  

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December 11


david brewster

1769: Venetian blinds are patented—in England.

1781: David Brewster is born in Jedburgh in the Scottish lowlands. In 1816 he would invent the kaleidoscope based on principles of reflective symmetry. The instrument would cause a sensation. According to Peter Roget (yes, the Thesaurus guy), "In the memory of man, no invention, and no work, whether addressed to the imagination or to the understanding, ever produced such an effect." Tthe Brewster Society webpage adds, "A universal mania for the instrument seized all classes, from the lowest to the highest, from the most ignorant to the most learned, and every person not only felt, but expressed the feeling that a new pleasure had been added to their existence."

1844: Dr. John M. Riggs extracts a tooth from Dr. Horace Wells using nitrous oxide as a dental anaesthetic for the first time.

1875: Robert Louis Stevenson writes of Robert Browning, "He floods acres of paper with brackets and inverted commas."

1998: The journal Science announces that scientists they have deciphered the entire genetic blueprint of a nematode worm, Caenorhabditis elegans.


December 12


la virgen de guadalupe

1531: The Virgin of Guadalupe effects the miracle of roses. (See December 9 for the full story.) Each year, millions of the faithful will gather on the anniversary of this day for processions, prayers, songs, dances, and fireworks to honor "La Reina de México" (the Queen of Mexico). Although her name is Spanish, her appearance is indigenous.She is a pervasive Chicano/Mexicano symbol--Richard Rodriguez calls her "the unofficial flag of Mexicans.'' Gloria Anzaldua observes that in her role as protector of Mexico, the Virgin takes on what is conventionally a male role. Her antecedents lie in the pre-Columbian traditions of Mesoamerica. Like the goddess Tonantzín, on whose temple her church was built, Guadalupe is associated with the moon (she is depicted standing on a crescent moon), and unlike other depictions of the Virgin, she stands alone, without the Christ Child in her arms (instead she is often represented as pregnant). Guadalupe is both indigenous and Spanish, both secular and sacred--she is mestiza, like most Chicanos and Mexicans.

1603: In his last recorded appearance on stage, William Shakespeare appears in Ben Jonson's Sejanus.

December 13


gustave flaubert

SAINT LUCY'S DAY: The patroness of writers, whose day marks the end of harvest, is celebrated in Scandinavia with sleigh rides and singing (loud enough to frighten away gnomes).

ACATL DAY: Acatl, a hollow scepter, represents authority. In the Aztec Calendar, this is day for seeking justice (but a bad day to act against others).

1821: Gustave Flaubert is born in Rouen.

1928: The clip-on tie is invented.

December 14


max planck

FEAST DAY OF SAINT JOHN OF THE CROSS: Autor de poemas exquisitos y de la frase "la noche obscura del alma."

1503: Nostradamus is born.

1799: George Washington dies of "chill and fever." Martha has a hole cut in the deathroom floor to keep people from entering it.

1900: Max Planck (pictured) reveals quantum theory at Berlin University. As everyone knows, quantum theory proposes that wave phenomena such as light have particulate behaviors, which can be attributed to units he called quanta. The energy of each quantum is equal to the frequency of the radiation multiplied by a universal constant, now known as Planck's constant. The actual value of Planck's constant has been refined by subsequent experimentation and is now judged to be approximately 6.626 × 10-34 joule-second.

19719: Geraldo Rivera marries Kurt Vonnegut's duaghter Edith Bucket Vonnegut.

1999: Joseph Heller dies at seventy-six in in East Hampton, New York.

December 15


sitting bull

1791: The Bill of Rights is ratified. In the late 1990s, polls show that most US citizens are opposed to the rights they guarantee.

1890: Sioux Chief Sitting Bull (Tatanka Iyotake) is murdered in South Dakota in an effort to repress the Ghost Dance Movement.

1969: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormons) reaffirms its Biblically ordained exclusion of blacks from the ministry.

1986: A cerebral seizure prevents CIA director William Casey from answering questions about the Iran-Contra Affair.

December 16


chaplin's tramp

1775: Jane Austen is born in the parsonage of Steventon, Hampshire.

1809: Napoleon divorces Josephine.

1811: The first in a series of catastrophic earthquakes, the strongest in U.S. history. hits near New Madrid, Missouri. The earthquake has been estimated at 8.6 on the Richter scale. It causes the Mississippi River to momentarily reverse direction, creating Reelfoot Lake in northwest Tennessee. The Reelfoot Area Chamber of Commerce offers this proud description:

"Our earthquake rivals the greatest quakes of history.... Spasms and convulsions rocked North and South America late in 1811. The force of the shock was centered in the Reelfoot Lake area, which was then a huge cypress forest. On Dec. 16 the earth's surface rose and sank and the bottom of the nearby Mississippi River went crazy, the river turned around and flowed backward, and poured into a hissing abyss.
      "Huge landslides and tangled forests slid down the bluffs, and more than 15,000 acres of forest land sank beneath the level of the river. As the land subsided the water poured over in a deluge and filled the basin to a depth of 20 feet.
      "Practically every variety of fish known from Yellowstone to Pennsylvania was swept into the basin. Cypress trees and willow fourished, but other trees under deep water died. Naked trunks remained and one of the world's greatest natural fish hatcheries resulted."

See also February 7.

1826: Mexican authorities overthrow "The Republic of Fredonia" in East Texas. Fredonia was largely the brainchild of Haden Edwards, an "empresario" (land grantee) who came to dispute the terms of his grant from Mexico City, which had originally entitled him to settle as many as 800 families around Nacogdoches. The dispute arose from squabbles between new settlers and established citizens of the Mexican province of Texas. Although the rebellion was short-lived, it signals the danger of Mexico's decision to invite new settlers to Texas and foreshadows the province's later claims to independence. (See The U.S.-Mexico War, by Carol Christensen and me.)

1913: Charlie Chaplin signs on with Keystone for $150 a week, beginning his film career.

December 17


andrew marvell

SATURNALIA: The ancient Roman solstice festival, which began as a feast day for Saturn (on December 17 a hollow statue of the god is filled with olive oil as a symbol of his agricultural functions), evolves into nearly a week of intemperance lasting through December 23. Feasting, drinking, and the conception of children are popular activities. Role reversals include the appointing of a Lord of Misrule, a tradition that continued in Europe up to the Renaissance.

1660: Andrew Marvell petitions the House of Commons to release John Milton from prison.

1791: New York City establishes the first one-way street.

1942: Paul Butterfield is born in Chicago.

December 18


joseph grimaldi

1779: Joseph Grimaldi is born. His name, "Joey," becomes circus slang for a clown.

1792: Lord Thomas Erskine heroically defends Thomas Paine against a charge of seditious libel. Paine's The Rights of Man, which came out earlier in the year, was alleged to insult the Constitution and the Royal Family. Erskine has spent a month on his speech, which will be considered an exemplar of eloquence.

Every man not intending to mislead, but seeking to enlighten others with what his own reason and conscience, however erroneously, have dictated to him as truth, may address himself to the universal reason of a whole nation, either upon the subject of governments in general, or upon that of our own particular country.

Erskine is heckled by the jury throughout his speech. The jury foreman stos the trial immediately afterward and, without any presentation from the prosecutor (the Attorney General), pronounces Paine guilty. Erskine will dismissed from the Prince of Wales' service for his defense of Paine.

1912: Piltdown Man is discovered. Naturalist Charles Dawson hails him as the "missing link." It takes until 1953 to prove him (Piltdown Man that is, not Dawson) a hoax.

December 19


henry ii

mlle. piaf

1154: Henry II is crowned king of England. One of the more effective of the Norman kings, he is best known for his falling out (over Henry's transference of much of the country's courtwork from clerical to civil authority) with his one-time friend, advisor, and chancellor, Thomas Beckett, Archbishop of Canterbury, who was murdered after Henry publicly suggested England might be better off without his sort of backward thinking.

1732: Poor Richard's Almanac is published for the first time.

1854, 1871, 1910, 1950: For some reason (or for no reason) December 19 is a big day in textiles and fashion. In 1854 the first U.S. patent for a sewing maching able to sew seams is fashioned. In 1871 Samuel Clemens—yes, Mr. Twain himself--patents suspenders (as he would go on to patent a game for remembering historical dates he must be counted a patron saint of this daybook). In 1910 rayon is first commercially produced (and called “artificial silk”). In 1950 Rose Marie Reid patents a bathing suit.

1915: Edith Piaf is born.

1944: Juan Jose Arevalo is elected president of Guatemala.

1946: French and Communist forces begin fighting in Vienam.

1955: Carl Perkins records Blue Suede Shoes.

December 20



1865: Irish nationalist Maude Gonne is born in Dublin. Yeats would be mad about her and propose marriage several times. He would also propose to her daughter. Maude Gonne's son, Sean MacBride, would found Amnesty International and receive the Nobel Prize in 1974.

1929: Boston bookseller James De Lacey is sentenced to one month in jail and fined $500 for selling Lady Chatterley's Lover.

1929: Old Arizona, the first full-length motion picture to be filmed outdoors, is released.

1957: Elvis Presley receives his draft notice. <br>&nbsp;<br>&nbsp;<p>

continue to December 21


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