Tom's Book of Days
      January 11-20  

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January 11


Aldo Leopold

1887: Aldo Leopold (pictured) is born.
"Do we realize that industry, which has been our good servant, might make a poor master?"
      --Aldo Leopold, A Plea for Wilderness Hunting Grounds, 1925
1912: The IWW-organized "Bread and Roses" textile strike of 32,000 women and children at Lawrence, Massachusetts, begins.

1917: As a war rationing measure, the French government fixes the price of Gruyere cheese.

1928: Eighty-seven-year-old Thomas Hardy dies at his home near Dorchester. His heart is buried with his first wife in Dorset, and his ashes are deposited beside those of Charles Dickens in Westminster Abbey.

1936: Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett are introduced to each other at a dinner for Black Mask magazine contributors in Los Angeles.

1949: The first recorded snowfall occurs in Los Angeles, California.

2008: After 26 years of concerted effort, Graham Parker solves the Rubik's Cube.


January 12



1876: Jack London is born. Ford Madox Ford will write (quite accurately) that "Like Peter Pan, he never grew up, and he lived his own stories with such intensity that he ended by believing them himself."

1879: The British-Zulu War begins, as British troops under Lieutenant General Frederic Augustus invade Zululand from the southern African republic of Natal.

1899: Oscar Wilde writes (quite accurately) that "Henry James is developing, but he will never arrive at passion, I fear."

1968: The Supremes appear in an episode of the NBC-TV show Tarzan playing a group of nuns.

1970: In one of the most startling incidents of the anti-Viet Nam War movement, the Badger Bomb Plant in Wisconsin is bombed from a stolen airplane. But you won't read much about it because it was upstaged by the bombing of the Army Math Research Center on the Madison campus later the same year (see August 24).


January 13


Village People

1559: Queen Elizabeth of England is crowned.

1777: Jefferson gets Virginia to make "sodomy" punishable by castration.

1898: Emile Zola publishes J'Accuse! in the newspaper L'Aurore. It exposes French anti-Semitism and a military cover-up in the Dreyfus Affair, in which a Jewish army captain, Dreyfus, was falsely accused of spying in the 1870 war with Germany. The case is just one of many examples where the cover-up greatly compounded the effects of the original offense. J'Accuse! was written in two days, following the acquittal of the real culprit after three minutes deliberation.

1941: James Joyce dies in Zürich, Switzerland.

1979: The YMCA files a lawsuit against the Village People over their song YMCA. (The suit was later dropped.)


January 14


by Charles LeBrun, late 1600s

by Charles LeBrun, late 1600s


THE FEAST OF THE ASS: The "Festum Asinorum," or Feast of the Ass, was popular in medieval Europe. Its origins are murky. Some relate it to a feast around the same date in honor of the goddess Hestia (Vespa), the goddess of hearth and home, who according to one legend is supposed to have been befriended by an ass at a time of need, but this connection seems tenuous; more likely, the feast derives from the Roman Saturnalia.

In 990, Theophylact, Patriarch of Constantinople in 990, ordered the Feast of Fools and the Feast of the Ass, with other "religious farces," to be played in the Greek Church. The two feasts would continue to be associated through the centuries. Originally a celebration of the flight into Egypt, the festival evolved into a mock service in which the ass was led into the church and treated as an honored guest while the priest and the congregation brayed like asses. The Church suppressed the feast in the fifteenth century, although it remained popular in some locales.

The Catholic Encyclopedia ( records an opening Latin stanza and French refrain to be sung at a Feast of the Ass:

Orientis partibus
Adventavit Asinus
Pulcher et fortissimus
Sarcinis aptissimus.

From the east
The ass is come
Beautiful and strong
Suited for burdens

Hez, Sire Asnes, car chantez,
Belle bouche rechignez,
Vous aurez du foin assez
Et de l'avoine a plantez.

Rise, Sir Ass, and sing
Open your pretty mouth
Hay will be yours in plenty
And oats in abundance

At the end of Mass, the priest faces the congregation and instead of reciting the traditional "Ite, Missa est'," brays three times. The congregation, instead of replying "Deo Gratias," respond "Heehaw, heehaw, heehaw."

MALLARD DAY: Mallard Day at All Souls College in Oxford celebrates the discovery of a large mallard found in a drain while digging the foundations of the college in 1437.

Griffon, Bustard, Turkey, Capon,
Let to her hungry mortals gape on;
And on the bones their stomach fall hard,
But let All Souls' men have their mallard.
Oh! by the blood of King Edward,
Oh! by the blood of King Edward,
It was a wopping, wopping mallard.

January 15


'anarchy is order'

SEIJIN-NO-HI: Many Japanese observe "Adult's Day" to recognize young people's coming of age.

1809: Pierre-Joseph Proudhon (pictured), "the father of modern anarchism," author of The Philosophy of Misery and What is Property ("Property is theft") is born in France.

1949: The "Black Dahlia" murder victim is found in Los Angeles.

1974: During the Watergate investigation, an expert testifies before the House Judiciary Committee that an 18½-minute gap in the tape of a White House conversation between President Richard M. Nixon & White House staff member H. R. Haldeman was caused by deliberate and repeated erasures--which the White House is unable to explain.


January 16


laura riding

1547: Ivan the Terrible is crowned Czar of Russia.

1893: Queen Lilluokalani, last reigning monarch of the Hawaiian islands, is overthrown by pineapple tycoon Sanford Dole & pro-annexation U.S. sugar interests.

University of Illinois at Chicago, Office of Women's Affairs, on Queen Lydia Liliuokalani

1901: Laura Riding is born in New York City. She will be a member of the "Fugitive" poetry group. Through the late 1920s and most of the 1930s she will live abroad (in England and Majorca), writing poetry, criticism, and fiction. Her collaborations with Robert Graves, A Survey of Modernist Poetry and A Pamphlet Against Anthologies will be influential. She will collaborate with Schuyler B. Jackson, whom she married in 1941, on Rational Meaning: A New Foundation for the Definition of Words.

Modern American Poetry Laura Riding page.

1933: Susan Sontag is born. She will write to Mercury House: "I hope you know how much I admire your publishing program."

1938: Benny Goodman refuses to play Carnegie Hall when black members of his band are barred from performing.


January 17


Eartha Kitt, 1953

ST. ANTHONY'S DAY: St. Anthony was one of the most notable Western hermits. On his day, Mexicans bring their animals-scrubbed and dress in dark glasses, sombreros, flowers, bells, etc.-to church for blessing. Pork is the traditional meal.

1536: Francois Rabelais is absolved of apostasy by Pope Paul III, thereby allowing him to resume his medical practice.

1863, 1910: The flush toilet is patented by Thomas Crapper; he will die on the same day 47 years later.... Or so it is said. According to Dr. Andy Gibbons, historian of the International Thomas Crapper society, at least the death date is a eroneous (it should be January 27) and the invention of the flush toilet is fraught with controversy. Anyone wishing to get to the bottom of this issue should visit's "international toilet history" information at

1917: The US purchases the Virgin Islands from Denmark for $25 million.

1961: Patrice Lumumba, former premier of the newly independent Republic of the Congo, is assassinated; the CIA denies involvement.

1968: Eartha Kitt expresses her views on poverty and the Vietnam War at a White House luncheon. <comment and video>

In 1968, during the Vietnam War, I was invited by Lady Bird Johnson to give my opinion about the problems in the United States, specifically, "Why is there so much juvenile delinquency in the streets of America?" The First Lady seemed to be more interested in decorating the windows of the ghettos with flowerboxes. I mean--it's fine to put flowers in the ghettos, but let's take care of the necessities first: give people jobs, and find a way to get us out of poverty.
    When it came my turn to speak, I said to the president's wife, "Vietnam is the main reason we are having trouble with the youth of America. It is a war without explanation or reason." I said that the young ghetto boys thought it better to have a legal stigma against them--then they would be considered "undesirable" and would not be sent to the war. In their opinion, in this society the good guys lost and the bad guys won.
    I didn't say this ranting and raving, but we were in a large room, we didn't have microphones, and we had to speak loudly enough to be heard. That incident, reported in such a way as to deface me in the eyes of the American people, obviously had to have been given by someone from the White House--probably the press secretary: "Earth Kitt makes the First Lady cry..." There were no reporters present! So this was a manufactured furor.
    Within two hours I was out of work in America.
       — RE/Search interview

Her career took a different turn after she spoke out against the Vietnam War at a White House luncheon in 1968 in the presence of Lady Bird Johnson. As a result of her outspoken anti-war position, she was blackballed and was unable to find work in the U.S., with the exception of a few talk shows. Contracts were lost or cancelled. The CIA developed a file containing personal and professional information. Eartha moved to Europe, where she lived and worked for the next ten years, struggling financially and ignored by many friends. Kitt has said she would have spoken out even if she had known the consequences.
       — University of South Carolina Aiken


January 18


ruben dario

amundsen and scott


1779: Peter Mark Roget is born. Delivered. Come to term. Brought to parturition. Brought into the world. He emerges from the womb. Starts his life journey. Enters the veil of tears. (Etc.)

1867: Rubén Darío (at left, looking a little like Robert Scott below him; see 1912 on this same day) is born.

1912: British explorer Robert Scott (below at left) reaches the South Pole after great difficulties. Then he discovers the Norwegian Roald Amundsen (with a smaller party, sounder provisions, greater use of dog sleds and skis, and better equipment based on observation of Inuit cold weather gear) had beaten him to it by a month. What's more, while Amundsen has little trouble on his return trip, Scott and all his party would die before making it back. He would leave a note saying:

"Had we lived I should have had a tale to tell ...

But Amundsen, who would be around to tell his tale until 1928, would write in his book The South Pole:

I may say that this is the greatest factor -- the way in which the expedition is equipped -- the way in which every difficulty is foreseen, and precautions taken for meeting or avoiding it. Victory awaits him who has everything in order -- luck, people call it. Defeat is certain for him who has neglected to take the necessary precautions in time; this is called bad luck.

1943: The US bans the sale of pre-sliced bread for the duration of World War II. ...And in Poland the first Jewish uprising against Nazis occurs in the Warsaw Ghetto.


January 19


Sophie Taeuber-Alt

1889: Sophie Taeuber-Arp (pictured) is born in Davos, Switzerland. She will associated with the Dadaists in Zürich and marry Hans Arp in 1921. In 1926, she will receive the assignment to design the interior of the Café Aubette in Straßburg (together with Hans Arp and Theo van Doesburg). She will be one of the earliest painters of geometric abstractions and a founder of the Abstraction-Création group in Paris 1931.

1911: French winegrowers, outraged by the passing off of white wine as campagne, sack the Perrier cellars at Epernay, destroying thousands of bottles of wine.

1915: The neon tube sign is patented by George Claude.

January 20


shirley and ed

ST. FLAVIAN'S DAY, ST. SEBASTIAN'S DAY, THE EVE OF ST. AGNES: On St. Agnes's Eve, one's future husband may appear in a dream. This is supposed to be one of the coldest days of the year.
            St. Agnes' Eve, ah, bitter chill it was!
                  -John Keats

1936: Royal physician murders King George V to accommodate a newspaper headline. See November 27.

1949: J. Edgar Hoover gives Shirley Temple a tear gas fountain pen.

1958: Elvis Presley is inducted into the US army.

continue to January 21


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