Tom's Book of Days
      May 21-31  

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May 21


Dan White

1688: Alexander Pope is born in Twickenham, near London.

1771: Poet Christopher Smart dies in a London debtor's prison.

1914:Greyhound bus company debuts.

1927:Charles Lindbergh lands at Le Bourget airport in France after a 33-hour solo flight from Long Island-which gives him the distinction of being the nineteenth pilot to cross the Atlantic.

1979:White Night. Protests and riots in San Francisco over voluntary manslaughter verdict for Supervisor Dan White, murder of Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk. The jury was persuaded by White 's "Twinky Defense" (a diet of Twinkies had impaired his judgment). Police retaliate later the same night by beating customers and passersby at a gay bar in the Castro district. (I'm not sure about Warren Hinckle's assesertion that "1978 and 1979 were the most emotionally devastating years in San Francisco's fabulously spotted history," but with Jonestone and the White murders they were some of the most wrenching that I remember.)


May 22


Peter Matthiessen


1856: Heated times: On the floor of the U.S. Senate, Congressman Preston Brooks of South Carolina beats Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts unconscious with a gutta-percha cane, as two Georgia senators stand idly by. (Sumner will be incapacitated for three and a half years.)

1925: Gertrude Stein writes F. Scott Fitzgerald: "This [The Great Gatsby] is as good a book [as This Side of Paradise] and different and older, and that is what one does, one does not get better but different and older and that is always a pleasure."

1926: Miles Davis is born in Alton, Illinois. Some Miles links:

Miles Styles
Beat Thief

1929: Peter Matthiessen (pictured) is born.

1954: Robert Zimmerman (Bob Dylan) is bar mitzvahed in Hibbing, Minnesota.

1968: NY City police raid of student occupations at Columbia University results in 998 arrests, with more than 200 injured.

May 23


Wm. Kidd

1430: Joan of Arc is captured at Compiegne and sold to the British.

1701: Captain William Kidd is fed rum and brandy until he cannot stand and paraded in a cart through the streets of London as hysterical crowds scream and cheer. He is hanged, but the rope breaks, depositing him in a heap of mud, while other condemned men swing overhead. Still in a drunken stupor, he is pulled dripping from the slop and hanged a second and final time. His corpse is tarred and placed in a cage and hung on the Thames shorleline as a warning to pirates, where it would remain for nearly two years. An epitath--as abominable for its poetry as for its sentiment--is placed nearby:

Reader, near this Tomb don't stand
Without some Essence in thy Hand;
For here Kidd's stinking Corpse does lie,
The Scent of which may infect thy!!

There is no question Kidd was a pirate, since he was hired for that job by King William III himself, but the government claimed that his piracy strayed beyond the approved targets. The truth is hard to know, but it seems likely that Kidd was a scapegoat for powerful interests involved in multiple duplicities concerning the distribution of his booty.

1853: Buenos Aires gains its independence from Argentina (only to be reunited in 1859).

1933: Max Wasserberg receives a patent for the "beach and lawn chair."

May 24


George Bridgetower

1803: Beethoven premieres a sonata (Sonata for Violin and Piano in A Major, Op. 47, the "Kreutzer Sonata") at the Auergarten Hall in Vienna. He dedicates the work to the French violinist Rodolphe Kreutzer--who promptly calls it "unintelligible" and declares he will never play it under any circumstances.
The sonata was originally dedicated to George Augustus Polgreen Bridgetower (ca. 1780-1860), a violin prodigy who was the child of an African American father and an Eastern European mother. His father had been a servant to Hungarian Prince Nikolaus Esterhazy, whose musical court was directed by Joseph Haydn.
In 1803 the first performance of the Kreutzer Sonata was presented, with Bridgetower on violin and Beethoven himself on piano. But the two musicians had a falling out before publication of the work, so Beethoven substituted Kreutzer's name in the dedication, ensuring the dissatisfaction of all three of the musicians.

1846: Zachary Taylor takes Monterrey after a four-day battle. See The U.S.-Mexican War.

1861: As Turgenev looks on, Leo Tolstoy falls asleep after skimming a few pages of the proofs of Fathers and Sons.

1906: British suffragist Dora Montefiore protests the lack of women's vote by refusing to pay taxes and barricading her house against bailiffs.

1918: Bartok's opera Bluebeard's Castle, presenting the serial killer as a misunderstood idealist, premieres in Budapest.

1921: The trial of anarchists Sacco and Vanzetti trial begins as part of a government campaign to crush political dissidents and labor organizers.

1941: Robert Allen Zimmerman (Bob Dylan), grandchild of Russian Jewish immigrants, is born Duluth, Minnesota, where his father, Abe, is employed by the Standard Oil Company.

1968: Four protesters (Philip Berrigan is the best known) receive six-year jail terms for pouring blood on draft cards to protest bloodshed in SE Asia.

May 25


Theodore Roethke

Towel Day : Towel Day: On this day fans of Douglas Adams, author of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, are encouraged to carry a towel with them throughout the day in an gesture of homage. There seems to be no special significance to the date May 25, other than the length of time it took organizers of the first Towel Day to get it together after the author’s death on 11 May, 2001, at the age of 49. According to The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, a towel “is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitch hiker can have.” For more on towels in intergalactic travel, see this Douglas Adams Towel Day site.

1908: Theodore Roethke is born in Saginaw, Michigan.

     The Waking (1953)

     I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
     I feel my fate in what I cannot fear.
     I learn by going where I have to go.

     We think by feeling. What is there to know?
     I hear my being dance from ear to ear.
     I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

     Of those so close beside me, which are you?
     God bless the Ground! I shall walk softly there,
     And learn by going where I have to go.

     Light takes the Tree; but who can tell us how?
     The lowly worm climbs up a winding stair;
     I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

     Great Nature has another thing to do
     To you and me, so take the lively air,
     And, lovely, learn by going where to go.

     This shaking keeps me steady. I should know.
     What falls away is always. And is near.
     I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
     I learn by going where I have to go.

1911: Following the death of Gustav Mahler, Thomas Mann visits the Lido and conceives the idea for Death in Venice.

1968: The 1968 Monterey Pop Festival is canceled because of pressure from the local government and citizenry. $52,000 from the profits of the previous year's festival (the Summer of Love kick-off, subject of a documentary by D.A. Pennebaker) has gone missing, along with the festival's bookkeeper, Sandra Beebe.

May 26


antonie van leeuwenhoek

1232: Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition: The Pope sends the first Inquisition team to Aragon, Spain.

1676: Antonie van Leeuwenhoek viewing runoff water from his roof through a microscope, discovers "very little animalcules." The animacules do not appear in pure rainwater, proving the bacteria do not fall from the sky.

1926: Miles Davis is born in Alton, Illinois. So What?

1938: House Unamerican Activities Committee (HUAC) is established.

1972: The first attempt by agents of Nixon's Committee to Re-elect the President (CREEP) to bug the phone of Democratic Chairman Lawrence O'Brien in the Watergate complex fails as E. Howard Hunt (who once submitted a manuscript to me at North Point Press) and Virgilio Gonzales spend the night hiding in a staircase in the Watergate complex, unable to open a door leading to the Democratic National Committee offices.

May 27


Photo credit: Thomas Christensen

1796: The first U.S. patent for a piano is issued to James Sylvanus McLean of New Jersey, for "an improvement in piano fortes."

1848: "THE HUMAN TIDE: One hogshead of blood each hour passes through the human lungs to be purified by contact with air. To effect that purification, one hundred and two gallons of pure air are required for each hour. How important then are those essentials, free circulation and pure air. the young ought to exercise much in the open air." --Scientific American, May 27, 1848

1890: Patents are issued to Louis Glass and William S. Arnold for a "coin actuated attachment for phonographs." Their first jukebox was placed in the Palais Royale Saloon in San Francisco. For a nickel, a patron could listen through a tube (there was no amplification).

1894: Dashiell Hammett and Louis-Ferdinand CÚline are born; both would die in 1961. My translation (with Carol Christensen) of CÚline's Ballets Without Dancers, Without Music, Without Anything would be published by Green Integer in January 2000.

1907: Rachel Carson is born. Her book Silent Spring (1962) would challenge agricultural and scientific theory and practice, especially the use of pesticides, calling for a more holistic and sustainable approach to the natural world.

1930: Cellophane transparent adhesive tape is patented by Richard G. Drew of St. Paul, Minnesota. The 3M Company will obtain the rights and market the tape under the trademark "Scotch."

1931: Ten miles high, and when you touch down/You'll find that it's stranger than known: Auguste Piccard and Charles Knipfer are first into the stratosphere, riding a balloon with a pressurized cabin to an altitude of 51,800 feet (about 10 miles).

1937: The Golden Gate Bridge is dedicated.

1961: Far out! The first black light is sold.

1972: In a repeat of the previous day's fiasco, the Second Watergate break-in attempt fails when Nixon's inept henchman Virgilio Gonzales again is unable to pick a lock on the door of the Democratic National Committee headquarters.

May 28


king solomon

970 BCE: According to Hebrew tradition, King Solomon, the son of King David and Queen Bathsheba, is born on this day. The image at left is a detail from 1 1452 fresco depicting the meeting of Solomon and the Queen of Sheba.

1859: The last issue of Household Words, Charles Dickens's periodical, is published.

1961: Amnesty International is founded in England.

1961: Nixon's Watergate bunglers strike again (see May 26 and May 27): On their third try, CREEP (Committee to Reelect the President) agents succeed in opening the door to the Democratic National Committee offices, but the tap they place on Democratic Chairman Lawrence O'Brian's phone fails to operate.... A second attempt to break into McGovern headquarters also fails today.

May 29


harvey milk in 1951

1453: Constantinople falls to the Ottoman Turks.

1844: The first dark horse candidate, James K. Polk, emerges at the Democratic Convention in Baltimore, Maryland. After seven deadlocked ballots, Polk's name appeared to break the deadlock. He won the nomination on the ninth ballot.

1912: Fifteen young women are fired by Curtis Publishing for dancing the "Turkey Trot" during their lunch break.

1979: Former San Francisco city supervisor Dan White is convicted of only the lightest charge possible in the assassination of city supervisor Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone. White's "Twinkie Defense" argued White was depressed because of an overconsumption of junk food.

May 30


Marlowe (?)

1431: Jean d'Arc is burned for witchcraft on the square in Rouen.

1593: Christopher Marlowe is fatally stabbed with his own dagger in an argument over a tavern bill. Although a jury ruled the stabbing was self-defense, some believe that Marlowe was deliberately killed as part of a plot. (Details vary: one version holds that Marlowe, who was under suspicion of heresy, had been a secret government operative and was killed to prevent him from coming to trial and implicating Walter Rahleigh and others.) Born the same year as Shakespeare, Marlowe was thirty-one. What plays he might yet have written!

The Passionate Shepherd to His Love

Come live with me, and be my love;
And we will all the pleasures prove
That hills and valleys, dales and fields,
Woods or steepy mountain yields.

And we will sit upon the rocks,
Seeing the shepherds feed their flocks
By shallow rivers, to whose falls
Melodious birds sing madrigals.

And I will make thee beds of roses,
And a thousand fragrant posies;
A cap of flowers, and a kirtle
Embroider'd all with leaves of myrtle;

A gown made of the finest wool
Which from our pretty lambs we pull;
Fair-lined slippers for the cold,
With buckles of the purest gold;

A belt of straw and ivy-buds,
With coral clasps and amber studs:
An if these pleasures may thee move,
Come live with me, and be my love.

The shepherd-swains shall dance and sing
For they delight each May morning:
If these delights thy mind may move,
Then live with me, and be my love.

May 31


Joh Collier depiction of Godiva, 19th c.

1578: The existence of the catacombs of Rome is suggested by the accidental discovery of an ancient subterranean cemetery on the Via Salaria. But few people realized the significance of the discovery, and it will remain for Antonio Bosio (1576-1629), "The Columbus of the Catacombs," to begin the systematic exploration of subterranean Rome.

1678: Tax protester Lady Godiva (Godgifu, as it is spelled at the time) rides naked through Coventry. At its root, the story of Godiva (an ancestor of the British royal family) is one of sexual politics. Godiva, who had a history of good works, pleaded with her husband Leofric, Earl of Mercia, to reduce the people of Coventry's taxes. Annoyed at his pestiferous do-gooding wife, Leofric replied, "Mount your horse naked and pass through the market of the town, from one end to the other, when the people are assembled." Then he would grant her wish. To his astonishment, she agreed, and to his credit he lowered the taxes. (The tale is probably a myth, since it comes from an unreliable source a century after the good woman's death. The story of her concealing hair and a peeping Tom who was struck blind are later embellishments.)

1819: Walt Whitman is born in 1819 on Long Island.

1921: The trial of Sacco and Vanzetti begins.

continue to June 1


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