Tom's Book of Days
      October 11-20  

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October 11


1917: Virginia Woolf records her impressions of Katherine Mansfield: "I'm a little shocked by her commonness at first sight; lines so hard and cheap. However, when this diminishes, she is so intelligent and inscrutable that she repays friendship."

1921: Aaron Copland to his parents:

207 Bd. Raspail

Dear Ma & Pa, --

I really ought to be sending you a cablegram with this wonderful news, but I was afraid it would scare you. Just think, I have just sold my first composition. Let me catch my breath and tell you the whole story. I wrote you that M. Durand, the biggest publisher in Paris, had promised to publish a piece of mine called "The Cat and the Mouse" after he had heard me play it at Fontainebleau. Well, I have just been to see him at his office here and have sold him the piece outright for 500 francs. I signed a contract with him and he has promise to have the piece ready in about 2 or 3 weeks, at which time I will send you a copy. Try to remember that in pre-war times, 500 francs was equal to $100. which is an extraordinary price to pay a young, unknown composer for a little piece of 5 pages. Then Durand is a very well-known publisher all over the world, so it gives one a reputation merely to be published by him. A great deal of the credit is due to Fontainebleau and the school as I could never have accomplished so much in so short a time without all that influence helping me. What will Goldmark and Adler have to say when I send them copies? Its too bad I am not able to play the piece for you, but you'll have to wait until I get home, unless some one plays it in N.Y. by some wild chance. Of course, this is only a beginning. One doesn't get exactly famous simply because he has written one piece which is printed. But it is a start. And the 500 francs tickles me silly, even if it isn't a fortune.

1939: President Franklin D. Roosevelt is presented with a letter signed by Albert Einstein urging the United States to rapidly develop an atomic bomb program.

1976: The Gang of Four--Mao's widow, Jiang Qing, and three others--are arrested in China and charged with plotting a coup.


October 12


emperor norton

1492: Christopher Columbus sights Guanahani (Plana Cays?) Island in the Bahamas. (The theory popularized by Samuel E. Morison and others that Guanahani Island is current Watling island no longer receives the support it once did.) This is bad news for the Bahamans, all of whom will be exterminated (despite the paternalistic entry in Columbus's log, in which he indicates that the Spanish will be "gentle": "As I saw that they were friendly to us, and perceived that they could be much more easily converted to our holy faith by gentle means than by force, I presented them with some red caps, and strings of beads to wear upon the neck, and many other trifles of small value, wherewith they were much delighted and became wonderfully attached to us"). The day is celebrated in the US (on the second Monday of the month) as Columbus Day, so proclaimed by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1968 (the year of the My Lai massacre, the riots at the Democratic National Convention, and the assassination of Martin Kuther King), but some celebrate it as Indigenous People Day. For more, see (if you can find it) my The Discovery of America (San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 1992, with Carol Christensen).

1859: Emperor Norton abolishes Congress.


October 13


art tatum

54: Emperor Claudius the First dies after being poisoned by his wife, Agrippina.

1881: Eliezer Ben-Yehuda and friends initiate the revival of the Hebrew language.

1909: Art Tatum is born. Partially blind, he would learn to read sheet music by Braille. He would acknowledge stride pianist Fats Waller as a primary influence. He would often play with trios but would probably be best known the ultimate jazz piano soloist, a deft improviser with a repertoire of rapid runs with varied tempos and innovative passing harmonies, a style that would contribute to the development of bebop. Bud Powell, Billy Taylor, and Oscar Peterson who be among those he would influence.

1925: Leonard Alfred Schneider (Lenny Bruce) is born.

1943: Robert Lowell, Jr., is sentenced to a prison term of a year and a day for draft evasion.

2006: Friday the 13th is unusual this year because the date's digits add up to thirteen (whether written in U.S. or European notation). The last time this happened was Jan. 13, 1520.


October 14


bayeux tapestry

1066: William the Conqueror kills King Harold II and defeats the English army in the Battle of Hastings. The Norman invasion is chronicled in a beautiful (and enormous) "tapestry" (actually an embroidery) called the Bayeux Tapestry (a detail is shown at left).

1066 and all that, revised by Antonia Gransden:

No event in English history has aroused more controversy among historians than the Norman Conquest. From the twelfth century until the present day they have debated its significance. Should we see it as a cataclysm in our history? Or should we accept that, whatever its immediate political consequences, beneath the new power structure England remained virtually unchanged, continuing her progress along lines already drawn in Anglo-Saxon times?…

The trauma of 1066 by Elizabeth van Houts:

As a second generation historian from the Netherlands, which was once occupied by the Germans, I am all too aware of the shock and disbelief experienced by those who were driven from their homes, were addressed in a foreign language, were starved of food, had relatives killed and had to come to terms with this trauma while life continued. Modern experiences can open our eyes to similar events in a distant past as long as we remain aware of the 'otherness' of that past. One way of exploring the subject is by looking at the collective memories of Normans, English and to a lesser extent Continentals, in order to establish what form trauma took and how it was expressed….

1912: On the campaign trail, Theodore Roosevelt is shot by a saloonkeeper in Milwaukee. He delivers his speech as scheduled and later has the bullet removed from his body.

1926: Winnie-the-Pooh is published.

1964: Martin Kuther King, Jr., is awarded the Nobel Peace Prize


October 15


annette kellerman

1582: Pope Gregory XIII implements the Gregorian Calendar causing October 4 to be followed directly by October 15 in Italy, Poland, Portugal, and Spain (other countries would follow later). This caused many people great distress over the loss of ten days of the lives.

1880: Mexican soldiers kill the great Apache military leader Victorio.

1883: The Supreme Court declares part of the Civil Rights Act of 1875 to be unconstitutional since it allowed individuals and corporations to discriminate based on race…. Sound familiar?

1905: Former US president Grover Cleveland opposes extending voting rights to women in an article in Ladies Home Journal,, arguing, "We all know how much further women go than men in their social rivalries and jealousies.... Sensible and responsible women do not want to vote."

1916: Annette Kellerman is filmed in the movies' first nude scene in Daughter of the Gods.


October 16


oscar wilde


1854: Oscar Wilde is born in Dublin.

1859: John Brown raids Harper's Ferry.

1869: The Cardiff Giant is discovered. (See December 18 and November 21 for another famous hoax.)

1934: Mao Zedong begins the Long March.

1992: Duchess of York Sarah Ferguson files a lawsuit against French tabloids for publishing pictures of Texas millionaire John Bryan sucking on her toes on the French Riviera.


October 17


nathanael west in 1931


1469: Ferdinand II of Aragon marries Isabella of Castile, uniting Aragon and Castile and forming the country of Spain.

1945: Juan Peron becomes dictator of Argentina through military coup.

1903: Nathan Weinstein (Nathanael West) is born. He would be a bit of a hard luck case. His first novel, Miss Lonelyhearts, would be well received, but his publisher would go bankrupt. He would work at a number of literary journals, each of which would also fold. He would end up unemployed in Hollywood. After a few difficult years there he would write the The Day of the Locust.

1903: The 7.1 Richter scale Loma Prieta earthquake hits the San Francisco Bay Area.


October 18


henri matisse

le bateau, by henri matisse

1503: From Venice, Pietro Bembo writes to Lucrezie Borgia.

Eight days have passed since I parted from FF, and already it is as though I had been eight years away from her. But I swear that not one hour has passed without the company of her memory, which has become such a close companion to my thoughts that it is more than ever the food, the sustenance, of my soul. If things continue like this for many more days (as it seems they must), I believe her memory will take complete possession of my soul, and I shall live and thrive on the memory of her as do other men upon their souls, and have no life beyond this single thought.

1871: Charles Babbage dies.

1961: The Museum of Modern Art in New York (so the story goes) displays Le Bateau by Henri Matisse, and the painting attracts a large number of visitors. No one notices for forty-seven days that it is hanging upside-down.

The story appears in numerous places--for example, in the Getty Museum's on-line newsletter (the link to this has gone bad).

Calling it "the least succesful display of a painting," Stephen Pile writes in The Book of Heroic Failures, "Between 17 October and 3 December 1961 Henri Matisse's painting Le Bateau was hung upside down in an art gallery without anyone noticing. It is estimated that 116,000 vistors to the New York Museum of Modern Art had passed through before this inversion was noticed by the artist's son [in other versions, "by an art student"]. The painting showed a sailing boat and summer clouds with their reflections in the water." The radio information supplier 440 International's website says: "18 October 1961: One of the most influential artists of the 1900s was French painter, Henri Matisse. Although human figures, still life and interior scenes were his favorite subjects, one wouldn't necessarily know that his paintings were depicting these. His method of painting consisted of the use of intense color and lines to produce patterns and sense of movement; creating the illusion of realistic forms and space. You see, Matisse believed that a painting was an object of art and that was more important than seeing it as a representation of reality. On this day, the Museum of Modern Art in New York City proved Matisse's point--accidentally. His painting, Le Bateau, went on display in the museum, attracting large numbers of viewers. For several days, nobody realized that Le Bateau was hanging upside down."

The only problem with this story is that it is untrue. According to a MOMA spokesperson, "The painting is not a part of the Museum's collections. Also, according to our Registrar's records, and the exhibition records of the Department of Photographic Services and Permissions as well, the painting Le Bateau has never been on loan to this Museum."

So I wrote. But then the plot thickened. I leave the above unaltered, and attach the following:


Dear sir:
I was recently on your website at [this page's former web address] and read your view that the work Le Bateau by Henri Matisse did not appear at the museum of modern art hung upside down in december 1961. I found this very odd, so I e-mailed the museum this date and got a reply. Please read both e-mails below.

You have done a wonderful job in designing your website and I enjoyed visiting. I would hope that you will correct the website soon concerning the information in reference above.


From: David Rowan
Sent: Monday, January 08, 2001 3:32 PM
Subject: Henri Matisse le Bateau

I am quite certain that you have had numerous inquiries concerning Henri Matisse's Le Bateau and the urban Legend that it hung in your art gallery for some 47 days upside down in 1961 (December). I recently heard of this and found that to be a little hard to believe. I found a website that stated it was a false statement. I was able to view the painting at and it is indeed a wonderful piece.

I am an adult probation officer in the state of Texas and many of my fellow associates claim that they have heard of this legend as being true. Can you please verify this information for me? I understand that you have many many more important things to do, and you may have already tossed this e-mail out once you saw the words le Bateau, but I took a chance that you might respond.

Anxiously awaiting,

David Rowan


Dear Mr. Rowan,

Thank you for your message to MoMA. Please see information below about Matisse's Le Bateau which I received from our research Library....hope this is helpful.

If I can be of further assistance in the future, please feel free to contact me again.


Stacy Herbert
Office Manager, Department of Visitor Services
The Museum of Modern Art

Towards the close of the 1961 exhibition "The Last Works of Henri Matisse," a French-born stockbroker and Matisse fan named Genevieve Habert questioned the hanging of a 1952 gouache "Le Bateau" (The Sailboat). The work depicts a sailboat and its reflection. Habert felt that the artist "would never put the main, more complex motif on the bottom and the lesser motif on the top."

Habert brought this to the attention of Museum staff on a Sunday, December 4th. On Monday, Monroe Wheeler (Director, Exhibitions and Publications) agreed and the work was re-hung within two hours.

Habert had attended the show three times. The show opened 47 days prior, on October 18th. An estimated 116,000 people had attended by that point. "Le Bateau" hung in a corner of the Museum's ground floor, the next-to-the last work before entering the public cafeteria.

The story was picked up by a news wire service and republished in scores of newspapers, one of which called the incident a "national giggle."

At the time, Wheeler remembered two other times when works had been hung upside-down at the Museum, and once when a work had been hung upside down by its owner, prior its loan to MoMA.

Museum Archives Public Information Scrapbooks
Nan Robertson. "Modern Museum is Startled by Matisse Picture" New York Times, December 5 1961.
Monroe Wheeler. The Last Works of Henri Matisse: Large Cut Gouaches (New York: MoMA, 1961).

2003: The exhibitions Goryeo Dynasty: Korea's Age of Enlightenment, 918-1392 and Leaning Forward, Looking Back: Eight Contemporary Korean Artists open at the Asian Art Museum.


October 19


jonathan swift


1745: Jonathan Swift, weak in body, spirit, and mind, dies at seventy-seven. His servants allow the public to pull souvenir hairs from his head. Keats writes a sonnet on a lock that fell to Leigh Hunt.

1878: Henry James spends a long evening of labored conversation with the Georges — George Eliot and George Henry Lewes. At last the time for departure mercifully arrives. As James prepares to leave, Lewes thrusts into his hands a parting gift of a pair of books in blue bindings. "Take them away, please, away!" he begs his guest, whom he fails to realize is the author of the books, the first edition of The Europeans.


October 20



1854: Arthur Rimbaud is born in Charleville, France.

1882: Bela Lugosi is born in Hungary.

1928: Dorothy Parker reviews A. A. Milne's House at Pooh Corner in her "Constant Reader" column for The New Yorker: "Tonstant Weader fwowed up."

1973: US Attorney-General Elliott Richardson resigns rather than follow orders and fire Watergate special prosecutor Archibald Cox. Solicitor-General Robert Bork, however, demonstrates no such scruples. The day becomes known as the Saturday Night Massacre.

continue to October 21


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