History

You Won’t Believe What Else John Philip Sousa Did On the Fourth of July!

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By Ken Zurski

On July 4, 1900, at the newly opened World’s Fair in Paris, France, after another rousing rendition of “The Stars and Striped Forever,”conductor John Philip Sousa and several of his band members donned a baggy pair of trousers, hat and glove and went out to play an exhibition game of baseball.

Sousa. known as the “March King” at the time for his inspiring and mostly patriotic musical marches, was in Europe for an extended concert tour, the first ever for a band its size.

But like music, Sousa also had a passion for baseball. So he formed a team.

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Sousa was said to be in excellent pitcher and started most games on the mound. He threw competitively until his skills waned with age.  “If baseball has a drawback,” he once wrote, “it is the early time of life at which the player is forced to retire and give way to younger blood.”

Back home in America, baseball commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis took advantage of Sousa’s love for baseball and asked him to compose a march for the 50th  anniversary of the National League. In 1925, Sousa delivered with the composition called “The National Game.” He dedicated it to the sport.

However, despite the connection to Sousa, even today the song is not well known or as widely played as other tunes associated with baseball, like “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.”

In fact, sadly Sousa’s baseball march is mostly forgotten.

But it was not a song, but a day, July 4, 1900, that Sousa remembers the most.

That day in Paris, Sousa and the band’s team played “a group of nines” from the American Guards. “What could have been more appropriate for two American organizations in a foreign land to do on the glorious Fourth?” Sousa proudly proclaimed about that particular game.

UNREMEMBERED INNOVATOR: Eadweard Muybridge, the Zoopraxiscope, and the Suspended Horse

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By Ken Zurski

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Eadweard Muybridge

In 1860, while traveling by stagecoach across the Texas plains, capitalist Eadweard Muybridge fell and suffered a serious head injury. Some say he never fully recovered. His doctor however suggested more fresh air. So Muybridge took up photography and began shooting landscapes.

Then in 1872, railroad magnate Leland Stanford hired Muybridge to shoot a horse. Not literally, of course, but with a camera. Stanford wanted to know if a horse lifts all four feet off the ground simultaneously during a gait. Muybridge managed to show a horse seemingly suspended in midair. But the shot, published as a line drawing at first, drew jeers from a skeptical public.

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Muybridge’s Moving Horse 

Muybridge found a way to convince them. He invented a machine called the Zoopraxiscope, where a silhouette image of a picture is painted on a revolving glass plate. When the light is shown through the cylinder the drawings seem to move.

“A magic lantern gone mad,” raved the Illustrated London News.

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Zoopraxiscope

Vindicated, Muybridge sought to improve his design. He went to see a man he thought might be able to put actual photographs on the cylinder.

After all, he had done the same thing with sound.

That man was Thomas Edison.

UNREMEMBERED SPORTS: Lord Stanley’s Gift

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By Ken Zurski

In 1891, Charles Colville, secretary for the Lord Frederick Stanley, the British appointed General Governor of Canada, was ordered to sail back to England and return with a handpicked ornament.

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Charles Colville

Stanley had something particular in mind and Colville knew just where to look.

On Regent Street near Piccadilly Circus, he stepped into the shop of George Richmond and Collis Co. and spotted a “silver bowl lined with a gold gilt interior.” Colville bought the bowl for 10 guineas, the equivalent of about 10-thousand U.S. dollars today.

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Stanley was ambivalent at first. “It looks like any other trophy,” he remarked, but overall pleased.

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Lord Frederick Stanley

 

In 1893, the first Stanley Cup, as it was called, was awarded to Montreal, the champions of the Ontario Hockey Association. Stanley, a big hockey supporter, offered the trophy as a gift. His team, however, was Ottawa and the animosity between the two teams was apparent.

When Montreal was awarded the inaugural cup bearing Stanley’s name, only a few players were on hand and no Montreal team officials bothered to show up.

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UNREMEMBERED SOLDIER: Sgt. Edward Younger’s Orders

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By Ken Zurski

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Sgt. Edward Younger

In March 1921, a congressional resolution was passed calling for an American serviceman, remains unknown, to be buried at Arlington Cemetery.

Four unidentified bodies were drawn from separate regions of the European theater. In a small French village, at a makeshift chapel, one would be selected.

Sgt. Edward Younger of Chicago was the unassuming soldier chosen to make the pick. Younger had served in the war, went home, and then reenlisted. He was on special duty when he got orders. “Take these flowers,” his commanding officer told him, “proceed to the chapel and place them on one of the caskets.”

Alone and in silence, Younger circled the four caskets. He touched each one. He knelt and prayed. Then something drew him to the second casket on the right. “It seemed as if God himself guided my hand,” Younger recalled.

He gently set the flowers down and saluted.

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Meet Jim: The ‘Wonder Dog’ Who Correctly Picked Kentucky Derby Winners

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By Ken Zurski

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Jim the Wonder Dog

 

In the 1930’s, the Llewellyn setter known as “Jim the Wonder Dog” correctly picked the winner of seven Kentucky Derby’s in a row.  An improbable feat even for the most adapt handicapper,  but Jim’s owner Sam Van Arsdale insisted there was nothing deceitful about his dog’s apparent ability to predict the outcome of the prestigious race year after year.

Here’s how it worked: Van Arsdale would set down sealed envelopes each containing the name of a horse in the race. Jim would walk up to one and put his paw on it. The envelope was then stored in a locked safe. After the race, the envelope was reopened revealing the winning horse each time. The soft spoken Van Arsdale never wanted to profit off his prized pooch so he turned down all offers to reveal the contents of the envelopes before the race. 

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Van Arsdale and Jim on a hunting trip

 

Jim is also credited with accurately guessing the gender of unborn children and in 1936 correctly picked the New York Yankees to win the World Series.

Skeptics and doubters were aplenty, but Van Arsdale insisted it was no trick

Jim died in 1937 at the age of 12.

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UNREMEMBERED AUTHOR – Breece D’J Pancake: A Legacy in One Book

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By Ken Zurski

Breece D’J Pancake never had a book published in his lifetime. He died at the official age of 26, just shy of his 27th birthday. But four years after his death, The Stories of Breece D’J Pancake was released to critical acclaim. In fact, it was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.

“A young writer of such extraordinary gifts that one is tempted to compare his debut to Hemingway,” praised author Joyce Carol Oates.

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Breece D’J Pancake

Born in 1952, the name Pancake is a surname of German origin. The odd apostrophe in D’J was a printer’s error, which stuck.

Pancake wrote about hardships of rural life in the Appalachian Territories where he grew up and rarely strayed. Most of his stories fly by in time, examining just hours of a character’s life, but packed with personal and social struggles both past and present. His stories for the Atlantic were submitted only after he composed four long-hand drafts and ten on the typewriter.

Ultimately, he struggled with alcoholism, but his untimely death by self-inflicted gunshot in 1979 may have been a tragic accident, some believe due to sleepwalking.

It all adds to his lore.

One book, however, remains.

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The /rel·e·van·cy/ of a Dictionary Maker

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By Ken Zurski

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Herbert Coleridge

In 1858, Herbert Coleridge took on the daunting task of compiling and completing a new English dictionary. It was not an easy undertaking. Wordbooks as they were known had dated back to the early 17th century, and by the 19th century,  an American lexicographer named Noah Webster made dictionaries that were based mostly on personal assessments of the English language, which in Webster’s opinion was too closely identified with the British. Coleridge’s dictionary would be different and involve hundred of volunteers who would find unlisted words in books and write them down on note cards along with the word’s source.

The note idea was not Coleridge’s but rather that of Richard Chenevix Trench, a British professor and lexicographer, who proposed using everyday readers to participate in the dictionary’s creation. “It would be necessary to recruit a team moreover, a huge one comprising hundreds of unpaid amateurs,” Trench proposed.

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Richard Chenevix Trench

Trench’s vision took hold and Coleridge, a philologist, was called upon to make it happen.

Coleridge went to work designing a system of collecting the reader’s notes and organizing them. He also grossly underestimated that it would take only two years to complete the work.  In reality, near the two year mark, the dictionary was far from finished, and Coleridge, unfortunately, was dead.

Officially Coleridge died of consumption, or a bout of tuberculosis, which makes sense. However, biographers paint a more fanciful ending. While walking to a lecture hall in London’s St. James Square, Coleridge got caught in a downpour and sat soaking wet in an unheated upstairs room for several hours listening to the speaker. His chills turned to a debilitating fever and eventual death.

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Despite his untimely demise,  the dictionary idea did not go with him. Several enthusiastic wordsmith’s picked up the slack. Soon they learned what a formidable task Coleridge faced. In just a few years of work, Coleridge had only gotten halfway through the first letter. Undeterred the vision carried on and in 1878, nearly a quarter century after Coleridge began. A New English Dictionary on Historical Principles was released. Today, the book is cited as the basis for the inaugural Oxford English Dictionary which was released in 1895.

Coleridge is often listed as its first editor.

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