October 23, 4004 BC: And on the 29th He Rested

Those who predict the imminent end of the world display a certain amount of chutzpah if not foolhardiness (such as Micheal Stifel, October 19). It probably takes even more of those qualities to identify the exact date of the beginning ofcreation the world, but didn’t James Ussher (1581-1656) do just that.

As Archbishop of Armagh, Primate of All Ireland, and Vice-Chancellor of Trinity College in Dublin, Ussher was rather highly regarded in his day as both churchman and scholar. He was not your average man on the street (“Tell me sir, when did the world begin?”) making bold proclamations. And evidently he didn’t just pull important dates out of a hat. His declarations were based on an intricate correlation of Middle Eastern and Mediterranean histories and Holy writ, incorporated into an authorized 1701 version of the Bible, or so he explained. And they were accepted, regarded without question as if they were the Bible itself.

Through the aforementioned methods, Ussher established that the first day of creation was Sunday, October 23, 4004 BC. He didn’t give a time. On a roll, Ussher calculated the dates of other biblical events, concluding, for example, that Adam and Eve were driven from Paradise on Monday, November 10 of that same year BC (it took them less than three weeks to get in trouble with God). And Noah docked his ark on Mt Ararat on May 5, 2348 BC. That was a Wednesday if you were wondering.

Late-breaking news: Dr. John Lightfoot, of Cambridge, an Ussher contemporary, declared in a bold bid for oneupsmanship, that his most profound and exhaustive study of the Scriptures, showed that “heaven and earth, centre and circumference, were created all together, in the same instant, and clouds full of water,” and that “this work took place and man was created by the Trinity on October 23, 4004 B.C., at nine o’clock in the morning.”

 

Time Was

Wretched Richard will jump out onto the proverbial limb and give you a few more dates you might be wondering about.

January 29, 3995 BC, 8 a.m. — God creates the horny toad.

March 12, 3906 BC, 5:00 p.m.  — Shouting something about his damn sheep, Cain slays Abel.

September 3, 3522 BC, 6:00 p.m. — God creates Facebook, then decides the world isn’t ready for it.

October 2, 2901 BC, 4:00 p.m.  God, having been in a bad mood all day, turns Lot’s wife into a pillar of salt.

June 7, 2549 BC 11:15 a.m.  God once again in a creative mood creates marijuana.

1:30 p.m. –Later that day, God, thoroughly annoyed with all his creations except his latest, instructs Noah to build an ark because he, God, is going to destroy the world.

August 14, 2371 BC,  5:30 a.m. — Methuselah finally turns his toes up after 969 years on this good earth.

July 7, 1425 BC, 8:30 p.m. — God gives Moses the Ten Commandments.

March 1, 2 AD, 10:15 a.m. — God creates an amusing diversion featuring Christians and lions.

July 2, 1854 AD, 11:45 p.m. — After a few too many martinis, God creates Republicans.

 

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October 22, 1883: When the Fat Lady Sang

In April of 1880, a group of 22 men met at New York’s Delmonico’s restaurant. These were men of considerable wealth – Morgans, Vanderbilts, Roosevelts – nineteenth century industrialists, bankers, and builders.  Nevertheless, they were men excluded from the inner circles of the One Percent, because they were not “old money”: they were the nouveau riche, “brazen new money.” They met that April with the goal of upsetting the Big Apple cart.

 

 

The Academy of Music opera house was the opera venue in New York City; subscribers to its limited number of private boxes represented the highest stratum in New York society.  And it was a place where the old money families had circled the upper crust wagons. Tired of being excluded, the insurrectionists at Delmonico’s determined to build a new opera house that would outshine the old Academy in every way. The new theater would include three tiers of private boxes in which New York’s powerful new industrial families could flaunt their wealth and reinforce their social prominence. Their vision became reality on October 22, 1883, when the Metropolitan Opera opened for business with a production of Gounod’s Faust.

 

The Academy of Music’s opera season folded just three years after the Met opened.  The building became a vaudeville house.  One hundred and thirty years later, The Metropolitan Opera is the largest classical music organization in North America, presenting more than two dozen operas each year in a season which lasts from late September through May. The operas are presented in a rotating repertory schedule with four different works staged each week. Several operas are presented in new productions each season, while the balance are revivals of productions from previous seasons — in all, over 200 performances in a season.

 

And today’s audiences are a blend of old money, new money and no money at all.

 

What’s Opera, Doc?:  A Wretched Richard Cheat Sheet

I’ve found that when I speak to friends, acquaintances, or strangers on street corners about opera, their eyes glaze over (or they run away).  I see this as a fundamental lack of understanding on their part, rather than any tediousness on my part.  The road to opera should not be paved with jagged rocks.  It should be an easy ride, a gentle ride.

Opera is really not that difficult.  Pretty much every opera goes something like this:  The Tenor loves the Soprano.  The Soprano loves the Tenor.  Should be easy – a couple of arias and they live happily ever after.  But the Baritone also loves the Soprano.  Here come the drama, here come the drama.  The Soprano’s daddy, a Bass, promises her to the Baritone – it’s never clear why; it just seems that daddies are not keen on Tenors.  Of course, everyone on stage (except maybe the chorus) is now heartbroken, angry or lustful.  They sing of their sadness, anger and lust, and Act One ends.

Act Two is all about mistaken identities.  To have a secret rendezvous with the Soprano, our Tenor will pretend to be her uncle, another Bass.  Because she suspects the Tenor of being unfaithful with a Mezzo-soprano, the Soprano will pretend to be her own sister and attempt to seduce him.  The Baritone will pretend to be a vagabond and attempt to seduce the chorus.  The audience will pretend to know what’s going on, except for a guy in the fifth row who will attempt to seduce the stranger next to him.

In Act Three, everyone is revealed for who he or she really is. The old Bass is subject to ridicule, and the Baritone is banished. The Tenor and Soprano consummate their love in the opera’s signature aria.  Then they die.  That’s pretty much it – unless it’s Wagner, in which case, you have valkyries and giants and dwarves, and pretty much everyone wears horns and marches off to Valhalla.

Here are the plots of a few popular operas to illustrate:

Carmen – A passionate gypsy seduces a young soldier, tosses him aside for a matador, then she dies.

Madame Butterfly – An American naval officer seduces an innocent Japanese geisha.  She has his kid.  He dumps her.  She dies.

La Boheme – Young bohemians fall in love. He’s a poet; she has tuberculosis. They enjoy Paris. She dies.

Rigoletto – A nasty nobleman seduces his hunchbacked jester’s innocent daughter. The jester tries to get even.  She dies.

So you see, it’s really just gratuitous sex and violence with beautiful music.  And that’s still rock and roll to me.

 

October 21, 1772: A Bird Round the Neck Is Worth Two in the Bush

English poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge was one of the major literary voices in England at the end of the 18th century. He was born on October 21, 1772, and died on July 25, 1834. Along with his good The Ancient Marinerfriend William Wordsworth, he helped to pioneer the Romantic Age of English poetry.  He’s best known for Kubla Khan (In Xanadu did Kubla Khan /A stately pleasure-dome decree) written, according to Coleridge himself, in “a kind of a reverie” as a result of an opium dream, and Rime of the Ancient Mariner, a seafaring epic, sort of like Mutiny on the Bounty without the mutiny or Titanic without the glitz or the the sinking.

The poem begins at a wedding, where one of the guests, hoping to get into the open bar before it closes is distracted by an old salt “with long grey beard and glittering eye.” This, of course, is the titular ancient mariner – no surprise, since Coleridge identifies him as such in the very first line – who begins his tale:

‘The ship was cheered, the harbour cleared,

Merrily did we drop

Below the kirk, below the hill,

Below the lighthouse top.

The Sun came up upon the left,

Out of the sea came he!

And he shone bright, and on the right

Went down into the sea.

 

Even though the mariner has a nice way with words, the wedding guest is thirsty and he has spotted the bride leading other guests to the bar. But –

 

“The Wedding-Guest he beat his breast,

Yet he cannot choose but hear;

And thus spake on that ancient man,

The bright-eyed Mariner.

 

The mariner describes his journey which takes him into some rather nasty, cold (Vermont-like) weather:

 

“The ice was here, the ice was there,

The ice was all around:

It cracked and growled, and roared and howled,

Like noises in a swound!

 

We can only guess what a swound is – but it is a pretty nasty sounding thing and it does rhyme nicely.  Enter the albatross, seascape left:

 

“At length did cross an Albatross,

Through the fog it came;

As if it had been a Christian soul,

We hailed it in God’s name.

 

The albatross leads the ship and its crew to warmer waters, and a perfect spot for the mariner to conclude his tale as  the wedding guest suggests, nervously checking his watch. But the mariner drops a bomb instead:

 

“‘God save thee, ancient Mariner!

From the fiends, that plague thee thus!—

Why look’st thou so?’—With my cross-bow

I shot the ALBATROSS.

 

Well, wouldn’t you know it, the fair breeze that had delivered them from the cold disappears, and they are becalmed, unable to move, and now it’s getting hot:

 

“Day after day, day after day,

We stuck, nor breath nor motion;

As idle as a painted ship

Upon a painted ocean.

Water, water, every where,

And all the boards did shrink;

Water, water, every where,

Nor any drop to drink.

 

The crew members blame their plight entirely on the mariner. They hang the albatross around his neck and give him the cold shoulder. Eventually they spot a ship in the distance, and they watch for several verses in anticipation. As the vessel draws near, however, they discover that its passengers are Death (a skeleton) and the “Night-mare Life-in-Death” (a deathly-pale woman). These two are playing dice for the souls of the crew. Death wins the lives of the crew members and Life-in-Death the life of the Mariner. He will endure a fate worse than death as punishment for his killing of the albatross.

One by one, all of the crew members die, but the Mariner lives on:

“The many men, so beautiful!

And they all dead did lie:

And a thousand thousand slimy things

Lived on; and so did I.

 

Eventually, left alone with them, the mariner begins to appreciate the slimy things and even begins to pray for them.  And then the albatross falls from his neck. The bodies of the crew, possessed by good spirits, rise again and steer the ship back home, where it sinks again, leaving only the Mariner behind.

But his penance for shooting the albatross is not finished. He is forced to wander the earth annoying wedding guests with his story, a lesson for all those he meets:

 

“Farewell, farewell! but this I tell

To thee, thou Wedding-Guest!

He prayeth well, who loveth well

Both man and bird and beast.”

 

Unfortunately for the wedding guest, he has missed out on the open bar and his dinner (he ordered the chicken) is cold.

October 20, 1720: Met a Guy in Calico

It was the golden age of piracy — that period from the mid-17th to mid 18th century during which such luminaries as Henry Morgan, Captain Kidd and Blackbeard terrorized shipping throughout the New World.

New Providence Island in the Bahamas, was nicknamed the Pirate’s Republic because it was infamous as a home base for so many ne’er-do-wells. It was here in 1718 that Jack Rackham, who became known as Calico Jack thanks to his colorful attire, first sailed into notoriety. Calico Jack’s career started as member of the pirate crew under Captain Charles Vane. After robbing several ships off the coast of New York, Vane and his crew encountered a French man-o-war which was twice their size. Calico Jack wanted to do battle with the French, arguing that if they captured the ship, it would give them not only a dandy bit of plunder but a nice big ship as well. Vane demurred, ordering his ship to sail away to fight another day, even though most of the crew agreed with Jack.

Shortly afterward, Rackham called a vote in which the men branded Vane a coward, impeaching but not keelhauling him, nor treating him to any other pirate punishments. In fact, they sent him away with a nice gold watch for his years of service. Calico Jack was swept into office with a pillaging and plundering mandate.

One of Calico Jack’s most famous adventures as spelled out in A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the most notorious Pyrates, was an encounter with a Spanish warship. He and his men were docked in Cuba, refitting their small sloop, when the warship patrolling the Cuban coast entered the harbor, along with a small English sloop they had captured. Although the Spaniards spotted the pirates, low tide prevented their capture, so they remained in the harbor awaiting the higher tide of the morning. But during the night, that sneaky Calico Jack and his men rowed to the captured English sloop and overpowered its guards. Come dawn, the warship began firing at Calico Jack’s now vacated ship as Calico Jack and his men brazenly sailed past in their new ship.

Calico Jack and his men sailed back to Kingston where they promptly applied to the governor for a royal pardon, claiming that the devil Vane had made them do that pirate stuff. They received a pardon, but by 1720, Calico Jack and his new life partner Anne Bonny were back to plundering. Unfortunately, it was a short-lived comeback. They were captured on October 20 by pirate hunter Jonathan Barnet. Calico Jack was hanged in November of the same year.

Calico Jack’s career was short but he will always be remembered for one important contribution to the world of piracy: the design of his Jolly Roger flag, a skull with crossed swords.

TERRYCOVERjune13Please check out my humble contribution to the world of piracy — Terry and the Pirate — it’s got romance, adventure and plenty of gratuitous swashbuckling.

 

 

October 19, 1533: I’m Always Calculating Stifels

Michael Stifel (or Steifel or Styfel) was a German mathematician, priest and monk. He was also a big fan of Martin Luther, publishing a poem called On the Christian, righteous doctrine of Doctor Martin Luther (not really in the same neighborhood as Keats or Shelley). But what he came to be most famous for was a verse of a different color.

The German saying “to talk a Stiefel” or “to calculate a Stiefel” meaning to say or calculate nonsense can be traced right back to  Michael Stifel – all because of one particular calculation our mathematician/monk made back in 1532. A few years earlier, Stifel had become minister in quiet Lochau, where the tranquil life allowed him to dabble in mathematical studies. His particular interest was in one that he called “Wortrechnung” (word calculation), studying the statistical properties of letters and words in the bible.

As a result of these studies he published a book (publishing seems to be the downfall of many a good person), A Book of Arithmetic about the AntiChrist. A Revelation in the Revelation. Well, this had best seller written all over it. It had the sort of great hook a book needs to grab audiences – the rapidly approaching Judgment Day. To be specific – which Michael was – the world would end on October 19, 1533, at 8 a.m., German Standard Time.

One would think that a would-be Nostradamus – especially one with a statistical bent – would calculate the risk/reward of predicting the end of the world. If you’re wrong, there’s a pretty large helping of egg on your face, and if you’re right, there’s no one around to congratulate you. As you might guess, Stifel fell into the first category.

The townsfolk who, believing his prediction, did not plant crops or store foods and even burned their homes and possessions on the appointed day, were not amused. Stifel had to be taken into protective custody with the villagers chanting death threats outside his cell. He made no further predictions.

This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.
― T.S. Eliot

October 18, 1963: Space, the Feline Frontier

The story of cats in space is a dramatic tale indeed. It begins in an unlikely place with the 1957 Soviet launch of Sputnik 2, carrying of all felicettethings a dog named Laika. Laika was a stray found on the streets of Moscow who could have been the star of a dandy rags-to-riches shaggy dog story, except that things didn’t go all that well and the pooch perished under mysterious circumstances.

This was viewed as an early skirmish in the superpower space race to which NASA responded by sending a chimp into space and successfully returning him.

The French meanwhile had been plotting their own animal space probe. Fifteen cats had been chosen to undergo extensive training involving centrifuges, compression chambers and other medieval torture devices for a space mission in which the French would prove that they belonged at the table with the big guys and a cat would demonstrate to its fanciers everywhere that cats were superior to dogs in yet another way.

A pretty black and white Parisian chatte was eventually selected for the mission, because she was the only one who hadn’t become overweight during training, something to do with croissants most likely. On October 18, 1963, at 8:09 am, Chatte Félicette boarded a Véronique AGI 47 rocket at a base in the Algerian Sahara Desert and was blasted 97 miles into space. Fifteen minutes later, she parachuted safely to earth and pussycat immortality. Voilà!

 

October 17, 1814: This Round’s on Me

An unfortunate incident involving beer – aged porter to be precise – occurred in London back in 1814.

The central London parish of St Giles was, as slums go, one of the slummiest.  Although it has since been rather gentrified with theaters, Covent Garden and the British Museum nearby, it was then mostly squalid housing where immigrants crowded into its ramshackle buildings, often more thanbeer one family to a room. Near one end of the parish stood the massive Meux and Company Horse Shoe Brewery, its giant vats filled with thousands of gallons of aging porter.

One particular vat which held over 135,000 gallons had seen better days. Like the shanties surrounding the brewery, it suffered from age, and on October 17 it succumbed, bursting and letting loose enough precious liquid to give all of St. Giles and then some a pretty good buzz, although the fury with which it was released made tippling difficult. Like giant shaken cans of beer, nearby vats ruptured and joined the game of dominoes.

Within minutes the brick structure that was the Meux and Company Horse Shoe Brewery was breached, and the deluge roared down Tottenham Court Road, flinging aside or burying in debris anyone or anything in its path.

Homes caved in. A busy pub crumbled, burying a buxom barmaid and her ogling patrons for several hours.  All in all, nine people were killed by drink that day. Those who didn’t lose their lives lost everything they owned to evil alcohol. Soon after the suds subsided, survivors rushed in to save what they could of the precious brew, collecting one or more for the road in pots and cans.

St. Giles smelled like the morning after a particular robust party for weeks. The brewery was later taken to court over the accident, but they pleaded an “Act of God,” and the judge and jury bought it, leaving them blameless. The brewery even received reparations from the government.  God, it would seem, has a soft spot for brewers.

I am a firm believer in the people. If given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any national crisis. The great point is to bring them the real facts, and beer. ~ Abraham Lincoln

 

October 16, 1869: One More Giant for Mankind

In 1869, George Hull, a New York tobacconist, and his cousin, William Newell, a farmer, hired two men to dig a well on Newell’s farm. As theycardiff_ were digging, one of the men suddenly shouted: “I declare, some old Indian has been buried here!” ‘I declare’ is a tad short of ‘Eureka!’ but it got the point across; what the two men had discovered was, according to Hull, a perfectly preserved ten-foot-plus petrified giant.

Noting the incredible scientific implications of this discovery, Hull and Newell immediately did the scientific thing. They set up a tent over the giant and charged 25 cents for people who wanted to see it. Two days later, thanks to public demand, the price doubled to 50 cents. And the crowds doubled along with the price. Everyone wanted to see the amazing, colossal Cardiff Giant, as the stony corpse had come to be called.

Archaeological scholars stood at the back of the throngs shouting “fake, fake” but folks ignored them (folks generally ignore archaeologists). And they ignored the geologists who said there was no earthly reason to dig a well in the exact spot the giant had been found. A Yale palaeontologist, getting really worked up, called it “a most decided humbug.” Some Christian fundamentalists and preachers, came to the giant’s defense, however, citing some positive reviews in Genesis.  And we all know there were some mighty big people in the Bible.

Eventually, Hull sold his part-interest for $23,000 (close to half a million today) to a syndicate in Syracuse, New York, for exhibition. The giant continued to draw amazing crowds, so much so that P. T. Barnum offered $50,000 for the giant. When the syndicate turned him down, he hired an unscrupulous sculptor to create a plaster replica. Barnum put his giant on display in New York, claiming that his was the true giant, and that the Cardiff Giant was an impostor.

Then in December, Hull confessed to the press that he had faked the Cardiff Giant (he already had his $23,000). It had been carved out of a block of gypsum then treated with stains and acids to make the giant appear to be old and weathered.  (It had been whacked with steel knitting needles embedded in a board to simulate pores.) And the following February, both giants were declared fakes in court.

Epilogue: An Iowa publisher later bought the Cardiff Giant to use as a conversation piece in his basement rumpus room. In 1947 he sold it to the Farmers’ Museum in Cooperstown, New York, where it is still on display.

 

October 15, 1954: I Have People To Fetch My Sticks

Long before he debuted in his own television show on October 15, 1954, Rin Tin Tin had become an international celebrity. It was as good a rags-to-riches story as Hollywood could churn out. He was rescued rin-tin-tin_from a World War I battlefield by an American soldier who trained him to be an actor upon returning home. He starred in several silent films, becoming an overnight sensation and going on to appear in another two dozen films before his death in 1932.

Rinty (as he was known to his friends) was responsible for a great surge in German Shepherds as pets. The popularity of his films helped make Warner Brothers a major studio and pushed a guy named Darryl F. Zanuck to success as a producer.

During the following years Rin Tin Tin Jr. and Rin Tin Tin III kept the Rin Tin Tin legacy alive in film and on the radio. Rin Tin Tin IV was slated to take the franchise to television in The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin, but he flunked his screen test and was shamefully replaced by an upstart poseur named Flame.

The TV series featured an orphan named Rusty who was being raised by soldiers at a cavalry post known as Fort Apache.  Rin Tin Tin was the kid’s dog. It was a low budget affair, filmed on sets used for other productions with actors frequently called upon to play several soldiers, Apaches, and desperadoes in a single episode. Although it was children’s programming, you might not guess that by the lofty literary titles of many episodes: Rin Tin Tin Meets Shakespeare, Rin Tin Tin and the Barber of Seville, Rin Tin Tin and the Ancient Mariner, Rin Tin Tin and the Connecticut Yankee.

Meanwhile, IV stayed at home on his ranch, fooling visitors into believing he was actually a TV star (and perhaps contemplating a run for President).

Rated P. G.

“Freddie experienced the sort of abysmal soul-sadness which afflicts one of Tolstoy’s Russian peasants when, after putting in a heavy day’s work strangling his father, beating his wife, and dropping the baby into the city’s reservoir, he turns to the cupboards, only to find the vodka bottle wodehouseempty.” One line from someone who had a great knack for them, which he displayed in over 300 stories, 90 books, 30 plays and musicals, and 20 film scripts. Comic novelist P.G. Wodehouse, creator of Jeeves the butler, was born on this day in 1881 in Surrey, England.

 

He had the look of one who had drunk the cup of life and found a dead beetle at the bottom.

Mike nodded. A sombre nod. The nod Napoleon might have given if somebody had met him in 1812 and said, “So, you’re back from Moscow, eh?”

I could see that, if not actually disgruntled, he was far from being gruntled.

She looked as if she had been poured into her clothes and had forgotten to say ‘when.’

The fascination of shooting as a sport depends almost wholly on whether you are at the right or wrong end of the gun.

Every author really wants to have letters printed in the papers. Unable to make the grade, he drops down a rung of the ladder and writes novels.

It was my Uncle George who discovered that alcohol was a food well in advance of modern medical thought.

And she’s got brains enough for two, which is the exact quantity the girl who marries you will need.

At the age of eleven or thereabouts women acquire a poise and an ability to handle difficult situations which a man, if he is lucky, manages to achieve somewhere in the later seventies.

 

October 14, 1790: If It’s Thursday, This Must Be Pitcairn

When British ships arrived at Pitcairn Island in 1814, two men paddled out in canoes to meet them. Both spoke English well, impressing the officers and men of the ships with their refinement as they met on deck. Their civilized demeanor persuaded the ships’ captains that  the mutineers from the Bounty, had created a proper society (after alcoholism, murder and disease had killed most of them off), and did not merit prosecution for the takeover.

One of the two men was Thursday October Christian, son of Fletcher Christian and his Tahitian wife Mauatua. Fletcher, you will remember, was the ringleader of the mutiny that took place on the Bounty‘s voyage to Tahiti for breadfruit. Captain Philip Pipon, commander of one of the British ships, described Fletcher’s son Thursday as being “about twenty five years of age, a tall fine young man about six feet high, with dark black hair, and a countenance extremely open and interesting. He wore no clothes except a piece of cloth round his loins, a straw hat ornamented with black cock’s feathers, and occasionally a peacock’s, nearly similar to that worn by the Spaniards in South America, though smaller.”

Thursday October Christian, born on October 14, 1790, was the first child born on the Pitcairn Islands after the mutineers took refuge there. Born on a Thursday in October, he was given his name because his father wanted him to have “no name that will remind me of England,” forgetting perhaps that there are both Thursdays and Octobers in England. Captain Pipon referred to young Thursday as Friday October Christian,” because the Bounty had crossed the international date line going eastward, but the mutineers had somehow failed to adjust their calendars for this. The mutineers were living on a tropical island where everyone was running around naked. Is it any surprise that they didn’t know what day it was – or care?

As soon as Captain Pipon left, Thursday went back to his original name, not wanting to be confused with that other character from a story set on a tropical island.