June 24, 1947: Bad Dream at 9,000 Feet

At about three in the afternoon on June 24, 1947, Kenneth Arnold, a recreational private pilot, was heading toward Yakima, Washington. Flying at 9,000 feet, Arnold saw nine objects flying in formation out of the side window of his airplane. He watched them bob, weave, and dart about – showing off at an incredible speed. These strange craft were not your traditional flying machine shape; they had no nose or tail, but rather were perfectly round, metallic and highly polished.  Arnold radioed in his sighting. It must have been a slow news day for when he landed at the Pendleton field in Oregon, he found a full news conference waiting for him. It was there that Arnold used the words that found legs with scary space phenomena enthusiasts everywhere. He said that these strange flying objects looked like saucers skipping across water.

In addition to being the first use of the term ‘flying saucers,’ it is generally considered to be the ShatnerTZ_5046first widely reported UFO sighting in the United States (even though our friend Harold Dahl saw his flying doughnut a few days earlier). Perhaps because there was a corroborative sighting ten days later (although people were now beginning to see UFOs more often than pigeons).  A United Airlines crew also spotted five to nine disk-like objects over Idaho that paced their plane for 10 to 15 minutes before suddenly disappearing. (This may have been the very flight on which William Shatner saw one of the actual aliens chewing on the wing – but that’s an allusion for another day.)

The United States Air Force officially classified Arnold’s sighting as a mirage.

And some ufologists (yes, ufologists) began to express doubts about the psychology of the man when he reported several other UFO sightings in the years that followed, particularly his report of two living transparent UFOs that he characterized as space animals with the ability to change their density.  And a fondness for chewing on the wings of airplanes.

 

Somebody told me it was frightening how much topsoil we are losing each year, but I told that story around the campfire and nobody got scared. ~ Jack Handey

June 23, 1626: Another Fish Story

A codfish was brought to market in Cambridge, England, on this day in 1626. Codfish were probably brought to market every day in 1626 – and in 1627 and throughout the centuries, but this was a rather unusual fish. Upon being opened, it was found to have a book in its stomach.  There are plenty of  fish in books, but how many books in fish are there?

The book had seen better days, but it remained readable. It had been written by one John Frith and included several essays on religious subjects evidently written by Frith when in prison. Oddly enough, he had been confined in a fish cellar where many of his fellow prisoners died from smelling too much salt cod. Frith got past the salt cod but was eventually taken to the Tower, and in 1533 was burned at the stake for unacceptable religious beliefs.  How he got his essays – which were no doubt inflammatory – into that cod is still a mystery.

The folks at Cambridge reprinted the work, which had been totally forgotten for a hundred years until it turned up inside the fish.  The reprint was called Vox Piscis, which would translate to “voice of the fish.”  There’s definitely a morale booster for writers here:  When Random House says no, go find yourself a big fish.

I know the human being and fish can co-exist peacefully. ― George W. Bush

June 22, 1774: Run Silent, Run Deep

In 1774, John Day, an ignorant but ingenious English millwright, fancied that he had devised a plan by which he could remain completely

underwater at any depth for at least 24 hours. The contraption he had devised for this feat would afford him a degree of comfort until, at his leisure, he returned to the surface.  Day could think of no useful purpose for his invention other than making money by wagering on his feat. He therefore contacted a local gambler who agreed to furnish funds for the construction of Day’s diving machine for a lion’s share of all the bets gained by it.

If nothing else, Day’s plan had the virtue of simplicity. His machine was merely a watertight box attached to a weight by means of screws. After entering the box and sealing the entrance, the vessel would be sunk and would remain underwater until, at the designated time, Day would remove the screws and he and the box would rise to the surface.

The machine was finished, bets were taken, and everyone convened at a designated spot on Plymouth Sound where the water was 132 feet deep. Day entered the compartment with a comfortable chair, a watch, some biscuits, a bottle of water and a candle.  Perhaps had he taken a basic science book with him — it may have enlightened him (if he read fast enough) but at that point it wouldn’t have helped.   The box was tightly closed and sunk 132 feet to the bottom from where neither it nor the unfortunate John Day ever arose.

I must confess that my imagination refuses to see any sort of submarine doing anything but suffocating its crew and floundering at sea.H. G. Wells

June 21, 1947: Plan 10 from Outer Space

In 1947, shortly after noon, Harold A. Dahl, who had spent the day scavenging for drifting logs in Puget Sound, near Tacoma, Washington, saw something. It wasn’t a drifting log.  Actually it was four or five somethings. They were shaped like doughnuts (he had already eaten, so it wasn’t his stomach’s imagination, and none of the objects were glazed or chocolate-covered).  They were overhead.  And they were flying in formation.

Dahl described these curiosities in detail. He said he could see blue sky through the holes in the center of the discs, and that there were portholes lining the inside of the ring. One of the craft appeared to be having engine trouble (if indeed it had an engine). A second doughnut came alongside, then retreated. At this point, things began being tossed out through the inner portholes of the troubled doughnut. Stuff began raining on and hitting the little boat, damaging its windshield, the wheel house and a light fixture, wounding Dahl’s son and killing his dog Shep.

The next morning, even though Dahl had not publicly described the incident, a mysterious man in black visited Dahl. He was driving a new black 1947 Buick and had the air of a government official. “I know a great deal more about this experience of yours than you will want to believe,” the man said cryptically (and rather dramatically). He also made not-so-subtle threats that Dahl’s family might be in danger. As a result, Dahl later claimed the UFO sighting was a hoax, but even later suggested he had claimed it was a hoax to avoid bringing harm to his family. His son, however, claimed not to have been on the boat.  And Dahl’s dog wasn’t really named Shep.

None of this is fooling conspiracy theorists who have suggested one great big cover-up which they follow directly to the executive boardroom of none other than Krispy Kreme.

 

Inanimate objects are classified scientifically into three major categories – those that don’t work, those that break down, and those that get lost. ― Russell Baker

June 20, 1890: Painting Outside the Lines

Oscar Wilde’s only published novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray, appeared as the lead story in Lippincott’s Monthly Magazine in the July 1890 issue, released on June 20.

In the novel, the title character is the subject of a painting by artist Basil Hallward. Basil is impressed by Dorian’s beauty and becomes infatuated with him. Dorian is also infatuated by Dorian’s beauty, especially the beauty in the painting, and more than annoyed that the man in the painting will remain the same, while Dorian himself will get old and wrinkled and forget people’s names and so forth. Obviously the only answer is to put his soul on the market, which he does, with the purchaser (you know who) promising that the painting will age while Dorian himself stays the same.

In an apparent effort to make the painting age as quickly as possible, Dorian embarks on a life of debauchery, and each sin takes its toll on the portrait.

The book had about the same effect on British critics as Dorian’s naughtiness had on the painting. “Vulgar”, “unclean”, “poisonous” and “discreditable” were a few of their nicer comments. “A tale spawned from the leprous literature of the French Decadents – a poisonous book, the atmosphere of which is heavy with the mephitic odours of moral and spiritual putrefaction,” said the Daily Chronicle.   And this was after Wilde’s editor had already deleted a lot of “objectionable” text before it made its first appearance in Lippincott’s, eliminating titillating bits of debauchery and elements of homosexuality.

Deciding that the novel contained things that might upset an innocent woman, the editor cut further, removing many more decadent passages before the book was published in 1891.

June 19, 1885: Beware the French Bearing Gifts

In 1885, the French ship Isere sailed into New York Harbor carrying 214 crates filled with 350 libertypieces of a 305-foot high jigsaw that had been crafted in France and would, over the next four months, be re-assembled on an awaiting pedestal on Bedloe Island (now called Liberty Island) – there to stand for the next 132 years (so far).

Once constructed, this would, of course, be the Statue of Liberty or “Liberty Enlightening the World,” to those not on a first-name basis. It was a gift from France to the United States back during the two countries’ honeymoon days.   Actually it was something of a joint enterprise, the French providing the statue and the U.S. the pedestal on which it would stand.

French sculptor Frederic Auguste Bartholdi began designing the statue in 1876, working with Alexandre Gustave Eiffel, the designer of the Eiffel Tower. Richard Morris Hunt, designer of New York City’s first apartment building, designed the pedestal. Given his background, one might have expected his pedestal to house several luxury apartments, a missed funding opportunity: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to rent 3BR LUX APT, LWR FLR, UNF, HRBR VIEW.”

As it was, funding of the statue was a bit of an issue. Both countries faced challenges in getting money for the project. The French charged public fees, held fundraising events, and used money from a lottery to finance the statue. One notable fundraising method in the U.S. was a traveling arm. The statue’s torch-bearing arm was displayed at the Centennial Exposition in 1876.  After the exhibition closed, it was transported to New York, where it remained on display in Madison Square Park for several years before being returned to France to be reunited with its torso. The French, in a bit of Gallic oneupsmanship, exhibited the head at the 1878 Paris World’s Fair.

The plan to display Lady Liberty’s breasts in Boston was banned before it got off the drawing board, and a nationwide tour of her feet failed to muster sufficient enthusiasm.

The Statue of Liberty is no longer saying, ‘Give me your poor, your tired, your huddled masses.’ She’s got a baseball bat and yelling, ‘You want a piece of me?’ Robin Williams

June 17, 1972: CREEPs That Go Bump in the Night

It was the middle of the night in June 1972, and while much of the nation slept, something was burglarafoot at a large apartment complex in the Foggy Bottom area of Washington DC. A security guard noticed pieces of tape covering the latch on the locks on several doors, leaving the doors unlocked. He removed the tape, naively thinking nothing of it – the wind maybe?  (He evidently had never read a suspense novel.)  An hour later, he discovered that the locks had been retaped and realized that this was something more than just the wind. He called the police who discovered not just one but five intruders in the offices belonging to the Democratic National Committee.

     The five men were charged with attempted burglary and attempted interception of telephone and other communications. In September, a grand jury indicted them and two other men (E. Howard Hunt, Jr. and G. Gordon Liddy) for conspiracy, burglary, and violation of federal wiretapping laws.

     The men who broke into the office were tried and convicted in early 1973.  An investigation, tied all five men to CREEP. CREEP is the loving acronym applied to the 1972 Committee to Re-elect the President, the President being Richard Milhouse Nixon. Trial judge, John J. Sirica, (who evidently did read suspense novels) suspected a conspiracy involving people at the pinnacles of government.

     In March 1973, James McCord, one of the original gang of five claimed that he was told to plead guilty. He implicated Attorney General John Mitchell and other top Nixon aides, who began to topple like so many Republican dominoes, and the June 17 Watergate robbery quickly escalated into one of the juiciest political scandals of the century.  Although many have tried to top it, none have succeeded.  Until now, perhaps.

 

She fitted into my biggest arm-chair as if it had been built round her by someone who knew they were wearing arm-chairs tight about the hips that season ~ P. G. Wodehouse

June 15, 1937: Reefer Madness

In 1937, Congress passed the Marihuana Tax Act which levied a tax of one dollar on anyone who dealt commercially in marijuana. The bill had been written using the slang term “marihuana” throughout, obscuring the fact that it covered the plant’s legitimate uses in medicine, where it was broadly known as cannabis and in the fiber industry as hemp. The Act did not itself criminalize their possession, but regulations and restrictions on the sale of cannabis as a drug had been around since the previous century. In effect, the bill made it impossible for anyone to deal with call it what you will in any form.

     Conspiracy theorists maintained that business tycoons Andrew Mellon, Randolph Hearst, and the Du Pont family were behind passage of the Act as a way to reduce the size of the hemp industry. Hemp had became a very cheap substitute for the paper marijuana-propagandapulp that was used in the newspaper industry and as such was a threat to Hearst’s extensive timber holdings. Mellon had invested heavily in the Du Pont family’s new synthetic fiber nylon that was competing with hemp.The campaign that Hearst’s newspapers had been staging against the dangers of the recreational use of the”powerful narcotic in which lurks MURDER! INSANITY! DEATH!” was therefore disingenuous. (‘Beware the evils of hemp’ didn’t quite cut it.   “Reading newspapers printed on hemp will lead to degradation and reading the New York Post.”)

     The legislation effectively killed the hemp industry and the medical use of cannabis, and the ensuing years of “reefer madness” completed its evolution to the abominable recreational drug it has become (although it has begun to make a bit of a comeback).

 

June 14, 1287: Prose and Khans

In 1287, Kublai Khan, on a bit of a tear through Asia, defeated the forces led by princes of Mongolia and Manchuria. Kublai was a grandson of Genghis, another Khan known for being rather hard to get along with. Like his grandfather, Kublai was a holy terror right from infancy when he frequently seized power from fellow toddlers. Eventually, Kublai pushed the Mongol Empire to new heights, creating a unified, militarily powerful China and gaining international attention in the process.

Marco Polo, in the accounts of his travels, made Kublai well-known to western audiences, and Samuel Taylor Coleridge added a romantic aura in the early 19th century with his description of Kublai (Kubla to Coleridge) Khan’s summer cottage at Xanadu:

     In Xanadu did Kubla Khan

     A stately pleasure-dome decree:

     Where Alph, the sacred river, ran

     Through caverns measureless to man

     Down to a sunless sea.

     When the sacred river Alph plunged into that sunless sea it naturally created a great waterfall. In the rush of this waterfall, the voices of Kubla’s ancestors could be heard — that strident, discordant one being Genghis.

 

It turns out that, at social gatherings, as a source of entertainment, conviviality, and good fun, I rank somewhere between a sprig of parsley and a single ice-skate. ~ Dorothy Parker

June 13, 1231: Listen Up, Little Fishes

anthonySt. Anthony of Padua was a medieval saint who gained great fame in Italy for his zealous rooting out of heretics.  As a preaching friar he might be heard to shout: “There are 27 known heretics in the State Department.” But he didn’t just discover heretics; he employed miracles to cure them of their heresy. Most of these miracles involved the use of animals, for he seemed to get along quite well with critters.

     On one occasion, having discovered a person harboring heretical opinions,  Friar Anthony, to convince the heretic of his errant ways, caused the fishes in a nearby lake to lift up their heads and listen to him.  Now unlike Doctor Doolittle who talked to the animals, Friar Anthony preached to them.  And he preached one fine sermon to those attentive fishes.  And when those fishes all shouted “Amen!” at the conclusion of the sermon, that heretic was converted and stayed converted.

Another day,  another heretic (there was no shortage of heretics – still isn’t), Anthony caused the man’s mule, after three days of no food, to kneel down and pray instead of rushing to eat a bundle of hay that was set before it.  Another conversion.

     St. Anthony was also known as a protector of animals (although starving a mule for three days might be considered counter-intuitive) particularly of pigs. A contemporary described him as the universally accepted patron of hogs, frequently having a pig for a companion – possibly because, as a hermit living in a hole in the earth and eating roots, he and the hogs had in common both their diet and their lodging.

     What with his lifestyle and zealousness, he cut short his days, departing on June 13, 1231, at the age of 35, leaving pigs and heretics alike to their own devices.

I am fond of pigs. Dogs look up to us. Cats look down on us. Pigs treat us as equals. ― Winston Churchill