April 15, 1912 -– The RMS Titanic sinks on its maiden voyage

It is probably the best known maritime tragedy in history. The RMS Titanic, the largest passnger ship afloat and pride of the White Star Line, was three days out of Southampton on its maiden voyage to New York City when it collided with an iceberg and sank. Of the 2223 passengers and crew, fully 1517 of them were drowned, largely due to an insufficiency of lifeboats.

It’s a matter of historical record that the eight members of the ship’s band continued to play as the ship sank, in a feat of gallantry intended to keep spirits high. All eight of these men died in the sinking. Debate has raged over what their final song was. Some claimed that is was ‘Autumn’, others that it was ‘Nearer My God To Thee’. The debate is further complicated by the fact that ‘Autumn’ could have referred to either hymn tune known as “Autumn” or the tune of the then-popular waltz “Songe d’Automne” (although neither of these tunes were included in the White Star Line songbook). Similarly, there are two arrangements of ‘Nearer My God To Thee’, one popular in Britain and the other in America (and the British one sounds not unlike ‘Autumn’) – and a third arrangement was found in the personal effects of band leader’s fiance.

"Untergang der Titanic", a painting showing a big ship sinking with survivors in the water and boats
By Willy Stöwer, died on 31st May 1931 – Magazine Die Gartenlaube, en:Die Gartenlaube and de:Die Gartenlaube, Public Domain, Link

As mentioned in:

Dance Band on the Titanic — Harry Chapin
Rest In Pieces (15 April 1912) — Metal Church

1911 — Jimmy Sharman’s Boxing Tent begins at the Ardlethan Show

Jimmy Sharman’s Boxing Tent is perhaps the best known – and most notorious – of the various travelling outback boxing shows that once went from town to town in Australia. It put on displays of bare-knuckle boxing as well as occasional bouts where locals could try their luck against the professional boxers.

It was a brutal sport, and often exploitative – but it was also one of the few ways a black man could make a living, albeit a dangerous one that might leave you maimed. The outback boxing circuit flourished for a few decades, but it largely faded away by the time of World War Two.

September 2, 1910 — Henri Rousseau dies

A painter of the Post-Impressionist school, whose work was largely in the Naive or Primitivist manners, Henri Julien Félix Rousseau was born in 1944. A self-taught painter, his works were not respected during his lifetime – indeed, they were often derided for what was seen as a ‘childish’ style.

However, after his death, he became noted as an influence on many of the painters who followed him, notably the Surrealist school and Pablo Picasso, and his work was re-evaluated and its merit seen (too late to do Rousseau any good). His influence continues undimmed even today – one of his paintings was recently the inspiration for certain elements of the animated film ‘Madagascar’.

Henri Rousseau
By Dornac – Bridgeman, Public Domain, Link

As mentioned in:

Done Too Soon — Neil Diamond

June 30, 1908 – The Tunguska Event

There has never been anything quite like it.

On June 30, 1908, something – we still don’t know what – streaked across the skies of Siberia, and exploded in the vicinity of Tunguska. At that time, Siberia was even more wild and uninhabited than it now is. The nearest witnesses were miles away, and most of the world remained blissfully unaware that anything had happened there.

But in 1920, Russian scientists began an investigation of the site that is still going on. They have discovered that the event was mostly likely a meteor that detonated in the air above Tunguska, devastating the taiga for miles in every direction in a manner very similar to that of a large thermonuclear explosion. If the course of the object had varied by only a few degrees, it might easily have hit somewhere else, where the damage and loss of life would have been considerably greater. As it is, there were no known deaths – although records, particularly of the nomadic Evenki people who lived in the region at that time, were not well-maintained.

Theories abound as to what might have caused the enormous explosion, and it says something that the crash-landing of alien spaceship is one of the tamer ones.

April 8, 1904 – Aleister Crowley begins writing “Liber Al vel Legis”

Crowley began writing the Liber Al vel Legis – literally, “The Book of the Law” in 1904 and wrote one chapter for three days, finishing the book on the tenth. Crowley claimed that the book was dictated to him by an angelic entity named Aiwass.

For the rest of his life, Crowley insisted that Aiwass was a separate entity from himself, claiming that the spirit was his Holy Guardian Angel. Others have suggested that Aiwass was in fact a part of Crowley’s own mind, citing the stylistic similarities between this book and his other works.

Crowley published the book later in 1904, and the world was treated to his proclamation of the new Aeon of Horus. The book has never been out of print for more than a century now, which is surely evidence of some magickal power on Crowley’s part.

Liber AL Vel Legis.png
By Aleister Crowley – Liber AL Vel Legis, Public Domain, Link

As mentioned in:

Do What Thou Wilt — Lords of the New Church

March 9, 1902 — Gustav Mahler and Alma Schindler are married

Mahler and Schindler first met in November of 1901. Their marriage was considered a bad idea by most of their friends and family, but Alma was already pregnant with their first child by then (she was born in November of the same year) by their wedding day. She was followed by a second child two years later.

Alma and Gustav’s marriage was tumultuous – Mahler was diagnosed with a defective heart in 1907, and the family moved from Vienna to New York City in 1908. Mahler himself died in 1911, but Alma lived on until 1964.

YoungAlmaMahler.jpg
By Not known; Specht does not identify photographer – Scanned and cropped from PhotoDirect.com Originally published in Specht, Richard: Gustav Mahler, Plate 5, Schuster & Loeffler, Berlin 1913, PD-US, Link

As mentioned in:

Alma — Tom Lehrer

September 7, 1901 — The Boxer Rebellion ends

The Boxer Rebellion was a four year long uprising by native Chinese who fought against Japanese and European imperialism. The very name of the event is a textbook example of such imperialism: how dare the ungrateful peasantry of China reject the gifts of conquest, opium, economic disruption and famine that the Great Powers of the world had chosen to inflict upon them? An Eight Nation Alliance consisting of the United States, Japan, the United Kingdom, Austria-Hungary, Russia, France, Germany and Italy set out to teach them the error of their ways.

Not that the Boxers were without their faults too – there were massacres of Christian missionaries and Chinese Christians, with an estimated 100,000 civilians killed by the rebels. (Another 5000 civilians were killed by the Alliance.) There is no record of how many Boxers were slain, but approximately 2000 Chinese soldiers and 1000 Alliance soldiers were killed in the fighting, before the Eight Nation Alliance forced China to sign a humiliating peace accord on September 7, 1901. The Boxer Protocol’s terms included the execution of government officials who had supported the Boxers, an indemnity payment so great that it exceeded China’s total annual tax income and the requirement for China to pay for the occupying garrisons of its conquerors.

April 3, 1897 — Johannes Brahms dies

A composer of the Romantic school, Johannes Brahms in his 64 years associated with many of the other greats of his era, such as Liszt and Schumann. His works include a dozen sonatas, four symphonies, four concertos, a number of waltzes and a great number of variations, a form which he is particularly known for.

Brahms developed cancer of either the liver or the pancreas which eventually killed him. He is buried in the Zentralfriedhof of Vienna, where he lived in his last years.

June 2, 1896 — Gugliemo Marconi applies to patent the radio

Although there has been considerable controversy over the years regarding who actually invented radio – controversy not helped by Marconi himself being at times over-willing to claim credit for the work of others – it is now generally agreed that it was Marconi himself who first invented radio. (The disputes mostly revolve around who invented various later refinements of Marconi’s original patent.)

That patent – British Patent 12039 “Improvements in Transmitting Electrical impulses and Signals, and in Apparatus therefor” – was applied for on June 2 of 1896, with the complete specification being provided on March 2 of the following year, and the patent as a whole being accepted on July 2, 1897.

Unfortunately for Marconi, Tesla had been granted similar patents in America, and the two men would spend decades locked acrimonious dispute over the matter. In fact, in America it would only be resolved by a court decision after both men had died – the court found in favour of Tesla. But perhaps Marconi won anyway – it’s his name, not Tesla’s, which is used as a synonym for ‘radio’ even today.

Guglielmo Marconi.jpg
By Pach Brothers – This image is available from the United States Library of Congress‘s Prints and Photographs division
under the digital ID cph.3a40043.
This tag does not indicate the copyright status of the attached work. A normal copyright tag is still required. See Commons:Licensing for more information., Public Domain, Link

As mentioned in:

We Built This City — Starship

December 24, 1895 – “Stagger” Lee Shelton kills William Lyons

Lee Shelton (sometimes spelled Sheldon) killed William Lyons in a bar run by one Bill Curtis in St Louis, on Christmas Eve, 1895.

Shelton was a cab driver who moonlighted as a pimp – he was in fact a member of a group of fashion-conscious pimps called the Macks. Perhaps this explains his murder of Lyons, who, in the course of a lengthy argument with Shelton, grabbed the other man’s hat and refused to return it even when Shelton drew on him. So Shelton shot him.

He was convicted of the murder, and spent the rest of his life in prison, where he died of tuberculosis in 1912. He almost certainly heard at least one version of the multitude of variants that exist of the song about his crime.

The above selection includes just a few of my favoourite versions – there are literally hundreds out there.