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Rotten History - May 6 2017

On This Day in Rotten History...

In 1527 – (490 years ago) –  mutinous troops of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V invaded and sacked the city of Rome, which at the time was part of the Papal States. Pope Clement VII had allied with the Kingdom of France to resist growing pressure from the northern empire and the Habsburg dynasty, so he was seen as an enemy by Charles’s troops, who numbered some twenty to thirty thousand and — to make matters worse — were angry because they weren’t getting paid on time. The unruly soldiers poured into Rome, killing everyone they encountered, and forcing almost two hundred of the Vatican’s Swiss Guards into desperate hand-to-hand combat on the very steps of Saint Peter’s Basilica. Before being massacred, the Swiss Guards managed to hold off the intruders long enough for the pope to escape to his bunker. But Rome was devastated, and some forty-five thousand people were killed, wounded, or exiled. The invaders remained for months as corpses lay rotting in the streets, until the city was finally overcome by the plague.

In 1757 – (260 years ago) – the English poet Christopher Smart, having been deemed insane, was committed to Saint Luke’s Hospital for Lunatics, in London, one of two asylums where he would be confined for the next six years. It was a time of great debate about the nature of mental illness, but methods of treatment were still primitive, and some doctors even advocated physical beating. For his part, Smart never considered himself insane, and some acquaintances felt he’d been sent to the asylum without due cause. During his years there he was given to intense religious fervor, and he wrote obsessively, producing what are seen today as his greatest works — including the long poem “Jubilate Agno,” which was not published until 1939.

In 1937 – (80 years ago) – the German airship Hindenburg was about to land at Lakehurst, New Jersey, when it mysteriously caught fire and went down in a hellish inferno, killing thirty-six of its ninety-seven passengers and crew. The Hindenburg used explosive hydrogen as its lifting gas, instead of the much safer helium, because the United States had a worldwide monopoly on helium and would not export it to Nazi Germany. Even so, the builders of the Hindenburg were so confident in its safety that the high-end amenities included not only a restaurant kitchen with an electric stove, but a pressurized smoking lounge where the wealthy passengers could purchase and enjoy Cuban cigars. Exactly what ignited the Hindenburg’s giant hydrogen envelope remains unknown to this day, but static electricity has long been suspected. Two earlier airship disasters — one British and one American, both military — had actually killed more people. But it was the sensational film and radio reports of the Hindenburg explosion that destroyed public trust in airships and brought the era of luxury zeppelin travel to an abrupt end.

Rotten History is written by Renaldo Migaldi

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