On This Day in Rotten History...
On this day in 1362 – (654 years ago) – one of the most severe North Sea storm tides in recorded history, known as the “Grote Mandrenke” (the “Great Man-Drowner”), tore across Ireland, England, Holland, Denmark, and Germany. The storm was so powerful that it altered the shape of coastlines, destroyed ports and seaside towns, submerged islands, created new islands, and completely destroyed Rungholt, a wealthy city on the Danish island of Strand that was entirely washed out to sea. According to various estimates, between twenty-five and a hundred thousand people were killed. Fragments and artifacts from the lost city of Rungholt continued to turn up on North Sea beaches well into the twentieth century.
On this day in 1862 – (154 years ago) – at the Hartley coal mine in Northumberland, England, the cast-iron beam of a pumping engine broke and fell, blocking the mineshaft and trapping the miners below ground. Over the next several days, increasingly desperate attempts were made to rescue the miners, but they all failed. Two hundred four men and boys died, and to this day the Hartley disaster remains one of the worst mining accidents in British history. It’s credited with motivating the British Parliament to pass an act requiring all coal mines to have at least two shafts, thus offering miners a better chance of escape.
On this day in 1969 – (47 years ago) – a twenty-year-old Czech university student named Jan Palach walked into Wenceslas Square in central Prague, stopped in front of the Czech National Museum, doused himself with gasoline, and set himself on fire as a protest against the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia several months earlier, which had brought to an end the so-called Prague Spring — a short-lived liberalization of Soviet-style communist rule in that country. Palach died in a nearby hospital three days later. Before burning himself, he had sent letters to several people explaining that his suicide was meant to prod his demoralized fellow Czechs into resuming their resistance against Soviet domination. His funeral drew tens of thousands of people, and in the following weeks his fiery act of protest was repeated by twenty-six other young Czechs, seven of whom died. But the mass uprising Palach hoped to inspire didn’t really materialize until twenty years later, when the Berlin Wall opened and Soviet-backed governments fell in rapid succession across Eastern Europe. The spot where Palach set himself on fire is marked today by a bronze cross half-embedded in the pavement of Wenceslas Square.
Rotten History is written by Renaldo Migaldi.