Manufacturing Dissent Since 1996
New interviews throughout the week

ROTTEN HISTORY

Posted by Alexander Jerri

On This Day in Rotten History...

In 1911 – (106 years ago) – A total of 123 women and 23 men were killed in one of the deadliest industrial fires in US history. The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, which manufactured women’s blouses, occupied the top three floors of a building in Greenwich Village, New York. Though smoking was not allowed, some workers snuck cigarettes on the job, and it’s believed that someone may have tossed a smouldering match or butt into a waste bin full of cotton scrap. Either that, or one of the sewing machines caused an electric spark. In rooms full of flammable cloth, the fire spread fast, but the workers soon found that some exits were blocked by flames, while others had been locked shut to keep anyone from stealing fabric or taking unauthorized work breaks. Fire trucks arrived quickly, but their ladders could not reach the building’s upper floors. After the elevators failed and a poorly maintained external fire escape collapsed, the desperate workers began jumping from the windows, to die as they hit the concrete sidewalks below.  In age they ranged from fourteen to forty-three, and most were recent Jewish or Italian immigrants.

In 1947 – (70 years ago) – in Centralia, Illinois, one hundred eleven people died in a coal mine explosion, caused by combustion of heavy coal dust buildup in the underground tunnels. This danger and others had been cited repeatedly by inspectors, and miners’ union reps had taken their protests as high as the office of the Illinois governor — but the problem was not properly addressed by the mine company management or by state regulators. One hundred forty-two miners were in the mine when it blew up. Of the thirty-one who came out alive, many immediately went back down to help rescue their colleagues. During those rescue operations, state mining director Robert Medill almost caused a violent uprising by ordering that electric power be turned back on, to speed up the work and get the mine back on line. But state inspectors quickly shut him down, with evidence that doing so could have caused another explosion. The governor fired Medill a week later. The mine disaster inspired a song by Woody Guthrie.

Rotten History is written by Renaldo Migaldi


Posted by Alexander Jerri

On This Day in Rotten History...

In the year 222 – (1,795 years ago) – the eighteen-year-old Roman emperor Elagabalus was ambushed and beheaded in a plot instigated by his own grandmother. Some historians portray him as an eccentric who alienated Romans by appointing unqualified people to high positions, forcing changes to public religion and rituals, and violating sexual taboos. For example, he married a Vestal Virgin while keeping a stable of male lovers. In some accounts, Elagabalus was not only fond of cross-dressing, but actually turned tricks as a prostitute, selling himself in taverns and in the imperial palace. The ancient Roman historian Cassius Dio claims that the emperor also offered huge sums of money, in vain, to any surgeon who could give him a sex change — and some recent authors have theorized that he may well have been transsexual or transgender. But other modern writers suspect that Elagabalus’s reputation was mostly fabricated after his death by the political rivals who killed him. After his headless body was dragged around Rome and dumped into the Tiber River, his name was removed from the official public record, and many of his political allies were also killed.

In 1864 – (153 years ago) – a tiny crack was noticed in a newly constructed earthen dam at Bradfield Reservoir in central England. In late afternoon, the crack was barely wide enough to accomodate a knife blade. But throughout the evening it steadily grew, provoking alarm among workers who finally resorted to using gunpowder in a desperate attempt to open an emergency spillway and relieve the water pressure. Their efforts failed, and just before midnight the dam collapsed, dumping almost seven hundred million gallons of water in a raging torrent that surged into the nearby industrial town of Sheffield. The flood killed some 250 people, and destroyed more than 400 houses, 20 bridges, and 100 factories and shops. The dam was one of only two designed by the civil engineer Sir Robert Rawlinson. His other dam lasted just twenty-nine years, requiring constant expensive repairs the whole time. In contrast, nine other dams built by Rawlinson’s rivals around the same time, and in the same area, are still in service today.

In 1918 – (99 years ago) – at Fort Riley, Kansas, Private Albert Gitchell, a US Army mess cook, was diagnosed with a new and unknown strain of the flu. He was the first confirmed victim of what soon became a worldwide influenza pandemic that killed from fifty to a hundred million people, mostly young adults, over the next three years. Though Gitchell’s was the first confirmed case, experts believe that the flu virus may have claimed other victims up to two years earlier — especially in Europe, where it flourished in the unsanitary conditions of the First World War. The virus eventually spread across the globe. The Brazilian island of Marajó, at the mouth of the Amazon, was the only populated area on earth to avoid infection.

Rotten History is written by Renaldo Migaldi


Posted by Alexander Jerri

On This Day in Rotten History...

In 1238 – (779 years ago) – a hastily mustered Russian army led by Grand Prince Yuri II of Vladimir-Suzdal was attacked by an army of the Mongol Hordes led by the general Burundai at the Sit River, near what is now Sonokovo, Russia — some three hundred miles southeast of modern-day St. Petersburg. The Mongols had already sacked Prince Yuri’s capital, after which he and his brothers pursued a counterattack, only to find that they were surrounded. Yuri and his army tried to flee, but made it only as far as the Sit River, where the entire force was taken out in a bloody battle in which the Mongols also suffered heavy losses. This key event inaugurated two centuries of Mongol domination of modern-day Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus.

In 1519 – (498 years ago) – the Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés made his first landing on the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico, accompanied by some eleven ships, five hundred men, thirteen horses, and plenty of cannon, guns, and other weapons. Here, after claiming the land for the Spanish crown, Cortés began his campaign of conquest, forming key alliances with certain locals in order to vanquish the natives more generally. Cortés’s campaign would lead him up through Veracruz and then west to the great Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan. Arriving in that city with a large army, he met with the imperial ruler Moctezuma and established friendly relations with him in order to learn his weaknesses — the better to wipe him out two years later, destroy his city, and take possession of the empire, which he personally ruled for three years.

In 1986 – (31 years ago) – after playing a gig in Winter Park, Florida, with his bandmates in The Band, the singer and multi-instrumentalist Richard Manuel returned to his hotel room at a nearby Quality Inn, drank a bottle of Grand Marnier, entered the bathroom, and used a belt to hang himself from the shower curtain rod. An autopsy would later reveal cocaine in his bloodstream. In the Seventies, Manuel had suffered from depression and struggled with drug addiction and alcoholism, which had curbed his songwriting and damaged his singing voice. But in the Eighties, spending time in rehab had seemed to help. He died at the age of forty-two.

Rotten History is written by Renaldo Migaldi


Posted by Alexander Jerri

On This Day in Rotten History...

In 1336  – (681 years ago) – four thousand village defenders of a fortess in Pilėnai, Lithuania, operating under the command of a prince named Margiris, were attacked by a force of the crusading Teutonic Knights, who sought to take their fortress and convert them to Christianity. Realizing they could not mount an effective defense, but unwilling to convert or otherwise allow the invaders a victory, the Lithuanian villagers burned down their own fortress and embarked on a mass suicide of the community, killing each other and themselves. Prince Margiris cut down his wife with a sword, killed his own guards and close advisors, and threw all their bodies into the flames before taking the fatal blade to himself. Villagers, following his lead, began burning their possessions and killing the people around them. According to one account, an old woman killed a hundred other people with an ax before using it on herself. A very few villagers did manage to escape the insanity on horseback, but the rest were found dead by the Teutonic invaders when they finally entered the blood-soaked fortress. For centuries, the mass suicide at Pilėnai has been celebrated by Lithuanians as an example of mass heroism, and it has inspired works of poetry, fiction, and music. But historians and archeologists still pursue contradictory theories as to where exactly the event took place.

In 1970 – (47 years ago) – one of the great American artists of the twentieth century, Mark Rothko, who used huge, vibrant fields of color in transcendent canvases full of tension and sensuality, was found dead in the kitchen of his studio, having sliced his arms open with a razor. An autopsy revealed that he had also overdosed on antidepressants. Rothko had suffered from depression, but had also developed an aortic aneurysm that was making it physically hard for him to paint. At the time of his suicide, he had just finished fourteen large canvases for the Rothko Chapel, under construction in Houston. Due to his illness, he needed two assistants to help him apply the paint, and he never lived to see the finished chapel. His suicide triggered an ugly legal battle between his heirs and his executors. And in recent years, some of his paintings have fetched eight-figure sums on the international art market.

Rotten History is written by Renaldo Migaldi


Posted by Alexander Jerri

On This Day in Rotten History...


In 1873  – (144 years ago) – a thirty-five-year-old former monk named Vasil Levsky, who had led a movement to liberate Bulgaria from rule by the Ottoman Empire, was executed by hanging. Inspired by the French Revolution and by European efforts toward liberal democracy and human rights, Levsky had worked for several years to create a network of secret committees across Bulgaria to prepare for a coordinated armed uprising. But when a few of his rebel colleagues pulled a robbery without his approval and were arrested, they betrayed him to the Ottoman police. Learning of this, Levsky tried to escape to Romania, but he never made it to the border. Today he’s regarded as one of Bulgaria’s national heroes.   

In 1930 – (87 years ago) – at the International Air Exposition in Saint Louis, Nellie Jay, a two-year-old Guernsey cow from Bismarck, Missouri, became the first cow to fly in an airplane. As part of the stunt, she was milked during the flight, producing twenty-four quarts of milk that were sealed into cardboard cartons and parachuted to spectators on the ground below. To maintain their milk production, dairy cows are kept continuously pregnant and their calves are taken away from them soon after birth, often to be slaughtered for veal. When Nellie Jay reached middle age and her milk days were over, she, too, was sent to the slaughterhouse.        

In 1943 – (74 years ago) – two students at the University of Munich, the siblings Hans and Sophie Scholl, were arrested by the Gestapo for advocating resistance to Germany’s Nazi regime. They were founding members of the White Rose, a mostly student group that passed pamphlets and other materials hand-to-hand throughout southern Germany. Other White Rose activists were also arrested that day, and more were caught in the days thereafter. Hans and Sophie were among those found guilty of treason and executed by guillotine. Others went to prison until the end of World War II. Hans and Sophie Scholl had hoped that the Nazis’ recent defeat at Stalingrad would turn German public sentiment against the war. But on the very day of their arrest, Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels made a live radio speech in which he cited the Stalingrad debacle to argue for an escalation into what he called “total war.” He made the speech at the Berlin Sportpalast — which, in the years after Nazi Germany’s defeat, would go on to host concerts by the Beach Boys, Frank Zappa, Jimi Hendrix, and Pink Floyd before finally being demolished in 1973.

Rotten History is written by Renaldo Migaldi


Posted by Alexander Jerri

On This Day in Rotten History...

In 244 – (1,773 years ago) – the nineteen-year-old Roman emperor Gordian III was killed by his own troops after being defeated by the Persians at the ancient city of Circesium in what is now Syria. The Roman Empire was in a period of bloody civil war, border insecurity, and economic collapse. Young Gordian had been made emperor six years earlier, in what is known as the Year of the Six Emperors. In that year (238), a revolt against the tyrant Maximius had resulted in a frail, elderly provincial governor being proclaimed Emperor Gordian I, and the old man had insisted that his son share power with him as Gordian II. The father-and-son co-emperors were popular with the Senate, but only lasted a month before being attacked at Carthage by an army led by a rival governor loyal to Maximius. When Gordian II was killed in the battle, his father, Gordian I, promptly committed suicide. The Senate quickly responded by installing two new co-emperors, Pupienus and Balbius, who not only mistrusted and feared each other but were hated by the Praetorian Guard. After just three months in power, they too, were killed. So it was in desperation that the Senate then turned to the terrified thirteen-year-old grandson of the first Gordian and nephew of the second, declaring him Emperor Gordian III. The young man struggled to grow into his role, but he died at Circesium, probably in a mutiny led by the general known as Philip the Arab. Philip then succeeded Gordian III as Roman emperor — and he, too, would be killed a few years later.

In 1823 – (194 years ago) – in Valletta, the capital of Malta, it was the last day of the public celebration of Carnival before the Catholic religious period of Lent. A church convent was observing its annual tradition of handing out free bread and fruit to poor children from the area, partly in order to keep them away from the bawdy confusion of the outdoor festival. Since Malta was experiencing a famine that year, the crowd of children was especially large, with some adults sneaking in as well. In a corridor of the old convent, the crowd got out of control and began pushing and shoving against a locked door. Soon a lamp went out, leaving the corridor in darkness, and the shoving got worse. Screams were heard as children were trampled, crushed, and suffocated. By the time people outside managed to pry the door open, more than a hundred children were dead.

Rotten History is written by Renaldo Migaldi


Posted by Alexander Jerri

On This Day in Rotten History...


In 1555 — (462 years ago) — the English Protestant clergyman John Rogers was executed for heresy on the order of Queen Mary I, daughter of Henry VIII. The new queen resented her father’s break with the papacy and was now keen to reestablish Catholicism in England. During her five-year reign she would have more than 280 Protestants executed, thus earning the nickname “Bloody Mary.” Rogers was the first of those Protestant martyrs. Like the others, he was burned alive at the stake.     

In 1899 — (118 years ago) — units of the US military based in Manila, having taken possession of the Philippines from Spain the previous year in the Spanish-American War, found themselves in armed conflict with Philippine nationalist insurgents who were just as eager to get rid of the Americans as they had been to get rid the Spaniards. A few minor skirmishes escalated into large-scale fighting that continued through the next day. The Philippine president, Emilio Aguinaldo, tried to broker a cease-fire, but it was rejected by the top American general. More than five hundred Philippine soldiers were killed, along with some fifty to sixty Americans. The so-called Battle of Manila thus became the first and most deadly episode of the Philippine-American War, which lasted more than three years and solidified the United States’ colonial domination of the islands. It also killed some eighteen thousand Philippine soldiers and six thousand Americans — along with an estimated two hundred thousand Filipino noncombatants who died of violence, famine, and disease.

In 1977 – (40 years ago) – during the evening rush hour in the Loop area of downtown Chicago, the operator of a Lake–Dan Ryan elevated train missed a signal and allowed his train to plow into the one ahead. Instead of hitting his brake when the “el” trains made contact, he accidentally applied more motor power, causing the first two cars on his train to jackknife upward until a coupling bar snapped. Both cars fell off the elevated track and crashed onto the street below, along with two more train cars right behind them. Eleven people were killed and 180 were injured. Later it was revealed that the train operator had a bad safety record, including a prior derailment and several citations for reading and talking to passengers while operating his train. After the fatal accident, four joints were found in his shoulder bag, and a drug test for marijuana came up positive.


Posted by Alexander Jerri

On This Day in Rotten History...

In 1932 – (85 years ago) – Japanese aircraft began an unprovoked bombing of the Chinese city of Shanghai. Japan had invaded northern China a year earlier and established a puppet state there called Manchukuo, as a base from which it could attack the rest of China. Now it followed up its bombing of Shanghai with an attack on targets around the city by thousands of ground-based troops. The bombardments and fighting between Japanese and Chinese forces continued for several weeks until the League of Nations helped negotiate a cease-fire. Some thirteen thousand Chinese were killed, and about five thousand Japanese. Along with being one of the important precursors to World War II, the battle marked Japan’s establishment of the so-called “comfort women” system, which forced local women into sexual slavery to keep Japanese troops less inclined to revolt against their superiors.  
 
In 1964 – (53 years ago) – an unarmed US Air Force T-39 carrying a flight instructor and two pilots took off from the US air base in Wiesbaden, West Germany, on what was called a routine training flight. Within an hour the airplane flew off course, over the so-called “Iron Curtain” into East German airspace, and the crew did not respond to the air controllers’ frantic calls. The plane was shot down by a Soviet jet fighter and all three crewmembers were killed. The incident sparked an ugly Cold War dispute. Soviet diplomat Giorgi Kornienko called the flight “a clear intrusion” and a “case of gross provocation.” Meanwhile, US Secretary of State Dean Rusk called the downing of the plane “a shocking and senseless act,” and Senator Hubert Humphrey called it “an act of brutality, force, and premeditated slaughter.” But US Senator Barry Goldwater, a former Air Force pilot and a Republican candidate for president, expressed skepticism. He told reporters: “It’s kind of hard to believe that all your navigational equipment would go out at once on that plane.” 

In 1986 – (31 years ago) – at Cape Canaveral, Florida, engineers from aerospace contractor Morton Thiokol urged managers at NASA not to launch the space shuttle Challenger, warning that cold weather and ice conditions at the Cape would prevent key components of the launch vehicle from working safely. But the NASA people were impatient; they argued with the engineers, resisted their warnings, and finally ignored them. The launch went ahead, and the space shuttle rose majestically from the pad. Seventy-three seconds later it exploded, killing all seven members of the crew.

Rotten History is written by Renaldo Migaldi


Posted by Alexander Jerri

On This Day in Rotten History...

In 1793 – (224 years ago) – King Louis XVI of France was led to a carriage and escorted by more than a thousand horsemen and armed citizens to the Place de la Revolution in Paris, where a huge crowd awaited him, along with a ragtag group of executioners. His failure to address his country’s economic crisis had sparked a revolution, and the new National Assembly had found him guilty of treason and stripped him of his crown and title. Upon reaching the scaffold, the ex-king loudly proclaimed his innocence to the crowd, and then was seized and shoved into the guillotine. Moments later, the heavy blade came down and separated his head from his body. One of the executioners, a young man of about eighteen, grabbed the severed head and held it high for the crowd to see. After a long moment of silence, a few people shouted: “Vive la Republique!” Others in the vast crowd picked up the phrase until it became a repetitive chant, growing louder and louder for more than ten minutes. Nine months later, Marie Antoinette, the ex-king’s wife, was beheaded in much the same way.

In 1941 – (76 years ago) – in Bucharest, Romania, a rebellion against the head of state, General Ion Antonescu, by Legionnaires of the Iron Guard, a right-wing Orthodox Christian paramilitary group, boiled over into an anti-Semitic pogrom. For the next two days, mobs of local people rampaged through the city’s predominantly Jewish neighborhoods, ransacking and burning down synagogues, businesses, and homes. Thousands of people from all walks of life were dragged into the streets, beaten, and tortured. Some were also slaughtered and mutilated, and still others were taken out of town and shot. By the time the bedlam died down, some 125 victims of the pogrom were dead.

In 1968 – (49 years ago) – near the US Air Force Base at Thule, Greenland, an American B-52 bomber carrying four hydrogen bombs experienced a cabin fire in flight. The whole crew was forced to bail out, one crew member being killed in the process. The burning airplane crashed onto the ice in nearby North Star Bay, not far from an indigenous Inuit settlement. The fiery crash ignited conventional detonators on the H-bombs, which in turn ruptured the bomb canisters and spread plutonium and other radioactive debris for miles. The subsequent cleanup operation by US and Danish personnel failed to locate an important missing piece of one bomb, and high levels of radioactive plutonium remained, contaminating the ancient Inuit hunting grounds. To this day, bizarrely deformed seals and musk oxen are common in the area, and the dangerous pollution remains a touchy issue in diplomatic relations between the United States, Greenland, and Denmark.

Rotten History is written by Renaldo Migaldi