Edinburgh, Scotland. William Brodie was a respectable man and a skilled craftsman. He even designed Edinburgh gallows. Yet, today, he is swinging from those gallows! He gambled away his fortune and took to burglary to keep up his rich life. Respectable by day, villainous by night, like the book character, Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. In fact that character was almost certainly based on William Brodie.
Harwich, England. Explorer Martin Frobisher returns to England a hero, because he comes back with black earth containing, it is said . . . gold! The London goldsmiths can’t find a way to melt the gold – probably because it is a type of iron called ‘fool’s gold’. Frobisher will return to Canada to prove them wrong. In 1577 he comes back with two hundred tons of ‘gold’ stuffed into his ship. Elizabeth I locks it in the Tower of London for safety. Two hundred tons of worthless rock. Sorry, Captain Frobisher, but it’s fool’s gold again. You don’t get much more of a fool than that!
Moscow, Russia. Peter the Great has a very nasty collection of freaks, including five-footed sheep. Today he adds something new when he has his girlfriend executed and keeps her pickled head in a jar in his room. That’s love for you.
France. A giant British airship, the R101, sets off on its maiden flight. A spiritualist said three days ago that it would crash in flames. And, sure enough, it does. The spiritualist will go on to talk to the captain of the airship – after he is dead, naturally – and he will explain why he crashed.
France. The first ever air battle. French and German aircraft fly around and shoot pistols at each other. Later the French planes will carry loads of bricks, fly over the German planes and drop the bricks on to them! (Honest!)
Bulgaria. The Bulgarian army gropes its way back home, defeated by Basil the Byzantine Emperor. Defeated – and de-eyed, because Basil has had the Bulgarians blinded. One man in every hundred has been left with one eye so he can guide his comrades back to their homeland. Bulgarian leader Samuel is so upset by the defeat he has a fit and dies.
USA. Edgar Allen Poe dies today. A clever writer who wrote cheerful little stories like Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket. In this terrible tale three survivors of a shipwreck kill and eat a fourth. Amazingly three survivors of a shipwreck will kill and eat a fourth in the year 1884. A coincidence? Or had they read Poe’s book and decided to try his recipe?
Chicago, USA. Alice O’Leary goes to milk her cow but she’s had too much whiskey. (Alice, not the cow!) The cow kicks over a lantern and sets the barn ablaze . . . and that sets the rest of Chicago on fire. 18,000 buildings wrecked and 250 people dead.
Manchester, England. New machines can do the work of several cotton-workers – so the bosses sack the workers. So the workers attack the machines! Later Ned Ludd of Sherwood Forest becomes leader of the wreckers. But in the end the machines will win.
France. Two men fall out and decide to have a duel. They each take a hot-air balloon into the air for the fight. The first man fires and misses – the second fires . . . and hits! His enemy tumbles over 350 metres to a mushy death. This is someone falling out in a big way.
Russia. Peter the Great takes control of Russia. He is mad, bad and dangerous to know. He fancied himself as a surgeon and once operated on a merchant’s sick wife. The foolish woman died shortly after. Peter ordered an inquest to prove that it wasn’t his fault. Wisely the inquest said he was in no way to blame. Oh yeah?
West Indies. Captain Christopher Columbus thinks the world is round (while we can all see it’s flat!). He sails west and bumps into a lump of land that becomes known as the New World. Great news for Europe – bad news for the natives of the continent. A truly horrible day in their history.
Emperor Claudius dies. He limped, had a cackling laugh, a stammer and a runny nose – sometimes all at the same time. Now he has eaten his last meal. Romans say his wife poisoned him. On the other hand modern historians think he simply had a heart attack!
Hastings, England. Norman William the Conqueror invades and battles against King Harold. The English hold Senlac Hill against all the Norman attacks. The Norman soldiers start to run away. The English think they’ve won and leave the safety of their hilltop. Big mistake. Norman archers can now get at the English leaders. Harold fights on despite an arrow in the eye but dies, hacked to pieces.
Vienna, Austria. The Ottoman (Turkish) army of Suleiman has been sweeping through Europe. It seems unstoppable . . . until today. It reaches Vienna but fails to capture the city. But what really defeats Suleiman and his men are hunger and disease. On this day he retreats, which is just as well – if he’d won then you’d have been reading this in Turkish.
Pont de Larche, France. A public executioner sends in his bill for keeping a prisoner in jail and executing him. There is an extra charge for a length of rope for tying up this prisoner. Why didn’t the prisoner untie it and escape? Because the prisoner was a pig. Tried, found guilty and hanged for killing a child. Oink!
Agra, India. Emperor Akbar dies. But, was he poisoned? Who knows? Who cares? So many people want him dead that the list of suspects reads like the Calcutta phone book.
England. King John dies on this day after eating too many peaches and drinking too much cider. He was trying to cheer himself up after losing the crown jewels in an accident. He could be cruel and had the odd person bumped off – his own nephew, Arthur, and his wife’s new boyfriend. It’s said he won’t rest easy in his grave because he’s a vampire. (A batty idea.)
St Isaac Jogues' Day
Isaac is a United States martyr in the United States but a Canadian martyr in Canada. He goes to make peace with the native Iroquois people in 1646 . . . but the Mohawks get him first. This is no joke . . . and soon, it’s no Jogue either.
London. King George I is crowned today. His German ‘Hanover’ family have taken over from the slimy Stuarts . . . but Stuart supporters will try to rebel. When they do, their leaders are executed. Cruel George is unpopular – especially when he goes off to a ball while the noble rebels are being beheaded.
The British fleet have defeated the French at Trafalgar. They were led by Lord Nelson, but old Nelson has been shot. To get his body safely back to England for burial the sailors pickle it in a barrel of brandy. It’s not wasted though. They will later drink the brandy. Yeuch!
Paris, France. Andre-Jacques Garnerin jumps out of a hot-air balloon to test his new invention – the parachute. He doesn’t know that it should have a hole in the top to let the air flow smoothly through. As a result he has a bumpy ride. He lands safely, but his breakfast lands first – on watchers below.
Edgehill, England. The first battle in the English Civil War between the armies of King Charles I and Parliament. Famous surgeon William Harvey is there after the battle, in which many men die. Harvey is so used to dead bodies that when he grows cold he simply pulls a corpse over him for warmth.
Niagara Falls, USA. Mrs Ann Edson Taylor was desperate for cash to pay the mortgage on her house, so she devised an incredible stunt – she sailed over Niagara Falls in a barrel. And she lived. WARNING: Do not try this in your local pond.
Agincourt, France. The French army are beaten by Henry V’s English army. Then the English cut the throats of 1,000 French prisoners. Very unsporting, Henry.
Tombstone, USA. Marshall Wyatt Earp and his brothers come face to face with the Clanton and McLaury families. In the famous ‘Gunfight at the OK Corral’, Wyatt wins.
Paris, France. Three men go into a shop and rob it. Nothing unusual about that? But they run out and jump into a motor car. They go down in history as the first criminals to use a getaway car. British police are so worried by this new type of crime they set up the Flying Squad with fast cars . . . 18 years later!
New York, USA. The French people have given the American people a prezzie: a dirty great woman with a flaming torch called the Statue of Liberty. It was a free gift but the mean US government now refuse to pay the $100,000 needed for the statue’s base. The money is raised by the New York World newspaper. What a liberty!
Scotland. James Boswell is born today. He becomes famous for writing about the Englishman Doctor Johnson. But Doctor Johnson said some pretty nasty things about Boswell’s Scotland. Johnson said the best thing to come out of Scotland was the road to England. Cruel.
USA. Actor Orson Welles broadcasts his production of The War of the Worlds on the radio. He makes it sound like a news broadcast . . . and thousands of people believe they are listening to reports of a Martian invasion. They panic. Later broadcasts tell them it’s only a play – but the panickers refuse to believe it!
Hallowe’en is short for All Hallow’s Eve, or the day before All Saints’ Day. It was probably first celebrated by the Druids of ancient Britain, who believed that on this evening, Saman, the lord of the dead, calls up evil spirits. The Druids would light great fires on Hallowe’en, to keep the spirits away. (If an evil spirit lives in Hell then it won’t be worried by a little bonfire, will it?) For the Celts, Hallowe’en was their New Year’s Eve and a good time for fortune telling. They also believed that the ghosts revisited their old homes tonight.