The Imaginary Realms of
Gilbert M. Stack

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Today in History: The Ill-Fated Jeanette

Posted by Gilbert Stack on July 8, 2019 at 5:15 AM Comments comments (0)

On this day (July Eight) in 1879 the Jeanette started out on its ill-fated Arctic expedition. The Jeanette would become trapped in the ice for 21 months before it ruptured and sank, leaving the crew to attempt to reach Siberia by hiking over the ice and taking to the sea in 3 boats. 11 died before reaching land, and 9 before they reached helped.

Today in History: Hawaii Was Annexed by the U.S.

Posted by Gilbert Stack on July 7, 2019 at 8:50 AM Comments comments (0)

On this day (July 7) in 1898 the United States annexed Hawaii as a territory. President McKinley had tried for a year to get the Senate to ratify the Treaty of Annexation, but failed to get the two-thirds majority needed so he changed strategy and annexed it through legislation. A large majority of Native Hawaiians opposed annexation, but they were not consulted. Their government had already been taken over in a coup by private American interests.

Today in History: Thomas More Was Executed

Posted by Gilbert Stack on July 6, 2019 at 8:00 AM Comments comments (0)

On this day (July 6) in 1535, Sir Thomas More was beheaded for treason because he refused to affirmatively support the marriage of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn. (Anne would be beheaded in 1536.) When I was touring the Tower of London, one of the guides told the following improbable story about Sir Thomas who is known to have greatly feared death but also worried tremendously about breaking faith with God and condemning himself to hell. So Thomas had put his head on the block and the headsman was preparing to cut it off. A basket was waiting to catch the severed head when it fell. Suddenly a page raced up to Sir Thomas and his executioner shouting that he was bringing a letter for Sir Thomas from King Henry. Thomas then turned to him and said, “Toss the letter in the basket [where his severed head was about to fall]. I’ll read it later.”

Today in History: The Olive Branch Petition

Posted by Gilbert Stack on July 5, 2019 at 8:15 AM Comments comments (0)

On this day (July 5) in 1775, the Second Continental Congress created the Olive Branch Petition, assuring King George III that they were loyal subjects and beseeching him to work with them to resolve their trade and tax disputes without conflict. King George III refused to read the petition. He declared the colonists in rebellion in August 1775.

Today in History: Independence Day

Posted by Gilbert Stack on July 4, 2019 at 9:05 AM Comments comments (0)

On this day (July 4) in 1776, the Second Continental Congress adopted and published The Declaration of Independence describing the conflict of the young United States with England and why they believed it to be necessary for the thirteen colonies to break away and form their own country. The declaration includes an inspirational sentence that may be the best-known words in the English language. "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." While it is undoubtedly true that the U.S. has often failed to live up to the full spirit of these words, it is also true that they have inspired millions of people to find the best in themselves and strive to form a country that fully embraces this ideal. Happy Independence Day!

Today in History: Picket's Charge

Posted by Gilbert Stack on July 3, 2019 at 5:10 AM Comments comments (0)

On this day (July 3) in 1863 Picket made his famous charge against Union lines at the Battle of Gettysburg marking the end of Confederate offensive actions in the north.

Several years ago I visited Gettysburg with my father and brother. We had all three just read Michael Sharra's, The Killer Angels, and we reconstructed Joshua Chamberlain's defense of the Union left flank on Little Round Top. It took us about half an hour and then a tour guide came along and confirmed our reconstruction in about three minutes. Good memories.


Today in History: Amelia Earhart Disappears

Posted by Gilbert Stack on July 2, 2019 at 5:05 AM Comments comments (0)

On this day (July 2) in 1937, Ameilia Earhart disappeared over the Pacific Ocean while attempting to circumnavigate the globe. Earhart was the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean and was an aviation celebrity and women’s rights activist. No one knows precisely what happened to Earhart. She was approaching Howland Island with scattered clouds in the sky. The clouds caused dark patches on the ocean surface which could make it difficult to see a small land mass. Her transmissions stated she could not find the island and was low on fuel. No one knows precisely what happened after that but there are three principle theories.


In the Crash and Sink theory, Earhart ran out of fuel, crashed in the ocean and died.


In the Gardner Island theory, Earhart did not waste fuel searching for Howland but instead turned south to Gardner Island. Several searches of Gardner Island were made in the years after the crash and a skeleton was found under a tree with an old fashioned sextant in 1940. A detailed examination of the skeleton was made and it was determined to be male, but in 1988, the report was reexamined and it was determined that the skeleton could have belonged to a tall female. (The skeleton was misplaced back in the 1940s so it cannot be re-examined.)


The final theory is that the Japanese captured and executed Earhart and her navigator after they shot them down near Saipan. There are witnesses who claimed to have seen the execution and the Japanese Mitsubishi A6M Zero fighter plane had electronic components which were similar to Earhart’s Lockheed Electra 10E which had been built to Earhart’s specifications.


Ultimately, short of finding Earhart’s Lockheed with two skeletons in it, we are probably never going to learn what happened to her.


Today in History: Lexel's Comet

Posted by Gilbert Stack on July 1, 2019 at 3:05 PM Comments comments (0)

On this day (July 1) in 1770, Lexel’s Comet came closer to the earth than any other recorded comet. It passed a mere 1,400,000 miles from our planet. Lexel’s Comet has not been seen since, and is considered lost. But obviously what came close once could come close again sometime in the future… Now there’s a good story idea! But, of course, it’s already been done many times. Anyone remember Lucifer’s Hammer?

Today in History: The Night of the Long Knives

Posted by Gilbert Stack on June 30, 2019 at 8:15 AM Comments comments (0)

On this day (June 30) in 1934, Adolf Hitler assassinated 85 people (possibly more) who he suspected of not being loyal enough to him. His propagandists claimed the murdered were part of a coup seeking to overthrow Hitler. This purge eliminated Ernst Rohm, leader of the SA, who had been lobbying Hitler to give him and his SA thugs control of the army. But Hitler decided that his chances of conquering the rest of Europe were greater if he went with the professional military rather than his street thugs. Strangely enough, the Night of the Long Knives served to convince many Germans that Hitler truly was on the side of law and order—because shooting 85 people without trial is what law-abiding governments do?

Today in History: The Death Penalty

Posted by Gilbert Stack on June 29, 2019 at 7:35 AM Comments comments (0)

On this day (June 29) in 1972, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the arbitrary and inconsistent imposition of the death penalty constituted cruel and unusual punishment. The case was Furman v. Georgia and involved a man convicted of murder while committing a burglary. In unsworn statements, Furman gave two accounts of what happened. He either fell and the gun accidentally discharged or he fired blindly, killing the home owner. Two other cases, Branch v. Texas and Jackson v. Georgia were consolidated with Furman v. Georgia. Both of these death penalty sentences resulted from rape, not murder.


In the 5-4 decision, a majority of the judges agreed that the death penalty was cruel and unusual punishment, but none could agree with another as to why this was the case. Therefore, they wrote five separate concurring decisions. The result was that all death penalty sentences were reduced to life in prison (except in California where the California Supreme Court had already found the death penalty to be unconstitutional and converted the sentences of everyone on death row to life in prison).


37 states responded to Furman v. Georgia by passing new death penalty laws which defined criteria that had to be considered in death penalty cases and California held a referendum which reinstituted the death penalty so in 1976 new death penalty cases arrived at the Supreme Court. Opponents hoped that the court would outlaw the death penalty completely, but the opposite happened. William Douglas (appointed by FDR) had retired and been replaced by John Paul Stevens (appointed by Gerald Ford). In Gregg v. Georgia, the court found that the death penalty was constitutional so long as the criteria for giving the punishment were objective (and checked by an appellate court) and the character and record of the defendant were taken into account by the sentencer.