Today In History, August 23
Saturday August 23, 2014 the 234rd day and 33rd week of 2014, there are 131 days and 19 weeks left in the year. Highlights of today in world history…
1901 Fannie Farmer opens cooking school
On this day in 1902, pioneering cookbook author Fannie Farmer, who changed the way Americans prepare food by advocating the use of standardized measurements in recipes, opened Miss Farmer’s School of Cookery in Boston. In addition to teaching women about cooking, Farmer later educated medical professionals about the importance of proper nutrition for the sick.
Farmer was born March 23, 1857, and raised near Boston, Massachusetts. Her family believed in education for women and Farmer attended Medford High School; however, as a teenager she suffered a paralytic stroke that turned her into a homebound invalid for a period of years. As a result, she was unable to complete high school or attend college and her illness left her with a permanent limp. When she was in her early 30s, Farmer attended the Boston Cooking School. Founded in 1879, the school promoted a scientific approach to food preparation and trained women to become cooking teachers at a time when their employment opportunities were limited. Farmer graduated from the program in 1889 and in 1891 became the school’s principal. In 1896, she published her first cookbook, The Boston Cooking School Cookbook, which included a wide range of straightforward recipes along with information on cooking and sanitation techniques, household management and nutrition. Farmer’s book became a bestseller and revolutionized American cooking through its use of precise measurements, a novel culinary concept at the time.
In 1902, Farmer left the Boston Cooking School and founded Miss Farmer’s School of Cookery. In addition to running her school, she travelled to speaking engagements around the U.S. and continued to write cookbooks. In 1904, she published Food and Cookery for the Sick and Convalescent, which provided food recommendations for specific diseases, nutritional information for children and information about the digestive system, among other topics. Farmer’s expertise in the areas of nutrition and illness led her to lecture at Harvard Medical School.
Farmer died January 15, 1915, at age 57. After Farmer’s death, Alice Bradley, who taught at Miss Farmer’s School of Cookery, took over the business and ran it until the mid-1940s. The Fannie Farmer Cookbook is still in print today.
1904 Patent for tire chain issued
On this day in 1904, Harold D. Weed of Canastota, New York, was issued U.S. Patent No. 768,495 for his “Grip-Tread for Pneumatic Tires,” a non-skid tire chain to be used on automobiles in order to increase traction on roads slick with mud, snow or ice.
At the time, Weed worked for the Marvin and Casler Company, a Canastota machine shop that made a range of products including automobile engines, name plate machines, automatic palm readers and motion picture equipment. He reportedly drew inspiration for his tire chain from the habit of some local motorists who wrapped rope around their tires to increase traction on muddy country roads. In his patent, Weed said that his invention aimed to “provide a flexible and collapsible grip or tread composed entirely of chains linked together and applied to the sides and periphery of the tire and held in place solely by the inflation of the tire, and which is reversible.” The tire chain was assembled around a tire when it was partially deflated; after hooks on either end of the chain were fastened, the tire was then re inflated. Weed’s tire chains were soon found to work just as well on snow and ice as on mud.
In 1908, in a promotional effort, representatives of the Weed Chain Tire Grip Company challenged the master magician Harry Houdini to escape from a prison created by their product. According to “The Secret Life of Houdini,” by William Kalush and Larry Sloman, Houdini was enmeshed in a series of looped, locked tire chains, then chained into two steel-rimmed automobile tires. At one point during the escape, the chains had to be moved lower, as Houdini was turning blue from one of them binding his throat; he was then able to release himself. Houdini performed this famous stunt during a weeklong engagement at Hammerstein’s Theatre in New York.
Harry Weed eventually sold his tire chain patents to the American Chain and Cable Company, the successor to the Weed Chain Tire Grip Co. After serving as a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army during World War I, he held patents for devices related to the tire chain and was honoured by the Army Ordnance Committee for his work in designing bomb-release mechanisms and machine gun synchronizing devices for use in aircraft. He died in Palm Beach, Florida, in 1961, at the age of 89.
1926 Valentino dies
The death of silent-screen idol Rudolph Valentino at the age of 31 sent his fans into a hysterical state of mass mourning. In his brief film career, the Italian-born actor established a reputation as the archetypal screen lover. After his death from a ruptured ulcer was announced, dozens of suicide attempts were reported, and the actress Pola Negri–Valentino’s most recent lover–was said to be inconsolable. Tens of thousands of people paid tribute at his open coffin in New York City, and 100,000 mourners lined the streets outside the church where funeral services were held. Valentino’s body then travelled by train to Hollywood, where he was laid to rest after another funeral.
Rudolph Valentino was born Rodolfo Guglielmi in Castellaneta, Italy, in 1895. He immigrated to the United States in 1913 and worked as a gardener, dishwasher, waiter, and gigolo before building a minor career as a vaudeville dancer. In 1917, he went to Hollywood and appeared as a dancer in the movie Alimony. Valentino became known to casting directors as a reliable Latin villain type, and he appeared in a series of small parts before winning a leading role in The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1921). The film, which featured a memorable scene of Valentino dancing the tango, made the rakishly handsome Italian an overnight sensation. His popularity soared with romantic dramas such as The Sheik (1921), Blood and Sand (1922), and The Eagle (1925).
Valentino was Hollywood’s first male sex symbol, and millions of female fans idolized him as the “Great Lover.” His personal life was often stormy, and after two failed marriages he began dating the sexy Polish actress Pola Negri in 1926. Shortly after his final film, The Son of the Sheik, opened, in August 1926, he was hospitalized in New York because of a ruptured ulcer. Fans stood in a teary-eyed vigil outside Polyclinic Hospital for a week, but shortly after 12 p.m. on August 23 he succumbed to infection.
Valentino lay in state for several days at Frank E. Campbell’s funeral home at Broadway and 66th St., and thousands of mourners rioted, smashed windows, and fought with police to get a glimpse of the deceased star. Standing guard by the coffin were four Fascists, allegedly sent by Italian leader Benito Mussolini but in fact hired by Frank Campbell’s press agent. On August 30, a funeral was held at St. Malachy’s Church on W. 49th St., and a number of Hollywood notables turned out, among them Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, and Gloria Swanson. Pola Negri appointed herself chief mourner and obligingly fainted for photographers several times between the train station and the chapel. She collapsed in a dead faint again beside Valentino’s bier, where she had installed a massive flower arrangement that spelled out the word POLA.
Valentino’s body was shipped to Hollywood, where another funeral was held for him at the Church of the Good Shepherd on September 14. He then was finally laid to rest in a crypt donated by his friend June Mathis in Hollywood Memorial Park. Each year on the anniversary of his death, a mysterious “Lady in Black” appeared at his tomb and left a single red rose. She was later joined by other, as many as a dozen, “Ladies in Black.” The identity of the original Lady in Black is disputed, but the most convincing claimant is Ditra Flame, who said that Valentino visited her in the hospital when she was deathly ill at age 14, bringing her a red rose. Flame said she kept up her annual pilgrimage for three decades and then abandoned the practice when multiple imitators started showing up.
1939 The Hitler-Stalin Pact
On this day in 1939, Germany and the Soviet Union signed a non-aggression pact, stunning the world, given their diametrically opposed ideologies. But the dictators were, despite appearances, both playing to their own political needs.
After Nazi Germany’s invasion of Czechoslovakia, Britain had to decide to what extent it would intervene Hitler should continue German expansion. Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, at first indifferent to Hitler’s capture of the Sudetenland, the German-speaking area of Czechoslovakia, suddenly snapped to life when Poland became threatened. He made it plain that Britain would be obliged to come to the aid of Poland in the event of German invasion. But he wanted, and needed, an ally. The only power large enough to stop Hitler, and with a vested interest in doing so, was the Soviet Union. But Stalin was cool to Britain after its effort to create a political alliance with Britain and France against Germany had been rebuffed a year earlier. Plus, Poland’s leaders were less than thrilled with the prospect of Russia becoming its guardian; to them, it was simply occupation by another monstrous regime.
Hitler believed that Britain would never take him on alone, so he decided to swallow his fear and loathing of communism and cosy up to the Soviet dictator, thereby pulling the rug out from the British initiative. Both sides were extremely suspicious of the other, trying to discern ulterior motives. But Hitler was in a hurry; he knew if he was to invade Poland it had to be done quickly, before the West could create a unified front. Agreeing basically to carve up parts of Eastern Europe—and leave each other alone in the process—Hitler’s foreign minister, Joachim von Ribbentrop, flew to Moscow and signed the non-aggression pact with his Soviet counterpart, V.M. Molotov (which is why the pact is often referred to as the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact). Supporters of bolshevism around the world had their heretofore romantic view of “international socialism” ruined; they were outraged that Stalin would enter into any kind of league with the fascist dictator.
But once Poland was German-occupied territory, the alliance would not last for long.
1979 Aleksandr Godunov defects to United States
Russian ballet star Aleksandr Godunov defected to the United States after a performance in New York City. He became the first dancer to defect from the prestigious Bolshoi Ballet.
Godunov was the latest in a string of Soviet ballet dancers to defect to the United States in the 1960s and 1970s. Rudolf Nureyev (1961), Natalia Makarova (1970), and Mikhail Baryshnikov (1974) had all sought and received asylum in the United States and went on to pursue successful dance careers in America and around the world. Godunov was in a different class, however. A New York Times article discussing his defection stated that “with his mane of long blond hair and powerful tall build, Mr. Godunov may well be the premier danseur of the rock generation. …Young audiences identify with him totally.” That may have been the problem for Godunov. Beginning in 1974, he was banned from performing anywhere outside of Russia for four years because his “hippie-like demeanour both on and offstage may have been too flamboyant.” Godunov’s defection in August 1979 was also noteworthy because he was the first dancer from the prestigious Bolshoi Ballet to seek asylum in America. The previous defectors had been from the Kiev opera company. For decades, the Bolshoi had been Russia’s cultural jewel, touring the world numerous times. Godunov’s departure was a serious blow. His wife, Ludmila Vlasova, did not join her husband in defecting and returned with the Bolshoi Company to Russia.
For the next three years, Godunov danced with some of the most impressive dance companies in America, including the American Ballet Theater and the Alvin Ailey Dance Theater. He also pursued an acting career in Hollywood, appearing in many films, including Die Hard and Witness. Godunov died in 1995.
1999 NYC reports first cases of West Nile virus
The first cases of an encephalitis outbreak are reported in New York City on this day in 1999. Seven people died from what turns out to be the first cases of West Nile virus in the United States.
A cluster of eight cases of St. Louis encephalitis was diagnosed among patients in the borough of Queens in New York City in August 1999. The sudden cases of critical brain swelling were found exclusively among the elderly. At about the same time, people noticed an inordinate number of dead crows throughout the city. Other birds, including exotic varieties housed at the Bronx Zoo, were also found dead.
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) was called in to investigate. They found that the West Nile virus, previously found only in Uganda and the Middle East, had been contracted by birds throughout the area, including robins, ducks and eagles. In addition to birds and humans, horses have also been known to be susceptible to the virus, which is spread by mosquitoes.
Upon further investigation, the victims thought to have had St. Louis encephalitis had actually had been infected with West Nile. It causes flu-like symptoms and can be deadly in both the elderly and small children. By the end of the summer, there were 56 confirmed cases of West Nile in New York, though the CDC estimates that 80 percent of people infected with West Nile show no symptoms and therefore would not seek medical help.
In subsequent years, the West Nile virus moved steadily westward across the United States.
2006 Austrian teen escapes after eight years in captivity
Natascha Kampusch, an Austrian teenager who was kidnapped at age 10, escaped from her captor, Wolfgang Priklopil, after more than eight years. Shortly after her escape, Priklopil committed suicide.
On March 2, 1998, Kampusch was abducted from a street in Vienna while walking to school. One of Austria’s largest missing-person searches followed, during which time authorities checked hundreds of white minivans after a witness reported seeing Kampusch being dragged into a white minivan. Police interviewed Priklopil, the owner of a minivan, but didn’t believe he was a suspect. Kampusch was kept in a secret, windowless basement room at Priklopil’s house outside of Vienna, where she was physically and sexually abused by her captor. As time went by, she was allowed into the rest of the house and would cook and clean for Priklopil. He gave her books and a radio and she managed to educate herself.
Early in the afternoon of August 23, 2006, Kampusch, then 18, was vacuuming Priklopil’s car when he walked away from the noise to answer a call on his cell phone. Kampusch used the opportunity to escape and ran to the house of a neighbour, who called police. Several hours later, Priklopil, a communications technician in his 40s, killed himself by jumping in front of a train. Overnight, Kampusch became an international celebrity. She was articulate and seemingly poised, but hadn’t grown much or gained a lot of weight since her abduction. Kampusch initially made statements indicating she felt sorry for her captor, leading to speculation she was suffering from Stockholm syndrome. Her mother later claimed that Kampusch carried around a photo of Priklopil’s coffin.