The Imaginary Realms of
Gilbert M. Stack



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On This Day: The Gettysburg Address

Posted by Gilbert Stack on November 19, 2017 at 6:15 AM Comments comments (0)

On this day (November 19) in 1863, Abraham Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address at the dedication of the cemetery on the battlefield. There were five texts of the speech in Lincoln’s hand, each slightly different than the others, but the text that has come down to us has become a powerful statement of the founding principles of the United States and of the sacrifices which the men and women of our armed forces have made to protect those principles and the nation they guide.

The opening sentence of the address has become iconic. “Four score and seven years ago our forefathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” Our forefathers made a good start, but failed to get a lot right. Abraham Lincoln brought us closer to the mark. Let us hope that when future generations look back on us, that they will agree that we too move the country closer to liberty and genuine equality.

I had the pleasure of visiting Gettysburg on two occasions. The first was with my family when I was quite young and I don’t remember it as clearly as I would like. The second was with my brother and my father. We had just finished reading the book The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara (later the movie Gettysburg would be based on this book). My father, brother and I walked the battlefield until we reached the Little Round Top and spent fifteen or twenty minutes reconstructing Joshua Chamberlain’s stand on the second day of the battle—the decisive point of the battle and arguably the entire war. Right as we finished, a park guide brought a group of tourists to the site and did in about 90 seconds what it had taken us much longer to do. It was a really good day. If you haven’t been to Gettysburg, it’s well worth the trip.

On This Day: Pushbutton Phones

Posted by Gilbert Stack on November 18, 2017 at 6:30 AM Comments comments (0)

On this day (November 18) in 1963 the first pushbutton phone went into service. This was state of the art technology at the time. No more waiting for that dial to slowly unwind back to the start position. Funny how it now seems so antiquated…

Today in History: A Serial Killer Arrested

Posted by Gilbert Stack on November 17, 2017 at 5:15 AM Comments comments (0)

On this day (November 17) in 1894 H.H. Holmes was arrested in Boston. He is one of the first serial murderers caught in the modern era. He confessed to murdering 27 people (some of whom, strangely enough, were still alive at the time of his confession). Authorities prosecuted him on the 9 murders they could prove. (Later, pulp writers of the 1940s would inflate the number of his victims to over 200.)

Holmes’ first two victims were his mistress, Julia Smythe, and her young daughter, Pearl. Smythe’s husband abandoned her when he learned of her affair with Holmes and she became dependent on him. A few months later she and her daughter “disappeared”. He was executed on May 7, 1896.

Today in History: Venera 3

Posted by Gilbert Stack on November 16, 2017 at 5:20 AM Comments comments (0)

On this day (November 16) in 1965 the Soviet Union launched Venera 3, the first human-made probe to reach the surface of another planet. It’s not actually one hundred percent certain that Venera 3 reached the surface of Venus. Its radio failed but it seems likely that it crashed on the planet’s surface.

Today in History: The Articles of Confederation

Posted by Gilbert Stack on November 15, 2017 at 6:40 AM Comments comments (0)

On this day (November 15) in 1777 the Second Continental Congress approved the Articles of Confederation as a constitution for the young United States. They basically legalized what the Continental Congress was already doing. Finally ratified by all 13 states in 1781, the Articles proved insufficient to govern the nation. They gave the national government no ability to raise revenue and very little actual power to lead the nation. They would be revised (read: wholly replaced) by the Constitution in 1789.

Today in History: The Saint Bryce's Day Massacre

Posted by Gilbert Stack on November 14, 2017 at 1:30 PM Comments comments (0)
On this day (November 13) in 1002 Aethelred II of England (referred to later as Aethelred the Unread or Unready) ordered the death of all Danes in England. The order is controversial to this day and historians argue over whether or not it was intended to be carried out only against Danish mercenaries who had turned on Aethelred or was directed at all Danes in England as a punishment for the raids being carried out against England since 997. Whatever the intention, the infamous St. Bryce's Day Massacre occurred. In Oxford, the Danes were chased into St. Frideswide church where they attempted to defend themselves. The church was burnt down with the Danes inside. Sweyn's invasion the following year was probably inspired at least in part by the massacre. It is thought that his sister, Gunhilde, was one of the victims. It was one of the incidents that led to the conquest of England by Cnut in 1016.

Today in History: All Hallows Eve

Posted by Gilbert Stack on November 3, 2017 at 1:30 PM Comments comments (0)

On this day (October 31) sometime during the reign of Pope Gregory III (731-741) Christians began celebrating All Hallows Eve (contracted today to Halloween) as the beginning of their commemoration of the dead on All Saints (Hallows) Day (November 1) and All Souls Day (November 2). In Christianity it is traditional to begin the celebration of major religious feasts with a vigil the night before.

Many people think that Pope Gregory placed the vigil on October 31 because of the Celtic feast of Samhain. The celebrations of many Christian festivals were purposely set to coincide with pagan observances in an effort to coopt the revelries for Christianity. Samhain marked the end of the harvest season and the beginning of the dark wintery half of the year.

The Puritans opposed the celebration of Halloween as they did many of the Church of England feasts so they did not bring it with them when they settled the New World. It was not until the mass migration of Scotts and Irish in the mid-nineteenth century that Halloween began to be widely celebrated in North America. Today, like many Christians feasts, the day has lost most (if not all) of its religious connotations and is marked by imaginative and often scary costumes, parades, parties, decorating, carving of pumpkins, tons of candy, and the pranks referred to in the challenge, “Trick or Treat!”

My father used to tell a story about Trick or Treating when he was young. The houses on his street did not have indoor plumbing and children who were disappointed at the front door of a house on Halloween used to go around to the backyard to knock over the outhouse in protest of poor rewards. As my father tells it, one wily old man decided not only to be stingy with his treats but to play a prank of his own on his costumed visitors. He moved his outhouse back several feet so that the children planning to do mischief in his back yard could fall in the open hole…

Happy Halloween!

Today in History: Cannibalism

Posted by Gilbert Stack on December 23, 2016 at 6:50 AM Comments comments (0)

On this day (December 23) in 1972 sixteen survivors of Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571 were rescued after spending 73 days in harsh frozen conditions at 11,800 feet in the Andes Mountain. Flight 571 had crashed in the Andes on October 23 with 45 crew and passengers (mostly a Rugby team and their friends and family). 18 people died in the initial crash and another 11 in an avalanche a few days later. The survivors did not have cold weather gear or food. They obtained water by placing snow on metal where the sun slowly melted it.


There was no food, either vegetation or animal life, at their altitude and after much soul searching, they decided to eat the bodies of their dead friends to survive. Efforts to explore their surroundings in search of help were frustrated by altitude sickness, snow blindness, dehydration, malnourishment and extreme cold. Many of the survivors had serious injuries such as broken legs and could not leave the crash site.


They determined that they had to send someone over the mountain or they would all die, so four of the survivors tried to make the trek. They almost froze to death at night but discovered the tail section of the plane and spent several days trying to power the radio with batteries they found there but their efforts failed.


To combat the freezing temperatures they jury rigged a sleeping bag and made a second effort to find help. Two of the survivors traveled for ten days before finally encountering humans who got word of the survivors to authorities who mounted a successful rescue operation.


Today in History: The U.S. Gets a Lot Bigger

Posted by Gilbert Stack on December 20, 2016 at 5:15 AM Comments comments (0)

On this day (December 20) in 1803 the Louisiana Purchase was finalized in New Orleans. The transaction added 828,000 square miles to the United States at a cost of roughly $15 million ($250 million in 2016 currency). The territory included land from fifteen states and two Canadian provinces: all of Arkansas, Missouri, Iowa, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska and portions of Minnesota, North and South Dakota, Texas, New Mexico, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, Louisiana, Alberta and Saskatchewan. Sixty thousand non-Native Americans lived in the territory, half of whom were African slaves.


Napoleon was willing to sell the Louisiana Territory in part because his failure to re-establish slavery in San Domingue (modern day Haiti) had created a great setback to his plans to establish a western hemisphere empire. When war with Britain threatened to resume, Napoleon realized that he could not defend his American possessions from Britain and decided to profit from them while he still could by selling them to the United States.


The U.S. Constitution did not grant the president the explicit right to purchase new territory, but Thomas Jefferson successfully argued that his power to negotiate treaties implied the authority.


Today in History: A New King

Posted by Gilbert Stack on December 19, 2016 at 5:05 AM Comments comments (0)

On this day (December 19) in 1154, Henry II was crowned king of England in Westminster Abbey. Henry was a strong ruler who restored order to England after the twenty year Anarchy of his predecessor’s reign. He rebuilt the government, reformed the legal system and famously struggled against the church’s efforts to centralize authority under the pope. He was the husband of Eleanor of Aquitaine and the father of Richard the Lionhearted and John. His mint reforms were the subject of my dissertation.