NOVEMBER 7: Shooting launches Kristallnacht


What to make of Grynszpan?


ON THIS DAY: November 7ON THIS DATE in 1938, one of the most enigmatic Jewish figures of the Holocaust shot and killed a Nazi diplomat in the German embassy in Paris.

Seventeen-year-old Herschel Grynszpan’s assassination of Ernst vom Rath gave the Nazis an excuse for launching Kristallnacht, or The Night of Broken Glass, which resulted in the razing of 265 synagogues and 200 houses, the demolition of 7,500 business establishments, and the incarceration of 30,000 Jews in concentration camps.

Grynszpan has been called “the boy who started a war.” A broadcast called Kristallnacht “a turning point in German policy, setting into motion the Nazi’s systematic extermination of Jews, Gypsies, Communists, Christians, homosexuals, the mentally ill, and other Nazi enemies.”

So what should we make of Grynszpan? Was he a reckless assassin whose actions brought pain and death to millions, or a principled rebel who killed a Nazi in a show of strength?

The New York…

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NOVEMBER 6: Chinese woman exhibited


Posted this last year. Sounds hideous, being shown like a circus freak. Wish we knew more about Miss Moy.


ON THIS DAY: November 6ON THIS DATE in 1834, two U.S. traders advertised an exhibit of a nineteen-year-old Chinese woman named Afong Moy.

Billed as the first Chinese woman in America, Moy occupied a New York City stage where for the price of 50 cents onlookers could gawk at her feet and garments and ask questions through a translator.

The New York Mirror objected to the exhibition, stating that “the lovely creatures” — meaning Chinese women, presumably — “were made for anything but to be stared at, for half a dollar a head.”

A Captain Benjamin T. Obear of Beverly, Massachusetts, had brought Moy and a male attendant, who translated for her, to the U.S. After three years, Moy may have returned to China, although she turned up on New York and Boston stages ten years later, entertaining crowds by using chopsticks and singing in her native language.

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NOVEMBER 4: Sacagawea joins expedition


It’s now been 210 years since Sacagawea joined the Lewis and Clark expedition. How time flies.


ON THIS DAY: November 4ON THIS DATE in 1804, sixteen-year-old (estimated age) Sacagawea was engaged to join the Lewis and Clark Expedition with French-Indian trader and interpreter Toussaint Charbonneau, the father of her unborn son.

A Shoshone Indian, Sacagawea’s role in the 8,000-mile exploration of the West is often exaggerated, with one biographer decrying how she “has been portrayed as a woman whose abilities as a scout and a trailblazer were outstripped only by her physical beauty.”

Sacagawea did, however, make important contributions to the expedition. On one occasion, she leaped into a river to save supplies and papers after a storm tipped over a boat, and another time she interpreted and otherwise aided in the purchase of horses from the Shoshone tribe when the expedition desperately needed them.

Nearly everything we know about her comes from the journals of Meriwether Lewis, who praised Sacagawea’s “fortitude and resolution,” and William Clark, who called her his…

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ON THIS DAY: October 30



ON THIS DAY: October 30ON THIS DAY IN TEENAGE HISTORY (1942), sixteen-year-old British sailor Tommy Brown escaped a sinking German U-boat with parts of an M4 Enigma machine and codebooks that helped the Allies solve the riddle of the enemy’s wartime signals. Brown was one of three British seamen to board the abandoned U-boat, and the only to survive: Colin Grazier and Anthony Fasson drowned when the U-boat made a sudden plunge. One naval historian estimated that 500,000 to 750,000 tons of allied shipping were saved the year after the German Enigma Code was broken, and that the Normandy invasion of 1945 would have been delayed a year if not for the retrieval of the U-boat documents. In 1945 while on leave from the HMS Belfast, Brown died in a house fire that also killed his four-year-old sister Maureen. He was eighteen years old.

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OCTOBER 29: She launches “Charleston” craze



ON THIS DAY: October 29ON THIS DATE in 1923, nineteen-year-old Elisabeth Welch launched a dance craze by singing “Charleston” in a Broadway show called Runnin’ Wild.

“Because I had a loud voice I was chosen to sing Charleston,” she told the Associated Press, “but when the chorus girls came on they quickly yanked me off the stage because I couldn’t dance.”

An energetic and popular dance in the 1920s, the Charleston involved turning the knees inward and kicking out the lower legs.

In 1931 Welch sang the controversial “Love for Sale,” a song about prostitution, in Cole Porter’s New Yorkers. She later broke new ground for black actors by starring in Song of Freedom (1936) and Big Fella (1937).

In 1986, Welch was nominated for a Tony for her role in ”Jerome Kern Goes to Hollywood” and won an Obie for her one-woman show, ”Time to Start Living.”

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OCTOBER 24: First Utah teacher



ON THIS DAY: October 24ON THIS DATE IN TEENAGE HISTORY (1847) sixteen-year-old Mary Jane Dilworth opened Utah’s first school. Lessons took place inside a round military tent, and the nine initial pupils sat on logs as Dilworth conducted class.

Despite the rough conditions, the students seemed to enjoy their first day at school. “Mary taught us the 23rd Psalm, and we sang much, and played more,” recalled Maria Dilworth, the teacher’s younger sister.

The first 148 Mormon pioneers entered the valley of the Great Salt Lake just three months earlier.

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Above: Ralph Samuelson

IF YOU CAN SKI on snow, why can’t you ski on water? That’s what eighteen-year-old Minnesota native Ralph Samuelson wondered. So one day he headed to Lake Pepin, slapped on some snow skis, and hooked himself up to a powerboat driven by his brother Ben.

He sunk like a rock.

Refusing to lose faith, Samuelson experimented with skis of various sizes and shapes. He tried out a pair of eight-foot-long pine boards, curving the tips and making foot binders from leather scraps he picked up at a harness shop. He then tested a variety of starting positions before deciding that his best bet was pushing back on the skis with the tips pointed upward.
On July 2, 1922, Samuelson took off and stayed up. Water skiing was born.

An enthusiastic sportsman, Samuelson spent the next several years showing off his lake-gliding skills during one-man water shows. He took his demonstration to various locales, including Florida’s Palm Beach in 1926. In 1939 the American Water Skiing Association was formed and the sport’s first championships were held that year on Long Island.

By 1963, water skiing had become a hugely popular pursuit but Samuelson’s role in creating the sport was forgotten. A St. Paul Pioneer-Press reporter called him out of the blue that year and the fifty-nine-year-old Samuelson, a retired highway department worker, retold the story of water skiing’s beginnings. Three years later, the American Water Ski Association officially proclaimed Samuelson the Father of Water Skiing.