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Four Years at the Mount

The Book Of Days

January, 2014

Written by Robert Chambers in 1864, Chambers' Book of Days is exactly what its long-winded subtitle states: A Miscellany of Popular Antiquities in Connection with the Calendar, Including Anecdote, Biography, & History, Curiosities of Literature and Oddities of Human Life and Character. A veritable wealth of random information for the curious mind, we set our writers out to explore what anecdotes, biographies, etc. they could find attributed to their own birthdays. Though the lists of names and events are longer than what could reasonably fit in these articles, the writers have nonetheless unearthed some tantalizing tales for you to enjoy.

My day in history

Leeanne Leary
Class of 2017

As I sat down to write about what happened in history on December 19, my birthday, it seemed a happy coincidence that my birthday was the very next day. As a result, I woke up with the fresh knowledge that my birthday may be unique to me, but for so many others, this day holds a different meaning, one of celebration or remembrance.

Of course my birthday has always been special to me: cake, presents, and time when it seemed to be all about me. While many would think itís difficult having a birthday close to Christmas, it never felt that way for me. My dad made sure of that; since I had a birthday so close to Christmas, we never bought a tree, decorated, or did anything "Christmas-y" until after my birthday. I always had a birthday countdown starting 90 or 100 days out, a tradition that I continue to this day, so itís strange to think that a day so unique and special to me can have such an important history behind it. Growing up, it was almost a competition in school to see which famous person had the same birthday as you. I remember only ever being able to say, "Well, my birthday is six days away from Taylor Swiftís." As it turns out, December 19 may not have been the most popular day for pop singers to be born, but it certainly was an important date in history.

After a little research on thebookofdays.com, where every event is linked to a calendar day, I found a couple December 19 birthdays. I found a world-renowned chemist, Charles William Scheele, who was born in 1742 in Stralsund, and Captain William Edward Perry, an Arctic navigator who was born in 1790 in Bath. Even if I could never claim the same birthday as Katy Perry or Taylor Swift, I found these men, who left their mark on the world in different ways. Scheele is credited with the joint discovery of the essential element Oxygen, the composition of the first known sample of what we now call Chlorine, and much more. Captain Perry blazed trails in a different way when he attempted one of the earliest expeditions to the North Pole in 1827. He reached 82E45 North Latitude, setting the record for the farthest North human exploration that stood for nearly five decades before being surpassed at 83E20 26". It didnít stop there; after delving a little deeper into the history of this day, I found the following:

December 19, 1732

Benjamin Franklin began publishing Poor Richard's Almanac. The only American of the colonial period to earn a European reputation as a natural philosopher, he is best remembered in the United States as a patriot, diplomat, and statesman.

December 19, 1776

Thomas Paine published his first American Crisis essay with the famous line, "These are the times that try men's souls." The first of a series of 16 pamphlets called The American Crisis were widely distributed and encouraged the Patriotsí cause throughout the American Revolution. He also wrote essays for the Pennsylvania Journal and edited the Pennsylvania Magazine. After the war he returned to his farm and family in New York.

December 19, 1843

Charles Dickens published A Christmas Carol. Dickens is considered one of the world's most popular, prolific, and skilled novelists. He wrote largely from his own experiences.

December 19, 1972

Apollo 17 splashed down in the Pacific, ending the Apollo program of manned lunar landings. Apollo 17 was the final mission of the United States' Apollo lunar landing program, and was the sixth landing of humans on the moon.

December 19, 1998

President Bill Clinton was impeached on two counts by the House of Representatives. The impeachment trial overshadowed all other activity in Washington for a good portion of 1998 and Clinton was forced to respond to continued problems with Iraq at the end of the year. For example, in December, Saddam Hussein blocked a weapons inspection by the United Nations. The UN responded with airstrikes that continued on a nearly daily basis for the next three months, and then off and on through the spring and summer. Iraq taunted the U.S. and its allies by shooting at jets patrolling the no-fly zones set up after the Persian Gulf War, further escalating the situation.

December 19, 2003

Muammar al-Qaddafi of Libya announced that his country would discontinue development of weapons of mass destruction. Libya signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in 1968, ratified it in 1975, and concluded a safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency in 1980. The United States and the United Kingdom assisted Libya in removing equipment and material from its nuclear weapons program. After the announcement on December 19, Libya consented to the Chemical Weapons Convention in 2004 and began destroying its chemical munitions later that year, but missed the deadlines for converting one chemical weapons production facility to peaceful use and for destroying its stockpile of mustard agent.

This year December 19 will not just be in celebration of my birthday, but also in celebration of peace, space programs, works of literature, justice, and much more. Itís intriguing in the truest sense of the word to take a moment and imagine what went on in years past, on this day in history.

Read other articles by Leeanne Leary


The bodyguard

Lydia Olsen
Class of 2016

When snowflakes first begin to fall from the sky, everyone gathers in anticipation. Around the window, families huddle closely and watch as the snowflakes start to cover the outside surfaces. The road, the trees, and the grass effortlessly begin to vanish behind a white cloth. The family remains inside, safe from the frigid air and the impending winter storm. Outside, the snow continues to fall, creating a barrier with every flake.

These first snowflakes have an important role. Not only do they signal the approaching weather and evoke excitement, but they also protect. These snowflakes create a wall of snow that separates what lies beneath it from an even more intense cold. The base layer of snow that is created by the first snowflakes retains heat and conducts it slowly. Similar to a piece of wool clothing in which the heat from the body is retained rather than dissipated, the beginning snow of a snowfall retains heat rather than letting it go. It appears that this is a scientific phenomenon that farmers and gardeners know and understand well, so they welcome the snow as a protective barrier for their plants. In the 1800s, however, this concept was relatively new and frequently reported about in local newspapers.

On March 7, 1858, there was a large snowstorm near Market Weighton. The Yorkshire newspapers contained a story in relation to this storm in which a woman became trapped beneath the snow. The story recalls that a woman was overtaken by the snow already fallen outside and was then gradually snowed into her position underneath a solid blanket of white. She was unable to move and was trapped with only a small breathing place near her head. The woman was hidden for two days until a man traveling across the moor spotted a womanís bonnet on top of the snow and went over to investigate. Much to his surprise, he found that a living woman was beneath the bonnet.

This story is similar to the story of Elizabeth Woodcock. In the winter of 1799, Elizabeth was traveling from Cambridge to her home in a neighboring village. She is said to have dismounted for a few minutes during which the horse ran off without her. She continued on her way back to her house until she grew tired and sat down under a thicket. It started to snow, but Elizabeth was too exhausted to rise from her position. By the time morning came, two feet of snow had accumulated above Elizabethís head. There was very little that she could do to help her situation. However, she found a twig and tied her handkerchief at the top of it. She then pushed the twig and handkerchief, acting as a signal, through the snow above her head. Night and day passed and Elizabeth was still trapped beneath the snow. She was unable to move and had nothing to eat, but she was able to hear church bells and sounds from the nearby village, which gave her a sense of time and kept her sane. For four whole days Elizabeth remained trapped under the snow.

On the fifth day the snow began to thaw, but Elizabeth, even weaker than before, was unable to remove herself from her position. It wasnít until she had been under the snow for eight days that her handkerchief signal was spotted by a villager. By this time, many other villagers had been wondering where Elizabeth had gone since she was not at home and hadnít been seen around town. The villager who spotted the handkerchief approached the spot in which it was and stooped down to say, "Are you there, Elizabeth Woodcock?" She had just enough strength to reply, "Dear John Stittle, I know your voice. For Godís sake, help me out!" John Stittle did just that. He was able to help Elizabeth get out from underneath the snow and helped her return to her home. Unfortunately, Elizabeth passed away half a year after the incident from mismanagement of frostbitten toes. However, it is fully believed that no one, unless fully surrounded in snow, could live eight days and nights in such a place without any food.

Interestingly, though these two women wouldnít have needed saving if it werenít for the snow, the snow is also what saved them. The snow kept the women warm enough under its protective barriers, so that the women were able to live in extreme conditions. After reading these stories, I remembered a documentary I had watched in middle school about Otzi the Iceman in which snow is given credit for being an excellent preserver for the body of a mummy.

Otzi was discovered in September 1991 by two hikers. These hikers spotted a frozen body within the mountains in between Austria and Italy. The body turned out to be over 5,300 years old and the oldest frozen mummy ever found. The body was taken to Austria, where scientists were able to analyze him. Multiple investigations began at the site of Otziís discovery. After many stories about Otziís life and cause of death, the mystery was finally said to be solved in June 2001. A report stated that Otzi was attacked and shot with a stone arrowhead that embedded itself in his shoulder while Otzi fled. Otzi reached the top of the mountain and was exhausted and bleeding heavily. Unable to go any further, Otzi lay down and died. However, the most recent theory suggests that Otziís scene of discovery was not that of a murder but was actually a burial sight. Facts such as the pollen in Otziís gut and the pollen found in the ice support the theory that Otzi died prior to his journey up the mountain and was later carried up the mountain for burial. This theory, like the other theories about Otziís life and death, has its flaws and cannot be proven to be completely true.

Although the details about Otzi are not yet figured out, it is fact that the reason his body was so well-preserved is due to the amount of ice and snow he was found in. The environment in which Otziís dead body last rested and the environment in which he stayed for many years allowed for it to stay very well-preserved, even when it was discovered thousands of years after his death.

In all of these stories, the snow is the central force that protects and preserves each individual. It appears that the snow is a precautionary measure that shields everything from the approaching cold, so when those snowflakes begin to fall and your family gathers to look out the window, remember that you might owe a bit of thanks to the snow for the safety it is trying to bring. Think of the snow not as a burden to shovel or maneuver through, but rather as a great barrier that keeps you safe and guarded. Just remember when my twentieth birthday rolls around on March 7, especially if it happens to bring a snowstorm with it, to please check outside for bonnets!

Read other articles by Lydia Olsen


A leader through the ages

Kyle Ott
MSM Class of 2015

In many cultures, the idea of a birthday is an important one. Not only is it a time to celebrate bringing a child into this world, but it is also a time to celebrate the people who have come before us. Birthdays are often seen as a bridge between the past and the present. The date is important not only because it is distinctly yours, but also because it simultaneously belongs to the great figures that came before you.

My quest to understand the importance of my own birthday began a while ago. As a child, I have no memory of when the idea of my birthday became important. In my tiny little mind it was always just a day when people who were much taller, bigger, and smarter gathered in large groups to give me shiny gifts. I never had room to complain. There was always something sweet for me, like a brand new scooter that gave me the freedom to cruise down my driveway at Mach 5. It was the source of countless high-speed adventures and skinned knees for me, and many breathless prayers for my mom. Then there was the miniature chemistry kit that came with a tiny microscope and different anomalies trapped in slides of glass. I spent so many afternoons just lying on the green shag rug of our living room scanning everything from camel fur to preserved mold for the tiniest, most minute details. Then, of course, there were the parties themselves.

While it was tradition for me to receive one large gift from my entire family (like a scooter), my family didnít have a ton of money when I was growing up. We never went to a play land or mini golf course to celebrate like many of my friends did. Instead, my parents kept the party at our home. They used to spend hours with sheets of scrap wood and permanent markers, turning pieces of dead trees into everything from targets for footballs, to cork boards for bean bag tosses, to sweet interactive puzzles. My parties were the envy of my friends; everyone wanted to see what my parents would come up with next and how far we could stretch the resources of an inch into fun times that stretched a league or more. In this way, my birthdays were a celebration of the present. They were times when my family could gather, and although I didnít know it at the time, they were times when ripping open a myriad of colorful boxes meant a whole lot more than I thought it did.

As time went on, I started to realize that March 31 had a little bit of significance outside of the strange gatherings of people. At some point along the way I realized that we were gathering together to celebrate the fact that I had survived another year on this planet (a fact that astonished some of my family members, especially given my penchant for emergency room visits). However, it wasnít until I learned about someone else who shared my birthday that I began to understand that it was an event meant to connect me with others.

This is when I had the chance to go to thebookofdays.com and see who else throughout history shared the same date of birth as me. I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised to find that I shared March 31 with one of American Historyís greatest and most controversial leaders. While my birthday is some time from now, it is my wish, (and hopefully my gift) that this man who shares something with me shall not be forgotten. You know the date, but now here is a little bit about the man himself.

John C. Calhoun was a titan of states craft and American politics. The son of Irish immigrants, John C. Calhoun rose to power in South Carolina in the early 1800s and became the Vice President for James Monroe. He was renowned as a powerful voice for his state and the people that he called kin. He, along with other Southern Politicians like Henry Clay, helped lead a resurgence of southern politics.

Despite these fantastic accomplishments, what make Calhoun a controversial figure are the disputes that he had with President Andrew Jackson. Of these arguments that he had with the president, one dispute stands head and shoulders above the rest: the role of state sovereignty and how it conflicted with the wishes of the government. Thatís right, before anyone suited up in blue or grey, before anyone thought about brother fighting brother, John C. Calhoun was raising hell in the Senate about the needs of the people.

Whatís shocking to me is that, at a time when the idea of the Confederacy was a distant storm cloud on the horizon and the Civil War was a future event in the annals of history, this man was raising Caine. While some people would see sharing the same birthday as this man as something negative, I canít help but see it as something amazing for two reasons. One, despite whatever else Calhoun did in his lifetime, he was still a great leader. People still looked to him for wisdom and expertise; they trusted him with their hopes and dreams, their fears and ambitions. Love him or hate him, Calhoun was a force to be reckoned with in his time. Two, Calhoun is sort of forgotten by history teachers and students. He becomes just one more figure that is glossed over when compared to Lincoln, Douglas, and Lee. Itís moments like this, a cursory search of thebookofdays.com, that give me the chance to rediscover one of Americaís early political giants.

Hopefully this has been a testament as to why our birthdays are important, and also an incentive for you to go and learn a little bit more about what happened on the day you were born. Hopefully, you will discover something different about yourself, history, or the world around you. Iím Kyle Ott. Wonít you sit and read for a while?

Read other articles by Kyle Ott


Leaving a Literary Legacy

Nicole Jones
Class of 2014

Anyone familiar with the world of poetry, who has studied the German language, or who has visited the Goethe-Institut in Washington, D.C. has probably heard the name Johanne Wolfgang von Goethe. His German works are the equivalent to Shakespeareís literary contributions. However, who among you is familiar with the name Karl Theodor KŲrner? Iím sure very few hands just went up, if any at all.

An acquaintance of Goetheís, KŲrner was born in Dresden, Germany in 1791, and, like myself, his birthday is September 23. Though once a sickly youth, KŲrner soon grew to be quite the symbol of manliness becoming adept at music, dancing, fencing, and horsemanship. (Being of German heritage and sharing a fondness for literature and horses myself, itís hard not to draw parallels. Perhaps thereís something to be said for sharing a birthday.)

A rather relatable character, KŲrner did not desire to study law as his father wished him to. Instead, KŲrner went to Freiberg where he studied mining and geology. Like any indecisive youngster, KŲrner discovered that mining was not what he wanted to do with his life and in 1810 he transferred to Leipzig and from Leipzig to the University of Berlin, where he remained and published his first set of poems, Die Knospen, "The Buds."

And dare I lay my offering at thy shrine,
And dare my muse with mingled hope and fear
Breathe all her secret longings in thine ear?
The humble tribute wilt thou not decline?
(An excerpt from "With the Buds.")

From Berlin, KŲrner made his way to Vienna, where his poetic contributions began to flourish. His poems were increasingly more patriotic, so when the drums of war began beating in 1813, it was only natural for KŲrner to answer their call.

The storm is out; the land is roused;
Where is the coward who sits well housed?
Fie on thee, boy, disguised in curls,
Behind the stove, Ďmong gluttons and girls!
A graceless, worthless wight though must be;
No German maid desires thee,
No German song inspires thee,
No German Rhine-wine fires thee.
Forth in the van,
Man by man,
Swing the battle-sword who can!
(An excerpt from "Man and Boys.")

The Napoleonic Wars were a time of great German patriotism when Friedrich Wilhelm III, King of Prussia, gathered the many small Germanic nations under one flag to rise against French occupation. Literary figures like KŲrner were an integral tool in developing a united German identity. Now it was time for KŲrner to participate directly in the battlefield as a lieutenant of the LŁtzow Free Corp. That is not to say that the war stopped his literary efforts. On August 26, 1813, mere hours before his death, KŲrner wrote a final patriotic piece titled, "The Song of the Sword," which he read aloud to his companions:

Sword, on my left side gleaming
What means thy bright eyeís beaming?
It makes my spirit dance
To see thy friendly glance.

Hurrah!

"A valiant rider bears me;
A free-born German wears me:
That makes my eye so bright;
That is the swordís delight."

Hurrah!

The Prussian cavalry pursued enemy lines into a thicket of woods and directly into the line of fire. Sharpshooters hidden in the brush showered the cavalry with bullets. One of them found its mark through the neck of KŲrnerís horse and continued through the abdomen and backbone of the rider. KŲrnerís comrades carried him to a quiet spot in the woods, but he never regained consciousness after the delivery of this mortal wound. He passed away minutes later.

The deep wound burns, -- my parched lips coldly quiver, --
I feel, by my faint heartís unsteady beating,
That the last pulse of my young life is fleeting, --
God, to they hands my spirit I deliver!
How sounds of coming death all harslily sever
The fair dream-music, whore bright forms were meeting!
Yet, courage! what hath give my heart true greeting,
I shall yet keep to dwell with me forever!
An all towards which my worship here ascended,
What my hot youth, with fieriest zeal defended,
Now viewed in Freedom, --once with Love all blended,
I see, as a light seraph, oíer me flying, --
And whilst each fainting sense is slowly dying,
It wafts sweet airs with Heavenís morn-frao-rance sighing!
("Leave-Taking from Life")

It seems fanciful that such a romantic character existed, living and dying in the very dramatic fashion in which he once wrote. Though few people now know his name, KŲrner was once very popular and successful throughout the Germanic states. His poems, prose, dramas, and tragedies gained recognition in the Austrian capital, and he was appointed poet of the Court Theatre. When he joined the cavalry, his fellow soldiers already knew his name and revered him for his works.

KŲrnerís legacy illuminates the power of words. They can quite literally bring together countries or tear them apart. They can build a reputation or destroy one. I think this is a lesson all of us can apply in our daily actions. Though we might not have the opportunity to say, gather the Germanic states into a unified country, we do have the opportunity to say a kind word to someone. When is a better time to take advantage of that opportunity than this fresh New Year?

Read other articles by Nicole Jones

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