Jul. 1, 1998


by Mary Jo Salter


Today's Reading: "Lament" by Mary Jo Salter from SUNDAY SKATERS, published by Alfred A. Knopf.

It's the birthday of novelist and short-story writer JEAN STAFFORD, born in Covina, California, 1915. She became a star with her very first novel, Boston Adventure, that came out in 1944 when she was 29 years old — the story of Sophie Marburg, an unwanted child of an immigrant family who dreams of being adopted by her wealthy boss. She followed that up with other novels about the painful times of adolescence, like The Mountain Lion, (1947); and her Collected Stories won the 1970 Pulitzer.

It's the birthday of bluesman WILLIE DIXON, born in Vicksburg, Mississippi, 1915, best known for his 1950s and '60s songs like "I'm Your Hoochie Coochie Man," "Little Red Rooster," and "I Ain't Superstitious."

It's the birthday in Annapolis, Maryland, 1892, of the novelist JAMES M. CAIN, author of The Postman Always Rings Twice. The book came out in 1934, and was his first novel. The story of a young hobo who saunters into a roadside sandwich stand run by a Greek immigrant and his American wife; the hobo takes one look at the wife and decides to settle down to work at the stand. Cain followed that up with lots of other books, the best known of which was a collection of short novels called Three of a Kind, which contained Double Indemnity.

July 1 marks the beginning of the BATTLE OF GETTYSBURG, 1863, in south-central Pennsylvania, a three-day battle that turned the Civil War in favor of the Union. The Confederates heard of a supply of new shoes stored in the village of Gettysburg and marched 7,500 troops down Chambersburg Pike at 5:00 a.m. on July 1, intending to get the shoes. A half-hour later, about three miles west of Gettysburg, they ran into Union soldiers and the fight was on. It was little more than a skirmish in the beginning, but as the word spread, both Confederate and Union troops poured into Gettysburg. The Confederates had superior numbers that first day, and by late afternoon the Union army was routed and fled to the relative safety of a hilltop cemetery. But thousands of fresh Union troops quickly arrived on the hill and positioned about 50 cannons shoulder-to-shoulder down on the Confederates. The South didn't attack, and by sunset the Union position up on the hill was impregnable. Two days later, the South retreated and the battle was over, each side losing about 20,000 men.

It was on this day in 1858 that CHARLES DARWIN presented a paper to the Linnean Society in London, on his theory of the evolution of the species. The following year he came out with the first edition of his famous book, which had the title, On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life; now it's simply called The Origin of Species.

It's the birthday in Budapest, 1818, of IGNAZ SEMMELWEIS, the physician who introduced antiseptic practices into medicine. He was working at an obstetrics clinic in Vienna in the 1840s, where a disease called childbed fever was killing nearly 30% of all new mothers. He theorized that nurses and doctors were carrying an infection into the delivery ward from the autopsy room, and he ordered them to wash their hands in a chlorinated lime solution between jobs. The death rate fell to one percent.

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