Wednesday

May 10, 2000

The Dance

by C. K. Williams

Broadcast Date: WEDNESDAY: May 10, 2000

Poem: "The Dance," by C.K. Williams, from Repair (Farrar, Strauss, Giroux).

On this day in 1907, KENNETH GRAHAME wrote down his first words about Toad, which grew into the children's book The Wind in the Willows (1908). Grahame was a banker in an unhappy marriage, on a holiday with his wife, when he wrote a letter to his five-year-old son Alastair. Apparently, he had already begun to tell the story, because the letter begins right in the middle of it. He wrote, "Have you heard about Toad? He was never taken prisoner by brigands at all. It was all a horrid low trick of his...." He continued these stories in further letters on hotel stationery, and the boy's nanny saved them. When Grahame put them together in a book, publishers were not impressed, and, after it was published, reviewers complained that its descriptions of nature were inaccurate — they wondered why a mole would whitewash his burrow, or why a water rat, of all creatures, would have a boat.

On this day in 1872, VICTORIA (Claflin) WOODHULL was nominated for the U.S. presidency by the Equal Rights party—the first woman ever to run for that office. Victoria Woodhull was working as a traveling psychic healer when Demosthenes appeared to her in a vision and told her to go to New York City. In New York, she became a stockbroker and ran a newspaper that published the Communist Manifesto in English for the first time in America. Her goals were the abolition of personal property, women's suffrage, an 8-hour workday, a graduated income tax, social welfare programs, and free love. She was denounced by newspapers left and right, and the women's movement disowned her, saying she was possessed by "men spirits." She went on the attack, accusing one of her chief tormentors, the Rev. Henry Ward Beecher, of having an affair with his best friend's wife. When she mailed this information out, she was arrested for passing obscenity through the mail. She lost the election, of course, but her libel and obscenity trial was a sensation in the press. She ultimately won the trial. Later, she moved to England, married a rich banker, and died in her sleep at the age of 88 (1927).

On this day in 1869, the final spike was driven to complete America's first transcontinental railroad. About 10,000 Chinese laborers were building the Central Pacific line from Sacramento — and in Promontory Summit, just northwest of Ogden, Utah, they met a crew of 8,000 to 10,000 German, Irish, and Italian immigrants building the Union Pacific line from Omaha.

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