Sitting in darkness,
I see how the light of the city
fills the clouds, rosewater light
poured into the sky
like the single body we are. It is the sum
of a million lives; a man drinking beer
beneath a light bulb, a dancer spinning
in a fluorescent room, a girl reading a book
beneath a lamp.
Yet there are others — astronomers,
thieves, lovers — whose work is only done
in darkness. Sometimes
I don't want to show these poems
to anyone, sometimes
I want to remain hidden, deep in the coals
with the one who pulls the stars
through a telescope's glass, the one who listens
for the click of the lock, the one
who kisses softly a woman's eyes.
It was on this day in 1828 that Noah Webster published his American Dictionary of the English Language. He was a man who'd grown up in America at a time when Americans from different states could barely understand each other because they spoke with such different accents and even different languages. Americans in Vermont spoke French, New Yorkers spoke Dutch, and the settlers in Pennsylvania spoke German. All these different languages were influencing American English and there were few standards of spelling or meaning.
Noah Webster spent 20 years working on his dictionary, which contained 70,000 words, and he did all the research and the handwriting of the book by himself. He is believed to be the last lexicographer to complete a dictionary without an assistant.
Webster's dictionary had the result he intended. His standardized spelling and pronunciation guides helped ensure that Americans who speak English speak more or less the same English. The United States has the fewest dialects of any major country in history.
It was on this day, Good Friday, in 1865 that President Abraham Lincoln was shot in the back of the head while watching a performance of the play Our American Cousin at Ford's Theater in Washington, D.C.
Lincoln had received word of Robert E. Lee's surrender and the end of the Civil War just a few days before he died. He spent his last week as president arguing with Congress about how to readmit the Southern states to the Union. He believed that there should be as little punishment for the rebels as possible.
He had a dream that week that he was on a boat moving rapidly toward shore. It was the same dream he'd had just before every positive development since the war started. He believed it was a sign that everything was coming out right. That afternoon, at 3:00, Lincoln took a ride in an open carriage with his wife, and he was the happiest she'd ever seen him. He told her, "I consider this day, the war, has come to a close."
It was on this day in 1894 that Thomas Edison's first kinetoscope appeared in a New York City arcade. The machine Edison designed could only be viewed by one person at a time through a little peephole, and the viewer would see a series of pictures flipped rapidly enough to create the illusion of movement.
Edison formed a movie studio and began to release movies of acrobats and weightlifters, boxing matches, and firemen fighting fires. And then in 1903, Edison's studio released The Great Train Robbery, which was such a big hit that storefronts all over the country were converted into movie theaters and the movie business took off.
Today is the anniversary of Black Sunday, the day in 1935 when a windstorm hit a part of the Great Plains known as the Dust Bowl. That area of farmland, which included parts of Colorado, New Mexico, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas, was considered some of the most fertile land in America at the turn of the 20th century. Farmers flocked to the area, and the wide use of mechanical tractors had plowed up millions of acres of land. When a drought hit the area in the 1930s, all that plowed-up earth turned to dust.
On this day in 1935, the weather was sunny and calm. People were on their way home from church, or out visiting friends for lunch, when they saw huge flocks of birds flying south, away from a dark black cloud on the northern horizon. As the cloud approached, people realized that it wasn't a storm cloud, but a cloud of dirt, blown up by the wind.
Witnesses said it was like a black tidal wave came down from the sky. It became as dark as night as soon as the cloud descended. Static electricity stalled cars and shorted out telephone lines. People standing a few yards away from their homes got lost in the darkness.
Coincidentally, it was four years later on this day in 1939 that John Steinbeck published his novel about the farmers displaced by the Dust Bowl drought: The Grapes of Wrath.
War Dims Hope for Peace.
Plane Too Close to Ground, Crash Probe Told.
Clinton Wins Budget; More Lies Ahead.
Miners Refuse to Work after Death.
Include Your Children When Baking Cookies.
War Dims Hope for Peace.
Something Went Wrong in Jet Crash, Experts Say
Prostitutes Appeal to Pope.
Clinton Wins Budget; More Lies Ahead.
Local High School Dropouts Cut in Half.
Couple Slain; Police Suspect Homicide.
War Dims Hope for Peace.
Stolen Painting Found by Tree.
Panda Mating Fails; Veterinarian Takes Over.
Clinton Wins Budget; More Lies Ahead.
Iraqi Head Seeks Arms.
Police Campaign to Run Down Jaywalkers.
War Dims Hope for Peace.
Clinton Wins Budget; More Lies Ahead
It's the birthday of a brilliant man who had a hard time finishing things, Leonardo da Vinci, born in the Republic of Florence (1452). Though he lived for 67 years, only 17 of his paintings are known to exist, and only a few of those were finished to his satisfaction, including The Last Supper and Mona Lisa.
He kept notebooks full of ideas about architecture and technology of all kinds. Even the doodle pictures of parachutes he drew in the margin of his notes turned out to be technically perfect designs. He drew up plans for an assault battleship, a construction crane, a trench-digging machine, a revolving bridge, and a deep-sea diving suit. He made architectural sketches of churches that looked like seashells or blossoming flowers, none of which got built because they were too impractical. Most of his ideas were too ambitious for the tools that existed at the time.
In 1482, Leonardo began a sculpture of a horse. It was extremely difficult to design because the final product would weigh many tons when cast in bronze, and Leonardo wanted the horse to be rearing back on its hind legs. He spent 11 years sketching out the solution to the problem of the horse's balance, but when he tried to cast the horse in bronze, he found that all the bronze in the city had been used to build cannons for an impending war. So the sculpture went unfinished until 1999, when a Japanese-American sculptor used Leonardo's drawings and plans to build the horse. The finished product was 23 feet high, weighed 15 tons, and was perfectly balanced.
In 2001, builders completed a Leonardo da Vinci bridge supported by huge rings outside of Oslo, Norway.
Leonardo is best known for his painting the Mona Lisa, which is generally considered the most recognizable work of art in the world. He kept it with him for most of his life, working on it now and again. Today, it is probably the most analyzed work of art in history. For centuries, scholars have tried to determine the identity of the woman in the painting. A computer graphics consultant analyzed the painting and found that the nose, mouth, forehead, cheekbones, and eyebrows all lined up with a portrait Leonardo painted of himself. So he may have used himself as the model.
The most extensive works that Leonardo left behind were his notebooks, more than 3,500 pages of sketches and writings. Scholars aren't sure why, but most of what Leonardo wrote in his notebooks was written backward, so that it could only be legible when held up to a mirror.
It's the birthday of the novelist Henry James, (books by this author) born in New York City (1843). His first memory was an image of a monument to Napoleon as his family traveled by carriage through Paris, and though he was an American, he always loved Europe and spent most of his life living there.
At some point in his childhood, he was injured, possibly in a fire. He never said much about it to his friends, except that the injury was "horrid," but some scholars have suggested that perhaps he was scarred in some way that would explain why he never had a single love affair with anyone. As far as we know, he died without ever having even received a romantic kiss.
But he wrote almost 10 million words of fiction and nonfiction, including Daisy Miller (1878), Washington Square (1880), and The Portrait of a Lady (1881).
He became a British citizen near the end of his life as a show of support for Great Britain in World War I. One time, he said to a group of his English friends, "However British you may be, I am more British still."
For a long time, he wasn't very widely read in America, mostly because he seemed so European and old-fashioned. But his popularity has gone up recently, thanks in large part to all of the movies based on his novels that have come out. The Portrait of a Lady, Washington Square, and The Wings of the Dove were all made into Hollywood movies in the late '90s.
He said he would be back and we'd drink wine together
He said that everything would be better than before
He said we were on the edge of a new relation
He said he would never again cringe before his father
He said that he was going to invent full-time
He said he loved me that going into me
He said was going into the world and the sky
He said all the buckles were very firm
He said the wax was the best wax
He said Wait for me here on the beach
He said Just don't cry
I remember the gulls and the waves
I remember the islands going dark on the sea
I remember the girls laughing
I remember they said he only wanted to get away from me
I remember mother saying : Inventors are like poets,
a trashy lot
I remember she told me those who try out inventions are worse
I remember she added : Women who love such are the
Worst of all
I have been waiting all day, or perhaps longer.
I would have liked to try those wings myself.
It would have been better than this.
It's the birthday of the filmmaker and actor Charlie Chaplin, born in London (1889).
He started out as a vaudeville actor in a comedy troupe. He and his fellow actors would rehearse for hours before each performance, performing their slapstick routines with meticulous attention to details. He was playing the role of a drunk when a filmmaker in the audience saw his act and asked him to come to Hollywood to be in movies.
When Chaplin arrived in Hollywood, he was shocked to see how little rehearsal went into each movie. Hollywood directors at the time filmed each scene in a single take, refusing to waste money on extra film. Chaplin tried to get used to the Hollywood style, and he took all the jobs he could get, saving almost all the money he made. But he was disgusted at the quality of the movies. The camera often wasn't pointed in the right direction to capture his movements, and many of his favorite moments ended up on the cutting room floor. At the end of five months, he asked the producer if he could direct his own movie, and he put up $1,500 of his own savings as a guarantee against losses.
That year, 1914, Chaplin directed, wrote, and starred in 16 films in six months. It was that year that he debuted his most famous character: the "little tramp," who's always beaten down by life, always the butt of the jokes, but who never gives up his optimism. Chaplin saw the character as a bum who dreams he is a gentleman. He said, "That is why, no matter how desperate the predicament is, I am always very much in earnest about clutching my cane, straightening my derby hat and fixing my tie, even though I have just landed on my head."
The little tramp character was so successful that Chaplin became the first person to have complete control over every aspect of the movies he made. He was an obsessive perfectionist, and pioneered the use of retakes, shooting each one of his scenes multiple times to make sure he got it right. He spent two weeks filming a single scene in The Kid(1920), in which the small boy stirs pancakes while his adoptive father watches. He ultimately shot 300,000 feet of film to make The Kid, and only used 5,000 feet of it for the final product.
Other Hollywood executives thought he was crazy. But he was the most successful filmmaker in the world for more than 10 years, until the introduction of sound.
He was the last major filmmaker to make silent movies. Two of his greatest films City Lights (1931) and Modern Times (1936) were made after the debut of talkies in 1927. His only concession to sound in those films was the use of a musical soundtrack and some sound effects.
Charlie Chaplin said, "Life is a tragedy when seen in close-up, but a comedy in long-shot."
It's the birthday of the novelist Anatole France, (books by this author) born in Paris (1844). He was one of the most popular French writers at the turn of the 20th century, and won the Nobel Prize in literature in 1921. But after his death, his reputation as a writer went down hill because his work had been so traditional. Though he wrote mostly historical and social novels, today he's best remembered for his one fantasy novel, Penguin Island (1909), about the epic history of an imaginary penguin civilization.
Anatole France said, "Never lend books, for no one ever returns them; the only books I have in my library are those which people have lent me."
It's the birthday of the playwright John Millington Synge, (books by this author) born in a small village near Dublin (1871). He's known for the plays he wrote in the last few years of his life, including In the Shadow of the Glen (1903) and Riders to the Sea (1904), about a tiny remote island he visited off the coast of Ireland, where people still spoke the Irish language and Irish culture had gone on unaffected by British rule for centuries.
His plays were incredibly controversial, because he refused to portray the Irish with nobility and decorum, which was the custom at the time. His Irish characters swore and cheated, and in one play they even beat up a priest. The audience at his plays often made so much noise that the performance couldn't continue. His play The Playboy of the Western World (1907) sparked riots and later had to be performed with police in the audience. But it went on to become a classic of Irish theater.
John Millington Synge wrote, "In Ireland, for a few years more, we have a popular imagination that is fiery and magnificent, and tender; so that those of us who wish to write start with a chance that is not given to writers in places where the springtime of the local life has been forgotten, and the harvest is a memory only, and the straw has been turned into bricks."
It's the birthday of the comic novelist Kingsley Amis, (books by this author) born in London (1922). He was a student at Oxford when he met Philip Larkin who would become his closest friend for the rest of his life. They shared a love of jazz and hatred of pretentious literature. It was Larkin who encouraged Amis' genius for mimicry, and Amis became famous at campus parties for doing impressions of professors, classmates, and even fictional characters.
At first, it was Philip Larkin who wanted to be a novelist and Amis wanted to be a poet. But after Amis moved to Wales and got a job as a professor, he began sending comic descriptions of his campus life to Larkin, and Larkin helped him turn those sketches his first novel: Lucky Jim (1954). It was one of the first modern "campus novels," and is generally considered one of the funniest novels in British literature.
Lucky Jim was controversial when it was first published, because it's about a young assistant professor named Jim Dixon, who has worked his way up from poverty with a good education, but who has no desire to become a gentleman. He never reads any of the books he's supposed to teach, thinks the articles he's publishing are worthless, spends all his time ignoring the pretentious professors who surround him on the faculty, and fantasizes about murdering them.
Amis wrote, "Dixon pretended to himself that he'd pick up his professor round the waist, squeeze the furry grey-blue waistcoat against him to expel the breath, run heavily with him up the steps, along the corridor to the Staff Cloakroom, and plunge the too-small feet in their capless shoes into a lavatory basin, pulling the plug once, twice, and again, stuffing the mouth with toilet paper."
Lucky Jim also contains one of the most detailed descriptions of a hangover in Western literature. Amis wrote, "Dixon was alive again. Consciousness was upon him before he could get out of the way; not for him the slow, gracious wandering from the halls of sleep, but a summary, forcible ejection. He lay sprawled, too wicked to move, spewed up like a broken spider-crab on the tarry shingle of the morning. The light did him harm, but not as much as looking at things did; he resolved, having done it once, never to move his eyeballs again."
Amis went on to wrote many novels about men who try to be polite and courteous and mild-mannered, even though the world is driving them crazy. His novel The Russian Girl (1994) is about a man who tries to ignore his wife's pretentious accent. He wrote, "After a time he had stopped noticing it at all more than a couple of times a day, and for years had given up speculating what speech-sounds she might make if, for example, he were to creep up behind her and fire a loaded revolver past her ear."
Kingsley Amis said, "If you can't annoy somebody, there's little point in writing."
The puzzled ones, the Americans, go through their lives
Buying what they are told to buy,
Pursuing their love affairs with the automobile,
Baseball and football, romance and beauty,
Enthusiastic as trained seals, going into debt, struggling —
True believers in liberty, and also security,
And of course sex — cheating on each other
For the most part only a little, mostly avoiding violence
Except at a vast blue distance, as between bombsight and earth,
Or on the violent screen, which they adore.
Those who are not Americans think Americans are happy
Because they are so filthy rich, but not so.
They are mostly puzzled and at a loss
As if someone pulled the floor out from under them,
They'd like to believe in God, or something, and they do try.
You can see it in their white faces at the supermarket and the gas station
— Not the immigrant faces, they know what they want,
Not the blacks, whose faces are hurt and proud —
The white faces, lipsticked, shaven, we do try
To keep smiling, for when we're smiling, the whole world
Smiles with us, but we feel we've lost
That loving feeling. Clouds ride by above us,
Rivers flow, toilets work, traffic lights work, barring floods, fires
And earthquakes, houses and streets appear stable
So what is it, this moon-shaped blankness?
What the hell is it? America is perplexed.
We would fix it if we knew what was broken.
It's the birthday of novelist and playwright Thornton Wilder, (books by this author) born in Madison, Wisconsin (1897). He's best known for his play Our Town (1938), about a woman who dies and gets to look back on her life and realize how much she failed to notice. Our Town was one of the first major Broadway plays to use almost no stage scenery, so that the audience had to imagine the world in which the characters lived. Wilder said, "Our claim, our hope, our despair are in the mind — not in things, not in 'scenery' … [a play] needs only five square feet of boarding and a passion to know what life means to us."
Thornton Wilder said, "I am not interested in … such subjects as the adulteries of dentists. I am interested in those things that repeat and repeat and repeat in the lives of the millions."
It's the birthday of the woman who wrote under the name Isak Dinesen, (books by this author) born Karen Dinesen on a rural estate called Rungsted near Copenhagen, Denmark (1885). Her grandfather was a friend of Hans Christian Andersen. Her father committed suicide when she was 10 years old, and she spent the rest of her childhood in a house full of women: her mother, her grandmother, and all her aunts. As a girl, she loved listening to stories about Danish mythology, ghosts, or the magical powers of women.
As a young woman, she and her husband moved to Africa to try being colonial farmers. In order to pass the time there she wrote her first collection of short stories, Seven Gothic Tales (1934). The book was full of wild, magical tales. One story is about a group of people telling jokes while trying to survive a flood. Another is about a woman who exchanges her soul with an ape. Dinesen said, "Truth is for tailors and shoemakers. … I, on the contrary, have always held that the Lord has a penchant for masquerades."
Dinesen had written Seven Gothic Tales in English, and the book made her famous in the United States and England. But when she translated it into Danish, the critics in Denmark attacked it as shallow fantasy. She kept copies of the negative reviews for the rest of her life.
Her American publisher wanted her to write a new book as soon as possible, to capitalize on her success, so she decided to write about her experiences in Africa. Instead of writing an ordinary memoir, she wrote about her time in Africa as though it was a half-remembered dream in her book Out of Africa (1937).
She wrote, "Looking back on a sojourn in the African high-lands, you are struck by your feeling of having lived for a time up in the air.
And, "[I watched] elephants … pacing along as if they had an appointment at the end of the world … [and I once saw a] lion … crossing the grey plain on his way home from the kill, drawing a dark wake in the silvery grass, his face still red up to the ears."
It's the birthday of novelist and essayist Cynthia Ozick, (books by this author) born in New York City (1928). Her parents were both Jewish immigrants from Russia, and they fell in love when her father became ill with influenza and her mother took care of him. Both her parents worked as pharmacists, and Ozick grew up in the care of her grandmother, who was always telling her stories. Ozick once said that as soon as she was conscious of being alive she knew she was a writer. She claimed to have read Louisa May Alcott's novel Little Women more than a thousand times, fantasizing about becoming a writer like the main character, Jo.
In college, she became obsessed with Henry James, and she spent seven years trying to write a novel in his style. She said, "[I was] sunk in an immense dream of immense achievement.…[I had become] an unnatural writing-beast." She finally gave up on that novel and started another, and it became her first published book, Trust: A Novel (1966). She was 38 years old.
She has gone on to write several more novels full of Jewish mysticism and history, such as The Messiah of Stockholm (1987) and The Puttermesser Papers (1997), but she's perhaps best known for her essays, collected in Art and Ardor (1983) and Metaphor and Memory (1989).
She said, "I believe a writer can weave in and out of genres ” do it all. It is a gluttonous point of view, to be sure. Then again, when it comes to writing, that is what I truly am and nothing less: a glutton."
She also said, "The sentence is my primary element, my tool, goal, bliss. Each new sentence is a heart-in-the mouth experiment."
I, Rose Rosenfeld, am one of the workers
who survived. Before the inferno broke out,
factory doors had been locked by the owners,
to keep us at our sewing machines,
to keep us from stealing scraps of cloth.
I said to myself, What are the bosses doing?
I knew they would save themselves.
I left my big-button-attacher machine,
climbed the iron stairs to the tenth floor
where their offices were. From the landing window
I saw girls in shirtwaists flying by,
Catherine wheels projected like Zeppelins
out open windows, then plunging downward,
sighing skirts open parasols on fire.
I found the big shots stuffing themselves
into the freight elevator going to the roof.
I squeezed in. While our girls were falling,
we ascended like ashes. Firemen
yanked us onto the next-door roof.
I sank to the tarpaper, sobbed for
one-hundred forty-six comrades dying
or dead down below. One was Rebecca,
my only close friend, a forewoman kind to workers.
Like the others, she burned like a prism.
Relatives of twenty-three victims later
Each family was awarded seventy-five dollars.
It was like the Titanic the very next year-
No one cared about the souls in steerage.
Those doors were locked, too, a sweatshop at sea.
They died due to ice, not fire. I live in
Southern California now. But I still see
skirts rippling like parachutes,
girls hit the cobblestones, smell smoke,
burnt flesh, girls cracking like cheap buttons,
disappearing like so many dropped stitches.
It's the birthday of lawyer and writer Clarence (Seward) Darrow, (books by this author) born in Kinsman, Ohio (1857). Darrow became famous for defending some of the most unpopular people of his time. In the 1925 Monkey Trial, he defended high school teacher John Scopes for teaching Darwin's theory of evolution in a Tennessee school. In "The Crime of the Century," in 1924, he successfully defended two confessed teenage murderers, Richard Loeb and Nathan Leopold, from receiving the death penalty.
He wrote the novel An Eye for an Eye (1905) and the nonfiction books Crime: Its Cause and Treatment (1922), The Prohibition Mania (1927), and The Story of My Life (1932).
He once said: "I never killed a man, but I have read many obituaries with a lot of pleasure."
On this day in 1906, an earthquake struck San Francisco. It was one of the worst natural disasters in American history. At the time, San Francisco had a population of about 450,000 people and was the busiest port on the Pacific coast of the United States. Business had been booming, and new office buildings, factories, mansions, and hotels had been constructed all over the city.
The earthquake began near dawn, at 5:12 a.m. on a Wednesday morning, and lasted for a little over a minute. Scientists later determined that the San Andreas Fault had moved about 23 feet. The quake measured 8.3 on the Richter scale, and it was felt from southern Oregon to south of Los Angeles and as far east as central Nevada. The epicenter was near San Francisco.
A San Francisco journalist named James Hopper said, "The earthquake started … with a direct violence that left one breathless. … There was something personal about the attack; it seemed to have a certain vicious intent. My building quivered with a vertical and rotary motion and there was a sound as of a snarl.… My head on the pillow, I watched my stretched and stiffened body … springing up and down and from side to side like a pancake in the tossing griddle of an experienced French chef."
A policeman said, "[The streets] began to dance and rear and roll in waves like a rough sea in a squall, [then] sank in places and vomited up car tracks and the tunnels that carried the cable. These lifted themselves out of the pavement, and bent and snapped."
The world-famous tenor Enrico Caruso had performed at San Francisco's Grand Opera House the night before, and he woke up in his bed as the Palace Hotel was falling down around him. He stumbled out into the street, and because he was terrified that that shock might have ruined his voice, he began singing.
There was a loud sound of an explosion as the city gas plant blew up. Wooden structures caught fire from overturned stoves and immediately began to burn. The fire department went out to fight the fires, only to find that the city had lost all of its running water. Firemen attempted to stop the spread of fire by dynamiting whole city blocks, but despite their efforts the fire raged for three days and most of the city burned to the ground.
More than 500 city blocks and more than 28,000 buildings were in ruins. Some 250,000 people were left homeless. Nearly 3,000 people died. Americans mourned the loss of San Francisco, one of the country's greatest cities. The journalist Will Irwin wrote in The New York Sun, "The old San Francisco is dead. The gayest, lightest-hearted, most pleasure-loving city of this continent, and in many ways the most interesting and romantic, is a horde of huddled refugees living among ruins. … San Francisco is the city that was."
But people immediately began rebuilding the city. In three years, about 20,000 new buildings went up.
He wanted to stay.
He didn't ask for much.
He wanted to know what was "going on,"
He read the paper every day.
The world is like a sponge.
It absorbs us.
Mother was grieved with the nursing home.
He said, "Kiddo, it's all right."
The world goes on its way.
Now that he's gone, who will know?
It was on this day in 1943 that an uprising in the Warsaw Ghetto began. It was the largest ghetto uprising of World War II.
Hitler's army had invaded Poland in September of 1939. Warsaw was the last city in Poland to submit to the Nazis, but on September 27, after three weeks of resistance, the city finally surrendered. One Warsaw man wrote in his diary, "All about us buildings lie in ruins. … If there is a Hell, this is it. [The] hospital was set afire. … The shrieks of those trapped in the flames could be heard for blocks around, even above the crash of shells and bombs."
Conditions only got worse. There were about 300,000 Jews in Warsaw to begin with, but thousands more Jewish refugees streamed in from smaller towns. On October 3, 1940, about a year after the invasion, the Nazis officially announced the establishment of the Warsaw Ghetto.
They built a wall around a section of the city measuring about 20 blocks by six blocks. Jews were given a month to move into the ghetto, and all non-Jews were ordered to leave. Jews had to leave almost all of their possessions in their homes, and many of the Poles who left the ghetto area moved into their old apartments.
Almost all of the Jews in Warsaw lost their jobs, and many of them went around collecting rags, bones, tin, and paper to sell to the Germans. Some worked in factories and shops set up by the Nazis. Others started trading on the black market.
In the winter, there were often fuel shortages, and not much gas and electricity. Pneumonia, influenza, bronchitis, and other diseases were common. Many people got frostbite, and some elderly people and children froze to death in their beds. The ground was so hard that graves had to be blasted out with dynamite. Fur coats, wood, and coal were smuggled in to keep people warm.
Eventually, small resistance groups began to pop up in the ghetto. One socialist group formed cells of five members each, so that the member only knew of the other four people in their cell. Underground newspapers were published in both Polish and Yiddish. The Nazis had confiscated almost all of the printing presses in the city, but people reconstructed presses from discarded machinery and printed the newspapers on paper they found in the trash. All the official schools were closed down, but secret schools were formed in basements and abandoned buildings. Professional musicians who had managed to keep their instruments began playing beautiful music on the streets. One survivor said they "turned Warsaw into a city of song."
In the summer of 1942, the Nazis began Operation Reinhard — the deportation of Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto to the concentration camp in Treblinka. From July to September, more than 300,000 Jews were deported, leaving only about 50,000 people in the ghetto. When reports of mass murder leaked back to the ghetto, a group of people, mostly young men, formed a resistance group called the Z.O.B. — which in Polish stood for Jewish Fighting Organization.
Members of the group began ambushing Nazi officials and stealing their weapons, and they got more weapons by smuggling them in from outside the ghetto. The leader of the group, a 23-year-old man named Mordecai Anielewicz, organized several underground factories for making grenades, bombs, and mines. He also supervised the creation of a chain of tunnels, trenches, and bunkers for people to hide out in.
In January of 1943, ghetto fighters opened fire on German troops as they tried to round up more people for deportation. The Nazis were forced to retreat and the Jewish fighters gained the confidence to go ahead with a bigger revolt. Then, on this day, April 19, 1943, the first day of Passover, hundreds of German soldiers entered the ghetto in rows of tanks, planning to destroy the ghetto in three days. But resistance fighters fought back with the guns and grenades they had been storing. Fighting went on for days; when they ran out of grenades the Jews fought with kitchen knives, chair legs —whatever they could get their hands on. They hid in their trenches and tunnels and in the sewers. They held out for almost a month, but on May 16 the revolt ended. Nazis burned down buildings, shot many of the remaining Jews, and sent the rest of them to concentration camps.
On the 45th anniversary of the uprising, a survivor named Irena Klepfisz said, "What we grieve for is not the loss of a grand vision, but rather the loss of common things, events and gestures. … Ordinariness is the most precious thing we struggle for, what the Jews of the Warsaw Ghetto fought for. Not noble causes or abstract theories. But the right to go on living with a sense of purpose and a sense of self-worth — an ordinary life."
The water-lilies on the meadow stream
Again spread out their leaves of glossy green;
And some, yet young, of a rich copper gleam,
Scarce open, in the sunny stream are seen,
Throwing a richness upon Leisure's eye,
That thither wanders in a vacant joy;
While on the sloping banks, luxuriantly,
Tending of horse and cow, the chubby boy,
In self-delighted whims, will often throw
Pebbles, to hit and splash their sunny leaves;
Yet quickly dry again, they shine and glow
Like some rich vision that his eye deceives;
Spreading above the water, day by day,
In dangerous deeps, yet out of danger's way.
from The Flower
How fresh, O Lord, how sweet and clean
Are Thy returns! even as the flowers in Spring,
To which, besides their own demean,
The late-past frosts tributes of pleasure bring;
Grief melts away
Like snow in May,
As if there were no such cold thing.
Who would have thought my shriveled heart
Could have recovered greenness? It was gone
Quite underground; as flowers depart
To see their mother-root, when they have blown,
Where they together
All the hard weather,
Dead to the world, keep house unknown.
And now in age I bud again,
After so many deaths I live and write;
I once more smell the dew and rain,
And relish versing: O, my only Light,
It cannot be
That I am he
On whom thy tempests fell all night.
In 1841, on this day, the first detective story was published. In his story The Murders in the Rue Morgue, published in Graham's Magazine, Edgar Allan Poe (books by this author) created mystery's first fictional detective, C. Auguste Dupin. The story introduced many of the elements of mysteries that are still popular today: the genius detective, the not-so-smart sidekick, the plodding policeman and the use of the red herring to lead readers off the track.
It's the birthday of musician (Ernest Anthony) Tito Puente, born in New York, New York (1923). He became known as the Mambo King.
Puente always saw his music in terms of dance. He said, "I think as a dancer, not a musician. [I ask], 'How would it look as a dance?'" Even when recording his hundredth album, he insisted that the music be recorded live, with the entire orchestra present, as opposed to one section at a time, the way most recording is now done. When his agent suggested this might waste time, Puente replied, "You don't understand. … I'm a dancer. I must dance in the studio while the whole thing is playing to see if it really works."
It's the birthday of science fiction writer Ian Watson, (books by this author) born in St. Albans, England (1943). He's known for his Black River/Yaleen trilogy: The Book of the River (1984), The Book of the Stars (1984), and The Book of Being (1985).
It's the birthday of artist Joan Miró, born in Barcelona, Spain (1893). He became known for his colorful, surrealistic paintings that combined abstract shapes with plants, animals, and people.
It's the birthday of one of the founders of psychiatry, Philippe Pinel, born in Saint-André, France (1745). He studied mathematics, theology, and internal medicine before becoming the chief physician at a Paris insane asylum in 1792. Before Pinel arrived, conditions at the asylum were horrible: Patients were chained to the walls like animals, and people could pay a fee to come in and watch them.
Pinel put a stop to these practices, as well as misguided treatments like bleeding, purging, and blistering. Popular theory at the time held that the insane were possessed by demons, but Pinel argued that they were just under social and psychological stresses. He started treating patients by talking to them about their problems in intense conversations on a regular basis, which paved the way for modern psychiatric practices.