Jun. 4, 2010

An Irish Airman Foresees His Death

by William Butler Yeats

I know that I shall meet my fate
Somewhere among the clouds above;
Those that I fight I do not hate,
Those that I guard I do not love;
My country is Kiltartan Cross,
My countrymen Kiltartan's poor,
No likely end could bring them loss
Or leave them happier than before.
Nor law, nor duty bade me fight,
Nor public men, nor cheering crowds,
A lonely impulse of delight
Drove to this tumult in the clouds;
I balanced all, brought all to mind,
The years to come seemed waste of breath,
A waste of breath the years behind
In balance with this life, this death.

"An Irish Airman foresees his Death" by William Butler Yeats. Public domain. (buy now)

It's the birthday of the playwright Robert Anderson, (books by this author) born in New York City (1917). He's best known for his play Tea and Sympathy (1953), which was a big hit on Broadway. It's about a sensitive boy named Tom Lee who is falsely accused of being gay at a New England prep school. His fellow students shun him, but the housemaster's wife is kind to him and helps him restore his self-confidence by offering more than "tea and sympathy" — she offers to sleep with him.

It's the birthday of sex expert "Dr. Ruth," Ruth Westheimer, (books by this author) born Karola Ruth Siegel in Frankfurt, Germany (1928) to Orthodox Jewish parents. As a girl she learned about sex early by sneaking into her father's library to read his books. In 1939, on the verge of WWII, her family decided to flee Nazi Germany. But her grandmother refused to go, so Ruth was sent to safety at a Swiss school. She never saw her family again.

After the war she moved to Palestine, joined the underground movement fighting for a Jewish state, and trained as a sniper. Eventually, she moved to New York, got her degree, and started broadcasting a radio show called Sexually Speaking that made her famous.

It was one this day in 1919 that the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, giving women the right to vote, was passed by the United States Congress. Women across America voted in their first national election in November of 1920.

On this day in 1876, an express train named the Transcontinental Express arrived in San Francisco, just 89 hours and 39 minutes after leaving New York City.

Earlier in the century, fast travel across the continent was inconceivable. In 1805, Lewis and Clark arrived at the Pacific Ocean — it took them one year, six months, and a day to get there from St. Louis, Missouri. But the idea was there. In 1803, Thomas Jefferson wrote a letter in which he discussed moving carriages by something other than horses, and he said, "That the introduction of so powerful an agent as steam will make a great change in the situation of man I have no doubt." In 1800, the American inventor Oliver Evans wrote: "The time will come when people will travel in stages moved by steam-engines from one city to another, almost as fast as birds can fly, 15 or 20 miles an hour."

1825 saw the introduction of the first viable transportation with steam engines. Great Britain's Stockton & Darlington Railroad Company was the first to carry passengers and goods. In 1830, the Tom Thumb became the first steam-powered train to successfully carry passengers in America.

By the end of 1830, 14 miles of track had been laid for the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, and the next year they had fully transitioned away from horses and to steam engines. By 1840, there were 2,755 miles of track in America.

There was talk of a railroad that would link the Pacific to the Atlantic.

Most people did in fact favor it, but a bill got stalled in Congress because there was so much infighting about the route that the railroad would take. Every senator was, of course, eager for it to run through their home state, with Southern senators particularly adamant about a southern route. Besides the train's route, lawmakers fought about how much power should be given to the government vs. private companies and where engineers and workers should come from.

On top of all that, engineers and businessmen couldn't figure out how to route the railroad through the Sierra Mountains. But in 1860, a storekeeper in the tiny town of Dutch Flat invited Theodore Judah, the main engineer for the proposed railroad, to his town with the promise that he knew an easy way to cross the mountains. And indeed, unlike most of the Sierras, in the area around Dutch Flat you didn't have to cross two summits with a valley in between, just one. It was the perfect spot, and Judah agreed immediately, and set off to convince investors as well as Congress of the same thing.

In 1864, the Union Pacific broke ground in Omaha and the Central Pacific did the same in Sacramento. The Central Pacific employed lots of Chinese workers, and the Union Pacific many Irish immigrants.

Eventually in 1869, Sacramento was connected to San Francisco, and in 1872, a bridge was built over the Missouri. And on this day in 1876, an express train made the trip in 83 hours, a trip that would have taken many months only 10 years earlier.

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




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