John’s Believe It Or Not… May 24th

In 1860 – Queen’s Plate horse race run for the first time. In 1941 The Bismarck sinks the Hood. In 1943 Auschwitz gets a new doctor: “the Angel of Death”. In 1883 Brooklyn Bridge opens. In 1844 What hath God wrought?

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It’s Hump Day Wednesday! Did you know…

* 1860 – Queen’s Plate horse race run for the first time. (It is the oldest continuously run stakes race in North America. The Queen’s Plate was inaugurated, with royal blessing, on Wednesday, June 27, 1860, at the Carleton track in Toronto, located in bucolic surroundings near what is now the traffic-strangled southwestern corner of Keele and Dundas streets. Sir Casimir Gzowski and Thomas Patteson were the two men who brought the race into close association with Buckingham Palace. Back on April 1, 1859, the Toronto Turf Club petitioned Queen Victoria to grant a Plate for a race in Ontario. The president of the club was Gzowski, a distinguished engineer whose father had been a Polish officer in the Russian Imperial Guard. There is no reason to believe that Queen Victoria was a wild-eyed devotee of horse racing. However, Her Majesty granted the petition of the little turf club in the boisterous Upper Canada community (the population of Toronto was 44,425) and offered as an annual prize, “a plate to the value of Fifty Guineas.” There are ironic notes here and there in connection with The Queen’s Plate, the annual Gallop for the Guineas. For example, The Queen’s Plate is not a Plate and the Queen’s guineas are not guineas. Outside of that, The Queen’s Plate is indeed the “Gallop for the Guineas.” The guineas? Minting of guineas was discontinued in England during the reign of George III whose forebear, George I, had instituted the gift of fifty guineas in racing, a tradition that remains though the guineas do not. About it not being a Plate; King Charles II began awarding silver plates as racing prizes in the seventeenth century at Newmarket, the size of the plate indicating the value of the race. But the practice became outmoded, perhaps as variety was sought in the prize. Other pieces of silver were instituted as awards and then other metals were used. Nowadays, The Queen’s Plate is actually a gold cup, about a foot high.)

Queen's Plate_1876_Woodbine
Queen’s Plate 1876 Woodbine (The Past Around Us – WordPress.com)

* 1941 The Bismarck sinks the Hood. (On this day in 1941, Germany’s largest battleship, the Bismarck, sinks the pride of the British fleet, HMS Hood. The Bismarck was the most modern of Germany’s battleships, a prize coveted by other nation’s navies, even while still in the blueprint stage (Hitler handed over a copy of its blueprints to Joseph Stalin as a concession during the days of the Hitler-Stalin neutrality pact). The HMS Hood, originally launched in 1918, was Britain’s largest battle cruiser (41,200 tons)-but also capable of achieving the relatively fast speed of 31 knots. The two met in the North Atlantic, northeast of Iceland, where two British cruisers had tracked down the Bismarck. Commanded by Admiral Gunther Lutjens, commander in chief of the German Fleet, the Bismarck sunk the Hood, resulting in the death of 1,500 of its crew; only three Brits survived. During the engagement, the Bismarck‘s fuel tank was damaged. Lutjens tried to make for the French coast but was sighted again only three days later. Torpedoed to the point of incapacity, the Bismarck was finally sunk by a ring of British war ships. Admiral Lutjens was one of the 2,300 German casualties.)

Bismarck view from astern, before her May 1941 breakout to attack Allied shipping.
Bismarck view from astern, before her May 1941 breakout to attack Allied shipping. (Daily Mail)

* 1943 Auschwitz gets a new doctor: “the Angel of Death”. (On this day in 1943, the extermination camp at Auschwitz, Poland, receives a new doctor, 32-year-old Josef Mengele, a man who will earn the nickname “the Angel of Death.” Upon arriving at Auschwitz, and eager to advance his medical career by publishing “groundbreaking” work, he began experimenting on live Jewish prisoners. In the guise of medical “treatment,” he injected or ordered others to inject, thousands of inmates with everything from petrol to chloroform. He also had a penchant for studying twins, whom he used to dissect. Mengele managed to escape imprisonment after the war, first by working as a farm stableman in Bavaria, then by making his way to South America. He became a citizen of Paraguay in 1959. He later moved to Brazil, where he met up with another former Nazi party member, Wolfgang Gerhard. In 1985, a multinational team of forensic experts traveled to Brazil in search of Mengele. They determined that a man named Gerhard, but believed to be Mengele, had died of a stroke while swimming in 1979. Dental records later confirmed that Mengele had, at some point, assumed Gerhard’s identity, and was, in fact, the stroke victim.)

Auschwitz prisoners to be used in Mengele's experiments.
Auschwitz prisoners to be used in Mengele’s experiments. (All That Is Interesting)

* 1883 Brooklyn Bridge opens. (After 14 years and 27 deaths while being constructed, the Brooklyn Bridge over the East River is opened, connecting the great cities of New York and Brooklyn for the first time in history. Thousands of residents of Brooklyn and Manhattan Island turned out to witness the dedication ceremony, which was presided over by President Chester A. Arthur and New York Governor Grover Cleveland. Designed by the late John A. Roebling, the Brooklyn Bridge was the largest suspension bridge ever built to that date. The two granite foundations of the Brooklyn Bridge were built in timber caissons, or watertight chambers, sunk to depths of 44 feet on the Brooklyn side and 78 feet on the New York side. Compressed air pressurized the caissons, allowing underwater construction. At that time, little was known of the risks of working under such conditions, and more than a hundred workers suffered from cases of compression sickness. Compression sickness, or the “bends,” is caused by the appearance of nitrogen bubbles in the bloodstream that result from rapid decompression. Several died, and Washington Roebling himself became bedridden from the condition in 1872. Other workers died as a result of more conventional construction accidents, such as collapses and a fire. The Brooklyn Bridge, with its unprecedented length and two stately towers, was dubbed the “eighth wonder of the world.” The connection it provided between the massive population centers of Brooklyn and Manhattan changed the course of New York City forever. In 1898, the city of Brooklyn formally merged with New York City, Staten Island, and a few farm towns, forming Greater New York.)

The Brooklyn Bridge around the time of its opening (1883).
The Brooklyn Bridge around the time of its opening (1883). (The Brownstone Detectives)

* 1844 What hath God wrought? (In a demonstration witnessed by members of Congress, American inventor Samuel F.B. Morse dispatches a telegraph message from the U.S. Capitol to Alfred Vail at a railroad station in Baltimore, Maryland. The message–“What Hath God Wrought?”–was telegraphed back to the Capitol a moment later by Vail. The question, taken from the Bible (Numbers 23:23), had been suggested to Morse by Annie Ellsworth, the daughter of the commissioner of patents. Morse, an accomplished painter, learned of a French inventor’s idea of an electric telegraph in 1832 and then spent the next 12 years attempting to perfect a working telegraph instrument. During this period, he composed the Morse code, a set of signals that could represent language in telegraph messages, and convinced Congress to finance a Washington-to-Baltimore telegraph line. On May 24, 1844, he inaugurated the world’s first commercial telegraph line with a message that was fitting given the invention’s future effects on American life. Just a decade after the first line opened, more than 20,000 miles of telegraph cable crisscrossed the country. The rapid communication it enabled greatly aided American expansion, making railroad travel safer as it provided a boost to business conducted across the great distances of a growing United States.)

“What hath God wrought!” Morse sent this message as his first telegram on May 24, 1844
“What hath God wrought!” Morse sent this message as his first telegram on May 24, 1844 (Pinterest)

Acknowledged Sources:

* Canadian History Timeline – Canada’s Historical Chronology http://canadachannel.ca/todayincanadianhistory/index.php

* On This Day – History, Film, Music and Sport http://www.onthisday.com/

* This Day In History – What Happened Today   http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/

* History of Queen’s Plate                   http://www.queensplate.com/Pages/History-of-Queen-Plate.aspx

Author: John Fioravanti

I'm a retired History teacher (35 years), husband, father of three, grandfather of three. My wife, Anne, and I became business partners in December, 2013, and launched our own publishing company, Fiora Books (http://fiorabooks.com), to publish my books. We have been married since 1973 and hope our joint business venture will be as successful as our marriage.

6 thoughts on “John’s Believe It Or Not… May 24th”

  1. Another impressive jaunt through the past, John. This one, however, brought tears, as I couldn’t help but think of all the agony one person (Mengele) inflicted. I wonder if our prayers can travel through time to ease the pain of victims of such horror. I have to believe that God’s eternal time knows not our human restrictions.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks, Gwen. I understand your tears – the horror is unspeakable. I hated teaching this unit of study because I had to revisit the horror each new semester. Yet it was one of the most important units I taught because the students needed to be aware. It is heartbreaking that the Holocaust of World War II was not the final occurrence of genocide.

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