John’s Believe It Or Not… July 21st

In 1896 – Canada’s first Edison Vitascope showing at Ottawa Electric Railway Company’s West End Park. In 1925 The “Trial of the Century” draws national attention. In 365 Tsunami hits Alexandria. In 2011 NASA’s final space shuttle mission comes to an end. In 1865 Wild Bill Hickok fights first western showdown.

John Fioravanti is standing in front of the blackboard in his classroom.

It’s Friday! TGIF! Did you know…

* 1896 – Canada’s first Edison Vitascope showing at Ottawa Electric Railway Company’s West End Park. (Two Ottawa-born, nineteenth-century entrepreneurs, Andrew and George Holland, were midwives to this cultural phenomenon. Thanks to them, Ottawa was among the first cities in the world to witness motion pictures. The Holland brothers were business associates of Thomas Edison whose company invented the kinetoscope, an early motion picture machine. While conceived by Edison, the invention was largely developed by his employee William Dickson in the early 1890s. 

The Holland brothers, who were the Canadian agents for the distribution of Edison’s phonograph, were quick to spot the commercial possibilities of the new invention and acquired the eastern U.S. and Canadian distribution rights. Andrew Holland, a founding partner of the Kinetoscope Company, opened the world’s first Kinetoscope parlor in New York City in April 1894, roughly a year after the machine’s first public showing at the Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences on 9 May 1893. Similar parlors were quickly established in other major US cities, including Chicago and San Francisco. They were highly lucrative. On 3 November 1894, the Holland brothers brought the kinetoscope to Canada, setting up a machine for public viewing in Ottawa at the Perley building on Sparks Street.

Two years later, the Holland brothers wowed Ottawa audiences again with an exhibition of the Vitascope, a film projector that could cast moving images on a wall or screen, enabling many people to witness a show simultaneously. An earlier version of the device, called the phantascope, had been developed by Charles Jenkins and Thomas Armat in 1895. The machine was subsequently refined by Armat, who receive a U.S. patent in February 1896 for a modified version that he called the Vitascope. The Vitascope was manufactured under license by the Edison Company and marketed as a new Thomas Edison innovation to cash in on the inventor’s reputation. As was the case with the earlier kinetoscope, the Holland brothers purchased the exclusive rights to exhibit the Vitascope in Canada.

Working with the Ottawa Electric Railway Company (OERC), the firm that operated Ottawa’s trams, the Holland brothers held the first exhibition of the Vitascope in Canada on 21 July 1896 at the West End Park, an amusement park owned by the OERC in Hintonberg, then on the outskirts of the city. Located on Holland Avenue, which was named after the brothers, the park had previously been farmland owned by the duo. Later known as Victoria Park, the area is now roughly the site of the Fisher Park Public and Summit Alternative Schools, Fisher Park playground, and the Elmdale Tennis Club. Although this was the inaugural demonstration of the Vitascope in Canada, it was not the first time a movie was projected in Canada. A month early, August and Louis Lumière, French competitors of Edison, demonstrated their cinematograph in Montreal.

Tickets to the Vitascope screening cost ten cents for adults, and five cents for children. For twenty-five cents, people could buy a package deal from the OERC which included the price of the tram ride out to the West End Park, admission, and a reserved seat.)

1896 Edison Vitascope Projection
1896 Edison Vitascope Projection (

* 1925 The “Trial of the Century” draws national attention. (Schoolteacher John T. Scopes is convicted of violating Tennessee’s law against teaching evolution in public schools. The case debated in the so-called “Trial of the Century” was never really in doubt; the jury only conferred for a few moments in the hallway before returning to the courtroom with a guilty verdict. Nevertheless, the supporters of evolution won the public relations battle that was really at stake.

Despite popular perceptions of the case, fueled in part by the Broadway play and movie Inherit the Wind, the Scopes trial was never more than a show trial. On May 4, 1925, the American Civil Liberties Union published a newspaper advertisement offering to help any Tennessee schoolteacher challenge the new law that had outlawed the teaching of evolution. George W. Rappleyea, a New Yorker who had moved to Dayton, Tennessee, read the ad and persuaded the local townspeople that Dayton should host a trial in order to spark interest in the town.

The leaders of the less than 2,000 residents of Dayton quickly came around to Rappleyea’s idea. The school superintendent agreed with the law but wanted to gain publicity for the town. Even Dayton’s prosecutors were in on the deal. The last piece of the puzzle was to find a defendant. Twenty-four-year-old John T. Scopes, a local high school science teacher and football coach, agreed to fill the roll since he wasn’t planning on staying in Dayton for the long term. No one was really concerned whether he had actually taught evolution to his students. The fact that he had been using the state-approved science textbook, which included a chapter on evolution, was deemed sufficient. A warrant was made for Scopes’ arrest, and word went out that the trial would begin in the summer.

Although the rest of Tennessee was displeased with Dayton’s plan, 500 seats were added to the town’s courtroom for press and spectators, and loudspeakers were set up on the lawn outside and in four auditoriums around town. This proved necessary when the nation’s leading figures in the evolution debate hijacked the case from the local attorneys. William Jennings Bryan, a former congressman who had twice run for president before serving as secretary of state for Woodrow Wilson, took over the prosecution. Bryan had personally initiated the campaign against evolution in the United States; the Tennessee law was his first major success.

Knowing that it would be the perfect forum to debate Bryan on the evolution and creationism issue, the great liberal lawyer Clarence Darrow wormed his way into the case as the defense attorney. While the press flooded into Dayton for the showdown between these two larger-than-life figures, a Chicago radio station broadcast the trial live—a first in America.

The trial opened on July 10 with magnificent speeches from both Bryan and Darrow. However, it soon became evident that the trial judge was not going to play along: He cut off every attempt by Darrow to debate the validity of evolution. The trial would have been completely uneventful except for a creative gambit by Darrow—he called Bryan as a witness. Although the judge would never have allowed a prosecutor to be called as a defense witness, Bryan didn’t dare back down to the challenge. In a famous exchange, Darrow questioned Bryan on the literal interpretation of the Bible’s account of the beginning of the world. With masterful questioning, Darrow forced Bryan to admit that a purely literal interpretation was not possible, making him look very foolish.

Darrow’s performance didn’t save Scopes from a conviction and $100 fine (it was later overturned on a technicality), but in the mainstream press, the theory of evolution clearly won the debate.)

Clarence Darrow at the 1925 Scopes Trial
Clarence Darrow at the 1925 Scopes Trial (

* 365 Tsunami hits Alexandria, Egypt. (On this day in the year 365, a powerful earthquake off the coast of Greece causes a tsunami that devastates the city of Alexandria, Egypt. Although there were no measuring tools at the time, scientists now estimate that the quake was actually two tremors in succession, the largest of which is thought to have had a magnitude of 8.0.

The quake was centered near the plate boundary called the Hellenic Arc and quickly sent a wall of water across the Mediterranean Sea toward the Egyptian coast. Ships in the harbor at Alexandria were overturned as the water near the coast receded suddenly. Reports indicate that many people rushed out to loot the hapless ships. The tsunami wave then rushed in and carried the ships over the sea walls, landing many on top of buildings. In Alexandria, approximately 5,000 people lost their lives and 50,000 homes were destroyed.

The surrounding villages and towns suffered even greater destruction. Many were virtually wiped off the map. Outside the city, 45,000 people were killed. In addition, the inundation of salt water rendered farmland useless for years to come. Evidence indicates that the area’s shoreline was permanently changed by the disaster. Slowly, but steadily, the buildings of Alexandria’s Royal Quarter were overtaken by the sea following the tsunami. It was not until 1995 that archaeologists discovered the ruins of the old city off the coast of present-day Alexandria.

Today, the anniversary of the tsunami is celebrated annually with the residents saying prayers and marking the evening by illuminating the city.)

A tsunami generated by an earthquake in Greece destroyed Alexandria – Harbor of Alexandria, Egypt
A tsunami generated by an earthquake in Greece destroyed Alexandria – Harbor of Alexandria, Egypt (Devastating Disasters)

* 2011 NASA’s final space shuttle mission comes to an end. (On this day in 2011, NASA’s space shuttle program completes its final, and 135th, mission, when the shuttle Atlantis lands at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. During the program’s 30-year history, its five orbiters—Columbia, Challenger, Discovery, Atlantis, and Endeavour—carried more than 350 people into space and flew more than 500 million miles, and shuttle crews conducted important research, serviced the Hubble Space Telescope and helped in the construction of the International Space Station, among other activities. NASA retired the shuttles to focus on a deep-space exploration program that could one day send astronauts to asteroids and Mars.

In January 1972, two-and-a-half years after America put the first man on the moon in July 1969, President Richard Nixon publicly announced that NASA would develop a space transportation system featuring a space vehicle capable of shuttling “repeatedly from Earth to orbit and back.” Nine years later, on April 12, 1981, at Kennedy Space Center, the first shuttle, Columbia, lifted off on its inaugural mission. Over the course of the next 54 hours, the two astronauts aboard NASA’s first reusable spacecraft successfully tested all its systems and orbited the Earth 37 times before landing at Edwards Air Force Base in California.

In 1983, a second shuttle, Challenger, was put into service. It flew nine missions before breaking apart shortly after the launch of its 10th mission, on January 28, 1986. All seven crew members were killed, including high school teacher Christa McAuliffe, who had won a national contest to be the first U.S. civilian to fly aboard the space shuttle. In the aftermath of the disaster, the shuttle program was grounded until 1988.

The program’s third shuttle, Discovery, made its first flight in 1984. Atlantis entered the fleet in 1985 and was followed by Endeavour in 1992. The shuttle program experienced its second major disaster on February 1, 2003, when just minutes before Columbia was scheduled to land at Kennedy Space Center and conclude its 28th mission, it broke apart while re-entering the atmosphere over Texas. All seven astronauts on board perished.

Afterward, the shuttle fleet was grounded until July 2005, when Discovery was launched on the program’s 114th mission. By the time Discovery completed its 39th and final mission (the most of any shuttle) in March 2011, it had flown 148 million miles, made 5,830 orbits of Earth and spent 365 days in space. Endeavor completed its 25th and final mission in June 2011. That mission was commanded by Capt. Mark Kelly, husband of former U.S. congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.

On July 8, 2011, Atlantis was launched on its 33rd mission. With four crew members aboard, Atlantis flew thousands of pounds of supplies and extra parts to the International Space Station; it was the 37th shuttle flight to make the trip. Thirteen days later, on July 21, Atlantis touched down at Kennedy Space Center at 5:57 a.m., after a journey of more than 5 million miles, during which it orbited the Earth 200 times. Upon landing, the flight’s commander, Capt. Christopher J. Ferguson, said, “Mission complete, Houston. After serving the world for over 30 years, the space shuttle has earned its place in history, and it’s come to a final stop.” During its 26 years in service, Atlantis flew almost 126 million miles, circled Earth 4,848 times and spent 307 days in space. The estimated price tag for the entire space shuttle program, from development to retirement, was $209 billion.

After completing their final missions, the orbiters were sent to museums around the country: Discovery went to the National Air and Space Museum Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Virginia, Endeavour to California Science Center in Los Angeles and Atlantis to Kennedy Space Center. A space shuttle prototype, the Enterprise, is now housed at the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum in New York.)

End of an era: Atlantis touched down at Nasa's Kennedy Space Center in Florida
End of an era: Atlantis touched down at Nasa’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida (Daily Mail)

* 1865 Wild Bill Hickok fights first western showdown. (In what may be the first true western showdown, Wild Bill Hickok shoots Dave Tutt dead in the market square of Springfield, Missouri.

Hollywood movies and dime novels notwithstanding, the classic western showdown–also called a walkdown–happened only rarely in the American West. Rather than coolly confronting each other on a dusty street in a deadly game of quick draw, most men began shooting at each other in drunken brawls or spontaneous arguments. Ambushes and cowardly attacks were far more common than noble showdowns.

Nonetheless, southern emigrants brought to the West a crude form of the “code duello,” a highly formalized means of solving disputes between gentlemen with swords or guns that had its origins in European chivalry. By the second half of the 19th century, few Americans still fought duels to solve their problems. Yet, the concept of the duel surely influenced the informal western code of what constituted a legitimate-and legal-gun battle. Above all, the western code required that a man resorts to his six-gun only in defense of his honor or life, and only if his opponent was also armed. Likewise, a western jury was unlikely to convict a man in a shooting provided witnesses testified that his opponent had been the aggressor.

The best-known example of a true western duel occurred on this day in 1865. Wild Bill Hickok, a skilled gunman with a formidable reputation, was eking out a living as a professional gambler in Springfield, Missouri. He quarreled with Dave Tutt, a former Union soldier, but it is unclear what caused the dispute. Some people say it was over a card game while others say they fought over a woman. Whatever the cause, the two men agreed to a duel.

The showdown took place the following day with a crowd of onlookers watching as Hickok and Tutt confronted each other from opposite sides of the town square. When Tutt was about 75 yards away, Hickok shouted, “Don’t come any closer, Dave.” Tutt nervously drew his revolver and fired a shot that went wild. Hickok, by contrast, remained cool. He steadied his own revolver in his left hand and shot Tutt dead with a bullet through the chest.

Having adhered to the code of the West, Hickok was acquitted of manslaughter charges. Eleven years later, however, Hickok died in a fashion far more typical of the violence of the day: a young gunslinger shot him in the back of the head while he played cards. Legend says that the hand Hickok was holding at the time of his death was two pair–black aces and black eights. The hand would forever be known as the “dead man’s hand.”)

Wild Bill Hickok and Dave Tutt before their gunfight,Harper's New Monthly Magazine (February, 1867)
Wild Bill Hickok (seated) and Dave Tutt before their gunfight, Harper’s New Monthly Magazine (February 1867) (

Today’s Sources:

* Canadian History Timeline – Canada’s Historical Chronology

* Today in Ottawa’s History

* This Day In History – What Happened Today



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 (, to publish my books. We have been married since 1973 and hope our joint business venture will be as successful as our marriage.

18 thoughts on “John’s Believe It Or Not… July 21st”

  1. Ten cents for a “movie” – those days are long gone! And a reserved seat? What a luxury

    The Alexandria tsunami was new info for me. Fascinating that archeologists can go so far back to figure out what happened.

    Some of the space shuttle info was new as well – especially the reasoning for abandoning the program. The Challenger disaster was a startling day in history – made all the more so because a civilian was aboard. Endeavor was especially sad, giving the timing.

    The most amazing thing to me about the Hickock story was that folks gathered to watch – I guess the same impulse that causes traffic to slow to a crawl as onlookers gawk at serious accidents. Not part of my DNA! I don’t want those images in my memory banks.

    Thanks again for a another great post. I learn so much from these.
    (Madelyn Griffith-Haynie – ADDandSoMuchMORE dot com)
    ADD/EFD Coach Training Field founder; ADD Coaching co-founder
    “It takes a village to educate a world!”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Every time I yearn for those days of 10 cent movies, I also remind myself that wages back then were so pathetic that this cost was not seen as cheap. I recall working part time for my Dad in his grocery store for the minimum wage of 50 cents/hour! That was in 1964! Five years later, I had to pay $500 for 5 university courses while working in the summer for $1.20 per hour. It took a lot of hours to earn that $500! Thanks so much for your comments, Madelyn.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Good point, John. From the time I was 11 years old until the summer before I left for college I babysat for my money – at 50 cents/per hour – which usually meant $2-$3 a night.

        I thought I was rich when I finally secured a summer job in retail – which paid minimum wage. I don’t recall what it was at the time but, although it certainly wasn’t much, it was a huge step up for me – and filled my college coffers a lot faster. Perspective is all.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you for the shuttle recap. There were so many missions that it became common place. Wild Bill must have been a character. The Tsunami must have been something. I found the fact that the water was sucked out and then came back.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Even after all these years of knowing about the Scopes Trial, it still amazes me how backward people were not so long ago (and still are judging by the 2016 election). 😦 It’s such a great story despite the embarrassment.

    Bryan was quite a character. It’s difficult for me to respect someone so deeply religious – blind adherence to dogmatic views is disturbing to me, but I admire his pacifism and dislike of manipulative bankers. Though I wouldn’t like to have seen him as president, one of the people who defeated him in a presidential election was William McKinley, who I strongly dislike as he was a Robber Baron president.

    Thanks for an excellent post.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Hickok should have been the bigger man and fired into the air. Didn’t old English duelist do that when they knew they had the upper hand? Or maybe that’s only in the movies. Either way, I guess people lived and died by the code of the west. Sad!

    I visited Virginia City, Nevada many years ago and was in an old saloon that had half (framed in glass on the wall) of a poker table. It was called the suicide table. Supposedly at least 5 card players killed themselves there over losing all they had. The “dead man’s hand” made me think of that old blood-stained table.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. As I understand it, dueling originated in Europe and was transplanted to North America, Mae. Southerners in the USA put their spin on the custom, which eventually morphed into the main street ‘showdowns’ in the days of the Wild West. Not sure, but had Hickock fired into the air, what guarantee would he have that the conflict would be settled? Then there’s the whole issue of the ‘code’ and ‘frontier honor’, etc. That poker table would be an awful sight! Thanks for your thoughts, Mae!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Good point, John! Those codes of honor were (and are) complicated, I have a fascination with the old west and despite cringing at some of the customs, I love reading about it. Thanks for an intriguing classroom today!

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Thank you for attending today, Mae! I share your interest in the Old West – I grew up with all the TV and movie westerns in the 50s and 60s. This underlines a major difference about how our two countries were settled. In the US, settlers flooded the prairies and the West to California – law and order followed. In Canada, the British set up policing and government in new areas before settlers were allowed in. Hence, we didn’t have a “Wild West”. Louis Riel and his two Metis Rebellions (1869-70 & 1885) were the closest we came to that reality.


  5. I love these reflections back in time that you do John. They are so diverse and they are absorbing. They nudge my memories and make me think.
    I find it amazing that evolution was ever banned from schools.
    The exploration of space – I always thought it would proceed at a faster rate.
    Thanks for making me think.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. You sir, just made my day – thank YOU! I’m glad these daily posts are doing for you what they do for me. I try very hard to achieve diversity – some are uplifting, some are downers, some are selected because they speak to our circumstances today, and some are chosen because they surprised the heck out of me. I think that in the early days of the Cold War, Congress was willing to pour tons of money into space exploration. With the advent of the Shuttle fleet, I hoped that a space station would be a stepping stone to a Moon Base – and then serious space exploration + colonization would follow. NOT! Can you imagine what could have been accomplished in space and here at home if the USA wasn’t pouring mega-billions into military hardware and wars? It boggles the mind. Universal and free health care. Free post-secondary education for all. A universal guaranteed annual income… Thanks for your insights today, Opher!


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