John’s Believe It Or Not… August 27th

In 1912 – Thomas Wilby & Jack Haney leave Halifax on first cross-Canada motor trip in REO Special. In 1883 Krakatau explodes. In 1979 Mountbatten killed by IRA. In 1967 Beatles manager Brian Epstein dies. In 1953 Roman Holiday opens – featuring Hepburn’s first starring role.

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John Fioravanti standing in fron of his classroom blackboard.

It’s Sunday! Did you know…

* 1912 – Thomas Wilby & Jack Haney leave Halifax on first cross-Canada motor trip in REO Special.

Thomas Wilby knew exactly what he was doing 100 years ago when he proposed the first coast-to-coast road trip across Canada. The previous year, the British journalist had driven from New York to San Diego and back, and knew there was money and glory to be found in writing and lecturing about the experience. So in 1912, he approached the REO auto company of St. Catharines, Ont., with a similar request: give him a car and a driver and he would travel from Halifax to Vancouver within Canada to promote four-wheeled travel and—he hoped—the reliability of the REO. As well as providing a new car and paying all the bills, the company also supplied him with its head mechanic, a capable young American, Jack Haney, to be the driver.

Therein lay the problem. Wilby was a 45-year-old snob who had little time for Americans who would not defer to him. Haney, 23, thought he’d be assisting a fellow gear head; that illusion vaporized when the two first met in Halifax, and Wilby insisted on being called “sir.”

The two dipped the car’s wheels in the Atlantic Ocean on Aug. 27, 1912, and headed west with just a few maps and Wilby in the back seat, directing the way. The single-track country roads were soaked with rain; mud got everywhere. Canada had only one paved road, built that year between Toronto and Hamilton, and the route would take them nowhere near it. (The Trans-Canada highway, which turns 50 this summer, had yet to be even contemplated.)

The roads were wet pretty much all through the Maritimes, delivering a slippery challenge. Near the end of the fourth day, driving toward Grand Falls, N.B., the road turned to corduroy—no more than felled tree stumps laid side by side through a swamp like railway ties. After crossing the logs for eight kilometers, the REO ran out of gas on a hill. Haney was forced to blow into the gas line, forcing the last drops of fuel into the engine. “The unfortunate chauffeur did not burst his cheeks or succumb to asphyxia,” Wilby wrote in his subsequent book about the journey, “for it fell to his lot to blow into the petrol tank every few moments of the remaining journey.”

That was one of only four references to “the chauffeur” in the entire 290 pages of A Motor Car Tour Through Canada, published in 1914, and Haney was never referred to by name. Nor was the make of the car ever mentioned; Wilby was still angry at REO for supplying an American to be his driver. (“To make matters worse, I was compelled to inquire my way,” he wrote. “Pronunciation of names was out of the question, and the chauffeur was no help since he knew only American English.”) For his part, Haney plugged along and did all the work, digging and winching the car out of bogs, recording his own thoughts in a diary: “I am heartily sick of my companion and will be mighty glad when the trip is over,” he wrote in Ottawa.

The entire drive took 52 days, but despite Wilby’s best intentions, it did not qualify as the first cross-Canada road trip because there just weren’t enough roads in Canada to cover the country. Most highways headed south to link the provinces to U.S. markets, and the swamps and Shield rock of northern Ontario were a costly challenge to road construction, as were the Rocky Mountains. In North Bay, Ont., the adventurers were forced to load the car onto a train bound for Sudbury, then onto a schooner across Lake Superior to Port Arthur (now Thunder Bay), and then once again onto a train to Selkirk, near Winnipeg. They navigated the sticky gumbo of the Prairies, and even drove along a short stretch of railway in British Columbia, ready to jump if a train appeared, but were finally forced to detour around B.C.’s highest peaks along a short series of roads in Washington state.

Goin' down the road: the story of the first cross-Canada car trip - The Globe and Mail
Goin’ down the road: the story of the first cross-Canada car trip – The Globe and Mail

* 1883 Krakatau explodes.

The most powerful volcanic eruption in recorded history occurs on Krakatau (also called Krakatoa), a small, uninhabited volcanic island located west of Sumatra in Indonesia, on this day in 1883. Heard 3,000 miles away, the explosions threw five cubic miles of earth 50 miles into the air, created 120-foot tsunamis and killed 36,000 people.

Krakatau exhibited its first stirrings in more than 200 years on May 20, 1883. A German warship passing by reported a seven-mile high cloud of ash and dust over Krakatau. For the next two months, similar explosions would be witnessed by commercial liners and natives on nearby Java and Sumatra. With little to no idea of the impending catastrophe, the local inhabitants greeted the volcanic activity with festive excitement.

On August 26 and August 27, excitement turned to horror as Krakatau literally blew itself apart, setting off a chain of natural disasters that would be felt around the world for years to come. An enormous blast on the afternoon of August 26 destroyed the northern two-thirds of the island; as it plunged into the Sunda Strait, between the Java Sea and the Indian Ocean, the gushing mountain generated a series of pyroclastic flows (fast-moving fluid bodies of molten gas, ash, and rock) and monstrous tsunamis that swept over nearby coastlines. Four more eruptions beginning at 5:30 a.m. the following day proved cataclysmic. The explosions could be heard as far as 3,000 miles away, and ash was propelled to a height of 50 miles. Fine dust from the explosion drifted around the earth, causing spectacular sunsets and forming an atmospheric veil that lowered temperatures worldwide by several degrees.

Of the estimated 36,000 deaths resulting from the eruption, at least 31,000 were caused by the tsunamis created when much of the island fell into the water. The greatest of these waves measured 120 feet high, and washed over nearby islands, stripping away vegetation and carrying people out to sea. Another 4,500 people were scorched to death from the pyroclastic flows that rolled over the sea, stretching as far as 40 miles, according to some sources.

In addition to Krakatau, which is still active, Indonesia has another 130 active volcanoes, the most of any country in the world.

Krakatoa eruption lithograph.jpg
27th May 1883: Clouds pouring from the volcano on Krakatoa (aka Krakatau or Rakata) in south western Indonesia during the early stages of the eruption which eventually destroyed most of the island. Royal Society Report on Krakatoa Eruption – pub. 1888 Lithograph – Parker & Coward (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

* 1979 Mountbatten killed by IRA.

On August 27, 1979, Lord Louis Mountbatten is killed when Irish Republican Army (IRA) terrorists detonate a 50-pound bomb hidden on his fishing vessel Shadow V. Mountbatten, a war hero, elder statesman, and second cousin of Queen Elizabeth II, was spending the day with his family in Donegal Bay off Ireland’s northwest coast when the bomb exploded. Three others were killed in the attack, including Mountbatten’s 14-year-old grandson, Nicholas. Later that day, an IRA bombing attack on land killed 18 British paratroopers in County Down, Northern Ireland.

The assassination of Mountbatten was the first blow struck against the British royal family by the IRA during its long terrorist campaign to drive the British out of Northern Ireland and unite it with the Republic of Ireland to the south. The attack hardened the hearts of many Brits against the IRA and convinced Margaret Thatcher’s government to take a hard-line stance against the terrorist organization.

Louis Mountbatten, the son of Prince Louis of Battenberg and a great-grandson of Queen Victoria I, entered the Royal Navy in 1913 when he was in his early teens. He saw service during World War I and at the outbreak of World War II was commander of the 5th destroyer flotilla. His destroyer, the HMS Kelly, was sunk off Crete early in the war. In 1941, he commanded an aircraft carrier, and in 1942 he was named chief of combined operations. From this position, he was appointed the supreme Allied commander for Southeast Asia in 1943 and successfully conducted the campaign against Japan that led to the recapture of Burma.

In 1947, he was appointed the last viceroy of India, and he conducted the negotiations that led to independence for India and Pakistan later that year. He held various high naval posts in the 1950s and served as chief of the United Kingdom Defense Staff and chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee. Meanwhile, he was made Viscount Mountbatten of Burma and a first earl. He was the uncle of Philip Mountbatten and introduced Philip to the future Queen Elizabeth. He later encouraged the marriage of the two distant cousins and became godfather and mentor to their first born, Charles, Prince of Wales.

Made governor and then lord lieutenant of the Isle of Wight in his retirement, Lord Mountbatten was a respected and beloved member of the royal family. His assassination on August 27, 1979, was perhaps the most shocking of all horrors inflicted by the IRA against the United Kingdom. In addition to his grandson Nicholas, 15-year-old boat hand Paul Maxwell was killed in the attack; the Dowager Lady Brabourne, Nicholas’ grandmother, was also fatally injured. Mountbatten’s grandson Timothy–Nicholas’ twin–was injured; as was his daughter, Lady Brabourne; and the twins’ father, Lord Brabourne. Lord Mountbatten was 79.

The IRA immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, saying it detonated the bomb by remote control from the coast. It also took responsibility for the same-day bombing attack against British troops in County Down, which claimed 18 lives.

IRA member Thomas McMahon was later arrested and convicted of preparing and planting the bomb that destroyed Mountbatten’s boat. A near-legend in the IRA, he was a leader of the IRA’s notorious South Armagh Brigade, which killed more than 100 British soldiers. He was one of the first IRA members to be sent to Libya to train with detonators and timing devices and was an expert in explosives. Authorities believe the Mountbatten assassination was the work of many people, but McMahon was the only individual convicted. Sentenced to life in prison, he was released in 1998 along with other IRA and Unionist terrorists under a controversial provision of the Good Friday Agreement, Northern Ireland’s peace deal. McMahon claimed he had turned his back on the IRA and was becoming a carpenter.

Emergency workers recover Lord Mountbatten's body from the wreckage of his fishing boat.
Emergency workers recover Lord Mountbatten’s body from the wreckage of his fishing boat.

* 1967 Beatles manager Brian Epstein dies.

On August 27, 1967, Brian Epstein, manager of the Beatles, was found dead of an accidental drug overdose in his Sussex, England, home. The following day, the headline in the London Daily Mirror read “EPSTEIN (The Beatle-Making Prince of Pop) DIES AT 32.” Brian Epstein was, by all accounts, the man who truly got the Beatles off the ground, and in John Lennon’s estimation, it was difficult to see how they’d manage to go on without the man who had managed every aspect of the Beatles’ business affairs up until his unexpected death. “I knew that we were in trouble then,” John later recalled. “I didn’t really have any misconceptions about our ability to do anything other than play music. I was scared. I thought, ‘We’ve ******* had it.’”

The relationship between Brian Epstein and the Beatles dated back to Liverpool in late 1961. Entirely self-managed and without a recording contract, the Beatles had just recently returned from Hamburg and begun playing Liverpool’s Cavern Club. Epstein was then running his family’s record and musical instrument shop on Walton Road, just blocks away from the Cavern, but as he would later tell the story, he hadn’t heard of the Beatles until he had two young customers in quick succession enter his store looking for a copy of a record they’d made in Hamburg as the backing group for vocalist Pete Sheridan. Based on this rather modest “buzz,” Epstein arranged to go see the future Fab Four several weeks later.

The band that Epstein saw the first time he laid eyes on the Beatles was very different from the one that would soon conquer the world. They dressed in black leather, they played only cover tunes and they would freely eat and drink onstage during and between songs. Yet Epstein was immediately taken with their charisma and the crowd’s response to it. On January 24, 1962, he was officially hired by John, Paul, George and drummer Pete Best in a deal that gave Epstein a 25 percent cut of the band’s gross earnings for the next five years.

As a business deal, that management contract may seem to have been tilted very much in Epstein’s favor, but it is fair to say that the world might never have heard of the Beatles were it not for their manager and good friend. Epstein put the Beatles in suits, had them bow in unison after each number and, just a few months after being hired, got them their first recording contract with Parlophone Records.

Brian Epstein in the studio with The Beatles in 1967.
Brian Epstein in the studio with The Beatles in 1967.

* 1953 Roman Holiday opens – featuring Hepburn’s first starring role.

On this day in 1953, Roman Holiday, featuring Audrey Hepburn in her first starring movie role, premieres in New York City. Hepburn’s performance in Roman Holiday, as a European princess who ditches her official duties and falls for an American journalist (played by Gregory Peck) while on tour in Rome, earned her an Academy Award for Best Actress and instantly established her as a leading Hollywood star.

Hepburn was born on May 4, 1929, in Belgium. Her father, an English businessman, left Hepburn and her mother, a Dutch baroness when Hepburn was a young girl. She attended school in England, but when World War II broke out, her mother brought her to Holland, thinking her daughter would be safer there. During the war, the Nazis occupied Holland and Hepburn and her family endured hunger and other hardships.

After the war, Hepburn studied ballet in Amsterdam and London and played bit parts on stage and screen until she met the French writer Colette, who insisted that Hepburn is cast as the lead in the Broadway version of her novel Gigi. Hepburn’s Broadway debut brought her enormous attention and led to her role in Roman Holiday. Moviegoers were enchanted by the slender, elegant beauty and she went on to star in a string of hit films, including Sabrina (1954), opposite Humphrey Bogart; Funny Face (1957), with Fred Astaire; Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961), in which she played Holly Golightly; and My Fair Lady (1964), in which she starred as Eliza Dolittle.

Hepburn married the actor and director Mel Ferrer in 1954, and he produced her 1967 film Wait Until Dark, which earned her another Academy Award nomination. (Hepburn also received Best Actress Oscar nominations for Sabrina, 1959’s The Nun’s Story and Breakfast at Tiffany’s.) Ferrer and Hepburn divorced in 1968 (they had two sons together) and the actress married the Italian psychiatrist Andrea Dotti in 1969. The couple moved to Europe and Hepburn largely retired from Hollywood, devoting her time to charitable causes. She became a special ambassador for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in the 1970s. Hepburn’s marriage to Dotti produced another son and lasted until 1982.

In 1976, after a nine-year hiatus from Hollywood, Hepburn appeared as a middle-aged Maid Marian in Robin and Marian, opposite Sean Connery. She made a handful of film appearances after that, including her final movie role as an angel in Always (1989), directed by Steven Spielberg. Hepburn continued to work for charitable causes until her death from cancer at age 63 on January 20, 1993, in Switzerland.

Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck in Roman Holiday (1953)
Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck in Roman Holiday (1953) (Pinterest)

Today’s Sources: 

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

* Maclean’s                                                      http://www.macleans.ca/news/canada/canadas-first-coast-to-coast-road-trip-was-no-joyride/

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

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.

9 thoughts on “John’s Believe It Or Not… August 27th”

    1. I shook my head when I read that Wilby dismissed his American driver because the driver didn’t treat him with the proper deference. This was exactly the attitude of the British officers towards the Canadian volunteers in World War I. Too bad Britain never abolished the “Peers”. Buch of sods. Thanks for stopping by, John – glad you guys are safe in Austin!

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  1. Where did the summer go?
    I think Epstein’s death was the Beatles Krakatua. I often wonder what would have happened if he’d still been around. He glued the band together. I don’t think it was an accident that they fell apart after that.
    Audrey was another Krakatau on the screen and the blowing up of Mountbatton was a huge shockwave. In fact your whole post is seismic!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Some days in history were like that, Opher. Sometimes, I struggle to find ANY good news stories and other days, I have to make hard choices to keep the post down to five items. I think most experts would agree that had Epstein lived, the Beatles would have stayed together longer. Thanks for your comments, good sir!

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  2. Most interesting post, John. I did not know the story about Krakatau – Wow! Nature can be a ferocious force, can’t it? We saw the buried village in New Zealand when we were there last year near the pink and white terraces that disappeared forever. Very scary sight.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Indeed, volcanic eruptions are very scary. Mother Nature is not to be trifled with – and I’m afraid humanity will pay a huge price for unbridled economic activity fueled by greed of epic proportions. Thanks for your comments, Robbie!

      Liked by 1 person

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