It’s Sunday! Did You Know…
* 1738 – Pierre de La Vérendrye and sons travel to main Mandan village on the Missouri River.
Pierre Gaultier de Varennes, Sieur de La Vérendrye (November 17, 1685 – December 5, 1749) was a French Canadian military officer, fur trader, and explorer. In the 1730s he and his four sons opened up the area west of Lake Superior and thus began the process that added Western Canada to the original New France in the Saint Lawrence basin. He was also the first known European to reach North Dakota and the upper Missouri River. In the 1740s two of his sons crossed the prairie as far as Wyoming and were the first Europeans to see the Rocky Mountains north of New Mexico.
n 1730 he met Governor Beauharnois at Quebec and worked out a plan. La Vérendrye would build a post on Lake Winnipeg. The expedition would be paid for by Quebec merchants who hoped to profit from the resulting fur trade. This method of finance later caused problems because the merchants lacked the capital and organization to efficiently move supplies so far to the west. An additional goal was to divert furs away from the English on Hudson Bay. In the absence of government funds, the fur trade was necessary to pay for the exploration. It is not clear whether La Verendrye was genuinely interested in exploration or whether exploration was a pretext for expansion of the fur trade. Maurepas, the French Minister of Marine, was very interested in exploration, but would not provide funds. The French-Canadians, naturally, were interested in the fur trade.
In Paris, Maurepas was pushing for more exploration. By this time there were two candidates for the ‘River of the West’. The correct one was the Saskatchewan River which flows east into Lake Winnipeg. The other was the Missouri River in the Mandan country in what is now North Dakota. The Mandans were said to live in big houses and resemble Frenchmen. La Verendrye picked the Missouri. In September 1738 he reached Fort Maurepas on Lake Winnipeg and ascended the Assiniboine River to Portage la Prairie where he built Fort La Reine just south of Lake Manitoba (October 1738). Joining a large band of Assiniboins, he pushed southwest across the prairie and reached a Mandan village probably somewhere near the modern New Town, North Dakota about 70 miles east of the Montana border. Oddly, he did not push on to the Missouri but sent his son Louis-Joseph to do it for him. In order to get rid of their numerous Assiniboine guests, the Mandans claimed that there was a Sioux war party in the area. The Assiniboines fled, taking with them the Cree interpreter. Unable to talk to the Mandans, he left two Frenchmen to learn the language and returned to Fort La Reine (January 1739).
* 1947 A Streetcar Named Desire opens on Broadway.
On this day in 1947, Marlon Brando’s famous cry of “STELLA!” first booms across a Broadway stage, electrifying the audience at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre during the first-ever performance of Tennessee Williams’ play A Streetcar Named Desire.
The 23-year-old Brando played the rough, working-class Polish-American Stanley Kowalski, whose violent clash with Blanche DuBois (played on Broadway by Jessica Tandy), a Southern belle with a dark past, is at the center of Williams’ famous drama. Blanche comes to stay with her sister Stella (Kim Hunter), Stanley’s wife, at their home in the French Quarter of New Orleans; she and Stanley immediately despise each other. In the climactic scene, Stanley rapes Blanche, causing her to lose her fragile grip on sanity; the play ends with her being led away in a straitjacket.
Streetcar, produced by Irene Mayer Selznick and directed by Elia Kazan, shocked mid-century audiences with its frank depiction of sexuality and brutality onstage. When the curtain went down on opening night, there was a moment of stunned silence before the crowd erupted into a round of applause that lasted 30 minutes. On December 17, the cast left New York to go on the road. The show would run for more than 800 performances, turning the charismatic Brando into an overnight star. Tandy won a Tony Award for her performance, and Williams was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.
In 1951, Kazan made Streetcar into a movie. Brando, Hunter and Karl Malden (as Stanley’s friend and Blanche’s love interest) reprised their roles. The role of Blanche went to Vivien Leigh, the scenery-chewing star of Gone with the Wind. Controversy flared when the Catholic Legion of Decency threatened to condemn the film unless the explicitly sexual scenes–including the climactic rape–were removed. When Williams, who wrote the screenplay, refused to take out the rape, the Legion insisted that Stanley be punished onscreen. As a result, the movie (but not the play) ends with Stella leaving Stanley.
A Streetcar Named Desire earned 12 Oscar nominations, including acting nods for each of its four leads. The movie won for Best Art Direction, and Leigh, Hunter, and Malden all took home awards; Brando lost to Humphrey Bogart in The African Queen.
* 1967 First human heart transplant.
On December 3, 1967, 53-year-old Lewis Washkansky receives the first human heart transplant at Groote Schuur Hospital in Cape Town, South Africa.
Washkansky, a South African grocer dying from chronic heart disease, received the transplant from Denise Darvall, a 25-year-old woman who was fatally injured in a car accident. Surgeon Christiaan Barnard, who trained at the University of Cape Town and in the United States, performed the revolutionary medical operation. The technique Barnard employed had been initially developed by a group of American researchers in the 1950s. American surgeon Norman Shumway achieved the first successful heart transplant, in a dog, at Stanford University in California in 1958.
After Washkansky’s surgery, he was given drugs to suppress his immune system and keep his body from rejecting the heart. These drugs also left him susceptible to sickness, however, and 18 days later he died from double pneumonia. Despite the setback, Washkansky’s new heart had functioned normally until his death.
In the 1970s, the development of better anti-rejection drugs made transplantation more viable. Dr. Barnard continued to perform heart transplant operations, and by the late 1970s many of his patients were living up to five years with their new hearts. Successful heart transplant surgery continues to be performed today, but finding appropriate donors is extremely difficult.
* 1984 The Bhopal-Union Carbide disaster.
In the early morning hours, one of the worst industrial disasters in history begins when a pesticide plant located in the densely populated region of Bhopal in central India leaks a highly toxic cloud of methyl isocyanate into the air. Of the estimated one million people living in Bhopal at the time, 2,000 were killed immediately, at least 600,000 were injured, and at least 6,000 have died since.
The leak was caused by a series of mechanical and human errors in the pesticide producing plant, operated by the Union Carbide Corporation, a U.S.-based multinational. For a full hour, the plant’s personnel and safety equipment failed to detect the massive leak, and when an alarm was finally sounded most of the harm had already been done. To make matters worse, local health officials had not been educated on the toxicity of the chemicals used at the Union Carbide plant and therefore there were no emergency procedures in place to protect Bhopal’s citizens in the event of a chemical leak. If the victims had simply placed a wet towel over their face, most would have escaped serious injury.
The Indian government sued Union Carbide in a civil case and settled in 1989 for $470 million. Because of the great number of individuals affected by the disaster, most Bhopal victims received just $550, which could not pay for the chronic lung ailments, eye problems, psychiatric disorders, and other common illnesses they developed. The average compensation for deaths resulting from the disaster was $1,300. The Indian government, famous for its corruption, has yet to distribute roughly half of Union Carbide’s original settlement. Union Carbide, which shut down its Bhopal plant after the disaster, has failed to clean up the site completely, and the rusty, deserted complex continues to leak various poisonous substances into the water and soil of Bhopal.
* 1857 Joseph Conrad’s birthday.
On this day in 1857, Jozef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski–later known as Joseph Conrad–is born in Poland.
Conrad spent his early childhood in northern Russia, where his father, a Polish poet, and patriot, had been exiled. His parents both died of tuberculosis when he was 12.
An uncle raised Joseph for the next five years. At age 17, Joseph set out for Marseilles, France, where he joined the merchant marine and sailed to the West Indies. Conrad’s many harrowing adventures at sea set the scene for much of his work.
In 1878, when Conrad was 21, he traveled to England as a deckhand on a British freighter. He learned English during six voyages on a small British trade boat and spent 16 years with the British merchant navy. He had numerous adventures around the world, became a British subject in 1886, and got his first command in 1888. The following year, he commanded a Congo River steamboat for four months, which set the stage for his well-known story Heart of Darkness (1902).
Conrad began writing in the late 1890s. His first novel, Almayer’s Folly, was published in 1895. The following year, he married an English girl and gave up the sea to write full time. His work evolved from hearty sea-adventure tales to sophisticated and pessimistic explorations of morals, personal choices, and character. His best-known works, including Lord Jim, Nostromo and The Secret Agent, were published between 1900 and 1911 and brought him financial security. He died in 1924.
* Canadian History Timeline – Canada’s Historical Chronology http://canadachannel.ca/todayincanadianhistory/index.php
* This Day In History – What Happened Today http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/