John’s Believe It Or Not… July 10th

* 1789 – North West Company partner Alexander Mackenzie reaches the Beaufort Sea. * 1925 Monkey Trial begins * 1992 The Exxon Valdez captain’s conviction is overturned * 1985 The sinking of the Rainbow Warrior * 1941 Jazz great Jelly Roll Morton dies

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Album Cover; Jelly Roll Morton: The Original Mr. Jelly Lord 1923-1941

It’s Tuesday! Did You Know…

* 1789 – North West Company partner Alexander Mackenzie reaches the Beaufort Sea.

Sir Alexander Mackenzie (or MacKenzie, Scottish Gaelic: Alasdair MacCoinnich; 1764 – 12 March 1820) was a Scottish explorer known for accomplishing the first east to west crossing of North America north of Mexico, which preceded the more famous Lewis and Clark Expedition by 12 years. His overland crossing of what is now Canada reached the Pacific Ocean in 1793. The Mackenzie River, the longest river system in Canada and the second longest in North America, is named after him. Sir Alexander Mackenzie (or MacKenzie, Scottish Gaelic: Alasdair MacCoinnich; 1764 – 12 March 1820) was a Scottish explorer known for accomplishing the first east to west crossing of North America north of Mexico, which preceded the more famous Lewis and Clark Expedition by 12 years. His overland crossing of what is now Canada reached the Pacific Ocean in 1793. The Mackenzie River, the longest river system in Canada and the second longest in North America, is named after him.

On behalf of the North West Company, Mackenzie traveled to Lake Athabasca where, in 1788, he was one of the founders of Fort Chipewyan. He had been sent to replace Peter Pond, a partner in the North West Company. From Pond, he learned that the First Nations people understood that the local rivers flowed to the northwest. Acting on this information, he set out by canoe on the river known to the local Dene First Nations people as the Dehcho, (Mackenzie River) on 10 July 1789, following it to its mouth in the hope of finding the Northwest Passage to the Pacific Ocean. As he ended up reaching the Arctic Ocean on 14 July, it is conjectured that he named the river “Disappointment River” as it did not lead to Cook Inlet in Alaska as he had expected. The river was later renamed the Mackenzie River in his honor.

Map of Mackenzie's travels
(The Fur Trapper)

* 1925 Monkey Trial begins

In Dayton, Tennessee, the so-called “Monkey Trial” begins with John Thomas Scopes, a young high school science teacher, accused of teaching evolution in violation of a Tennessee state law.

The law, which had been passed in March, made it a misdemeanor punishable by fine to “teach any theory that denies the story of the Divine Creation of man as taught in the Bible, and to teach instead that man has descended from a lower order of animals.” With local businessman George Rappalyea, Scopes had conspired to get charged with this violation, and after his arrest, the pair enlisted the aid of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) to organize a defense. Hearing of this coordinated attack on Christian fundamentalism, William Jennings Bryan, the three-time Democratic presidential candidate, and a fundamentalist hero, volunteered to assist the prosecution. Soon after, the great attorney Clarence Darrow agreed to join the ACLU in the defense, and the stage was set for one of the most famous trials in U.S. history.

On July 10, the Monkey Trial got underway, and within a few days, hordes of spectators and reporters had descended on Dayton as preachers set up revival tents along the city’s main street to keep the faithful stirred up. Inside the Rhea County Courthouse, the defense suffered early setbacks when Judge John Raulston ruled against their attempt to prove the law unconstitutional and then refused to end his practice of opening each day’s proceeding with prayer.

Outside, Dayton took on a carnival-like atmosphere as an exhibit featuring two chimpanzees and a supposed “missing link” opened in town, and vendors sold Bibles, toy monkeys, hot dogs, and lemonade. The missing link was, in fact, Jo Viens of Burlington, Vermont, a 51-year-old man who was of short stature and possessed a receding forehead and a protruding jaw. One of the chimpanzees–named Joe Mendi–wore a plaid suit, a brown fedora, and white spats, and entertained Dayton’s citizens by monkeying around on the courthouse lawn.

In the courtroom, Judge Raulston destroyed the defense’s strategy by ruling that expert scientific testimony on evolution was inadmissible–on the grounds that it was Scopes who was on trial, not the law he had violated. The next day, Raulston ordered the trial moved to the courthouse lawn, fearing that the weight of the crowd inside was in danger of collapsing the floor.

In front of several thousand spectators in the open air, Darrow changed his tactics and as his sole witness called Bryan in an attempt to discredit his literal interpretation of the Bible. In a searching examination, Bryan was subjected to severe ridicule and forced to make ignorant and contradictory statements to the amusement of the crowd. On July 21, in his closing speech, Darrow asked the jury to return a verdict of guilty in order that the case might be appealed. Under Tennessee law, Bryan was thereby denied the opportunity to deliver the closing speech he had been preparing for weeks. After eight minutes of deliberation, the jury returned with a guilty verdict, and Raulston ordered Scopes to pay a fine of $100, the minimum the law allowed. Although Bryan had won the case, he had been publicly humiliated and his fundamentalist beliefs had been disgraced. Five days later, on July 26, he lay down for a Sunday afternoon nap and never woke up.

In 1927, the Tennessee Supreme Court overturned the Monkey Trial verdict on a technicality but left the constitutional issues unresolved until 1968, when the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a similar Arkansas law on the grounds that it violated the First Amendment.

John Scopes, an unassuming high school biology teacher and part-time football coach, is found guilty of teaching evolution in schools, in violation of Tennessee law.
John Scopes, an unassuming high school biology teacher, and part-time football coach is found guilty of teaching evolution in schools, in violation of Tennessee law. (wired.com)

* 1992 The Exxon Valdez captain’s conviction is overturned

The Alaska court of appeals overturns the conviction of Joseph Hazelwood, the former captain of the oil tanker Exxon Valdez. Hazelwood, who was found guilty of negligence for his role in the massive oil spill in Prince William Sound in 1989, successfully argued that he was entitled to immunity from prosecution because he had reported the oil spill to authorities 20 minutes after the ship ran aground.

The Exxon Valdez accident on the Alaskan coast was one of the largest environmental disasters in American history and resulted in the deaths of 250,000 seabirds, thousands of sea otters and seals, hundreds of bald eagles and countless salmon and herring eggs. The ship, 1,000 feet long and carrying 1.3 million barrels of oil, ran aground on Bligh Reef on March 24, 1989, after failing to return to the shipping lanes, which it had maneuvered out of to avoid icebergs. It later came to light that several officers, including Captain Hazelwood, had been drinking at a bar the night the Exxon Valdez left port. However, there wasn’t enough evidence to support the notion that alcohol impairment had been responsible for the oil spill. Rather, poor weather conditions and preparation, combined with several incompetent maneuvers by the men steering the tanker, were deemed responsible for the disaster. Captain Hazelwood, who had prior drunk driving arrests, had a spotless record as a tanker captain before the Valdez accident.

Exxon compounded the environmental problems caused by the spill by not beginning the cleanup effort right away. In 1991, a civil suit resulted in a billion-dollar judgment against them. However, years later, while their appeal remained backlogged in the court system, Exxon still hadn’t paid the damages.

The Exxon Valdez was repaired and had a series of different owners before being bought by a Hong Kong-based company, which renamed it the Dong Fang Ocean. It once again made headlines in November 2010 when it collided with another cargo ship off of China.

Map showing the Exxon Valdez oil spill.
Exxon-Oil-Spill. (Pinterest)

* 1985 The sinking of the Rainbow Warrior

In Auckland harbor in New Zealand, Greenpeace’s Rainbow Warrior sinks after French agents in diving gear plant a bomb on the hull of the vessel. One person, Dutch photographer Fernando Pereira, was killed. The Rainbow Warrior, the flagship of international conservation group Greenpeace, had been preparing for a protest voyage to a French nuclear test site in the South Pacific.

Two days after the incident, French authorities denied responsibility for the bombing and continued to do so even after New Zealand police arrested two French secret service agents in Auckland. Under pressure from New Zealand authorities, the French government formed an inquiry to investigate the incident and after several weeks concluded that the French agents were merely spying on Greenpeace. Later in the year, however, a British newspaper uncovered evidence of French President Francois Mitterrand’s authorization of the bombing plan, leading to several top-level resignations in Mitterrand’s cabinet and an admission by French Prime Minister Laurent Fabius that the agents had sunk the vessel under orders.

In Auckland, the two agents pleaded guilty to the lesser charges of manslaughter and willful damage and were each sentenced to 10 years in prison. Following negotiations with the French government, New Zealand released them a year later. In 1992, President Mitterrand ordered a halt to French nuclear testing, but in 1995 it was resumed, and Greenpeace sent The Rainbow Warrior II to French Polynesia to protest and disrupt the tests.

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The sinking of the Rainbow Warrior (Te Ara)

* 1941 Jazz great Jelly Roll Morton dies

On this day in 1941, Jelly Roll Morton—a native of New Orleans who became the first great jazz pianist, composer, arranger and bandleader—dies in Los Angeles, California.

Born Ferdinand Joseph Lamothe in New Orleans (his year of birth is recorded variously as 1885 and 1890), he was the son of racially mixed Creole parents; he later took his stepfather’s last name, Morton, as his own. Young Ferdinand learned to play the piano as a boy, and by the age of 12, he was performing in the bordellos of Storyville, New Orleans’ famous red-light district. Talented and precocious, Morton blended the popular music styles of ragtime, minstrelsy and the blues and flavored the mixture with Caribbean dance rhythms; the result was a hybrid that resembled a then-emerging style later known as “jazz.”

Morton left home and went on the road at 17, traveling to cities around the country to perform his music; he also earned money as a vaudeville comic, gambler, pimp, pool shark and door-to-door salesman. He was keenly aware of his own talent and never hesitated to promote himself, insisting on being called by his nickname, Jelly Roll (which had sexual connotations), and claiming to have “invented” jazz. Such claims were false, but he was, in fact, the first great jazz musician to write his music down.

Morton lived for a time in Los Angeles and Chicago, and around 1923 began making his first recordings. He performed with a sextet (on such numbers as “Big Foot Ham” and “Muddy Water Blues”) and won acclaim for a series of piano solos of his own compositions. Around 1926, Morton began recording and performing with his seven- or eight-piece band, the Red Hot Peppers. Morton’s arranging and performing style were more formal than early Dixieland jazz; the performances were a mixture of composition and improvisation and were carefully rehearsed. As a composer, some of his best-known works were “Black Bottom Stomp,” “King Porter Stomp,” “Shoe Shiner’s Drag” and “Dead Man Blues,” which became jazz standards.

Morton’s career declined in the early 1930s, and emerging artists such as Louis Armstrong exceeded him in popularity and influence. He moved from New York to Washington, D.C., where he managed a jazz club and occasionally performed. In 1938, Morton gave a series of oral interviews in which he recalled the early days of jazz in New Orleans and revealed himself to be an astute historian of the genre. The interviews sparked renewed interest in Morton; he recorded again briefly in 1939-40 but was by then in failing health (which he blamed on a voodoo curse). Morton died before the great Dixieland revival; his eventful life later became the subject of the acclaimed musical “Jelly’s Last Jam,” performed on Broadway in 1992 with Gregory Hines in the title role.

JELLY ROLL MORTON Print by Granger
JELLY ROLL MORTON Print by Granger (pinterest.co.uk)

Today’s Sources: 

* 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/

* Wikipedia                                                                  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alexander_Mackenzie_(explorer)          

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… July 10th”

  1. If I looked at the map correctly, Mackenzie did not actually traverse the entire North American continent. . Lewis and Clark actually covered more east to west distance, correct? Therefore, I don’t understand the record that was set here.

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  2. I always learn so much from your posts, John. Thank you for that. The Monkey Trial is an example of how a step forward threatens the masses. What courage Scopes had! The Valdez catastrophe still haunts me. Hopefully, we’ve learned from our mistakes. So sad about the sinking of the Rainbow Warrior. Have a great day, John.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The Monkey Trial was no different than the Inquisition’s treatment of Galileo – very sad indeed. Transporting oil will always be risky – by ship, by rail, truck tanker, or by pipeline. The best solution is to leave the stuff in the ground and redouble our efforts to produce green energy. Of course, that makes too much sense and it will financially hurt members of the wealthy 1% who run this planet. Yes, Green Peace and its members are very courageous. Thanks, Gwen.

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    1. Indeed – the same Evangelicals who despise the theory of evolution are backing the current U.S. administration. I have no patience for religious extremists. The loss of life suffered by Green Peace activists over the years is a testimony to the insane greed of the 1% that run this planet. Thanks, Opher.

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