November 5, 1979 — Russell Hoban finishes writing “Riddley Walker”

Russell Hoban was always somewhat peripatetic in his writing interests. While he tended to return to the same themes, he was far less loyal to genres. “Riddley Walker” is one of his best known novels, and as the only major work of science fiction he wrote, is representatively unrepresentative of his oeuvre.

It concern a young man in a world (ours, about two millennia after a nuclear war) who stumbles on a plan to build a super-weapon. The novel took Hoban more than five and half years to write, and won the John W. Campbell Memorial Award for best science fiction novel in 1982, as well as an Australian Science Fiction Achievement Award in 1983. (It was also nominated for the Nebula Award for Best Novel in 1982, but lost to Gene Wolfe’s “The Claw of the Conciliator”.)

March 14, 1974 — Russell Hoban begins writing “Riddley Walker”

Russell Hoban was always somewhat peripatetic in his writing interests. While he tended to return to the same themes, he was far less loyal to genres. “Riddley Walker” is one of his best known novels, and as the only major work of science fiction he wrote, is representatively unrepresentative of his oeuvre.

It concern a young man in a world (ours, about two millennia after a nuclear war) who stumbles on a plan to build a super-weapon. The novel took Hoban more than five and half years to write, and won the John W. Campbell Memorial Award for best science fiction novel in 1982, as well as an Australian Science Fiction Achievement Award in 1983. (It was also nominated for the Nebula Award for Best Novel in 1982, but lost to Gene Wolfe’s “The Claw of the Conciliator”.)

1856 — John Brown and his sons flee Kansas

One of the best known Abolitionists in American history, John Brown was a staunch exponent of armed insurrection for the purpose of overflowing the institution of slavery. He commanded other abolitionists in struggles throughout Kansas in 1856 – his forces killed five supporters of slavery in one of these encounters. Naturally, this caused some pushback, and one of Brown’s sons was killed in the skirmishing on August 30.

Brown, not being entirely stupid, left the state with three of his sons after hostilities were narrowly avoided on September 14. Officially, he was fund raising for the cause, and he did indeed do some of that. But realistically, he was trying to save the lives of his remaining sons. It would be almost two entire years before he returned to Kansas.

Referenced in:

David Rose — Clutch

1865 — Abraham Lincoln is fatally shot by John Wilkes Booth

John Wilkes Booth was a well-known actor – and less well-known Confederate spy – who was not actually performing in “Our American Cousin” on the fateful night. It was the merest chance that he even knew Lincoln would be there, Booth only learning this because the theatre was also his mailing address. But once he learned of the president’s planned visit earlier the same day, Booth resolved that the time had come to do something “decisive”.

Lincoln, for his part, had foregone his usual security precautions on the night. At the time of his assassination (about 10:25 PM), Lincoln was not guarded, his bodyman for the evening having gone to a nearby tavern for some drinks. Booth shot the president in the back of the head as Lincoln laughed at the funniest line in the play (Booth had timed this carefully, hoping that the crowd’s noise would cover the gunshot). The wound was mortal, although Lincoln did not die until nearly 7:30 the next morning. Booth fled into the night, but was eventually caught and died in a shootout on April 26.

Referenced in:
Abraham Lincoln — Clutch

1966 – The first documented sighting of the West Virginia Mothman takes place

On November 15, 1966, two young couples from Point Pleasant, West Virginia were out for a pleasant drive. Steve and Mary Mallette and Roger and Linda Scarberry later told police that they saw a large white creature whose eyes “glowed red” when the car headlights picked it up. They described it as a large flying man with ten-foot wings following their car.

Unknown to them, five others had sighted the creature three days earlier, but theirs was the first account to make the news, appearing in the Point Pleasant Register the following day. Over the next month, the creature, now called ‘the Mothman’, was sighted several more times, but after the collapse of a nearby bridge and the resulting deaths of 46 people, sightings dried up for a time – a fact that led many to speculate that the Mothman was a harbinger or prophet of the event.

Referenced in:
Sleestak Lightning — Clutch

1865 – Abraham Lincoln is buried

The remains of Abraham Lincoln and his son, William Wallace Lincoln, were placed on a funeral train which left Washington, D.C., on April 21, 1865 at 12:30 pm, and arrived in Springfield, Illinois, on May 3, 1865. The train retraced the route Lincoln had traveled to Washington as the president-elect on his way to his first inauguration, and millions of Americans viewed the train along the route (the reason the trip took so long was that several stops were made along the way, at each of which Lincoln’s body lay in state).

Lincoln was buried at Oak Ridge Cemetery in Springfield. The site of the Lincoln Tomb, now owned and managed as a state historic site, is marked by a 117-foot-tall granite obelisk surmounted with several bronze statues of Lincoln, constructed by 1874. Mary Todd Lincoln and three of his four sons are also buried there. Some historians have called this event “The Greatest Funeral in the History of the United States” on account of its length.

Referenced in:
Abraham Lincoln — Clutch

2000 – The Myakka Skunk Ape Letter is written

The Skunk Ape is an unusual cryptid. For one thing, there are actual photographs of it, taken by an anonymous photographer who has never come forward (but who did send them to a newspaper as part of the Myakka Skunk Ape Letter). For another, it is one of the most commonly reported cryptids, usually seen in northern Florida (where Myakka lies), or less often, in Arkansas or North Carolina. (For the record, none of these three states border each other, and there are no reports from the states in between, so if the skunk ape is real, there may be three separate populations of it.)

The Myakka Skunk Ape Letter was typed by a person or persons claiming to be a female senior citizen living near Myakka in Sarasota County, Florida. In it, the writer describes the ape as seven foot tall in a crouching position (which would make it the tallest hominid known to science), and expresses fears about the creature attacking people (fears which have yet to materialise). It remains unclear whether the letter and its accompanying photos are fakes or not, but the lack of other confirmed sightings of the Myakka Skunk Ape in the Twenty First Century argues against their veracity.

Referenced in:
Sleestak Lightning — Clutch

1901 – The Boxer Rebellion ends

THe Boxer Rebellion was a four year long uprising by native Chinese who fought against Japanese and European imperialism. The very name of the event is a textbook example of such imperialism: how dare the ungrateful peasantry of China reject the gifts of conquest, opium, economic disruption and famine that the Great Powers of the world had chosen to inflict upon them? An Eight Nation Alliance consisting of the United States, Japan, the United Kingdom, Austria-Hungary, Russia, France, Germany and Italy set out to teach them the error of their ways.

Not that the Boxers were without their faults too – there were massacres of Christian missionaries and Chinese Christians, with an estimated 100,000 civilians killed by the rebels. (Another 5000 civilians were killed by the Alliance.) There is no record of how many Bozers were slain, but approximately 2000 Chinese soldiers and 1000 Alliance soldiers were killed in the fighting, before the Eight Nation Alliance forced China to sign a humiliating peace accord on September 7, 1901. The Boxer Protocol’s terms included the execution of government officials who had supported the Boxers, an indemnity payment so great that it exceeded China’s total annual tax income and the requirement for China to pay for the occupying garrisons of its conquerors.

Referenced in:

White’S Ferry — Clutch

1831 — Nat Turner’s Rebellion begins

Nat Tuner was a black slave in Virginia who believed he was divinely inspired to lead his people to freedom. The rebellion he led in 1831 is the single largest slave rebellion in the history of the United States of America, with a death toll of at least 160 people (100 of them black, including Turner himself, 60 of them white).

The rebellion was a bloody and vengeful affair on both sides, but in the end, Turner’s slaves – for the most part lacking horses and firearms – had little chance against the white establishment. Many of them were killed in the fighting, and the few surviving ringleaders were tried and hung – by people who believed they were divinely inspired to deny them their freedom.

Referenced in:

David Rose — Clutch
Nat Turner — Reef the Lost Cauze
Prophets of Rage — Public Enemy
Somebody’s Gotta Do It — The Roots
Point of No Return — Immortal Technique
Who Will Survive In America — Kanye West

circa 1270 BCE — Minos begins feeding the Minotaur captured Athenians

The Minotaur was not the son of king Minos of Crete, but no doubt he felt responsible for it – it was the child of his wife and a sacred bull of Posiedon (or possibly a god in the form of said sacred bull). But it was too dangerous to let roam free; too holy to kill. Minos, along with his advised Daedelus, devised a solution: they would imprison the creature in a maze, the original Labyrinth.

The question still remained of what to feed the beast. Fortunately, at around this time, Minos won a war with Athens, and as part of the terms of surrender, he required them to send a dozen Athenian youths each year – which he then deposited in the Labyrinth: meat for the beast. This plan could have gone on for ever, but a young Athenian of dubious morality and considerable political skills by the name of Theseus got in the way of it.

Referenced in:

Minotaur — Clutch

2234 BCE — The Tower of Babel’s construction is disrupted by God

The Tower of Babel was an attempt by the post-Deluge peoples – all of whom spoke a common language – to build a structure upon the plain of Shinar which would reach to Heaven. God took offense to this, and went down from Heaven to prevent the project from succeeding. Having a keen understanding of the importance of good communication, God’s method for disrupting the project was the change everyone’s language. He created an un-recorded number of languages that day, sundering families and friendships, and all to prevent people from reaching Heaven physically.

The traditional religious interpretation of this is that it is a warning against pride. However, God’s words, as recorded in the Book of Genesis, make it fairly clear that, not unlike with that unfortunate business with the snake and the fruit, God was once again acting from fear that mere humans could dethrone Him by equalling him in power.

1828 — Nat Turner sees a vision urging him to rebellion

Nat Turner’s first vision was a striking one: the Spirit appeared to him and told him to take up Christ’s cross and suffer in his place, metaphorically. Turner interpreted this as a call to arms, and began laying plans for a rebellion (which would eventually bear fruit in August of 1831).

For the meantime, Turner continued to work in slavery, building his forces and biding his time, and growing ever stronger in his faith. How much he suffered we can only guess at, but based on the events of the slave rebellion he led, it must have been a great amount.

Referenced in:

Ah Yeah — Krs-One
David Rose — Clutch
Born fe Rebel — Steel Pulse
Nat Turner — Reef the Lost Cauze

1831 — Nat Turner sentenced to death

In August 1831, guided by visions sent from God (or so he claimed), black slave Nat Turner led a rebellion of slaves in Virginia. Turner and his fellow rebels killed between 55 and 65 white men, women and children (accounts vary as the exact number). But the rebellion was put down quickly, and most of the rebels were slain or captured (and then, for the most part, executed).

Nat Turner eluded capture for many weeks after the end of the slave rebellion he had led. It was not until October 30 – more than two months later – that he was captured. He was tried in Jerusalem, Virginia, and defended by white lawyer Thomas Gray. The trial did not take long – on a single day, he was tried, convicted and sentenced to death. Turner was hung on November 11, 1831. Controversy regarding his goals and methods continues to this day.

Referenced in:

David Rose — Clutch
Nat Turner — Reef the Lost Cauze