Christmas Eve marked the anniversary of one of the darkest moments in United States labour history:
On that day in 1913, 73 people (mostly children) died in a stampede following a false cry of “Fire!” at the Italian Hall in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.
The incident occurred during the Copper Strike of 1913. Most of the copper mines were situated in a line on the north side of the peninsula: The mines were shut down completely. The mine owners called for the National Guard to be sent and also hired hundreds of strike breaker thugs.
The mine owners were flush with cash though, and convinced they could starve the workers into ending their strike.
Many of the strikers were recent immigrants from Finland. More than 500 people attended the Christmas event at the Italian Hall, in a little town now known as Calumet.
Then, a stranger stepped into the main hall and yelled “Fire!” There was no fire, but extreme panic spread through the building.
In the mayhem that followed as people tried to escape body piled up on top of body, the children stood no chance Witnesses would later say they could identify the man who had raised the false alarm and much of the evidence pointed to his occupation:
He was a strikebreaker.
The enquiry held after the Disaster was a farce. Witnesses who spoke foreign languages were asked questions in English and required to answer in English. Many witnesses were called who were not even at the Hall or who had not seen what happened.
In the end, the official verdict was that no one knew what had happened at the Hall.
One lasting legacy of this event is the famous quote from Schenck v US, where Oliver Wendell Holmes famously wrote: “The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man in falsely shouting fire in a theatre and causing a panic.”
To this day most believe it was a calculated act of sabotage by the Mining companies resulting in the murder of 60 young children.
This photograph from the Museum’s Tyrrell collection shows the aftermath of one of Australia’s worst rail disasters of the 19th century.
The accident occurred in the early hours of the morning of 25 January 1885 about five kms south of Cootamundra. The train had left from Albury and was fully laden with mail and passengers, many of them travelling to Sydney to attend the Randwick races the following day.
It had been raining heavily for several days throughout southern NSW and the embankment supporting the rail line over Salt Clay Creek had collapsed and washed away, leaving only the unsupported tracks. As the Australian Town and Country Journal reported,
This left a very large gap, about 50yd wide and about 9ft deep, and into it the mail train dashed.
Attempts to warn the driver had proved futile. Eight people died and 20 were seriously injured. The Kerang Times and Swan Hill Gazette reported the gruesome discovery of a head “stuffed under the cushions”.
The North Eastern Ensign described the aftermath:
The spot at which the accident occurred is situated so far in the bush from any road that it was found to be a very arduous task to bring proper aid to the sufferers, or to remove them to Cootamundra and other places, where preparations could be made to receive them. These circumstances rendered an otherwise terrible catastrophe still more heart rending, as the poor victims of the smash were obliged to lie for hours under the pitiless rain which seems to have fallen in abnormal volume.
It is intriguing how a photographer from the Henry King studio in Sydney came to be on the scene at what appears to be a very early stage of the salvage operation. Perhaps he was on the train.
The fate of the locomotive is unknown but was said to have fractured its boiler in the accident. It appears to be No 31 and is one of the G23 Class, a 2-4-0 passenger type engine used by the NSW Government Railways.
Appropriately this photo features on the cover of a new publication from the Powerhouse Museum, All is Not Lost: the Collection Recovery Book, which gives advice on how to salvage treasured items affected by disaster.
The much maligned venomous cane toads earned their bad reputation shortly after being released into the Australian ecology in 1935 with the hope that they would control the destructive cane beetle population.
They turned out to be failures at controlling beetles, but remarkably successful at reproducing and spreading themselves.
About 3,000 cane toads were released in the sugarcane plantations of north Queensland in 1935.
They now number well into the millions, and their still expanding range covers thousands of square miles in northeastern Australia.
Photo by Iрина Д. UkraineJoined in 2015
They are considered pests, and government eradication efforts include asking residents to help collect and dispose of them.
Cane toads are large, stocky amphibians with dry, warty skin, and are native to the southern United States, Central America, and tropical South America.
Their numbers are manageable in their natural range, but they have thrived in Australia because there are few natural predators, they breed easily, and they have abundant food, including pet food, which they steal from feeding bowls left outside of homes.
As far as drowning goes, drowning in a tidal wave of free booze probably isn’t the worst way to go, but only the seven victims of the London Beer Flood could tell us for sure.
On October 17, 1814, about 610,000 liters of beer flooded out of the Meux and company brewery in a 15-foot high wave of porter.
The wave roared through the streets of Tottenham Court Road, flooding cellars and dragging debris, leaving a path of foamy destruction in its wake.
The flood was caused by a ruptured vat which created a deadly domino effect that tipped the other vats into spilling their contents and creating a beer wave of death.
The flood destroyed two houses and claimed seven lives, five of whom were attending a wake for a child that had died the previous day.
While there are rumors, there were no written records of the citizens taking advantage of the free drinks, and subsequently, no recorded deaths of alcohol poisoning on the account of the flood.
It’s assumed when a 15-foot high wave of anything is rolling down the street, there’s not really enough time to weigh the pros and cons of taking advantage or getting to higher ground.
The brewery has been demolished, and the Dominion Theater now stands in its place.
While there is no plaque or memorial to signify the beer flood, a local tavern, the Holborn Whippet, serves a special porter that commemorates the beer flood once a year, on the anniversary of the event.
Gill Hoffs, author of The Sinking of RMS Tayleur: The Lost Story of the ‘Victorian Titanic’ used The British Newspaper Archive extensively for her research. She got in touch to tell us the touching story of the ‘Ocean Child’.
The 1854 disaster made headlines around the world, but has since been largely forgotten. It was the subject of a massive cover-up and was then eclipsed by another shipwreck in 1912, the Titanic.
Discovering the victims of the disaster
Previous books and articles about the RMS Tayleur have focussed on the vessel itself, how the iron hull confused the compasses and contributed to the ship crashing into a cliff in the middle of the day. I wanted to let the unfortunate emigrants speak for themselves.
The accounts of the shipwreck in The British Newspaper Archive allowed me to read their words for myself and revealed the names of many of the hundreds on board.
I was then able to search for other mentions of them – important instances in their childhoods, what happened to the survivors afterwards, their births, marriages and deaths.
In one case, I even discovered what one of them looked like – the double of my own little boy – and his story made me cry.
Of the 70 children on board the Tayleur, only three survived.
One was an anonymous baby nicknamed the ‘Ocean Child’ who was plucked from the wave-swept deck by an elderly man just before the ship sank.
In a time before cheap photographs, the enterprising reverend looking after the orphan placed a description in the newspapers. The child was described in the following way:
‘Boy, about twelve months old, unweaned, fine skin, blue eyes, dark eyelashes, light curly hair, square prominent forehead, two lower teeth, without any marks whatever on the body; of a lively affectionate disposition, and has apparently been much petted; supposed to belong to the middle classes’.
Scientists have announced that they may have solved one of history’s biggest biomedical mysteries—why the deadly 1918 “Spanish flu” pandemic, which killed perhaps 50 million people worldwide, largely targeted healthy young adults.
The explanation turns out to be surprisingly simple: People born after 1889 were not exposed as kids to the kind of flu that struck in 1918, leaving them uniquely vulnerable.
Older people, meanwhile, had been exposed to flu strains more closely related to the 1918 flu, offering some immunity.
Simply put, the Spanish flu owed its ferocity to a switch in dominant influenza varieties that had occurred a generation earlier. (Related: “1918 Flu That Killed 50 Million Originated in China.”)
“All a matter of timing,” says virologist Vincent Racaniello of Columbia University in New York, who was not part of the study.
Researchers involved in the study looked at the evolutionary history of the components of the 1918 flu, which was built of genes from human and avian flu strains. They unraveled the history of dominant flu strains stretching back to 1830.
The evolutionary biologists found that a worldwide 1889 outbreak of the so-called Russian flu, the H3N8 flu virus, left a generation of children that had not been exposed to anything resembling the Spanish flu, which was an H1N1 strain.
(The H and N in the flu designation stand for proteins called hemagglutinin and neuraminidase, respectively).
The spread of a more closely related H1 flu variety after 1900 provided partial immunity to children born after that time. That closed the window of vulnerability.
“You have the most deadly flu pandemic in history essentially leaving the elderly, its most frequent victims, completely alone,” says biologist Michael Worobey of the University of Arizona in Tucson, who led the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences report.
Instead, people aged 18 to 29 died in droves during the outbreak, which killed about 1 in 200 of victims.
Experts have suggested that such a window of vulnerability partly explained the 1918 pandemic, Racaniello notes.
But the new study provides computational evidence that the 1918 flu’s precursor originated around 1907, he says, and explains how the window of vulnerability opened and closed for the disease.