This Week in History – May 16th to 22nd

This Week in History UPPER

This week we set the time machine to liberate freedom of speech after the First World War, to win the first ever Kentucky Derby, to mourn over a thousand dead at the celebration of Tsar Nicholas II, to release writer Oscar Wilde from jail, to watch movies with Edison, to fight “The Man” in Paris, and to Cincinnati, Ohio to invent the skyscraper. Are you ready for the journey?

Sedition Act of 1918 680The Sedition Act of 1918, enacted on May 16th, 1918, was an Act of the United States Congress that extended the Espionage Act of 1917 to cover a broader range of offenses, notably speech and the expression of opinion that cast the government or the war effort in a negative light or interfered with the sale of government bonds. The Sedition Act of 1918 stated that people or countries cannot say negative things about the government or the war. It forbade the use of “disloyal, profane, scurrilous, or abusive language” about the United States government, its flag, or its armed forces or that caused others to view the American government or its institutions with contempt. Those convicted under the act generally received sentences of imprisonment for five to 20 years. It was repealed on December 13th, 1920.

derby_1On May 17th, 1875, fifteen horses were entered in the first ever Kentucky Derby, two of them fillies. The track was fast, the weather was fine, and 10,000 people were in attendance. Aristides was one of two horses entered by Hal McGrath. The other was Chesapeake. Both horses wore the green and orange silks of H.P. McGrath. Just as McGrath had planned, Aristides broke in front and took the lead, but McCreery quickly overtook him near the end of the first quarter. Aristides fought back to lead again, followed by McCreery, Ten Broeck, Volcano, and Verdigris. Chesapeake, meanwhile, was almost the last to break and was not doing much at the back of the pack. As the “rabbit”, Aristides kept increasing his lead until there was virtually no chance that Chesapeake could catch up. Aristides’s jockey, Oliver Lewis, knowing he was not supposed to win, looked to owner McGrath, who waved him on. Both Volcano and Verdigris challenged Aristides in the stretch, but Aristides won by a length and took the $2850 pool. Ten Broeck finished fifth and Chesapeake eighth.

Chodynka 680Nicholas II was crowned Tsar of Russia on May 14th, 1896, and four days later on May 18th, 1896, a banquet was going to be held for the people at Khodynka Field. In the area of one town square, theaters, 150 buffets for distribution of gifts, and 20 pubs were built for the celebrations. Near the celebration square was a field that had a ravine and many gullies. People who had heard rumors of coronation gifts from the tsar began to gather in anticipation. The gifts which everybody was to receive were a bread roll, a piece of sausage, pretzels, gingerbread, and a commemorative cupAt about 6 o’clock in the morning of the celebration day, several thousand people (estimates reached 500,000) were already gathered on the field. Rumors spread among the people that there was not enough beer or pretzels for everybody, and that the enamel cups contained a gold coin. A police force of 1,800 men failed to maintain civil order, and in a catastrophic crush and resulting panic to flee the scene, 1,389 people were trampled to death, and roughly 1,300 were otherwise injured. 

Oscar Wilde Prison Release

Oscar Wilde was released from prison on May 18th, 1897 and sailed immediately for France. He had entered prison on May 25th, 1895 after losing a court case against the father of Wilde’s lover Lord Alfred Douglas. At the height of his fame and success, while his masterpiece, The Importance of Being Earnest (1895), was still on stage in London, Wilde had the Marquess of Queensberry prosecuted for libel. The charge carried a penalty of up to two years in prison, but the trial unearthed evidence that caused Wilde to drop his charges and led to his own arrest and trial for gross indecency with men. After two more trials he was convicted and imprisoned for two years’ hard labor. Upon reaching the shores of France, Wilde never returned to Britain or to Ireland.

Edison demonstrates the camera to US President Calvin.

A prototype for Thomas Edison‘s Kinetoscope was shown to a convention of the National Federation of Women’s Clubs on May 20th, 1891. Instrumental to the birth of American movie culture, the Kinetoscope also had a major impact in Europe; its influence abroad was magnified by Edison’s decision not to seek international patents on the device, facilitating numerous imitations of and improvements on the technology. In 1895, Edison introduced the Kinetophone, which joined the Kinetoscope with a cylinder phonograph. Film projection, which Edison initially disdained as financially nonviable, soon superseded the Kinetoscope’s individual exhibition model. Many of the projection systems developed by Edison’s firm in later years would use the Kinetoscope name.

Barricade_Voltaire_Lenoir_Commune_Paris_1871 680

The Paris Commune was a radical socialist and revolutionary government that ruled Paris from March 18th, to May 28th, 1871. Following the defeat of Emperor Napoleon III in September 1870, the French Second Empire swiftly collapsed. In its stead rose a Third Republic at war with Prussia, who subjected Paris to a brutal four-month siege. A hotbed of working-class radicalism, during this time France’s capital was primarily defended not by the regular French Army, but by the often politicized and radical troops of National Guard. In February 1871 Adolphe Thiers, the new chief executive of the French national government, signed an armistice with Prussia that disarmed the Army but not the National Guard. The killing of two French army generals by soldiers of the Commune’s National Guard and the refusal of the Commune to accept the authority of the French government led to its harsh suppression by the regular French Army in “La semaine sanglante” (“The Bloody Week”) beginning on May 21st, 1871. Debates over the policies and outcome of the Commune had significant influence on the ideas of Karl Marx, who described it as an example of the “dictatorship of the proletariat“.

Leroy_BuffingtonLeroy Sunderland Buffington was an architect from Minnesota who specialized in designing hotels, public and commercial buildings, churches, and residences. He was born September 22nd, 1847, in Cincinnati, Ohio, and studied architecture and engineering at the University of Cincinnati. He moved to Saint Paul, Minnesota, becoming a partner of Abraham Radcliffe, and worked on the remodeling of the Minnesota State Capitol. After the first Minnesota State Capitol burned down, Buffington designed a replacement (demolished 1938) which served as the State House until 1904. In 1881, he claimed to have thought up the idea of building skyscrapers by using load-bearing iron frames. He applied for a patent in November 1887 and received it in May 22nd, 1888. However, he was mostly unsuccessful in collecting royalties from his patent, even though many subsequent builders used his method. He remained in private practice in Minneapolis, Minnesota until his death on February 15th, 1931.


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