This Week in History – May 23rd to May 29th

This Week in History UPPER

This week the Time Traveling Adventures of the Pandora Society is set to an accordion soundtrack in which we battle pro-slavery forces, catch the opening of the latest Gilbert and Sullivan opera, and purchase a copy of the new novel Dracula. Then it’s time to join the first flight across the Atlantic Ocean, followed by the opening of the Golden Gate Bridge, and finish it all off in Paris with a riot invoking Russian ballet!


Numerous variations of the device soon followed.

Cyrill Demian (1772–1849) of Armenian origin, made his living as an organ and piano maker, with his two sons Karl and Guido, in Mariahilfer Straße No. 43 in Vienna, Austria. On May 6th, 1829, Cyrill and his two sons presented a new instrument to the authorities for patent – the accordion. The patent was officially granted on May 23rd, 1829The advent of the accordion is the subject of debate among researchers. Many credit Christian Friedrich Ludwig Buschmann, as the inventor of the accordion, while others give the distinction to Cyrill Demian an Armenian from the Romanian city of Gherla (ancient Armenopolis) living in Vienna, who patented his Accordion in 1829, thus coining the name. A modification of the Handäoline, Demian’s invention comprised a small manual bellows and five keys, although, as Demian noted in a description of the instrument, extra keys could be incorporated into the design. 


John Brown (May 9th, 1800 – December 2nd, 1859)

The Pottawatomie massacre occurred during the night of May 24th, 1856 and the morning of May 25th, 1856. In reaction to the sacking of Lawrence, Kansas by pro-slavery forces, John Brown and a band of abolitionist settlers—some of them members of the Pottawatomie Rifles—killed five settlers north of Pottawatomie Creek in Franklin County, Kansas. This was one of the many bloody episodes in Kansas preceding the American Civil War, which came to be known collectively as Bleeding Kansas. Bleeding Kansas was largely brought about by the Missouri Compromise and Kansas–Nebraska ActJohn Brown was evasive about his role in the massacre, even after he was condemned to hang for his role in Harpers Ferry and when directly questioned about the incident. However, Brown reportedly informed the party that committed the atrocity of his objective; according to James Townsley, Brown acted to “strike terror into the hearts of the Pro-slavery party.”


Scene from 1886 Savoy Theatre souvenir programme

H.M.S. Pinafore; or, The Lass That Loved a Sailor is a comic opera in two acts, with music by Arthur Sullivan and a libretto by W. S. Gilbert. It opened at the Opera Comique in London, on May 25th, 1878 and ran for 571 performances, which was the second-longest run of any musical theatre piece up to that time. H.M.S. Pinafore was Gilbert and Sullivan‘s fourth operatic collaboration and their first international sensation. The story takes place aboard the ship HMS Pinafore. The captain‘s daughter, Josephine, is in love with a lower-class sailor, Ralph Rackstraw, although her father intends her to marry Sir Joseph Porter, the First Lord of the AdmiraltyThe opera’s humor focuses on love between members of different social classes and lampoons the British class system in general. Pinafore also pokes good-natured fun at patriotism, party politics, the Royal Navy, and the rise of unqualified people to positions of authority. 


Bram Stoker (November 8th, 1847 – April 20th, 1912)

Dracula was not an immediate bestseller when it was first published on May 26th, 1897, although reviewers were unstinting in their praise. The contemporary Daily Mail ranked Stoker’s powers above those of Mary Shelley and Edgar Allan Poe, as well as Emily Brontë‘s Wuthering Heights.  It reached its broad, iconic, legendary, classic status only later in the 20th century when the movie versions appeared, but at the time, it did not make much money for Bram Stoker. The last year of his life, he was so poor that he had to petition for a compassionate grant from the Royal Literary Fund, and his widow was forced to sell his notes and outlines of the novel at a Sotheby’s auction in 1913, where they were purchased for a little over 2 pounds. But then F. W. Murnau’s unauthorized adaptation of the story was released in theatres in 1922 in the form of Nosferatu. Stoker’s widow took affront and, during the legal battle that followed, the novel’s popularity started to grow.


Curtiss NC-4 four engine configuration-detail

The NC-4 was a Curtiss NC flying boat which was designed by Glenn Curtiss and his team, and manufactured by Curtiss Aeroplane and Motor Company. On May 27th, 1919, the NC-4 became the first aircraft to fly across the Atlantic Ocean, starting in New York State and making the crossing as far as Lisbon, Portugal, in 19 days. This included time for stops of numerous repairs and for crewmen’s rest, with stops along the way in Massachusetts, Nova Scotia (on the mainland), Newfoundland, and twice in the Azores Islands. Then its flight from the Azores to Lisbon completed the first transatlantic flight between North America and Europe, and two more flights from Lisbon to northwestern Spain to Plymouth, England, completed the first flight between North America and Great BritainThe accomplishment of the naval aviators of the NC-4 was somewhat eclipsed in the minds of the public by the first nonstop transatlantic flight, which took 15 hours, 57 minutes, and was made by the Royal Air Force pilots John Alcock and Arthur Whitten Brown, two weeks later.


San Francisco’s Joseph Strauss Memorial

The Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, California, was officially opened by President Franklin D. Roosevelt on May 28th, 1937; he was in Washington, D.C., but pushed a button signaling the start of vehicle traffic over the span. The bridge-opening celebration, however, began on May 27, 1937 and lasted for one week. The day before vehicle traffic was allowed, 200,000 people crossed either on foot or on roller skates. On opening day, Mayor Angelo Rossi and other officials rode the ferry to Marin, then crossed the bridge in a motorcade past three ceremonial “barriers”, the last a blockade of beauty queens who required Joseph Strauss, the chief engineer, to present the bridge to the Highway District before allowing him to pass. An official song, “There’s a Silver Moon on the Golden Gate“, was chosen to commemorate the event. Strauss wrote a poem that is now on the Golden Gate Bridge entitled “The Mighty Task is Done.”


Design of stage backdrop for Stravinsky’s ballet Le Sacre du Printemps, prepared for Diaghilev’s production, Théâtre des Champs-Élysées, Paris, 1913.

The Rite of Spring is a ballet and orchestral concert work by the Russian composer Igor Stravinsky. It was written for the 1913 Paris season of Sergei Diaghilev‘s Ballets Russes company; the original choreography was by Vaslav Nijinsky, with stage designs and costumes by Nicholas Roerich. When first performed, at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées on May 29th, 1913, the avant-garde nature of the music and choreography caused a sensation and a near-riot in the audience. Although designed as a work for the stage, with specific passages accompanying characters and action, the music achieved equal if not greater recognition as a concert piece, and is widely considered to be one of the most influential musical works of the 20th century. Stravinsky’s score contains many novel features for its time, including experiments in tonality, metre, rhythm, stress and dissonance. Analysts have noted in the score a significant grounding in Russian folk music, a relationship Stravinsky tended to deny. The music has influenced many of the 20th-century’s leading composers, and is one of the most recorded works in the classical repertoire.


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