This Week in History – May 2nd to May 8th

This Week in History UPPER

Many members of the Steampunk, Dieselpunk, and other retro-futuristic communities like to play with history and ask “what if?” The past is a playground for the imagination to twist the “facts” and ponder what might have been. So what can you make of this week’s saunter back through time to the events that were happening this week in the past?

On May 2nd, 1863, Stonewall Jackson was wounded by friendly fire while returning to camp after reconnoitering during the Battle of Chancellorsville.  As Jackson and his staff were returning to camp they were mistaken for a Union cavalry force by the 18th North Carolina Infantry regiment who shouted, “Halt, who goes there?”, but fired before evaluating the reply. Frantic shouts by Jackson’s staff identifying the party were replied to by Major John D. Barry with the retort, “It’s a damned Yankee trick! Fire!” A second volley was fired in response; in all, Jackson was hit by three bullets, two in the left arm and one in the right hand. Several other men in his staff were killed, in addition to many horses. Darkness and confusion prevented Jackson from getting immediate care. He was dropped from his stretcher while being evacuated because of incoming artillery rounds. Because of his injuries, Jackson’s left arm had to be amputated by Dr. Hunter McGuire. He was thought to be out of harm’s way; but unknown to the doctors, he already had classic symptoms of pneumonia, complaining of a sore chest; he died on May 10th.

On May 3rd, 1855American adventurer William Walker departed from San Francisco with about 60 men to conquer NicaraguaWalker (May 8th, 1824 – September 12th, 1860) was a physician, lawyer, journalist and mercenary, who organized several private military expeditions into Latin America, with the intention of establishing English-speaking colonies under his personal control, an enterprise then known as “filibustering.” Walker usurped the presidency of the Republic of Nicaragua in 1856 and ruled until 1857, when he was defeated by a coalition of Central American armies. He was executed by the government of Honduras in 1860.

The Haymarket affair (also known as the Haymarket massacre or Haymarket riot) was the aftermath of a bombing that took place at a labor demonstration on Tuesday May 4th, 1886, at Haymarket Square in Chicago. It began as a peaceful rally in support of workers striking for an eight-hour day and in reaction to the killing of several workers the previous day by the police. An unknown person threw a dynamite bomb at police as they acted to disperse the public meeting. The bomb blast and ensuing gunfire resulted in the deaths of seven police officers and at least four civilians; scores of others were wounded.

Similar event occurred the next day with the Bay View massacre (sometimes also referred to as the Bay View Tragedy). It was the culmination of events that began on Saturday May 1st, 1886 when 7,000 building-trades workers joined with 5,000 Polish laborers who had organized at St. Stanislaus Catholic Church in Milwaukee, Wisconsin to strike against their employers, demanding an eight-hour work day. By Monday, these numbers had increased to over 14,000 workers that gathered at the Milwaukee Iron Company rolling mill in Bay View. They were met by 250 National Guardsmen under order from Republican Governor Jeremiah M. Rusk. The strikers had shut down every business in the city except the North Chicago Rolling Mills in Bay View. The guardsmen’s orders were that, if the strikers were to enter the Mills, they should shoot to kill. But when the captain received the order it had a different meaning: he ordered his men to pick out a man and shoot to kill when the order was given. Workers camped in the nearby fields and the Kosciuszko Militia arrived by May 4th. Early the next day, on May 5th, 1886, the crowd, which by this time contained children, approached the mill and were fired upon. Seven people died as a result, including a thirteen-year-old boy.

The main structural work of the Eiffel Tower was completed at the end of March 1889, but there was still work to be done, particularly on the lifts and facilities, and the tower was not opened to the public until May 6th, 1889, nine days after the opening of the Exposition Universelle; even then, the lifts had not been completed. The tower, however, was an instant success with the public, and nearly 30,000 visitors made the 1,710-step climb to the top before the lifts entered service on May 26th. Tickets cost 2 francs for the first level, 3 for the second, and 5 for the top, with half-price admission on Sundays, and by the end of the exhibition there had been 1,896,987 visitors.

Alexander Stepanovich Popov was a Russian physicist who is acclaimed in his homeland and eastern European countries as the inventor of radioPopov’s work as a teacher at a Russian naval school led him to explore high frequency electrical phenomena. On May 7th, 1895 he presented a paper on a wireless lightning detector he had built that worked via using a coherer to detect radio noise from lightning strikes. This day is celebrated in the Russian Federation as Radio Day. In a March 24, 1896 demonstration he used radio waves to transmit a message between different campus buildings in St Petersburg. His work was based on the work of other physicists such as Oliver Lodge and contemporaneous with the work of radio pioneer Guglielmo Marconi.

Pharmacist John Pemberton (July 8th, 1831 – August 16th, 1888) first sold a carbonated beverage named “Coca-Cola” as a patent medicine on May 8th, 1886. Earlier that year, Atlanta and Fulton County enacted temperance legislation, Pemberton found himself forced to produce a non-alcoholic alternative to his French Wine Coca. Pemberton relied on Atlanta drugstore owner-proprietor Willis E. Venable to test, and help him perfect, the recipe for the beverage, which he formulated by trial and error. With Venable’s assistance, Pemberton worked out a set of directions for its preparation that eventually included blending the base syrup with carbonated water by accident when trying to make another glass. Pemberton decided then to sell it as a fountain drink rather than a medicine. Frank Mason Robinson came up with the name “Coca-Cola” for the alliterative sound, which was popular among other wine medicines of the time.


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