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John’s Believe It Or Not… October 31st

1920 – Frederick Banting dreams up a treatment for diabetes. 1918 – Global Spanish Flu Pandemic Hits Canada. 1517 Martin Luther posts 95 theses on Wittenberg church – precipitates the Protestant Reformation. 1926 Houdini is dead. 1892 The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes published.

It’s Tuesday! Did you know…

* 1920 – Frederick Banting dreams up a treatment for diabetes.

Banting was a physician, physiologist, and Nobel laureate, born at Alliston, Ontario; died February 21, 1941, in a plane crash over Labrador en route to England. After medical training at the University of Toronto, Banting entered the Canadian Army Medical Corps in 1915, becoming a Captain and medical officer of the 46th Canadian Battalion, 13th Field Ambulance Brigade; 1918 September 28 awarded the Military Cross for valour at Haynecourt; while wounded in the arm, he neglected his own safety, and dressed the wounds of others in the battalion for nearly seventeen hours; 1919-21 practiced medicine in London, Ontario.

On October 31, 1920, he was working at the University of Western Ontario, when he was asked by Professor Miller to prepare a lecture on carbohydrate metabolism. Knowing little on the subject, he studied in the Medical School Library on the afternoon of October 30, 1920; just before retiring for the evening he read an article in the November issue of Surgery, Gynaecology and Obstetrics, titled “The Relation of the Islets of Langerhans to Diabetes with Special Reference to Cases of Pancreatic Lithiasis.” He tried to get some sleep, but could not stop pondering the article, and in the middle of the night, finally dreamed up the idea he felt would lead to the successful treatment of diabetes. At 2:00 am, he wrote the following 25 words in the black notebook he used for his research ideas:

* “Diabetus:
* Ligate pancreatic ducts of dogs.
* Keep dogs alive till acini degenerate leaving Islets.
* Try to isolate the internal secretion of these to relieve glycosurea.”

The following spring he will begin his insulin experiments at the University of Toronto. In 1922, working at U of T in the laboratory of Scottish physiologist John Macleod and aided by Canadian physiologist Charles Best, Banting discovered the pancreatic hormone insulin, used in treating diabetes. The following year he and Macleod won the Nobel Prize in Medicine. Objecting to the credit given Macleod, who had not participated in the discovery, Banting shared his half with Best. Macleod divided his share with Canadian chemist Bert Collip, who helped Macleod purify insulin after its isolation. In 1923 the U of T set up the Banting-Best Department of Medical Research with Banting as its director. In 1934 he was knighted and died in a plane crash on the way to England to take a wartime post.

Charles H. Best and Banting, ca. 1924
Charles H. Best and Banting, ca. 1924 (

* 1918 – Global Spanish Flu Pandemic Hits Canada.

The war ended with a raging influenza epidemic, spread through Canada in part by infected soldiers returning from overseas.

The Spanish influenza epidemic, uniquely lethal in attacking young, healthy bodies, killed at least 20 million people worldwide, including an estimated 50,000 Canadians. The flu was spread through bodily fluids and moved quickly through the population. The flu presented itself through fatigue and cough, but quickly attacked the body, creating a mucus build-up in the lungs that could not be expelled. Victims of the flu could be dead within a day of contracting the illness.

Canada’s flu dead included soldiers who had survived the fighting overseas only to succumb to illness once in Canada and thousands of family members who welcomed them home but perished soon after their arrival.

The loss of so many Canadians had a profound social and economic impact on a country that had already suffered 60,000 war dead. The combined death toll significantly reduced the workforce. It left thousands of families without a primary wage earner and orphaned thousands of children.

In attempting to halt the spread of the disease, many local governments shut down non-essential services. Provinces imposed quarantines and protective masks were required in public places. The epidemic led directly to the formation of the federal Department of Health in 1919.

Flu pandemic hits Saskatchewan - three farmers pose with face masks
Flu pandemic hits Saskatchewan (Bill Waiser)

* 1517 Martin Luther posts 95 theses on Wittenberg church – precipitates the Protestant Reformation.

The Protestant Reformation was a social and religious protest movement that began in 1517, in what is today northeastern Germany. Tensions and corruptions had been building for some time prior to that, going back at least to Jan Hus in the 1400s. But the final straw occurred when Johann Tetzel came to Wittenberg—peddling indulgences for sale. Indulgences absolved a sinner’s debt to God of punishment due for sins that had already been forgiven through the sacrament of Penance – or Confession. (This was ostensibly to raise funds to repair St. Peter’s Cathedral in Rome.)

In Wittenberg, local theology scholar Martin Luther decided he’d seen enough. He composed his 95 Theses (complaints) against the corruption of the church and sent them to the Archbishop of Mainz, in the autumn of 1517. (He may or may not have nailed them to the church door. We don’t know.)

Luther’s ideas spread like wildfire. His followers mass printed his publications and distributed them far and wide. By the following spring, his words were being read in England … and within another few months, half of Europe was in an uproar over the Church’s corrupt establishment practices and deviant doctrines.

These men developed/explored Luther’s criticism of the Church in different ways, producing Anglicans (England), Huguenots (France), Presbyterians (Scotland), and so on.

In addition to changing the religious landscape of 16th-century Europe, Protestantism resulted in new systems of economics and political polities. It precipitated the European religious wars, which themselves made the Enlightenment happen—and thereby injected the brand-new idea of secularism (in primitive form) into Western culture. It is why Anglo-America began as, and remains a largely Protestant culture.

On October 31, 1517 Martin Luther posted the 95 Theses on the Castle Church door in Wittenberg, Germany.
On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther posted the 95 Theses on the Castle Church door in Wittenberg, Germany. (

* 1926 Houdini is dead.

Harry Houdini, the most celebrated magician and escape artist of the 20th century, dies of peritonitis in a Detroit hospital. Twelve days before, Houdini had been talking to a group of students after a lecture in Montreal when he commented on the strength of his stomach muscles and their ability to withstand hard blows. Suddenly, one of the students punched Houdini twice in the stomach. The magician hadn’t had time to prepare, and the blows ruptured his appendix. He fell ill on the train to Detroit, and, after performing one last time, was hospitalized. Doctors operated on him, but to no avail. The burst appendix poisoned his system, and on October 31 he died.

Houdini was born Erik Weisz in Budapest in 1874, the son of a rabbi. At a young age, he immigrated with his family to Appleton, Wisconsin, and soon demonstrated a natural acrobatic ability and an extraordinary skill at picking locks. When he was nine, he joined a traveling circus and toured the country as a contortionist and trapeze performer. He soon was specializing in escape acts and gained fame for his reported ability to escape from any manacle. He went on his first international tour in 1900 and performed all over Europe to great acclaim. In executing his escapes, he relied on strength, dexterity, and concentration—not trickery—and was a great showman.

In 1908, Houdini began performing more dangerous and dramatic escapes. In a favorite act, he was bound and then locked in an ironbound chest that was dropped into a water tank or thrown off a boat. In another, he was heavily bound and then suspended upside down in a glass-walled water tank. Other acts featured Houdini being hung from a skyscraper in a straitjacket, or bound and buried—without a coffin—under six feet of dirt.

In his later years, Houdini campaigned against mediums, mind readers, fakirs, and others who claimed supernatural talents but depended on tricks. At the same time, he was deeply interested in spiritualism and made a pact with his wife and friends that the first to die was to try and communicate with the world of reality from the spirit world. Several of these friends died, but Houdini never received a sign from them. Then, on Halloween 1926, Houdini himself passed on at the age of 52. His wife waited for a communiqué from the spirit world but it never came; she declared the experiment a failure shortly before her death in 1943.

The Budapest-born illusionist is known to the world as the greatest-ever escape artist in the history of the world, as well as one of the leading performers of the modern age. In the photo he is seated in a chair wearing chains.
The Budapest-born illusionist is known to the world as the greatest-ever escape artist in the history of the world, as well as one of the leading performers of the modern age. (

* 1892 The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes published.

On this day, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, by Arthur Conan Doyle, is published. The book was the first collection of Holmes stories, which Conan Doyle had been publishing in magazines since 1887.

Conan Doyle was born in Scotland and studied medicine at the University of Edinburgh, where he met Dr. Joseph Bell, a teacher with extraordinary deductive power. Bell partly inspired Doyle’s character Sherlock Holmes years later.

After medical school, Conan Doyle moved to London, where his slow medical practice left him ample free time to write. His first Sherlock Holmes story, “A Study in Scarlet,” was published in Beeton’s Christmas Annual in 1887. Starting in 1891, a series of Holmes stories appeared in The Strand magazine, and Conan Doyle was able to give up his medical practice and devote himself to writing.

Later collections include The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes (1894), The Return of Sherlock Holmes (1905), and The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes (1827). In 1902, Conan Doyle was knighted for his work with a field hospital in South Africa. In addition to dozens of Sherlock Holmes stories and several novels, Conan Doyle wrote history, pursued whaling, and engaged in many adventures and athletic endeavors. After his son died in World War I, Conan Doyle became a dedicated spiritualist. He died in 1930.

Sherlock Holmes is smoking his pipe, reclining on cushions and wearing a roomy dressing gown or overcoat. (HISTORY Canada)

Today’s Sources: 

* Canadian History Timeline – Canada’s Historical Chronology

* Canada Channel                              

* Canadian War Museum                         

* On This Day – History, Film, Music and Sport               

* Quora                                                       

* This Day In History – What Happened Today                                            

Author: John Fioravanti

I'm a retired History teacher (35 years), husband, father of three, grandfather of three. My wife, Anne, and I became business partners in December 2013 and launched our own publishing company, Fiora Books (, to publish my books. We have been married since 1973 and hope our joint business venture will be as successful as our marriage.

22 thoughts on “John’s Believe It Or Not… October 31st”

  1. The Spanish flu was awful. I wonder with modern medicine if it would have been as bad. Houdini was something. I was unaware that he died from a burst appendix. Insulin was a great discovery and how it was done makes a great story. Good old Martin Luther. He knew how to swim upstream for sure.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Good question about the flu, John. Perhaps today it would have been better contained. I’d probably be dead now without Banting & Best – scary thought. Martin Luther certainly stood Christendom on its blessed ear! Gwen thinks Pope Francis is canonizing him as a saint today. That made me scratch my head. Thanks, John! 🎃

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Gregory is absolutely correct on that one, Robbie – it must have been a frightening experience. Thanks for your comment!


  2. It’s my understanding that Pope Francis is canonizing Martin Luther today, and if I am correct, he will now be known as St. Martin Luther. This is an extraordinary step forward for Catholicism and Protestantism; it acknowledges the corruption that existed at that time in the Catholic Church, while recognizing the incredible commitment and bravery of Martin Luther.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Excuse me while I have a heart attack, Gwen! I hadn’t heard that Martin Luther was up for canonization by the Vatican. Good grief, I wonder who started that ball rolling. Thanks, Gwen!


  3. Amazing to think that 20 million people died from that flu – more than in the war. That’s a bit scary.
    I think the enlightenment and secularisation of society was probably the most important thing to hit the world. It changed everything and unleashed science and social change. Without it we would have languished.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It certainly was a devastating pandemic, Opher. Modern medicine + the fact that we haven’t had a global conflict with large-scale casualties are likely the two main factors contributing to the growth in the world’s population.

      The secularization of society certainly was a liberation of the mind – and it allowed humanity to move forward in many important ways. Thanks, Opher!


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