It’s Saturday! Did You Know…
* 1916 – Centre Block of the Parliament Buildings Destroyed by Fire.
The huge and impressive Gothic stone and wood Parliament had dominated the skyline of Ottawa, the capital of the young country for just over 50 years.
Late in the evening of February 3rd, 1916, as the First World War raged in Europe, smoke was seen escaping from the reading room of the Centre Block. The fire spread quickly and by 21:30 the roof collapsed, and in the early hours of February 4th, the clock tower collapsed. Seven people died in the blaze. By the next day, the fire was out, but the structure was a smoldering icy shell.
Only the Parliamentary library, a magnificent design by itself, was saved thanks to a short passage separating it from the Centre Block, and two heavy iron doors which had been shut by a clerk just in time to keep the flames and smoke out.
With the war raging, the fire was widely rumored to be an attack by saboteurs, however, although never determined, its now thought that it began with a carelessly discarded cigar into a wastebasket. Another theory is an electrical fire as the reading room had only recently been wired for electric reading lamps.
Begun in 1859 as the seat of government for the “Province of Canada”, the parliament buildings consist of three main structures, the Centre Block housing the House of Commons and Senate, offices and meeting rooms, and the separate East and West Blocks, also housing offices and meeting rooms.
At the time it was begun, it was the largest construction project in all of North America. In 1861, cost overruns caused the unfinished site to be closed until 1863 following a commission of inquiry.
The rebuilding of the Centre Block was begun immediately but mostly in a similar architectural style to the original, The first sitting in the “new” House of Commons was in 1920, with the building completed with the opening of the new tower in 1927. It now named the Peace Tower (officially the Tower of Victory and Peace) to honor the 1918 Allied victory, the armistice and the fallen of First World War. At 92 meters tall, it far exceeded the previous 55 meter Victoria Tower and contains a large 53-bell carillon and clock.
* 1959 The day the music died.
On this day in 1959, rising American rock stars Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson are killed when their chartered Beechcraft Bonanza plane crashes in Iowa a few minutes after takeoff from Mason City on a flight headed for Moorehead, Minnesota. Investigators blamed the crash on bad weather and pilot error. Holly and his band, the Crickets, had just scored a No. 1 hit with “That’ll Be the Day.”
After mechanical difficulties with the tour bus, Holly had chartered a plane for his band to fly between stops on the Winter Dance Party Tour. However, Richardson, who had the flu, convinced Holly’s band member Waylon Jennings to give up his seat, and Ritchie Valens won a coin toss for another seat on the plane.
Holly, born Charles Holley in Lubbock, Texas, and just 22 when he died, began singing country music with high school friends before switching to rock and roll after opening for various performers, including Elvis Presley. By the mid-1950s, Holly and his band had a regular radio show and toured internationally, playing hits like “Peggy Sue,” “Oh, Boy!,” “Maybe Baby” and “Early in the Morning.” Holly wrote all his own songs, many of which were released after his death and influenced such artists as Bob Dylan and Paul McCartney.
Another crash victim, J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson, 28, started out as a disk jockey in Texas and later began writing songs. Richardson’s most famous recording was the rockabilly “Chantilly Lace,” which made the Top 10. He developed a stage show based on his radio persona, “The Big Bopper.”
The third crash victim was Ritchie Valens, born Richard Valenzuela in a suburb of Los Angeles, who was only 17 when the plane went down but had already scored hits with “Come On, Let’s Go,” “Donna” and “La Bamba,” an upbeat number based on a traditional Mexican wedding song (though Valens barely spoke Spanish). In 1987, Valens’ life was portrayed in the movie La Bamba, and the title song, performed by Los Lobos, became a No. 1 hit. Valens was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2001.
Singer Don McLean memorialized Holly, Valens, and Richardson in the 1972 No. 1 hit “American Pie,” which refers to February 3, 1959, as “the day the music died.”
* 1953 Cousteau publishes The Silent World.
On February 3, 1953, French oceanographer Jacques-Yves Cousteau publishes his most famous and lasting work, The Silent World.
Born in Saint-Andre-de-Cubzac, France, in 1910, Cousteau was trained at the Brest Naval School. While serving in the French navy, he began his underwater explorations, filming shipwrecks and the underwater world of the Mediterranean Sea through a glass bowl. At the time, the only available system for underwater breathing involved a diver being tethered to the surface, and Cousteau sought to develop a self-contained device.
In 1943, with the aid of engineer Emile Gagnan, he designed the Aqua-Lung, the world’s first self-contained underwater breathing apparatus (scuba). With the Aqua-Lung, the largely unexplored world lying beneath the ocean surface was open to Cousteau as never before. He developed underwater cameras and photography and was employed by the French navy to explore navy shipwrecks. In his free time, he explored ancient wrecks and studied underwater sea life.
In 1948, he published his first work, Through 18 Meters of Water, and in 1950 Lord Guinness, a British patron bought him an old British minesweeper to use for his explorations. Cousteau converted the ship into an oceanographic vessel and christened it the Calypso. In 1953, he published The Silent World, written with Frederic Dumas, and began work on a film version of the book with film director Louis Malle. Three years later, The Silent World was released to world acclaim. The film, which revealed to the public the hidden universe of tropical fish, whales, and walruses, won Best Documentary at the Academy Awards and the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival.
With the success of the film, Cousteau retired from the navy to devote himself to oceanography. He welcomed geologists, archaeologists, zoologists, environmentalists, and other scientists aboard the Calypso and led numerous excursions to the world’s great bodies of water, from the Red Sea to the Amazon River. He headed the Conshelf Saturation Dive Program, in which men lived and worked for extended time periods at considerable depths along the continental shelves.
His many books include The Living Sea (1963), Three Adventures: Galapagos, Titicaca, the Blue Holes (1973), and Jacques Cousteau: The Ocean World (1985). He also produced several more award-winning films and scores of television documentaries about the ocean, making him a household name. He saw firsthand the damage done to the marine ecosystems by humans and was an outspoken and persuasive environmentalist. Cousteau died in 1997.
* 1950 Klaus Fuchs arrested for passing atomic bomb information to Soviets.
Klaus Fuchs, a German-born British scientist who helped develop the atomic bomb, is arrested in Great Britain for passing top-secret information about the bomb to the Soviet Union. The arrest of Fuchs led authorities to several other individuals involved in a spy ring, culminating with the arrest of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg and their subsequent execution.
Fuchs and his family fled Germany in 1933 to avoid Nazi persecution and came to Great Britain, where Fuchs earned his doctorate in physics. During World War II, British authorities were aware of the leftist leanings of both Fuchs and his father. However, Fuchs was eventually invited to participate in the British program to develop an atomic bomb (the project named “Tube Alloys”) because of his expertise. At some point after the project began, Soviet agents contacted Fuchs and he began to pass information about British progress to them. Late in 1943, Fuchs was among a group of British scientists brought to America to work on the Manhattan Project, the U.S. program to develop an atomic bomb. Fuchs continued his clandestine meetings with Soviet agents. When the war ended, Fuchs returned to Great Britain and continued his work on the British atomic bomb project.
Fuchs’ arrest in 1950 came after a routine security check of Fuchs’ father, who had moved to communist East Germany in 1949. While the check was underway, British authorities received information from the American Federal Bureau of Investigation that decoded Soviet messages in their possession indicated Fuchs was a Russian spy. On February 3, officers from Scotland Yard arrested Fuchs and charged him with violating the Official Secrets Act. Fuchs eventually admitted his role and was sentenced to 14 years in prison. His sentence was later reduced, and he was released in 1959 and spent his remaining years living with his father in East Germany.
Fuchs’ capture set off a chain of arrests. Harry Gold, whom Fuchs implicated as the middleman between himself and Soviet agents, was arrested in the United States. Gold thereupon informed on David Greenglass, one of Fuchs’ co-workers on the Manhattan Project. After his apprehension, Greenglass implicated his sister-in-law and her husband, Ethel and Julius Rosenberg. They were arrested in New York in July 1950, found guilty of conspiracy to commit espionage, and executed at Sing Sing Prison in June 1953.
* Early American mass murder changes common perceptions of crime.
In one of the most famous crimes of post-Revolution America, Barnett Davenport commits an awful mass murder in rural Connecticut. Caleb Mallory, his wife, daughter-in-law, and two grandchildren were killed in their home by their boarder, Davenport.
Davenport, born in 1760, enlisted in the American army as a teenager and had served at Valley Forge and Fort Ticonderoga. In the waning days of the war with the British, he came to live in the Mallory household. Today, Davenport’s crime might be ascribed to some type of post-war stress syndrome, but at the time it was the source of a different sociological significance.
On February 3, apparently unprovoked, Davenport beat Caleb Mallory to death. He then beat Mallory’s seven-year-old grandchild with a rifle and killed his daughter-in-law. Davenport looted the home before setting it on fire, killing two others.
His shocking confession was the basis of much soul-searching for the fledgling nation’s press. Many books were written about the crime, and the perception of murderers began to change in America. Until then, crime was most often seen as the result of common sinners losing their way. But Davenport’s crime and its portrayal to the public caused people to perceive criminals as evil and alien to the rest of society. To some degree, this view has persisted through the years.
* Canadian History Timeline – Canada’s Historical Chronology http://canadachannel.ca/todayincanadianhistory/index.php
* Radio Canada International http://www.rcinet.ca/en/2014/02/03/feb-03-1916-when-canadas-parliament-burned/
* This Day In History – What Happened Today http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/