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John’s Believe It Or Not… February 23rd

* 1893 – Lord Stanley Donates Dominion Hockey Challenge Cup  * 1945 U.S. flag raised on Iwo Jima * 1885 A remarkable reprieve for a man sent to the gallows * 1954 Children receive first polio vaccine * 1861 Lincoln avoids assassination attempt

Dr. Jonas Salk vaccinating a child

It’s Friday! TGIF! Did You Know…

* 1893 – Lord Stanley Donates Dominion Hockey Challenge Cup 

Was there ever a “golden age” of sport? Lord Stanley hoped to contribute to one when he donated his famous Cup in 1892.

Lord Stanley of Preston, who was Governor General of Canada from 1888 to 1893, was one of those devoted British sportsmen who helped create the world of organized sport that dominates our culture today. The British gave the world football (soccer), rugby, golf, cricket and many other sports — all in the name of developing healthy bodies and minds that could hold the far-flung British Empire together.

During his first winter in Canada, Lord Stanley attended the Montreal Winter Carnival and watched his first hockey game on 4 February 1889 — a contest between the Montreal Victorias and the Montreal Amateur Athletic Association (MAAA). According to the Montreal Gazette, he “expressed his great delight with the game of hockey and the expertise of the players.”

Lord Stanley became a fan, and his daughter, Isobel, and sons, Arthur, Algernon, and Edward, quickly took up the sport. Stanley sponsored a large outdoor rink at Rideau Hall and gave his blessing to a Government House hockey team, the Rideau Rebels, on which sons Algernon and Arthur played.

In 1892, Lord Stanley decided to donate a trophy to be awarded to the top ice hockey team in the country. The gold-lined silver bowl was ready for the 1892–93 season. (Stanley paid for it out of his own pocket. It cost him $48.67.) Initially called the Dominion Hockey Challenge Cup, it soon took the name of its donor.

On 15 May 1893, the Cup was awarded to the Montreal Athletic Association, whose affiliate hockey team was the 1892–93 champion of the Amateur Hockey Association of Canada. The first challenger for the Cup was the Ottawa Hockey Club (OHC).

The first Stanley Cup playoff game took place in Montreal on 22 March 1894 between the MAAA and the OHC. Newspapers reported a spirited crowd of some 5,000. According to the Montreal Gazette, “Tin horns, strong lungs, and a general rabble predominated. The match resulted in favour of Montreal by three goals to one. The referee forgot to see many things.” The newspaper also reported, “There was ‘siss-boom-ah,’ ‘rah-rah-rah’ and several other audible tokens of imbecility and enthusiasm mixed…. Every lady almost in the rink wore the favours of their particular club and never did belted knight in joust or tourney fight harder than the hockey men.”

Was this the golden age of sport, when devoted amateurs competed for club and community and for the love of the game? When small Canadian communities could compete with the biggest cities for hockey’s holy grail? Early winners of the Cup included the Winnipeg Victorias, Ottawa Silver Seven, Montreal Wanderers, Kenora Thistles and Quebec Bulldogs.

In 1926, the Stanley Cup became the exclusive domain of the National Hockey League, likely against the intentions of its donor. The values of commercialism would prevail, putting the Cup beyond the reach of all but a few Canadian teams.

The original Stanley Cup with a photo of Lord
The original Stanley Cup with a photo of Lord Stanley (

* 1945 U.S. flag raised on Iwo Jima

During the bloody Battle for Iwo Jima, U.S. Marines from the 3rd Platoon, E Company, 2nd Battalion, 28th Regiment of the 5th Division take the crest of Mount Suribachi, the island’s highest peak and most strategic position, and raise the U.S. flag. Marine photographer Louis Lowery was with them and recorded the event. American soldiers fighting for control of Suribachi’s slopes cheered the raising of the flag, and several hours later more Marines headed up to the crest with a larger flag. Joe Rosenthal, a photographer with the Associated Press, met them along the way and recorded the raising of the second flag along with a Marine still photographer and a motion-picture cameraman.

Rosenthal took three photographs atop Suribachi. The first, which showed five Marines and one Navy corpsman struggling to hoist the heavy flag pole, became the most reproduced photograph in history and won him a Pulitzer Prize. The accompanying motion-picture footage attests to the fact that the picture was not posed. Of the other two photos, the second was similar to the first but less affecting, and the third was a group picture of 18 soldiers smiling and waving for the camera. Many of these men, including three of the six soldiers seen raising the flag in the famous Rosenthal photo, were killed before the conclusion of the Battle for Iwo Jima in late March.

In early 1945, U.S. military command sought to gain control of the island of Iwo Jima in advance of the projected aerial campaign against the Japanese home islands. Iwo Jima, a tiny volcanic island located in the Pacific about 700 miles southeast of Japan, was to be a base for fighter aircraft and an emergency-landing site for bombers. On February 19, 1945, after three days of heavy naval and aerial bombardment, the first wave of U.S. Marines stormed onto Iwo Jima’s inhospitable shores.

The Japanese garrison on the island numbered 22,000 heavily entrenched men. Their commander, General Tadamichi Kuribayashi, had been expecting an Allied invasion for months and used the time wisely to construct an intricate and deadly system of underground tunnels, fortifications, and artillery that withstood the initial Allied bombardment. By the evening of the first day, despite incessant mortar fire, 30,000 U.S. Marines commanded by General Holland Smith managed to establish a solid beachhead.

During the next few days, the Marines advanced inch by inch under heavy fire from Japanese artillery and suffered suicidal charges from the Japanese infantry. Many of the Japanese defenders were never seen and remained underground manning artillery until they were blown apart by a grenade or rocket, or incinerated by a flamethrower.

While Japanese kamikaze flyers slammed into the Allied naval fleet around Iwo Jima, the Marines on the island continued their bloody advance across the island, responding to Kuribayashi’s lethal defenses with remarkable endurance. On February 23, the crest of 550-foot Mount Suribachi was taken, and the next day the slopes of the extinct volcano were secured.

By March 3, U.S. forces controlled all three airfields on the island, and on March 26 the last Japanese defenders on Iwo Jima were wiped out. Only 200 of the original 22,000 Japanese defenders were captured alive. More than 6,000 Americans died taking Iwo Jima, and some 17,000 were wounded.

The United States Marine Corps War Memorial, also known as the Iwo Jima Memorial, is a famed landmark located in Arlington, VA near Washington DC.
The United States Marine Corps War Memorial, also known as the Iwo Jima Memorial, is a famed landmark located in Arlington, VA near Washington DC. (

* 1885 A remarkable reprieve for a man sent to the gallows

On this day in 1885, a 19-year-old man named John Lee is sent to the gallows in Exeter, England, for the murder of Ellen Keyse, a rich older woman for whom he had worked. Although he insisted he was innocent, Lee had been convicted and sentenced to death by hanging.However, after the noose was put around his neck and the lever that would release the floor beneath his feet was pulled, something malfunctioned and Lee was not dropped.Strangely, the equipment had been tested and found to be in working order. In fact, weights used in a test run plunged to the ground as expected. The hanging was attempted two more times, but when Lee stood on the trap door, and the lever was pulled, nothing happened. He was then sent back to prison.

On November 15, 1884, Keyse, who had been a maid to Queen Victoria, was found dead in a pantry next to Lee’s room. Her head was severely battered and her throat cut. There was no direct evidence of Lee’s guilt; the case was made solely on circumstantial evidence. The alleged motive was Lee’s resentment at Keyse’s mean treatment.

The authorities, mystified at the gallows’ inexplicable malfunction, decided to ascribe it to an act of God. Lee was removed from death row, his sentence commuted, and he spent the next 22 years in prison. After he was released, he emigrated to America. The cause of Lee’s remarkable reprieve was never discovered.

Condemned prisoners no longer have a chance at such reprieves. Even when there are mishaps in carrying out an execution (in one case, an executioner failed to properly find a vein for a lethal injection), authorities follow through until the prisoner has been put to death.

Drawing of Lee on the gallows with a hood over his head.
There was no direct evidence of Lee’s guilt; the case was made solely on circumstantial evidence. (Dinge en Goete)

* 1954 Children receive first polio vaccine

On this day in 1954, a group of children from Arsenal Elementary School in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, receive the first injections of the new polio vaccine developed by Dr. Jonas Salk [see featured image at the top].

Though not as devastating as the plague or influenza, poliomyelitis was a highly contagious disease that emerged in terrifying outbreaks and seemed impossible to stop. Attacking the nerve cells and sometimes the central nervous system, polio caused muscle deterioration, paralysis, and even death. Even as medicine vastly improved in the first half of the 20th century in the Western world, polio still struck, affecting mostly children but sometimes adults as well. The most famous victim of a 1921 outbreak in America was future President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, then a young politician. The disease spread quickly, leaving his legs permanently paralyzed.

In the late 1940s, the March of Dimes, a grassroots organization founded with President Roosevelt’s help to find a way to defend against polio, enlisted Dr. Jonas Salk, head of the Virus Research Lab at the University of Pittsburgh. Salk found that polio had as many as 125 strains of three basic types and that an effective vaccine needed to combat all three. By growing samples of the polio virus and then deactivating, or “killing” them by adding a chemical called formalin, Salk developed his vaccine, which was able to immunize without infecting the patient.

After mass inoculations began in 1954, everyone marveled at the high success rate–some 60-70 percent–until the vaccine caused a sudden outbreak of some 200 cases. After it was determined that the cases were all caused by one faulty batch of the vaccine, production standards were improved, and by August 1955 some 4 million shots had been given. Cases of polio in the U.S. dropped from 14,647 in 1955 to 5,894 in 1956, and by 1959 some 90 other countries were using Salk’s vaccine.

A later version of the polio vaccine, developed by Albert Sabin, used a weakened form of the live virus and was swallowed instead of injected. It was licensed in 1962 and soon became more popular than Salk’s vaccine, as it was cheaper to make and easier for people to take. There is still no cure for polio once it has been contracted, but the use of vaccines has virtually eliminated polio in the United States. Globally, there are now around 250,000 cases each year, mostly in developing countries. 

Small children receiving the polio vaccine
Polio was the scourge of the first half of the 20th century until Dr. Jonas Salk created a life-saving vaccine (

* 1861 Lincoln avoids assassination attempt

On this day in 1861, Abraham Lincoln and his entourage show up unexpectedly at the Willard Hotel in Washington, D.C., foiling a Baltimore plot against his life.

The president-elect left his home in Springfield, Illinois, by train several days earlier and had planned to stop in Baltimore before continuing to the capital. Before leaving, he delivered a poignant farewell to his hometown and close friends, who observed that he seemed to realize he might never return to the town where, he said, my children have been born, and one is buried. Shortly after departing Springfield, his aides received reports of a planned assassination attempt in Baltimore and ordered the train to proceed immediately to Washington.

Lincoln assumed the presidency on the eve of civil war. Following a contentious election during which slaveholding states threatened to secede from the Union, angry southern conspirators vowed to kill the man they perceived as an abolitionist president before he entered office. Chicago police detective Allan Pinkerton, a devout supporter of Lincoln, led the effort to infiltrate secessionist groups in order to thwart such assassination attempts.

Working undercover, Pinkerton engaged in a conversation on February 15 with one Captain Ferdinanda and an associate who told him “that d—d abolitionist shall never set foot on Southern soil but to find a grave. One week from today the North shall want a new president, for Lincoln will be dead.” Even when news of the plot reached Lincoln, he argued for keeping the Baltimore engagement, much to his aides’ frustration. A stubborn Lincoln finally submitted to his wife’s insistence that he abandon his plans and the attack was successfully avoided.

Observers who heard of Lincoln’s arrival at the Willard Hotel noticed the tall and awkward form of Lincoln. The president appeared nervous and quickly worked his way through the gathering throng toward his room. Shortly thereafter, his wife, Mary, and their sons joined him at the hotel, where the family stayed until his inauguration on March 4, 1861.

Cipriano Ferrandini addresses other members of the Baltimore plot.
Cipriano Ferrandini addresses other members of the Baltimore plot. (WETA)

Today’s Sources: 

* Canadian History Timeline – Canada’s Historical Chronology

* The Canadian Encyclopedia                                      

* 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.

11 thoughts on “John’s Believe It Or Not… February 23rd”

  1. Good old Lord Stanley. He never knew the power of the NHL. U.S. flag raised on Iwo Jima reminds me that my dad was a naval aviator and participated in the bombardment of Iwo Jima. George Walker Bush was also there and shot down. Hard to believe that was 73 years ago. I remember we got polo shots in grade school. Before then we had to worry about getting chilled in August. The Lincoln assassination plot being avoided helped the Union survive. Good episode, John

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m sure Lord Stanley was turning over in his grave as the NHL claimed sole right to his generous donation. I’m not a big fan of pro sports. They have precious little to do with sports and everything to do with big money – case in point, this year the NHL refused to interrupt their sacred schedule to release players to compete in the Olympics. Shame. As much as I loved watching pro sports, I’ve been boycotting all of them since the early 1990s. The only hockey games I’ve watched since have been Olympic hockey games.
      I wasn’t aware your Dad participated in the attack on Iwo Jima. Thanks, John!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. The polio photo is a classic. I remember the long lines at school, but this photo reveals something more. The little boys are watching intently and getting ready, while the little girl screams. I wonder what age it is that boys learn they must not cry, that they must “man-up.” I don’t think I did that with my boys, but in fairness, I need to ask them. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Not sure, Gwen, but that man-up response is also a cultural expectation that kids learn from the media and from others. I remember the polio vaccination too. The needle looked 9 inches long!


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