History for December 13th-19th

By Tom Sito | December 13, 2001

December 13, 1264: Victorious rebel English Earl Simon de Monfort calls for a meeting in Westminster of a Parliament of all nobles, clergy and for the first time, common folk of the realm to establish a British parliament, to be called the House of Commons. This was probably the first time since the ancient Roman republic that anybody had asked the common people their opinion about anything. King Henry III and Prince Edward Longshanks couldn’t object because Simon had them locked up in the Tower. To secure the safety of the parliament, Monfort ordered bishops to pronounce the most fearful oaths of excommunication and anathema on the head of anyone who dared to undo his creation. Even after Longshanks escaped prison and had Earl Simon cut into mincemeat, the House of Commons remained safe.

December 14, 1944: Hollywood starlet Lupe Velez, the "Mexican Spitfire’ commits suicide. She took an overdose of sleeping pills and had decked herself out in a beautiful negligee of her own design, wanting to be radiant when she was found. But instead of killing her immediately the pills made her sick and she was found dead with her head in the toilet. In her prime she counted Gary Cooper, Anthony Quinn and Johnny Weissmuller among her lovers. When Weismuller was filming ‘Tarzan’ the studio complained to her that their lovemaking was so…er..athletic and/or exuberant that she was leaving scratch marks all over Tarzan’s back and the makeup department was whining about the effort it took to cover them.

December 15, 1890-: Chief Sitting Bull was killed by government-employed Indian agents. They had come to arrest him when they learned he planned to join the Ghost Dancers at Wounded Knee. The Ghost Dance was a spiritual revival movement but the authorities overreacted, fearing a true armed uprising. As Sitting Bull was led out of his cabin other Sioux tried to stop the Indian police and in the scuffle the old chief was shot dead. Sitting Bull’s pony, who was a gift from Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, reared up and started doing circus tricks when he heard the shots. 1952: Fashion photographer George Jorgenson has the first sex change operation in Denmark and becomes Christine Jorgenson.

December 16, 1944: Big Band Leader Glen Miller’s plane disappears over the English Channel. In 1988 a retired RAF engineer admitted he may have jettisoned some leftover bombs on top of the entertainer’s plane while returning home from a bombing run.

December 17, 1843: Charles Dickens A Christmas Carol published. American business tycoon J.P. Morgan had a family custom each Christmas Eve of reading A Christmas Carol to his kids—from the original manuscript.

December 18, 1944: Head of the German atomic program Prof. Werner Heisenberg gives a lecture on S-matrix physics in Zurich, Switzerland. In the audience was Moe Berg, allied spy, amateur physicist and catcher for the Washington Senators Major League baseball team. Before the war Berg and Heisenberg were both friends with Danish physicist Neils Bohr, hence Berg’s invitation. U.S. intelligence officers gave Berg a pistol and instructed him to stand up and shoot Heisenberg dead on the spot if he felt from the talk that the Nazis were close to finishing their Atomic Bomb. Berg coolly schmoozed Heisenberg at the reception afterwards and even walked him home. In the 1950’s Berg was a frequent contestant on quiz shows.

December 19, 1974: The first personal computer went on sale. The Altair 8800 was named for the planet in the 1955 sci-fi movie classic Forbidden Planet. The computer came in a kit that you had to build and it cost $397. The next year two punk kids at Harvard named Bill Gates and Paul Allen created a programming language for it called BASIC.


  • Tom Sito

    A twenty six year veteran of animated film production, Tom Sito's screen credits include most of the respected feature-length animated films you can think of, including Who Framed Roger Rabbitt? Dinosaur, Antz, Shrek and Fantasia 2000.

Posted in:

More from Tom Sito: