Tom Sito’s Week in History
December 20, 1937 Nazis Josef Goebbels noted in his diary that on this day he sent his boss Adolph Hitler a Christmas present of a dozen Mickey Mouse Cartoons from America. Publicly, der Fuehrer denounced Mickey as "vermin" but privately enjoyed their animated antics.
December 21, 1940 Writer F. Scott Fitzgerald died of a heart attack at the age of 44 in Hollywood columnist Sheila Graham’s house. She had just left the house to buy him some candy. His last words were ‘Hershey bars will be fine…" 1953 Dr. J. Robert Oppenheimer, father of the Atomic Bomb, is accused of being a Communist. When he was picked in 1940 to head the Manhattan Project the government knew he was a Berkeley eccentric who had joined every leftist group in town, but chose him anyway because he was brilliant. The 1953 accusation is now viewed more as the government’s revenge for his flat refusal to help Edmund Teller in developing the Hydrogen Bomb.
December 22, 640 AD The Great Library of Alexandria had been burned by Julius Caesar and then ravaged by Christian mobs under Saint Cyrus, who hacked to death the library’s last true Greek philosopher, Hypatia. On this day the remains of the library were razed by the armies of the Caliph Omar and the books used to stoke the bread ovens of his army. Quoth Omar: "If there is in these books that which is already in the Koran then they are unnecessary, if they contain knowledge not in the Koran then they are not wanted."
December 23, 1823 The poem "A Visit from St. Nicholas" is published anonymously in The Troy Sentinel, a New York newspaper. The poem completed the synthesis of English and Dutch folk traditions that were already merging in New York into the modern concept of Santa Claus . The Dutch Klaus-in-the-Cinders" or Kris Kringle was an elf who climbed down chimneys to give children toys. He merged with the British Father Christmas or Saint Nicholas who was a big fat jolly bishop with a white beard in a red suit. The reindeer names Donner and Blitzen come from the Dutch words for thunder and lightning "Dunder und Blixem". Both cultures also had Santa taking a whip to bad children but that part was edited out in the poem. In an 1859 reprint of the famous poem famed cartoonist Thomas Nast (who created the U.S. Republican elephant and Democratic donkey) drew the first likeness of Santa Claus. Because of residual rivalry from the Civil War claiming Santa was a Yankee or came from old Dixie, in 1867 Nast ended the argument by declaring Claus’ true address to be the North Pole. The likeness most people recognize was created by illustrator Haddon Sundblom for a Coca-Cola ad campaign in 1934. Several years after the poem’s success the authorship was claimed by a Bronx Bible teacher, the Reverend Clement Clarke Moore. He was celebrated in his time as the father of Santa Claus until his death in 1863. In 2000 a literary-forensic specialist from Vassar named Foster has challenged Moore’s authorship and claims an obscure Revolutionary War veteran from Poughkeepsie NY. named Major Henry Livingston actually wrote the poem. He cites as evidence the poetic style of Livingston as much closer to the anonymous poem than that of Moore’s other published work.
December 24, 1865 In Pulaski Tennessee, disaffected Confederate soldiers form a secret society based on a Greek patriotic brotherhood called the ‘Kuklos": the Ku Klux Klan. They don white sheets and hoods to portray themselves as the avenging ghosts of dead rebel soldiers. The first Grand Dragon was General Nathan Bedford Forrest, but he resigned after they got too violent even for him. After the Klan’s first attempts at guerrilla resistance were crushed they went underground to thwart reconstruction and Black Civil Rights. By 1921 they could brag of two million members and have a march down Pennsylvania Ave. in Washington. D.C.. One of the clear achievements of controversial FBI director J. Edgar Hoover was the declawing of the Klan in the 1950’s. It was said that by 1963 he had half the Klan on the FBI payroll informing on the other half.
December 25, 1836 According to the novel Moby Dick, today is the day the Pequod set sail from Natucket. 1946 Comedian W.C. Fields dies of alcoholism at 67. While in his hospital bed someone saw him reading a Bible. They said:"W.C. ,what are you doing with that?" Fields replied: "Looking for loopholes."
December 26, 1966 The first Kwanzaa Festival was organized by African studies professor Dr Marulanga Karenga at Cal State Long Beach to celebrate African-American culture. 1985 Gorillas in the Mist author and ape anthropologist Diane Fossey was murdered with a machete in her lab in Africa.