The Quick 10: Big Ben Turns 150!

On Sunday, everyone's favorite British Bell celebrated its sesquicentennial "“ yup, Big Ben turned 150. We're a little late in wishing it happy anniversary, but better late than never, right? Here are a few birthday facts about Big Ben and her Clock Tower.

night1. As inferred above, "Big Ben" doesn't refer to the clock or the tower, but to the bell itself. Ol' Ben weighs 13.7 tons (tonnes, to you Brits) and rings an "E" note when it's struck; the quarter bells strike G#, F#, E and B.
2. We're pretty sure we know whom the bell is named after, but not totally sure. Most likely its named after Sir Benjamin Hall, the First Chief Commissioner for Works who oversaw part if the rebuilding of the Houses of Parliament "“ including Big Ben "“ in the 1850s. His name is inscribed on the bell. The story goes that Parliament was having a long session to name the bell when tall Ben Hall stood up and expounded on the matter for a ridiculously long time. When he was done, someone yelled, "Why not call it Big Ben and have done with it?" and the whole House started laughing. But this is just a story "“ there's no documentation to verify it. The other theory is that it's named after Benjamin Caunt, a champion heavyweight boxer of the same era who went by the name "Big Ben of Westminster."

3. There's a Latin inscription under each clock dial. They all say the same thing: "Domine Salvam fac Reginam nostrum Victoriam primam" which means "O Lord, save our Queen Victoria the First."

foundry4. Big Ben and the Liberty Bell are cousins! The Whitechapel Bell Foundry in London made both of them. Interestingly enough, they both cracked pretty quickly. The first Big Ben cracked upon the first use, so Whitechapel used her as scrap metal to make Big Ben #2"¦ which also cracked. But it wasn't Whitechapel's fault "“ the bell wasn't being used as the Foundry had prescribed. A barrister named Edmund Beckett Denison had ordered and used a hammer more than twice the size of the one that the Foundry told him to use, which resulted in the crack. After this second crack, Big Ben was out of commission for four years; the hour was struck on one of the quarter bells instead of on the Great Bell. The Great Bell was moved about an eighth of a turn so the hammer could hit a piece of the bell with no crack in it; it's the bell we hear today. If you've ever noted that the bell chimes with a not-quite-right tone, the crack is the reason.

5. The second bell was too big to fit up the Clock Tower's shaft vertically, so it was turned sideways and winched up. It took about 30 hours to get it into place.

6. Here's what it looks like chiming.

7. Despite a very impressive history of being almost perfectly on time, even after a bomb struck it during WWII, Big Ben and the clock have fallen silent several times throughout history. A few of these instances include:
"¢ For two years during WWI, it was silenced as so not to attract attention from the German zeppelins.
"¢ In 1962, heavy snow accumulation on the clock's hands made it ring in the New Year about 10 minutes late.
"¢ In 1949, a flock of starlings decided the minute hand would make a good perch. Their combined weight slowed the hand by 4.5 minutes.

cleaning8. In 1980, the BBC famous for their April Fool's Day jokes, announced that the clock was going digital and offered to give the minute and hour hands away to the first listener who called into the program. Not only were people not fooled, they weren't even amused. The BBC later apologized for such a distasteful joke.
9. The Tower is not open to the general public, but every now and then, the press and some VIPs are escorted to the top. They have to be willing to climb 334 steps, though "“ there's no elevator.

sweeney10. Big Ben has been voted the Most Iconic London Film location and the most popular landmark in the United Kingdom. People know Big Ben and its history so well that when a promotional poster for 2008's Sweeney Todd included a foggy image of the Clock Tower in the background, they cried foul. Sweeney Todd, you see, was set in the early 19th century, and since Big Ben and the tower weren't around until the late 1850s, it wasn't historically accurate.

Perhaps this makes me hopelessly uncultured, but I can't see the Clock Tower without thinking, "Hey look kids! There's Big Ben, and there's Parliament!" "Kids... Big Ben. Parliament, again."

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Ernest Hemingway’s Guide to Life, In 20 Quotes
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Though he made his living as a writer, Ernest Hemingway was just as famous for his lust for adventure. Whether he was running with the bulls in Pamplona, fishing for marlin in Bimini, throwing back rum cocktails in Havana, or hanging out with his six-toed cats in Key West, the Nobel and Pulitzer Prize-winning author never did anything halfway. And he used his adventures as fodder for the unparalleled collection of novels, short stories, and nonfiction books he left behind, The Sun Also Rises, A Farewell to Arms, Death in the Afternoon, For Whom the Bell Tolls, and The Old Man and the Sea among them.

On what would be his 119th birthday—he was born in Oak Park, Illinois on July 21, 1899—here are 20 memorable quotes that offer a keen perspective into Hemingway’s way of life.

ON THE IMPORTANCE OF LISTENING

"I like to listen. I have learned a great deal from listening carefully. Most people never listen."

ON TRUST

"The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them."

ON DECIDING WHAT TO WRITE ABOUT

"I never had to choose a subject—my subject rather chose me."

ON TRAVEL

"Never go on trips with anyone you do not love."


Ernest Hemingway Photograph Collection, John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston. [1], Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

ON THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN INTELLIGENCE AND HAPPINESS

"Happiness in intelligent people is the rarest thing I know."

ON TRUTH

"There's no one thing that is true. They're all true."

ON THE DOWNSIDE OF PEOPLE

"The only thing that could spoil a day was people. People were always the limiters of happiness, except for the very few that were as good as spring itself."

ON SUFFERING FOR YOUR ART

"There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed."

ON TAKING ACTION

"Never mistake motion for action."

ON GETTING WORDS OUT

"I wake up in the morning and my mind starts making sentences, and I have to get rid of them fast—talk them or write them down."


Photograph by Mary Hemingway, in the Ernest Hemingway Photograph Collection, John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston., Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

ON THE BENEFITS OF SLEEP

"I love sleep. My life has the tendency to fall apart when I'm awake, you know?"

ON FINDING STRENGTH 

"The world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are strong at the broken places."

ON THE TRUE NATURE OF WICKEDNESS

"All things truly wicked start from innocence."

ON WRITING WHAT YOU KNOW

"If a writer knows enough about what he is writing about, he may omit things that he knows. The dignity of movement of an iceberg is due to only one ninth of it being above water."

ON THE DEFINITION OF COURAGE

"Courage is grace under pressure."

ON THE PAINFULNESS OF BEING FUNNY

"A man's got to take a lot of punishment to write a really funny book."


By Ernest Hemingway Photograph Collection, John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston. - JFK Library, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

ON KEEPING PROMISES

"Always do sober what you said you'd do drunk. That will teach you to keep your mouth shut."

ON GOOD VS. EVIL

"About morals, I know only that what is moral is what you feel good after and what is immoral is what you feel bad after."

ON REACHING FOR THE UNATTAINABLE

"For a true writer, each book should be a new beginning where he tries again for something that is beyond attainment. He should always try for something that has never been done or that others have tried and failed. Then sometimes, with great luck, he will succeed."

ON HAPPY ENDINGS

"There is no lonelier man in death, except the suicide, than that man who has lived many years with a good wife and then outlived her. If two people love each other there can be no happy end to it."

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