11 Things That Happened on Other Cool Dates

11/22/11 is the 791st anniversary of Frederick II being crowned Holy Roman Emperor, the 293rd anniversary of Blackbeard’s beheading, the 254th anniversary of the Austrian defeat of Prussia in the Seven Years’ War’s Battle of Breslau, the 48th anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s assassination, and what would have been novelist George Eliot’s 192nd birthday. (Also: Toy Story turns 16 today.)

So many distinctions and yet 11/22/11 may only be the second coolest date in the last 11 days. But its proximity to the ever-so-flossy 11/11/11 should not keep us from celebrating its place among history’s very fun numerical dates. In honor of its coolness, here are some things that happened on other fun dates in history.

1. 7/8/9 (July 8, 1709): The Russians defeated the Swedes in the Battle of Poltava.

“But, why were they fighting?” you ask. Well, it was a part of the Great Northern War in which Tsar Peter the Great’s Russia and his allies in Denmark-Norway, Saxony, and Poland-Lithuania challenged the supremacy of the Swedish Empire. Russia’s decisive victory at Poltava (in modern-day Ukraine) pretty much sealed the deal establishing Russia as a major power in that part of the world and sending the Swedish Empire, under their teenage leader Karl XII, into a power decline. As you know, the date also explains very clearly why 6 was so very afraid of 7.

2. 3/3/3 (March 3, 1803) The first impeachment trial for a federal judge began.

Then-Chief Justice of the New Hampshire Superior Court of Judicature, John Pickering has the proud distinction of being the first United States federal official to be removed from office after conviction by impeachment. Basically, he just stopped showing up to court and many contended that he had simply gone bonkers.

After a bit of a political debate regarding the constitutionality of the removal of a federal official for something not considered a high crime or misdemeanor, then-Prez TJ sent evidence to the House of Representatives of Pickering’s drunkenness and unlawful rulings and they voted to impeach. The Senate voted to convict. And that was that.

3. 1/2/3 (January 2, 1903): Teddy Roosevelt shut down a Mississippi Post Office.

President Theodore Roosevelt shut down the post office in Indianola, Mississippi, for its racially motivated mistreatment of black postmistress, Minnie Cox. Racist politicians pointed to Cox’s position as evidence that blacks had attained too much power and demanded her removal. The postmistress was also threatened with violence and local law enforcement refused to provide appropriate protection. Fearing for her safety, she resigned her position and left town. The next day, the President closed down the post office, declined Ms. Cox’s resignation and continued her salary. Indianola residents were told that their mail could be collected at the Greenville post office 30 miles away.

Though Roosevelt could not keep the post office closed because the county was entitled to one by statute and though Cox did not accept the reappointment, it was still a pretty cool move by Teddy.

4. 11/11/11 (November 11, 1811): Cartagena, Colombia, declared its independence, the first Colombian province to do so.

The colonial city was established in 1533 by Pedro de Heredia and was named for a town in Spain from which many of his sailors had come. After existing under Spanish rule for 275 years, on 11/11/1811, Cartagena became independent of Spanish rule and now, as a beach resort city, is a popular tourist destination and center of economic activity in Columbia.

Every 11/11, Cartagena’s independence is celebrated with parades and dance performances. The central event of the day is the crowning of the queen of the Concurso Nacional de Belleza (national beauty contest) in which the two most important moments are the Desfile de Balleneras, where the contestants and their entourages parade their good looks via yachts and sailboats around the Bay of Cartegena, and when the bathing-suit-clad contestants parade around the pool at the Hilton. If you were not in Cartegena on 11/11, I am not sure why not.

5. 12/12/12 (December 12, 1812): The French invasion of Russia came to an end.

A major turning point in the Napoleonic Wars, the Little Corporal’s invasion of Russia was a pretty costly move, reducing his army to a small fraction of its size prior to the invasion. He could have quit while he was ahead with basically all of Europe under either his direct or indirect control. But, noooooo. He had to go and invade Russia because Tsar Alexander wouldn’t buy into the whole Napoleonic economic system.

The French armies were not prepared for the different and less agriculturally-rich Russian landscape and, in the course of the invasion, Napoleon’s Grande Armee became not nearly as grande. They lost more soldiers to desertion, starvation, and disease than they lost in actual battles with the Russians.

6. 1/1/1 (January 1, 1901): Australia became a commonwealth.

Previously six separate colonies, New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania, Victoria, and Western Australia became states united under a federal government and began operating under the Constitution of Australia. The federation of Australia, as this process become known, also lends its name to a type of architecture that was popular during the time. As we all, of course, know, Federation architecture is similar to Edwardian architecture but stands out because of the use of verandah and images of distinctly Aussie plants and animals (yes, kangaroos and kookaburra included).

7. 8/8/8 (August 8, 1908): A Wright Brother proved the French wrong.

Wilbur Wright made his first public flight at the Hunaudieres racecourse near Le Mans, France. Prior to the public display, the press was openly skeptical about the Wright Brothers’ claim of having flown. One newspaper stated of the brothers, “They are in fact either flyers or liars. It is difficult to fly. It is easy to say, ‘We have flown.’” Well, Wibur proved to be a flier, indeed, as his first flight lasted one minute and 45 seconds and featured crafty turns and maneuvers that the public had not thought possible. The crowd went wild, headlines were made, and skeptics were silenced.

8. 8/9/10 (August 9, 1910): The washing machine was patented.

Alva Fisher patented the Thor washing machine, the first electric clothes washer sold commercially in the United States. Produced by the Hurley Electric Laundry Equipment Company of Chicago, the Thor was mass marketed throughout the country starting in 1908 and was a major leap ahead from crude early attempts at an automatic washer that usually involved the use of a crank. There is controversy over whether or not Fisher “invented” the automatic washing machine. A different company out of New York, Nineteen Hundred Washing Machine Company, says they invented the electric washing machine in 1906 and some claim that a Ford Motor Company employee invented the electric washer even earlier than that. Regardless, Fisher’s patent is a matter verified by official record and the mighty Thors were certainly the first washers to reach the thunderstruck public, en masse.

9. 11/11/11 (November 11, 1911): Lots of weather craziness went down.

In the Midwest, as many cities broke their record high and low temperatures on the same day. Springfield, Missouri, for example, recorded a temperature of 80 degrees Fahrenheit during the day before dropping to 13 degrees before midnight – a 67-degree drop in 10 hours. In some cities, there were tornadoes on 11/11 followed by blizzards on 11/12. Some folks call that cold snap that impacted the central part of the U.S. “The Great Blue Norther of 11/11/11,” some just call it straight-up, unadulterated meteorological wackiness.

10. 2/2/2 (February 2, 2002): A Prince married an investment banker.

The scandalous marriage between Crown Prince Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands and Argentine-born NY investment banker Maxima Zorreguieta Cerruti occurred on 2/2/2. The controversy surrounding the marriage was unrelated to her involvement with the bulls and the bears — rather, it was regarding her father’s prior role as Argentina’s Minister of Agriculture from 1976-1981 under the military dictatorship. During that time, between 10,000 and 30,000 people just up and disappeared (and are presumed dead), but Maxima’s father insists he was not aware of the government’s actions. The Dutch Parliament conducted an inquiry and verified that the prince’s father-in-law-to-be was being truthful. However, remaining pressure from the public prevented Maxima’s father from attending the wedding.

By the way, the couple met in Spain in 1999 at the Seville Spring Fair. The prince introduced himself simply as “Alexander” and did not tell Maxima that he was a prince until later. She thought he was joking.

11. 10/10/10 (October 10, 2010): The Netherlands Antilles were dissolved.

So, the Netherlands Antilles used to be an autonomous Caribbean country that was a part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. It was made up of Aruba, Bonaire, Curacao, Sint Eustatius, Saba, Sint Maarten, and two other groups of small islands. Aruba became a separate country under the Kingdom of the Netherlands umbrella in 1986 and sparked a lengthy series of referendums for the rest of the Antilles, who had to decide whether they wanted to have closer ties with the Netherlands, autonomy within the Netherlands kingdom, independence, or maintenance of the status quo.

After a speedy 24 years of deliberations, the Netherlands Antilles were dissolved in 2010. Curacao and Sint Maarten became constituent countries within the Kingdom of the Netherlands and the other islands became “special municipalities.” If we have any readers in said special municipalities who can explain what that term means, we'd love to hear from you.

I'm a sucker for "what ______ was almost called" trivia, from movies to books to search engines. So leave us your favorite almost-names in the comments!

9 Curses for Book Thieves From the Middle Ages and Beyond

It may seem extreme to threaten the gallows for the theft of a book, but that's just one example in the long, respected tradition of book curses. Before the invention of moveable type in the West, the cost of a single book could be tremendous. As medievalist Eric Kwakkel explains, stealing a book then was more like stealing someone’s car today. Now, we have car alarms; then, they had chains, chests … and curses. And since the heyday of the book curse occurred during the Middle Ages in Europe, it was often spiced with Dante-quality torments of hell.

The earliest such curses go back to the 7th century BCE. They appear in Latin, vernacular European languages, Arabic, Greek, and more. And they continued, in some cases, into the era of print, gradually fading as books became less expensive. Here are nine that capture the flavor of this bizarre custom.


A book curse from the Arnstein Bible, circa 1172
A curse in the Arnstein Bible
British Library // Public Domain

The Arnstein Bible at the British Library, written in Germany circa 1172, has a particularly vivid torture in mind for the book thief: “If anyone steals it: may he die, may he be roasted in a frying pan, may the falling sickness [i.e. epilepsy] and fever attack him, and may he be rotated [on the breaking wheel] and hanged. Amen.”


A 15th-century French curse featured by Marc Drogin in his book Anathema! Medieval Scribes and the History of Book Curses has a familiar "House That Jack Built"-type structure:

“Whoever steals this book
Will hang on a gallows in Paris,
And, if he isn’t hung, he’ll drown,
And, if he doesn’t drown, he’ll roast,
And, if he doesn’t roast, a worse end will befall him.”


A book curse excerpted from the 13th-century Historia scholastica
A book curse from the Historia scholastica
Yale Beinecke Library // Public Domain

In The Medieval Book, Barbara A. Shailor records a curse from Northeastern France found in the 12th-century Historia scholastica: “Peter, of all the monks the least significant, gave this book to the most blessed martyr, Saint Quentin. If anyone should steal it, let him know that on the Day of Judgment the most sainted martyr himself will be the accuser against him before the face of our Lord Jesus Christ.”


Drogin also records this 13th-century curse from a manuscript at the Vatican Library, as notes. It escalates rapidly.

"The finished book before you lies;
This humble scribe don’t criticize.
Whoever takes away this book
May he never on Christ look.
Whoever to steal this volume durst
May he be killed as one accursed.
Whoever to steal this volume tries
Out with his eyes, out with his eyes!"


A book curse from an 11th century lectionary
A book curse from an 11th century lectionary
Beinecke Library // Public Domain

An 11th-century book curse from a church in Italy, spotted by Kwakkel, offers potential thieves the chance to make good: “Whoever takes this book or steals it or in some evil way removes it from the Church of St Caecilia, may he be damned and cursed forever, unless he returns it or atones for his act.”


This book curse was written in a combination of Latin and German, as Drogin records:

"To steal this book, if you should try,
It’s by the throat you’ll hang high.
And ravens then will gather ’bout
To find your eyes and pull them out.
And when you’re screaming 'oh, oh, oh!'
Remember, you deserved this woe."


This 18th-century curse from a manuscript found in Saint Mark’s Monastery, Jerusalem, is written in Arabic: “Property of the monastery of the Syrians in honorable Jerusalem. Anyone who steals or removes [it] from its place of donation will be cursed from the mouth of God! God (may he be exalted) will be angry with him! Amen.”


A book curse in a 17th century manuscript cookbook
A book curse in a 17th century cookbook

A 17th-century manuscript cookbook now at the New York Academy of Medicine contains this inscription: "Jean Gembel her book I wish she may be drouned yt steals it from her."


An ownership inscription on a 1632 book printed in London, via the Rochester Institute of Technology, contains a familiar motif:

“Steal not this Book my honest friend
For fear the gallows be yr end
For when you die the Lord will say
Where is the book you stole away.”


One of the most elaborate book curses found on the internet runs as follows: "For him that stealeth a Book from this Library, let it change to a Serpent in his hand and rend him. Let him be struck with Palsy, and all his Members blasted. Let him languish in Pain, crying aloud for Mercy and let there be no surcease to his Agony till he sink to Dissolution. Let Book-worms gnaw his Entrails in token of the Worm that dieth not, and when at last he goeth to his final Punishment let the Flames of Hell consume him for ever and aye.”

Alas, this curse—still often bandied about as real—was in fact part of a 1909 hoax by the librarian and mystery writer Edmund Pearson, who published it in his "rediscovered" Old Librarian's Almanack. The Almanack was supposed to be the creation of a notably curmudgeonly 18th-century librarian; in fact, it was a product of Pearson's fevered imagination.

Chemung County Historical Society, Elmira, NY
John W. Jones: The Runaway Slave Who Buried Nearly 3000 Confederate Soldiers
Chemung County Historical Society, Elmira, NY
Chemung County Historical Society, Elmira, NY

John W. Jones was as close to a sinless man as you could find—with the exception of the time he lied to his mother.

It was a late June evening in 1844 and the 26-year-old enslaved man, who lived on a plantation near Leesburg, Virginia, told his mother that he was leaving to attend a party. His real plans were much riskier. Jones slipped outside, grabbed a pistol, and rendezvoused with four other enslaved men. With starlight as their guide, they crept through the Virginia woods. Their destination: North.

The men hiked approximately 20 miles every day, dodging slave catchers in Maryland and crossing the Mason-Dixon Line into the free state of Pennsylvania. Following a major route along the Underground Railroad, they needled through Harrisburg and Williamsport and traced a path along what is now State Route 14. When the exhausted men snuck into a barn near the New York border to sleep, Jones kept guard as the others rested: He sat down, laid a shotgun on his lap, and kept his eyes peeled.

“He was serious about getting his freedom,” says Talima Aaron, President of the John W. Jones Museum Board of Trustees. “He understood the danger, and he constantly took responsibility for others. You’ll notice that was a thread for him—responsibility for others.”

Jones never had to use the gun. When the barn’s owner, Nathaniel Smith, discovered the five men on his property, he invited them into his home. His wife Sarah served the group hot biscuits and butter and cared for them until their strength returned. It was the first time many of them had ever been inside a white person’s home. According to an 1885 profile in The Elmira Telegram, the gesture brought the men to tears.

On July 5, 1844, Jones crossed a toll bridge into Elmira, New York, with less than $2 in his pocket. Unlike most runaways bound for Canada, Jones decided to stay in Elmira. It’s here that Jones would become one of the country's most successful Underground Railroad conductors, one of the richest black men in the state of New York, and the last earthly link for nearly 3000 dead Confederate soldiers.


Living in the north did not mean Jones had it easy. He could not vote. He still shared sidewalks with former slave-owners. When he asked to receive an education at the local schools, he was denied.

But Jones had a knack for cracking ceilings. After earning the admiration of a local judge, he was allowed to study at an all-women’s seminary, exchanging janitorial work for reading and writing lessons. He joined a church with abolitionist leanings and become its sexton, maintaining its cemetery. Then he became the sexton of a second cemetery, and then a third. The community quickly grew to respect his work ethic and, eventually, Jones had earned enough money to buy a small house—a house that he transformed into a vital hub for the Underground Railroad.

At the time, the Underground Railroad—an informal network of trails, hiding places, and guides that helped slaves escape northward—was under intense scrutiny. The 1850 Fugitive Slave Act had created financial incentives to report runaways living in free states. “Slave catchers from the south could come up to a place like Elmira and claim that a person of color was a runaway slave, and they could haul them back into slavery—even if that person had been born free,” says Bruce Whitmarsh, Director of the Chemung County Historical Society. There were steep penalties for aiding a person’s escape.

Jones didn’t care. Not only did he join the Underground Railroad, he was openly vocal about it, loudly pledging his opposition to the Fugitive Slave Act in a message that was published in abolitionist newspapers across the region: “Resolved, that we, the colored citizens of Elmira, do hereby form ourselves into a society for the purpose of protecting ourselves against those persons, (slave-catchers) prowling through different parts of this and other States.” Jones committed to resisting the law, even at the risk that “everyone of us be assassinated.”

The Underground Railroad in Elmira was unique: Since the town included the only train stop between Philadelphia and Ontario, it actually involved locomotives. Jones communicated regularly with William Still, the chief "conductor" of the Underground Railroad in Philadelphia, and built a cozy network of abolitionists who worked on trains passing through town. He provided runaways with housing, food, and even part-time jobs. “Runaways usually came in groups of four, six, or 10,” Aaron says. “But he had up to 30 at once in his little house.” Jones arranged hiding space for all of the escapees on the 4 a.m. “Freedom Baggage Car” to Canada, as it was unofficially known.

Over the course of nine years, Jones aided the escape of around 800 runaway slaves. Not one was captured.

During the last years of the Civil War, the same railroad tracks that had delivered hundreds of runaways to freedom began to carry thousands of captive Confederate soldiers to Elmira’s new prisoner of war camp. Once again, Jones would be there.


Of the 620,000 Civil War deaths, approximately 10 percent occurred at prison camps. The most notorious P.O.W. camp—in Andersonville, Georgia—saw 13,000 Union troops, or approximately 29 percent of the prison population, perish. After the war, Andersonville's commander was tried for war crimes. The camp is now a National Historic Site.

Meanwhile, the prison camp in Elmira has been largely forgotten. Today, the riverside site is little more than an unremarkable patch of dandelion-speckled grass; a small, easy-to-miss monument is the only marker. It belies the fact that while Elmira's camp was noticeably smaller than Andersonville's—only one-quarter its size—it was just as deadly: If you were a prisoner at “Hellmira,” there was a one-in-four chance you would die.

Elmira Prison Camp
Chemung County Historical Society, Elmira, NY

Elmira was never supposed to have a prison camp; it was a training depot for Union soldiers. But when the Confederacy began refusing to exchange African-American soldiers—who it considered captive slaves, not prisoners of war—the Union stopped participating in prisoner exchanges. “Both sides started scrambling for places to expand, and that’s how Elmira got caught up in the web,” says Terri Olszowy, a Board Member for the Friends of the Elmira Civil War Prison Camp.

The rollout was ill-planned, Olszowy explains. When it opened in July 1864, the camp had no hospital or medical staff. The first prisoners were already in rough shape and deteriorated quickly. Latrines were placed uphill from a small body of water called Foster’s Pond, which quickly became a cesspool. A shelter shortage meant that hundreds of soldiers were still living in tents by Christmas. During spring, the Chemung River flooded the grounds. Rats crawled everywhere. When authorities released a dog to catch them, the prisoners ate the dog.

The camp grew overcrowded. Designed to hold only 5000 prisoners, it saw approximately 7000 to 10,000 men confined there at its peak. Across the street, an observation tower allowed locals the opportunity to gawk at these prisoners through a pair of binoculars. It cost 10 cents.

It must have been a depressing sight, a scene of men stricken with dysentery, scurvy, typhoid, pneumonia, and smallpox. Many prisoners attempted to escape. One group successfully dug a 66-foot tunnel with spoons and knives. One man fled by hiding in a barrel of swill. Another hid inside a coffin, leaping out as he was being hauled to Woodlawn Cemetery.

It’s said that 2973 Confederate prisoners left the Elmira prison camp in coffins for real. The job to bury them belonged to the town’s sexton: John W. Jones.


The P.O.W. cemetery in Elmira is unique. The dead at many prison camps were buried in mass graves; Chicago’s Oak Woods Cemetery, for example, contains a plot filled with the remains of prisoners detained at Camp Douglas that is believed to be largest mass grave in the western hemisphere. All 2973 of the dead at Elmira, however, received an individual, marked grave in a special section of Woodlawn cemetery. Only seven are unknown. Jones's effort to give each soldier an individual grave, as well as his meticulous record-keeping, were a big part of why the federal government designated the P.O.W. portion of Woodlawn a "National Cemetery" in 1877—a status awarded to veterans' cemeteries deemed to be of national importance, and which has only been awarded to 135 cemeteries nationwide.

Jones treated each dead soldier with superhuman levels of grace. Overseeing a crew of 12, he managed the burial of about six soldiers every day, treating each body as if that person had been a member of his own church. He kept detailed records of each soldier’s identity by creating improvised dog tags: Around each person's neck or under their arm, Jones tucked a jar containing a paper detailing their name, rank, and regiment. That same information was neatly scrawled on each coffin. When the dirt settled, Jones marked each plot with a wooden headstone.

“No one told him how to do that job, he did it in the way that he thought was right—even though the people he buried were fighting a war to keep people like him enslaved,” Aaron says. “He even knew one of the young men who had died, and he reached back to the South and told the parents so they knew where their child was buried. That speaks to his compassion.”

According to Clayton W. Holmes’s 1912 book Elmira Prison Camp, “History does not record anything to challenge the assertion that at no prison, North or South, were the dead so reverently cared for, or a more perfect record kept.” In fact, when representatives of the Daughters of the Confederacy came to Elmira at the turn of the century to consider repatriating the remains, Jones’s handiwork convinced them to touch not a blade of grass. Instead, a monument in the cemetery commemorates the “honorable way in which they were laid to rest by a caring man.”

Aaron sees a second moral in the story. “People always talk about the tension between him being an escaped slave and burying with respect and dignity these Confederate soldiers fighting to keep people like him as slaves,” she says. “But to me there’s a subtext: Here is a grown man who escaped slavery, and the first thing he wanted to do when he reached freedom was get an education. Because of that, he was able to keep these meticulous records that later led to this national designation: It became a historical moment because this man, who was denied an education, got one.”

John W. Jones
Chemung County Historical Society, Elmira, NY

It also made a mark on Jones’s bank account. Jones earned $2.50 for each soldier he buried. It wasn’t much, but by the time he had finished burying nearly 3000 Confederate dead, he had become one of the 10 richest African-Americans in the state of New York. With that money, he bought a handsome farm of at least 12 acres.

It was a bittersweet purchase. Not only is it believed that parts of his home were built from wooden scraps of the disassembled Elmira prison camp, Jones had purchased the home when New York state law stipulated that black men must own $250 worth of property in order to vote. His home—today listed on the National Register of Historic Places [PDF]—earned Jones that right to vote.

For the remainder of his life, Jones continued working as a sexton and church usher. In 1900, he died and was buried in one of the cemeteries that had become his life’s work.

Incidentally, his death also marked the end of a local mystery: For nearly two decades, fresh flowers kept appearing on the freshly manicured grave of a woman named Sarah Smith. Nobody knew why the flowers appeared there or where they originated—until the decorations stopped appearing immediately after Jones’s death. Residents later realized that the grave belonged to the same Sarah Smith who, 56 years earlier, had invited John W. Jones and his friends into her home for butter, biscuits, and a good night’s rest.


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