Author: Historical Nonfiction

The earliest roller coasters were descended from Serra da Estrela, Portugal sled rides held on specially constructed hills of ice. They were pretty big,  sometimes up to 200 feet (62 m) tall! The Serra da Estrelas were constructed by a large group of Russian refugees to remind them of where they came from. There is evidence for them as early as the 1600s, in the 1700s they gradually became popular across Europe, and by the early 1800s wheeled carts began being used instead of sleighs on tracks. The first such wheeled ride was brought to Paris in 1804 under the name Les Montagnes Russes (French for “Russian Mountains”).

French, along with Spanish, Portuguese, and Italian, still call roller coasters “russian mountains” after their snowy ancestor. Russian, ironically, calls them “American mountains.”

A Fatimid Caliphate-era ewer carved from a single piece of rock crystal. The Treasure of Caliph Mostansir-Billah at Cairo, which was destroyed in 1062, was said to have contained 1,800 rock crystal vessels. But the ewer you see here is one of only seven (creatively called the Magnificent Seven) known to have survived til today.

Circa 1000 – 1050 CE.

This was made in 1627. By hand!

Bernini was contracted to create a bust of Maria Barberini Duglioli, niece of Pope Urban VIII, and subcontracted the work to Giuliano Finelli. Finelli chose to focus on the lady’s accessories: the intricate lace collar, the flower in her curly hair, her ropes of pearls. When released, the bust was widely hailed as a tour de force. Finelli raised the standard for female portraits and an inspiration for future busts.

Charity Hospital is the second oldest hospital in the United States. It was founded when Louisiana was still French, in May of 1736, using money from the will of Jean Louis, a French sailor and shipbuilder who died in New Orleans the year before. His last will and testament was to finance a hospital for the poor in the colony of New Orleans. Only Bellevue Hospital in New York City is older (just barely) since it was founded a month earlier in March of 1736.

Charity Hospital was abandoned after Hurricane Katrina flooding and evacuation in 2005. Technically, the new University Medical Center New Orleans has taken over its functions. But the Charity Hospital’s imposing, decaying remains still stand in New Orleans, a reminder of what was lost and the work still needing to be done.

In the 1870s, the Harvard College Observatory director was frustrated with his staff, and would often say “My Scottish maid could do better!” When he hired her officially in 1879, Williamina Fleming proved he had been right all along.

She spent two years doing astronomical clerical work, then in 1881 Pickering invited Fleming to formally join the Harvard Collage Observatory and taught her how to analyze stellar spectra. She became one of the founding members of the Harvard Computers, an all-women group of human computers hired by Pickering to compute mathematical classifications and edit the observatory’s publications. 

Williamina ran an astronomy team for decades, publishing a classification system of tens of thousands of stars, discovering a total of 59 gaseous nebulae, over 310 variable stars, and 10 novae. One of her most famous discoveries (among astronomers, anyways) was the Horsehead Nebula in 1888.

Thanks to this well-covered counter-culture music festival, blue jeans became something that everyone wore. They were no longer the clothing of workers on the job, or rebels advertising their disdain for society. The next year jeans appeared on fashion runways. They began being seen on the street as everyday wear.

As an example of the festival’s importance, the year after Woodstock, Levi’s ran an advertisement the next which simply showed a picture of the crowd at the festival.

For the First Time Ever, a Mammal Has Been Declared Extinct Due to Climate Change:

The Bramble Cay melomys was a tiny rodent that lived on a tiny Australian island. If you’ve never heard of it before, you’re not alone.

It lived on the uninhabited island of Bramble Cay in the Great Barrier Reef. The island has been impacted by rising sea levels, storm surges, and other weather events that have worsened due to climate change. No Bramble Cay melomys have been spotted since 2013, and after seven years of searching for the rodent, the state government changed the species classification from endangered to extinct. The melomys are the first, but will not be the last, mammals to be done in by a climate changing too quickly for them to adapt.

A small hoard of artifacts have been discovered underneath the central plaza at Paso del Macho in northern Yucatan. The cache may have been put there as an offering when the Maya settlement was founded between 900 and 800 BCE.

And the inhabitants were trying to make sure they succeeded in their new home: the artifacts are some of the earliest evidence of Maya fertility rituals to encourage crop growth and rainfall. There are a number of artifacts symbolizing maize sprouting from the underworld and several pots painted with fertility images, plus spoons, clamshell pendants, and a large plaque.

To keep crows away from the Kremlin in the 1960s, there was a special division in the regiment that guarded the building. Nicknamed “crow chasers” they would shoo the birds from attics, close open windows, and generally try to keep crows out of the building.

Moscow is home to large populations of pigeons, jackdaws, and especially crows. The birds can transmit disease and perhaps worse, poop all over the Kremlin’s intricate and famous roofs. To keep the building clean it is easier to keep the crows away. But a specially-dedicate division of soldiers was not having much success.

In the 1980s they tried replacing the soldiers with pre-recorded falcon shrieks and screams. Crows are too smart for that, though, and quickly learned to ignore the noises. So the Kremlin’s guardians switched to live falcons (then hawks). Now, the Kremlin is guarded by northern goshawks – for them, crows are natural prey, while falcons mainly hunt rodents, not crows. The birds keep the Kremlin clean and disease-free.

Bronze statue of Guan Yu, a general serving under the warlord Liu Bei during the late Eastern Han dynasty of China. After he died in 220 CE his deeds entered popular folklore. Guan Yu was deified as early as the Sui Dynasty (581–618 CE) and also became considered a bodhisattva. Today he is god of war, loyalty, and righteousness. This bronze statue dates to the Ming Dynasty, 1400s – 1500s CE.