Franklin D. Roosevelt: Assassination Attempt

FDR saved in Miami. When Franklin D Roosevelt was elected to office  he planned to relax a little before his inauguration. That was to take place in March 1933 so the month before, he accepted an invitation to go on a fishing trip to South Florida. Eleven days into the trip the yacht he was on, the Nourmahal, docked in pier one at Miami harbour. Roosevelt planned to speak briefly in Bayfront Park to which he travelled in an open car....

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The Prince & the Showgirl: Gisèle Pascal, Prince Rainier & Marilyn Monroe

Gisèle Pascal, Prince Rainier and Marilyn Monroe In the early 1950s,Prince Rainier of Monaco was the perfect age to marry – he had been born in 1923. He was wealthy, handsome and the ruler of a magical principality. However, he was a shy and retiring man. For several years he had been living with a French actress, Gisèle Pascal and the time was approaching when he needed to marry to produce heirs to his principality. However,...

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The Murder of Sal Mineo

Who was Sal Mineo? Twenty years before he was murdered, Sal Mineo had been a Hollywood heartthrob. He specialised in playing young toughs such as his part in the James Dean movie, Rebel Without a Cause. But by the time of his murder in February 1976 his career had spent some years in decline. But he wasn’t depressed about his situation. True, he had sold his palatial home and was living in a $75 a month rented apartment but he...

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Gladys Deacon

The curious life of Gladys, Duchess of Marlborough. Perhaps it became evident to Gladys that hers would be an unusual life when her father fatally shot  her mother’s lover.   Her parents were American and rich. They were in Paris in 1881 when Gladys, one of their four daughters, was born. The Deacons moved in the best social circles and their children were largely brought up and educated in France, mostly in Paris itself....

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The Secret Life of Charles Lindberg

Charles Lindbergh’s secret life. Charles Lindbergh became a hero in 1927 when he flew nonstop from New York to Paris. Five years later he gained the sympathy of the public when his young child was kidnapped and murdered. Yet he fell from grace during the Second World War and after his death, his secret private life was discovered. Lindbergh had not one but three secret families. In 1941, before the United States joined the war,...

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Frank Stranahan

Fort Lauderdale history: Frank Stranahan. It’s generally accepted that Frank Stranahan from Ohio was the first permanent resident in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. When he arrived, Fort Lauderdale didn’t actually exist. It was a settlement of just handful of people on the New River. Seminole Indians lived in the Everglades nearby but in general, the are was inhospitable with a stifling climate, dangerous wildlife and lots and...

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Speed Records at Daytona Beach

Early speed trials at Daytona, Florida. The name of Barney Oldfield was making headlines on March 16th, 1907. They proclaimed that he was the ‘speed king of the world’. At that time, the public – and experts -pondered about that sort of speeds the human body could endure and Oldfield – seen on the right – had just become the fastest human being on earth. He had driven his Benz at over one hundred and...

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The Nuremberg Trials and the Jewish interpreter

The Nuremberg Trials and the Jewish interpreter. These trials began in November 1945 and were held to bring Nazi war criminals to justice.  It was a huge undertaking and interpreters were employed to translate – live in court – the testimonies of witnesses and the defence and comments of the most notorious and inhuman war criminals and their persecution of the Jews. Armand Jacoubovitch Imagine that you are a thirty year...

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Apollo One Spacecraft Fire

Apollo 1: Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee. In summer 1966, NASA chose the crew for the first manned Apollo space mission – a mission that was to end in disaster. Gus was the oldest of the team at forty years old. He had been the second American to fly in space. Ed was thirty six and he had the distinction of being the first US astronaut to walk in space. The youngest crew member was Roger Chaffee who at thirty one was...

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Bernie Ecclestone and the Great Train Robbery

Bernie Ecclestone and the Great Train Robbery: The Truth. For many years, a rumour has persisted that the Formula One boss, Bernie Ecclestone, was somehow involved in the Great Train Robbery of 1963. It has often been thought that robber Bruce Reynolds was the mastermind behind this audacious robbery but nevertheless many people thought that it was exactly Bernie’s cup of tea. Most of the robbers were in their early thirties and...

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The Queen’s Cousins: Scandal?

Queen Elizabeth II’s cousins. In 1987 the media uncovered what seemed to be a huge scandal. Newspapers reported that two sisters had been discovered in what they called an ‘asylum for mental defectives’ and what’s more, they were cousins of the queen, Elizabeth II. It was said that the two women were living in the most basic conditions and that they had no visitors. It seemed that this was a case of the royal...

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Sheila van Damm

Racy Ladies: Sheila van Damm. Sheila van Damm’s career was interesting to say the least. She was known in the nineteen fifties as Britain’s top woman rally driver and by the nineteen sixties she was running ‘naughty’ reviews on the London stage. Yet she arrived at both careers accidentally. You will most probably have heard of the famous Windmill Theatre in London. It shot to fame in the wartime years as it was...

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The Last Victorian

Ethel Lang – born in the reign of Queen Victoria On 16th January, 2015, Ethel Lang passed away. She was the oldest living person in the UK, having been born in 1900, when Queen Victoria was still on the throne. Can you imagine that? Mrs Lang lived through six monarchs, twenty-two prime ministers … and let’s not forget two world wars. She had lived through a period of amazing advances. When she was born, public...

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Diana Barnato Walker

Who was Diana Barnato Walker? Diana was an English pilot who worked extensively during the Second World War transporting aircraft to the Royal Air Force. By the time she reached twenty two years of age, she had delivered  240 planes that were vital to the war effort. She was the first British woman to break the sound barrier. Before the war, few people would have imagined the socialite Diana would have been involved in such dangerous...

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Sir Edmund Hillary

Sir Edmund Hillary Sir Edmund Hillary is best known for being the first person to scale Mount Everest, along with his Sherpa guide, Norgay Tenzing. Tenzing was more than just his guide and companion though – he provided the inspiration for Sir Edmund to devote much of his life trying to improve the lot and the lifestyle of the Nepal Sherpas. Hillary undertook many expeditions -going to both the North and South Poles, and Everest...

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Scandal in the Graveyard – L’Affaire Victor Noir

Scandal in the Graveyard – L’Affaire Victor Noir. Andy Royston tells the story of the most scandalous gravestone in Paris and the story of Victor Noir. After having outraged each of my relations, you insult me with the pen of one of your menials. My turn had to come. I therefore ask you whether your inkpot is guaranteed by your breast… I live, not in a palace, but at 59, rue d’Auteuil. I promise to you that if...

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Rosemary: The Forgotten Kennedy

Rose Kennedy already had two children – Joe Jr. and John – when she gave birth to her first daughter on Friday 13th September 1918. The nurse who had been employed to attend her was in a quandary. She had sent for Mrs Kennedy’s doctor but labour was now advanced and Dr Good hadn’t yet arrived. In those days, nurses were trained to deliver babies but, inexplicably, they were not permitted to do so. Nor were they...

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Why Did Henry VIII Marry Six Times?

Why did Henry VIII marry six times? There was a very good reason indeed. But I was talking to someone recently who truly believed that Henry VIII married six women because he was a horny old goat who just liked to trade wives in for a newer model. Henry had a much greater goal and one that was, in those times, incredibly important to the country. In 1524, King Henry was in his early thirties. He was incredibly tall and good looking,...

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The Mystery of Amy Johnson

The mystery of Amy Johnson. As a pioneer aviator, Amy Johnson from Yorkshire had broken several flying records by the time the Second World War started in 1939. But once the war had begun, the Royal Air Force had no use for female pilots. So the only opportunity for her to use her flying skills to help the war effort was to join the ATA – the Air Transport Auxiliary. This organisation, as the name suggests, used female pilots to...

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Roberto Clemente

Who was Roberto Clemente? In my eyes he was the greatest right fielder ever to play the game of baseball. Some people may disagree with me, but of course I might be a little biased because I’m a Pittsburgh Pirate fan. I had the good fortune of watching this man play the game. When I was a youngster my dad and I would go to Forbes field and sit in right field just to watch him play. Well that’s what I thought – maybe we sat in...

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Choose Life – A George Michael Diary

As we say a fond goodbye to George Michael, Andy Royston remembers the hairspray days. Enjoy What You Do. “Do you, enjoy what you do? If not, just stop – don’t stay there and rot…” It had been a mad year. I’d spent most of it living in a South Manchester bedsit, wasting time on a year out of college. Way too many nights had been spend on dank dance floors and working (badly) on my day job running...

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Who Was Evelyn Nesbit?

Who was Evelyn Nesbit? When Evelyn Nesbit died at the ripe old age of eighty two, she had been in obscurity for years. But at one time, her name was well-known on Broadway and in the theatres of Europe. She became even more well known in 1906 when,openly and in public, her husband shot her lover dead in a glittering supper club in Manhattan. Evelyn was only twenty at the time and had met her much older lover, Stanford White, when she...

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Maud Gonne

Maud Gonne: English Eccentric For those who have heard the name of Maud Gonne, they probably have an idea that she was an Irish political activist. It’s true that she was pretty vocal in Irish politics but she was actually English, born in Surrey. She had a curious career but she is probably remembered most for being: The woman who had sex by her baby’s grave She had the child in 1889 in Paris. The father was her older...

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Prince George – The Forgotten Royal

Who was Prince George? Prince George was a member of the British royal family but his name is little-known today. He was a good looking prince – he was rather dashing and loved fast airplanes, fast cars and, as you might imagine, fast women too. There are still stories coming to light about his life – we may still find out more about this somewhat mysterious character. His life was a short one and we were left with three...

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Art Matters: The Fighting Temeraire

Andy Royston talks us through his favourite painting by JMW Turner – ‘Ye mariners of England, That guard our native seas!  Whose flag has braved a thousand years, The battle and the breeze!‘  Thomas Campbell  “Ye Mariners of England” In this famous painting by J.M.W. Turner, the great old warship Temeraire no longer flies the union flag. Just a white flag flutters from the mast of the tug, showing that a ship is now...

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Thelma Todd

Who Killed Thelma Todd? On a Monday morning December  1935, Thelma Todd’s body was found. She was in a car that was parked in the garage of her lover, Roland West. It was the exhaust fumes from the Packard convertible that had caused her death. Police rushed to the scene above the Pacific Highway between Malibu an Santa Monica. They took photographs, questioned locals and discovered that Thelma had bruises and that her face was...

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Elvis and Hawaii

Two years ago, my mother, sister and I were headed off to Hawaii. It was a dream trip that I never in my whole life expected to make. But it was a time of healing and renewing our shrinking family’s bonds, that made this trip what it was. My brother had passed away earlier that year. During the many site seeing expeditions along the way, I can remember thinking to myself, that these islands truly are paradise on earth. Everything was...

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The Winecoff Fire of 1946

The Winecoff Fire Disaster of 1946. During the early hours of 7th December, 1946, Arnold Hardy took an iconic and award-winning photograph that was to become a symbol of the worst hotel disaster in the United States. Arnold was only twenty four years old and had just relocated to Atlanta. His great hobby was photography and to make ends meet, he was trying to get part-time work as a newspaper photographer. His camera was not...

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The Disappearance of the Mary Celeste

What was the fate of the Mary Celeste? The Mary Celeste became the world’s most famous ship in 1872. She had been found drifting in the North Atlantic Ocean – she was completely seaworthy and orderly but her entire crew had vanished into thin air. They were never seen again. You can read more about that here. Ever since that day, experts, the authorities and members of the general public have been speculating about the...

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The Berners Street Hoax

Theodore Hook, Berners Street and the Sanderson Hotel. For two hundred years the Berners Street Hoax has been thought of as one of the most bizarre – and certainly chaotic -practical jokes in history. If you’ve ever seen the Marx Brothers film, A Night at the Opera, this event is said to have been the inspiration for one of the funniest scenes. Theodore Hook, the man you see on the right,was the person responsible. He wasn...

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Grace Darling

Grace Darling and the sinking of the Forfarshire. The story of Grace Darling is well known. It’s often published in magazines that cater to young girls, possibly being thought to be inspirational. But why did she achieve such fame? Are the stories about her true? It’s certainly the case that she helped her father – a lighthouse keeper – to rescue nine people from a wrecked ship of the coast of Northumberland in...

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November 22, 1963

November 22, 1963 – An event that changed everyone’s life. Arriving in Dallas, Texas – November 22, 1963   John Fitzgerald Kennedy, the 35th President of the United States, was assassinated at 12:30 p.m. Central Standard Time on Friday, November 22, 1963, in Dealey Plaza, Dallas Texas. Kennedy was fatally shot by a sniper while traveling with his wife Jacqueline, Texas Governor John Connally, and Mrs Nellie...

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Behind the Scenes: Royal Wedding 1947

The wedding of Princess Elizabeth & Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. The 20th November, 1947 was a day that the population had been looking forward to. The recent war was still fresh in everyone’s memory. Rationing was still enforced. Towns and cities still showed the battle scars inflicted by the German bombs. So everyone was looking forward to the royal wedding – a happy occasion full of pageantry and romance -to bring...

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The Tragic Story of Princess Cecilie

The royal tragedy of Princess Cecilie. There have been so many tragedies that have befallen royal families. This was especially the case in the twentieth century. The story of Princess Cecilie and her family must be one of the saddest of all. It was 1937 – just  couple of years before the Second World Way broke out. Celilie was a beautiful young woman married to handsome Georg Donatus, the Grand Duke of Hesse. They had two small...

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President John Kennedy: Health Issues

President John Kennedy: Health Issues. In the year after President John Kennedy was assassinated, an eminent historian began a new project of oral histories. He asked people to record their memories on tape of the late president. He approached Kennedy’s widow, Jackie, to take part in the project and she agreed. There were three reasons for this. The first was that she knew it would help her in coming to terms with her husbands...

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My old friend Malcolm X

A teenage Andy Royston picked up a copy of The Autobiography of Malcolm X and it made a huge impression. Almost 40 years later, and now living in Florida, he revisits the book to figure out if it still impresses. “Malcolm X’s autobiography seemed to offer something different. His repeated acts of self-creation spoke to me; the blunt poetry of his words, his unadorned insistence on respect, promised a new and uncompromising...

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The Sinking of the USS Indianapolis

The Sinking of the USS Indianapolis. The USS Indianapolis was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine just after midnight. The blast was so powerful it split the ship and sunk it in about 12 minutes; there were 1,196 men on board. The ship went down halfway between Guam and Leyte Gulf in shark infested waters. There were 300 men trapped inside who never made it out, 900 men made it into the water, but only 317 men survived. Help did not...

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SS City of Cairo

The sinking and discovery of the SS City of Cairo In 1942, the SS City of Cairo was steaming from Bombay towards England. It was carrying a cargo of 1000 tonnes of silver. The money was headed to His Majesty’s Treasury to bolster up the war effort. But on November 6th, it was spotted by a German U-boat. As a result, the ship was torpedoed and sank to the ocean floor – complete with the silver. Almost seventy years later,...

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The Red Cross

There isn’t a symbol more recognizable in the world than that of the Red Cross. Today we have the Red Cross and the Red Crescent but both of these formidable institutions all started out under the banner of the Red Cross. In 1864, Jean-Henry Dunant, a Swiss national, and humanitarian began what would become the Red Cross. But the start of the Red Cross was much earlier than that. Dunant was a business man and he travelled throughout...

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Queen Elizabeth II & Marilyn Monroe

The day Queen Elizabeth met Marilyn Monroe. In very different ways, the two women were destined to become icons. What many of us don’t realise is that Queen Elizabeth and Marilyn Monroe were born only ten days apart. (April 21st and Jun 1st respectively – in 1926). And they met on October 29th, 1956. The occasion was the London premiere of The Battle of the River Plate in Leicester Square. It was the only time the two...

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Will we ever know the truth about Wallis Simpson?

It’s a famous story, of course. In the 1930s the King of England was the unmarried Edward VIII. When he ascended to the throne, he had a long-time mistress, Wallis Simpson. Although many members of the public believed that the king should be able to marry whoever he wished, the establishment were horrified at the possibility of their monarch marrying an American divorceé. Famously, the king announced his abdication, declaring...

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The Charge of the Light Brigade – an eyewitness account

On the 25th October 1854, during the Crimean War, a brigade of British officers and cavalrymen, commanded by the Earl of Cardigan, rode into a Balaclava valley, seemingly to reclaim artillery cannon captured by their Russian enemies. However, because of a miscommunication, they rode into the wrong valley – and into slaughtering cannon and musket fire on three sides. Of the five regiments involved, making a total of 670 officers...

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Gorgeous Rita Hayworth

When I was a kid, one of the most popular movie actresses was the glamorous Rita Hayworth. She was the epitome of the beautiful stars coming out of Hollywood  plus she had red hair. The first time I ever saw her was in a black and white movie, so I had no idea she was red-headed. But when I later saw a  movie called “Down to Earth” there she was with her gorgeous red-gold locks. I didn’t know they weren’t...

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The Love Life of the Eleventh Duke of Marlborough

The love life of the eleventh Duke of Marlborough. The eleventh Duke of Marlborough died on October 16th, 2014. The chances are that few people – apart from his family and friends – noticed it in the news. I mean after all, wasn’t he just some boring English aristocrat? Well, I suppose the answer is yes, but his life – and his love life – was really quite fascinating.   The story of his life –...

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The Russell Baby: A virgin birth?

A virgin birth? You decide. In the nineteen twenties, a married woman – Christobel Russell – became pregnant. That’s hardly remarkable in itself but there was a huge scandal. This is because that the rather posh Mrs Russell claimed that her husband had not been responsible for the pregnancy, and neither had another man. She said it was due to the ‘injudicious use of a sponge’. This is a great story. The...

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What Really Happened to the Mary Celeste?

In 1872 a Canadian ship, the Dei Gratia, spotted another ship close by in the North Atlantic Ocean. The crew thought that there was something odd about the ship so they approached and boarded. They found a mystery that still endures. Although the ship, the Mary Celeste, was fully seaworthy, there was no-one on board. There were no signs of a struggle or attack, no damage and very little was missing from the craft except its lifeboat...

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Who Was Violet Sharp?

Violet Sharp and the kidnapping of the Lindbergh baby. It was a famous and horrific crime. In 1932, the twenty month old son of one of the most famous men in American was kidnapped and an enormous ransom was demanded. The father of the infant, Charles Lindbergh, had come to the attention of the American public due to his exploits an an aviation pioneer. The baby had been taken from his crib during the evening – while Charles and...

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Monaco: The Prince and the Cabaret Singer

Princess Charlotte of Monaco: the illegitimate heiress to the Grimaldi family The Grimaldi family, who have ruled the tiny principality of Monaco for hundreds of years, have a chequered past. But one of the most interesting characters is Princess Charlotte. In the 1890s, the ruler of Monaco was Prince Albert I. He was a fascinating chap and his particular interest was the emerging study of oceanography. He was very much a pacifist but...

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Woolf Barnato

Who was Woolf Barnato? When Woolf was just two years old, he became the heir to a vast fortune. His father had been a Jewish shopkeeper made good – he made a fortune from South African diamonds and gold. Unfortunately Barnato Senior did not enjoy his wealth for long as in 1897, he was lost overboard off the coast of Madeira at the age of forty six. Just what happened will never be known but foul play was suspected, as was...

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The Train Whistle Blows

You know what the three most exciting sounds in the world are? Anchor chains, plane motors, and train whistles. George Bailey – It’s A Wonderful Life. It seems quite odd these days to imagine inventing the steam engine but not having any means of signalling a train’s imminence. But when George Stephenson was developing his steam engines, back in 1814, his first engines travelled so slowly and made such a racket...

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The Bombing of Buckingham Palace in WW2

The Second World War: The Bombing of Buckingham Palace. Buckingham Palace was hit by bombs seven times during the Second World War. It was just a matter of sheer luck that King George VI and Queen Elizabeth (know to most of us as the Queen Mother) weren’t killed or very badly injured when the third raid took place on September 13th, 1940.. Two German bombs fell in the quadrangle – the centre courtyard – and in...

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Eyam Village and the Great Plague

Eyam Village and the Great Plague. Eyam is a small and picturesque village in Derbyshire. If you visit, at first there is nothing to immediately distinguish it from other English villages but you’ll soon find history surrounds you. Three hundred and fifty years ago, the great plague came to the village. And the villagers decided to quarantine themselves to stop this horrible and fatal disease spreading to the rest of the north...

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The Labor Day Hurricane of 1935

In the mid nineteen fifties a contractor on Islamorada, one of the Florida Keys, was digging fill from a rock pit. He unearthed a gruesome discovery. He found three intact cars. Their out-of-state licence plates showed that they had been there since 1935. The skeletons of the occupants were still inside the vehicles. It was easy to explain what had happened to those vehicles twenty years before. They must have been visiting the...

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Today in history: September

What happened on this day in September? 1st Edgar Rice Burroughs born 1875 Titanic found by Robert Ballard 1985 Lily Tomlin born 1939 Germany invaded Poland 1939 Lady Iris Mountbatten died 1982 Princess Anne announced divorce 1989 2nd George Harrison married Olivia Arias 1978 Labor Day Hurricane 1935 Jean Spangler born 1923 3rd Steve Fossett disappeared 2007 Britain declared war on Germany 1939 Denby Dale Pie 1988 4th Robert Dudley...

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Songs For New Orleans : Katrina

New Orleans is my essence, my soul, my muse, and I can only dream that one day she will recapture her glory – Harry Connick Jr.   All the songs - Spotify playlist A catastrophe like Katrina changes everything. The harsh and painful realities are so hard to bear. The experience losing your home and possessions, of enforced exile, of desperate choices forced on families, on entire communities can be a massive challenge to...

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The Angels of Mons

The Angels of Mons: Did they save British soldiers in the First World War? Many people believed so at the time. The First World War – and the following years – saw a huge increase in the belief of spiritualism and the supernatural. We can understand this. So many young men were killed in the conflict and it was comforting for their loved ones to believe that they had gone to’a better place’ — and that...

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The Short and Sad Life of Lady Catherine Grey

The short and sad life of Lady Catherine Grey. Catherine Grey was born in 1540 and was in direct line to the English throne. When she was born, King Henry VIII was still alive and ruling the country. When the throne passed to his son, Edward VI, the young king named his cousin, Lady Jane Grey – Catherine’s older sister – as his heir. Queen Jane’s reign only lasted for a couple of weeks before Henry’s...

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Who Was Ellen Church?

Ellen Church: The first air hostess. In 1930, Ellen was ideally qualified to become the first air hostess. She was a registered pilot and a qualified nurse. In those days, airlines wouldn’t employ female pilots (for reasons known only to them) but Ellen persuaded them that cabin crew should be trained in nursing. Flying was a rather hazardous business in those days — you only have to think of the large number of...

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John Wesley Hardin: Bad or Misunderstood?

John Wesley Hardin: Bad or Misunderstood? John Wesley Hardin was born near Bonham, Texas on May 26, 1853 to parents James “Gip” Hardin and Mary Elizabeth Dixson. Hardin’s father was a Methodist preacher, and in those days, preachers often had huge territories to cover to save souls, so they were known as a “circuit rider.” He describes his mother as being “highly cultured.” In 1859 the family...

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‘Freaks’ in Victorian times

‘Freaks’ in Victorian times. Of all the many and varied ‘facts’ we know about the Victorian era, one is that they loved freak shows. They would queue to see conjoined twins, bearded ladies, midgets, fat ladies and other ‘freaks’ who deviated from the norm. That’s one of the things we tend to dislike about the Victorian era in today’s politically-correct world. But were those people who...

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Why is Fort Lauderdale called Fort Liquordale?

Why is Fort Lauderdale nicknamed Fort Liquordale? When I first came to live in Fort Lauderdale and heard people refer to it as ‘Fort Liquordale’ I thought it was a reference to the craziness that descended on our area during Spring Break – especially in the last century. But I was wrong. It was bootlegging.    Bootlegging in Fort Lauderdale In 1920 the American government, in its wisdom, decided to ban the...

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Mystic Sweet Communion: The Stranahans of Fort Lauderdale

Mystic Sweet Communion: The Stranahans of Fort Lauderdale. Almost hidden away, flanked by enormous high-rise buildings, is the Stranahan House on Las Olas Boulevard in Fort Lauderdale. The house itself – now a museum –  is fascinating but what’s even more interesting is the story of its original owners, Frank and Ivy Stranahan. Ivy Cromartie was still a teenager in when she first went to a tiny South Florida...

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The Last Men Hanged in Britain

Gwynne Evans & Peter Allen: The last people to be hanged in the UK. A double hanging for murder. The men you see here both have the dubious distinction of being the last person to be hanged in the UK. Why? Because they were both hanged for murder at exactly the same time – eight o’clock on the morning of 13th August 1964. Peter Allen and Gwynne Evans had committed a senseless and brutal murder and despite the fact that...

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Joe Kennedy Junior

The love life of Joe Kennedy Jr. This is the story of two members of the Kennedy family who both had tragic love affairs in England. Coincidentally both of them, Joe Junior and Kathleen, were to die at an early age in aircraft. They were the brother and sister of John Fitzgerald Kennedy who became president of the United States. Both Joe and Kathleen had relationships when in the UK with people who their strict Catholic parents...

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Florida’s Finest: Cannonball Adderley

How The Cannonball Got His Name. The first in a series of profiles of Florida’s greatest artists, Andy Royston begins with Fort Lauderdale’s be-bop great Julian ‘Cannonball’ Adderley. “You don’t decide you’re hip. It just happens that way”. – Cannonball Adderley On a Friday night in June 1955 a band director from Fort Lauderdale’s Dillard High School set out on a long drive...

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Today in history: August

What happened on this day in August? 1st Riot Act established 1714 Joseph Priestley discovered oxygen 1774 Niki Lauda crash 1976 2nd First skating rink opened in the UK 1875 Adolf Hitler became chancellor of Germany 1934 Star Dust disappeared 1947 Cilla Black died 2015 3rd Record high temperatures in the UK 1990 Enid Lindeman married Lord Furness 1933 4th Elizabeth Bowes Lyon born 1900 Jeanne Calment died 1997 Dennis Lehane born 1965...

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Plane Lost in the Andes for Fifty Years

What happened to the British South American Airways Avro Lancastrian Star Dust? In 1947, an aircraft flying over the treacherous Andes Mountains, and all the passengers and crew aboard, disappeared into thin air. The radio operator sent a strange message which has not been deciphered to this day and the aircraft wasn’t seen again – for over fifty years. The plane, Star Dust, was a converted World War 2 bomber. The crew...

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Reading The Riot Act: What Does This Mean?

What is the origin of the phrase ‘reading the riot act’? Just about everyone in the English-speaking world has either said or used this phrase. But where did it come from?  For example, someone might say ‘her behaviour is terrible – I need to read her the riot act’. The phrase has its origins in 1714 in England. Those were turbulent times in the British Isles. There were riots and revolts for several...

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The History of Root Beer

Root Beer’s Beginning. One of the first things you notice when you start researching the early history of some of our favorite products is how much innovation was developed because of the product. As interesting as the root beer itself, you’ll find several firsts here in this article, some that became huge trends in our society. Even Shakespeare enjoyed a small beer on occasion, one with alcohol added. Was his flavor root...

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A Tribute to my Father In Law

Fathers-In-Law: A Tribute to Mine. You don’t hear too much about Fathers In Law, but I must say that mine was one of the best! What made him so special in my eyes, was that he was the father of seven children and each one of them looked up to their Father with respect, love, and admiration. That’s not to say that they didn’t look up to their Mother in the same way, but, there was something different about how they...

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The Empire State Building

Empire State Building: Trivia. What do you know about the Empire State Building? Here’s a series of weird and wonderful facts. Bore Fascinate your friends with Empire State Building trivia 🙂 For the golden anniversary of the building’s opening in 1981, workmen opened the time-capsule that had been buried in its cornerstone. The contents hadn’t stood the test of time. The items within it had rotted away during their...

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Who Was Louis Strange ?

Airman Louis A Strange: Daring exploits. Louis Strange was an exceptionally brave and talented pilot and served in both the First and the Second World Wars. He also is the subject of one one the most bizarre stories in this history of wartime aviation. He took his pilot training before the start of the First World War and soon proved his skills. He joined the Royal Flying Corps and when war was declared in 1914 he developed various...

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Accentuate the Positive – The language of Louise Bennett

Accentuate the Positive – The language of Louise Bennett. Back in my high school days the deputy headmaster was trying to make a point about accent and dialect. He turned to me and suddenly I was held up as an example of someone making no effort to speak properly; what he called the Queen’s English. I was dumbfounded (or should I say gobsmacked) by this. I hadn’t considered that the way that I spoke made any...

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The Mystery of Dr James Barry

Dr James Barry James Barry, born in the eighteenth century, had a long and successful career as a medical surgeon in the British army. He fought and practised medicine all over the British Empire with distinction. He achieved the rank of medical superintendent general and eventually retired to London after and exciting career that even included duels of honour. A confirmed bachelor, he died in 1965. Of course, this isn’t a very...

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Dr. Frances Kelsey

It was the 1950’s and everything was becoming safer and easier in many areas of our lives. The end of the Second World War saw a prosperity that hasn’t been matched since. While life was getting easier, the after effects of the war were still being felt. Many people who lived through terrible bombings, night raids and such were having trouble falling asleep and getting a good night’s rest. Drug companies were doing a great business...

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Alcock and Brown

 Who were Alcock and Brown? If you asked people to name pioneers of aviation, which names do you think you’d hear? Charles Lindbergh would be one. Amelia Earhart would probably get a mention too, as would the Wright brothers. But Alcock and Brown were the first to fly across the Atlantic non-stop. Sadly, they are largely forgotten now. Many people believe that this distinction should go to Charles Lindbergh but he was the first...

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Lettice Curtis

Who was Lettice Curtis? During the Second World War the Air Transport Auxiliary was formed to move new, damaged or repaired aircraft to where they were needed by the Royal Air Force. Civilian pilots were used so that the trained fighter pilots could concentrate on winning the war. One hundred and sixty six of the pilots employed by the ATA were women and Lettice Curtis was one of the first to join up. By the time the war was over, she...

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The Curious Life of Rosemary Leveson-Gower

The tragic story of the girl who almost changed the course of British history. In fact, had circumstances turned out differently, Rosemary Leveson-Gower could have changed the course of world history. But it was not to be. The story has its true beginnings in the First World War. It is a love story that involves tragedy and includes the people who were the main players in what was called ‘The Love Affair of the Century’....

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To the Moon

To the Moon. When you mention the date: July 20, 1969, most people in North America will remember right away that this date had a significance that made the world stop and take notice. The late 50’s and early 60’s were possibly one of the most prosperous times in the century and because the world was currently at peace, the attention of our scientists, physicists and engineers (of all stripes) had turned to the prospect of harnessing...

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A Failed Assassination Attempt on Adolf Hitler

A bomb planted inside Wolf’s Lair field headquarters exploded killing 4 others, but leaving Hitler alive. A brief case containing a bomb planted by Claus von Stauffenberg a German army officer under a conference room table. The brief case was moved out of the way by a German General, to get a better look at the maps on the table, moving the brief case out of the way spared Hitler. Stauffenberg and others planned the attempt in an...

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Prince John: The Hidden Royal

What is the truth about Prince John? For many years, few members of the public had even heard about Prince John. And a lot of the ‘information’ that exists about him is actually incorrect. The story that many people have heard about Prince John has often been used to ‘demonstrate’ that the British royal family are a heartless, unfeeling bunch. The myth is that John, who was the youngest of George V’s...

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Guy Bradley: Murder in the Everglades

Guy Bradley: A true story about an environmental murder. The Murder of Guy Bradley. Does environmental murder seem to be strange description? This is the true story that took place in the Florida Everglades in 1905. At and before the turn of the century, there was a huge fashion in America that dictated that the truly stylish woman wore hats decorated with bird plumes. In order to satisfy the trade, beautiful birds – many...

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Amelia Earhart

The making of Amelia Earhart. Amelia Earhart became world famous for flying planes. Lots of other women were flying at the time, but Amelia became the  female pilot. Today, she is known for her mysterious disappearance but during her lifetime, her popularity was largely due to the skilled promotion and public relations created by her husband, George Putnam. Amelia was always an adventurer and was a tomboy as a child. She’d...

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Occupied by the Germans in WW2: The ChanneI Islands

Under Nazi rule: Jersey, Alderney, Sark and Guernsey The scene that you see above is a typical one and shows the British  island of Jersey before the Second World War. What a peaceful scene it is. The castle overlooks the calm, blue sea. Jersey cows are contentedly grazing. There is rolling countryside and a man and boy sit enjoying the scenery and the peace of the island. But this traditional and sleepy, rural way of life was to...

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Who Was Charles Blondin?

Who was Charles Blondin? During Victorian times, tightrope walkers – or high wire performers as we would probably call them today – were often referred to by the generic name ‘blondin’. This was thanks to Frenchman Charles Blondin. Blondin was without doubt the most skillful and daring tightrope performer in the world at that time. His name became synonymous with the craft. Victorian society craved sensation....

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Queen Victoria’s Daughters

Queen Victoria’s daughters Queen Victoria had nine children and understandably, the one who is the most well-known was Albert Edward, her eldest son who became King Edward VII when Victoria died in 1901. Little is generally known about her daughters however. In most cases,they married into European royalty. Queen Victoria wanted her daughters to marry for love – as she had done herself – but that didn’t mean...

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Elizabeth I and Robert Dudley

Robert Dudley, the lover of the Virgin Queen Queen Elizabeth the First went down in history as the Virgin Queen, simply because she didn’t marry. But if we’re talking about virginity as a physical state, rather than a euphemism for ‘unmarried’ then it’s highly unlikely that it was the case. Elizabeth was strong minded – even as a girl. She inherited this to some extent from her father – King...

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Wilson B. Hickox

Wilson B. Hickox: Poisoned by the government. There’s no doubt that Wilson Hickox died a gruesome death. On 23rd June, 1927, he booked into the Roosevelt Hotel in New York City. Wilson was a prosperous businessman from Cleveland, Ohio. He had spent the evening out on the town and settled down in his hotel room  and poured himself a nightcap. Soon, he was struck by some unpleasant symptoms. His throat and chest began to tighten...

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The Murder of Kitty Genovese

Kitty Genovese and the apathetic bystanders. Catherine Genovese, an attractive twenty-eight year old, was murdered as she walked through the streets of Kew Gardens, NY, in March 1964. Her murder became well-known not just because of its brutality but because of allegations that almost forty bystanders saw her being attacked but did nothing to prevent her death. Her murderer did not know her. The attack wasn’t premeditated....

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Stephanie Hoffnung

Stephanie Hoffnung: Just one Jew. June 1942: Every evening, German SS officers would hammer on the door of the Hoffnung family’s home in Rue Riffault, Poitiers. This was occupied France and the Hoffnungs were Jewish. Led by Adjutant Wilhelm Hipp, the officers would visit Jewish homes to ensure that they were complying with the various rules and curfews that had been imposed. Any deviation from these rules and regulations could...

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Fordlandia: Henry Ford’s Forgotten Amazon City

Fordlandia: Henry Ford’s Forgotten Amazon City Henry Ford was without doubt a great industrialist. But he had several unusual passions and two of them converge, rather ironically, in the story of Fordlandia. Ford liked his automotive business to be as self-reliant as possible. He disliked being dependant on outside suppliers. He always feared that he was at their mercy. They could put up their prices or take advantage of him in...

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Florida’s German Invasion

In early summer 1942 a German submarine, U-584, lay off the coast of Florida close to Jacksonville. On June 16th it surfaced and a small rubber inflatable dinghy was launched. Four men hastily climbed into the tiny craft. They wore swimming trunks and woollen caps. They each had a suitcase containing a variety of American made clothing. Also, they loaded four wooden crates into the dinghy – these contained explosives. They also...

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Louis de Rougemont

Who was Louis de Rougemont? Louis de Rougemont achieved fame in 1898 when London’s Wide World magazine published a serialised account of his adventures.Readers were electrified. For the magazine told that Rougemont had spent thirty years living with cannibals in Australia –  as their king and leader. It all began in the 1860s when Rougemont was shipwrecked when he was pearl hunting in the Pacific. He and his trusty canine...

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The D-Day Crossword Mystery

WW2: Were coded messages sent to the enemy via crossword puzzles? In the spring of 1944, Allied forces were preparing for the largest ever seaborne invasion in history. This top secret mission, which we now know as D-Day, was vital to the war.  It took months of planning and secrecy was vital. As with all military operations, code words were used for the locations, various equipment and the operation itself. As preparations continued...

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Who Killed Amy Dudley?

Did Queen Elizabeth I murder her lover’s wife? Queen Elizabeth the First was known as ‘the virgin queen’  but it’s unlikely this was the case. It’s true that she never married by most historians believe that she had a long-time affair with Sir Robert Dudley. Elizabeth and Robert had known each other since childhood and were the very best of friends.When she became queen she appointed him to her court and...

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RMS Titanic: The band

The musicians of the Titanic It’s over a hundred years ago that the Titanic sank with such an appalling loss of life but we’re still fascinated by the fate of this ‘unsinkable’ ship and its passengers and crew. All the band members went down with the ship. Who were these men? And what is the truth about the last song they played as the ship went down?   Those of us whose first movie exposure to the story...

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Today in history: June

What happened on this day in June? 1st Sgt Pepper album released 1967 Nissan Motor Company founded 1934 Crete falls to Germany 1941 Helen Keller died 1968 Marilyn Monroe born 1926 Germany launched the first Zeppelin raid against England 1915 She’s Leaving Home released 1967 2nd: The Ways of the World published 2015 Reg Spiers sentenced to death 1987 Queen Elizabeth II crowned 1953 Peter Sutcliffe born 1946 Wallace Hartley born...

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The Dionne Quintuplets

Who were the Dionne quintuplets? When Elzire Dionne discovered that she was pregnant in 1933, she already had five children. By May the following year, she had doubled the size of her family. And she was only twenty five She and her husband Oliva lived in a farming neighbourhood in a French-speaking area of Canada. During the early part of her pregnancy, Elzire thought she might have had a miscarriage (I won’t go into details)...

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The Montrose Ghost

The Irish Apparition. On 27th May 1913 Irishman Desmond Arthur was killed when his plane was flying over Montrose in Scotland. Three years later, his spirit returned to the scene to haunt it. The ghost disappeared in January 1917 and was never seen again. But why? First, let’s look at the fatal accident. Arthur was an experience flier and on his last flight he had taken his BE2 biplane to a height of 2,500 feet. People on the...

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Michael Llewelyn Davies: The Real Peter Pan

Who was Michael Llewelyn Davies? There can’t be many people who aren’t familiar with the story of Peter Pan. But did you know that the inspiration for the book was a young boy called Michael Llewelyn Davies? And Davies, pictured on the right, suffered a mysterious death when he was only twenty years old. Michael was one of five Llewellyn brothers – he was the fourth son – and the boys first met the Peter Pan...

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Kathleen Kennedy

Four months before he was assassinated in Dallas in 1963, American president John Kennedy visited Ireland. Most people thought that he then flew directly to London but in fact, he detoured to the tiny village of Edensor in England. There he laid a wreath on the grave of his younger sister, Kathleen. How had she died and why was she buried in a country churchyard in Derbyshire? Who was Kathleen Kennedy? Kathleen Cavendish was nicknamed...

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Ian Fleming, James Bond and … Bob Marley

Did Ian Fleming model James Bond on himself? Ian Fleming’s most famous creation was, of course, James Bond. And to some extent, the author was the character. He had been involved in espionage during the Second World War but there are certainly other similarities. The fictional James Bond enjoyed a drink (shaken not stirred, of course) and definitely his love of women was a great feature of the 007 persona. Fleming liked a drink...

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The Sinking of the Lusitania

Why is the Titanic better known than the Lusitania? It seems that the fate of the Titanic captured the imagination of the public much more than that of the Lusitania. Yet it seems that the story of the Lusitania is more dramatic,if not more so. They both ended up at the bottom of the ocean, of course, but whereas the Titanic met its end because of an iceberg, the Lusitania was torpedoed by a German submarine during the First World...

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The Death of Napoleon

What killed Napoleon? It’s May 5th, 1821 and the former mighty conqueror of vast areas of Europe, Commanding General and Emperor of France, Napoleon Bonaparte’ lay dying. He’d been held captive on the Island of St. Helena in the Atlantic Ocean for a period of 6 years and in the past few months his condition rapidly deteriorated. He was housed in a place known as Longwood House, a drafty, unrepaired home that could...

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The Great Jacksonville Fire

Jacksonville fire: 1901. Friday, May 3rd, 1901 was a beautiful day in Jacksonville, Florida. The sky was blue and there was no wind – it was perfect Floridian weather. At the Cleveland Fibre Factory, workers were sitting outside enjoying their lunch and there was a delicious smell of food cooking on a wood burning stove from a nearby shanty. Unfortunately, it wasn’t just the smell that was floating through the air –...

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Today in history: May

What happened on this day in May? 1st Ayrton Senna died 1994 Joanna Lumley born 1946 Citizen Kane released 1940 Bobby Vee announced that he’s been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease 2012 The US government seizes the nation’s jukebox factories and puts them to work making war materials. 1942 Empire State Building opened 1931 Ben E King died 2015 Man removed own appendix 1961 Tour de Yorkshire 2015 2nd Anne Boleyn...

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The Bonnie and Clyde Death Car

What happened to Bonnie and Clyde’s car? In March 1934 a roofing contractor from Kansas was looking for a new car. Jesse Warren chose a ford V-8 and he paid $785 for it. Jesse had only been the proud owner of the car for a few weeks when it was stolen – by the notorious outlaws, Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow. Bonnie and Clyde only enjoyed the car for a few weeks because on May  23rd they were ambushed by the police in...

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Samuel Morse

Dot, dot, dot, dash, dash, dash, dot, dot, dot. Who does not know what that stands for? Whether you are in the information gathering line of work or not, I’m sure that everyone knows that this is Morse Code for S.O.S. But did you know that April 27th is also the birth of the inventor of Morse Code, aptly named after him. Samuel Morse born in 1791, helped to develop this system of communication. Yes you read that right. 1791 a mere 225...

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The Mysterious Death of Wallis Simpson

What happened to Wallis Simpson after the Duke of Windsor died? Wallis was of course, the Duchess of Windsor. Her husband the duke had formerly been King Edward VIII and famously he abdicated in 1936 so that he could marry her. Their affair and subsequent marriage had tongues wagging on both sides of the Atlantic and was the constitutional crisis of the twentieth century. They had a curious, scandalous and rather sad married life but...

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Electrophobia!

Andy Royston looks into the darker side of this newfangled electricity fad. I beheld a stream of fire issue from an old and beautiful oak . . . and so soon as the dazzling light vanished the oak had disappeared, and nothing remained but a blasted stump. . . . I eagerly inquired of my father the nature and origin of thunder and lightning. He replied, “Electricity.”- Victor Frankenstein 1880, New York City. The metropolis...

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The Titanic: Wallace Hartley tribute violin

Arthur Lancaster’s tribute violin: Created in memory of Wallace Hartley Wallace Hartley was the bandleader of the small orchestra on board RMS Titanic. All the band members were lost in the sinking. Wallace was just thirty three at the time and had just become engaged. (The average age of the musicians at the time of the sinking was just twenty six). Wallace had been born in Colne, Lancashire, and  had played the violin in the...

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Myths Surrounding the Sinking of RMS Titanic.

Myths & questions surrounding the sinking of RMS Titanic. It still fascinates us, doesn’t it? And yet it seems that over the years there have been many myths and legends that have appeared surrounding the loss of the RMS Titanic. Many of these, I suspect, have been due to the films that have been made about the sinking. It’s such a good subject for a movie and it’s hardly surprising that filmmakers want to add...

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Marthe Cohn & Jacques Delaunay

Love and tragedy in occupied France. In 1941 Marthe Hoffnung was living with her family in occupied France. Life was hard for them. It wasn’t just the hardships of the German occupation that made life so difficult – the Hoffnung family was Jewish. In April that year, Marthe had her twenty first birthday and her parents, who tried to make life as normal as possible for Marthe and her siblings, allowed her to have a small...

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The Guinea Pig Club

The Guinea Pig Club of the Second World War. This very exclusive club was started in 1941 during WW2. There were exactly six hundred and forty nine members. But there was an incredibly high price to pay for membership. Members were all airmen who had been badly burned and disfigured in action They had all been treated by pioneer surgeon, Archibald McIndoe. He pioneered plastic surgery, hence the name of this elite club. Read on to...

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Silsden Riot!

RIOT! The small town of Silsden, a few miles from Ilkley, in West Yorkshire is a quiet, law-abiding place; little disturbs the peace there today. But on Saturday April 8th 1911, over 400 local people protested outside – and many attacked – their local police station, smashing every window in the building and in the police house next door. Policemen hid inside the building and the police sergeant’s wife and children locked...

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Today in history: April

What happened on this day in April? 1st Royal Air Force created 1918 Cynthia Lennon died 2015 Alan Kulwicki died 1993 Marvin Gaye died 1984 Celia Cooney born 1904 2nd Wallis Simpson’s jewellery auctioned 1987 Penelope Keith born 1940 Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands 1982 Hans Christian Anderson born 1805 Walter Chrysler born 1875 John Gotti convicted 1992 Ponce de Leon discovered Florida 1513 Serge Gainsbourg born 1928 3rd Viv...

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Did Lana Turner Murder Johnny Stompanato?

Eric Root claimed that Lana Turner murdered her lover. In a sensational and highly publicised case in 1958, it was claimed that small-time gangster, Johnny Stompanato, had been murdered my his mistress’ daughter. His mistress was the famous Hollywood actress Lana Turner. The court ruled that Lana’s daughter,Cheryl Crane – then fourteen years old – had been responsible for the fatal stabbing. It was ruled as...

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The DeAutremont Twins

Who were the DeAutremont brothers? Twins Ray and Roy were just twenty three when they attempted one of the most daring robberies in America. Their brother Hugh, who accompanied them, was a mere nineteen. The crime they committed in 1923 would have been laughable in its ineptitude had they not happened to kill four men during the debacle. But what of their earlier criminal career? This too proves without doubt that the DeAutremont...

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Who Was Gertrude Ederle?

Gertrude, or Trudy as she was more usually known, was a sportswoman who should have been famous and remembered today but despite her achievements she faded into obscurity. In the 1920s she was seen as a pioneer in showing the world that women were not ‘the weaker sex’.  Strangely, women were still considered to be so. Gertrude was the first woman to swim the English Channel She was the first woman to do so and she...

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The Triangle Fire

Death in Manhattan: The Triangle Shirtwaist Fire Disaster. Thirty five horse-drawn fire fighting vehicles were dashing through the streets of Manhattan.  It was March in 1911 and the streets were quiet on that Saturday afternoon. But nevertheless, the firefighters were unable to save lives that day. They were headed towards the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory where fire had broken out in the ten-storey building. The business, which made...

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Harry Houdini

Who was Harry Houdini? Houdini was born as Ehrich Weiss in Budapest in 1974. As Harry Houdini, he became world famous as an escapologist and magician. He was best known for his daring and seemingly impossible escapes. Sometimes he was placed in a crate, in chains and submerged in water. Another famous escape act involved him being suspended high in the air in a straitjacket and handcuffs. Houdini never let down his audiences. His...

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John Harrison: The Yorkshireman and the Moon

The Yorkshireman who made space exploration possible Neil Armstrong, shortly after he had returned from his historical journey to the moon, dined at 10 Downing Street – the residence of the British prime minister. In his speech, he paid tribute to the Yorkshireman who had made space exploration possible; John Harrison. As you can see from his portrait above, John Harrison was born in the seventeenth century.  This was in the...

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Who was Brownie Wise?

You may not be familiar with the name of Brownie Wise but I imagine that you know about her products – and the sales method she devised. You see, it was Brownie who developed the Tupperware party. She started her career as a secretary for a company called Stanley Home Products and sold their goods at home as a sideline. But when she discovered the Tupperware products, she dropped them to concentrate on these new bowls and...

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Eva Braun: Mrs Hitler

Eva Braun: The woman who married Adolf Hitler. Who was the woman who married the fuhrer? Of course, it was probably one of the shortest marriages ever, ending with the couple’s death on April 30th 1945, but at that time, she had known Hitler for sixteen years. She was born to what was then known as a lower-middle class couple in 1912,one of three sisters. She was educated at the local catholic school and then at a convent. She...

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Karl Wallenda

 The Flying Wallenda Family Karl Wallenda was born in Germany in 1905 to a circus family. He was the patriarch of the famous – and often tragic – performing Wallenda family. His descendants are still performing to this day. He started performing when he was just six years old. This is a family tradition that has been continued. When he was still a teenager, he formed his own act which included his brother and a young girl...

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Man Removed his own Appendix

Leonid Rogozov: The man who removed his own appendix. Leonid had little choice. He was on a Russian antarctic expedition in the early nineteen sixties when he started feeling abdominal pain. Being a doctor Leonid, who was twenty seven years old at the time, realised that he had appendicitis. He had to decide what to do. The expedition was many miles from civilisation. The team were not due to be contacted or picked up until the next...

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The Great Sheffield Flood of 1864

The Great Sheffield Flood of 1864. At about 5.30 in the afternoon of 11th March, quarryman William Horsefield  noticed a crack in the embankment of the Dale Dyke Dam, part of a recently built reservoir near Sheffield in Yorkshire. It was only a small crack, he reckoned that he’d be able to slip the blade of a penknife into it and that’s all but nevertheless, he alerted some of the men who worked at the dam. Just over an...

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Victor Hervey, the 6th Marquess of Bristol: The Real Pink Panther?

Was Victor Hervey, 6th Marquess of Bristol: The Real Pink Panther? He was born into money. He was titled. Yet Victor Hervey became a jewel thief and was the person who masterminded several robberies of a high-class nature. When he was only twenty three years old he was sent to jail. Two years before he was sentenced to prison, he had been declared bankrupt – he had squandered the family money. What was he to do? Well, his...

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The Adventures of Poon Lim

The amazing survival story of Poon Lim. On 5th April, 1943, the crew of a small Brazilian fishing vessel spotted a life raft off the coast of Brazil. When they approached it, they found that it had a single occupant – a young Chinese man called Poon Lim. He had left his homeland several years before to work on a British merchant ship as a steward. But of course, this was now the Second World War and on 23rd November, 1942 his...

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Atlas and Vulcana

Who was Vulcana? Vulcana was the stage name of a young woman from Wales. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, she performed in the music halls as a strong-woman. She was born with the more likely name of Kate Williams in 1875. She was interested in acrobatics and fitness and her father, a local preacher, encouraged her to become fit and strong. When she was in her early teens she started attending a gym. She soon...

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Who was Catalina de Erauso?

Who was Catalina de Erauso? Catalina was born into a highly-ranked Basque family in 1585. Like many girls of her day,she was expected to live the cloistered life of a nun. She entered the convent when she was just child. She was desperately unhappy and determined to escape from the dreary future she saw before her. It was arranged that she should take her vows when she was fifteen. As the date approached, she became even more...

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The Accidental Empress: Elisabeth of Austria

Elisabeth of Austria: The Accidental Empress  I received this book as a gift and – to be honest – set it aside for quite a while. The cover make me think that it was a somewhat junky historical novel of the ‘bodice-ripper’ type. I was wrong.This is a fictionalised version of real events that took place in the nineteenth century and as such, is fascinating. Yes,it’s a love story but so much more too. When...

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Today in history: February

What happened on this day in February? 1st Janet Jackson wardrobe malfunction 2004 Clark Gable born 1901 Lettice Curtis b 1915 2nd Nathan Lane born 1956 Gisele Pascal died 2007 Arnold Hardy born 1922 Lux Interior died 2009 Robinson Crusoe rescued 1709   3rd Buddy Holly died 1959 Three parent bill passed 2015 Nancy Kulp died 1991 Norman Rockwell born 1894 Lord Lucan declared dead 2016 4th Liberace died 1987 Charles Lindberg born...

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1964: The Year of Royal Babies

Four royal babies: 1964. Today there is a media frenzy when a royal baby is born. This wasn’t always the case in the previous century because the media hadn’t become quite as intrusive and the general population was more inclined to allow the royal family more privacy than they do today. Yet imagine what today’s media would have made of the news in 1964 when four royal babies were born, including one to Queen...

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Who Was Pablo Fanque?

Who was Pablo Fanque? There’s a question. But the chances are that you might well have heard the name before. There he is on the right. I imagine he looks unfamiliar to you but I think that you might have heard his name, especially if you’re a fan of the Beatles. So what on earth can a bloke who was born in England in 1796 possibly have to do with the Beatles? And how is it that you’ve probably heard his name? Read...

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I Walk A Lonely Street – checking into Heartbreak Hotel

Andy Royston goes down to the end of lonely street in search of a rock and roll ghost. “Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem” Edna Buchanan 42nd street, just off Collins Avenue in Miami Beach doesn’t look anyone’s idea of lonely street. These days it is home to a fancy condominium tower, and at the end is a beautiful beach boardwalk right on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean, beloved of morning...

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The Leeds Dripping Riots

Yorkshire: The Leeds Dripping Riots of 1865 This is the true story of a bizarre riot that took place in Leeds in Yorkshire a hundred and fifty years ago. Although there was a death because of the riot, and hundreds of people took part, it started because of something incredibly trivial – two pounds of dripping. Here, I suspect that I have to explain to younger readers exactly what I mean by dripping <sigh>. In the north of...

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In praise of Sensational Women – Mavis Staples

Andy Royston pays tribute to a true musical legend, the magnificent Mavis Staples. We’ve come here tonight to bring you some joy, some happiness, inspiration, and some positive vibrations! We want to leave you with enough to last you for maybe the next six months. – Mavis Staples / Live: Hope at the Hideout Mavis is coming to Fort Lauderdale,just a walk away from my home and I just cannot wait. Here is an American voice...

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When Fats Waller Met Al Capone

Fats should have seen it coming. But playing at the Sherman House Hotel, in the swinging heart of Chicago’s loop, he must have felt safe from the mob. As the song goes, the joint was jumpin’. Fats was only 21 years old in ’26 but he was already a big draw. He’d been making records for four years and was about to enter his first peak period. His solo stride piano and pipe organ playing may have found him fans...

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John T Betsch & Bessie Coleman

John T Betsch & Bessie Coleman John T Betsch’s grandfather was the first black millionaire in Florida. John himself was, in his daughter’s words ‘a race man’ who promoted the black community in the area. In 1930 he, as a member of the Negro Welfare League, sponsored and promoted aviator Bessie Coleman who went to Jacksonville to appear in an air show. You can read about Bessie Coleman here. If you’ve...

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Lana Turner & Johnny Stompanato

Lana Turner & Johnny Stompanato. Lana Turner was a Hollywood actress and pin up girl. She had a tempestuous life – she was married eight times – but probably her most famous relationship was that she had with Johnny Stompanato. Between husbands number four and five, Lana took Johnny to be her lover. He had underworld connections. According to Lana, Johnny was desperate to marry her but she objected to his life on the...

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Alberta Vickridge – forgotten poet and printer

The Forgotten Bard. Alberta Vickridge? You’ve probably never heard of her. Which is a pity – because in her lifetime she was a poet of considerable talent, including poetry that won her a Bardic Crown and Bardic Chair at an Eisteddfod in 1924. She also ran her own printing press from her home in Yorkshire at a time when women in printing were uncommon. Her poetry was admired and praised by writers, such as Agatha Christie,...

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Dada : Buffoonery and a Requiem Mass

Andy Royston takes us back one hundred years to the very birthplace of meaninglessness. The Cabaret Voltaire, opened on 5th February 1916 in a back room of run down old cafe in the city of Zurich, Switzerland. Freedom: Dada Dada Dada a roaring of tense colours and interlacing of opposites and of all contradictions, grotesques, inconsistencies; LIFE. Tristan Tzara : Dada Manifesto 1918 “What we are celebrating is both buffoonery...

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Today in history: January

What happened on this day in January? 1st Blanche Barrow born 1911 First edition of the Time of London published 1788 Victoria became the Empress of India 1877 Alcatraz became a federal prison 1934 J.D. Salinger born 1919 Maurice Chevalier died 1972 R.T. James born 1914 Constipate goldfish’s operation 2015 R. T James born 1914 2nd Yorkshire Ripper arrested 1981 Robbie Gordon born 1969 Cuba Gooding Jr born 1968 Isaac Asimov born...

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Thelma Furness: Wallis Simpson’s Rival for Edward

Thelma Furness: Wallis Simpson’s rival for Edward’s affections The name of Wallis Simpson is well-known. The one time king to England, Edward VIII, famously gave up his throne for the sake of Mrs Simpson,choosing to marry her rather than remain sovereign. A lesser known name is that of Thelma Furness but without her presence in Edward’s life,the abdication crisis, as it was known, might have never happened. Thelma...

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Princess Vicky & Prince Frederick William: Royal Romance

Princess Vicky & Prince Frederick William: Royal Romance. Princess Vicky was the eldest child of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. She was a lively and intelligent girl and was well-trained by her parents to occupy a regal position. They expected her to marry well into another European royal house. They didn’t exactly arrange her marriage but they tried their best to facilitate it. When the Great Exhibition took place in...

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Winston Churchill

Winston Churchill. I don’t really remember Winston Churchill, apart from old wartime newsreels that I saw on TV when I was a kid. But there’s no doubt that he was an important part of British – and maybe the world’s – history. He was an eccentric chap,that’s for sure. He was born into wealth and was a wonderful combination of British aristocracy (his father) and American frivolous society (his...

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Dawn Langley Simmons

Gordon Ticehurst was born in England in 1922. He was the illegitimate child of a sixteen year old servant girl. The father was the household’s chauffeur and the pair were employed by homosexual author Harold Nicholson and his lesbian wife Vita Sackville-West. Now that is some start in life. But it was just the beginning of a remarkable life story. Gordon’s early life is something of a mystery. Although it seems that he did...

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Journey from the Middle of Nowhere to BFE

‘I would rather wake up in the middle of nowhere than in any city on earth’. Steve McQueen Where on earth is Bumfuck Egypt? We’ve all been there. So far off the beaten track that the word lost doesn’t even begin to describe it. The middle of nowhere. The back of beyond. Out in the sticks where Jesus lost his sandals. The kind of place that is so dense and confusing that the end of the earth surely can’t...

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Songs For Swinging London

Andy Royston takes a look at swinging London and picks out the songs (and videos) that defined the era. ” Suddenly life broke out in warm colors again, so young and beautiful that a lot of people couldn’t stand to look at it. For the first time ever, kids were teenagers. They had loot, however come by, and loot’s for spending. And where there’s loot, trouble follows.” – Absolute Beginners Colin...

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Who Was Bass Reeves?

Who Was Bass Reeves? Bass Reeves was an anomaly of his time, an honest, upstanding United States Marshal of the old west, in a time when many who were given the title of lawman were as crooked as those they chased. Bass, known to face down vigilantes alone, stop hangings, and take the one to be hanged off to jail, was both feared and respected for his quick draw. No one wanted to test his widely known ability with a six-shooter. Bass...

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The Capsize of the Prinz Valdemar

The end of the Florida Land Boom: 1926. In the middle of the nineteen twenties, a single ship ran aground on a sandbar and capsized. No-one was killed; no-one was hurt but this simple accident brought about the end of the infamous Florida Land Boom. Since the beginning of the decade, investors had flocked to South Florida. They could buy land cheap and sell it again and make fabulous profits. How could they go wrong? South Florida had...

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Haunted Alcatraz Prison

Alcatraz Island is located in the bay of San Francisco, California. Originally developed with lighthouse facilities, it became in succession, a military fortification, a Civil War military prison (1868) and a Federal prison from 1933 to 1963. Its storied past makes it one of the most haunted prisons in the United States. What many people do not know is that members of the Ohlone nation who had committed deeds unacceptable to the tribe...

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Favourite Movies – Woody Allen’s Radio Days

“Like Preston Sturges and Billy Wilder before him, Woody Allen is a writer-director with a distinctive voice and a satirical thrust. I appreciate his tone, which is bitter-sweet and self-conscious. At their best his films reflect on the process of cinematic storytelling” David Evanier : PBS Interview  Woody Allen emerged into moviemaking just after American Jews – who had pretty much build the American movie industry...

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A Soap Opera – The Invention of Sunlight

Andy Royston gets all in a lather about a bar of soap. “I know half my advertising isn’t working, I just don’t know which half”. W.H. Lever Before Victorian times hard soap would be made at home – a simple mix of ashes and fat, with dry weather and salt to set the soap. If you bought, you would buy a piece cut from a block. In the 1800s block soap was simple stuff. There were about a half dozen basic...

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Has Anyone Seen Our Pig?

On December 3rd 1976 a large inflatable pig made a run for it during a photoshoot at Battersea Power Station. Andy Royston investigates.  “I’ve a right to think,” said Alice sharply,  for she was beginning to feel a little worried. “Just about as much right,” said the Duchess, “as pigs have to fly.” Lewis Carroll It all started as Roger Waters’ bright idea to promote the new Pink Floyd album Animals. He lived within sight of the...

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Was Thomas Ince Murdered?

The mysterious death of Thomas Ince. Thomas Ince was a pioneer of early Hollywood. Yet many people haven’t heard of him, largely because of the mystery of his death. Was he murdered or did he die of natural causes? The story itself is worthy of a Hollywood mystery film. The murder, if indeed it was, took place aboard a luxury yacht belonging to a super-wealthy newspaper mogul. Aboard were actors and actresses, writers, a ballet...

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Today in history: November

What happened on this day in November? 1st Abigail’s Party shown on TV for the first time Ricardo Rodriguez died 1962 L. S. Lowry born 1887 2nd George Bernard Shaw died 1950 3rd Bert Jansch born 1943 Lulu born 1948 4th Reg Dean born 1902 Marguerite Patten born 1915 Robert Mapplethorpe born 1946 5th John Fowles died 2005 Idina Sackville died 1955 John Alcock born 1892 6th SS City of Cairo torpedoed 1942 Charles McVay died 1968...

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Charles Frederick Ingalls – The Little Known Brother of Laura Ingalls Wilder

Charles Frederick Ingalls – The Little Known Brother of Laura Ingalls Wilder. I am sure most of us are familiar with Little House on the Prairie television program of the 1970s. Very little was mentioned about Laura’s only brother Charles Frederick Ingalls who died at the age of nearly 10 months old on August 27, 1876. He lived in the period between Laura’s books “On the Banks of Plum Creek” and “By...

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Who was J. Habakuk Jephson?

In December 1872, an American ship was found sailing off the Azores in the North Atlantic Ocean. It was in good condition, but its lifeboat was gone — and there was not a soul on board. The ship was called the Mary Celeste and for years there was speculation about what had happened to the ten people aboard. They had vanished into thin air. There was no sign of a struggle or fight. Other than the lifeboat nothing seemed to be...

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Happy Birthday To You

History of  “Happy Birthday To You” Everyone knows the Birthday Song, from the time we’re little kids. It’s the song we always sing when someone has a birthday; it’s the song we always hear when it’s our birthday. Have you ever noticed in the restaurants where they sing to you on your birthday, that they don’t sing the usual one we’ve always heard? There’s a reason for that and...

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Flight 19 & the Mystery of the Bermuda Triangle

The mystery of Flight 19 and the Bermuda Triangle On December 5th, 1945, a routine training flight set off from Fort Lauderdale Naval Air Station. There were five planes under the command of an experienced pilot, Charles Taylor. There were fifteen men  in the five aircraft and not one was seen again. No bodies were ever found.There has been no trace of any wreckage and no debris or oil slicks were ever sighted. The fate on Flight...

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Who Was Bernarr MacFadden?

Bernarr MacFadden: Millionaire, eccentric and health nut. He fully expected to live to be a hundred and twenty. He often predicted that he would in his health magazine and his over one hundred books. He was a bodybuilder and chose to subsist, so he maintained,on a diet of nuts, carrots and beet juice. He also recommended exercise, relaxation and that sex should be performed only for the purposes of reproduction. (He was married four...

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Who were the Duplessis Orphans?

From Orphanage to Asylum While I was reading Asylum recently, a fine mystery that incorporates the past and the present, it made me very curious to know the details of that terrible time.  Actually, the book included so much truth, that I wanted to know what was fiction and what was fact. The book is a work of fiction, a mystery that revolves around the Duplessis orphans in Montreal, Canada. My own memories of the 50’s were so mild...

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Tougher than Tough – The Original Rude Boys

In the light of the 2014 exhibition The Return of the Rudeboys at London’s Somerset House, Andy Royston looks back at Jamaica’s original rude boys and the music they inspired. Rougher than rough, tougher than tough, Strong like lion, we are iron Rudies don’t fear no boys, rudies don’t fear – Derrick Morgan Rude bwoy is that person, native, who is totally disenchanted with the ruling system, who generally...

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Songs For New York – 21st Century

Andy Royston concludes his three part Songs for New York with a look at Millennial recordings featuring this great city. You can read part one here, and part two here. New York is to the nation what the white church spire is to the village – the visible symbol of aspiration and faith, the white plume saying this way is up. EB White Here Is New York, 1949 Now you’re in New York, these streets will feel brand new, the lights...

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Royal Scandal: The Prince of Wales

The question on everyone’s lips; would the Prince of Wales be a good king? Everyone wondered. Of course, he was born with certain advantages like any member of the royal family but he had a strict and somewhat domineering father. His mother of course was  the Queen of England and concerned with her duty. Both parents seemed to expect so much from their eldest son. It’s said that his childhood wasn’t happy and went he...

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Berlin’s beloved Ampelmännchen

Andy Royston tells the story of Berlin’s best loved street characters – the Ampelmännchen. Angels over Berlin My own first visit to the city of Berlin came after the re-unification of Germany, at a time when the city was going through a period of great changes. I wanted to visit the city before too much of the ‘old’ east had been wiped away, and see some of the city that I knew from my favourite film of the...

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Alaska Lighthouse Tales

  Alaska, The “Wild” Country Alaska: a fabled wilderness of fabled tales. One of the greatest gold rushes in history (The Yukon) in 1896, prompted the start of building Alaska lighthouses. They were necessities for the people to survive the wild country and sail its waters. This was a place where being tough and inventive was necessary for survival.  Alaska lighthouse tales related on this page demonstrate the dangers...

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Best of British – Night Mail

Andy Royston celebrates Night Mail, one of the most influential documentary films of all time. “If you wanted to see what camera and sound could really do, you had to see some little film sponsored by the Post Office or the Gas, Light & Coke company.” J.B. Priestley For much of the time between the wars the General Post Office (GPO) was the largest employer in Britain. It was at the leading edge of business practice...

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Family Histories, the Good, the Bad and the Beautiful

Family History. Sooner or later, everyone has that desire to know where they came from and how they ended up being where they are today. Now, for some of us, the desire ends up being a desire and it will never move any further. Others, will try to find out where they actually did come from, and start tracing back their family history. What is certain, is that everyone of us has a family history, whether we know what that is or not!...

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Who Was Harriet Mordaunt?

The Harriet Mordaunt Scandal. A Royal Scandal: The Prince of Wales and Harriet Mordaunt. It’s not really unusual to hear of an older man marrying a much younger woman. But in the case of Harriet Mordaunt, it became a scandal that fascinated Victorian society. Harriet was young and attractive and her story involved British royalty and led to Harriet being locked up as insane for the rest of her life. Was a conspiracy at work?...

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A Tribute to my Parents

We were just your average family living in small town America.  This is a picture of my mom and dad on their wedding day August 19th, 1943. They were married while my dad was in the Navy. My parents were born and raised in New Castle Pennsylvania; as a matter of fact they lived only two blocks from each other. My dad served in World War II and the Korean War, and my mother stayed at home to take care of us, of course I wasn’t...

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Art Matters – Nocturne in Black and Gold

Andy Royston takes a closer look at the painting that sparked a notorious libel case, Nocturne in Black and Gold – The Falling Rocket by James Abbott McNeill Whistler Nature contains the elements, in colour and form, of all pictures, as the keyboard contains the notes of all music. But the artist is born to pick and choose… that the result may be beautiful – as the musician gathers his notes, and forms his chords, until he brings...

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Daft Historical Facts

From the first use of OMG occurring in a letter to Winston Churchill in 1917 to a Prussian Emperor kidnapping tall people to realise his dream of having a tall army; history is full of amusing, daft and fascinating facts. The less likely to turn up in history books the better and though they may be hard to slip into a general conversation, if the opportunity does arise, you’re sure to be able to entertain – so here are a few of...

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Prince Charles and Lady Diana tie the Knot!

For many years, the world was wondering when and if the Prince of Wales was ever going to marry and give the British People and the Monarchy some good news. Prince Charles was the most eligible bachelor in the world, and rumours were all around about who might be the “lucky” lady, that would be the next Princess to be and be with her husband the next in line to the throne. Well on this day in 1981, Prince Charles indeed had the whole...

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Songs for Cities – New Orleans

“New Orleans is the only place I know of where you ask a little kid what he wants to be and instead of saying, I want to be a policeman, or I want to be a fireman, he says, I want to be a musician.” – Alan Jaffe, Jazz Musician and Founder of Preservation Hall Where do you begin with New Orleans music? We all know that jazz music began in this city, and that it profoundly influenced American music thoughout the 20th century....

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Memories of Woolworth’s

Memories of Woolworth’s. What does the name Woolworth’s conjure up in your mind? Could it be that it was Friday and parents were doling out allowances to their young ones? They in turn could hardly wait to go to Woolworth’s to see what treasures could be had with their hard earned pennies. I know that this was part of my childhood, finding that special scarf or pair of shoe laces, skipping ropes and yo-yos or spending hours...

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Songs about Cities – Moscow

Before I start I would like to apologise in advance to my Russian friends who might be expecting Muslim Magomayev’s Greatest City on Earth, or a blast of Moya Moskva. And forgive my occasional inclusion of more general Russian songs too. I’m also writing this from a peculiarly British perspective, as most of my impressions of the city filtered through Hollywood movies, Peter and the Wolf the occasional bottle of...

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The Battle for the Everglades

It doesn’t look like a battle, does it? The Everglades seems to be much the same as always, with the slow, shallow stream of water – what Majorie Stoneman Douglas famously called the River of Grass – flowing slowly south. I recently visited the Miccosukee Tamiami Trail Reservation Area – a beautiful lily-pad dotted expanse of water alongside U.S. 41, known as the Shark River Slough. Experts consider this one of...

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Today in history: July

What happened on this day in July? 1st Olivia de Havilland born 1916 First day of the Somme 1916 Diana Spencer born 1961 Alice Guy Blanche born 1903 Last Ford Thunderbird produced 2005 George Sand born 1804 Peggy Sue recorded 1957 Nicholas Winton died 2015 2nd: Live Aid 2006 Helmut Marko accident 1972 Amelia Earhart disappeared 1937 Val Doonican died 2015 3rd: Sebastian Vettel born Carrie Buck born 1906 Hettie Green died 1916 Franz...

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Songs about Cities – Manchester

I must confess I knew little of Manchester before I arrived there to study in the late 1970s. Thanks to my cricket fanatic father I was a little wary of the place. The red rose of Lancashire were the enemy of any self respecting Yorkshireman and not to be trusted. Yorkshire Vs Lancashire? Think ‘Game of Thrones’ with cricket bats. For them as don’t know, cotton was the making of Manchester. It was imported through...

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The Life of the Princess of Wales

The Life of the Princess of Wales. She was incredibly unhappy. The Princess of Wales had only been married for a short period of time but she was fully aware that her husband, the Prince of Wales, was still seeing his long-time mistress. And what’s more, she rather suspected that he was seeing other women too. She knew that he’d had plenty of women when he had been single and now it seemed that he hadn’t changed in...

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Of Palm Trees and Buried Treasure

Since men first set out to sea there have been tales of imaginary islands. A disc of sand and a coconut palm tree anchored in an azure ocean; a pirate’s treasure buried beneath and some unexpected stories to tell. As a child I was hooked on all those stories. Swashbuckling buccaneers and buried gold from Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island, castaway tales from Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, Captain Nemo’s...

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London’s Hidden History

Remains of the Old London Bridge A bridge has spanned the Thames between the City of London and Southwark on the site of a natural causeway since the original Roman crossing was built in AD50. Since the conquest it has evolved over time and existed in countless different forms, one of the most famous being the medieval ‘Old London Bridge’ which was finished under the reign of King John in 1209 and survived until 1762. Though only 8m...

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Royal Feud: Wallis Simpson and Elizabeth

The royal feud between Queen Elizabeth & Wallis Simpson. The great feuds of history usually involve the desire for power. What makes this twentieth century royal feud extraordinary is that this feud of over fifty years was brought about because of unwanted power and position. This battle royal persisted from 1935 until 1986 and its protagonists were Queen Elizabeth and Wallis Simpson (later the Duchess of Windsor). The two women...

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Royal Scandal: Prince Edward

Prince Edward: A virtually unknown member of the royal family. You might not have heard of Prince Eddy. It’s true that over the years he has been largely considered to be homosexual and, to put it nicely, mentally challenged. It’s true that his existence has been overshadowed by his the life of his brother but why did poor Eddy slip into obscurity? I say ‘poor Eddy’ because no-one seems to challenge the general...

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She Captains by Joan Druett

She Captains: Heroines of the Sea. Prize winning historian and author Joan Druett has created a fabulous book which is chock-full of fascinating about women at sea throughout history. Seafaring was a dangerous business in times gone by and yet many women were attracted to life aboard. Some were captains – and even pirates – in their own right.Others went to sea with their husbands. All their stories are fascinating....

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Re-inventing Key Largo

By the time that Maxwell Anderson wrote his prose play Key Largo, the drama’s island setting on the southern tip of Florida had almost erased the name. Anderson’s self-important drama was actually focused on the Spanish Civil war and was written in the form of a Shakesperean tragedy. The trip to Florida by the plays protagonist King McCloud (Key West is his destination) was one of atonement as he seeks out a fallen...

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Trooping the Colour 1981

Shots fired at Queen Elizabeth II. In June 1981, Queen Elizabeth was taking part in the Trooping the Colour ceremony in London. In those days, she rode on horseback during the event. And it was during the ceremony, attended by cheering people, that six shots were fired at her from the crowd. It was  testament to her skills as  horsewoman and her unflappable character because she did not panic even in the face of what was seemingly an...

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Lunatics

Lunatics. Lunatics. An ugly word now, but was the common description given in the 19th and early 20th century to people with mental illnesses. A few miles from my home stood a large psychiatric hospital. It opened in 1888 as ‘The West Riding Pauper Lunatic Asylum’ and housed a large population of people with mental illness. For many detained there, it was where they lived – and died – their bodies abandoned and...

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RMS Titanic: The band

The musicians of the Titanic It’s over a hundred years ago that the Titanic sank with such an appalling loss of life but we’re still fascinated by the fate of this ‘unsinkable’ ship and its passengers and crew. All the band members went down with the ship. Who were these men? And what is the truth about the last song they played as the ship went down?   Those of us whose first movie exposure to the story...

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The Glass Delusion

Towards the end of the 14th century in the Parisian royal residence of Hôtel Saint-Pol, Charles VI, once ‘the Beloved’, became known as ‘the Mad’ due to his bouts of insanity. He suffered many delusions from forgetting his own name and title to, most unusually, wearing reinforced clothing as he believed he was made of glass so likely to shatter into millions of pieces. The curious condition spread through Paris to wealthier homes all...

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Lipton’s tea: Victorian advertising

Lipton’s tea: Victorian advertising. One of the first exponents of what we now call guerilla marketing must have been Thomas Lipton, back in Victorian times.  This grocery store owner was the master of publicity stunts. Sir Thomas was a Scot and on 9th July, 1878, traffic was at a halt in his hometown of Glasgow, as people watched the progress of three chubby and content pigs, dressed in bright clothes, and bearing the slogan...

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Pirates, Treachery – and Murder: a true story

Pirates. In 1981 I was on holiday in Suffolk, England, when I found a commemorative stone with an intriguing story carved on it, in the churchyard of St. Edmund Church, Southwold. The inscription on it led me to a history trail that stretched from the coastal town of Southwold to the Gulf of Florida in America, and on to Charleston in South Carolina. It led to a tale of piracy, betrayal, murder – and eventually retribution for...

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Love and sex: Edwardian style

Love and sex: Edwardian style It was 1901 when Edward VII came to the throne, heralding in what we know today as the Edwardian Era. Although we sometimes think of the previous time – the Victorian Era – as being somewhat staid, that’s far from the case. The moral code inherited by King Edward had been firmly set during his mother’s time on the throne and it was considerably more raunchy than we might think....

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Cremorne Gardens, London

Cremorne Gardens, London Cremorne Gardens provided a popular place for entertainment in the Victorian era. Close to the Battersea Bridge, it offered all sorts of amusements for the population. It sounds so very genteel, doesn’t it? It gives the impression of well-bred ladies strolling in their finery and holding their parasols to shield their fair complexions from the sun. The name evokes an image of elegant gentlemen, courtesly...

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Thomas Plant: Entrepreneur and Eccentric

Thomas Plant: Entrepreneur and Eccentric If you’ve ever wondered how the “other half” lives, here’s a place to visit known as “Castle in the Clouds”. But that’s not the only reason to visit this beautiful mansion on a hill. Thomas Plant’s story has a message for others who aspire to greatness with new ideas and innovations. Here’s the story of a man who invented a new machine to...

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Inventing the Victorians

Inventing the Victorians Interesting. We think we know all about the Victorian era and the people who lived in that period. We have definite ideas about their morality, their pastimes and their way of life in general. Could it be that we’re wrong? Maybe we have a completely false idea about the way people lived in Victorian times. Perhaps we know less than we think we do. In fact,maybe we are very mistaken in our ideas. In...

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The Independent: Henry Ford’s strange magazine

Henry Ford’s Anti-Semitism Henry Ford could be called the father of the modern motor vehicle. He was also a huge patriot. But he did have some weird ideas. His anti-Semitism is often mentioned but even that took a rather strange form. It seems that personally, he had no objections to Jews. One of his closest friends was Rabbi Leo Franklin and Ford’s factory designer was Albert Kahn, a Russian Jew; the two were friends for...

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