Friday, November 28, 2014

Mark Twain was Born - November 30, 1835

This week (November 2-December 4) in English literary history – William Shakespeare married Anne Hathaway (November 28, 1582); Poet William Blake was born (November 28, 1757); Washington Irving died (November 28, 1859); Louisa May Alcott was born (November 29, 1832); C.S. Lewis was born (November 29, 1898); Samuel Clemens aka Mark Twain was born (November 30, 1835); Jonathan Swift was born (November 30, 1667); Oscar Wilde died (November 30, 1900); Charles Dickens gave first U.S. reading (December 2, 1867); Agatha Christie disappeared for 11 days (December 3, 1926); Tennessee Williams’ Street Car names Desire premiered (December 3, 1947); Robert Louis Stevenson died (December 3, 1894); Bram Stoker married Florence Balcombe (December 4, 1878). 

Highlighted story of the week –  

Samuel Clemens, later known as Mark Twin, was born on November 30, 1835 in Florida, Missouri. Clemens was apprenticed to a printer at age 13 and later worked for his older brother, who established the Hannibal Journal. In 1857, the Keokuk Daily Post commissioned him to write a series travel essays, but after writing five he decided to become a steamboat captain instead. He signed on as a pilot's apprentice in 1857 and received his pilot's license in 1859, when he was 23. 

Clemens piloted boats for two years, until the Civil War halted steamboat traffic. During his time as a pilot, he picked up the term "Mark Twain," a boatman's call noting that the river was only two fathoms deep, the minimum depth for safe navigation. When Clemens returned to writing in 1861, working for the Virginia City Territorial Enterprise, he wrote a humorous travel letter signed by "Mark Twain" and continued to use the pseudonym for the next 50 years. In 1864, he moved to San Francisco to work as a reporter. There, he wrote the short story that made him famous, “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County.” 

In 1866, Twain traveled to Hawaii as a correspondent for the Sacramento Union. Next, he traveled the world writing accounts for papers in California and New York. These travels were later chronicled in The Innocents Abroad (1869). In 1870, Clemens married the daughter of a wealthy New York coal merchant and settled in Hartford, Connecticut, where he continued to write travel accounts and lecture. In 1875, his novel Tom Sawyer was published, followed by Life on the Mississippi (1883) and his masterpiece Huckleberry Finn (1885). Bad investments left Clemens bankrupt after the publication of Huckleberry Finn, but he won back his financial standing with his next three books. In 1903, he and his family moved to Italy, where his wife died. Her death left him depressed and bitter, and his work, while still humorous, grew distinctly darker. He died on April 21, 1910 from a heart attack at his home in Redding, Connecticut and was buried at Woodlawn Cemetery in Elmira, New York. 

Check back every Friday for a new installment of “This Week in English Literary History.”
Michael Thomas Barry is the author of six nonfiction books that include the gold medal winning Literary Legends of the British Isles and the soon to be released America’s Literary Legends. Visit Michael’s website for more information. His books can be purchased from Schiffer Publishing, Barnes & Noble, Powell’s Books, Amazon, and other fine book sellers.



Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Natalie Wood Drowned - November 29, 1981

This week (November 26-December 2) in Hollywood history – Charlie Chaplin married Lita Grey in Mexico (November 26, 1924); Casablanca premiered in New York (November 26, 1942); Bruce Lee was born (November 27, 1940); Director Kathryn Bigelow was born (November 27, 1951); Actress Gloria Grahame was born (November 28, 1923); Natalie Wood drowned (November 29, 1981); Efren Zimbalist Jr. was born (November 30, 1918); Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz were married (November 30, 1940); Bette Davis and William Sherry were married (November 30, 1945); Zeppo Marx died (November 30, 1979); Richard Pryor was born (December 1, 1940); Bette Midler was born (December 1, 1945); Good Will Hunting premiered in Los Angeles (December 2, 1997). 

Highlighted story of the week -   

On November 29, 1981, actress Natalie Wood, who starred in such movies as Rebel Without a Cause and West Side Story, drowns in a boating accident near California’s Catalina Island. Born Natalia Nikolaevna Zakharenko on July 20, 1938, in San Francisco, California, Wood began her acting career as a child. She gained acclaim for her role as Susan Walker, the little girl who doubts the existence of Santa Claus in Miracle on 34th Street (1947). As a teenager, Wood went on to play James Dean’s girlfriend in Rebel Without a Cause (1955), for which she received a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination. She also earned Best Actress Academy Award nominations for her performances in Splendor in the Grass (1961) with Warren Beatty and Love with the Proper Stranger (1963) with Steve McQueen. Wood’s film credits also include West Side Story (1961), winner of 10 Oscars, in which she played the lead role of Maria; Gypsy (1962), which was based on the hit Broadway musical of the same name and co-starred Rosalind Russell and Karl Malden; The Great Race (1965), with Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis; Inside Daisy Clover (1966), with Christopher Plummer and Robert Redford; and Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice (1969) with Robert Culp, Elliott Gould and Dyan Cannon. 

Wood was twice married to the actor Robert Wagner (Hart to Hart, Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery), from 1957 to 1962 and from 1974 to the time of her death. On the night of November 29, 1981, the dark-haired beauty was with her husband on their yacht “The Splendor,” which was moored off Santa Catalina, near Los Angeles. Also on the yacht was the actor Christopher Walken, who at the time was making the movie Brainstorm with Wood. Neither Wagner nor Walken saw what happened to Wood that night, but it was believed she somehow slipped overboard while untying a dinghy attached to the boat. Her body was found in the early hours of the following morning. Wood was buried at Westwood Village Memorial Park in Los Angeles, California.  

Check back every Wednesday for a new installment of “This Week in Hollywood History.”

Michael Thomas Barry is the author of six nonfiction books and includes the silver medal winning Fade to Black Graveside Memories of Hollywood Greats, 1927-1950. Visit Michael’s website for more information. His book can be purchased from Amazon through the following link:



Monday, November 24, 2014

DB Cooper Hijacked Plane then Disappeared - November 24, 1971

This week (November 24-30) in crime history – Jack Ruby kills Lee Harvey Oswald (November 24, 1963); FBI crime lab opened (November 24, 1932); DB Cooper hijacked plane then disappeared (November 24, 1971); Vigilantes in San Jose, California lynch two suspected murders (November 26, 1933); Great Diamond Hoax was exposed (November 26, 1872); Harvey Milk and George Moscone were assassinated (November 27, 1978); Alger Hiss was released from prison (November 27, 1954); Serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer was murdered in prison (November 28, 1994); Dr. Conrad Murray was sentenced for death of Michael Jackson (November 29, 2011); Serial Killer Aileen Wuornos claimed first victim (November 30, 1989); Harvey “Kid Curry” Logan, member of the Wild Bunch was sentenced to prison (November 30, 1902).

Highlighted crime story of the week -  

On November 24, 1971, a hijacker calling himself D.B. Cooper parachuted from Northwest Orient Airlines flight 727 into a raging thunderstorm over Washington State. He had $200,000 in ransom money in his possession. Cooper commandeered the aircraft shortly after takeoff, showing a flight attendant something that looked like a bomb and informing the crew that he wanted $200,000, four parachutes, and "no funny stuff." The plane landed at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, where authorities met Cooper's demands and evacuated most of the passengers. Cooper then demanded that the plane fly toward Mexico at a low altitude and ordered the remaining crew into the cockpit. 

At 8:13 p.m., as the plane flew over the Lewis River in southwest Washington, the plane's pressure gauge recorded Cooper's jump from the aircraft. Wearing only wraparound sunglasses, a thin suit, and a raincoat, Cooper parachuted into a thunderstorm with winds in excess of 100 mph and temperatures well below zero at the 10,000-foot altitude where he began his fall. The storm prevented an immediate capture, and most authorities assumed he was killed during his apparently suicidal jump. No trace of Cooper was found during a massive search. In 1980, an eight-year-old boy uncovered a stack of nearly $5,880 of the ransom money in the sands along the north bank of the Columbia River, five miles from Vancouver, Washington. Today, the fate and whereabouts of Cooper remain a mystery. 

Check back every Monday for a new installment of “This Week in Crime History.”

Michael Thomas Barry is the author of numerous books that include the award winning Murder and Mayhem 52 Crimes that Shocked Early California, 1849-1949. Visit Michael’s website for more information. His book can be purchased from Amazon through the following link: 

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Lewis Carroll Sends Manuscript to Young Girl - November 26, 1862

This week (November 21-27) in English literary history – George Eliot was born (November 22, 1819); Thomas Hardy published Far from the Madding Crowd (November 23, 1874); Roald Dahl died (November 23, 1990); Author Robert Erskine Childers was executed for his involvement in the Irish Civil War (November 24, 1922); Agatha Christie’s Mousetrap opened in London (November 25, 1952); Charles Ludwidge Dodgson AKA Lewis Carroll sends manuscript to young girl (November 26, 1862); Poet Robert Burns postponed emigration to Jamaica (November 27, 1786). 

Highlighted Story of the Week -  

On November 26, 1862, Oxford professor Charles Lutwidge Dodgson sends a handwritten manuscript called Alice's Adventures Under Ground to 10-year-old Alice Liddell. The 30-year-old Dodgson, better known by his pen name Lewis Carroll, made up the story one day on a picnic with young Alice and her two sisters, the children of one of Dodgson's colleagues. Dodgson, the son of a country parson, had been brilliant at both mathematics and wordplay since childhood, when he enjoyed making up games. However, he suffered from a severe stammer, except when he spoke with children. He had many young friends who enjoyed his fantastic stories: The Liddell children thought his tale of a girl who falls down a rabbit hole was one of his best efforts, and Alice insisted he write it down. 

During a visit to the Liddells, English novelist Henry Kingsley happened to notice the manuscript. After reading it, he suggested to Mrs. Liddell that it be published. Dodgson published the book at his own expense, under the name Lewis Carroll, in 1865. The story is one of the earliest children's books written simply to amuse children, not to teach them. The book's sequel, Through the Looking Glass, was published in 1871. Dodgson's other works, including a poetry collection called Phantasmagoria and Other Poems, and another children's book, Sylvia and Bruno, did not gain the same enduring popularity as the Alice books. Dodgson died on January 14, 1898 in Guildford, England and was buried at Mount Cemetery in Guildford. 

Check back every Friday for a new installment of “This Week in English Literary History.” 

Michael Thomas Barry is the author of six nonfiction books that includes the gold medal winning Literary Legends of the British Isles and the soon to be released America’s Literary Legends. Visit Michael’s website for more information. His books can be purchased from Schiffer Books, Barnes & Noble, Powell’s Books, Amazon, as well as other fine book sellers.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Nuremberg War Crimes Trials Began - November 20, 1945

This week (November 17-23) in crime history – Wealthy socialite Barbara Baekland was stabbed to death in London (November 17, 1972); D.C. Sniper John Muhammad was convicted (November 17, 2003); Mass suicide at Jonestown (November 18, 1978); Arrest warrant issued for Michael Jackson (November 18, 2003); Patty Hearst was released on bail (November 18, 1976); Nuremberg War Crimes trials began (November 20, 1945); Phil Spector was inducted for murder (November 20, 2003); Jonathan Pollard was arrested for spying (November 21, 1985); President John F. Kennedy was assassinated (November 22, 1963); Billy the Kid was born (November 23, 1859); Thomas McMahon was sentenced for his role in the assassination of Lord Mountbatten (November 23, 1979) 

Highlighted crime of the week – 

On November 20, 1945, the International Military Tribunal for the Prosecution of Major War Criminals of the European Axis began at Nuremberg, Germany. Following Germany's defeat in World War II, Winston Churchill planned to shoot top German and Nazi military leaders without a trial, but Henry Stimson, the U.S. Secretary of War, pushed President Roosevelt to consider holding an international court trial. Since the trial did not begin until after the death of President Roosevelt, President Harry S. Truman appointed Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson to head the prosecution team. The four countries pressing charges were Great Britain, the United States, Russia, and France. 

In his thoughtful opening remarks, Robert Jackson eloquently summarized the significance of the trial. "That four great nations, flushed with victory and stung with injury, stay the hand of vengeance and voluntarily submit their captive enemies to the judgment of law," said Jackson, "is one of the significant tributes that power has ever paid to reason." 

The trials attempted to hold Nazi and German military officials accountable for atrocities including the massacre of 30,000 Russians during the German invasion and the massacre of thousands of others in the Warsaw Ghetto. Twenty-four defendants were tried, including Hermann Goering, the designated successor to Hitler, and Rudolf Hess, Hitler's personal secretary. All defendants pleaded not guilty to the charges. When one of the defendants demanded that an anti-Semitic lawyer represent him, an ex-Nazi was assigned to his defense. 

Because of the mountains of evidence and the many languages spoken by the defendants and prosecutors, the trial was beset with logistical problems. During the proceedings, Rudolf Hess feigned amnesia to escape responsibility. Though many expected the most excitement to arise from the cross-examination of Hermann Goering, his testimony was a letdown: he was even attacked by his fellow defendants for refusing to take responsibility for anything. Nineteen defendants were convicted: 12 were sentenced to hang, and the rest were sent to prison. One man escaped the hanging by remaining at large while Goering escaped by committing suicide. On October 16, 1946, 10 Nazi officials were hanged. 

Check back every Monday for a new installment of “This Week in Crime History.” 

Michael Thomas Barry is a columnist for and is the author of the award winning Murder and Mayhem: 52 Crimes that shocked Early California, 1849-1949. For more information visit Michael’s website His book can be purchased from Amazon through the following link.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Herman Melville's "Moby Dick" was Published - November 14, 1851

This week (November 14 – 20) in English literary history – Herman Melville’s Moby Dick was published (November 14, 1851); Charles Dickens published the final chapters of A Tale of Two Cities in All the Year Round (November 15, 1859); Annie Proulx’s The Shipping News wins National Book Award (November 17, 1993); Poet Allen Tate was born (November 19, 1899); Henry James published his first novel Roderick Hudson (November 20, 1875). 

Highlighted story of the week - 

On November 14, 1851, Herman Melville published Moby Dick. The book was a failure, but years later was recognized as an American classic. Melville was born on August 1, 1819 in New York City. A childhood bout of scarlet fever left him with weakened eyes. At age 19, he became a cabin boy on a ship bound for Liverpool and he later sailed to the South Seas on a whaler, the Acushnet, which anchored in Polynesia. He took part in a mutiny, was thrown in jail in Tahiti, escaped, and wandered around the South Sea Islands from 1841 to 1844. In 1846, he published his first novel, Typee, based on his Polynesian adventures. His second book, Omoo (1847), also dealt with the South Seas. The two novels was a success, although his third, Mardi (1849), more experimental in nature, failed to catch on with the public. During this period, Melville bought a farm near Nathaniel Hawthorne's house in Massachusetts, and the two became close friends, although they later drifted apart. Melville wrote for journals and continued to publish novels. Moby Dick was coolly received, but his short stories were highly acclaimed. Putnam's Monthly published "Bartleby the Scrivener" in 1853 and "Benito Cereno" in 1855. In 1866, Melville won appointment as a customs inspector in New York, which brought him a stable income and he continued to write until his death on September 28, 1891. His last novel, Billy Budd, was not published until 1924. Melville was buried at Woodlawn Cemetery, The Bronx, New York.  

Check back every Friday for a new edition of “This week in English literary history.” 

Michael Thomas Barry is the author of six nonfiction books that includes the gold medal winning Literary Legends of the British Isles and the soon to be released America’s Literary Legends. Visit Michael’s website for more information. His books can be purchased from Amazon through the following links:

Monday, November 10, 2014

Serial Killer Ed Gein Claimed Final Victim - November 16, 1957

This week (November 10 – 16) in crime history – British au pair Louise Woodward’s murder sentence was reduced to involuntary manslaughter in death of Mathew Eappen (November 10, 1997); Police find first of six bodies buried in the yard of elder care home owner Dorthea Puente in Sacramento, California (November 11, 1988); Scott Peterson was convicted of murdering his wife and unborn child (November 12, 2004); Police search home of airline bombing suspect John Graham (November 13, 1955); Ivan Boesky pleaded guilty to insider trading (November 14, 1986); Serial killer Ed Gein claimed final victim (November 16, 1957).

Highlighted Crime of the Week -

On November 16, 1957, infamous serial killer Edward Gein claimed his final victim, Bernice Worden of Plainfield, Wisconsin. His grave robbing, necrophilia, and cannibalism gained national attention, and may have provided inspiration for the characters of Norman Bates in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho and serial killer Buffalo Bill in The Silence of the Lambs. Gein was a quiet farmer who lived in rural Wisconsin with an extremely domineering mother. After she died in 1945, he began studying anatomy, and started stealing women's corpses from local cemeteries. In 1954, Gein shot and killed tavern owner Mary Hogan, piled the body onto a sled, and dragged it home.

On November 16, Gein robbed Bernice Worden at the local hardware store she owned and killed her. Her son, a deputy sheriff, discovered his mother's body and became suspicious of Gein, who was believed to be somewhat odd. When authorities searched Gein's farmhouse, they found a horrifying scene: organs were in the refrigerator, a heart sat on the stove, and heads had been made into soup bowls. Apparently, Gein had kept various organs from his grave digging and murders as keepsakes and for decoration. He had also used human skin to upholster chairs. Though it is believed that he killed others during this time, Gein only admitted to the murders of Worden and Hogan. In 1958, Gein was declared insane and sent to the Wisconsin State Hospital in Mendota, where he remained until his death in 1984.

Check back every Monday for a new installment of “This Week in Crime History.”

Michael Thomas Barry is the author of six nonfiction books that includes the award winning Murder and Mayhem 52 Crimes that Shocked Early California (2012). Visit Michael’s website for more information. His book can be purchased from Amazon through the following link: