Historic winds of December

December 17, 2008

In English, it’s just one letter difference between “winds” and “wings.”  An encore post, commemorating one historic event from December 17 involving both winds and wings:

December 17, written in the wind

Wright Bros. flyer at Kittyhawk, first flight

Photo from Treasures of the Library of Congress; “First Flight” by John T. Daniels (d. 1948); this is a modern gelatin print from the glass negative.

Ten feet in altitude, 120 feet traveled, 12 seconds long. That was the first flight in a heavier-than-air machine achieved by Orville and Wilbur Wright of Dayton, Ohio, at Kittyhawk, North Carolina, on December 17, 1903.

From the Library of Congress:

On the morning of December 17, 1903, Wilbur and Orville Wright took turns piloting and monitoring their flying machine in Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina. Orville piloted the first flight that lasted just twelve seconds. On the fourth and final flight of the day, Wilbur traveled 852 feet, remaining airborne for 57 seconds. That morning the brothers became the first people to demonstrate sustained flight of a heavier-than-air machine under the complete control of the pilot.

No lost luggage, no coffee, no tea, no meal in a basket, either.

Resources on the Wright Brothers’ first flight:


Stone of Destiny and Ian Hamilton

September 17, 2007

For U.S. students there is an uncomfortable nexus between mythology of the Arthurian style legend, Biblical mythology and history, and British history that fascinates me. The Stone of Destiny has a provenance stretching back 5,000 years to the Jewish patriarch Jacob, and which features a blog by one of the last men to steal the stone — with several stops along the way to open the story to trickery, hoaxes and uncertainty. It’s a fabulous story that too few people know.

Ian Hamilton, as pictured in his blog's masthead

And, as I noted, one of the last men to steal the thing is blogging away on politics today — on the topic of Iraq and how we treat our veterans, for example. Is history great, or what?

This is a long way of getting to recommending Ian Hamilton’s blog for an interesting read, which we’ll do below the fold, after a bit of history.

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Constitution Day, September 17

September 9, 2007

Get ready.

Constitution Day is September 17, 2007. It’s the anniversary of the day in 1787 when 39 men signed their names to the proposed Constitution of the United States of America, to send it off to the Continental Congress, who was asked to send it to specially convened meetings of citizens of the 13 states for ratification. When and if nine of the former colonies ratified it, it would become the document that created a federal government for those nine and any of the other four who joined.

Banner from Constitution Day website

For Texas, the requirement to commemorate the Constitution was changed to “Celebrate Freedom Week” effective 2003. This week is expected to coincide with the week that includes national Veterans Day, November 11. School trustees may change to a different week. (See § 74.33 of the Texas Education Code) Texas does require students to recite a section from the Declaration of Indpendence. (Recitation is highlighted below the fold.)

Knowledge of the Constitution is abysmal, according to most surveys. Students are eager to learn the material, I find, especially when it comes presented in interesting ways, in context of cases that interest the students. The trick is to find those things that make the Constitution interesting, and develop the lesson plans. Some classes will be entertained by Schoolhouse Rock segments; some classes will dive into Supreme Court cases or other serious issues, say the legality of torture of “enemy combatants” or warrantless domestic surveillance. Some classes will like both approaches, on the same day.

Texas teachers have two months to get ready for Celebrate Freedom Week. Constitution Day is just a week away for anyone who wants to do something on September 17.

Sources you should check out:

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Didn’t fool anybody: Liberty Bell

August 23, 2007

Yes, it’s the Liberty Bell, photographed from underneath, with the lights shining through the crack.

I guess it was a lot more obvious than I thought. No one guessed wrong.

This is the bell that resided in the bell tower of the Pennsylvania Statehouse, what we now call Independence Hall. It is the bell that was rung to proclaim the Declaration of Independence in 1776. The bell was cast with several flaws in 1752. It had to be recast shortly after it was delivered, and then cast a third time. It cracked in the early 19th century (legend has it cracking while pealing during the funeral of Chief Justice John Marshall — I won’t vouch for that story). It was last rung in 1846, on the anniversary of George Washington’s birth.

Enshrined in art and legend, the bell appeared on the reverse of the Franklin half-dollars (when was the last time you saw any 50-cent piece in circulation?). Reverse of Franklin half-dollar, showing Liberty Bell - Ask.comIt was put on tour after the Civil War in an effort to get the nation reunited around old symbols (but, considering it was first called “the Liberty Bell” by early abolitionist groups, one might wonder how effective was the tour). When I visited it in the 1990s, the bell rested in its own pavilion about a half-block away from Independence Hall. Renovations of the historic site included construction of a new museum, which required the bell to be moved again.

Preservation and restoration experts wondered whether the bell would well survive the move. So the National Science Foundation (NSF) was called in to study the bell and determine whether it could take the stress of the move. NSF’s press release said the bell passed its “stress test.” The story of the measurement is well told, and may be interesting to students. The writer at NSF put in a lot of the history.

The photo is from the NSF team that did the study; it shows the inside of the bell and part of the “spider” support system that helps hold the bell together and support display.

My probably faulty recollection is that we studied the story of the Liberty Bell each year in grades 1 through 5, which in my case includes schools in the states of Idaho and Utah. My baseline U.S. history tests over the past four years show that about half the students I had, in grades 7, 10, 11 and 12, could not identify the bell or tell why it is revered in U.S. history.

Every reader here gets an “A.”

World War II postal cover featuring Liberty Bell

Other Liberty Bell information:


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