Net surfing catches more than most people want to know about May 25

Posted: Sunday, May 25, 2003

Every so often, I get to write one of these columns and offer opinion on almost anything I want except issues connected to my beats, which eliminates two whopping, solid-gold veins of fodder the Alaska Legislature and the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly.

Still, the field is pretty much wide open, so you're forgiven for wondering, "How hard could it be to come up with a subject?" Given a bit of time, the answer ought be "not very."

But I'm a practiced procrastinator who found himself just hours from deadline wondering what the heck would interest the good readers of the Peninsula Clarion enough to spend a few minutes sharing my thoughts?

Idly surfing the Internet, I found my muse. I'd come upon several Web sites that will list significant historical events that happened on your birthday, or any other day of the year, for that matter. So I decided to see how

significant today is. Incidentally, it's not my birthday.

For most of us, this May 25 may be just another day, save that it's part of a grand three-day weekend including Monday, Memorial Day, a day with special meaning all its own. It turns out, however, that down through the years May 25 has been witness to some pretty major events.

According to The History Channel's site, on May 25, 1787, George Washington, James Madison and Benjamin Franklin, along with 52 other delegates from every state except Rhode Island, convened in the Pennsylvania State House, now known as Independence Hall, intent on amending the not-very-workable Articles of Confederation. They chucked that idea.

Instead, they penned the Constitution of the United States of America, perhaps the most influential public document in a thousand years and one that was destined to greatly influence if not outright revolutionize the


This date has seen other events, some celebrated, even notorious, others perhaps unfamiliar though no less noteworthy for their historic moment.

Got a great idea? Want to protect your intellectual property? On May 25, 1790, Congress passed the country's first copyright law. President George Washington signed it six days later, so says the History Channel.

Is today your birthday? Doesn't really matter, but you may be interested to know Patty Smith Hill, who died this date in 1946 at the age of 78 has influenced every birthday you've ever had. You see, she wrote "Happy

Birthday To You." The song began as ditty for school children called "Good Morning To All." Hill's sister, Mildred Smith, composed the music.

According to a Web site called Recess, Hill had a long and distinguished career as an educator. Beginning as a kindergarten teacher in Louisville, Ky., she became an "indefatigable public advocate of and authority on progressive education," Recess said.

According to the Scope Systems "Any Day in History" Web site, the first record of a prediction of a solar eclipse occurred on this date in 585 B.C. That intrigued me, so I went hunting and found the Web site of the European Space Agency, which included a history of eclipses. It turns out there was one on May 28, 585.

A Yahoo search said that, indeed, it had been reported that the Greek philosopher and mathematician Thales of Miletus predicted the eclipse, on May 25. Thales noted that on the day of the eclipse, the moon's shadow crossed a battlefield, stopping a conflict between the Lydians and Medes. The Yahoo page cast some doubt as to the veracity of any claims to prediction, however.

Thales had other shadowy interests, by the way. Heironymous said Thales measured the exact height of the pyramids by observing when the length of his own shadow equaled his own height and reasoning that the same must be true of all cast shadows at that moment. Thanks once again to Yahoo.

Like your cable TV? Have a satellite dish all your own? Ever wonder why? Me neither, but we probably have author Arthur C. Clarke, who was just slightly ahead of his time, to thank in some fashion. On this day in 1945, he proposed putting relay satellites in geosynchronous orbits.

You remember Clarke. He wrote "2001: A Space Odyssey," which has only influenced virtually every science fiction space movie since, including George Lucas' "Star Wars" released you guessed it this date in 1978.

Perhaps you're a fan of public TV. According to Scope Systems' site, the very first non-commercial educational television station began broadcasting in Houston, Texas, on May 25, 1953, on the campus of the University of Texas. KUHT Channel 8 still exists and is the local PBS affiliate.

On May 25, 1961, in a speech to a joint session of Congress, President John F. Kennedy jump-started America's effort to put a man on the moon.

"I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to earth," he said.

May 25, 1984, has some sports significance, too. That's the day the Boston Red Sox obtained an infielder from the Chicago Cubs for pitcher Dennis Eckersley.

The infielder's name? Bill Buckner. We all know what happened two years later. At least Boston fans remember it as one more confirmation that the Curse of the Bambino is real. Type in the key words "Curse of the Bambino," if you don't grok the reference.

In all fairness, Buckner's misplay of New York Met Mookie Wilson's grounder didn't cost Boston the 1986 series. Lots and I mean lots of other things happened in that game, that if they hadn't, wouldn't have left Buckner there, tired and half crippled by nagging injury, playing first base in the 10th inning of Game 6.

There were numerous notable births on May 25. Here are a few:

The noted essayist and philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson was born in 1803 in Boston, according to the Library of Congress' Web site.

So were the famed dancer Bill "Bojangles" Robinson (1878) who revolutionized the tap, Josip Broz Tito (1892), who held together various ethnic factions and ruled the former Yugoslavia from 1945 to 1980, "Silent Spring" author Rachel Carlson (1907) who helped launch the modern environmentalist movement, and the jazz trumpet revolutionary Miles Davis (1926).

Thank for the following:

In 1925, John Scopes was indicted in Tennessee for teaching evolution.

In 1935, the great Jesse Owens broke three world records and tied a fourth, all in just 45 minutes.

The same year, Babe Ruth hit number 714, his last home run.

In 1964, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that closing schools to avoid desegregating was unconstitutional.

The preceding barely scratches the surface of the wealth of incidents tied to May 25. A quick dance through other dates available on the Web reveals equivalent lists of significant events. Check it out.

As for me, I'm on vacation for two weeks, during which time, I hope to make a little history of my own.


Hal Spence is a reporter for the Peninsula Clarion.

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