In This Issue
WELCOME TO AwesomeStories!
FROM THE EDITOR
December is a time to remember significant world events. People in France recall Napoleon's coronation (December 2, 1804), Canadians remember the devastating Halifax Explosion (December 6, 1917), Americans commemorate the Pearl Harbor attack (December 7, 1941) and Poles reflect on the landslide election of Lech Walesa (December 9, 1990).
Around the world, people also celebrate Christmas in various ways. In addition to religious services, children hang stockings by fireplaces (a custom originating with St. Nicholas of Myra), adults hang mistletoe (once sacred to ancient Druids), people decorate indoor trees (following a tradition reportedly started in Germany) and families use holly with Yule logs (like long-ago Norsemen who depended on those items to ward-off evil spirits).
On the 24th of December, 1818, "Silent Night" (by Franz Gruber and Joseph Mohr) was first performed in Oberndorf, Austria (in front of the altar at the Church of St. Nikolaus). Twenty-five years later (on the 19th of December, 1843), Charles Dickens published "A Christmas Carol," the story of Ebenezer Scrooge and the warnings he received from his partner "Old Marley" (who "was as dead as a door-nail") and the "Three Spirits" (ghosts of Christmas past, present and future). Although Dickens quickly penned the tale, to provide much-needed income for his growing family, people loved the story. They still do.
In addition to Christmas, other significant celebrations take place in December. Hanukkah (the Jewish Festival of Lights) is an ancient holiday while Kwanzaa (celebrating African heritage) is relatively new.
This month we are featuring new site assets - famous films which are now in the public domain. In addition to full-length movies, we provide background about the stories and their creators.
Robert Louis Stevenson wrote his famous story about Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde during a three-day burst of creative energy. His stepson was captivated by the tale, but his wife was highly critical of the first draft. Furious at her negativity, Louis threw his manuscript into the fire. (He didn't have a copy.)
Although he was extremely ill while writing the novel, Stevenson quickly completed his rewrite. As a creative burst fueled his mind and body, Louis wrote more than 10,000 words a day - in longhand. Learn more about it - and enjoy this silent film starring John Barrymore as Jekyll/Hyde.
The tale of Dr. Faust has been told by Marlowe (as a play), by Goethe (as a dramatic poem) and by Gounod (as an opera). F.W. Murnau, a pioneering German film maker, transformed the story into a silent movie in 1926. It is still highly respected, especially for its pioneering special effects.
"The Stranger" - a 1946 film by (and starring) Orson Welles - is believed to be the first post-war movie to include newsreel clips of Nazi concentration camps. It received an Academy-Award nomination for best screenplay.
The story features Franz Kindler, a former high-ranking Nazi (presumably modeled after Martin Bormann) who has escaped Germany. Since no photos of him exist, Kindler is able to elude capture (and trial) by the War Crimes Commission. Settling in America, he becomes a prep-school professor. No one, including his new wife, has a clue about Kindler's background.
Among various themes, Welles explores whether love can (or should) shield a criminal. Does evidence of horrific crimes against humanity, likely committed by a loved one, compel a wife (or other family member) to turn-in the perpetrator? Which emotion is stronger, for a criminal eluding capture, love or self-preservation?
Because it's much easier to share our newsletters with a stand-alone URL (rather than as an email), we have created a separate URL for this month's edition. We will activate the link, reflected above, soon after the email version is sent.
IN THE NEWS
When Britain's Prince Albert (known as "Bertie" to family and friends) was a young boy, he was forced to wear splints to straighten his "knobby knees." When he was even younger, the child's tutor forced the natural lefthander to write with his right hand. By the time he was eight, Bertie had developed a severe stammer.
After addressing a large crowd at Wembley Stadium, in 1925, the Prince was mortified by the crowd's reaction to his stammering delivery. Although nine speech therapists had tried to help him, nothing worked ... until an Australian named Lionel Logue opened an office in London.
The story of Bertie (who became King George VI in 1936) and Lionel Logue (the speech therapist who helped the prince overcome his speech impediment) is the subject of a new film called "The King's Speech." Our story behind the movie will be available on, or before, December 13th. The above link will be activated at that time.
Forty-seven years after President Kennedy's death, Clint Hill (the Secret Service agent who helped Mrs. Kennedy during her husband's assassination) and Gerald Blaine (another agent who has written a new book on the topic) were extensively interviewed about the events of November 22, 1963. The Discovery Channel is airing a two-hour documentary - called "The Kennedy Detail" - which is based on the new book, and Brian Lamb interviewed both men on his C-Span program, "Q&A." This video contains key excerpts from that interview.
John Lennon was killed on December 8, 1980, at "The Dakota" where he lived with his wife and son. Earlier that day, Lennon gave a three-hour recorded interview to Dave Sholin (on behalf of RKO Radio). This clip features an excerpt from Lennon's last interview.
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QUICK CLIPS from the VIDEO ARCHIVES
Rosa Parks - traveling home from work on a Montgomery, Alabama bus - refused to give up her seat to a white man on December 1, 1955. Called "the mother" of the modern-day civil rights movement, Mrs. Parks ushered in an era which changed America.
On the 2nd of December, 1804, Napoleon crowned himself Emperor of France. Who was he? What caused the people of France to give Napoleon such sweeping powers?
John Brown, a staunch abolitionist, led a raid against the federal arsenal at Harper's Ferry on October 16, 1859. He was hanged for that offense a few months later, on December 2nd. Who was John Brown? Why was he executed for conducting the raid?
Once the most notorious outlaw in the world, Pablo Escobar was tracked down - and killed - on the 2nd of December, 1993. It was the phone calls to his family members, whom he greatly missed, which helped Colombian police find the elusive drug lord.
Two ships were passing by each other in "The Narrows" of Halifax harbor. It was December 6, 1917, and one of the ships was loaded with 3,000 tons of ammunition (bound for use, by France, during World War One). Then ... the unthinkable happened, causing the world's worst man-made explosion (before the Hiroshima bomb). How could such a disaster occur?
On the 7th of December, 1941, the Japanese Empire launched a surprise attack on the United States. It was devastatingly effective and caused America to enter World War II.
President Franklin Roosevelt declared war on Japan the day after the Pearl Harbor attack, calling December 7th a "date which will live in infamy." If we look at his original manuscript, however, we learn that one of FDR's most memorable phrases was an after-thought. His handwritten edit replaces his original, surprisingly bland choice of words.
Ludwig van Beethoven premiered his famous 7th Symphony on December 8, 1813. In this clip, watch Herbert von Karajan conduct the Berlin Philharmonic as the orchestra plays the beautiful 2nd movement. Note that von Karajan conducts without music and with his eyes shut.
During America's Civil War, General Burnside thought he could subdue Confederate forces during the battle for Fredericksburg, Virginia. Burnside was wrong, and his men - especially the Irish Brigade - sustained massive losses at Marye's Heights on the 13th of December, 1862.
Sitting Bull was known as Tatanka-Iyotanka in his own language. Famous for resisting westward expansion, he fought General Custer at the Battle of Little Big Horn. He was shot to death on the 15th of December, 1890.
Who was this famous Lakota Sioux warrior, holy man and chief? This clip - from "Sitting Bull: A Stone in My Heart" - provides background information, using his own words.
On the 16th of December, more than 250,000 German troops commenced a surprise attack on the Allies. Known as the Ardennes Offensive, Hitler's plan was to force the bulk of America's forces in Europe - more than 500,000 men who thought no major action would occur until an invasion of Germany in the spring - into a trap from which they could not escape.
The offensive initially favored Germany. By the 22nd of December, American forces from the 101st Airborne were totally surrounded at the Belgian town of Bastogne. When the German command demanded their surrender, Anthony McAuliffe (then a Brigadier General) sent back a curt reply: "N U T S!" How did the Allies manage to stop this offensive, despite its early success?
On December 16, 1653, Oliver Cromwell became the "Lord Protector" of England, Scotland and Ireland. Who was Cromwell? How could this non-royal garner so much power after the British Parliament had executed the country's king (Charles I)?
Albert Einstein was working as a patent clerk when, in 1905, he published his "Special Theory of Relativity." At the time he wrote his paper, he was the only person in the world who believed what he had discovered. Ten years later - on December 16, 1915 - Einstein published his "General Theory of Relativity" which revolutionized how we understand gravity. Einstein's two theories changed the world, ushering in previously unimaginable technological developments.
On the 17th of December, 1903, the Wright Brothers did a remarkable thing. For the first time, in the history of the world, they flew an engine-powered airplane. This clip, from a NASA-produced video, shows how it happened.
In this video clip, from "The Wright Brothers' Flying Machine," we retrace the Wright Brothers' steps during their journey of invention. We can even hear the sound of an original Wright Brothers' engine which powered one of their planes.
Marie and Pierre Curie were married scientists who discovered radium (on December 21, 1898). They announced their findings a week later, on the 28th of December. After forty-five months of additional work, the pair first isolated radioactive radium salts (from mineral pitchblende) at their Paris laboratory. Who were these people whose dangerous experiments changed the world? What precautions, if any, did they employ to protect themselves?
To provide for his growing family, Charles Dickens wrote his novella - A Christmas Carol - over a three-week period in 1843. It was published, to great acclaim, just before Christmas that year.
Often produced for film, the story remains very popular during the holidays. This clip - from a 1984 version starring George C. Scott (as Ebenezer Scrooge) and Frank Finlay (as Jacob Marley) - depicts a visit from Marley (now a ghost) who warns Scrooge (still a miser) that he must change the way he is living his life.
It is said that when Beethoven's Ninth Symphony premiered in Vienna (on the 7th of May, 1824), the deaf maestro kept conducting even after the audience was cheering and applauding. Beethoven did not understand the profound impact of his new work until one of the soloists turned him around, to face the crowd.
On Christmas Day, 1989, Leonard Bernstein - to celebrate the fall of the Berlin Wall - conducted an international orchestra performing Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 in D Minor, Opus 125. About one hundred million people, from all over the world, heard this broadcast (which was one of Bernstein's last formal appearances). This year we commemorate its 21st anniversary.
On December 29, 1835, twenty-one Cherokee "headmen" and two federal agents signed the New Echota Treaty. That document changed the course of Cherokee history, mandating people of the Cherokee Nation to be uprooted from their homes and forced West. The discovery of gold, on Cherokee lands in Georgia, had much to do with that result.
In the 12th century, the King of England was vexed by Thomas Becket, the Archbishop of Canterbury. In the presence of English Barons, Henry II cried out: "Will no one rid me of this troublesome priest?"
Believing the King meant for Becket to be murdered, four knights rode to Canterbury Cathedral and killed Becket on December 29, 1170. That scene is recreated in this film clip, starring Richard Burton (as Becket) and Peter O'Toole (as Henry II).
For so long, Irishmen tried to rid themselves of British control. So ... how was it that the Irish people fought a civil war, against each other, when Britain finally agreed to grant Ireland home rule? In December of 1921, an Anglo-Irish Treaty was signed. At issue, before the Irish Parliament, was whether to ratify a document which relinquished part of their country (six counties in the North, to be exact) to British control.
The Wind that Shakes the Barley, an award-winning film which features the Irish Civil War - and the events leading up to it - is named for a haunting ballad written by Robert Dwyer Joyce (1836-1883). That ballad is performed, in this clip, by Lisa Gerrard.
As dawn lit the Hawaiian skies on December 7, 1941, Americans stationed at Pearl Harbor had no clue their world was about to explode. Pearl Harbor, the strategic Pacific base, was about to become the scene of unbelievable tragedy.
To the west of Hawaii, the Japanese fleet had maintained strict radio silence. Transmission fuses had even been removed from radios to make sure no messages could be intercepted.
This was to be a surprise attack. Secrecy was paramount.
To the east, in Washington D.C., Japanese diplomats were told to delay their scheduled meeting with the American Secretary of State. Their government wanted to buy time as Imperial attack forces (including two-man midget submarines) prepared to wipe out America's Pacific Fleet.
The attack was well-planned and executed. As Americans reacted in horror, their president drafted a speech which contained one of his most-famous lines. But "day in infamy" was not President Roosevelt's first choice of words. To know what he originally said, you have to look at the surviving manuscript. It's linked in this story.
For many years, we have seen amazing pictures from space. The Hubble telescope (really a floating space observatory) is responsible for many of those images. But when scientists first analyzed Hubble's images, they realized the telescope had blurred vision. Astronauts, aboard the space shuttle Endeavour, effectively fitted the telescope with "glasses" during December of 1993.
General Ambrose Burnside, in charge of Union forces during December of 1862, was on his way to Richmond, capital of the Confederate states. Before he could capture Richmond, however, he needed to secure Fredericksburg, a Virginia town.
In order to launch an offensive, federal troops had to cross the Rappahannock River. An advance contingent of Burnside's men arrived at Falmouth, across the river from Fredericksburg. The men had to create a pontoon bridge, to cross the river, but the parts had not arrived. It was just the first of many problems and mistakes which contributed to a major Confederate victory.
Take a virtual trip to America's national archives to learn more about this disastrous Union defeat.
On the 11th of December, 1792, the King of France - Louis XVI - was charged with treason. He had earlier predicted something like this would occur, having studied what happened to Charles I of Britain (who'd lost his head). Louis told Marie Antoinette, his wife, that he would handle the situation with dignity. He was executed, by guillotine, the following month.
On the 16th of December, 1773, colonials disguised as Mohawks boarded British ships in Boston Harbor. They had one objective in mind - to dump all 342 containers of tea into the sea. The "Boston Tea Party" was just one incident in the run-up to war with the colonists' mother country. Linked herein is a picture of some of the recovered tea.
Ever since 1878, when their father brought home a toy helicopter powered by a rubber band, Wilbur and Orville Wright wanted to fly. On the 17th of December, 1903, these normally cautious, deliberative, methodical, bicycle-shop-owning brothers did something surprising.
They disregarded every aspect of safety to become the world's first fliers.
The wind near the North Carolina coast was strong that morning - gusting between 20 and 30 miles per hour. The Wright brothers had lots of reasons to delay their flight. The wind chill over the ocean would be about 4 degrees Fahrenheit - pretty cold for someone flying unprotected. But the brothers succeeded where everyone before them had failed.
Learn their story to understand why aviation experts have observed: "Before the Wright Brothers, no one in aviation did anything fundamentally right. Since the Wright Brothers, no one has done anything fundamentally different."
After arguing with his friend, fellow artist Paul Gauguin, Vincent van Gogh cut off his own ear on the 23rd of December, 1888. Who was van Gogh? Why did he cut off his ear? Why are his paintings so valuable today when he himself could sell almost nothing? In this story, meet van Gogh, view his works and chart his progress as an artist.
For centuries people have asked: "Is there really a St. Nicholas?" This purveyor of holiday cheer, known as Santa Claus in America, comes in many different forms in many different countries. But as it happens, there really was a St. Nicholas. Born during the third century in the seaport town of Patara, on the Turkish coast, he led an amazing life. Although his parents were very wealthy, they died (most likely of plague) when Nicholas was still a boy.
So ... what is the story behind the legend?
When J.M. (James) Barrie first wrote the play we know as Peter Pan, he used a different working title: The Great White Father. After he read the first draft of his play to a friend, Herbert Tree, the reaction was not good. Sending an urgent message to Barrie's producer, Tree said: "Barrie has gone out of his mind...I am sorry to say it, but you ought to know it. He's just read me a play. He is going to read it to you, so I am warning you. I know I have not gone woozy in my mind, because I have tested myself since hearing the play; but Barrie must be mad."
When the play was first performed on December 27, 1904 - at London's Duke of York Theatre - the audience utterly stunned Nina Boucicault (in the title role) when she asked (at the end) whether they believed in fairies. Learn why in this story.
Historians believed that Nicholas II made a lot of bad decisions when he was Tsar of all the Russians. But no decision was worse than allowing Rasputin to become a part of the royal family.
Who was Rasputin? Why did members of the royal family murder him on December 29, 1916? And what legendary prediction did Rasputin make before he died?
History tells us that the Roman Emperor Commodus, featured in the film Gladiator, was a bad emperor. On New Year's Eve, in 192 A.D., he was murdered. Why did that happen? And ... what was life like in the empire at that time?
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