Category Archives: Pop Culture

August 21st – The Mona Lisa is stolen from the Louvre

The Mona Lisa goes missing from the Louvre in 1911!

The Mona Lisa goes missing from the Louvre in 1911!

On this day in 1911, the Mona Lisa (La Gioconda in Italian or La Joconde in French) by Leonardo da Vinci was stolen from the Louvre in Paris, France. Described as the “greatest art theft of the twentieth-century,” the Mona Lisa remained missing for two years before it was discovered in Florence, Italy in the hands of its thief, Vincenzo Peruggia.

On August 21st, 1911, Louis Béroud, an amateur walked into the Louvre, and went to the Salon Carré, where the Mona Lisa was displayed. When he arrived in the room he found that where the Mona Lisa should have hung, only four iron pegs remained. The Mona Lisa, one of the most famous works of art in the world, was stolen. Theories abounded as to the thief of the Mona Lisa. The French poet, Guillaume Apollinaire, who previously advocated burning the painting, was immediately implicated and arrested. Apollinaire accused Pablo Picasso of the theft after being thrown in jail; both were later acquitted however. Another rumour spread that blamed the theft on the German nationalists, in order to humiliate the French, defeated by the Germans in war a little of forty years prior.

It turned out it was not German nationalism, but Italian nationalism that proved the true culprit of the theft of the Mona Lisa. Over two years after the theft, in November 1913, a Florentine art dealer by the name of Alfred Geri received a letter from someone named “Leonardo” who offered to give the Mona Lisa to him in exchange for a reward. Geri then went to Giovanni Poggi, the director of the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, for advice on how to proceed. After taking the Mona Lisa for “safekeeping”, Geri and Poggi informed the Florentine police who then promptly arrested Vincenzo Peruggia as the thief of the Mona Lisa. In August 1911, Peruggia was employed at the Louvre, and on the 21st, lifted the Mona Lisa when the Salon Carré was empty. He then hid in a broom closet in the Louvre till the next day, where he left the Louvre with the Mona Lisa under an artist’s smock that he was wearing. As for his motive, Peruggia believed that the Mona Lisa was one of the greatest works by one of the greatest Italian artists. Consequently, Peruggia believed that the Mona Lisa should be exhibited in an Italian museum, not the foreign, Parisian Louvre.

Peruggia went on to serve six months jail time for his crime, however he was praised all over Italy. Peruggia later on served in the Italian army during the First World War, The Mona Lisa was displayed all over Italy and then returned back to Louvre by the end of 1913. Peruggia’s theft of the Mona Lisa was the only theft of the painting in its history, however it has been at risk of damage since 1911. In 1956, the Mona Lisa survived having acid and a rock thrown at it. Luckily the 1956 attacks were minor enough that restoration of the Mona Lisa was possible. Afterwards, a bulletproof glass was put in place to protect the painting. This bulletproof glass proved invaluable in deterring red paint being thrown at the Mona Lisa in 1974 and a tea mug projectile in 2009. Mona Lisa‘s famous smile and gaze remains available for all to see at the Louvre, after being stolen and recovered almost one hundred years ago.

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March 31st – The Eiffel Tower is opened

The Eiffel Tower, in midst of construction.

The Eiffel Tower, in midst of construction.

On this day in 1889, 125 years ago, the Eiffel Tower opened. One of the most well-known landmarks worldwide, the Eiffel Tower has come to symbolize the city of Paris and France, and is the most visited paid monument in the world (almost 7 million visitors each year). For almost 40 years after its opening, the Eiffel Tower was the tallest man-made structure in the world, eclipsed by the Chrysler Building in New York City in 1930.

Interestingly, the Eiffel Tower was never meant to be a permanent fixture in the cityscape of Paris. In honour of the hundredth anniversary of the French Revolution (1789), the city of Paris decided to hold an international exposition and the construction of a monument on the Champ-de-Mars in central Paris. The city decided on Gustav Eiffel’s design, a 984 feet tall open-lattice iron-wrought tower that would be the tallest structure in the world. Eiffel was a famed architect who had only three years ago designed the framework of the Statue of Liberty.

In general, Parisians were skeptical of the design of the Eiffel Tower on the city. The French arts establishment published the following in Le Temps:

“We, writers, painters, sculptors, architects and passionate devotees of the hitherto untouched beauty of Paris, protest with all our strength, with all our indignation in the name of slighted French taste, against the erection…of this useless and monstrous Eiffel Tower…To bring our arguments home, imagine for a moment a giddy, ridiculous tower dominating Paris like a gigantic black smokestack, crushing under its barbaric bulk Notre Dame, the Tour Saint-Jacques, the Louvre, the Dome of les Invalides, the Arc de Triomphe, all of our humiliated monuments will disappear in this ghastly dream. And for twenty years…we shall see stretching like a blot of ink the hateful shadow of the hateful column of bolted sheet metal”

Regardless, work on the tower began on January 28th, 1887. The construction of the tower featured an iron framework supported by four masonry piers, from which four columns arose to form a single vertical tower. Three platforms exist in the Eiffel Tower, each with an observation deck. Elevators ascend up the piers along a curve, which were not completed until after the tower’s opening. On March 31st, 1889, Gustav Eiffel climbed all the tower’s stairs to reach the top of the tower, where he raised the French tricolour, with fireworks set off from the second platform, and a 21 cannon salute at ground level. Later on in May, the International Exposition opened, exposing the Eiffel Tower to the world at large. Interestingly, the city of Paris had only granted the Eiffel Tower a 20 year lease on the land it was on, and consequently in 1909 was subject for demolition. However, the Eiffel Tower proved to be highly valuable as an antenna for radio transmission, and was therefore preserved. Bonne fête Tour de Eiffel!

Here is the official site for the Eiffel Tower, with information for visiting: http://www.tour-eiffel.fr/en.html.

And here are some interesting facts concerning the Eiffel Tower:

  • There are 5 billion lights on the Eiffel Tower.
  • The French nickname for the tower is La Dame de Fer, the Iron Lady (how Thatcherite!)
  • Gustav Eiffel installed a meteorological laboratory on the third floor of the tower, which was available for scientists to use for studying anything from gravity to electricity.
  • In order to give the appearance of an uniform colour on the tower, paint is used in a graduated manner to counteract the effect of atmospheric perspective. Consequently, the bottom of the tower is actually painted lighter than the top. The Eiffel Tower is covered with 60 tonnes of paint every seven years to protect against corrosive forces.
  • The names of 72 French scientists are inscribed on the exterior of the first floor of the Eiffel Tower. Scientists honoured include Georges Cuvier, Antoine Lavoisier, Joseph Louis Gay-Lussac, Louis Le Chatelier, Léon Foucault, Charles-Augustin de Coulomb, and Louis Daguerre.
  • In February 4th, 1912, the Austrian tailor Franz Reichelt tested his wearable parachute design by jumping from the Eiffel Tower to deploy the suit. Infamously, and tragically, Reichelt was proven wrong, when his parachute failed to deploy upon jumping from the tower, sending him crashing to the floor. Footage was taken of his perilous jump live, and can be seen here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FBN3xfGrx_U.
  • In 1914, a radio transmitter located on the Eiffel Tower jammed German radio communications, which served to hinder the German advance on Paris. In essence, the Eiffel Tower contributed to the Allied victory at the First Battle of the Marne.
  • In 1940, just before France fell to Nazi Germany, the lift cables for the Eiffel Tower’s elevators were cut by the French, to prevent the occupying German forces and Hitler from using them to enjoy the city view of Paris. When Hitler went to visit Paris after the Fall of France, der Fuhrer chose to stay on the ground.
  • Almost 30 replicas of the Eiffel Tower have been built around the world.
  • One of the Hollywood clichés is that in any movie featuring Paris, you are able to see the Eiffel Tower out the window. In reality, city zoning restrictions limit the height of most buildings in Paris to only seven stories, therefore only a few taller buildings exist that would allow for a clear view of the Eiffel Tower.

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February 13th – The last “Peanuts” comic strip appears in newspapers

The last Peanuts comic strip published, February 13th, 2000. How we will never forget Charlie Brown, Snoopy, Linus, Lucy...

The last Peanuts comic strip published, February 13th, 2000. How we will never forget Charlie Brown, Snoopy, Linus, Lucy…

On this day in 2000, the last original Peanuts comic strip appears in newspapers, one day after the death of Peanuts creator Charles M. Schulz. Since October 2nd, 1950 to February 13th, 2000, the Peanuts ran in newspapers all over the world, with an estimated readership of 355 million in 75 countries, in 2600 newspapers and in 21 different languages. By February 13th, 2000, 17897 Peanuts comic strips had been published, and remains the most popular comic of all time.

By 2000, Charles M. Schulz had been producing Peanuts comics for almost 50 years. He had decided that he had to retire as a cartoonist due to failing health from colon cancer. There had been discussion of continuing on the Peanuts comics after Schulz’s retirement, however Schulz had written in his will that in order to keep the Peanuts characters as authentic as possible, no further Peanuts comics be produced after his death. By January 3rd, the last daily (weekday) comic had been printed, leaving five more Sunday Peanuts comics left to be released. On February 12th, Charles M. Schulz passed away at his home in Santa Rosa, California at the age of 77. The day after, on February 13th, the last Peanuts comic strip was released, as scheduled. Interestingly, Schulz had predicted that his comic strip would outlive him, given the fact that the comic strips he drew were done weeks in advance of publication.

The last Peanuts comic (see above) features Snoopy sitting on top of his doghouse with a typewriter, pondering the following last words of Charles M. Schulz to his readers:

Dear Friends,
I have been fortunate to draw Charlie Brown and his friends for almost fifty years. It has been the fulfillment of my childhood ambition.
Unfortunately, I am no longer able to maintain the schedule demanded by a daily comic strip. My family does not wish “Peanuts” to be continued by anyone else, therefore I am announcing my retirement.
I have been grateful over the years for the loyalty of our editors and the wonderful support and love expressed to me by fans of the comic strip.
Charlie Brown, Snoopy, Linus, Lucy… how can I ever forget them…
— Charles M. Schulz

In the week following Schulz’s death, several cartoonists released tribute comics to both Schulz and the Peanuts. Since Schulz’s death, reruns (no pun intended) of the Peanuts comics continue to run in newspapers worldwide. New television specials have appeared as well, based upon published Peanuts comic strips.

 

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February 9th – The Beatles make their first American appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show

The Beatles arrive in America, 1964.

The Beatles arrive in America, 1964.

On this day in 1964, fifty years ago today, the Beatles made their first American appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show. The Beatles appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show has been cited by many historians as a momentous event in American pop culture, marking the beginning of Beatlemania and the British Invasion to North America. An estimated 73 million Americans tuned into Ed Sullivan Show for the Beatles’ American debut, a television record at the time.

The “four boys from Liverpool” were already a hit throughout Europe when Ed Sullivan ran into the band at Heathrow Airport in December 1963, who were just returning from Stockholm. Noticing the immense crowd of teenagers who had come to Heathrow to meet the band, Sullivan asked the Beatles’ manager, Brian Epstein, if they would play for the Ed Sullivan Show. Epstein agreed, and it was decided that the Beatles would play on three consecutive Sundays in February on the Ed Sullivan Show. Their first show would be on February 9th, 1964.

On this night, fifty years ago, Ed Sullivan began his show, with the now-famous introduction: “Ladies and gentlemen… the Beatles!“. The Beatles began with their hit “All My Lovin’“, followed by “Till There Was You“, and then “She Loves You“. Later on in the show, the Beatles came back on stage to perform “I Saw Her Standing There” and “I Want to Hold Your Hand“. The crowd, feverishly infatuated with John, Paul, George and Ringo, were unable to settle in their seats following “She Loves You”, such that the Ed Sullivan Show had to use a pre-recorded version of the act that followed the Beatles for television broadcast. It was this Beatles appearance on American television that kick-started the popularity of the Beatles themselves in North America, along with other British bands such as the Rolling Stones, the Who, and the Kinks.

Here is a link of the Beatles first appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show, February 9th, 1964. Not shown in the video is the Beatles’ performance of “I Saw Her Standing There“. http://www.jukebo.com/the-beatles/music-clip,the-ed-sullivan-show-first-appearance,qp8rul.html

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December 31st – Guinness is brewed for the first time

A typical 1930s poster for Guinness

A typical 1930s poster for Guinness

On this day in 1759, Guinness beer was first produced at the St. James Gate Brewery in Dublin, Ireland. Arthur Guinness signed a 9000 year lease on the brewery at £45 a year, and to this day, Guinness beer still calls St. James Gate Brewery home.

It would be almost a century after the first Guinness was brewed that the beer gained international renown. As one of the three largest brewers in the United Kingdom (at that time Ireland was still part of the British Crown), sales more than doubled from 350000 barrels in 1868 to 779000 barrels in 1876. By 1886, sales reached 1138000 barrels. In the 1930s, Guinness was the 7th largest company in the world.

Here are some fun facts about Guinness beer to ponder on this New Year’s Eve:

  • Almost 850 million litres of Guinness are sold every year.
  • While Guinness is often thought of as being black, it is in fact a very dark shade of ruby red.
  • According to Guinness, a proper pint of the beer should take 199.5 seconds to pour. This amount of time is a result of first pouring the beer at a 45º angle, followed by a rest. After the rest (long enough that the liquid appears pure black), the rest of the glass is filled, again at 45º.
  • Though often depicted as a heavy, high calorie beverage, Guinness is in fact relatively low in calories. A pint of Guinness contains 198 calories, less than most light beers, wine, orange juice, and low fat milk.
  • The famous 1930s posters (see above) featuring exotic animals and purporting the health benefits of Guinness are still used around the world. Guinness however no longer claims drinking their beer is of any medical benefit.
  • Guinness own five breweries: one in Dublin, one in Malaysia, and three in Africa: Nigeria, Ghana & Cameroon. Interestingly, 40% of all Guinness sold in the world is sold in Africa.

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December 21st – The first crossword puzzle is published

The first crossword puzzle published, by Arthur Wynne on December 21st, 1913

The first crossword puzzle published, by Arthur Wynne on December 21st, 1913

On this day in 1913, exactly one hundred years ago, the first crossword puzzle was published in the New York World. Though crosswords had been invented earlier in the 19th century, it was not until Arthur Wynne, an English journalist from Liverpool, published the crossword that this time-killer became popular worldwide.

Following the first publication of Wynne’s crossword in 1913, the word puzzle quickly spread to other newspapers. Much like the Sudoku craze that took over in the mid-2000s (hard to believe it is only that old!), the crossword puzzle was an instant hit. Interestingly, in the 1920s there were negative reactions to the increased popularity of the crossword. Here are a few I found particularly interesting (taken from the Wikipedia article):

The New York Public Library (1921): “The latest craze to strike libraries is the crossword puzzle,” and complained that when “the puzzle ‘fans’ swarm to the dictionaries and encyclopedias so as to drive away readers and students who need these books in their daily work, can there be any doubt of the Library’s duty to protect its legitimate readers?”

The New York Times (1924): “A sinful waste in the utterly futile finding of words the letters of which will fit into a prearranged pattern, more or less complex. This is not a game at all, and it hardly can be called a sport… [solvers] get nothing out of it except a primitive form of mental exercise, and success or failure in any given attempt is equally irrelevant to mental development.”

The New York Times would not print crosswords in its pages until 1942; ironically, the New York Times crossword is now one of the most played crosswords in America.

Crosswords have appeared in multiple languages since Wynne’s 1913 crossword, including many European languages such as French, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish, German, and Russian. Japanese crosswords also exist, where instead of placing a letter in a box, a syllable is often placed (in katakana, one of the three written “alphabets” in the Japanese language).

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December 9th – “A Charlie Brown Christmas” airs for the first time

The Peanuts gang all together for A Charlie Brown Christmas

The Peanuts gang all together for A Charlie Brown Christmas

On this day in 1965, the holiday classic A Charlie Brown Christmas first aired on television on CBS. Since 1965, A Charlie Brown Christmas has aired during every Christmas season, 48 years running.

The production of A Charlie Brown Christmas was done with a limited budget, resulting in (apparently) a choppy animation style and poorly mixed sound. In one scene where Schroeder stops playing the piano, all the children continue dancing awkwardly for a couple of seconds. Bill Melendez, the producer of A Charlie Brown Christmas, wished to correct this issue, however this idea was vetoed by Charles Schulz, the creator of the Peanuts. The voice overs for the characters were performed by children who had little experience with voice work. In fact, the child that voiced Sally was so young that she was cued “line by line” throughout recording!

Despite these faults with this TV special, A Charlie Brown Christmas came to be a critical and commercial success. Almost 50% of televisions in the United States were tuned to the first broadcast of A Charlie Brown Christmas on December 9th, 1965. A Charlie Brown Christmas would go on to win an Emmy Award and a Peabody Award. The success of A Charlie Brown Christmas would spawn further holiday-themed Peanuts TV specials, including: It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown (1966), A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving (1973), I Want a Dog for Christmas, Charlie Brown (2003), and many more.

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December 8th – John Lennon is killed by Mark Chapman

Hi guys,

I have not been able to blog as much recently as I have been busy with some exams. I have to play a bit of catch up to reach today’s date. The blog posts will be a bit shorter than usual to allow me to make up for time.

The Dakota, the apartment that John Lennon lived at, the location of his murder.

The Dakota, the apartment that John Lennon lived at, the location of his murder.

On this day in 1980, John Lennon was shot and killed outside of his apartment in New York City by crazed fan, Mark Chapman. Earlier in the day, Lennon and his wife, Yoko Ono, had been doing a photo shoot for Rolling Stone magazine, and later on in the day, proceeded to take a limo over to the recording studio to mix the song “Walking on Thin Ice”. While walking to the limo, Lennon and Ono were greeted by fans outside their apartment asking for autographs, including Mark Chapman. Unbeknownst to Lennon, hours later, Mark Chapman would be waiting for Lennon to return.

While walking back to his apartment from the recording studio at around 10:50 pm, Lennon was near the entrance to his apartment when he recognized the same fan from earlier in the day was still there. Shortly afterwards, Chapman shot Lennon five times, with the first bullet missing Lennon entirely, and the other four hitting Lennon’s left shoulder and the left side of his back. John Lennon was dead upon arrival to Roosevelt Hospital.

Mark Chapman gave no resistance to his arrest outside of Lennon’s apartment, appearing cognizant of what he had just done. Later on, Chapman admitted that he had became angered of Lennon’s “more popular than Jesus” remark and incensed over the song “Imagine”, as he believed Lennon’s wealth was hypocritical to the song’s lyric: ‘Imagine no possessions.” Against the advice of his lawyers who wanted to file an insanity plea, Chapman pleaded guilty to Lennon’s murder. Chapman received a life sentence, however was eligible for parole after serving two years. Since being eligible for parole since 2000, Chapman has been refused parole at hearings and remains imprisoned in a state correctional facility in upstate New York.

Here is the official video to John Lennon’s “Imagine”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yRhq-yO1KN8.

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