“Remember, remember the fifth of November,” is something that kids used to chant on this day in Britain as a memento of a character called Guy Fawkes, whose claim to immortality was that he tried to blow up the Houses of Parliament in London, England in what became known as the Gunpowder Plot.
It all took place in 1605 and was a failed attempt to assassinate King James I of England and VI of Scotland by a group of provincial English Roman Catholics led by Robert Catesby.
They had planned to blow up the House of Lords during the State Opening of England’s Parliament on 5 November 1605, when the King would be certain to be in attendance. That event was then supposed to trigger a popular revolt in the English Midlands during which James’s nine-year-old daughter, Princess Elizabeth, was to be installed as the Roman Catholic head of state.
Catesby’s fellow plotters were John Wright, Thomas Wintour, Thomas Percy, Guy Fawkes, Robert Keyes, Thomas Bates, Robert Wintour, Christopher Wright, John Grant, Ambrose Rookwood, Sir Everard Digby and Francis Tresham.
Fawkes, who is remembered while most of the others have been forgotten, was a man with some military service and was therefore chosen to be in charge of the explosives.
The plot failed when an anonymous letter was sent to William Parker, 4th Baron Monteagle, on 26 October 1605 and a subsequent search of the House of Lords at midnight on 4 November 1605, revealed Guy Fawkes guarding 36 barrels of gunpowder.
He was arrested and in good conspiratorial fashion his comrades fled from London leaving him to face the consequences alone. One or two did try to make a stand against the pursuing Sheriff of Worcester and his men at a place called Holbeche House, and in the ensuing battle Catesby was one of those shot and killed.
At the trial of those who survived, held on 27 January 1606, eight conspirators, including Guy Fawkes, were convicted and sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered, a particularly cruel form of punishment used for traitors in those days. (Think of the final scenes from the Mel Gibson movie Braveheart and you will understand the gruesome process.)
Immediately before his execution on 31 January, Guy Fawkes jumped from the scaffold where he was to be hanged and broke his neck, thus avoiding the agony of the mutilation that followed.
The failure of the Gunpowder Plot was commemorated for many years afterwards by special sermons and other public events such as the ringing of church bells. This evolved into the present tradition of ‘Bonfire Night’ when effigies of Guy Fawkes are traditionally burned on bonfires, accompanied by fireworks. Many such displays which will be held throughout Britain later today.
Interestingly, the ‘anonymous’ face mask currently in use by many anti government groups is based on the visage of Guy Fawkes.
And a very happy Fourth of July to everyone, particularly my American friends.
Independence Day again, and no sign of invading spaceships so I’m assuming its safe to do another number factoid.
And what else could it be today other than 1776, the year America became an independent nation.
Here we go.
And where else to start but with….
American Revolutionary War
On January 1st, 1776 Gen George Washington hoisted the Continental Union Flag. The same day the town of Norfolk, Virginia, was destroyed by the combined actions of the British Royal Navy and occupying Patriot forces.
On Jan 5th the Assembly of New Hampshire adopts its 1st state constitution.
On January 10th Thomas Paine published his pamphlet Common Sense “written by an Englishman” in Philadelphia arguing for independence from British rule in what were then the Thirteen Colonies.
On Jan 16th the Continental Congress approves enlistment of free blacks.
On February 27th Scottish North Carolina Loyalists charge across Moore’s Creek bridge near Wilmington to attack what they mistakenly believed to be a small force of rebels. Several loyalist leaders are killed in the ensuing battle. The patriot victory virtually ended all British authority in the province.
On March 2nd and 3rd the American Continental Navy and Marines made a successful assault on Nassau, Bahamas, and in the Battle of the Rice Boats, American Patriots resisted the Royal Navy on the Savannah River effectively ending British control over the Province of Georgia.
On March 4th American Patriots capture Dorchester Heights thereby dominating the port of Boston, Massachusetts. Threatened by the Patriot cannons on Dorchester Heights, the British evacuate Boston on March 17th.
On April 12th the Royal Colony of North Carolina produced the Halifax Resolves making it the first British colony officially to authorize its Continental Congress delegates to vote for independence from the Kingdom of Great Britain.
On May 4th Rhode Island became the first American colony to renounce allegiance to King George III of Great Britain.
On June 7th Richard Henry Lee of Virginia proposed to the Second Continental Congress (meeting in Philadelphia) that “these united colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent states.”
On June 11th the Continental Congress appointed a Committee of Five to draft a Declaration of Independence.
On June 12th the Virginia Declaration of Rights by George Mason was adopted by the Virginia Convention of Delegates and three days later on June 15th the Delaware General Assembly voted to suspend government under the British Crown.
On July 2nd the final (despite minor revisions) U.S. Declaration of Independence was written. The Continental Congress passed the Lee Resolution.
And as we all know, on July 4th the United States Declared Independence: The Continental Congress ratified the declaration by the United States of its independence from the Kingdom of Great Britain.
On July 8th the Liberty Bell rang in Philadelphia for the first public reading of the Declaration of Independence and the following day an angry mob in New York City toppled the equestrian statue of George III of Great Britain in Bowling Green.
On August 2nd most of the American colonies ratify the Declaration of Independence.
On August 15th the first Hessian troops land on Staten Island to join British forces.
On August 27th in the Battle of Long Island, Washington’s troops were routed in Brooklyn by British under William Howe.
On September 1st the Cherokee Nation was invaded by 6,000 patriot troops from Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina begins. The troops destroyed thirty-six Cherokee towns.
On September 7th saw the world’s first submarine attack when the American submersible craft Turtle attempted to attach a time bomb to the hull of British Admiral Richard Howe’s flagship HMS Eagle in New York Harbor.
On September 11th an abortive peace conference took place between British and Americans on Staten Island.
On September 15th British troops landed on Manhattan at Kips Bay.
On September 16th in the Battle of Harlem Heights, the Continental Army under Washington are victorious against the British on Manhattan.
On September 22nd the British hanged spy Nathan Hale in New York City for espionage.
The following month, on October 11th on Lake Champlain near Valcour Island, a British fleet led by Sir Guy Carleton defeated 15 American gunboats commanded by Brigadier General Benedict Arnold. Although nearly all of Arnold’s ships are destroyed, the two day-long battle gave Patriot forces enough time to prepare defenses of New York City.
On October 18th in the Battle of Pell’s Point, forces of the American Continental Army resisted a British and Hessian force in The Bronx, whilst on October 28 in the Battle of White Plains, British forces attacked and captured Chatterton Hill from the Americans.
On October 26th Benjamin Franklin departed from America for France on a mission to seek French support for the American Revolution.
The last day of that month, October 31st saw King George III make his first speech before British Parliament since the Declaration of Independence that summer, in which in perhaps the understatement of the year, told the British Parliament that all was not going well for Britain in the war with the United States.
On November 16th Hessian mercenaries under Lieutenant General Wilhelm von Knyphausen captured Fort Washington from the American Continentals. The captain of the American navy ship Andrew Doria fired a salute to the Dutch flag on Fort Orange and Johannes de Graaff answers with eleven gun shots.
On December 7th the Marquis de Lafayette attempted to enter the American military as a major general.
And on December 21st the Royal Colony of North Carolina reorganizes into the State of North Carolina after adopting its own constitution. Richard Caswell becomes the first governor of the newly formed state.
On December 23rd Thomas Paine, living with Washington’s troops, began publishing The American Crisis, containing the stirring phrase, “These are the times that try men’s souls.”
At Christmas 1776, Gen. George Washington ordered the first issue of The Crisis to be read to his troops on Christmas Eve, then at 6 p.m. all 2600 of them march to McKonkey’s Ferry, crossed the Delaware River and land on the Jersey bank at 3 a.m.
And finally December 26th saw the Battle of Trenton, in which Washington’s troops surprised and defeated the 1500 Hessian troops under the command of Col. Johann Rall outside Trenton, taking 948 prisoners while suffering only 5 wounded.
In other things and other places in 1776
The year 1776 was a leap year starting on Monday of the Gregorian calendar and a leap year starting on Friday of the 11-day slower Julian calendar.
In Roman Numerals 1776 is written as MDCCLXXVI.
On January 2nd Austria ended interrogation torture
On February 17th Edward Gibbon published the first volume of his famous work, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.
On March 9th Scottish economist Adam Smith published The Wealth of Nations in London.
On March 28th Juan Bautista de Anza found the site for the Presidio of San Francisco.
On April 15th the Duchess of Kingston was found guilty of bigamy.
On May 1st Adam Weishaupt founded the Illuminati in Ingolstadt, Bavaria.
On June 17th Lt. Jose Joaquin Moraga leads a band of colonists from Monterey Presidio, landing on June 29th and constructing the Mission Dolores of the new Presidio of San Francisco.
On July 12th Captain James Cook sets off from Plymouth, England, in HMS Resolution on his third voyage, to the Pacific Ocean and Arctic, which would turn out to be fatal.
On July 21st Mozart’s Serenade No. 7 (the “Haffner”) is first performed in Salzburg, Austria.
On July 29th Francisco Silvestre Vélez de Escalante, Francisco Atanasio Domínguez, and eight other Spaniards set out from Santa Fe on an eighteen-hundred mile trek through the American Southwest. They were the first Europeans to explore the vast region between the Rockies and the Sierras.
On September 6th a hurricane hit Guadeloupe, killing more than 6000 people.
On September 24th the first of the now very famous St Leger horse races were held at Doncaster, England.
On October 7th Crown Prince Paul of Russia married Sophie Marie Dorothea of Württemberg.
On October 9th Father Francisco Palou founded the Mission San Francisco de Asis in what is now San Francisco, California.
On October 18th in a New York bar decorated with a bird tail, a customer orders “cock tail”.
On December 5th the first US fraternity, Phi Beta Kappa (William & Mary College), is formed.
The Standard Practice for Conditioning and Testing Textiles is Active Standard ASTM D1776
The Standard Specification for Eye Protective Devices for Paintball Sports is Active Standard ASTM F1776.
MTE M-1776 is a Surge Protective Device
P1776 is the code for solenoid stuck in low/reverse which is a fairly common problem and can be prevented most of the time by keeping the fluid clean.
The 1776 Premier Program offers a venue for highly-committed, elite players to receive professional, year-round coaching and to seek competition at the highest levels of US Youth Soccer.
One of my blog friends, Kenton over at the Jittery Goat, wrote a post recently as part of the daily prompt series about the first book/story he read that gave him an interest in reading and writing. His choice was a good one, “To Kill A Mockingbird”.
On a few occasions I have been asked the same thing and it is a very good question to put to anyone who is interested in either reading or writing or both.
When I was growing up the main influence as regards reading and writing was school. I’m sure that is the same for many of you. I was both fortunate and unfortunate here.
For a few years I had an excellent English teacher. Someone who was interested in the subject she taught, but someone who was equally interested in passing on her enthusiasm for reading and writing to her pupils. She was a great teacher and a great influence on her pupils. One could not but develop a taste for English literature, for exploring other writers and for writing too.
Now for the bad news.
As happens in schools, as you progress through the grades sometimes your teachers change. And unfortunately mine did.
I got lumbered with the most awful teacher there has probably ever been. Another woman, but this woman was one of those self-absorbed dullards who would probably have made any subject the most boring and tedious thing in the world.
She could take the most exciting story and just drain the life out of it. With poetry she did the very same, just killed it stone dead with her monotonous voice and her complete lack of feeling for the subject.
Watching the proverbial paint drying or concrete setting was real exciting stuff compared to this woman’s classes!
Sadly, for a few years she turned me, and I would guess almost all her pupils completely off both reading and writing. I will never forgive her for that.
However time passed and although I’m not sure how exactly it happened, I got the urge to start to read again. Perhaps to ease myself back into it I decided to start with some short stories rather than a long book or novel.
And what a great choice that turned out to be.
The first story I read in my new life as a reader once again was called “An Occurrence At Owl Creek Bridge”. It was a tale set during the American Civil War and was written by Ambrose Bierce, who himself was a veteran of that war, and a gentleman of whom you will hear a lot more in future fasab posts.
And so I have been reading and writing ever since, mostly for my own amusement and occasionally, as in this blog, also for the amusement of others.
I’d be interested to find out what you make of this story so I have reproduced it below. If you are unfamiliar with it, or want to refresh you memory if you have read it before, grab a cup of coffee and enjoy.
And when you are finished let me know what you make of it.
AN OCCURRENCE AT OWL CREEK BRIDGE
A man stood upon a railroad bridge in northern Alabama, looking down into the swift water twenty feet below. The man’s hands were behind his back, the wrists bound with a cord. A rope closely encircled his neck. It was attached to a stout cross-timber above his head and the slack fell to the level of his knees. Some loose boards laid upon the ties supporting the rails of the railway supplied a footing for him and his executioners–two private soldiers of the Federal army, directed by a sergeant who in civil life may have been a deputy sheriff. At a short remove upon the same temporary platform was an officer in the uniform of his rank, armed. He was a captain.
A sentinel at each end of the bridge stood with his rifle in the position known as “support,” that is to say, vertical in front of the left shoulder, the hammer resting on the forearm thrown straight across the chest–a formal and unnatural position, enforcing an erect carriage of the body. It did not appear to be the duty of these two men to know what was occurring at the center of the bridge; they merely blockaded the two ends of the foot planking that traversed it.
Beyond one of the sentinels nobody was in sight; the railroad ran straight away into a forest for a hundred yards, then, curving, was lost to view. Doubtless there was an outpost farther along. The other bank of the stream was open ground–a gentle slope topped with a stockade of vertical tree trunks, loopholed for rifles, with a single embrasure through which protruded the muzzle of a brass cannon commanding the bridge. Midway up the slope between the bridge and fort were the spectators–a single company of infantry in line, at “parade rest,” the butts of their rifles on the ground, the barrels inclining slightly backward against the right shoulder, the hands crossed upon the stock.
A lieutenant stood at the right of the line, the point of his sword upon the ground, his left hand resting upon his right. Excepting the group of four at the center of the bridge, not a man moved. The company faced the bridge, staring stonily, motionless. The sentinels, facing the banks of the stream, might have been statues to adorn the bridge. The captain stood with folded arms, silent, observing the work of his subordinates, but making no sign. Death is a dignitary who when he comes announced is to be received with formal manifestations of respect, even by those most familiar with him. In the code of military etiquette silence and fixity are forms of deference.
The man who was engaged in being hanged was apparently about thirty-five years of age. He was a civilian, if one might judge from his habit, which was that of a planter. His features were good—a straight nose, firm mouth, broad forehead, from which his long, dark hair was combed straight back, falling behind his ears to the collar of his well fitting frock coat. He wore a moustache and pointed beard, but no whiskers; his eyes were large and dark gray, and had a kindly expression which one would hardly have expected in one whose neck was in the hemp. Evidently this was no vulgar assassin. The liberal military code makes provision for hanging many kinds of persons, and gentlemen are not excluded.
The preparations being complete, the two private soldiers stepped aside and each drew away the plank upon which he had been standing. The sergeant turned to the captain, saluted and placed himself immediately behind that officer, who in turn moved apart one pace.
These movements left the condemned man and the sergeant standing on the two ends of the same plank, which spanned three of the cross-ties of the bridge. The end upon which the civilian stood almost, but not quite, reached a fourth. This plank had been held in place by the weight of the captain; it was now held by that of the sergeant. At a signal from the former the latter would step aside, the plank would tilt and the condemned man go down between two ties. The arrangement commended itself to his judgement as simple and effective. His face had not been covered nor his eyes bandaged. He looked a moment at his “unsteadfast footing,” then let his gaze wander to the swirling water of the stream racing madly beneath his feet. A piece of dancing driftwood caught his attention and his eyes followed it down the current. How slowly it appeared to move! What a sluggish stream!
He closed his eyes in order to fix his last thoughts upon his wife and children. The water, touched to gold by the early sun, the brooding mists under the banks at some distance down the stream, the fort, the soldiers, the piece of drift–all had distracted him. And now he became conscious of a new disturbance. Striking through the thought of his dear ones was sound which he could neither ignore nor understand, a sharp, distinct, metallic percussion like the stroke of a blacksmith’s hammer upon the anvil; it had the same ringing quality.
He wondered what it was, and whether immeasurably distant or near by– it seemed both. Its recurrence was regular, but as slow as the tolling of a death knell. He awaited each new stroke with impatience and–he knew not why–apprehension. The intervals of silence grew progressively longer; the delays became maddening. With their greater infrequency the sounds increased in strength and sharpness. They hurt his ear like the trust of a knife; he feared he would shriek. What he heard was the ticking of his watch.
He unclosed his eyes and saw again the water below him. “If I could free my hands,” he thought, “I might throw off the noose and spring into the stream. By diving I could evade the bullets and, swimming vigorously, reach the bank, take to the woods and get away home. My home, thank God, is as yet outside their lines; my wife and little ones are still beyond the invader’s farthest advance.”
As these thoughts, which have here to be set down in words, were flashed into the doomed man’s brain rather than evolved from it the captain nodded to the sergeant. The sergeant stepped aside.
Peyton Farquhar was a well to do planter, of an old and highly respected Alabama family. Being a slave owner and like other slave owners a politician, he was naturally an original secessionist and ardently devoted to the Southern cause. Circumstances of an imperious nature, which it is unnecessary to relate here, had prevented him from taking service with that gallant army which had fought the disastrous campaigns ending with the fall of Corinth, and he chafed under the inglorious restraint, longing for the release of his energies, the larger life of the soldier, the opportunity for distinction. That opportunity, he felt, would come, as it comes to all in wartime.
Meanwhile he did what he could. No service was too humble for him to perform in the aid of the South, no adventure to perilous for him to undertake if consistent with the character of a civilian who was at heart a soldier, and who in good faith and without too much qualification assented to at least a part of the frankly villainous dictum that all is fair in love and war.
One evening while Farquhar and his wife were sitting on a rustic bench near the entrance to his grounds, a gray-clad soldier rode up to the gate and asked for a drink of water. Mrs. Farquhar was only too happy to serve him with her own white hands. While she was fetching the water her husband approached the dusty horseman and inquired eagerly for news from the front.
“The Yanks are repairing the railroads,” said the man, “and are getting ready for another advance. They have reached the Owl Creek bridge, put it in order and built a stockade on the north bank. The commandant has issued an order, which is posted everywhere, declaring that any civilian caught interfering with the railroad, its bridges, tunnels, or trains will be summarily hanged. I saw the order.”
“How far is it to the Owl Creek bridge?” Farquhar asked.
“About thirty miles.”
“Is there no force on this side of the creek?”
“Only a picket post half a mile out, on the railroad, and a single sentinel at this end of the bridge.”
“Suppose a man–a civilian and student of hanging–should elude the picket post and perhaps get the better of the sentinel,” said Farquhar, smiling, “what could he accomplish?”
The soldier reflected. “I was there a month ago,” he replied. “I observed that the flood of last winter had lodged a great quantity of driftwood against the wooden pier at this end of the bridge. It is now dry and would burn like tinder.”
The lady had now brought the water, which the soldier drank. He thanked her ceremoniously, bowed to her husband and rode away. An hour later, after nightfall, he repassed the plantation, going northward in the direction from which he had come. He was a Federal scout.
As Peyton Farquhar fell straight downward through the bridge he lost consciousness and was as one already dead. From this state he was awakened–ages later, it seemed to him–by the pain of a sharp pressure upon his throat, followed by a sense of suffocation. Keen, poignant agonies seemed to shoot from his neck downward through every fiber of his body and limbs. These pains appeared to flash along well defined lines of ramification and to beat with an inconceivably rapid periodicity.
They seemed like streams of pulsating fire heating him to an intolerable temperature. As to his head, he was conscious of nothing but a feeling of fullness — of congestion. These sensations were unaccompanied by thought. The intellectual part of his nature was already effaced; he had power only to feel, and feeling was torment. He was conscious of motion. Encompassed in a luminous cloud, of which he was now merely the fiery heart, without material substance, he swung through unthinkable arcs of oscillation, like a vast pendulum. Then all at once, with terrible suddenness, the light about him shot upward with the noise of a loud splash; a frightful roaring was in his ears, and all was cold and dark. The power of thought was restored; he knew that the rope had broken and he had fallen into the stream. There was no additional strangulation; the noose about his neck was already suffocating him and kept the water from his lungs. To die of hanging at the bottom of a river! — the idea seemed to him ludicrous. He opened his eyes in the darkness and saw above him a gleam of light, but how distant, how inaccessible!
He was still sinking, for the light became fainter and fainter until it was a mere glimmer. Then it began to grow and brighten, and he knew that he was rising toward the surface — knew it with reluctance, for he was now very comfortable. “To be hanged and drowned,” he thought, “that is not so bad; but I do not wish to be shot. No; I will not be shot; that is not fair.”
He was not conscious of an effort, but a sharp pain in his wrist apprised him that he was trying to free his hands. He gave the struggle his attention, as an idler might observe the feat of a juggler, without interest in the outcome. What splendid effort! — what magnificent, what superhuman strength! Ah, that was a fine endeavor!
Bravo! The cord fell away; his arms parted and floated upward, the hands dimly seen on each side in the growing light. He watched them with a new interest as first one and then the other pounced upon the noose at his neck. They tore it away and thrust it fiercely aside, its undulations resembling those of a water snake. “Put it back, put it back!” He thought he shouted these words to his hands, for the undoing of the noose had been succeeded by the direst pang that he had yet experienced. His neck ached horribly; his brain was on fire, his heart, which had been fluttering faintly, gave a great leap, trying to force itself out at his mouth. His whole body was racked and wrenched with an insupportable anguish! But his disobedient hands gave no heed to the command. They beat the water vigorously with quick, downward strokes, forcing him to the surface. He felt his head emerge; his eyes were blinded by the sunlight; his chest expanded convulsively, and with a supreme and crowning agony his lungs engulfed a great draught of air, which instantly he expelled in a shriek!
He was now in full possession of his physical senses. They were, indeed, preternaturally keen and alert. Something in the awful disturbance of his organic system had so exalted and refined them that they made record of things never before perceived. He felt the ripples upon his face and heard their separate sounds as they struck.
He looked at the forest on the bank of the stream, saw the individual trees, the leaves and the veining of each leaf–he saw the very insects upon them: the locusts, the brilliant bodied flies, the gray spiders stretching their webs from twig to twig. He noted the prismatic colors in all the dewdrops upon a million blades of grass.
The humming of the gnats that danced above the eddies of the stream, the beating of the dragon flies’ wings, the strokes of the water spiders’ legs, like oars which had lifted their boat — all these made audible music. A fish slid along beneath his eyes and he heard the rush of its body parting the water.
He had come to the surface facing down the stream; in a moment the visible world seemed to wheel slowly round, himself the pivotal point, and he saw the bridge, the fort, the soldiers upon the bridge, the captain, the sergeant, the two privates, his executioners. They were in silhouette against the blue sky. They shouted and gesticulated, pointing at him. The captain had drawn his pistol, but did not fire; the others were unarmed. Their movements were grotesque and horrible, their forms gigantic.
Suddenly he heard a sharp report and something struck the water smartly within a few inches of his head, spattering his face with spray. He heard a second report, and saw one of the sentinels with his rifle at his shoulder, a light cloud of blue smoke rising from the muzzle. The man in the water saw the eye of the man on the bridge gazing into his own through the sights of the rifle. He observed that it was a gray eye and remembered having read that gray eyes were keenest, and that all famous marksmen had them. Nevertheless, this one had missed.
A counter-swirl had caught Farquhar and turned him half round; he was again looking at the forest on the bank opposite the fort. The sound of a clear, high voice in a monotonous singsong now rang out behind him and came across the water with a distinctness that pierced and subdued all other sounds, even the beating of the ripples in his ears.
Although no soldier, he had frequented camps enough to know the dread significance of that deliberate, drawling, aspirated chant; the lieutenant on shore was taking a part in the morning’s work. How coldly and pitilessly — with what an even, calm intonation, presaging, and enforcing tranquility in the men — with what accurately measured interval fell those cruel words:
Farquhar dived — dived as deeply as he could. The water roared in his ears like the voice of Niagara, yet he heard the dull thunder of the volley and, rising again toward the surface, met shining bits of metal, singularly flattened, oscillating slowly downward. Some of them touched him on the face and hands, then fell away, continuing their descent. One lodged between his collar and neck; it was uncomfortably warm and he snatched it out.
As he rose to the surface, gasping for breath, he saw that he had been a long time under water; he was perceptibly farther downstream — nearer to safety. The soldiers had almost finished reloading; the metal ramrods flashed all at once in the sunshine as they were drawn from the barrels, turned in the air, and thrust into their sockets. The two sentinels fired again, independently and ineffectually.
The hunted man saw all this over his shoulder; he was now swimming vigorously with the current. His brain was as energetic as his arms and legs; he thought with the rapidity of lightning:
“The officer,” he reasoned, “will not make that martinet’s error a second time. It is as easy to dodge a volley as a single shot. He has probably already given the command to fire at will. God help me, I cannot dodge them all!”
An appalling splash within two yards of him was followed by a loud, rushing sound, DIMINUENDO, which seemed to travel back through the air to the fort and died in an explosion which stirred the very river to its deeps! A rising sheet of water curved over him, fell down upon him, blinded him, strangled him! The cannon had taken an hand in the game. As he shook his head free from the commotion of the smitten water he heard the deflected shot humming through the air ahead, and in an instant it was cracking and smashing the branches in the forest beyond.
“They will not do that again,” he thought; “the next time they will use a charge of grape. I must keep my eye upon the gun; the smoke will apprise me–the report arrives too late; it lags behind the missile. That is a good gun.”
Suddenly he felt himself whirled round and round — spinning like a top. The water, the banks, the forests, the now distant bridge, fort and men, all were commingled and blurred. Objects were represented by their colors only; circular horizontal streaks of color — that was all he saw. He had been caught in a vortex and was being whirled on with a velocity of advance and gyration that made him giddy and sick. In few moments he was flung upon the gravel at the foot of the left bank of the stream — the southern bank — and behind a projecting point which concealed him from his enemies. The sudden arrest of his motion, the abrasion of one of his hands on the gravel, restored him, and he wept with delight. He dug his fingers into the sand, threw it over himself in handfuls and audibly blessed it. It looked like diamonds, rubies, emeralds; he could think of nothing beautiful which it did not resemble. The trees upon the bank were giant garden plants; he noted a definite order in their arrangement, inhaled the fragrance of their blooms. A strange roseate light shone through the spaces among their trunks and the wind made in their branches the music of Aeolian harps. He had not wish to perfect his escape — he was content to remain in that enchanting spot until retaken.
A whiz and a rattle of grapeshot among the branches high above his head roused him from his dream. The baffled cannoneer had fired him a random farewell. He sprang to his feet, rushed up the sloping bank, and plunged into the forest.
All that day he traveled, laying his course by the rounding sun. The forest seemed interminable; nowhere did he discover a break in it, not even a woodman’s road. He had not known that he lived in so wild a region. There was something uncanny in the revelation.
By nightfall he was fatigued, footsore, famished. The thought of his wife and children urged him on. At last he found a road which led him in what he knew to be the right direction. It was as wide and straight as a city street, yet it seemed untraveled. No fields bordered it, no dwelling anywhere. Not so much as the barking of a dog suggested human habitation. The black bodies of the trees formed a straight wall on both sides, terminating on the horizon in a point, like a diagram in a lesson in perspective. Overhead, as he looked up through this rift in the wood, shone great golden stars looking unfamiliar and grouped in strange constellations. He was sure they were arranged in some order which had a secret and malign significance. The wood on either side was full of singular noises, among which — once, twice, and again–he distinctly heard whispers in an unknown tongue.
His neck was in pain and lifting his hand to it found it horribly swollen. He knew that it had a circle of black where the rope had bruised it. His eyes felt congested; he could no longer close them.
His tongue was swollen with thirst; he relieved its fever by thrusting it forward from between his teeth into the cold air. How softly the turf had carpeted the untraveled avenue — he could no longer feel the roadway beneath his feet!
Doubtless, despite his suffering, he had fallen asleep while walking, for now he sees another scene — perhaps he has merely recovered from a delirium. He stands at the gate of his own home. All is as he left it, and all bright and beautiful in the morning sunshine. He must have traveled the entire night. As he pushes open the gate and passes up the wide white walk, he sees a flutter of female garments; his wife, looking fresh and cool and sweet, steps down from the veranda to meet him. At the bottom of the steps she stands waiting, with a smile of ineffable joy, an attitude of matchless grace and dignity. Ah, how beautiful she is! He springs forwards with extended arms. As he is about to clasp her he feels a stunning blow upon the back of the neck; a blinding white light blazes all about him with a sound like the shock of a cannon — then all is darkness and silence!
Peyton Farquhar was dead; his body, with a broken neck, swung gently from side to side beneath the timbers of the Owl Creek bridge.
If you prefer to listen while you do something else, here is an audio version of the story:
An Occurrence At Owl Creek Bridge by Ambrose Bierce, narrated by Robert Englund, part one of four
An Occurrence At Owl Creek Bridge by Ambrose Bierce, narrated by Robert Englund, part two of four
An Occurrence At Owl Creek Bridge by Ambrose Bierce, narrated by Robert Englund, part three of four
An Occurrence At Owl Creek Bridge by Ambrose Bierce, narrated by Robert Englund, part four of four
A lot of idiots kill themselves accidently. I’ve highlighted a few examples on this blog of people whose stupidity led to their demise.
But some do it on purpose.
If they are really dumb, however, they don’t quite manage to do it the way they had planned.
Here are some examples.
1. Objective Attained – Method Unexpected
Frenchman Jacques LeFevrier left nothing to chance when he decided to commit suicide.
He stood at the top of a tall cliff and tied a noose around his neck.
He tied the other end of the rope to a large rock.
He then drank some poison.
Then he set fire to his clothes.
He even tried to shoot himself at the last moment.
The plan seemed foolproof. Alas it was not.
As he jumped he fired the pistol.
However, the bullet missed him completely and instead cut through the rope above him.
Free of the threat of hanging, he plunged into the sea.
The sudden dunking extinguished the flames and the salty water he ingested made him vomit the poison.
He was dragged out of the water by a kind fisherman and was taken to a hospital, where he subsequently died of hypothermia.
There must have been an easier way.
2. Strike another one Elvita!
One Sunday while on a visit to the Empire State Building in New York City, Elvita Adams clambered over an 8 foot high iron fence surrounding the observation deck at about 8.25pm.
She jumped off the building and plummeted earthwards.
But only for a few feet.
A strong gust of wind, possibly as high as 30mph, pushed her back towards the building and she landed on a balcony on the 85th floor, with nothing more than a broken leg.
Asked why she had wanted to commit suicide she said it was because she had been a failure at everything she tried.
Strike another one Elvita!
3. She Fell For Him Big Time
Back in France again, suicides at the Eiffel Tower are apparently quite common. In fact France has one of the highest suicide rates at 17.5 suicides per 1000 people!
Killing yourself with the 1,063 foot “Iron Lady” is the third most popular French suicide method behind poisoning and hanging (both of which the guy in the first incident tried unsuccessfully).
A few times, people have attempted to kill themselves but failed to do so. One man was blown onto a rafter by the wind and he was spared. But the most curious case was one in which a woman who jumped, landed on the roof of a car and later married the man who owned it!
Boy did she fall for him!!!
In Buenos Aires, Argentina, a woman threw herself off the 23rd floor balcony of the Hotel Crown Plaza Panamericano in an apparent suicide bid. However her attempt failed when a taxi caught in traffic below cushioned her fall.
Although the impact of her landing on the car shattered its windscreen and made a huge dent in its roof, the impact was not hard enough to end her life.
Instead, the 30-year-old woman was left with broken hips, ribs and significant internal bleeding.
The driver of the taxi, Miguel Cajal, told a local TV station that he noticed policemen stopping traffic and were looking upward. This made him instinctively jump out of his car.
“I got out of the car a second before. If I had not got out, I would have been killed,” the BBC quoted him as saying. The impact, he added, “made a terrible noise.”
Throughout history opposing factions, whether in politics, racial campaigns, sports competitions or even wars, have used cartoons as a medium to promote their side and to denigrate the opposition.
Nowhere was this better seen than during WWII when both sides used thousands of derogatory cartoons to depict the ‘enemy’.
But one of the most humorous incidents occurred much earlier, during the Napoleonic war between France and England.
It allegedly took place in the little town of Hartlepool on the north-east coast of England.
As part of the propaganda campaign in England during this war the enemy, the French, had been portrayed as short and hairy, sort of monkey-like. The cartoon below will give you the idea.
Also, during the Napoleonic Wars there was great fear that the French had plans to invade Britain and therefore much public concern about the possibility of French infiltrators and spies.
As a consequence the fishermen of Hartlepool kept a close watch on French vessels sailing near the English coast.
One day, as they watched, a French vessel was seen struggling against a storm. It took a severe battering in the rough seas and eventually sunk.
The Hartlepool fishermen then turned their attention to the wreckage washed ashore.
Among the wreckage lay one wet and sorrowful looking survivor. It was the ship’s pet monkey and, to amuse the sailors, it had been dressed in a military style uniform.
Stupid individuals are one thing, annoying but they can be handled. Group stupidity on the other hand is extremely dangerous. The stupidity level seems to increase by at least ten times the number of morons gathered together. I’m sure there’s a mathematical formula for this, there should be.
So, severely intellectually challenged, and thinking they had captured the enemy, the Hartlepool fishermen apparently questioned the monkey and held a beach-based trial.
Unfamiliar with what a Frenchman looked like, and unable to understand what he (the monkey) was saying (presumably “ooh ooh aah”, as opposed to “oh la la”), they came to the conclusion that this poor primate was a French spy.
They quickly sentenced the French spy (monkey) to death and the unfortunate creature was hanged, with the mast of a fishing boat (a coble) providing a convenient gallows.