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Przekrój
Our eternally pessimistic correspondent gives his historical highlights for the month of December.
2020-12-01 09:00:00

December in History
Diary of an Eternal Pessimist

December in History
December in History

December in history according to an eternal pessimist.

Read in 7 minutes

1st December 1953

Hugh Hefner published the first issue of Playboy, with Marilyn Monroe on the cover. Today, it looks more like a sombre reminder that all things must pass…

2nd December 1933

Bertil Clason, who lived in the US, got married to Sigrid Carlson from Stockholm – via telephone. Was the couple too lazy to do it in person? Nothing of the sort, just good ol’ bureaucracy! The bride was not granted permission to enter America.

3rd December 1872

In London, Dr George Smith presented a tale of the flood that was part of the Gilgamesh epic, which he had deciphered from ancient clay slabs. The story was strikingly similar to the one we know from the Bible, except this one came from Sumerian mythology. Does it mean that the flood really happened, or that Noah was just a copycat?

4th December 1805

Mosquito, a ship heavy with loot and commandeered by Kazimierz Lux, arrived at Santo Domingo. Lux was a Polish pirate from the Caribbean, and before that, a soldier of the Polish Legions sent to Haiti. However, he did not enjoy the whole pirate gig very much, so he soon quit and went back to Poland. The only way of explaining it could be his patriotism – after all, there was no shortage of sun, rum and money to trouble the man.

5th December 1945

A squadron of five American planes disappeared near Florida in mysterious circumstances. And since no explanation has ever been found, the only way to go was to come up with a Bermuda Triangle and blame some supernatural powers.

6th December 1878

Ioseb Besarionidzе Jughashvili was born in the Georgian town of Gori. Once he became better known as Joseph Stalin, he changed his birthday to 21st December 1879. Was he trying to look younger, or just show that not even time had power over him?

7th December 1972

The last – to date – American mission to the Moon was launched from Cape Canaveral. And the crew ended up the last people to walk on the Silver Globe. Other countries keep making empty promises. Come on, all that cheese ain’t gonna eat itself!

8th December 1980

Annie Leibovitz took John Lennon’s photo with Yoko Ono for Rolling Stone. Several hours later, she found out it was the last session with the legendary musician, as Lennon was murdered by an obsessed fan. And the picture she took became iconic.

9th December 1952 

The smog that killed over 4000 Londoners in just a few days finally left the city. Still, it would take a while for the government to admit that the tragedy was caused by coal-burning stoves, rather than some mysterious germs. And yet, so many world leaders still love black gold today.

10th December 1520

Martin Luther invited the people of Wittenberg to burn books about canon law and the papal bull threatening him with excommunication. Did he not know that fire is never a good way to solve any conflict?

11th December 1922

The choosing and swearing in of Gabriel Narutowicz as the President of Poland resulted in an eruption of brutal clashes between left-wing sympathizers and right-wing critics of this decision. Several days later, the president was assassinated. Just another day in Polish hell.

12th December 1408

King Sigismund of Luxembourg founded the Order of the Dragon, assembling leaders willing to fight the Turks. Several decades later, the Order would acquire a new superstar: the bloodthirsty voivode of Wallachia, Vlad the Impaler – also known as the inspiration for Count Dracula.

13th December 1937

The Japanese press reported on an unusual rivalry between two Japanese soldiers on an occupation mission in Shanghai. The men were competing over who would behead more Chinese people. And they already had 10 heads each! A decade later, the old bet would draw some attention from the International Military Tribunal, and both competitors would receive a fitting ‘reward’. Strange that nobody felt the need to intervene during the beheading spree, though.

14th December 164 BCE

It was a great day for the Jews in Jerusalem. Having rebelled against the Seleucids, they cleared the Temple of Jerusalem of foreign gods. The Seleucids were not expecting the defeat; after all, they had more gods and way more soldiers, too.

15th December 1973

The American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from its list of mental disorders. Regardless, some people keep protesting it to this day, insisting that even sexual orientation can be ‘cured’.

16th December 1913

British comedian Charlie Chaplin started working at the Keystone film studio in Los Angeles, tempted by the promise of an exorbitant weekly salary, amounting to $150 dollars (the equivalent of $3500 in today’s money). Little did he know that millions were awaiting him in America!

17th December 1989

The first episode of The Simpsons was aired on television. Despite the passage of time, the series is still as popular as ever. Looks like the Simpson family discovered the secret of immortality.

18th December 218 BCE

Very self-confident Roman legions were getting ready to fight the much sparser Carthaginian army. Except they didn’t think it would be Hannibal himself leading the enemy’s troops! Just a few ideas from the genius leader were enough to have the Romans run for their lives.

19th December 1989

The last few hours before the US attack on Panama. Nobody expected the worst American weapon to be… a song by Guns N’ Roses. It was Welcome to the Jungle, played at full volume from the speakers, that chased the Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega out of the Vatican embassy, where he was trying to hide – with no luck, apparently.

20th December 1924

Karl Denke, a well-respected citizen of Ziębice, invited a homeless beggar to spend a night at his house. It was a miracle that the man survived the visit after the host suddenly attacked him with a hoe. When police arrived at the scene, it turned out that Mr Denke was a cannibal who had been making human sausages for years. The neighbours found it hard to believe, but they probably decided to stick to a vegetarian diet for a while.

21st December 2012 

On this day, many esotericists were bracing themselves for the end of the world, as foretold by the Mayan calendar. There was no apocalypse, but while they were waiting, the Gangnam Style music video by a certain South Korean rapper was the first in history to hit one billion views on YouTube.

22nd December 1849

Conspirer Fyodor Dostoyevsky stood before a firing squad. He was ready to say his last prayers when suddenly, at the very last moment, his sentence was changed from death to several years of exile and hard labour. And here we thought such things only happened in novels.

23rd December 1588

Duke Henry VII with a Scar, partly responsible for the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre of Protestants, was warned early in the morning that someone was planning to murder him. Oh well, the duke was more than used to such threats! He nonchalantly ignored the warning, but it soon turned out to be his last time hearing one. A group of assassins stabbed Henry to death while he was waiting for his audience with the king of France.

24th December 1818 

Silent Night, a carol written by Joseph Mohr and Franz Xaver Gruber, was performed for the first time at the St. Nicholas church in Obern­dorf. What a pity that this year we’ll have to hear yet another bunch of celebrities massacre the tune without mercy.

25th December 1223

In the Italian town of Greccio, St. Francis presented the first Nativity play with livestock and people portraying Biblical characters. Poor Francis, little did he know how much money this could have made…

26th December 1650

Rascal and rebel William Lamport escaped a Mexican prison. It would be easy to overlook in the history books, if not for the fact that Lamport would later become an inspiration for Zorro!

27th December 1587

The coronation ceremony of King Sigismund III Vasa took place at the Wawel Royal Castle in Kraków. Nobody could have known that one day, they would stick the poor king on a column and put it in Warsaw’s Old Town.

28th December 1925

Sergei Yesenin, a 30-year old rebel, always ready to start a brawl or dabble in politics, hanged himself in his hotel in Leningrad. That’s the official version at least. Some people found it suspicious that his corpse was badly hurt and bruised. But stranger things undoubtedly happened in the Soviet Union…

29th December 1911

Marie Skłodowska Curie was admitted to hospital for uterus surgery. But the press, ‘kind’ as ever, would insinuate that she’d had an affair, leading to an unwanted pregnancy…

30th December 1501

Pope Alexander VI Borgia marries off his daughter Lucrezia for the third time. It was a miracle that he managed to make arrangements with the groom’s family regarding the dowry and excessive allowance for the bride. It may very well have been the only miracle in the Holy Father’s life.

31st December 1655

Prince Janusz Radziwiłł died in a castle in Tykocin. In the Polish novel The Deluge, Henryk Sienkiewicz portrayed the man as a traitor and a scoundrel. The historical truth is somewhat different from literary fiction, but well, it wouldn’t be polite to contradict a great author…

 

Translated by Aga Zano

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