Friday, August 24, 2012

This Day in History: Aug 24, 79: Vesuvius erupts

After centuries of dormancy, Mount Vesuvius erupts in southern Italy, devastating the prosperous Roman cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum and killing thousands. The cities, buried under a thick layer of volcanic material and mud, were never rebuilt and largely forgotten in the course of history. In the 18th century, Pompeii and Herculaneum were rediscovered and excavated, providing an unprecedented archaeological record of the everyday life of an ancient civilization, startlingly preserved in sudden death.

The ancient cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum thrived near the base of Mount Vesuvius at the Bay of Naples. In the time of the early Roman Empire, 20,000 people lived in Pompeii, including merchants, manufacturers, and farmers who exploited the rich soil of the region with numerous vineyards and orchards. None suspected that the black fertile earth was the legacy of earlier eruptions of Mount Vesuvius. Herculaneum was a city of 5,000 and a favorite summer destination for rich Romans. Named for the mythic hero Hercules, Herculaneum housed opulent villas and grand Roman baths. Gambling artifacts found in Herculaneum and a brothel unearthed in Pompeii attest to the decadent nature of the cities. There were smaller resort communities in the area as well, such as the quiet little town of Stabiae.

Source: via Juan on Pinterest

At noon on August 24, 79 A.D., this pleasure and prosperity came to an end when the peak of Mount Vesuvius exploded, propelling a 10-mile mushroom cloud of ash and pumice into the stratosphere. For the next 12 hours, volcanic ash and a hail of pumice stones up to 3 inches in diameter showered Pompeii, forcing the city's occupants to flee in terror. Some 2,000 people stayed in Pompeii, holed up in cellars or stone structures, hoping to wait out the eruption.

A westerly wind protected Herculaneum from the initial stage of the eruption, but then a giant cloud of hot ash and gas surged down the western flank of Vesuvius, engulfing the city and burning or asphyxiating all who remained. This lethal cloud was followed by a flood of volcanic mud and rock, burying the city.

The people who remained in Pompeii were killed on the morning of August 25 when a cloud of toxic gas poured into the city, suffocating all that remained. A flow of rock and ash followed, collapsing roofs and walls and burying the dead.

Much of what we know about the eruption comes from an account by Pliny the Younger, who was staying west along the Bay of Naples when Vesuvius exploded. In two letters to the historian Tacitus, he told of how "people covered their heads with pillows, the only defense against a shower of stones," and of how "a dark and horrible cloud charged with combustible matter suddenly broke and set forth. Some bewailed their own fate. Others prayed to die." Pliny, only 17 at the time, escaped the catastrophe and later became a noted Roman writer and administrator. His uncle, Pliny the Elder, was less lucky. Pliny the Elder, a celebrated naturalist, at the time of the eruption was the commander of the Roman fleet in the Bay of Naples. After Vesuvius exploded, he took his boats across the bay to Stabiae, to investigate the eruption and reassure terrified citizens. After going ashore, he was overcome by toxic gas and died.

According to Pliny the Younger's account, the eruption lasted 18 hours. Pompeii was buried under 14 to 17 feet of ash and pumice, and the nearby seacoast was drastically changed. Herculaneum was buried under more than 60 feet of mud and volcanic material. Some residents of Pompeii later returned to dig out their destroyed homes and salvage their valuables, but many treasures were left and then forgotten.

In the 18th century, a well digger unearthed a marble statue on the site of Herculaneum. The local government excavated some other valuable art objects, but the project was abandoned. In 1748, a farmer found traces of Pompeii beneath his vineyard. Since then, excavations have gone on nearly without interruption until the present. In 1927, the Italian government resumed the excavation of Herculaneum, retrieving numerous art treasures, including bronze and marble statues and paintings.
The remains of 2,000 men, women, and children were found at Pompeii. After perishing from asphyxiation, their bodies were covered with ash that hardened and preserved the outline of their bodies. Later, their bodies decomposed to skeletal remains, leaving a kind of plaster mold behind. Archaeologists who found these molds filled the hollows with plaster, revealing in grim detail the death pose of the victims of Vesuvius. The rest of the city is likewise frozen in time, and ordinary objects that tell the story of everyday life in Pompeii are as valuable to archaeologists as the great unearthed statues and frescoes. It was not until 1982 that the first human remains were found at Herculaneum, and these hundreds of skeletons bear ghastly burn marks that testifies to horrifying deaths.

Today, Mount Vesuvius is the only active volcano on the European mainland. Its last eruption was in 1944 and its last major eruption was in 1631. Another eruption is expected in the near future, would could be devastating for the 700,000 people who live in the "death zones" around Vesuvius.

Taken from: [24.08.2012]

Thursday, August 23, 2012

This day in History: Aug 23, 2006: Austrian teen escapes after eight years in captivity

Natascha Kampusch, an Austrian teenager who was kidnapped at age 10, escapes from her captor, Wolfgang Priklopil, after more than eight years. Shortly after her escape, Priklopil committed suicide.

On March 2, 1998, Kampusch was abducted from a street in Vienna while walking to school. One of Austria’s largest missing-person searches followed, during which time authorities checked hundreds of white minivans after a witness reported seeing Kampusch being dragged into a white minivan.



Police interviewed Priklopil, the owner of a minivan, but didn’t believe he was a suspect. Kampusch was kept in a secret, windowless basement room at Priklopil’s house outside of Vienna, where she was physically and sexually abused by her captor. As time went by, she was allowed into the rest of the house and would cook and clean for Priklopil. He gave her books and a radio and she managed to educate herself.

Early in the afternoon of August 23, 2006, Kampusch, then 18, was vacuuming Priklopil’s car when he walked away from the noise to answer a call on his cell phone. Kampusch used the opportunity to escape and ran to the house of a neighbor, who called police. Several hours later, Priklopil, a communications technician in his 40s, killed himself by jumping in front of a train. Overnight, Kampusch became an international celebrity. She was articulate and seemingly poised, but hadn’t grown much or gained a lot of weight since her abduction. Kampusch initially made statements indicating she felt sorry for her captor, leading to speculation she was suffering from Stockholm Syndrome. Her mother later claimed that Kampusch carried around a photo of Priklopil’s coffin.

Taken from: [23.08.2012]

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

This Day in History: Aug 22, 1933: The Barker clan kills an officer in their fruitless robbery


The notorious Barker gang robs a Federal Reserve mail truck in Chicago, Illinois, and kills Officer Miles Cunningham. Netting only a bunch of worthless checks, the Barkers soon returned to a crime with which they had more success—kidnapping. A few months later, the Barkers kidnapped wealthy banker Edward Bremer, demanding $200,000 in ransom.

After Kate Clark married George Barker in 1892, she gave birth to four boys: Herman, Lloyd, Arthur, and Freddie. Ma Barker, as Kate was known, was ostensibly responsible for discipline in the family, but she let her boys run wild. She defended her children no matter what they did, saying, "If the good people of this town don't like my boys, then the good people know what they can do."

 Fred Barker

 File:Barker Cottage on Lake Weir in Florida.jpg

All the Barker boys became involved in crime during their childhood: In 1922, Lloyd robbed a post office and received a 25-year sentence in federal prison; that same year, Arthur "Doc" Barker got a life sentence in Oklahoma for killing a night watchman, though later it would turn out that he was innocent; Freddie was next to see the insides of a holding cell after robbing a bank. While he was serving time in Kansas, Herman committed suicide in the midst of a heated gunfight with police after robbing a bank in Missouri.


Herman's death inspired Ma Barker to pressure authorities to release her other sons, and Doc and Freddie were set free. With Ma masterminding their criminal enterprise, the Barkers were at the center of the Midwest's burgeoning criminal community. When they tired of bank robberies, the Barkers tried their hand at kidnapping.

Ma Barker, with friend (CORBIS)

Their first victim, William Hamm, earned the gang $100,000 in ransom. Although the Bremer abduction in 1933 produced twice as much, it brought them a lot of heat from federal authorities. With the FBI on their trail, Doc and Freddie attempted plastic surgery. But this half-baked idea left them only with disfiguring scars, and Doc was captured in early 1935.

Doc, who was later killed while attempting to escape from Alcatraz in 1939, refused to talk to authorities, but police found papers in his hideout that led them to Ma and Freddie in Lake Weir, Florida. After a ferocious shootout lasting 45 minutes, the Barkers lay dead from the fusillade, machine guns still at their

Twelve years later, Lloyd Barker was finally paroled. He too met a violent demise, but not at the hands of the police—his wife shot him dead in 1949. Father George Barker, who was never part of the Barker gang, was the family's sole survivor.


Taken from: [22.08.2012]

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

This Day in History: This Day in History: Aug 21, 1911: Theft of Mona Lisa is discovered

An amateur painter sets up his easel near Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa at the Louvre in Paris, only to discover that the masterpiece is missing. The day before, in perhaps the most brazen art theft of all time, Vincenzo Perugia had walked into the Louvre, removed the famed painting from the wall, hid it beneath his clothes, and escaped. While the entire nation of France was stunned, theories abounded as to what could have happened to the invaluable artwork. Most believed that professional thieves could not have been involved because they would have realized that it would be too dangerous to try to sell the world's most famous painting. A popular rumor in Paris was that the Germans had stolen it to humiliate the French.

Investigators and detectives searched for the painting for more than two years without finding any decent leads. Then, in November 1913, Italian art dealer Alfredo Geri received a letter from a man calling himself Leonardo. It indicated that the Mona Lisa was in Florence and would be returned for a hefty ransom. When Perugia attempted to receive the ransom, he was captured. The painting was unharmed.

Perugia, a former employee of the Louvre, claimed that he had acted out of a patriotic duty to avenge Italy on behalf of Napoleon. But prior robbery convictions and a diary with a list of art collectors led most to think that he had acted solely out of greed. Perugia served seven months of a one-year sentence and later served in the Italian army during the First World War. The Mona Lisa is back in the Louvre, where improved security measures are now in place to protect it.

Officials gather as the Mona Lisa is returned to the Louvre

British newspaper cutting

Vincenzo Peruggia’s Paris apartment

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Taken from: [21.08.2012]