Fishy Business

First opened in 1805, the Maine Avenue Fish Market in Washington, DC, is the oldest fish market in the United States.


"Woe to all of us if ever as a people we grow to condone evil because it is successful."

Theodore Roosevelt, American president

The earliest roller coasters were descended from Serra da Estrela, Portugal sled rides held on specially constructed hills of ice. They were pretty big,  sometimes up to 200 feet (62 m) tall! The Serra da Estrelas were constructed by a large group of Russian refugees to remind them of where they came from. There is evidence for them as early as the 1600s, in the 1700s they gradually became popular across Europe, and by the early 1800s wheeled carts began being used instead of sleighs on tracks. The first such wheeled ride was brought to Paris in 1804 under the name Les Montagnes Russes (French for "Russian Mountains").

French, along with Spanish, Portuguese, and Italian, still call roller coasters "russian mountains" after their snowy ancestor. Russian, ironically, calls them "American mountains."

Charity Hospital is the second oldest hospital in the United States. It was founded when Louisiana was still French, in May of 1736, using money from the will of Jean Louis, a French sailor and shipbuilder who died in New Orleans the year before. His last will and testament was to finance a hospital for the poor in the colony of New Orleans. Only Bellevue Hospital in New York City is older (just barely) since it was founded a month earlier in March of 1736. Charity Hospital was abandoned after Hurricane Katrina flooding and evacuation in 2005. Technically, the new University Medical Center New Orleans has taken over its functions. But the Charity Hospital's imposing, decaying remains still stand in New Orleans, a reminder of what was lost and the work still needing to be done.

The Housemaid Who Discovered Stars

In the 1870s, the Harvard College Observatory director was frustrated with his staff, and would often say "My Scottish maid could do better!" When he hired her officially in 1879, Williamina Fleming proved he had been right all along. She spent two years doing astronomical clerical work, then in 1881, Pickering invited Fleming to formally join the Harvard Collage Observatory and taught her how to analyze stellar spectra. She became one of the founding members of the Harvard Computers, an all-women group of human computers hired by Pickering to compute mathematical classifications and edit the observatory's publications. Williamina ran an astronomy team for decades, publishing a classification system of tens of thousands of stars, discovering a total of 59 gaseous nebulae, over 310 variable stars, and 10 novae. One of her most famous discoveries (among astronomers, anyways) was the Horsehead Nebula in 1888.

Possible African-American Cemetery Found In DC Excavation

Workers renovating the basement of a Georgetown townhouse discovered human remains thought to date to the early nineteenth century. City archaeologist Ruth Trocolli said the site may have been part of an unrecorded cemetery on the block, since other human remains have been recovered during construction projects in the past.

Jerry McCoy of the D.C. Public Library said one of the graves might belong to Yarrow Mamout, who is also known as “Old Yarrow” from portraits painted by James Alexander Simpson and Charles Willson Peale. Mamout, a Muslim, was kidnapped in West Africa, enslaved in Georgetown, and won his freedom at the age of 60, when he became a successful investor. Mamout lived around the corner from the recently discovered burial site, but is known to have been interred in the garden where he prayed, which was located a few yards away from his home. “We don’t know where any of the black people in early Georgetown were buried,” added historian James H. Johnston. “There are all these other questions that this could help answer about the history of black Georgetown."

The First Map Published By National Geographic Magazine

This is a hand-drawn topographic map of North America. It was published in 1889.

La Pola, as Policarpa (or maybe Apolonia) Salavarrieta is a national hero in Colombia, and graces their 10,000 pesos note. The fifth of nine children, Salavarrieta was orphaned by smallpox at age 6 and grew up in the Spanish colony of New Granada (what is today Colombia and Panama). She grew up just as her nation was being born. La Pola became involved with the patriot movement thanks to her family's involvement in her hometown of Guadas; there is evidence of her activities starting when she was about 15, in 1810. La Pola only escalated her anti-royalist activities once she moved to present-day Bogotá with her brother.

In the capital city, La Pola and her brother worked as "servants" at Andrea Ricaurte's home, the center of intelligence gathering and resistance in the capital. Because her revolutionary sympathies were unknown in Bogotá she could move freely through the city and its social groups. Offering her services as a seamstress to the wives and daughters of royalists and officers, she overheard conversations, collected maps and intelligence on their plans and activities, identified who the major royalists were, and found out who were suspected of being revolutionaries. She also worked to recruit badly-needed soldiers for the revolutionary cause and smuggled them out of the city.

Eventually she came under suspicion. But there was not sufficient evidence to arrest her. In 1817, though, her luck ran out. La Pola’s lover, Alejo Sabaraín, and others were caught making their way to the plains to join the rebels. And worse, they were found with signed evidence of La Pola’s counterintelligence efforts on them. She was arrested and sentenced to death by firing squad. La Pola is famous for staying up the whole night before her execution, cursing the Spaniards and predicting their defeat in the revolution. On the scaffold, she is reported to have shouted "I have more than enough courage to suffer this death and a thousand more! Do not forget my example!" She died just 22 years old.

The Man Who Inspired The Phase "Smart Aleck"

Alec Hoag was a prominent criminal in New York in the 1800s. Hoag’s wife, Melinda, disguised herself as a prostitute, and when she was busy distracting potential ... patrons ... her husband pickpocketed them. The problem with this scheme is that Melinda was easily identifiable as the lady the patrons had been busy with while being robbed. So clever Alec gave the police a portion of the profits from the stolen goods.

He decided that since this was going so well, he should up the stakes. He had Melinda bring the marks to a prepared apartment. They would be directed to leave their clothes in a particular corner, which was next to a concealed panel, so Alec could reach in undetected and go through their pockets. After robbing patrons, he would burst into the room (using the door) and accuse the man of sleeping with his wife. The adulterer would pick up their clothes and escape without noticing that some of their possessions were gone. Alec called this "the Panel Game."

But Alec eventually overreached. He thought he was making a fine living, and the police were cutting into that, so why keep paying off the police? The problem being, of course, that the police knew their names, faces, and their illegal scheme, plus the police were now pissed off at them. Alec and Melinda were promptly arrested. The officers mockingly referred to him as “smart Alec" and the phrase quickly entered common usage.

The Proper Fork For Consuming Human Flesh

Fiji society traditionally practiced cannibalism. And forks with a distinctive four-pronged look, or "iculanibokoloa," were reserved for chief's usage during cannibal feasts. This particular example was recorded as being given to an ethnographer by Kandavu Levu, the grandson of the last ‘King’ of Fiji. The grandson was probably Ratu Penaia Kadavulevu, whose grandfather, Ratu Seru Epenisa Cakobau, was succeeded as Tui Viti (roughly translated as 'King' of Fiji) by Queen Victoria in 1874 when Fiji became a Crown Colony.

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    HISTORICAL NON-FICTION

    By Lillian Audette

    This blog is a collection of the interesting, the weird, and sometimes the need-to-know about history, culled from around the internet. It has pictures, it has quotes, it occasionally has my own opinions on things. If you want to know more about anything posted, follow the link at the "source" on the bottom of each post. And if you really like my work, buy me a coffee or become a patron!

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