On January 12th, 1976: Agatha Christie dies

Agatha Christie plaque -Torre Abbey

Agatha Christie plaque -Torre Abbey. Courtesy WikimediaCommons

There is an odd fascination people have with crime. But it’s a fact that people love films and books dealing with criminal deeds, and the writers of whodunnits belong to the most famous and successful authors in the literary universe. Yet even between those very successful writers there are a few outstanding names, and one of the finest authors of crime stories is for sure Agatha Christie, who died 38 years ago today. Her main characters are so famous that one of them, Hercule Poirot, even got an obituary in the NYT (as well as a Google Doodle to mark Christie’s 120th birthday).

Christie’s own life was no less adventurous as her characters‘.  She was born on September 15th, 1890 in Torquay, Devon. Visit places of her life on the Agatha Christie Mile. Here are some photos, too.
She travelled through Egypt in the early 20th century, attended to wounded soldiers during the 1st World War, joined her husband for archaeological digs in the Near East and even vanished for 10 days without any trace – and until today without a satisfying explanation.
Here’s an interesting extended lecture about her Near-East-Years:

You can even see some of her discoveries in the British Museum (H/T Matthias Rascher)

Until her death in 1976 she wrote more than 80 detective novels, almost 20 plays, many short stories and, under the pseudonym of Mary Westmacott, a couple of romances. Here you find a list of all her published works, in chronological order of their publishing date. 
To get to know more about her life and work, read her biography on Wikipedia

Christie had a large influence on the modern murder mysteries, as The New Yorker states in an article, and her secret notebooks reveal the rather unusual way how she constructed her stories (H/T Matthias Rascher). Listen to a rare interview about how to write a best-selling novel here.

Her two main Character are without doubt the two very special detectives Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple. But she obviously was not too fond of the two personalities she had created, as tapes reveal on which she takes on them. Read about it in a NYT article here.

Hercule Poirot, the famous Belgian detective, starred in 39 novels and four volumes of short stories, as well as on TV, where he was awesomely represented by many great actors, for example by the famous Sir Peter Ustinov and, my all-time-favorite Poirot, by David Suchet in a series. Read a wonderful interview about his relationship to his role here and watch the trailer for the final episodes:

There’s also a cool interactive feature about Suchet’s Poirot outfit, and an article about Poirot’s perhaps most famous case, the “Murder on the Orient Express”.

Hotel room

Christie’s hotel room in Istanbul, Turkey, where she wrote the “Murder on the Orient Express”. Courtesy of WikimediaCommons.

More Information on Poirot is provided on this cool US website and in this fantastic longreads of the LA Review of Books.

The second famous detective is totally different: Miss Marple, a fragile but sharp minded elderly English spinster, famously portrait by Margaret Rutherford and Joan Hickson in the TV series, who was a perfect match to the descriptions of Miss Marple in the books. BBC provides an overview of the different Marple-performers.
And here you can experience a piece of Miss Marple’s World: Serve your tea in style. In Miss-Marple-style. 😉

For even more information:

Here’s a list of 35 fun facts about Agatha Christie, the guys over at Mental Floss have also gathered cool facts and even more facts and stunning trivia here.

The Guardian has put together the  10 best Christie novels for a start.

Or visit the official Agatha Christie website.

A very special glimpse into Christie’s life provides the place where she lived and invented her characters, her estate Greenway. Smithonian has a great article about it.

And if these informations are still not enough for you, or you got a taste for Christie, please visit BBC’s Christie website, a treasure trove of all things Christie.

Oh – and if you know everything about Agatha Christie now, don’t forget to take the quiz from The New Yorker 😉

Grave Stone

Agatha Christie’s tomb stone, Cholsey. Courtesy of WikimediaCommons

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On May 29th, 1953: Hillary and Tenzing reach the summit of Mount Everest

Mount Everest Panorama

Mount Everest Panorama, seen from Tibetan Plateau, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Mountains, especially the really, really high ones, have always fascinated people. So impressive, so challenging, so near to heaven – or hell.

But why should anyone want to risk their life to climb up a mountain? George Mallory, one of the people who tried to reach Mount Everest’s summit, answered famously: “Because it is there”. He tried, and failed. Not only didn’t he reach his goal- he lost his life at the attempt.

It was another man who should be the first to reach the goal of conquering “goddess mother of the world”, as it is called in Tibet. Sir Edmund Hillary, a mountaineer from New Zealand, reached the highest point of the Earth on May 28th, 1953, accompanied by the Sherpa Tenzing Norgay, almost thirty years after Mallory’s unsuccessful endeavor and tragical death.

Hillary and Tenzing

Hillary and Tenzing. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The 60th return of this event is reason enough to celebrate with a few links on the Mount Everest and the people who tried to defeat it.

There is a huge amount of wonderful and impressive pictures featuring Mount Everest on the web. Here are a few examples:

One of the best ressources is the “Imaging Everest” from the Royal Geographic Society, dedicated to history, geography and the people and region surrounding the mountain.

Here is a HD panorama map of the Himalaya, to give you some orientation. Google Maps Streetview has also a panorama, from the Base Camp. And you can watch a cool video:

The NYT published a nice photo essay, “Exploring Nepal’s Everest region“. A huge collection of almost 400 pictures can be found here. National Geographic presents a few historical Everest expedition photos.

NASA provides an interesting tutorial on “How to find Mt. Everest from space” with many interesting photos.

Even the litter left by hundreds of mountaineers on the Everest is not wasted after all: Tibetan artists create stunning artworks from it.

Last, but not least, for the mountain itself, here’s the allegedly only 360° panorama view from the Everest’s top. Absolutely breathtaking!

But this day also celebrates the brave men who tried – and succeeded or failed – to conquer the mountain.

Edmund Hillary holds the title of the first man standing on top of the Everest.

Sir Hillary

Sir Edmund Hillary. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Listen to him telling you in an interview about his amazing achievement, in his own voice:

Here is a  TIME photo essay about Hillary’s ascent. A comprehensive biography can be found on Wikipedia.

In 2008, the NYT published an impressive obituary for Sir Edmund Hilary.

The second famous mountaineer to honor is George Mallory, who lost his life almost 90 years ago, allegedly on his way up to the summit. It could never be proved wether he reached it or not.

Mallory and expedition

Mallory, on the right of the rear row, on an Expedition to the Everest in 1921, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

BBC broadcasted an interesting Film, “The wildest dream”. See a trailer here:

Or explore a wonderful NatGeo photo essay about the recreation of his 1924 climb.

In 1999 Mallory’s body was discovered, after 75 years. Read an analysis of the discovery and Mallory’s final hours by the Mallory & Irvine Research Expedition’s historian Jochen Hemleb.

At last some interesting trivia about the stunning effectiveness of Mallory’s Everest clothes.

Everest Mosaic by NASA

2004 photo mosaic of the Himalayas with Mount Everest from the ISS, Courtesy of NASA via Wiki Commons

And if anyone now plans to climb the highest peak of the world, here’s where to start: The website Summitpost.org provides a lot of information, from “Getting there” to a brief gear list. But before, you probably should try to solve this quiz 😉

On March 3rd, 1913: The “Woman Suffrage Procession” took place in Washington, D.C.

Today of course we all know that men and women are equal. We have (or at least should have) the same rights and chances. But it was not always like this. Gaining even fundamental rights was a long and thorny way, and it is not very long ago that the fight for it was in full swing.

For thousands of years, it was “common knowledge” that women were not created – nor fitted – to take a place in society, to work and decide without being overviewed by men. They lacked, so everybody believed, both physical and mental stability, as well as intellect, and were to be compared with children. (Read a lengthy article about the attitudes towards women in history here.). But during the 18th and 19th century, a strong confidence grew among women that this was not true at all and that they could do the same things as men – equally well. Bit by bit they fought for it – for being allowed to graduate at universities, to become teachers, doctors and lawyers. Bit by bit they gained these rights. But one still was not in their reach, in most of European countries and American states: The right to vote. The right to really influence society and politics. This was the reason why they started a crusade – the women’s suffrage movement.

March 3rd, 2013 is the 100th anniversary of an important date in the history of the US branch of this movement: The “Woman Suffrage Procession” taking place in Washington, D.C.

Official program - Woman suffrage procession March 3, 1913 - crop

Official program – Women suffrage procession March 3rd, 1913. Courtesy of Adam Cuerden, WikiCommons

It was not the first or the last of those Marches, but it was a decidedly big and well-covered one. Many photos exist from there (Just take a look at this wonderful collection over at The Atlantic). And it had an impact, if not for the march itself, though many prominent women took part, then for the aftermaths. The way the women were treated by the police and the crowd (more than 300 were injured) led to a senate hearing after which the head of the police was replaced. Many people became more aware of the suffrage movement, and began to question the way women were treated. It took till 1920, however, till the 19th Amendment finally allowed all American women to vote.

Women's suffrage

Head of the procession in Washington, D.C., March 3rd, 1913. Courtesy of WikiMedia

Celebrate the Women’s suffrage movement and the 100th anniversary of the Woman Suffrage Procession in Washington, D.C. with a few links I’ve put together.

Read an in-depth-article on the March in Washington on the Library-of-Congress-Website. Here you can also find a huge collection of texts and pictures on the Women’s suffrage movement. About.com provides another good collection of pictures. TIME magazine featured a slide show “A woman’s right to vote” some time ago, too and there are wonderful, powerful photographs to find on BuzzFeed.

This short video shows a few moving pictures that survived from the beginning of the 20th century:

There is a nice Flickr Set providing a few photographs of original documents related to the movement. This page on History.com puts together quite a few interesting links to articles, photos and videos on the topic.

Here you find a brief overview on who were the women in the center of the Suffrage movement.

This website “Woman suffrage Memorabilia” is a treasure trove of memorabilia of that important time of history. See magazines, ribbons and much more there.

Not everyone was happy about the women’s wish for the vote, which can be seen in these two letters to the NYT from 1918, or this article, called “A famed biologist’s warning of the peril in votes for women” (links to PDF!). It is als a motif in this parody on Lady GaGa’s song “Bad romance” that explores the suffrage movement.

This blogpost puts together some of the most common arguments against woman suffrage and there is also an interesting pamphlet “Vote NO on woman suffrage” from 1910.

Suffragette-that-knew-jiujitsu

The Suffragette who knew jiujitsu. By Arthur Wallis Mills via Wikimedia Commons

Finally women succeeded: Read a collection of NYT articles featuring the Passage of the 19th Amendment. But it should take decades till the right to vote was given to women all over the globe. The last country granting its women this right is Saudi Arabia, whose female citizens will vote for the 1st time in 2015.

On February 23rd, 1685: George Frideric Handel, famous baroque composer, was born

George Frideric Handel by Balthasar Denner

George Frideric Handel by Balthasar Denner, courtesy of WikiCommons

This day is the 328th birthday of George Frideric Handel. He was one of the great baroque musicians, and is one of the greatest British composers of all time. Except that he isn’t British at all, but German.

Handel was born on Feburary 23rd, 1685 in Halle, a town in Saxony-Anhalt, then the Duchy of Magdeburg, where he became an appointed organist at the Domkirche being only 17. However, he left Germany at the age of 25 to become Kapellmeister of the later King George the I. of England. In 1727 he was granted the British citizenship. While at first he was quite popular for his Italian style operas, like Alcina or Orlando, he later concentrated on oratorios, written in English language, of which the most famous is without doubt “The Messiah“. Other famous works include “The Water Music” and the “Music for the Royal Fireworks” as well as the oratorio “Judas Maccabeus”, from which the popular Christmas Carol “Zion’s Daughter” (which is in fact rather a hymn for Palm Sunday) is taken. One of the highlights of his career in Britain was most certainly the commission of the anthem for the coronation of King George II, “Zadok the Priest”, which is an essential part of every coronation performed since.

Through all his life, Handel was a prolific composer, his works include 42 operas, 29 oratorios, 16 organ concerts and hundreds of other works. Though he was incredibly popular, he kept his life very private, never married, and bequeathed a big part of his belongings to his servants and charities when he died, aged 74 and almost blind, on April 14th, 1759. During his lifetime and till today, he has been highly valued by his fellow musicians, eg. Bach and Mozart. His grave can be found in Westminster Cathedral.
George Frideric Handel SignatureTo celebrate the anniversary of one of my very favourite composers, I’ve searched for some interesting links you may have missed:

Start with an extended biography on Wikipedia.

Handels original name, Georg Friedrich Händel, with its typically German Umlaut is quite a problem for speakers of English. Read an insightful, but funny article about that problem: “How to handle spelling Händel“.

His legacy is preserved at the Handel House Museum at London. Visit the website (which also provides very handy synopses of his operas) or read a in-depths-interview with Museum director Sarah Bradwell.

NPR provides a nice compilation of information, a podcast and a performance of the “Messiah”, a podcast providing facts about the piece and an article called “The eternal Genius of Handel“. Smithsonian also explores “The glorious history of Handel’s Messiah“.

Read a rather enthusiastic poem dedicated to Handel’s organ playing from 1722.

Can you be so brilliant and still sane? Apparently yes, says a Psychiatrist.

Here is the text of Handel’s will.

Did you know that another great musician lived in Handel’s house centuries after his death? Read about “Jimi Hendrix and Handel: Housemates separated by time“.

See how hundreds of people celebrate Handels birthday in Halle, his birth town.

Listen to my very favorite organ concerto of Handel:

And – last but not least – enjoy the end of Handel’s famous Hallelujah from “The Messiah”. With the best organist ever. NOT. (Please don’t click this if you have sensitive ears in regard to wrong notes):

An if this is still not enough – read through hundreds of sources at the Handel reference database or read or download the Wikipedia Book on Handel here, that provides dozens of wikipedia entries on his life and works.

On February 18th, 1930: Pluto, now a dwarf planet, was discovered

pluto

Being the god of the underworld might not be on top of anyone’s career dreams. But being a celestial orb named after this god may be even worse. That’s the fate of Pluto, a tiny world of ice and rock, once the 9th planet of our solar system – now stripped of its status and remaining a dwarf planet far, far away, circling the sun in a very odd orbit, making a year lasting 248 Earth years.

Since the late 19th century it was suspected that there had to be another planet in our solar system, after the discovery of disturbances in Uranus’ orbit, but it took more than 30 years, till, at last, on February 18th, 1930, Pluto, a dot on a photo plate, was discovered. It was named after the god of the underworld (whose first two letters where, curiously enough, the initials of the man who made it his goal to discover this planet) and became the 9th planet in our system. In 2006, however, the International Astronomical Union (IAU) published a new definition of what a planet had to be like – and Pluto, till then the latest acquisition in our planetary world, met only two of three of the new criteria. And so poor Pluto became the first orb in our solar system that actually LOST the rank of a planet – which made it all the more famous after all.

Celebrate the 83rd anniversary of the discovery of this strange little fellow with a few links:

Here’s a little collection of facts about Pluto. You can also watch a very interesting video about it. Pictures, graphics and explanations are provided here, the pictures Hubble took here and another little collection of pictures here.

Pluto is not easy to deal with – read how difficult it is to map it.

Ever wondered how it would be looking from Pluto to our sun? This computer animation shows it:

This article describes why Pluto is no longer a planet.

A very special treat are these wonderful mails third graders wrote after Pluto lost his planet status, in defense of it. (Huge thanks to my friend Matthias Rascher for pointing me to it.)

In a few years, Pluto will get a visitor from planet Earth – New Horizons, a NASA spacecraft to explore the planet and the Kuyper belt. Learn about it on the NASA website.

But Pluto is not only present in the field of science, but also in the field of fiction, like this article on NBC’s Cosmic Log states.

And, last but not least, if you want to have a really special relationship to Pluto – why not name one of his newly discovered moons? (Here they are, on photos, and also in an article from TIME.)

On January 11th, 1908: Grand Canyon becomes a “national monument”

Grand Canyon

South Kaibab Trail at Cedar Ridge, Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

There are indeed landscapes which make you stand speechlessly and in awe when you see them for the first time. And most certainly the Grand Canyon is one of these landscapes.

It took almost 2 billion years of geological history, and a lot of different natural events, till the Colorado river had cut this 227 miles long and, in parts, 6000 feet deep canyon into the Colorado plateau as we see it today. The exact way how this happened and its real age are still discussed (read an interesting NYT article about the age debate here and visit the NPS section about geology here).

On this day in 1908 Theodore Roosevelt made the Grand Canyon a “national monument” (read more about this here). The 105th anniversary of this event makes it a good time to indulge in the beauty of one of the most amazing natural wonders of the US.

Start your exploration of the Grand Canyon with a wonderful 360° Panorama View.

Of course there are thousands of wonderful pictures of the Canyon available on the web. Here are a few links to start with:

The biggest collection, featuring not only landscape photos, but also animals, artifacts, plants, history and much more can be watched at NPS’ Flickr Pool.

Here’s another stunning collection of 35 high quality pictures and a wonderful little collection of historical photos.

You can even hear how it sounds being at the Canyon here.

An amazing and very special view into the Canyon (at least if you don’t have any fear of heights) provides the Glass Skywalk, opened in 2007, that lets you look down 4000 into the Canyon.

If you want to visit the Grand Canyon yourself, this NYT article suggests a “36 hours at the Grand Canyon” tour.

But if you are more into historical sources, you might like to read this 1917 book “The Grand Canyon. An article giving the credit of first traversing the Grand Canyon of the Colorado to James White, a Colorado gold prospector, who it is claimed maide the voyage two years previous the expedition under the direction of Maj. J. W. Powell in 1869” by Thomas F. Dawson online.

There is also a wonderful historical footage from the 1920s out there:

The Grand Canyon is not only an amazing landscape but it was home to people for a long period of time. Take a virtual tour to the archaeological excavations from 2007 to 2009 here.

At last, learn about the curious story of egyptian artifacts said to be found in the Great Canyon.

And for your visual pleasure, two wonderful videos which take you flying over and through the canyon…

with clouds….

… and without clouds.

And if there remains still a bit of curiosity: These pages will provide you with loads of further information:

One of the best resouces about the Canyon is the NPS website, with many pages and high quality information.

There is also a nice site from the University of Arizona.

Finally this vast bibliography includes more than 5000 entries about the Canyon, including a list of NYT articles, Sources for vision impaired persons and fiction.

And if you eventually know everything about the Grand Canyon, you will easily be able to take this Quiz from National Geographic 😉

On January 5th, 1933: The Golden Gate Bridge was born

Golden Gate Bridge

Golden Gate Bridge, By Aaron Logan, from http://www.lightmatter.net/gallery/albums.php {{cc-by}

The Golden Gate Bridge is more than just a landmark. It is the stuff dreams are made of – the dreams of California – the dreams of San Francisco. It is famous all over the world and one of the great achievements of engineering in its building time. For a long time it was thought it couldn’t be built at all.

But exactly 80 years ago on this day, its construction started – and on May, 27th 1937, the opening day (here are a few transcriptions of newspaper articles about the opening), it had proofed wrong all those who had doubted. There it stands, till today, a wonderful, intricate artwork of steel and human creativity and skill.

I have searched for a few interesting links to celebrate this:

Here is a timeline of construction for you.

Read an interesting article about the history of the bridge: “The Golden Gate: ‘The bridge that couldn’t be built'”.

Enjoy a wonderful 360° panorama view in High Definition or take virtual walks.

Follow “A  guide to San Francisco in 1937, when the Golden Gate Bridge opened”, an insightful article from The Atlantic.

NPR provides an amazing podcast about the opening day: “Walk this way. Crossing the Golden Gate Bridge.” And Wired has a deliciously interesting article with a lot of links: “May 27, 1937: A Bridge over the Gate? Are you crazy?”

There are also a lot of stunning photos on the web, like the LIFE photo essay “Orange Crush: Life with the Golden Gate Bridge”, this very unusual one from Wharholian.com called “Urban decay on a day with the Golden Gate” and this great one from the Trans-americas.com Travel Blog.

At last, watch a wonderful documentary about its history and construction, with a lot of historical material, ca. 1950s.

And if your curiosity still isn’t satisfied, visit the Research Library Page of the Golden Gate Bridge Homepage or the PBS page dedicated to the history of the bridge.