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Issue 974

TIDBITS® REMEMBERS

FOOTNOTES OF HISTORY

by Janet Spencer

Come along with Tidbits as we recall forgotten footnotes of history!

CHRISTMAS TRUCE

• The story of the Christmas truce during World War I in 1914 is well known. Following the indecisive First Battle of Ypres, hostilities lulled as both sides considered their next move. Soldiers were disgruntled, having been promised that the conflict would end soon and they’d be home for Christmas. German, French, and English soldiers alike staged a spontaneous mutiny on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day to protest the war.

• All along the front, soldiers held up white flags and met in the middle of no man’s land to exchange souvenirs, share food, play soccer, arrange prisoner swaps, sing carols, decorate trenches, hold religious services, and bury their dead. It’s estimated that about 100,000 soldiers took part in the strike.

• It’s a feel-good story that’s been passed down through history. But less well known is the fallout that followed: Many of the participants in the Christmas truce were summarily executed after the fact to discourage such spontaneous protests from ever happening again. Indeed, as the war dragged on through two more Christmas seasons, there was the occasional cease-fire called on Christmas Day, but never again was such an event repeated.

• In 1908, a New Yorker woman named Katie Mulcahey was arrested after she struck a match against a wall in the Bowery district and lit up a cigarette. Katie had violated the recently passed Sullivan Act, a city law sponsored by Alderman Sullivan banning women – and only women – from smoking in public. Sullivan passed the law due to pressure from a Christian anti-smoking lobby that identified tobacco with immorality. The Women’s Christian Temperance Union (whose main business was trying to get booze banned) campaigned against women smoking and thought they’d scored a big success with the Sullivan Act. Katie Mulcahey was arrested the day after it passed. Hauled before the district court, Mulcahey was fined five dollars. The Sullivan Act was vetoed by the city’s mayor two weeks later.

JOHN AUDUBON’S BIRDS

• John James Audubon is known for being a great artist, depicting myriad bird species in natural settings. Prior to achieving success as an artist, however, he operated a string of general stores on the Kentucky frontier, built a steam mill on the Ohio River, and extensively explored the American wilderness.

 

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