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Monday, May 7, 2012

Extra! Extra! Red Sox Win, Oreo Invented, Tragedy on the Sea and at the South Pole

In The Prince and Betty, there’s plenty of headline making news--long-lost royal heir, newspaper exposés of slums, gangsters--but 1912 was filled with explosive headlines to rival Betty’s. Some highlights...

January: Robert Falcon Scott, British explorer, reaches the South Pole--second. Five weeks earlier, Norwegian Roald Amundsen and his expedition made the historic expedition. News of this victory, however, wouldn’t come until March, when Amundsen reached Tasmania and telegraphed his announcement.

February: A blizzard that began in the Midwest reaches New York City on the 22nd with typhoon-force gales. Just after midnight, meteorological devices record a 110 mile-per-hour gust of wind, and for most of the day, the city is buffeted with 70 mile-per-hour winds. People are ‘hurled’ to the street, and trees, airplanes, and tugboats are ripped into the air. While New York City’s skyscrapers survived relatively unscathed, the electric billboards and signs that decorated Times Square were torn down and smashed. On the 23rd when the storm subsided, the streets were covered with glass, metal, and other debris.

March: The National Biscuit Company (or Nabisco) debuts a chocolate-and-icing sandwich cookie known as the Oreo, produced in its factories in Chelsea. The first package of Oreos are sold, however, in Hoboken, N.J., at twenty-five cents a pound.

Less sweet, news of Amundsen’s arrival in the Antarctic is heralded with concern for Scott’s expedition. Newspapers openly speculate that Scott might have made it to the South Pole minutes after Amundsen; the New York Times even editorializes a hope that Scott was first--and just hadn’t gotten to a telegraph to announce his victory.

April: Arctic excitement as it was, come the 16th, the news that would dominate the front page of papers all over the world would be the sinking of the Titanic. On April 18th, when the Carpathia reaches New York City with survivors, thousands clog the pier, from journalists wanting to break the story to desperate family members searching to see if among the survivors are their loved ones. A reporter from William Randolph Hearst's New York Journal had been traveling on the Carpathia when it took on survivors, and he spent the duration of his trip interviewing eyewitnesses. When the ship came into dock, the reporter sent his missives in cigar boxes with champagne corks to waiting editors who hired tugboats to take them into the water.

May: Fed up with poor working conditions, waiters around New York City go on strike, and the International Hotel Workers’ Union demands recognition from hotels. By June, The New York Times estimates that more than 900 waiters, bartenders, cooks, and other hotel staff are striking. Anyone bold enough to cross the picket line and work at one of the boycotted hotels faced violence at the hands of strikers.

October: The World Series between the New York Giants and the Boston Red Sox stretched into eight games, and was won by Boston--narrowly. In the 10th inning, with the game tied 1-1, New York Giants outfielder Fred Snodgrass caught--and then dropped--a ball, allowing Boston to make two successful runs. The New England baseball team would have a winning streak until 1919 when they traded Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees, and Snodgrass would be remembered forever as the man who lost New York the 1912 World Series.

Captain Lawrence Oates
November: Antarctic explorer Robert Scott’s diary and remains are discovered by a search party (but the world wouldn’t learn this until February 1913, when the search party reached New Zealand). Scott and his four fellow explorers died in Antarctica from a combination of starvation, exhaustion, and cold sometime in March. Scott noted in his diary the (in)famous sacrifice of his comrade Lawrence Oates, who walked out of the tent into the extreme cold, saying, "I am just going outside and may be some time.” His suicide meant Scott and the remaining explorers needn’t wait on him, but the sacrifice was for naught, as Scott died days later.


The Prince and Betty by P.G. Wodehouse
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