T is for Tutankhamen’s Tomb Discovered #atozchallenge @aprila2z

TOn November 4, 1922, British archaeologist Howard Carter and his workmen discover a step leading to the tomb of King Tutankhamen in the Valley of the Kings in Egypt.

king_tut

When Carter first arrived in Egypt in 1891, most of the ancient Egyptian tombs had been discovered, though the little-known King Tutankhamen, who had died when he was 18, was still unaccounted for. After World War I, Carter began an intensive search for “King Tut’s Tomb,” finally finding steps to the burial room hidden in the debris near the entrance of the nearby tomb of King Ramses VI in the Valley of the Kings. On November 26, 1922, Carter and fellow archaeologist Lord Carnarvon entered the interior chambers of the tomb, finding them miraculously intact.

Howard Carter and Lord Carnarvon

Howard Carter and Lord Carnarvon

(Interesting side note about Lord Carnarvon.  Lord Carnarvon’s residence in England is Highclere Castle which is the real Downtown Abbey.)

tutstomb

Thus began a monumental excavation process in which Carter carefully explored the four-room tomb over several years, uncovering an incredible collection of several thousand objects. The most splendid architectural find was a stone sarcophagus containing three coffins nested within each other. Inside the final coffin, which was made out of solid gold, was the mummy of the boy-king Tutankhamen, preserved for more than 3,000 years. Most of these treasures are now housed in the Cairo Museum.

howard-carter-king-tut-images-2

S is for Suez Canal #atozchallenge @aprila2z

SAt Port Said, Egypt, ground is broken for the Suez Canal, an artificial waterway intended to stretch 101 miles across the isthmus of Suez and connect the Mediterranean and the Red seas. Ferdinand de Lesseps, the French diplomat who organized the colossal undertaking, delivered the pickax blow that inaugurated construction.

suex canal ground breaking. Construction began on the Suez Canal in 1859, and took 10 years and an estimated $100 million to complete.

Suex Canal ground breaking. Construction began on the Suez Canal in 1859, and took 10 years and an estimated $100 million to complete.

The canal has a storied history.  Here are some bullet points from History.com

  • The first serious survey of the isthmus occurred during the French occupation of Egypt at the end of the 18th century, and General Napoleon Bonaparte personally inspected the remains of an ancient canal.
  • In 1854 Ferdinand de Lesseps, the former French consul to Cairo, secured an agreement with the Ottoman governor of Egypt to build a canal.
Ferdinand de Iesseps

Ferdinand de Lesseps

  • In 1856 the Suez Canal Company was formed and granted the right to operate the canal for 99 years after completion of the work.
  • Construction began in April 1859, and at first digging was done by hand with picks and shovels wielded by forced laborers.
  • Later, European workers with dredgers and steam shovels arrived.
SUEZ CANAL: Under construction. Dredges and Elevators at work, old print, 1869

SUEZ CANAL: Under construction. Dredges and Elevators at work, old print, 1869

  • Labor disputes and a cholera epidemic slowed construction, and the Suez Canal was not completed until 1869–four years behind schedule.
  • On November 17, 1869, the Suez Canal was officially inaugurated in an elaborate ceremony attended by French Empress Eugenie, wife of Napoleon III.
  • Ferdinand de Lesseps would later attempt, unsuccessfully, to build a canal across the Isthmus of Panama. He died in 1894.
  • When it opened, the Suez Canal was only 25 feet deep, 72 feet wide at the bottom, and 200 to 300 feet wide at the surface which resulted in fewer than 500 ships navigated it in its first full year of operation.
  • Major improvements began in 1876, however, and the canal soon grew into the one of the world’s most heavily traveled shipping lanes.
  • In 1875, Great Britain became the largest shareholder in the Suez Canal Company when it bought up the stock of the new Ottoman governor of Egypt.
Great Britain originally opposed construction of the Suez Canal but soon recognized its crucial role in the route to India. In The Lion’s Share, British Prime Minister Disraeli purchases a controlling interest in the Suez Canal Company.

Great Britain originally opposed construction of the Suez Canal but soon recognized its crucial role in the route to India. In The Lion’s Share, British Prime Minister Disraeli purchases a controlling interest in the Suez Canal Company.

  • Seven years later, in 1882, Britain invaded Egypt, beginning a long occupation of the country.
  • The Anglo-Egyptian treaty of 1936 made Egypt virtually independent, but Britain reserved rights for the protection of the canal.
  • After World War II, Egypt pressed for evacuation of British troops from the Suez Canal Zone, and in July 1956 Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser nationalized the canal, hoping to charge tolls that would pay for construction of a massive dam on the Nile River.
  • In response, Israel invaded in late October, and British and French troops landed in early November, occupying the canal zone.
  • Under pressure from the United Nations, Britain and France withdrew in December, and Israeli forces departed in March 1957.
  • That month, Egypt took control of the canal and reopened it to commercial shipping.
  • Ten years later, Egypt shut down the canal again following the Six Day War and Israel’s occupation of the Sinai peninsula.
  • For the next eight years, the Suez Canal, which separates the Sinai from the rest of Egypt, existed as the front line between the Egyptian and Israeli armies.
  • In 1975, Egyptian President Anwar el-Sadat reopened the Suez Canal as a gesture of peace after talks with Israel.
EGYPT. Reopening of the Suez canal. President of Egypt Anwar El-SADAT. 1974.  Credit: Rene Burri 1974

EGYPT. Reopening of the Suez canal. President of Egypt Anwar El-SADAT. 1974.
Credit: Rene Burri 1974

  • Today, an average of 50 ships navigate the canal daily, carrying more than 300 million tons of goods a year.
USS America (CV-66) in the Suez Canal 1981

USS America (CV-66) in the Suez Canal 1981

Back from a Trip Across the Pond

You may not have noticed it but my blog has been on auto pilot for the last 10 days.  My family took a trip to Wales and London during my daughter’s spring break from school.  Although the weather was cool, it was dry for our entire trip until the last day.  For Easter Sunday, it rained the entire day.  I will probably write some posts about this amazing trip but for now here is a small taste.

My family and my daughter especially are fans of Doctor Who so part of our trip had a Doctor Who connection.  This meant Wales as much of the modern series is filmed in and around Cardiff.   We spent a beautiful day in the area of Southerndown which is a coastal area west of Cardiff.  Here is one photograph of Dunraven Bay and known to Doctor Who fans as Bad Wolf Bay.

Dunraven Bay, Souterndown, Wales

Dunraven Bay, Souterndown, Wales

 

Of course this is the beach on the episode from Doctor Who.

Bad_wolf_bay

Our trip also included London.  When it came to aerial views of the city, we needed to choose between the London Eye or the Shard.  We decided on the Shard as once we were up there, we could stay as long as we wanted.  This would not be the case with the London Eye.  The Shard is higher too at 244 meters vs 135 for the London Eye.  We reached the top just as the sun was setting.  Here is one photograph showing the Tower of London and the Tower Bridge.  This photograph was taken with my Ipad.  I don’t have photography skills so you can see that the glaceing is somewhat of a photo issue for me.  Unlike the Empire State Building in NYC, there is no outside parts from which to take photographs.

A view of the Tower Bridge and Tower of London from high atop the Shard

A view of the Tower Bridge and Tower of London from high atop the Shard

R is for Rivers of the United States #atozchallenge @aprila2z

RThe United States of America has over 250,000 rivers, with a total of about 3,500,000 miles of rivers.

River Map

The longest river in the USA is the Missouri River (it is a tributary of the Mississippi River and is 2,540 miles long), but the biggest in terms of water volume is the deeper Mississippi River.

Missouri River. The upper Missouri River at Gates of the Mountains, western Montana, north of Helena. Credit: Travel Montana

Missouri River. The upper Missouri River at Gates of the Mountains, western Montana, north of Helena. Credit: Travel Montana

Sunset on the Mississippi River

Sunset on the Mississippi River

The longest undammed river in the contiguous USA is the Yellowstone River (it is 692 miles long).

Rivers provide drinking water, irrigation water, transportation, electrical power, drainage, food, and recreation.  Rivers also erode land and carry it downstream to the sea.  This kind of erosion can even form canyons, like the Grand Canyon, and waterfalls, like Niagara Falls.

grand-canyon-river

Grand Canyon River

American Falls, Niagara Falls

American Falls, Niagara Falls

R is for Renaissance Faire #atozchallenge @aprila2z

The Floral Headdress and the Proverbial Turkey Leg

The Floral Headdress and the Proverbial Turkey Leg

When I first decided to write a guest blog for The Top Ten of Anything and Everything, I didn’t know how difficult it would be to narrow it down to just ten photographs.  Having recently experienced how enthusiastic the people involved with Renaissance Faires are (my daughter was a supporting cast member for the New Jersey Renaissance Faire), I should have known that there would be a wide variety of photographs from all over the country at my disposal.  A Digital Renaissance Feast.  Somehow I managed to select ten.  If you enjoy these, I recommend visiting the websites and facebook pages of these photographs as well as any other Renaissance Faire in the country.  There is so much more to see.  If you have never been to a Renaissance Faire, check out the next faire in your area.  It will be a day well spent.

Dog in Chainmail PA

10 – The Chainmail Pooch

Source: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10151470404167377&set=pb.75141067376.-2207520000.1373833517.&type=3&theater

I originally titled the post “Top Ten Costumed People Seen at a Renaissance Faire” but then I found this little fellow on the facebook page of the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire.  Chainmail is often seen in the costuming for Renaissance Faires and there is normally at least one vendor selling chainmail products and clothing.  The photographs that would depict the more common use of chainmail in clothing would remove the G rating of this post, so I will just leave that to your imagination.

DSC_4030-3

9 – Arrgh!  There be Pirates

Source:  http://www.pbase.com/kramerkrause/escondido_renaissance_faire_spring_2009

Pirates could always be seen at the Renaissance Faire and many faires have pirate themed weekends.  Ever since the series of movies that I don’t think I need to name, Jack Sparrow is a common visitor to the faires.  I bet this guy gets a lot of Johnny Depp groupies hanging around him.  Marc Krause who has several galleries at the source link, shared this photograph taken at the Escondido California Renaissance Faire in 2009.

Childs First Turkey Leg 2012 PA

8 – The Floral Headdress and the Proverbial Turkey Leg

Source:  https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10150997876487377&set=a.10150997876387377.412427.75141067376&type=3&theater

This photograph from the 2012 Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire , Carrington’s First Turkey Leg, was the winner of the Food Picture Contest. (picture taken by Courtney Henry).  Families are a big part of the atmosphere at the Renaissance Faire.  You can see many young 21st century girls transformed into maidens of the realm by putting a ring of flowers around their head.  Little boys just want a wooden sword.  There is nothing that says Renaissance Faire more than walking around eating a smoked turkey leg.  It is both lunch and part of the costume.

Group Shot of Gypsies7 – The Gypsies

Source:  http://www.flickr.com/photos/72213316@N00/5315933415/

The Gypsies always add color to any Renaissance Faire and their dancing is thoroughly entertaining.  This photograph of the Gypsy Dance Theatre was taken at the Texas Renaissance Festival in 2010 by photographer Frank Kovalchek.  Whether it is gypsies dancing on stage or patrons dressed as gypsies, they could never sneak up on you because their costumes often have belts, bracelets or anklets with little bells which are used to keep away evil spirits.  Jingle Jingle.

mongers

6 – The Peasants

Source:  http://www.norcalrenfaire.com/entertainment/guilds.html

Not everyone can be the Queen or even part of her court because after all she needs subjects to rule or step on :).  The peasants serve a purpose and most of the characters seen at a Renaissance Faire are of the peasant class.  This photograph is the Mongers of Saint Swithin from the Northern California Renaissance Faire.  According to the website, the Mongers Guild brings to life peasant class street vendors. These relentless and determined street merchants will attempt to sell anything. Whether it’s Pig’s ears, Chicken feet, or month old cabbage, these villagers of modest means will convince you that you need to buy it. They also perform each afternoon in the hilarious and bawdy faire classic, Pye Powder Court.

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5 – Proper Ladies Must Wear Their Layers

Source:  http://www.pbase.com/kramerkrause/escondido_renaissance_faire_2008_fall

Among the throngs of patrons visiting a Renaissance Faire, the well dressed ladies wearing all their layers is a site to behold.  This is often in temperatures above 90 degrees.  Marc Krause who has several galleries at the source link, shared this photograph taken at the Escondido California Renaissance Faire in 2008.  The photograph was too cute to pass up.

Royalty

4 – Royalty

Source:  https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=258087587663538&set=pb.150086671796964.-2207520000.1373836188.&type=3&theater

Every Renaissance Faire has some type of royalty and often it is Queen Elizabeth of England (Reign 1558-1603).  This photograph is Queen Margaret and King Edward Longshanks of England.  Each year in the magical land of Crossford, notable characters from history come forth through the forest which is filled with fairy magic to arrive at the New Jersey Renaissance Faire.  These royals were among this year’s arrivals.

Tree Guy Arick d'Entremont_Bristol

3 – Animal, Vegetable or Mineral.

Source:  https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10151832686900285&set=a.10151832686215285.860838.136459570284&type=3&theater

Now that is performance art.  This was a photograph of Arick d’Entremont from the facebook page of the Bristol Renaissance Faire in Kenosha, Wisconsin.  Talk about going green.  I wonder how long he had to stay in that position.  That is working hard for your craft.

Knight Rider

2 – Knight Rider

Source:  https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10152451051600285&set=pb.136459570284.-2207520000.1373938732.&type=3&theater

I knew when I started writing this post that knights would be included and be near number one.  I looked at so many wonderful jousting photographs and couldn’t decide between them.  When I found this unique take on a knight on the facebook page of the Bristol Renaissance Faire in Kenosha, Wisconsin, I decided this would be the one.  The Joust is an important event at a Renaissance Faire.  What’s better than a ancient battle of heros in heavy metal on horseback.  The crowd always goes wild.

Red Knight

1 – Uh! What Else Would He Wear

Source: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10151468057206024&set=o.150086671796964&type=3&theater

This is not a cardboard cutout that you get your picture taken with.  He is real and he wasn’t the only extreme costuming I’ve seen at a Renaissance Faire.

What Happened on April 20th – Fragging in Vietnam

On April 20, 1971, the Pentagon releases figures confirming that fragging incidents are on the rise. In 1970, 209 such incidents caused the deaths of 34 men; in 1969, 96 such incidents cost 34 men their lives. Fragging was a slang term used to describe U.S. military personnel tossing of fragmentation hand grenades (hence the term “fragging”) usually into sleeping areas to murder fellow soldiers. It was usually directed primarily against unit leaders, officers, and non-commissioned officers.

M-67 Fragmentation Grenade explosion in Vietnam Courtesy: okinawa.usmc.mil

M-67 Fragmentation Grenade explosion in Vietnam
Courtesy: okinawa.usmc.mil

Fragging was rare in the early days of U.S. involvement in ground combat, but it became increasingly common as the rapid turnover caused by the one-year rotation policy weakened unit cohesion. With leadership and morale already declining in the face of repetitive Vietnam tours, the withdrawal of public support led to soldiers questioning their purpose on the battlefield. The situation worsened with the gradual U.S. troop withdrawal that began in 1969. As some troops were withdrawn, discipline and motivation declined as many remaining soldiers began to question why they had to continue fighting.

M-61 Frag Grenade. Primary function: Anti-personnel. Dimensions: Length 3.5 in., diameter 2.5 in. Weight: 13.75 ounces. Maximum effective range: Lethal 16 ft., casualty 49 ft. This particular example was manufactured in May 1969. NOTE: grenade pictured is a M-61 Hand grenade, not the M-67 as labeled on the USAF website at the time.

M-61 Frag Grenade. Primary function: Anti-personnel. Dimensions: Length 3.5 in., diameter 2.5 in. Weight: 13.75 ounces. Maximum effective range: Lethal 16 ft., casualty 49 ft. This particular example was manufactured in May 1969.
NOTE: grenade pictured is a M-61 Hand grenade, not the M-67 as labeled on the USAF website at the time.

Fragging incidents in combat were usually attempts to remove leaders perceived to be incompetent and a threat to survival. Most fragging incidents, however, occurred in rear-echelon units and were committed by soldiers on drugs or because unit leaders were enforcing anti-drug policies. Unit leaders who were perceived to be too stringent in the enforcement of discipline or regulations sometimes received warnings via a fragmentation grenade, with the safety pin left on, but with their name painted on it left on their bunk, or a smoke grenade discharged under their bunk. Most understood the message, and intimidation through threat of fragging far exceeded actual incidents.

Q is for Questions #atozchallenge @aprila2z

QA few years ago, the Telegraph published an article, the Greatest 101 Questions of All Time

Here are the first ten.  I added some photographs found through google images.

1. Where is the safest place to stand outside in a thunderstorm?

Million Volt Curtain, Rincon Mountains, Arizona © Jeff Smith 199

Tall, pointy objects standing alone in an open space are more likely to get struck by lightning but it’s by no means a certainty. Sometimes the flat ground next to a tall tree can be hit. A car or other enclosed metal structure is the safest place to be in a thunderstorm. Failing that, a ditch, trench or group of shrubs of uniform height is better than nothing. Keep away from boundary areas between dissimilar terrain (water and land; rock and earth; trees and fields). Also keep at least five meters away from metal objects or other people as lightning will often jump from one object to another.

2.  Why do identical twins have different fingerprints?

IdenticalTwins10_InTheWomb.jpgAlthough identical twins share the same DNA, they don’t look identical cell-for-cell, because not every aspect of your physical appearance is rigidly determined by your genes. Fingerprints are formed semi-randomly as the fetus develops in the womb and are affected by such things as chance fluctuations of hormone levels. Similarly, the pattern of freckles and moles on the skin is caused by random mutations and will vary

3.  Is the human race still getting taller?

tallest-man-in-the-world

The average height, at least in Western society, is increasing because of better childhood nutrition and sexual selection. But the tendency of women to find men taller than six feet (183cm) more attractive can’t be extrapolated upward, and people above 6ft 2in (188cm) are much more likely to suffer back problems. Above 6ft 8in (203cm), and the heart strains to pump blood round the body.

4.  Why do I feel cold and shiver when I have a fever?

A young girl is sick and having her temperature taken.

A fever is when your body increases its internal thermostat, found in the hypothalamus. If you exercise hard or it’s a hot day, your body temperature might increase, but the thermostat remains at around 36.8°C. When you feel hot the hypothalamus tries to correct this with sweating and increased blood flow to the skin. But with a fever, it is the thermostat that has risen. This means your body temperature is now below 36.8°C, so you feel cold and shiver, to try and raise your temperature. The higher body temperature may help fight infection by speeding white blood cell production and slowing bacteria reproduction.

5. What is OK short for?

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The most popular theory is that OK comes from ‘oll korrect’, a deliberately misspelled writing of ‘all correct’. It was popularized in Boston newspapers around the 1840s when it was fashionable to go around spelling things incorrectly for humorous effect. Legend also has it that New York Democrats later adopted the abbreviation to promote their candidate Martin Van Buren – the initials ‘OK’ were derived from his nickname, Old Kinderhook.

6.   Why can’t we just fill in the ozone hole with man-made ozone?

wg_ozone_hole

The sheer scale of the notorious hole – or, more accurately, depleted region – in the Earth’s ozone layer over the Antarctic beggars belief. At its peak each September, it spans an area bigger than the continental United States, and tens of millions of tonnes of ozone would be needed to fill it up again. Simply creating that amount of ozone, let alone getting it where it’s needed, would be astronomically expensive.

7.  Why do fingers and toes wrinkle when left in water?

WrinkledFingers

The waterproof coating on our skin gets rubbed away from areas of our bodies like our hands and feet that are frequently in contact with objects. If you immerse yourself in water with a lower concentration of dissolved salts than that of your cell contents, water will be absorbed by osmosis and cause your skin cells to swell. Since they are anchored to the tissues below, they are forced to corrugate to accommodate this.

8.  What is a hiccup?

hiccup-4

A hiccup comes from an involuntary contraction of the diaphragm, producing a sudden intake of air. The glottis (the vocal apparatus of the larynx) slams shut at the same time, so that the column of air strikes the closed glottis to produce the characteristic, onomatopoeic noise.

9.   Is there an easy way to prove the Earth is round?

winter

Yes, travel. Because the Earth’s surface is curved, you’ll notice that different constellations of stars are revealed.

10.   Can you have a fish out of water?

WAFR-00012339-001

Yes. Several species of fish can breathe air and crawl on land. There are about 50 species of flying fish, too.

P is for Plague (Black Death) #atozchallenge @aprila2z

PThe Black Death was one of the most devastating pandemics in human history, resulting in the deaths of an estimated 75 to 200 million people and peaking in Europe in the years 1348–50 CE.   Although there were several competing theories as to the etiology of the Black Death, analysis of DNA from victims in northern and southern Europe published in 2010 and 2011 indicates that the pathogen responsible was the Yersinia pestis bacterium, probably causing several forms of plague.

Yersinia pestis

Yersinia pestis

The Black Death is thought to have originated in the arid plains of central Asia, where it then travelled along the Silk Road, reaching the Crimea by 1346.   From there, it was most likely carried by Oriental rat fleas living on the black rats that were regular passengers on merchant ships. Spreading throughout the Mediterranean and Europe, the Black Death is estimated to have killed 30–60% of Europe’s total population. All in all, the plague reduced the world population from an estimated 450 million down to 350–375 million in the 14th century.

Black-Death

The aftermath of the plague created a series of religious, social, and economic upheavals, which had profound effects on the course of European history. It took 150 years for Europe’s population to recover. The plague reoccurred occasionally in Europe until the 19th century.

This subject is very depressing.  The following from Monty Pythons should help relieve the depressing subject.

O is for Oregon Trail #atozchallenge @aprila2z

OOn May 22, 1843, a massive wagon train, made up of 1,000 settlers and 1,000 head of cattle, sets off down the Oregon Trail from Independence, Missouri. Known as the “Great Emigration,” the expedition came two years after the first modest party of settlers made the long, overland journey to Oregon.

Oregontrail_1907

After leaving Independence, the giant wagon train followed the Sante Fe Trail for some 40 miles and then turned northwest to the Platte River, which it followed along its northern route to Fort Laramie, Wyoming. From there, it traveled on to the Rocky Mountains, which it passed through by way of the broad, level South Pass that led to the basin of the Colorado River. The travelers then went southwest to Fort Bridger, northwest across a divide to Fort Hall on the Snake River, and on to Fort Boise, where they gained supplies for the difficult journey over the Blue Mountains and into Oregon. The Great Emigration finally arrived in October, completing the 2,000-mile journey from Independence in five months.

2006december_trail_family

In the next year, four more wagon trains made the journey, and in 1845 the number of emigrants who used the Oregon Trail exceeded 3,000. Travel along the trail gradually declined with the advent of the railroads, and the route was finally abandoned in the 1870s.

Fording the North Platte

N is for Naval and Maritime Disasters #atozchallenge @aprila2z

NThere probably isn’t a person alive today that doesn’t know the story of the HMS Titanic from 1912 but even with the loss of more than 1,500 people, it is far from the world’s worst maritime disaster, in terms of loss of life. History’s deadliest shipwreck occurred in 1945, when some 9,000 people perished after a German vessel, the Wilhelm Gustloff, was torpedoed by a Soviet submarine in the Baltic Sea. Find out more about the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff, and four other other major shipwrecks you might not know about.

gustloffsinking

The Wilhelm Gustloff (1945): The deadliest shipwreck in history
On January 30, 1945, some 9,000 people perished aboard this German ocean liner after it was torpedoed by a Soviet submarine and sank in the frigid waters of the Baltic Sea. The Gustloff was constructed as a cruise ship for the Nazis’ “Kraft durch Freude” (“Strength through Joy”) program, which provided recreational activities for working-class Germans. Adolf Hitler launched the 684-foot-long, 25,000-ton vessel in 1937. However, its cruising career was brief; after World War II began in 1939, the German military converted the Gustloff into a hospital then later used it as a U-boat training school.

The Wilhelm Gustloff?s final voyage was during Operation Hannibal in January 1945, when it was sunk while participating in the evacuation of civilians,

The Wilhelm Gustloff?s final voyage was during Operation Hannibal in January 1945, when it was sunk while participating in the evacuation of civilians,

In January 1945, as the Soviet army advanced on East Prussia, the Nazis launched Operation Hannibal, a mass naval evacuation of German military personnel and civilians from the region. On January 30, as part of Operation Hannibal, the Gustloff left the East Prussian port of Gotenhafen (which today is the Polish city of Gdynia) bound for Kiel, Germany. The Soviet submarine S-13 soon spotted the Gustloff and blasted it with three torpedoes. The German liner sank within 90 minutes, about 12 nautical miles off Stolpe Bank near present-day Poland. Historians now estimate that only about 1,000 of the approximately 10,000 people aboard the Gustloff survived, making it the deadliest maritime disaster in history.

map-wg_sinking

In the aftermath, the world learned little about the disaster for a variety of reasons. The Nazi regime kept news of the sinking out of the headlines and censored survivors, and some survivors kept quiet because they felt guilty about their German heritage and the atrocities Nazi Germany had inflicted on millions of people.

Mont Blanc (1917): A massive explosion devastates a city
On December 6, 1917, in Nova Scotia’s busy Halifax Harbor, the Mont Blanc, a French ship loaded with explosives and headed for Europe, where World War I raged, collided with the Imo, which was traveling to New York to pick up relief supplies for war-ravaged Belgium. After the collision, fire broke out on the Mont Blanc, which soon ran aground on the Halifax waterfront, where a crowd had gathered to watch the burning ship. About 20 minutes after the collision, the fire ignited the 2,925 tons of explosives the Mont Blanc was transporting and sparked a massive blast. (The force of the blast was so great that physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer, referred to as “the father of the atomic bomb,” later studied the event in order to estimate the potential damage of the nuclear weapons he was helping to develop.)

Halifax Harbor explosion: In December 1917, the French ammunition ship Mont Blanc and the chartered Belgian steamer Imo collided in Halifax Harbor in Nova Scotia

Halifax Harbor explosion: In December 1917, the French ammunition ship Mont Blanc and the chartered Belgian steamer Imo collided in Halifax Harbor in Nova Scotia

The blast killed scores of people instantly and devastated the surrounding area, toppling buildings, setting entire blocks ablaze and triggering a tsunami. Compounding the tragedy was the fact that a blizzard struck the region that night, hampering rescue and relief efforts. More than 2,000 people died as a result of what became known as the Halifax Explosion—the largest man-made blast until the first atomic bomb was dropped on Japan in 1945– while more than 6,000 others were injured and some 9,000 people were left homeless.

The Sultana (1865): Catastrophe on the Mississippi River
On April 27, 1865, some 1,700 people—many of them Union soldiers recently freed from Confederate prison camps—perished after this side-wheel steamboat exploded, burned and sank in the Mississippi River. Launched in 1863 in Cincinnati, the 260-feet-long, wooden-hulled Sultana was licensed to carry 376 passengers. During the Civil War, it made regular trips between New Orleans and St. Louis, often transporting troops and supplies for the federal government.

sultana

On April 24, 1865, the Sultana stopped at Vicksburg, Mississippi, to pick up discharged Union soldiers, many of them weak and malnourished from their time in such notorious POW camps as Andersonville and Cahaba.

prison

The U.S. government paid steamboat companies to transport soldiers to their homes in the North: $5 for each enlisted man and $10 for each officer, and, as a result, some companies bribed military officials in order to take on as many soldiers as possible. The Sultana departed Vicksburg with an estimated 2,400 people on board—more than 2,000 soldiers, 100 civilians and 80 crew members—six times the vessel’s legal capacity. At around 2 a.m. on April 27, just north of Memphis, three of the Sultana’s four boilers suddenly exploded and the boat caught fire. Hundreds of passengers burned to death, while hundreds more were thrown into the surging Mississippi by the force of the blast or jumped into the water to escape the flames onboard–and ended up drowning.

sultana_burning

The sinking of the Sultana was the deadliest maritime disaster in U.S. history, but it was largely overlooked because it came so soon after the end of the American Civil War (Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered his Confederate force to Gen. Ulysses Grant on April 9) and the assassination of President Lincoln (April 14).

The Arctic (1854): Women and children last
The 284-foot-long, 2,856-ton Arctic, which made its maiden transatlantic voyage in 1850, was known for its speed and could cross the Atlantic in just nine days. On September 27, 1854, while sailing from Liverpool, England, to New York City, the Arctic collided with a smaller French steamship, the Vesta, in thick fog off Cape Race, Newfoundland. Initially, the French vessel appeared to have suffered greater damage, but the Arctic’s captain soon realized his own ship was rapidly taking on seawater and he made the decision to abandon the Vesta and head for land in order to save his passengers. However, after leaving the Vesta, the damaged Arctic continued to take on water, causing its furnaces to go out and its engines to stop working. The captain ordered that women and children should be put into lifeboats first, but instead a number of the crew and some male passengers made a dash for the boats, leaving hundreds of people to die when the Arctic sank.

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In the end, of the estimated 400 people aboard the Arctic, only 87 survived the disaster, 22 of them passengers and the rest crew members; none were women or children. The Arctic’s captain went down with the sinking ship but managed to stay alive by clinging to some wreckage before being rescued by another vessel. Meanwhile, the Vesta did not sink and instead made it to St. John’s, Newfoundland, on September 30. The Arctic crew members who took the lifeboats and abandoned ship were criticized in the media for their behavior, which also violated laws forbidding sailors to put their own safety before that of passengers in emergencies. However, none of the men were prosecuted for their actions.

Dona Paz (1987): The deadliest peacetime shipwreck in history
On December 20, 1987, this Philippine passenger ferry, en route from the Philippine island of Leyte to Manila, the capital city of the Philippines, collided with an oil tanker, caught fire and sank, killing as many as 4,000 people. The Dona Paz, built in 1963 in Japan, collided at night in the Tablas Strait with the Vector, a tanker carrying more than 8,000 barrels of petroleum products. The Vector’s cargo burst into flames and fire quickly spread to the Dona Paz; both vessels eventually sank.

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Passenger ferries are common in the Philippines, an archipelago of some 7,100 islands with a weak record of nautical safety. At the time of the collision, the Dona Paz, later referred to as “Asia’s Titanic,” was overcrowded; although the exact number of people the vessel was carrying is unknown, the total might have been more than double its legal capacity. Additionally, the Vector was said to be poorly maintained and operating without a license. Only several dozen people survived the disaster.

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