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Beatrix Potter Dies

beatrixpotter1On December 22, 1943, English writer, illustrator, and conservationist, Beatrix Potter, died. She is best known for her children’s tales and illustrations. The most notable of these is The Tale of Peter Rabbit.

Potter was born in London in 1866 to a lawyer and a wealthy merchant. Both her parents had artistic talents, which they passed on to their daughter. She was always a very solitary person, even as a child because her only brother was sent to a boarding school as soon as he came of age. She cared for a variety of animals as a child including frogs, rabbits, and bats. Because she spent the majority of her time alone with her animals, she honed the artistic skills she learned from her parents and began to draw her pets. Natural history also became a notable interest of Potter’s, and she would spend several hours drawing things like flowers and fungi.

Her interest in science was something Potter wanted to pursue professionally for a brief period of time. For a while, she worked on developing a theory of spore germination to demonstrate that algae and fungus were of the same family. Her uncle, who was a well-known chemist, tried to help her enroll in the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, but she was rejected for being female.

As Potter grew older, her parents tried to set her up with suitable men to marry, but she rejected all of them and stayed vehemently independent. She had no domestic aspirations because she thought her life would be too uneventful. Instead she stayed single and at home the majority of the time, working on her illustrations and developing them into children’s stories.

While still in her 20s, Potter made several attempts to get her stories published, but was unsuccessful for the most part. Frederick Warne & Company eventually took on Potter as a client. The company did not have high hopes for Potter’s stories, and turned the project over to Norman Warne, their youngest brother. They initially envisioned it to be a test for Norman, but he took on the project with a great amount of passion, and he developed a close relationship with Potter, carefully pouring over every detail of her book. Potter’s first book, The Tale of Peter Rabbit, was published in 1902 when she was 36, and was very successful. By the end of the year, 28,000 copies of the book had been printed. An excellent business woman, Potter patented a Peter Rabbit doll in 1903 and continued to make a profit from it, adding to her new found wealth.

beatrixpotter2Norman Warne and Potter developed a close relationship the more they worked together, and were engaged to be married in 1906. Tragically, Norman passed away from leukemia just a few months after the two were engaged.

She was devastated by his death, but made a promise to herself that she would start fresh and be happy again. With her love for nature and animals still very much alive, Potter bought Hill Top farm, in Sawry, Cumbria and continued to live there for the rest of her life. The beginning of her time living here was her most prolific writing period. It was here that she created some of her most popular characters like Flopsy, Mopsy, and Cottontail. She personified them by dressing them in human clothing and having them go through normal trials and tribulations most people experienced at one point or another in their lives.

In 1909, when she set out to buy the nearby Castle Farm, she met her future husband William Heelis, who helped her purchase her new land. She was 47 when they married.

In the following years, her eyesight began to diminish and so did the time she spent writing and creating new illustrations. She spent the majority of her time acquiring new land and raising sheep.

On December 22, 1943, she died due to complications from pneumonia and heart disease. Due to an inheritance she had received from her father and the wealth she made from selling her stories, she bought a large amount of land towards the end of her life. Upon her death, she left over 4,000 acres of land, sixteen farms, cottages and herds of cattle and Herdwick sheep to the National Trust. Her’s was one of the biggest legacies ever made.

Sources: Biography Online, Wordsworth Country

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Wassily Kandinsky Dies

kandinskyOn December 13, 1944, famous Russian painter and theorist, Wassily Kandinsky died. He is known for painting the first purely abstract pieces of art.

Kandinsky was born in Moscow in 1866 and had a close personal experience with art from a young age. With the perception that “each color lives by its mysterious life,” Kandinsky’s childhood artwork utilized very specific color combinations. Even though his inclinations toward making art were strong, stating that he felt as though drawing and painting lifted him out of reality, he pursued his parents’ wishes for him to attend law school. He married his first wife in 1892 and began working at the Moscow Faculty of Law, managing an art-printing works on the side.

Two events led to Kandinsky quitting his law work and turning his full attention toward creating art – seeing a French Impressionists exhibition, including Claude Monet‘s Haystacks, in Moscow and hearing Richard Wagner‘s Lohengrin at the Bolshoi Theatre. The powerful sense of color in Monet’s work and the way Wagner pushed the limits of music and melody beyond standard lyricism inspired Kandinsky to move to Munich to pursue studying and making art full-time.

He was accepted into a prestigious private painting school and went on to study at the Munich Academy of Arts. Though he was in school, his artistic studies were mostly self-taught, and during this time he started to become known as an art theorist as well as a painter. At first, his art was more conventional, but his spiritual studies and the connection he made between music and color triggered the art theories he became known for and displayed in his works. By the beginning of the 20th century, Kandinsky became known as the father of abstract art.

Harnessing his physiological gift of synaesthesia cognate which allowed him to hear color and see sound, Kandinsky began to use color as an expression of emotion rather than just a physical attribute of an object. He befriended several other artists of the time and often showed his work in exhibitions while also publishing his artistic theories and ideas.

In the early 1900s, he divorced his first wife and met art student Gabriele Münter with whom he traveled extensively. He also formed a group of artists that was fundamental to Expressionism called The Blue Rider with fellow artist Franz Marc. The group held two important exhibitions in 1911 and 1912. After returning to Russia and teaching art, he was influenced by the constructivist movement and began using more geometrical forms and hard lines in his work. He met and married Nina Andreevskaya and had a child with her, who only lived until the age of 3. Devastated by his son’s death, Kandinsky began to focus his restless energy on the reformation of art and government-run programs in Russia and helped establish Moscow’s Institute of Artistic Culture and Museum of Pictorial Culture. Kandinsky’s spiritual and artistic position was denounced and eventually his Soviet citizenship was revoked. He fled Russia in 1921 and joined the Bauhuas Movement in Weimer, Germany. Kandinsky was invited to teach at the Bauhaus, which was an innovative school of art and architecture. He taught classes on design, advanced color theory, and abstract painting and wrote plays and poems.

The Nazis shut down the Bauhaus in 1933 and many of Kandinsky’s works were confiscated after an exhibition. He fled to a small suburb of Paris called Neuilly-sur-Seine, but lived the rest of his life in seclusion, suffering from depression because his art was no longer selling well. Though Kandinsky didn’t think highly of himself, he was still known for being a controversial artist and theorist, and he became internationally known for his exhibitions, which he continued to do until his death. He gained an important fan in Solomon Guggenheim, a U.S. businessman and art collector, who began collecting Kandinsky’s works and later started his own foundation and museum which still holds art from some of the most important expressionist and surrealist painters of the 20th century.

Most of the work Kandinsky produced while he was in Russia did not survive, although most of his German works are still in existence. Kandinsky’s paintings are known for fetching a high price when they are put up to auction with most selling for over $20 million.

Kandinsky died on December 13, 1944 after suffering from cerebrovascular disease at his studio in Neuilly-sur-Seine, France.

Sources: Wikipedia, Biography.com, IMDB


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James Naismith Dies

University of Kansas basketball team in 1899 with coach James Naismith.

University of Kansas basketball team in 1899 with coach James Naismith.

On November 28, 1939, James Naismith, better known as the inventor of basketball, died.

Naismith was born in Ontario, Canada in 1861. He attended McGill University in Montreal and became one of their all-star athletes, participating in Canadian football, lacrosse, soccer, rugby, and gymnastics for the school. After receiving his BA is Physical Education, he became McGill’s first Athletic Director, but left the school to become a physical education teacher at the YMCA International Training School in Springfield, Massachusetts in 1891.

Because of the extremely cold New England winters, Naismith’s students were confined to the indoor gym and thus became too rowdy to handle. The head of the Springfield YMCA Physical Education gave Naismith 14 days to come up with a game that would occupy the students as an “athletic distraction” and would also keep track athletes in shape. He also specified that Naismith create a fair game that would not be as rough as other sports. Naismith was inspired in his game creation by a game he used to play as a child called, “duck-on-a-rock.” Players would throw a small rock at a “duck” placed on top of a larger rock in an attempt to knock the duck down. The three main components of the game were team spirit, marksmanship, and passing. He thought these three qualities would be a perfect way to distract the unruly students while maintaining a high level of physical activity.

The first game of basketball was played with two peach baskets fixed 10 feet above the ground, and a soccer ball. After making a few changes, like changing the baskets out for hoops with nets, Naismith wrote the 13 basic rules of basketball. Basketball was made international in 1893 by the YMCA movement. Naismith joined the faculty of the University of Kansas in 1898 and the men’s basketball program there started, just six years after Naismith wrote the official rules for the sport. Ironically, Naismith was Kansas’ only coach with a losing record in the game.

Basketball was introduced as an Olympic sport in 1936, and since then Naismith has received many awards and had basketball awards named after him. He retired from his duties at Kansas state in 1937, with almost 40 years as a member of the faculty and athletic direction under his belt. He died just 2 years later in 1939 from a brain hemorrhage in Lawrence, Kansas.

Sources: About.com, Wikipedia, Buzzle


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Alfred Anderson Dies

wwiOn November 21, 2005, Alfred Anderson died at age 109. He was Scotland‘s last known World War I veteran, the last member alive of the “Old Contemptibles,” the last known soldier who took part in the 1914 World War I Christmas truce, and Scotland’s oldest man for over a year.

Anderson was born on June 25, 1896, and joined the volunteer reserve of the British Army in 1912 when he was only 16 years old. Unbeknownst to him, he had volunteered to fight on the Western Front, which was where the German Army had invaded France through neutral Belgium shortly after the outbreak of WWI.

On December 24 and 25, 1914, when Anderson was 18 years old, he participated in the Christmas Truce. This odd occurrence involved British and German troops going through a ceasefire and celebrating Christmas in comradery by decorating their trenches, singing carols together, and even participating in soccer games together in the muddy No Man’s Land.  Over 80 years later, Anderson recalled these days saying,

I remember the silence, the eerie sound of silence. All I’d heard for two months in the trenches was the hissing, cracking and whining of bullets in flight, machine-gun fire and distant German voices. But there was a dead silence that morning, right across the land as far as you could see. We shouted ‘Merry Christmas,’ even though nobody felt merry. The silence ended early in the afternoon and the killing started again. It was a short peace in a terrible war.

During the war he was also briefly appointed to be a batman, or personal servant, to Captain Fergus Bowes-Lyon, brother of the Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother. A brave and calm servant, Anderson would often go into No Man’s Land at night with Bowes-Lyon to listen for enemy activity. He continued to fight in France during the first World War until he was injured by a piece of shrapnel during one of his late-night outings with Bowes-Lyon.

In 1988, Anderson was awarded by the French Legion of Honor along with other WWI veterans who fought on French soil, and he was visited by Prince Charles in 2003 after news that Anderson was batman for the prince’s uncle, Bowes-Lyon, was brought to public attention.

A few weeks after being featured on the BBC One documentary The Last Tommy along with other WWI British Army vets, Anderson died in his sleep in Sweden. At the time of his death, he was the oldest man in Sweden.

Sources: Wikipedia, The New York Times



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Johannes Kepler Dies

Johannes Kepler Kopie eines verlorengegangenen Originals von 1610On November 15, 1630, German mathematician, astronomer, and astrologer Johannes Kepler died in Regensburg, Germany. He is best known for his laws of planetary motion which influenced Isaac Newton‘s theory of universal gravitation.

Kepler was born in Weil der Stadt, Württemberg on December 27, 1571. His father was a mercenary who left his family when Kepler was five years old. His mother was an herbalist and healer who was tried for witchcraft later in her life. Kepler took an interest in mathematics and astronomy as a child, and these interests stuck with him throughout the rest of his life. In 1589, he received a scholarship to study theology at the University of Tübingen. While attending school, he studied under Michael Maestlin who was an advocate of the Copernican Theory, which stated that the sun was the center of the solar system rather than Earth. Nearly all scholars at this time still believed the rest of the solar system revolved around Earth. Though he had originally intended to be a minister, at the end of his studies, he was offered a position as a mathematics and astronomy teacher at Graz.

While teaching at Graz, Kepler wrote Mysterium Cosmographicum, an outspoken astronomical defense of the Copernican System and heliocentrism. During the Catholic Counter-Reformation, Kepler, who was Lutheran, was forced to leave. He moved to Prague where he began to work with renowned astronomer Tycho Brahe. Brahe had both the most exact measuring instruments and the most exact empiric data of his time, and from this data Kepler discovered that the orbit of Mars was an ellipse. He noted his discoveries in Astronomia Nova, which details his first two laws of planetary motion. This work was also the first time a scientist documented how to form an extremely accurate theory using imperfect data. This is known today as the scientific method.

In 1612, Kepler moved to Linz where he again became a teacher and astrological and astronomical adviser. He published Harmonice Mundi in 1619 in which he explained the astronomical and astrological proportions of the natural world in terms of music. He also explained what would come to be known as the third law of planetary motion.

During his lifetime, Kepler was never famous, but his articulations of the astrological and astronomical world led to many other great scientific discoveries that better allow us to understand the way the universe works. Suffering a fever, he died in Regensburg, Germany on November 15, 1630.

Sources: Wikipedia, Famous Scientists, kepler.nasa.gov, einstein-website.de


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John Milton Dies

johnmiltonOn November 8, 1674, English poet, scholar, and civil servant John Milton died. Milton is best known for writing the epic poem Paradise Lost and for his defense of uncensored publication.

Born in London in 1608, Milton was devoted to his studies and took an interest in poetry at a young age. His father, who was a legal scrivener and an amateur composer influenced Milton’s poetry style by helping him develop a love for music. Milton’s family’s financial status allowed him to be taught classical languages by private tutors and he became fluent in Latin, Greek, Hebrew, French, Spanish, and Italian, and obtained a familiarity with Old English and Dutch as well. He was admitted into Christ’s College in Cambridge at the age of 15, with aspirations of becoming a member of the clergy. He was expelled during his first year after having a dispute with his tutor, and upon his return decided he no longer wanted to pursue religious studies and received his M.A. in 1632.

Upon finishing school, Milton returned to one of his family’s homes in Buckinghamshire where he dedicated himself to six years of self-implemented private study. He composed sonnets, lyrics, and various other pieces of poetry during this time. In 1638, he went on a 13-month tour of France and Italy, in which he is suspected to have met many great minds and important people of the time including Galileo, Giovanni Batista, and the pope’s nephew, Cardinal Barberini. He returned to England when he learned of the religious and political turmoil taking place.

In 1642, after returning to England with a 16-year-old bride, Milton joined forces with Oliver Cromwell, an independent puritan political and military leader, as the English Civil War raged on. Milton began political pamphleteering, writing about his support of a variety of controversial topics like the freedom of the press, the morality of divorce, populism, and the judicial execution of King Charles I. He also composed official statements on behalf of the Commonwealth of England while serving as secretary of foreign languages in Cromwell’s government.

When Charles II regained power of the throne, Milton was imprisoned for his support of the downfall of the monarchy and many of his books were burned. He was released a short time later under a general pardon, and secluded himself in the English countryside, focusing on his writing. It was at this time that he composed his epic poem, Paradise Lost. He was completely blind at this point, and was forced to remember things he wanted to write and dictate them to hired aides. Paradise Lost chronicles the Biblical story of Creation, Satan’s rebellion against God and fall from heaven, and the temptation of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden and their eventual expulsion from paradise. It is considered Milton’s magnum opus and one of the greatest epic poems ever written. It is hailed for its theological themes, political commentary, and depiction of Satan as the story’s protagonist.

In 1674, Milton died peacefully from natural causes in a small house near Bunhill Fields in England. His work has inspired many other famous writers including Alexander Pope, John Keats, William Blake, and many more.

Sources: Encyclopedia of World Biography, Wikipedia, Poets.org, Luminarium: Anthology of English Literature, Adnax.com, Biography.com

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Walter Payton Dies

chicago_u_payton_300On November 1, 1999 famed American football running back, Walter Payton died. Payton played for the Chicago Bears from 1975-1987, and is known for being one of the greatest running backs in NFL history. During his 13 season career, he held records for the league’s most career rushing yards, touchdowns, carries, and many other categories. He also appeared in nine Pro Bowls and was selected as the NFL’s Most Valuable Player twice.

Payton was born in Mississipi in 1954 and began to draw attention to himself after he was placed on the starting line-up at Jackson State University in 1971 when he was merely a freshman. He rushed more than 3,500 yards and scored over 450 points while he was in school at Jackson State. In addition to these versatile feats, he was named Black College Player of the Year twice. He garnered the nickname “Sweetness” while he was in college which many say came about due to his off-the-field personality. He showed a great interest in helping others, and studied education with an emphasis on helping the deaf. Some also say this nickname stemmed from his athletic grace, or as a sarcastic commentary on his aggressive playing style on the field.

In the 1975 NFL draft, Payton was picked up in the first round by the Chicago Bears. Payton’s playing motto was “Never Die Easy,” which was also the name of his posthumous autobiography. The motto came from Payton’s refusal to run out-of-bounds at practice and how he always delivered some sort of punishment to his tacklers before going down.  He also invented a move he called the “stutter-step” which was a high-stepping, irregularly paced run he used to distract his opponents, especially those who were faster runners than him.

At the end of his football career in 1987, Payton held an NFL rushing record of 16,726 yards and a single game rushing record of 275 yards. In 1993, he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame and he was put into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1996.

After his retirement, he continued his humanitarian work and formed the Walter Payton Foundation to help youths in the state of Illinois. Payton announced in February of 1999 that he had been diagnosed with a rare liver disease called primary sclerosing cholangitis, which lead to him later getting bile duct cancer. He spent the last part of his life being an advocate for organ donation, though at this point, it was too late for him to receive any sort of transplant because his illness was at an advanced stage.

He died on November 1, 1999 at the age of 45 due to complications arising from his illness. After his death, organ donations skyrocketed in Illinois, and he is credited with bringing the need for organ donors to national attention. The famed football player’s legacy lives on in several foundations set up in his name which raise money for underprivileged children, cancer, and other various humanitarian causes.

Sources: Wikipeidia, Biography.com

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Marie Antoinette Beheaded

Marie Antoinette, Queen of France, in coronation robes by Jean-Baptiste Gautier Dagoty, 1775.

Marie Antoinette, Queen of France, in coronation robes by Jean-Baptiste Gautier Dagoty, 1775.

On October 16, 1793, Marie Antoinette, who was the Queen of France from 1774-1792, was beheaded at the Place de la Révolution in Paris, France.

The future Queen of France was born Maria Antonia Josepha Johanna in 1755 in Austria to Francis I, Holy Roman Emperor and Empress Maria Theresa. As part of a plan to “unite” Austria and France after the Seven Years’ War, and due to the fact that several of Maria Antonia’s female relatives died during a smallpox outbreak, it was decided that she would marry Louis XVI, Dauphin of France. At the age of 14, Maria Antonia married Louis XVI by proxy and was renamed Marie Antoinette, Dauphine of France.

At first, Marie Antoinette was considered to be very popular with the people of France. Her first official appearance at the Tuileries in Paris was reported to have 50,000 people crying out to see her. The general public at this time was swooned by her beauty and personality. The French Court had a different opinion of her due to the long-time tensions between France and Austria.

Since the beginning of her marriage and her move to Versailles, the Dauphine received letters from her mother which were often filled with criticism. These criticisms included how Marie Antoinette could not “inspire passion” in her husband who occupied himself with his hobbies, or that she was no longer pretty and had lost her grace. Because of the lack of attention she received from her husband and the incessant criticism of her mother, Marie Antoinette began to spend money extravagantly on clothing and gambling. This extravagant spending would later work against her and how the people of France viewed her.

Marie continued to perform her wifely duties and finally began to bear children with her husband after they were married for seven years. Her spending habits did not cease, and she became known for her over-the-top fashions in the French court. Louis XVI sent large amounts of money to America to aid the American Revolution, which pushed France into further debt and raised taxes, even further negatively affecting the poorer people of France. This combined with increasing unemployment across France and poor crops caused the French people to be filled with resentment for the French monarchy by the late 1780s. Marie became an obvious target for hatred because of her Austrian heritage and her spending habits while the people of France were starving.

On July 14, 1789, revolutionaries stormed the French prison of Bastille, marking a turning point in the French Revolution. That October, Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette and their surviving two children were taken from the Palace of Versailles and put under house arrest at the Tuileries of Paris. In September of 1792, it was officially declared that the French monarchy had fallen. Louis XVI was separated from his family and was executed by guillotine in January of 1793.

Mourning the loss of her husband, Marie Antoinette became severely depressed, refused to eat, and suffered from tuberculosis and possibly uterine cancer. She was charged with treason on the morning of October 16, 1793 after two days of court proceedings and was paraded around Paris for several hours in an open cart with her hair cut off. She was beheaded around noon that same day and her last words were, “Pardon me sir, I meant not to do it,” after she stepped on her executioner’s foot.

Sources: Wikipedia, MentalFloss.com

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Ray Bradbury Dies at 91

American fantasy, science fiction, and horror writer Ray Bradbury was born in Illinois on August 22, 1920. He went on to become one of the most celebrated authors of the 20th century.

Ray Bradbury is most well known for The Martian Chronicles (1950), The Illustrated Man (1951), and the dystopian novel Fahrenheit 451 (1953). Many of his novels have been recreated into popular comic books, TV shows, and movies.

Upon his death on June 5, 2012 The New York Times called him “the writer most responsible for bringing modern science fiction into the mainstream.” Ray Bradbury is survived by four daughters and several grandchildren.

Sources: Biography, Wikipedia

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Jane Addams Dies at 74

Born Laura Jane Addams on September 6, 1860 in Illinois, Jane Addams became one of the most important of the social reformers, Pacifists, and Feminists, during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Jane Addams was a co-founder of one of the first settlements in America, the Hull House in Chicago, Illinois. The Hull House provided aid to immigrants and the poor who were residing in Chicago, and offered services like childcare, education, arts and culture, and food.

In 1931, Jane Addams was the co-winner of the Nobel Peace Prize with Nicholas Murray Butler, and was the first American woman to have won. Addams was also the first female president of the National Conference of Social Work, the president of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, and the founder of the National Federation of Settlements. Jane Addams, peace activist and social reformer, died on May 21, 1935 at the age of 74.

Sources: Wikipedia, Biography

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