November 12, 1927: The Holland Tunnel Opens

Clifford Holland was 36 years old in 1919 when he was appointed chief engineer of the new tunnel project under the Hudson River, but he had already designed four subway tunnels under the East River.

holland tunnelPlans for the Hudson River crossing began in 1906 with the appointment of commissions in New York and New Jersey to construct bridges connecting the states. Initial proposals called for a bridge from Canal Street in Manhattan to 13th Street in Jersey City, but a bridge was found not practical due to the long span required to cross the Hudson, the deep foundations needed to reach bedrock, and the lengthy approaches which would require large purchases of real estate.

Eleven different plans for a tunnel were then proposed. Holland’s plan for twin tubes lined with cast iron, each containing two lanes of motor vehicle traffic on a single deck, was ultimately selected.

Experiments were conducted to design a special ventilation system for motor vehicle exhaust. Studies by the Bureau of Mines determined the composition of motor vehicle exhaust gases.
Researchers at Yale determined the effects of carbon monoxide on humans. At the University of Illinois the amount of power required to operate the ventilation system was determined.

Holland concluded that the ventilation system would need to keep carbon monoxide below four parts per 10,000. Ventilation systems used in railroad tunnels blew fresh air from one portal to the other, but with vehicular traffic 70 mph winds would be needed to clear the tunnel of fumes. Instead, Holland devised a system in which clean air would be supplied throughout the tunnel through a fresh air duct located below the roadway with openings at regular intervals. An exhaust duct above the roadway with openings at regular intervals would remove the exhaust fumes out of the tunnel. Thus, air would be drawn straight up within the tunnel, which would also confine the spread of flames in the event of a fire.

A 400-foot long large-scale model of the tunnel was constructed near Pittsburgh to evaluate the proposal. In the final design 84 fans in four ventilation buildings powered by electric motors with an output of 6,000 horsepower can completely change the air inside the tunnel every 90 seconds.

Construction of the “Hudson River Vehicular Tunnel” began in 1922 at the foot of Canal Street. Clifford Holland was ever present on the construction site – even as a teenager he had told his classmates he wanted to be “a tunnel man” and this was his life’s work. The tunnel was dug 94 feet below the surface through the silted riverbed using six immense shields, each a large cylinder driven by 30 hydraulic jacks. Compressed air pressurized the interior of the shields to keep out the water and muck; after segments of the tubes were excavated, thick cast iron rings were added to support the walls.

Five years into the project, having spent countless hours working at his desk and in the compressed air of the tubes, chief engineer Clifford Holland suffered a nervous breakdown. He was sent to a sanitarium in Battle Creek, Michigan for rest. On October 27, 1924, Holland died of a heart attack. He was 41.

Two days later the two ends of the tubes from New York and New Jersey were joined together; thanks to Holland’s precise calculations the two sections met within a fraction of an inch. Shortly thereafter, the New York State Bridge and Tunnel Commission and the New Jersey Interstate Bridge and Tunnel Commission resolved that the “Hudson River Vehicular Tunnel” be dedicated to the memory of Clifford Milburn Holland, and that the Tunnel be named as “The Holland Tunnel”.

The Holland Tunnel formally opened on November 12, 1927. Twenty thousand people walked through the tunnel and viewed the engineering marvel before it opened to vehicles at midnight. The first car to enter the Holland Tunnel from Manhattan carried chairmen of the New York State Bridge and Tunnel Commission and the widow of Clifford Holland.

Once described as the “Eighth Wonder of the World,” at two and a half miles it was the longest underwater vehicular tunnel, the first tunnel constructed with a ventilation system designed to handle automobile and truck exhaust fumes, and had the largest tube width—twin tubes at 29.5 feet in diameter, and set the standard for other vehicular tunnels that followed throughout the world.

The Holland Tunnel remains one of the few major engineering works named after its engineer.

November 11, 1918: Armistice Day comes to Henry Gunther

At five in the morning on November 11, 1918, an armistice with Germany was signed in a railroad carriage at Compiègne, France.  At 11 a.m., “the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month”—a ceasefire would be put in effect.

GuntherHenry Gunther grew up in a German-American family in Baltimore and wasn’t over-zealous about fighting his former kinfolk. He didn’t enlist in the army as many others did when war was declared in April 1917, but by September of that year he had gotten drafted and found himself assigned to the 313th Regiment, better known as “Baltimore’s Own”.

The regiment was part of the larger 157th Brigade of the 79th Infantry Division. Promoted to supply sergeant, Gunther was responsible for the clothing for his military unit. Arriving in France in July 1918, Henry found he wasn’t very happy with his circumstances. Writing home to a friend he complained of “miserable conditions” at the front and advised his friend to do anything to avoid being drafted. Unfortunately, the letter was intercepted by the Army postal censor, and as a result, Gunther was busted back down to a private.

Gunther’s unit, Company ‘A’, arrived at the Western Front on September 12, 1918. Like all Allied units on the front of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, it was still embroiled in fighting on the morning of November 11. But then, the long awaited news spread rapidly through the lines; the armistice with Germany would come into force at 11:00 a.m.

A little before eleven, Gunther’s squad approached a roadblock of two German machine guns in the village of Chaumont-devant-Damvillers near Meuse, in Lorraine. At 10:59 AM Private Gunther got up, against the orders of his close friend and sergeant, Ernest Powell. As his comrades shouted at him, Gunther took off, and charged with his bayonet.

The German soldiers, also aware that the Armistice would take effect in one minute, tried to wave Gunther off, but he kept charging, and fired a shot.

As he closed in on the astonished Germans, a machine gun broke out in a short burst of automatic fire.

James M. Cain, a reporter back then for “The Sun”, interviewed Gunther’s comrades shortly afterward. He wrote that “Gunther brooded a great deal over his recent reduction in rank, and became obsessed with a determination to make good before his officers and fellow soldiers.”

On November 12th, General John J. Pershing’s “Order of The Day” specified Henry Gunther as the last American killed in the “War to End All Wars”.

The Army posthumously restored his rank of sergeant and awarded him a Divisional Citation for Gallantry in Action and the “Distinguished Service Cross”.

Post 1858 of the Veterans of Foreign Wars in Baltimore bears his name to this day.

November 10, 1919: Children’s Book Week is First Celebrated

Before 1920, publishers were known to publish an occasional book for boys and girls, but no publishers had “Children’s Book” departments per se. A few hundred children’s books might be published each year, but the costs for printing illustrated books in color was still high and the market was not well defined.

childrens bookFranklin K. Matthiews, the librarian of the Boy Scouts of America, had been touring the country, working to promote higher standards in children’s books. He joined forces with Frederic G. Melcher, the influential editor of Publishers Weekly, and Anne Carroll Moore, the Superintendent of Children’s Works at the New York Public Library to convince the American Booksellers Association and the American Library Association to sponsor a “Good Book Week” along with the Boy Scouts of America.

Still running every year (although in 2008 it moved from November to May) Children’s Book Week is the longest-running national literacy initiative in the country. Every year, events are held at schools, libraries, bookstores, and homes throughout the country celebrating the hundreds of thousands of children’s books published, read and enjoyed every year.

Beyond starting Children’s Book Week, Franklin K. Matthiews, Frederic G. Melcher, and Anne Carroll Moore each made lasting contributions to the world of children’s books.

Matthiew’s would publish his compilation “The Boyscouts’ Book of Campfire Stories” in 1921.

Melcher established the Newbery Medal in 1922 to award “the most distinguished book for children” and the Caldecott Medal in 1937 to honor children’s picture books.

Moore lectured New York publishers that books for children should be more than vehicles for morality lessons. She was adamant that children be treated as individuals and books for children should be well-written, factually accurate and should not mix fact and fantasy. Her book reviews could make or break a book – Thanks to Anne Carroll Moore Beatrix Potter was introduced to the American public.

Books read in childhood have a way of staying with us throughout our lives. Some of the books published in 1919 – the stories of Anne of Green Gables, the Magic of Oz, and Tarzan the Untamed – still resonate with us 95 years later, and even in this digital age Frederic Melcher’s declaration: “A great nation is a reading nation” remains as true today as ever.

November 7, 1775: Dunmore’s Emancipation Proclamation Frees the Slaves

John Murray, Earl of Dunmore and Royal Governor of the Colony of Virginia since 1771, had worked hard to extend Virginia’s borders past the Appalachians, defeating the Shawnee in Dunmore’s War and gaining land south of the Ohio River.  By the fourth year of his governorship, however, Dunmore had gotten pretty frustrated with the lack of respect shown him and the Crown by his disgruntled subjects.

DunmoreNervous about the intentions of the local hotheads, he did his best to prevent the election of representatives to the Second Continental Congress. On April 20, 1775, one day after the Battles of Lexington and Concord (and before news of that event even reached Virginia), Lord Dunmore ordered the removal of gunpowder from the magazine at Williamsburg and had it taken to a Royal Navy ship.

When the colonists heard of this action, militia companies began mustering. Patrick Henry led a small militia force toward Williamsburg, and argued that the ammunition belonged to them, not to the Crown. That night, Dunmore angrily swore, “I have once fought for the Virginians and by God, I will let them see that I can fight against them.” News spread through the colony rapidly, and a group of slaves loyally offered their services to protect the royal governor. Though he ordered them away, colonial slaveholders became suspicious of his intentions.

The protests turned violent; Dunmore fled Williamsburg and took refuge aboard the frigate HMS Fowey at Yorktown, replenishing his forces and supplies by conducting raids and inviting slaves to join him. When Virginia’s House of Burgesses decided that Dunmore’s departure indicated his resignation, he drafted a proclamation.
The official document, dated November 7, 1775, declared martial law in effect in Virginia and required every person capable of bearing arms to defend the crown or be looked upon as traitors. Furthermore, the document declared “all indentured servants, Negroes, or others…free that are able and willing to bear arms…”

Virginians were outraged and responded immediately. Patrols were organized to look for any slaves attempting to take Dunmore up on his offer. The Continental Congress recommended to Virginians that they resist Dunmore “to the uttermost…” and the Virginia Convention declared that any slaves who returned to their masters within ten days would be pardoned, but those who did not would be punished harshly.

A couple of thousand slaves took off from their plantations and joined up with the British forces. Dunmore’s “Ethiopian Regiment” fought bravely in the Battle of Great Bridge, but then got hit hard by smallpox. When Dunmore ultimately left the colony in 1776 he took 300 of the former slaves with him.

In 1779, British General Sir Henry Clinton issued the Philipsburg Proclamation, which freed slaves throughout the colonies, even those that did not enlist in the British Army. This second proclamation resulted in an even larger number of runaways – some estimate that 100,000 slaves joined the British over the course of the entire war. At the end of the war, when many Royalists withdrew to Nova Scotia, thousands of former slaves emigrated there too.

In 1833, slavery was abolished throughout the British Empire. It would be another 30 years before emancipation was again proclaimed throughout the United States.

November 6, 1865: The Final Confederate Surrender

With his army surrounded, his men weak and exhausted, Robert E. Lee realized there was little choice but to surrender his Army to General Grant. On April 9, 1865, in the village of Appomattox Courthouse, the two men met and effectively brought the bloodiest conflict in the nation’s history to an end.

News of the surrender travelled fast, reaching even San Francisco and Seattle within two days, but months later the Confederate warship CSS Shenandoah still hadn’t gotten the memo.shenandoah

The Shenandoah had started her career at Glasgow, Scotland, as the civilian steamer Sea King. After the Confederate Navy secretly purchased her, she put to sea in October 1864 under the cover that she was headed for India on a commercial voyage. When the Sea King neared Madeira, she rendezvoused at sea with another ship which transferred Confederate Navy officers, crew members, and heavy guns, and refitted her as a warship.

With James Iredell Waddell on board as Commanding Officer, she was commissioned as the CSS Shenandoah on 19 October, 1864. Waddell sailed his ship south through the Atlantic and into the Indian Ocean, and captured nine U.S. flag merchant vessels between late October and the end of 1864. All but two of these were sunk or burned. In late January 1865, the Shenandoah arrived at Melbourne, Australia, where she put in for repairs and provisions and recruited forty “stowaways” to fill out her short-handed crew. Following three weeks in port, the cruiser put to sea, planning to attack the American South Pacific whaling fleet.

When Waddell discovered that his intended targets had been tipped off to his plans, he headed north. He stopped in the Eastern Caroline islands at the beginning of April, where he seized four Union merchantmen and commandeered their supplies to stock up for further operations. About this time the Confederacy collapsed, but the news would spread very slowly through the distant Pacific. The Shenandoah headed for the Sea of Okhotsk, where she took one prize and the crew gained considerable experience in ice navigation, then moved on to the Bering Sea. There, in late June off the coast of Alaska, the Shenandoah captured two-dozen more Union vessels, destroying all but a few.

On June 27, 1865, Captain Waddell learned of General Lee’s surrender from a prize, the Susan & Abigail, when her captain produced a San Francisco newspaper reporting the flight of the Confederate Government 10 weeks previous. As the paper also contained Confederate President Jefferson Davis’s proclamation after Lee’s surrender, that the “war would be carried on with re-newed vigor,” Waddell proceeded to capture 10 more whalers in the space of 7 hours. The Shenandoah then headed south towards San Francisco, which he believed would be weakly defended against his cruiser’s guns.

On August 2 the Shenandoah encountered the Liverpool ship Barracouta and learned of the final Confederate collapse and the capture of Jefferson Davis. At this point Captain Waddell and his crew knew that their privateering careers had come to an end. Captain Waddell struck the Confederate flag. The CSS Shenandoah was dismantled as a man-of-war; her battery was dismounted and struck below, and her hull repainted to resemble an ordinary merchant vessel.

What should they do with their ship? Returning to a US port would mean facing a Union court and the risk of being tried in court and hanged as pirates. Waddell considered heading for Sydney, or New Zealand, or perhaps Cape Town.

The crew started clamoring for their Captain to give them a firm commitment; he responded that he would take the ship into the “Nearest British port.” After several weeks sailing, the crew was still muttering amongst themselves, just what did the Captain mean by the “Nearest British port.”

The CSS Shenandoah then sailed from off the west coast of Mexico via Cape Horn to Liverpool, a voyage of three months and over 9,000 miles, being pursued the whole way by Union vessels.

When the CSS Shenandoah finally anchored at the Mersey Bar, she was flying no flag. The pilot refused to take the ship into Liverpool harbor unless they flew a flag. The crew proudly raised the Confederate banner one last time as The CSS Shenandoah sailed up the River Mersey.

The British warship HMS Donegal happened to be anchored in mid-river. Captain Waddell manoeuvred his ship near to the British man-of-war and dropped anchor. The stainless banner was lowered again for the very last time and Captain Waddell surrendered the CSS Shenandoah to Captain Paynter of HMS Donegal on November 6, 1865.

In the very last act of the Civil War, Captain Waddell walked up the steps of Liverpool Town Hall and presented a letter to the mayor officially surrendering his vessel to the British government.

November 5, 1781: John Hanson is Elected First President of the United States

More precisely, on November 5, 1781, John Hanson was unanimously elected the first President of the United States in Congress Assembled, under the Articles of Confederation – even George Washington voted for him.

There had been Presidents of the Continental Congress before (Peyton Randolph, Henry Middleton, John Hancock, Henry Laurens, John Jay, John HansonSamuel Huntington, Samuel Johnston and  Thomas McKean), but they merely presided over Congress. Now the Articles of Confederation brought the thirteen colonies together into a Confederation of United States, and specified the election of a President for a one year term to preside over Congress, chair the Committee of the States, and perform other administrative functions.

Hanson quickly got to work. No one had ever been President of all the United States before – the role was ill defined, his time in office would be short, and his actions would set precedent for future Presidents. The British had just surrendered at Yorktown and the troops expected to be paid, but of course there was no money in the treasury. There was a real risk that the disgruntled soldiers would overthrow the new confederacy and install their leader George Washington as monarch.

President Hanson somehow managed to calm the troops and hold the country together. In the chaos of the Revolution, many foreign countries had gotten into the action. He ordered all foreign troops off American soil and all foreign flags removed. He established the Treasury Department and the Foreign Affairs Department, appointed the first Secretary of War and established the Great Seal of the United States, which all Presidents have used authenticate official documents. Lastly, he declared that the fourth Thursday of every November to be Thanksgiving Day.

The Articles of Confederation didn’t work very well. The Presidency required Hanson to deal with correspondence and sign official documents, but it lacked true executive authority. The individual states held onto too much power and nothing could be agreed upon. Hanson found the work tedious and wished to resign. Unfortunately, the Articles of Confederation hadn’t provided a succession process and his departure would have left Congress without a President. Because he loved his country and out of a sense of duty he remained in office.

Six more Presidents would be elected after John Hanson – Elias Boudinot (1783), Thomas Mifflin (1784), Richard Henry Lee (1785), Nathan Gorman (1786), Arthur St. Clair (1787), and Cyrus Griffin (1788) – before the Articles of Confederation finally gave way to the Constitution of the United States and the election of George Washington.

President John Hanson is not remembered much today, but he was highly regarded in his day. Upon his death on November 21, 1783, this eulogy appeared in the Maryland Gazette:

“The nation which he helped to establish remains as a fitting tribute to his memory. It is doubtful if there has ever lived on this side of the Atlantic, a nobler character or shrewder statesman. One would search in vain to find a more powerful personage, or a more aggressive leader, in the annals of American history. and it is extremely doubtful if there has ever lived in an age since the advent of civilization, a man with a keener grasp of, or a deeper insight into, such democratic ideals as are essential to the promotion of personal liberty and the extension of human happiness. He was firm in his opinion that the people of America were capable of ruling themselves without the aid of a king.”

November 4, 1842: Abraham Lincoln Marries Mary Todd

Mary Todd was not quite 21 in the fall of 1839 when she moved to live with her older sister, Elizabeth in Springfield, Illinois. Shortly after her arrival, Mary had the pleasure of going to a cotillion where a tall young man came up and said to her, “Miss Todd, I want to dance with you the worst way.” Smitten, she asked her sister, “Who is that man?”lincoln & Mary 2

The following evening Abraham Lincoln came calling at Mary’s home. Over the next few years the couple would see each other, become engaged, break up, start to see each other again, separate and quarrel, and then see each other again. In the fall of 1842, the couple agreed to be married.

They thought they might have a small, quiet ceremony performed at the home of Reverend Charles N. Dresser, an Episcopal minister. On the morning of Thursday, November 3, 1842, Abraham dropped by the rectory. The Dresser family was still at breakfast when Abraham announced, “I want to get hitched tonight.” Reverend Dresser agreed that might be accomplished.

A little later that morning Abraham happened to meet Mary’s brother-in-law, Ninian Edwards, in the street. He told Mr. Edwards of the marriage plans he had just arranged. Mr. Edwards replied, “No, I am Mary’s guardian and if she is married at all it must be from my house.” He then informed his wife Elizabeth of the wedding plans and discovered that the Episcopal sewing society was scheduled to meet at their home that night and the supper had already been ordered. The marriage would have to be delayed by one day.

Abraham visited Chatterton’s jewelry shop located on the west side of the square in Springfield, and ordered a gold wedding ring. He had the ring inscribed “A.L. to Mary, Nov. 4, 1842. Love is Eternal.” About 30 relatives and friends were hastily invited. On the morning of the wedding, Abraham asked James Harvey Matheny, who worked at the circuit court office, to be his best man. Mary wore a lovely white muslin dress, but didn’t bother with a veil nor flowers in her hair. Her bridesmaids were Julia M. Jayne, Anna Caesaria Rodney, and Miss Elizabeth Todd.

Reverend Dresser solemnized the marriage using the marriage rite from The Book of Common Prayer. Judge Thomas C. Browne of the Illinois Supreme Court stood behind Abraham during the ceremony. As the tall young lawyer was putting the wedding ring on his young bride’s hand and repeating the words, “With this ring I thee endow with all my goods, chattels, lands, and tenements,” Judge Browne impatiently blurted out, “God Almighty, Lincoln, the statute fixes all that.”

After a brief delay following Browne’s interruption, the ceremony was completed as rain poured outside. Supper was served on a long table covered with a linen table cloth embroidered with a turtledove design. The wedding cake was cut and merriment continued into the evening. Finally, it was time for the newlyweds to depart. They headed off into the dark rainy night, to the Globe Tavern where they would live through the following winter. On August 1st, 1843, just under nine months later, the couple’s first son, Robert, would be born.

A week after the marriage, Abraham wrote a letter to a friend, Samuel D. Marshall. Most of the letter dealt with legal matters, but Abraham closed the letter: “Nothing new here, except my marrying, which to me, is a matter of profound wonder.”

November 3, 1927: The Vermont Flood of 1927

It rained a lot that fall. By the end of October the ground throughout Vermont was thoroughly saturated, and by early November even an average storm would have caused flooding.

vt Lood 2It started to rain again on the evening of November 2nd, and then the next morning and into the afternoon it poured. Seven inches of rain fell in six hours on November 3rd. By 4 p.m., the Winooski River rolled over its banks and down Montpelier’s streets. By night, the river topped out, 12 feet above the downtown sidewalks.

Roy Buxton got into Burlington just after the bridge to Winooski washed out, just in time to join the crowd that watched the firemen dynamite the gristmill in a desperate attempt to enlarge the engorged river channel. The next day, when he travelled to Jeffersonville, he watched a forlorn farmer haul 50 drowned cows out of a barn.

Ruby Dalley was living on Winooski Street, right near the iron bridge over the river. “My father had gone up the street to get groceries because we didn’t know what was going to happen. While he had gone down the street, my mother and I are standing in the door, and we hear a terrible, terrible crash of the bridge washing out.” By the time her father returned with the food, the water was rushing dangerously near the house. He set his groceries on a chair, hurried the family out of the house, and then dashed back in, but by then his packages were already afloat. Moments later “our house moved across the road and so did the garage.”

Harry Cutting and his wife and three children lived down the street from Ruby. The water rose so quickly that Cutting and his family were trappedVT Flood on the second story. In desperation, he lashed some doors together into a makeshift raft and tried to float the family to safety. “When it got in front of the Catholic Church, it bucked a tree, and his whole family went, but him. He got in a tree and his whole family drowned.”

John May and his wife and three children were in their Bolton home when it got picked up by the floodwaters in the middle of the night. Their neighbor, Will Agan, startled by the noise of the structure bumping along in the river, looked out to see John May standing in a window of the second floor with a lantern. Over the roar of the waters he heard May call out “Where are we?”  Agan answered, “You’re at Will Agan’s.” May shouted back, “Well, we’re gone. Goodbye” as his house careened down the raging river carrying him and his family to their deaths.

The Lieutenant Governor of the state, Hollister Jackson, was driving near his home in Barre when his car hit a deep hole in the street which had been concealed by the rising waters of Potash Brook. Dazed by his sudden stop, and with his hat and glasses knocked off, Jackson began walking back towards his house, but by then the water was rushing so fast that it cut a channel right across Nelson Street. His neighbors called out and tried to save him, but he was knocked down and then swept away by the torrent. The next day his body was recovered about a mile away.VT Flood 3

Henry Royce was 8 years old when the flood filled the Little River valley just north of Waterbury. He remembers people running to escape the river. He also remembers seeing a small pig swimming for dear life. Somehow, he and his sister rescued the animal. “I loved that pig,” he recalled. “I never could bring myself to eat it.”

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