December 17, 1903: The Wright Brothers fly at Kitty Hawk

John T. Daniels worked at the Life Saving Station at Kill Devil Hills in Kitty Hawk on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. One December morning in 1903 he helped two young men from Ohio launch their flying machine off the dunes.

Daniels had never taken a picture before, but he snapped a picture of that first flight (which soon became famous), and he got a little tangled up in the struts…Wright Bros

Here is his letter to a friend, written twenty years later, describing the events of that day:

Manteo NC
June 30 —- 1933

Dear friend,

I Don’t know very much to write about the flight. I was there, and it was on Dec the 17, — 1903 about 10 o’clock. They carried the machine up on the Hill and Put her on the track, and started the engine, and they through a coin to see who should take the first go, so it fell on Mr. Orval, and he went about 100 feet or more, and then Mr. Wilbur taken the machine up on the Hill and Put her on the track and he went off across the Beach about a half a mile or more before he came Down. He flew so close to the top of a little hill the he Pulled the Rudder off so we had to Bring her back to the camp, and it was there I got tangled up in the machine and she Blew off across the Beach with me hanging in it, and she went all to Pieces. It Didn’t Hurt me much I got bruised me some. They Packed up every thing and went home at Dayton. That ended the Day. I snapped the first Picture of a Plain that ever flew. They were very nice men and we all enjoyed Being out at the Camp with them mostly every Day.

That accident made me the first airoplane causiality in the world and I have Piece of the upright that I was holding on to when It fell.
Would be glad to Render any informattion at any time you need it.

John T. Daniels
Manteo NC

December 16, 1811: The New Madrid Earthquake strikes Missouri

On the 16th of December, 1811, about two o’clock, A.M., we were visited by a violent shock of an earthquake, accompanied by a very awful noise resembling loud but distant thunder, but more hoarse and vibrating, which was followed in a few minutes by the complete saturation of the atmosphere, with sulphurious vapor, causing total new madriddarkness. The screams of the affrighted inhabitants running to and fro, not knowing where to go, or what to do – the cries of the fowls and beasts of every species – the cracking of trees falling, and the roaring of the Mississippi – the current of which was retrogade for a few minutes, owing as is supposed, to an irruption in its bed — formed a scene truly horrible.

From that time until about sunrise, a number of lighter shocks occurred; at which time one still more violent than the first took place, with the same accompaniments as the first, and the terror which had been excited in everyone, and indeed in all animal nature, was now, if possible doubled. The inhabitants fled in every direction to the country, supposing (if it can be admitted that their minds can be exercised at all) that there was less danger at a distance from, than near to the river. In one person, a female, the alarm was so great that she fainted, and could not be recovered…

The awful darkness of the atmosphere, which was formerly saturated with sulphurious vapor, and the violence of the tempestuous thundering noise that accompanied it, together with all of the other phenomena mentioned as attending the former ones, formed a scene, the description of which would require the most sublimely fanciful imagination.

At first the Mississippi seemed to recede from its banks, and its waters gathering up like a mountain, leaving for the moment many boats, which were here on their way to New Orleans, on bare sand, in which time the poor sailors made their escape from them. It then rising fifteen to twenty feet perpendicularly, and expanding, as it were, at the same moment, the banks were overflowed with the retrogade current, rapid as a torrent – the boats which before had been left on the sand were now torn from their moorings, and suddenly driven up a little creek, at the mouth of which they laid, to the distance in some instances, of nearly a quarter of a mile. The river falling immediately, as rapid as it had risen, receded in its banks again with such violence, that it took with it whole groves of young cotton-wood trees, which ledged its borders. They were broken off which such regularity, in some instances, that persons who had not witnessed the fact, would be difficultly persuaded, that is has not been the work of art. A great many fish were left on the banks, being unable to keep pace with the water. The river was literally covered with the wrecks of boats, and ’tis said that one was wrecked in which there was a lady and six children, all of whom were lost.

In all the hard shocks mentioned, the earth was horribly torn to pieces – the surface of hundreds of acres, was, from time to time, covered over, in various depths, by the sand which issued from the fissures, which were made in great numbers all over this country, some of which closed up immediately after they had vomited forth their sand and water, which it must be remarked, was the matter generally thrown up. In some places, however, there was a substance somewhat resembling coal, or impure stone coal, thrown up with the sand. It is impossible to say what the depths of the fissures or irregular breaks were; we have reason to believe that some of them are very deep…

We were constrained by the fear of our houses falling to live twelve or eighteen months, after the first shocks, in little light camps made of boards; but we gradually became callous, and returned to our houses again…

I have now, sir, finished my promised description of the earthquake – imperfect it is true, but just as it occurred to my memory; many of, and most of the truly awful scenes, having occurred three or four years ago…

Your humble servant,
Eliza Bryan

There is one circumstance which I think worthy of remark. This country was formerly subject to very hard thunder; but for more than twelve months before the commencement of the earthquake there was none at all, and but very little since, a great part of which resembles subterraneous thunder. The shocks still continue, but are growing more light, and less frequent. -E.B.

December 15, 1941: FDR proclaims “Bill of Rights Day”

“The first ten amendments, the great American charter of personal liberty and human dignity, became a part of the Constitution of the United States on the fifteenth day of December, 1791.
bill rights
It is fitting that the anniversary of its adoption should be remembered by the Nation which, for one hundred and fifty years, has enjoyed the immeasurable privileges which that charter guaranteed: the privileges of freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, and the free right to petition the Government for redress of grievances.

It is especially fitting that this anniversary should be remembered and observed by those institutions of a democratic people which owe their very existence to the guarantees of the Bill of Rights: the free schools, the free churches, the labor unions, the religious and educational and civic organizations of all kinds which, without the guarantee of the Bill of Rights, could never have existed; which sicken and disappear whenever, in any country, these rights are curtailed or withdrawn.

The fifteenth day of December, 1941, is therefore set apart as a day of mobilization for freedom and for human rights, a day of remembrance of the democratic and peaceful action by which these rights were gained, a day of reassessment of their present meaning and their living worth.

Those who have long enjoyed such privileges as we enjoy forget in time that men have died to win them. They come in time to take these rights for granted and to assume their protection is assured. We, however, who have seen these privileges lost in other continents and other countries can now appreciate their meaning to those people who enjoyed them once and now no longer can. We understand in some measure what their loss can mean. And by that realization we have come to a clearer conception of their worth to us, and to a stronger and more unalterable determination that here in our land they shall not be lost or weakened or curtailed.

It is to give public expression and outward form to that understanding and that determination that we are about to commemorate the adoption of the Bill of Rights and rededicate its principles and its practice.”


December 14, 1799: Death comes to George Washington

On Thursday, December 12, 1799, George Washington went out for four hours on horseback to supervise the farm activities at Mount Vernon. The weather was lousy – light snow, then hail, then rain.

When Washington returned to the manor house he was soaking wet, but he was reluctant to change out of his wet clothes before dinner.george_washington_death

The next morning brought three inches of snow. Despite a bad sore throat Washington went outside again to select trees to be cut. Washington’s voice became increasingly hoarse as the day progressed, so much so that by evening he had difficulty reading aloud

Washington awoke in terrible discomfort around two in the morning. Martha was very concerned and wanted to send for help, but having just recovered from a cold herself, Washington would not allow her to leave the comfort of their room.

When Caroline, the house slave, came to light the fire at daybreak, Martha sent for help. Tobias Lear, Washington’s secretary rushed to the room where he found Washington having difficulty breathing. Lear sent for George Rawlins, an overseer on the plantation, who at Washington’s request bled him, and then sent for Dr. James Craik, Washington’s trusted physician for forty years, who lived in Alexandria.

While waiting for Dr. Craik, Rawlins extracted a half-pint of blood, which Washington believed had cured him of past ailments. Washington was also given a mixture of molasses, butter, and vinegar to sooth his throat, but which was difficult to swallow and nearly suffocated Washington.

When Dr. Craik arrived he produced a blister on Washington’s throat in an attempt to balance the fluids in his body. He bled Washington a second time and ordered a potion of vinegar and sage tea prepared for gargling. At noon an enema was administered, but there was no improvement in Washington’s condition. Washington was bled again (thirty-two ounces of blood was said to have been extracted).

As the prognosis became more dire, Craik administered an emetic to induce vomiting, though without beneficial results. At four-thirty in the afternoon, George called Martha to his bedside and asked that she bring his two wills from his study. After review Washington discarded one, which Martha burned.

George Washington then called for Tobias Lear. He told Lear, “I find I am going, my breath can not last long. I believed from the first that the disorder would prove fatal. Do you arrange and record all my late military letters and papers. Arrange my accounts and settle my books, as you know more about them than anyone else, and let Mr. Rawlins finish recording my other letters which he has begun.”

At five in the afternoon George Washington sat up from bed, dressed, and walked over to his chair. He returned to bed within thirty minutes, and said to Dr. Craik “Doctor, I die hard; but I am not afraid to go; I believed from my first attack that I should not survive it; my breath can not last long.”

At eight at night more blisters and cataplasms were applied, this time to Washington’s feet and legs. At ten at night George Washington spoke, requesting to be “decently buried” and to “not let my body be put into the Vault in less than three days after I am dead.”

Around ten PM on December 14, 1799, it was all over; George Washington, the Father of our Country, passed away.



December 11, 1958: JFK complains to Eleanor Roosevelt

Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt
211 East 62nd Street
New York, New York


Dear Mrs. Roosevelt:

I note from the press that on last Sunday afternoon, December 7, on the ABC television program College News Conference, you stated, among other things, that Senator Kennedy’s “father has been spending oodles of money all over the country and probably has a paid representative in every state by now.”Eleanor Roosevelt & JFK

Because I know of your long fight against the injudicious use of false statements, rumors or innuendo as a means of injuring the reputation of an individual, I am certain that you are the victim of misinformation; and I am equally certain that you would want to ask your informant if he would be willing to name me one such representative or one such example of any spending by my father around the country on my behalf.

I await your answer, and that of your source, with great interest. Whatever other differences we may have had, I’m certain that we both regret this kind of political practice.

Sincerely yours,
John F. Kennedy


A week later, the former First Lady responded:

Dear Senator Kennedy:

If my comment is not true, I will gladly so state. I was told that your father said openly he would spend any money to make his son the first Catholic President of this country, and many people as I travel about tell me of money spent by him in your behalf. This seems commonly accepted as a fact.

Building an organization is permissible but giving too lavishly may seem to indicate a desire to influence through money.

Very sincerely yours,
Eleanor Roosevelt



December 10, 1885: Publication of the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

You don’t know about me, without you have read a book by the name of “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer,” but that ain’t no matter. That book was made by Mr. Mark Twain, and he told the truth, mainly. There was things which he stretched, but mainly he told the truth. That is nothing. I never seen anybody but lied, one time or another, without it was Aunt Polly, or the widow, or maybe Mary. Aunt Polly – Tom’s Aunt Polly, she is – and Mary, and the Widow HuckDouglas, is all told about in that book – which is mostly a true book; with some stretchers, as I said before.

Now the way that the book winds up, is this: Tom and me found the money that the robbers hid in the cave, and it made us rich. We got six thousand dollars apiece – all gold. It was an awful sight of money when it was piled up. Well, Judge Thatcher, he took it and put it out at interest, and it fetched us a dollar a day apiece, all the year round – more than a body could tell what to do with. The Widow Douglas, she took me for her son, and allowed she would sivilize me ; but it was rough living in the house all the time, considering how dismal regular and decent the widow was in all her ways ; and so when I couldn’t stand it no longer, I lit out. I got into my old rags, and my sugar-hogshead again, and was free and satisfied. But Tom Sawyer, he hunted me up and said he was going to start a band of robbers, and I might join if I would go back to the widow and be respectable. So I went back.

The widow she cried over me, and called me a poor lost lamb, and she called me a lot of other names, too, but she never meant no harm by it. She put me in them new clothes again, and I couldn’t do nothing but sweat and sweat, and feel all cramped up. . Well, then, the old thing commenced again. The widow rung a bell for supper, and you had to come to time. When you got to the table you couldn’t go right to eating, but you had to wait for the widow to tuck down her head and grumble a little over the victuals, though there warn’t really anything the matter with them. That is, nothing only everything was cooked by itself. In a barrel of odds and ends it is different; things get mixed up, and the juice kind of swaps around, and the things go better.

After supper she got out her book and learned me about Moses and the Buirushers ; and I was in a sweat but by-and-by she let it out that Moses had been dead a considerable long time ; so then I didn’t care no more about him ; because I don’t take no stock in dead people.

Pretty soon I wanted to smoke, and asked the widow to let me. But she wouldn’t. She said it was a mean practice and wasn’t clean, and I must try to not do it any more. That is just the way with some people. They get down on a thing when they don’t know nothing about it. Here she was a bothering about Moses, which was no kin to her, and no use to anybody, being gone, you see, yet finding a power of fault with me for doing a thing that had some good in it. And she took snuff too; of course that was all right, because she done it herself.



December 9, 1848: Birth of Joel Chandler Harris

“Once ’pon a time,” said Uncle Remus to the little boy—“But when was once upon a time?” the child interrupted to ask. The old man smiled. “I speck ’twuz one time er two times, er maybe a time an’ a half. You know when Johnny Ashcake ’gun ter bake? Well, ’twuz ’long in dem days. Once ’pon a time,” he resumed, “Mr. Man had a gyarden so fine dat all de Joel_Chandler_Harrisneighbors come ter see it. Some ’ud look at it over de fence, some ’ud peep thoo de cracks, an’ some ’ud come an’ look at it by de light er de stars. An’ one un um wuz ol’ Brer Rabbit; starlight, moonlight, cloudlight, de nightlight wuz de light fer him. When de turn er de mornin’ come, he ’uz allers up an’ about, an’ a-feelin’ purty well I thank you, suh!

“Now, den, you done hear what I say. Dar wuz Mr. Man, yander wuz de gyarden, an’ here wuz ol’ Brer Rabbit.” Uncle Remus made a map of this part of the story by marking in the sand with his walking-cane. “Well, dis bein’ de case, what you speck gwineter happen? Nothin’ in de roun’ worl’ but what been happenin’ sence greens an’ sparrer-grass wuz planted in de groun’. Dey look fine an’ dey tas’e fine, an’ long to’rds de shank er de mornin’, Brer Rabbit ’ud creep thoo de crack er de fence an’ nibble at um. He’d take de greens, but leave his tracks, mo’ speshually right atter a rain. Takin’ an’ leavin’—it’s de way er de worl’.

“Well, one mornin’, Mr. Man went out in his truck patch, an’ he fin’ sump’n missin’—a cabbage here, a turnip dar, an’ a mess er beans yander, an’ he ax how come dis? He look ’roun’, he did, an’ he seed Brer Rabbit’s tracks what he couldn’t take wid ’im. Brer Rabbit had lef’ his shoes at home, an’ come bar’footed.

“So Mr. Man, he call his dogs ‘Here, Buck! Here, Brinjer! Here, Blue!’ an’ he sicc’d um on de track, an’ here dey went!

“You’d ’a’ thunk dey wuz runnin’ atter forty-lev’m rhinossyhosses fum de fuss dey made. Brer Rabbit he hear um comin’ an’ he put out fer home, kinder doublin’ ’roun’ des like he do deze days.

“When he got ter de p’int whar he kin set down fer ter rest his face an’ han’s, he tuck a poplar leaf an’ ’gun ter fan hisse’f. Den Brer Fox come a-trottin’ up. He say, ‘Brer Rabbit, what’s all dis fuss I hear in de woods? What de name er goodness do it mean?’ Brer Rabbit kinder scratch his head an’ ’low, ‘Why, deyer tryin’ fer drive me ter de big bobbycue on de creek. Dey all ax me, an’ when I ’fuse dey say deyer gwine ter make me go any how. Dey aint no fun in bein’ ez populous ez what I is, Brer Fox. Ef you wanter go, des git in ahead er de houn’s an’ go lickity-split down de big road!’

“Brer Fox roll his little eyes, an’ lick his chops whar he dribble at de mouf, an put out ter de bobbycue, an’ he aint mo’ dan made his disappearance, ’fo’ here come Brer Wolf, an’ when he got de news, off he put.

“An’ he aint mo’n got out’n sight, ’fo’ here come ol’ Brer B’ar, an’ when he hear talk er de bakin’ meat an’ de big pan er gravy, he sot up on his behime legs an’ snored. Den off he put, an’ he aint got out’n hearin’, ’fo’ Brer Coon come rackin’ up, an’ when he got de news, he put out.

“So dar dey wuz an’ what you gwine do ’bout it? It seem like dey all got in front er de dogs, er de dogs got behime um, an’ Brer Rabbit sot by de creek-side laughin’ an’ hittin’ at de snake doctors. An’ dem po’ creeturs had ter go clean past de bobbycue—ef dey wuz any bobbycue, which I don’t skacely speck dey wuz. Dat what make me say what I does—when you git a invite ter a bobbycue, you better fin’ out when an’ whar it’s at, an’ who runnin’ it.”



December 8, 1905: Helen Keller writes to Mark Twain

My dear Mr. Clemens,

I have just finished reading a most interesting account of the Thanksgiving dinner that was given in honor of your birthday more than a week ago in New York. Although I am somewhat in the rear of the great procession which brought you its tribute of love and admiration, yet you will accept my little handful of flowers, gathered in the garden of my heart, will you not? They are not intended so much for the great author, whom the world has crowned with its Helen Keller & Mark Twainchoicest blossoms, as for the kind, sympathetic, noble man, the best of friends and champions with the heart of Santa Claus, who makes others good and happy.

Your birthday shall always be a Thanksgiving Day to me. Indeed, I have thanked you a thousand times for the bright laugh that is like a drop of honey in things bitter that we must all taste before we learn to know good from evil, and to distil (sic) sweetness and peace from deprivation and sorrow. I thank you, too, for the flash and tingle along the veins when your fiery words smite the wrong with lightning of just anger. Again, I thank you for the tears that soften the heart and make it compassionate and full of kindness. Your message to the world has been one of courage and brightness and tenderness, and your fellowmen make a feast on your seventieth birthday, and give thanks for the many days that you have lived among them.

And you are seventy years old? Or is the report exaggerated like that of your death? I remember, when I saw you last, at the house of dear Mr. Hutton in Princeton, you said,

“If a man is a pessimist before he is forty-eight, he knows too much. If he is an optimist after he is forty-eight, he knows too little.”
Now, we know you are an optimist, and nobody would dare to accuse one on the “seven-terraced summit” of knowing little. So perhaps probably you are not seventy after all, but only forty-seven!

But, whether you are seventy or forty-seven, we love you and wish you God speed! and the fulfilment (sic) of every desire that can bring you peace and joy. Should you really attain to that Alpine height of seventy years, you shall still hear the voice of affection that springs upwards, like a flame, and carries warmth and comfort to the lonely climber who has met with bereavement and sorrow on his skyward pilgrimage.

Mrs. Macy and her husband join me in sending you sincere love and admiration.

Your friend,

Helen Keller



December 7, 1873: Birth of Willa Cather

“ONE January day, thirty years ago, the little town of Hanover, anchored on a windy Nebraska tableland, was trying not to be blown away. A mist of fine snowflakes was curling and eddying about the cluster of low drab buildings huddled on the gray prairie, under a gray sky. The dwelling-houses were set about haphazard on the tough prairie sod; some of them looked as if they had been moved in overnight, and others as if they were straying off by themselves, WillaCather-portrait2headed straight for the open plain. None of them had any appearance of permanence, and the howling wind blew under them as well as over them. The main street was a deeply rutted road, now frozen hard, which ran from the squat red railway station and the grain “elevator” at the north end of the town to the lumber yard and the horse pond at the south end. On either side of this road straggled two uneven rows of wooden buildings; the general merchandise stores, the two banks, the drug store, the feed store, the saloon, the post-office. The board sidewalks were gray with trampled snow, but at two o’clock in the afternoon the shopkeepers, having come back from dinner, were keeping well behind their frosty windows. The children were all in school, and there was nobody abroad in the streets but a few rough-looking countrymen in coarse overcoats, with their long caps pulled down to their noses. Some of them had brought their wives to town, and now and then a red or a plaid shawl flashed out of one store into the shelter of another. At the hitch-bars along the street a few heavy work-horses, harnessed to farm wagons, shivered under their blankets. About the station everything was quiet, for there would not be another train in until night.

On the sidewalk in front of one of the stores sat a little Swede boy, crying bitterly. He was about five years old. His black cloth coat was much too big for him and made him look like a little old man. His shrunken brown flannel dress had been washed many times and left a long stretch of stocking between the hem of his skirt and the tops of his clumsy, copper-toed shoes. His cap was pulled down over his ears; his nose and his chubby cheeks were chapped and red with cold. He cried quietly, and the few people who hurried by did not notice him. He was afraid to stop any one, afraid to go into the store and ask for help, so he sat wringing his long sleeves and looking up a telegraph pole beside him, whimpering, “My kitten, oh, my kitten! Her will fweeze!” At the top of the pole crouched a shivering gray kitten, mewing faintly and clinging desperately to the wood with her claws. The boy had been left at the store while his sister went to the doctor’s office, and in her absence a dog had chased his kitten up the pole. The little creature had never been so high before, and she was too frightened to move. Her master was sunk in despair. He was a little country boy, and this village was to him a very strange and perplexing place, where people wore fine clothes and had hard hearts. He always felt shy and awkward here, and wanted to hide behind things for fear some one might laugh at him. Just now, he was too unhappy to care who laughed. At last he seemed to see a ray of hope: his sister was coming, and he got up and ran toward her in his heavy shoes…”



December 4, 1619: “Thanksgiving” is first celebrated in Virginia

A year before the Pilgrims landed in Massachusetts, thirty-eight colonists sailed from England aboard the ship Margaret. They were refugees from the poverty brought on by overpopulation and the decline of the woolen trade in the region of Berkeley in Gloucestershire. Some had tried to grow tobacco in England, but the Virginia Company, which Berkeley Thanksgivingwas hoping to develop tobacco plantations in the New World, successfully lobbied the king to ban tobacco agriculture in England for five years.

So the Berkeley group set out on a perilous two and a half month sea voyage for a new life in the wilderness. On the day they landed they gathered around their Captain Woodlief as he proclaimed “We ordaine that this day of our ship’s arrival, at the place assigned for plantation, in the land of Virginia, shall be yearly and perpetually kept holy as a day of Thanksgiving to Almighty God.”

Then the landing party–including a sawyer, a cooper, a shoemaker, a gunmaker, and a cook–set about constructing a storehouse and an assembly hall for the plantation along the James River that became known as the Berkeley Hundred.

The settlement struggled for the first years through the usual squabbling, harsh weather, crop failure, starvation, illness, and attacks from the indigenous population. It was abandoned briefly, but settled again.

The land was eventually purchased in 1691 by Benjamin Harrison III, attorney general of the colony, treasurer and speaker of the House of Burgesses. He died at age thirty-seven in 1710, leaving the property to his only son.

Benjamin IV, built the manor house Berkeley Plantation on the property.

Benjamin Harrison V, who was born at Berkeley Plantation on December 13, 1730, signed the Declaration of Independence and served three terms as governor of Virginia.

His son, William Henry Harrison, also born at the plantation, was elected the ninth President of the United States. Just a month after his inauguration, however, Harrison died in office and was succeeded by his Charles City County neighbor, John Tyler.

In 1888, William Henry Harrison’s grandson, Benjamin, entered the White House as the twenty-third president.

In 1963 President Kennedy recognized Berkeley Plantation as the site of the first official Thanksgiving

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