Milestones: Thursday, August 24, 2023
DESTROYED A PROSPEROUS CITY — Mount Vesuvius came to life on Aug. 24, 79 C.E. after centuries of dormancy. Its sudden eruption in southern Italy expelled a 10-mile mushroom cloud of ash and pumice into the stratosphere, destroyed the prosperous Roman cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum and killed thousands. The cities were buried under a thick layer of volcanic material and mud, never to be rebuilt and largely forgotten in the course of history. Pompeii and Herculaneum were rediscovered and excavated in the 18th century, revealing an extraordinary archaeological record of daily life in an ancient civilization, amazingly preserved.
A first-century Common Era witness, Pliny the Younger chronicled the Vesuvius explosion in letters to the historian Tacitus. Only 17 at the time, he was one of the few to escape the disaster. He later became a respected Roman author and administrator.
BRITISH ARMY INVASION — British military forces on Aug. 24-25, 1814 briefly invaded WASHINGTON, D.C. during the War of 1812. The British raided the city and burned the Capitol, the president’s house and other public buildings. President James Madison and other high-ranking officials fled to safety. The British, unsure of the real-ground strength of their position, left Washington two days later. First Lady Dolley Madison had, just before the invasion, removed the portrait of George Washington, unaware that it was only a copy of the painting that she strove to preserve.
The nation’s capital would next see a major insurrection on Jan. 6, 2021 when rioters attempted to stop the transfer of power between presidents.
SHARED THE NOBEL PEACE PRIZE — YASSER ARAFAT, born Aug. 24, 1929, was for almost half a century the face of the Palestinian struggle for recognition. Many nations considered the leader of Al-Fatah and the Palestinian Liberation Organization to be a terrorist; while others, including Russian President Vladimir Putin, called Arafat “a great political leader of international significance.” Arafat shared the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize with Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Rabin — both of whom were prime ministers of Israel, just over a year before Rabin’s assassination at the hands of an extremist Jew who was opposed to the Oslo Accords and the ceding of West Bank sections to Palestinians as part of a major peace agreement.
Yasser Arafat’s birth name was actually Mohammed Abdel Rahman Abdel Raouf Arafat al-Qudwa al-Husseini, with some debate whether he was born in Egypt, the neighboring Gaza strip or in Jerusalem. He dropped most of his inherited name but kept Arafat (his grandfather’s name) because of its importance to Islam.
HAWAII’S OWN DUKE — DUKE PAOA KAHANAMOKU, born Aug. 24, 1890 at Honolulu, was Olympic gold medal swimmer and considered the “father of international surfing.” Kahanamoku, who is credited with having created the flutter kick, won gold medals in the 100-meter freestyle at the 1912 Olympics and at the 1920 Olympics. In total, he won five medals in four Olympics. Kahanamoku also became Hawaii’s ambassador of surfing. On one occasion in 1917, atop a 16-foot, 114-pound board, he rode a wave off Waikiki for 1.75 miles.
Hawaii’s own “Duke” was also a movie actor and a sheriff of Honolulu, who campaigned alternately on Republican and Democratic tickets. Hawaii honored him with a statue on Waikiki Beach, on which are placed floral leis.
‘SPACE, THE FINAL FRONTIER’ — THE ERSTWHILE NINTH PLANET, PLUTO, WHICH WAS DISCOVERED IN 1930, was officially demoted on Aug. 24, 2006, on the closing day of the annual International Astronomical Union meeting at Prague, Czech Republic. A group of 424 astronomers, representing less than 5% of their global profession, voted to demote Pluto from planet status, classifying it instead as a “dwarf planet.” When American astronomer Clyde W. Tombaugh, working at the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona, discovered Pluto in 1930, it was celebrated as the ninth planet but later questioned because of its smaller size and because of its presence in the Kuiper Belt, a band of icy bodies beyond Neptune.
The International Astronomical Union’s formal definition of a planet to exclude dwarf planets such as Pluto did get pushback from influential astronomers who pointed out that the revised definition would also have ruled out Earth, Mars, Jupiter and Neptune because of the presence of nearby asteroids that weren’t “pushed away.”
BRITISH ABOLITIONIST — WILLIAM WILBERFORCE, born Aug. 24, 1759, was an 18th century British abolitionist who successfully sponsored legislation in British Parliament that eventually abolished the practice of slave trading in 1807 and then slavery in 1833. Having lived during the British trade raids of Guinea, whereby almost 50,000 Africans were captured annually and sold in the New World, Wilberforce felt called through his conversion and deep evangelical faith to bring about social reform, particularly the end of slavery and the improvement of factory conditions in Britain. Among his endeavors was the Society for the Suppression of Vice in 1802. He also worked alongside reformer Hannah More, in the Association for the Better Observance of Sunday, whose goal was to educate all children in reading, religion and personal hygiene.
Three days after Parliament passed the Slavery Abolition Act, Wilberforce died, on July 29, 1833.
See previous milestones, here.
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