Saturday, September 22, 2012

Autumn is here...and a short review of the history of September 22

It's the first day of autumn. Or, if you are in the Southern Hemisphere, the first day of spring.

So, of course, there are reports of snow in parts of Minnesota and Wisconsin. According to, this snow, which is enough to stick in some places, is about a month earlier than its usual first appearance, based on long-term averages. On the other hand, it's sill in the 80s and 90s in the southern tier of states, and the predicted high in Phoenix, Arizona for today was 107 degrees Fahrenheit, with 101 degrees predicted a bit farther south, in Tuscon.

Here in my neck of the woods, it was predicted to hit 99 F today, but I don't think it managed to get quite that hot. I wouldn't know. I was only out briefly during the day, well before the hottest part of the day.

Anyway, with it being the autumnal equinox and all, I thought it would be a good day to see what happened on this day in history. So, I wandered over to Wikipedia (which isn't that bad a place, as long as you aren't using it as a source for academic papers, you fact-check what you find there, and you realize that their philosophy is that anything that has been published is an authoritative source) to see what they had to say about what has happened on September 22 through history.

First of all, I found, it is the 266th day of the year; it would have been the 265th day, but this year was a leap year. There are 100 days left in the year. Just what I needed to be reminded of - that Christmas is right around the corner.

There is quite a list of events that happened on this day. A few stood out. On this day in 1692, the last hangings for witchcraft in what is now the United States took place, which serves as a good reminder that religious extremism isn't anything new. But, it does beg the question of why, all these years later, so many people still go to extremes in their religion.

Those are not the only historically notable hangings that happened a September 22: in 1776, on this day, Nathan Hale was hanged as a spy during the American Revolution. General George Washington had asked for volunteers to go behind enemy lines to try to find out where the British were planning on landing in their invasion of Manhattan Island. Hale was the only volunteer. He was captured by the British and hanged at the age of 21. Hale is now the official State Hero of Connecticut, his home state.

There are also other religious events that happened on September 22. In 1823 (or 1822, depending on the source), Joseph Smith said he found the Golden Plates that he claimed to have used to translate the Book of Mormon. There are a few versions of the story, but the general account is that it was on September 22 in one of those two years that he first found the plates, guided by a vision from an angel who said his name was Moroni. Although Smith did not get the plates when he first found them - he said that the angel prevented him from doing so - several years later, in 1827, also on September 22, he was allowed to take the plates and commence his work with them. After he was finished with the translations, so the story goes, the plates were taken from him. So, you know, no physical evidence of them exists. Additionally, there are also several versions of the story of how he translated them to get the Book of Mormon. Honestly, trying to pin down what really happened in Mormon history is like trying to...well, like trying to pin down what position Mitt Romney really holds on an issue.

Maybe we should ask Mitt about the plates. He's Mormon, after all. He served a mission for his church. He might like to get his mind off his campaign for president, seeing how it hasn't been going that well for him lately.

Not related to either hangings or religion, so far as I know, this is the day in 1888 that the first issue of National Geographic Magazine was published. National Geographic has come in for its share of criticism from time to time in the years since that first issue, and not just for its role as young boys' go-to publication for seeing photos of topless women before Playboy got its start. Personally, though, I like National Geographic. It has fed my inner archaeology and anthropology geek since I was very young.

On September 22 in 1896, Queen Victoria surpassed her grandfather, George III (who, of course, was the monarch that the American colonists rebelled against), as the longest reigning monarch in British history. George III reigned for 59 years and 96 days, while Victoria eventually reigned for 63 years and 7 months and remains the longest reigning British monarch and the longest reigning female monarch in history. Queen Elizabeth II is gaining on her, though; Elizabeth has been on the throne for 60 years and a bit over 7 months as of this writing.

Speaking of queens, as we have been - September 22 is the birthday of Henry VIII's fourth wife, Anne of Cleves. Oh, they weren't married for long - just a bit over 7 months - before Henry had the marriage annulled, and she was never officially crowned as Queen Consort. Which makes sense, as it is difficult to be a consort when the marriage was never consummated. But, by virtue of being married to Henry, she was the Queen in practical terms for that time. And in many ways, Anne was the luckiest of Henry's wives. She never had to sleep with him, which had proved dangerous for his earlier queens. He divorced Catherine of Aragon because she couldn't give him a son. He had Anne Boleyn beheaded, supposedly for high treason, although it had a lot to do that she bore him only a daughter and then miscarried a disputed number of times, including the miscarriage of a son. His third wife, Jane Seymour, died of complications of childbirth less than two weeks after giving birth to Henry's son, Edward. Once Henry decided that Anne of Cleves wasn't really a suitable wife for him, he asked her for the annulment, which she wisely consented to. He gave her a substantial settlement, invited her to court often, and was referred to afterward as "the King's beloved sister". Anne outlived Henry's two latter wives, Catherine Howard, who was beheaded for not having disclosed her previous sexual history to the king in a timely manner, which Parliament arranged to have called treason, and Catherine Parr, who survived Henry.

So, all in all, a fairly interesting day in history. At least for us history geeks.

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