The Swedish warship Vasa (above) was immense: 226 feet long, 172 feet tall, festooned with decorative woodwork, and loaded with cannons. The king, Gustavus Adolphus, ordered that it carry 72 24-pound cannons, far more than any other warship. Ultimately, it was built to carry 64 cannons of various sizes, but on two gun decks. Even without loading the guns on board, two decks above the water line would make the ship top heavy. With the guns, the ship would certainly be top heavy. And if the ship actually needed to fire any of the weapons, the ship ran the risk of blowing itself onto its side with the recoil.
Vasa was launched on this date in 1628 with huge crowds along the waterfront in Stockholm to see it off. The moment that it unfurled its sails and was hit with any wind at all, the tall ship was knocked on its port side, water started rushing in through its open gun windows, and it sank, killing thirty sailors. Its maiden voyage lasted about one thousand feet.
After its valuable cannons were recovered about a century later, it sat under the water under Stockholm Harbor, forgotten. It was salvaged in 1961 and put on display, and it is now one of Sweden’s great tourist attractions and symbols of its period of prosperity and power.
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It is unknown why or for whom Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart composed the serenade Eine kleine Nachtmusik, or even when or by whom it was first performed. Mozart probably never heard it performed, and it was not published until 1827. Mozart dated the completion of the composition on this date in 1787, however, around the time that he was writing his opera Don Giovanni. He did not name it but instead in his records he simply wrote that he had completed “Eine kleine Nacht-Musik,” a “little night music.” Over time it became one of his best-loved compositions.
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Franklin D. Roosevelt fell ill on this date in 1921. He was 39 years old, he had been the Vice Presidential nominee on the losing ticket in 1920, in the peak of health, and he was wondering what his next political move might be. He and his family were vacationing at the Roosevelt family’s summer spot on Campobello Island in Canada, on the Bay of Fundy, when, on August 9, he fell in the Bay while boating. Nothing came of this, or so he thought.
He spent August 10 very active: went sailing again on the Bay with his three oldest children, raced up the shore to aid in extinguishing a small wildfire, swam all afternoon. He complained that night of a backache and chills, so he went to bed early, before dinner. When he awoke the next morning, he could not walk. He had taken his last steps on August 10.
Years later, he wrote: “The next morning. when I swung out of bed my left leg lagged. I tried to persuade myself that the trouble with my leg was muscular, that it would disappear as I used it. But presently it refused to work and then the other … by the end of the third day practically all the muscles from the chest down were involved.”
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David Berkowitz was apprehended on this date in 1977 after a year in which he had shot thirteen people, killing six. He was the “Son of Sam” killer.
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Rhonda Fleming is 93. Betsey Johnson is 74 today. Ronnie Spector is 73. Ian Anderson is 69. Mark Doty is 63. Andrew Sullivan is 53. Justin Theroux is 45.
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