This is your morning Open Thread. Pour your favorite beverage and review the past and comment on the future.
Find the past “On This Day in History” here.
January 9 is the ninth day of the year in the Gregorian calendar. There are 356 days remaining until the end of the year (357 in leap years).
On this day in 1493, Italian explorer Christopher Columbus, sailing near the Dominican Republic, sees three “mermaids”–in reality manatees–and describes them as “not half as beautiful as they are painted.” Six months earlier, Columbus (1451-1506) set off from Spain across the Atlantic Ocean with the Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria, hoping to find a western trade route to Asia. Instead, his voyage, the first of four he would make, led him to the Americas, or “New World.”
Mermaids, mythical half-female, half-fish creatures, have existed in seafaring cultures at least since the time of the ancient Greeks. Typically depicted as having a woman’s head and torso, a fishtail instead of legs and holding a mirror and comb, mermaids live in the ocean and, according to some legends, can take on a human shape and marry mortal men. Mermaids are closely linked to sirens, another folkloric figure, part-woman, part-bird, who live on islands and sing seductive songs to lure sailors to their deaths.
West Indian manatees are large, gray aquatic mammals with bodies that taper to a flat, paddle-shaped tail. They have two forelimbs, called flippers, with three to four nails on each flipper. Their head and face are wrinkled with whiskers on the snout.
Manatees can be found in shallow, slow-moving rivers, estuaries, saltwater bays, canals, and coastal areas – particularly where seagrass beds or freshwater vegetation flourish. Manatees are a migratory species. Within the United States, they are concentrated in Florida in the winter. In summer months, they can be found as far west as Texas and as far north as Massachusetts, but summer sightings in Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina are more common. West Indian manatees can also be found in the coastal and inland waterways of Central America and along the northern coast of South America, although distribution in these areas may be discontinuous.
Manatees are gentle and slow-moving animals. Most of their time is spent eating, resting, and traveling. Manatees are completely herbivorous.
West Indian manatees have no natural enemies, and it is believed they can live 60 years or more. As with all wild animal populations, a certain percentage of manatee mortality is attributed to natural causes of death such as cold stress, gastrointestinal disease, pneumonia, and other diseases. A high number of additional fatalities are from human-related causes. Most human-related manatee fatalities occur from collisions with watercraft.
475 – Byzantine Emperor Zeno is forced to flee his capital at Constantinople.
1127 – Invading Jurchen soldiers from the Jin Dynasty besiege and sack Bianjing (Kaifeng), the capital of the Song Dynasty of China, and abduct Emperor Qinzong and others, ending the Northern Song Dynasty.
1349 – The Jewish population of Basel, Switzerland, believed by the residents to be the cause of the ongoing Black Death, is rounded up and incinerated.
1431 – Judges’ investigations for the trial of Joan of Arc begin in Rouen, France, the seat of the English occupation government.
1760 – Afghans defeat Marathas in the Battle of Barari Ghat.
1768 – In London, Philip Astley stages the first modern circus.
1788 – Connecticut becomes the fifth state to be admitted to the United States.
1793 – Jean-Pierre Blanchard becomes the first person to fly in a balloon in the United States.
1806 – Admiral Horatio Lord Nelson receives a state funeral and is interred in St Paul’s Cathedral.
1816 – Sir Humphry Davy tests the Davy lamp for miners at Hebburn Colliery.
1822 – The Portuguese prince Pedro I of Brazil decides to stay in Brazil against the orders of the Portuguese king Joao VI, starting the Brazilian independence process.
1839 – The French Academy of Sciences announces the Daguerreotype photography process.
1857 – The Fort Tejon earthquake of California occurs, registering an estimated magnitude of 7.9.
1858 – Anson Jones, the last President of the Republic of Texas, commits suicide.
1861 – American Civil War: The “Star of the West” incident occurs near Charleston, South Carolina. It is considered by some historians to be the “First Shots of the American Civil War”.
1861 – Mississippi becomes the second state to secede from the Union before the outbreak of the American Civil War.
1863 – American Civil War: the Battle of Fort Hindman occurs in Arkansas.
1878 – Umberto I becomes King of Italy.
1880 – The Great Gale of 1880 devastates parts of Oregon and Washington with high wind and heavy snow.
1894 – New England Telephone and Telegraph installs the first battery-operated telephone switchboard in Lexington, Massachusetts.
1903 – Hallam Tennyson, 2nd Baron Tennyson, son of the famous poet Alfred Tennyson, becomes the second Governor-General of Australia.
1905 – According to the Julian Calendar which is used at the time, Russian workers stage a march on the Winter Palace that ends in the massacre by Tsarist troops known as Bloody Sunday, setting off the Russian Revolution of 1905.
1909 – Ernest Shackleton, leading the Nimrod Expedition to the South Pole, plants the British flag 97 miles (156 km) from the South Pole, the furthest anyone had ever reached at that time.
1916 – World War I: The Battle of Gallipoli concludes with an Ottoman Empire victory when the last Allied forces are evacuated from the peninsula.
1917 – World War I: the Battle of Rafa occurs near the Egyptian border with Palestine.
1918 – Battle of Bear Valley: The last battle of the American Indian Wars.
1921 – Greco-Turkish War: The First Battle of Inonu, the first battle of the war, began near Eskisehir in Anatolia.
1923 – Juan de la Cierva makes the first autogyro flight.
1923 – Lithuanian residents of the Memel Territory rebelled against the League of Nations decision to leave the area as a mandated region under French control.
1945 – World War II: The United States invades Luzon in the Philippines.
1947 – Elizabeth “Betty” Short, the Black Dahlia, is last seen alive.
1960 – President of Egypt Gamal Abdel Nasser opens construction on the Aswan Dam by detonating ten tons of dynamite to demolish twenty tons of granite on the east bank of the Nile.
1964 – Martyrs’ Day: Several Panamanian youths try to raise the Panamanian flag on the U.S.-controlled Panama Canal Zone, leading to fighting between U.S. military and Panamanian civilians.
1970 – Supreme Court of the Republic of Singapore established.
1991 – Representatives from the United States and Iraq meet at the Geneva Peace Conference to try and find a peaceful resolution to the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait.
1992 – The Assembly of the Serb People in Bosnia and Herzegovina proclaims the creation of Republika Srpska, a new state within Yugoslavia.
2005 – Government of Sudan and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement rebel group sign a peace agreement in Naivasha, Kenya.
2005 – Elections are held to replace Yasser Arafat as head of the Palestine Liberation Organization. He is succeeded by Rawhi Fattouh.
Christian Feast Day:
Feast of the Most Holy Black Nazarene (Quiapo district, Manila, Philippines)
Martyrs’ Day (Panama)
Republic Day (Republika Srpska)