Thursday Dec. 1, 2016

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The Couple

They no longer sleep quite as well as they did
when they were younger. He lies awake thinking
of things that happened years ago, turning
uncomfortably from time to time, pulling on the
blankets. She worries about money. First one
and then the other is awake during the night,
in shifts as if keeping watch, though they can’t
see very much in the dark and it’s quiet. They
are sentries at some outpost, an abandoned fort
somewhere in the middle of the Great Plains
where only the wind is a regular visitor. Each
stands guard in the wilderness of an imagined
life in which the other sleeps untroubled.

“The Couple” by Louis Jenkins from Before You Know It. © Will O’ Wisp Books, 2009. Reprinted with permission.  (buy now)

On this day in 1955, Rosa Parks broke the law by refusing to give up her seat to a white man on a city bus in Montgomery, Alabama, resulting in her arrest. At the time, she said that she was just too tired to stand that day, but she later admitted that she’d challenged the law on purpose, because she thought it was wrong. She recalled, “When that white driver stepped back toward us, when he waved his hand and ordered us up and out of our seats, I felt a determination cover my body like a quilt on a winter night.” She refused to give up her seat. “When he saw me still sitting, he asked if I was going to stand up, and I said, ‘No, I’m not.’ And he said, ‘Well, if you don’t stand up, I’m going to have to call the police and have you arrested.’ I said, ‘You may do that.’”

Parks’ arrest was the catalyst that the newly formed Montgomery Improvement Association needed to organize a boycott of the city’s buses on December 5. A 26-year-old pastor named Martin Luther King Jr. emerged as the protest’s leader; on the first night of the boycott he came forward and said, “The great glory of the American democracy is the right to protest for right.”

The boycott of the buses in Montgomery continued for over a year and eventually helped lead to the end of segregation.

Antarctica was deemed a military-free continent on this date in 1959. The Antarctic Treaty was an agreement signed by 12 nations — including the United States and the Soviet Union — stating that the continent was to be used for scientific research only. Seven of the 12 original signing nations had, at various times since the 1800s, claimed part of Antarctica for their country. The treaty didn’t address those claims, but it did ban any future claims. It also banned any military installations or weapons testing of any sort, and it was the first arms control agreement signed during the Cold War.

Provisions of the treaty include: “Antarctica shall be used for peaceful purposes only” (Art. I);

“Freedom of scientific investigation in Antarctica and cooperation toward that end … shall continue” (Art. II); and “Scientific observations and results from Antarctica shall be exchanged and made freely available” (Art. III).

In his statement on the treaty, President Eisenhower said, “The spirit of cooperation and mutual understanding, which the 12 nations and their delegations exhibited in drafting a treaty of this importance, should be an inspiring example of what can be accomplished by international cooperation in the field of science and in the pursuit of peace.”

The treaty went into effect in June 1961. More countries signed on over the years, and in 1991 the agreement was expanded to include a ban on mineral and oil exploration for at least the next 50 years. It’s also been supplemented by agreements concerning things like wildlife preservation and waste disposal. There are now 53 signatories to the Antarctic Treaty System, as it’s now called; more than half of them have active scientific research projects underway on the continent.

It was on this day in 1887 that Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson were first revealed to readers in the pages of Beeton’s Christmas Annual in the novella A Study in Scarlet. A mildly successful physician named Arthur Conan Doyle had written a story about a detective who was also a violin collector, philosopher, and amateur chemist. Conan Doyle had learned the basics of writing a short story from studying the works of Guy de Maupassant and learned the art of writing logically and with precision from his study of medical journals.

The original title for the novella was A Tangled Skein. Conan Doyle claimed to have written it in just three weeks. Other publishers deemed the story either too long for a single issue or too short for serialization, but Mr. Beeton’s wife, Mary Beeton, read the story and loved it. The magazine sold for one schilling and the issue sold out in 14 days, not because of Sherlock Holmes, but because it was the Christmas issue. Nevertheless, Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson quickly became popular with readers, and led the way for fictional sleuths like Hercule Poirot and James Bond. Arthur Conan Doyle wrote more than 60 Holmes and Watson stories over the next 40 years.

This issue of Beeton’s is one of the rarest magazines in the world. Only 11 complete copies are left in existence; many were destroyed during enemy action during wartime. Several years ago, a complete issue sold at Sotheby’s for $157,000.

It’s the birthday of the woman known as “Madame Tussaud,” whose wax museum, featuring eerily lifelike molds of celebrities, politicians, and historical figures, is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Europe. In 1777, Marie Tussaud completed her first waxwork, a sculpture of the poet Voltaire. In short order, she also sculpted Benjamin Franklin and Jean Jacques-Rousseau.

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