The Super Tornado

rochesterSnippets 131.  On 21st August 1883, exactly 134 years ago today, an F5 tornado hit Rochester, Minnesota. F5 is the most severe level of the Fujita scale, described as causing “incredible damage”. Although this is an estimate, as weather observation techniques were not as sophisticated as today, it is pretty clear from news reports that this was a weather event of unusual magnitude. The following quote is from the Winona Daily Republican:

A cyclone struck here about 7pm. The depot is unroofed and badly wrecked. The engine house is a total wreck. The covered bridge, near the city, is all gone. About six or eight cars in the yard are all smashed up… The streets are full of trees and parts of buildings…

The north part of the city is almost a total wreck. It is a bad looking sight.

There are five cars and an engine ditched at Zumbrota junction. Fireman of train No. 12, Wm. Higgins, jumped from the engine and cannot be found.

A building standing about ten rods from the track was blown on to it and ditched the train…

The whole town north of the depot is a total wreck – houses blown entirely down, including the Methodist church, also a new brick building right across the way at Broadway…

The railroad bridge is blown down at Rochester, not a piece left on the abutments.

The following dispatch was sent by Mayor Whitten:

“Rochester is in ruins; twenty-four people are killed, and over forty are severely injured. One third of the city is laid waste. We need immediate help.”

… More than two hundred dwellings are utterly destroyed… The citizens have organized relief committess. They need help. Money must be had.


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Tip us your Daddle

booksSnippets 130. Francis Grose (1731-1791) was a noted antiquarian who wrote a series of books about medieval antiquities. Financial difficulties inspired him to branch out into other areas of writing, and in 1785 his A Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue was published. Slang was a good choice of topic, as it would be entertaining and have a wide appeal. However, it stands as a useful record of the language in the 18th Century beyond the formal language studied by lexicographers. Previously we looked at some selected terms from letters A, B and C, so let’s continue with some examples beginnning with D, E and F, chosen (in the spirit of the original publication) for entertainment value as much as anything.

Daddles: hands. Tip us your daddle; give me your hand.

Dandy Prat: an insignificant or trifling fellow.

Day Lights: eyes.

Death Hunter: an undertaker.

Dingable: anything considered worthless.

Dog in a Doublet: a daring, resolute fellow.

Domino Box (to open the): to open the mouth.

Double Jugg: a man’s backside.

Dowse on the Chops: a blow in the face.

Drop in the Eye: almost drunk.

Dub the Jigger: open the door.

Dumplin: a short thick man or woman.

Dunghill: a coward.

Dustman: to let the dustman get hold of you; to fall asleep.

Execution Day: washing day.

Face-making: begetting children.

Faithful: one of the faithful; a tailor who gives long credit.

Famgrasp: to shake hands.

Fart Catcher: a valet or footman, from his walking behind his master or mistress.

Feeder: a spoon.

Fibbing Gloak: a pugilist.

Fice, or Foyse: a small windy escape backwards, more obvious to the nose than ears.

Fizzle: an escape backward.

Flash of Lighning: a glass of gin.

Flyers: shoes.

Fogle: a handkerchief.

Fogle Hunter: a pickpocket.

Freshman: one just entered a member of university.

Fubsey: plump.

Note the inclusion of “freshman” as slang – not an American invention, but a term first used in Cambridge over 500 years ago.


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A Long Journey

Snippets 129.  On frontiersmenhistorian.wordpress.com at the moment (a blog which I manage but do not write) you will find an article about Percy Escott North, who had an adventurous life of travel and befriended Buffalo Bill Cody.   To tie in with that fascinating article, the following quote concerning Escott North is taken from the Devon and Exeter Gazette, 1st December 1927.

canadaThe lecturer [Escott North] suggested that most people did not realise what a huge territory was represented by the great Canadian West, and to show what an “awful big country” it was he told the story of an Englishman who took a business trip from Montreal clean across to Vancouver – from the Atlantic to the Pacific…

The train rolled out of the station, and for two days and two nights it rolled on its way. Then one day it rolled into Fort William, and the Englishman, looking out of the window, saw the great lake – Erie – stretching away to the horizon, nothing but water, and the big ocean-going ships on it, and he said “Goodness gracious, we must be at Vancouver…”

He started to collect his baggage and to get off, and the railroad man came along and said “Hello, English, I thought you was going to Vancouver. What you getting off here for?” Then he explained that what the Englishman saw was Lake Erie, and the boats were the grain ships taking wheat from the prairies and making their way from lake to lake until they reached the ocean. “You just settle down, English,” he said, “and I’ll tell you when we get to Vancouver.” So the Englishman settled down, and away the train went again for two days and two nights, rolling its way across the prairie land, and then it slid into Calgary. And the Englishman said to himself, “Now we must have got there,” and he started to collect his baggage again. But the railroad man explained to him that he had yet to go through the Canadian Rocky Mountains and the Selkirks, then across the great Okanagan Valley and the Cascade Range, and then drop down to Vancouver.”…

So they went on again for two days and two nights, and on the second night sure enough they slid in among the lights of Vancouver…

The train man came along, and he said, “Hello, English, this is Vancouver, and over there, that’s the Pacific Ocean… I guess you never bin out of England before.” “Well, you’re right.” said the Englishman. “Yep, I knew I was,” said the Canadian. “You can wander around here after dark without falling off and getting wet.”


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Funiculì, Funiculà? “One-an-threppence”

funicularSnippets 128. When the first funicular cable car on Mount Vesuvius opened in 1880, renowned Neapolitan journalist Peppino Turco came up with the idea of a commemorative song and made the suggestion to composer Luigi Denza that he could put something together. The result was “Funiculì, Funiculà”, which is a very well known song to this day. Two decades later, American travel writer Thomas Rees visited Naples (more about which will follow in later blog posts) and the song made a strong impression on him. Arriving in London, on a later part of his tour, he found the song was still in his mind, and set out to buy the score, but encountered an unexpected language barrier. The following quote is taken from Sixty Days in Europe and What We Saw There (1908):

The pronunciation of the various money terms which are used by the thoroughbred Londoners is very confusing to an American visitor. For instance, when they mean two pennies they say “tuppence,” the u in tuppence having the same sound as it has in the word cup, and the two words, two and pence, being thrown so close together that a stranger can hardly recognize the word “tuppence” as having any meaning in common with the word two pence, or two pennies.

There is a song very popular in Italy called “Funiculi Funicula.” It is also sung in America, but it was drummed into my ears so persistently when I was in Italy that I concluded to get a copy of it if I could. I was told that I could procure it in a certain store in London. This store was on Paternoster Row, which is famous for its book trade, and is located near the Cathedral of St. Paul. I found the little street by going through a narrow alley about six feet wide between two big buildings.

Entering the store, which was full of sheet music, that was being handed out by several clerks, I stepped up to one of the counters and asked the gentleman behind it if he could furnish me with the Italian song with the above title. Without making a move, he replied very promptly, ” One-an-threppence. ” I asked again if he had the song, to which he again made the same reply. I then asked him to tell me in English exactly what he meant, and he explained that he meant that he had the song, that he would get it for me immediately if I wanted it, and that the price was one shilling and three pence. This is very simple when you know it, but it is very difficult when you ask a man if he has got a thing to understand what he means when he comes back at you with the simple proposition, “one-an-threppence.”


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President vs Queen

Quick Quotes 16. The following is taken from Max O’Rell’s Jonathan and his Continent (1889):

Upon the strength of a six months’ sojourn in America, one would hardly attempt to deliver a verdict on the political system of the country.

I think, however, that it may safely be affirmed that the English are a freer people than the Americans; that the constitutional — I had almost said republican — monarchy of England is preferable to the authoritative democracy of America.

The American Constitution was copied from that of the England of 1776, and the President of the United States was invested with a power about equal to that of George III. Since that date the English have advanced, but the Americans have not. Now, in these cases, not to advance is to go back. The English of the year of grace 1888 would soon give their queen notice to quit, if she took it into her head to ask for power equal to that possessed by the President of the United States: it would take less time, perhaps, than the Americans would need to get rid of a troublesome President.


“Quick Quotes” are some bonus content for the blog. Each time I find an interesting or amusing little quote from and old (verging on forgotten) book, that does not really need any further explanation or background information, it will appear on Windows into History under this heading. You can keep updated each time I post a new entry by clicking on the follow button on the right of the screen. I welcome any comments or suggestions, and will consider guest posts.

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Dreams of Childhood

Quick Quotes 15. The following is taken from Thomas Rees’s Sixty Days in Europe and What We Saw There (1908):

In childhood we live in the fancy of anticipation and we long for the time to come when we will go out into the world and visit the enchanted lands we have pictured as being in existence.

In old age we live in the past and the commonplace things that we knew in youth take on clothing of magnificence until it seems as we look back that we lived and grew up in a fairy land.

In middle age we are so engrossed in the struggle for wealth, for fame, or in the regulation of affairs that we forget the anticipated fancies of childhood and, not having reached the sweet old age of mellowed recollections, we are apt to think there are no fairy lands to visit, that there are no places where the sun always shines, except when the stars are coquetting with the roses. But we are mistaken in this. There are spots on this real earth where the real things are as fanciful, as romantic and as lovely as the dreams of childhood or the golden recollections of old age; where mountain peaks are lightened by the sun’s bright rays, and where crags crowd each other with majestic shapes, where vines intermingle with verdant trees and where hills and mountain sides are clothed with roses and garlanded with flowers of many hues. There are such places, and the Island of Capri in the Bay of Naples is one of them.


“Quick Quotes” are some bonus content for the blog. Each time I find an interesting or amusing little quote from and old (verging on forgotten) book, that does not really need any further explanation or background information, it will appear on Windows into History under this heading. You can keep updated each time I post a new entry by clicking on the follow button on the right of the screen. I welcome any comments or suggestions, and will consider guest posts.

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Breaking Wind

gas maskSnippets 127.  Today’s quote is taken from Voyages to the East Indies, by Dutch explorer John Splinter Stavorinus (1798):

The king, who was addressed by the title of Touang Sultan, or My Lord the King, appeared to me to be a man of between forty-five and fifty years of age…

The king frequently broke wind upwards during his meal, and his example was assiduously followed by all the gentlemen in company, which afforded matter of no little surprise to me. But I afterwards was informed, that this custom, so contrary to European notions of decency, was an etiquette of the court of Bantam , and was affected, in order to show that one’s appetite was good, and the victuals tasteful, which was very pleasing to the king…

In the meantime, some large china bowls with boiled rice, and some dishes, of fish, which came from our table, were set before the nobles, who were at the end of the hall, and who speedily emptied them, with continual eructations, which echoed through the hall.

As this quote illustrates, passing wind has not been universally thought of in a negative manner throughout history.  Another example is Saint Augustine’s The City of God, which has the following tidbit of information:

We know, too, that some men are differently constituted from others, and have some rare and remarkable faculty of doing with their body what other men can by no effort do, and, indeed, scarcely believe when they hear of others doing… Some have such command of their bowels, that they can break wind continuously at pleasure, so as to produce the effect of singing. I myself have known a man who was accustomed to sweat whenever he wished.


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