8 weird and wonderful things that happened in April through history
History Revealed magazine explores some of the strangest things that happened in April through history.
This article was first published in the April 2016 issue of History Revealed
1820 – UP IN ARMS
With his ship anchored in the Aegean, near the Greek island of Milos, a young French officer, Olivier Voutier, decided to try his luck at antiques-hunting. On 8 April 1820, he was digging on the site of an ancient theatre when he spotted a local farmer, who had been collecting stones, suddenly get very excited.
The man, named Yorgos Kentrotas, had just unearthed a semi-naked and unarmed woman made out of marble. Seeing the value of such a find, Voutier paid a small sum for the statue – the now iconic ‘Venus de Milo’ – and had it swiftly returned to France, where it was presented to King Louis XVIII and put on display in the Louvre. ‘Venus’ is still there today.
1904 – WHAT A SCOOP!
In 1904, the world’s eyes were on St Louis, as the Missouri city hosted the Olympics, the centennial celebrations of the Louisiana Purchase (a year late), and the World’s Fair. And at the latter, beginning on 30 April, a fourth landmark event took place, which arguably tops them all (possibly with sprinkles).
On a warm day, an ice-cream vendor who had run out of dishes was saved by the man on the neighbouring stall. Commonly named as Syrian immigrant Ernest Hamwi, the quick-thinker rolled some of his zalabia, a waffle-like pastry, to use as an edible ice-cream cone. The resulting mix was such a delicious hit, soon all ice creams at the fair were served that way.
1881 – FIVE BY FOUR
For a mere five seconds on 14 April 1881, a street in El Paso, Texas, became the scene of a terrifying shoot-out, which – despite its brevity – claimed four lives. During the ‘Four Dead in Five Seconds’ gunfight, three were shot down by one man, the trigger-happy town marshal.
1943 – HOF ON A TRIP
Having accidentally sampled a tiny amount of his unknown synthesised drug LSD just a few days earlier, what did Swiss scientist Albert Hofmann think was a good idea? That’s right, to take more.
On 19 April 1943, he ingested 0.25 milligrams, but had to ask his assistant to escort him home when he started to feel strange. As it was wartime, car use was restricted, so the pair had to go by bike – it turned out to be quite a ride.
After Hofmann was reassured that he wasn’t about to die (and that his neighbour wasn’t a “malevolent witch”), he began to enjoy the “kaleidoscopic, fantastic images” of the first-ever LSD trip, later coined ‘Bicycle Day’. The mind-altering drug would go on to define the experiences of many in the 1960s, even if few can remember them.
1983 – THE HAWKIE-TALKIE
As we now live in an age of mobile phones, it may be difficult to understand why BT got so excited by its latest development in 1983 – the cordless phone. Named the BT Hawk, it was sold as the phone that made its user as “free as a bird” when the first 200 sets were sent out for its test launch on 14 April.
“With a Hawk in the hand,” the promotions read, “the frustration of rushing to a distant phone only to find it stops ringing as you arrive becomes a thing of the past.”
1878 – EDISON FEEDS THE WORLD A FOOL
There was a seemingly world-changing announcement in the US newspaper the Daily Graphic on 1 April 1878.
A year after creating the revolutionary phonograph, genius inventor Thomas Edison claimed he had built a machine that could make “biscuit, meat, vegetables and wine” out of nothing more than air, water and “common earth”.
His food machine could end world hunger, which is why papers around the world re-printed the story alongside praise for Edison. A quick look at the date of the original, however, reveals this story was too good to be true.
1336 – VANQUISHING VENTOUX
There was a time when climbing a mountain just for fun would sound absurd, as any steep incline was nothing more than a nuisance to a journey. To the 14th-century Italian poet Petrarch, however, conquering Mont Ventoux in Provence was a way to be closer to God.
He wasn’t the first to climb it, and scholars dispute whether he did it at all, but Petrarch’s lengthy missive about his hike of the 1,912-metre mountain on 26 April 1336 has been seen ever since as embodying the spirit of the Renaissance. Presumably, that meant being hot, sweaty and having sore feet.
1578 – MINION MELEE MADNESS
During the French Wars of Religion (1562-98), the court of Henry III was divided. The mignons (above), meaning ‘the dainty ones’ or ‘darlings’, were the King’s favourites but they had made enemies of the supporters of Henry, Duke of Guise.
On 27 April 1578, three members from each expressed their animosity through an utterly pointless, tragic duel. Two were cut down in the fighting, one succumbed the next day, another spent six weeks in hospital and the fourth fatality – who sustained 19 wounds – died after 33 days of agony.
Needless to say, the ‘Duel of the Mignons’ did nothing to close the gap between the two Henrys.