This Day in History – January 4 – Hijinx, Humor, and Insight


NewsWhistle is pleased to feature Gary Jenneke’s “This Day In History” column.

You can read the original at Gary’s THIS DAY IN HISTORY blog — or scroll down to enjoy Gary’s unique look at life’s comings and goings.




871 – Battle at Reading.

Two Viking armies combined to fight a Saxon army in southern England. The Viking king Bagsecq joined with the Great Heathen Army to do battle with the Saxon forces led by Æthelwulf and his brother Alfred the Great. The Vikings won this battle and Æthelwulf was killed. That wasn’t the end however, as the two sides continued to trade victories. Alfred the Great fought the Vikings for the next 28 years before they retired back to Denmark.

Those Vikings were a pesky lot, not unlike our own Minnesota Vikings football team. Many here in this frozen state believe this year’s team truly has what it takes to reach the Super Bowl, and lose for the fifth time.


1903 – Topsy the elephant electrocuted.

Topsy was a female elephant with the Forepaugh Circus. She gained a reputation as being a “bad” elephant because she killed one spectator and injured another. Both had been taunting her. The one she killed was a drunk man who had burnt the end of her trunk with a cigar. She was sold by the circus to Sea Lion Park at Coney Island. Her new owners decided to capitalize on her fame by publicly executing her. This was done on January 4th by a combination of poison and electrocution.

I had to question why I would even want to include such a vile example of man’s capability. Then I decided to view Topsy as heroic. Elephants are intelligent, Topsy didn’t simply accept her fate. When abused, she fought back. She died because she held onto a small shard of her dignity.


1951 – Chinese forces recapture Seoul.

Known as the Third Battle of Seoul, Communist forces led by the Chinese army pushed the United Nations forces out of the city. Earlier in the Korean War the North Korean army had captured Seoul, only to lose it to the combined armies of United Nations. Due to an overextended supply line the Chinese were only able to hold onto the city until spring. Then Operation Ripper, or the Fourth Battle of Seoul, caused them to retreat.

The conflict on the Korean Peninsula has not yet been settled and recently the Fifth Battle of Seoul has begun. This time it is being fought on a mostly intellectual plane with such broadsides as “Rocket Man” and “Dotard.”



1581 – James Ussher. 1672 – Hugh Boulter.

They were both Archbishops of Armagh for the Church of Ireland. Ussher is known for having set the exact date the world began as the 22nd of October, 4004 BC, around 6 PM. Okay.

Neither Ussher or Boulter had much time for the Catholic Church.

From “By a statute enacted through Boulter’s influence Catholics were excluded from the legal profession, and disqualified from holding offices connected with the administration of law. Under another act passed through Boulter’s exertions they were deprived of the right of voting at elections for members of parliament or magistrates.”

A statement by Ussher from “The religion of the papists is superstitious and idolatrous; their faith and doctrine erroneous and heretical; their church in respect of both, apostatical; to give them therefore a toleration, or to consent that they may freely exercise their religion, and profess their faith and doctrine, is a grievous sin.”

Throughout history there has been a multitude of occasions where religion has caused those in authority to get their undies in a bunch.


1900 – James Bond, ornithologist.

Bond, from Philadelphia, was an expert on birds and wrote a book, “Birds of the West Indies.” Ian Fleming was a noted birdwatcher and read James Bond’s book. He thought James Bond was the perfect name for his 007 secret agent and received permission from the ornithologist to use it.

Little tidbits of useless information like this have a way of making my day.


1935 – Floyd Patterson.

Heavyweight champion of the world. Patterson was the first to regain the title after losing it. He was knocked out by Ingemar Johansson in June of 1959, and won back the championship from the Swede in 1960. Patterson later suffered two humiliating first round knockouts by Sonny Liston, and was also defeated by Muhammad Ali. After he retired from boxing, he became good friends with Johansson and they would visit each other in their respective countries. They ran two marathons together in Sweden. Stricken with Alzheimer’s and prostrate cancer, Patterson died in 2006.

The first Patterson-Johansson fight captured the interest of my friends and myself. We were all for Johansson. I don’t believe it had anything to do with Patterson being black and Johansson white. Unlike most boxers, Johansson did not train rigorously. Before the fight there were pictures of him lounging around a swimming pool with his blonde bikini-clad girlfriend. It was the bikini-clad that garnered our vote. In our Lutheran dominated, sexually repressed, small town atmosphere of the 1950s, the mere term “bikini-clad,” much less a picture, could send us into a teenage tither.



At various junctures of his life, Gary has been an indifferent grade school student, poor high school student, good Navy radioman, one-time hippie, passable college student, inveterate traveler, dedicated writer, miscast accountant (except for one interesting stint at a Communist café), part-time screenwriting teacher, semi-proud veteran, unsuccessful retiree and new blogger.

You can reach him at



The above information was sourced from the following websites:

We’d also like to thank the following photographers and videographers for the use of their images:

* Lead-In Art – nodff / – “James Bond Island, Phang Nga, Thailand.”

* Topsy the Elephant (video) – Jack Stanley /

* Ian Fleming (video) – tedh79 /

* Floyd Patterson (video) – Biography Channel and Kevin Rose /

* Outro (Man-In-Museum Cartoon) – SkyPics Studio /