This Day in History: March 11th

By Jim Turner

In the World

Frankenstein_poster_19311818 – Twenty-one-year-old Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley published Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus. One rainy afternoon in Geneva, Switzerland, her friend the poet Lord Byron convinced Mary and her future husband, Percy Bysshe Shelley, that they should each write a gothic ghost story. She had journeyed down the Rhine River in 1814 and passed the Frankenstein Castle, where an alchemist had engaged in experiments two centuries before, which gave her a spark of an idea.


Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley

The trio had recently discussed Galvanism, the theory that electricity can generate life, which was a popular topic at the time. After thinking for days, Mary Shelley came up with the idea of a scientist who created a living being and was horrified by the results.


In the United States

(King1893NYC)_pg047a_THE_BLIZZARD_OF_MARCH_1888_(PHOTO_BY_LANGILL)1888 –The Blizzard of ’88 began. Temperatures plunged as cold Arctic air from Canada collided with southern Gulf Stream air, creating one of the worst blizzards in American history. By midnight, 85-mile-an-hour winds were reported in New York City. Citizens awoke to a complete whiteout. Elevated trains were out of commission, as were trains, telegraph lines, water mains, and gas lines. Repair crews could not reach the problems. The blizzard dumped fifty-five inches of snow in some areas and killed more than four hundred people. At that time, about 25% of Americans lived between Washington D.C. and Maine.

“It was as if New York had been a burning candle upon which nature had clapped a snuffer, leaving nothing of the city’s activity but a struggling ember.”

New York Sun, Tuesday, March 13, 1888

Mark_Twain_by_AF_BradleyMark Twain, stranded at his New York hotel, later wrote, “The … storm, a true Nor’easter, rolled down the Atlantic seaboard burying cities and towns from Maine to Washington, D.C. and as far inland as Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania beneath a deep blanket of snow. Walking, well walking any distance was simply out of the question. If you could get out of your house that is…. Fire-fighters and their equipment were practically stranded inside their stations. If you got sick or injured there was no way doctors could get to you, or for you to get to them. Until the roads were cleared anyway. Nothing moved during that storm.”


In the Wild West


Ben Thompson

1884 – Texas gunslinger Ben Thompson was shot and killed from behind at the Vaudeville Theatre in San Antonio, Texas. Born in Knottingly, West Yorkshire, England in 1843, he and his family immigrated to Austin, Texas in 1851. He served in the Confederate 2nd Texas Cavalry in the Civil War, and then joined Emperor Maximilian’s forces in Mexico until the fall of the empire in 1867. He then became a Texas gambler, earning a reputation as a fast gun.


Wild Bill Hickok

Thompson opened the Bull’s Head Saloon in the cattle boomtown of Abilene, Kansas in 1870 with a partner, Phil Coe. There they recruited John Wesley Hardin to rid the town of town marshal Wild Bill Hickok. Hickok then killed Coe in a gunfight, and both Thompson and Hardin left town. The legendary Wyatt Earp told biographer Stuart Lake that he had arrested Thompson in Ellsworth, Kansas, but modern researchers have found no substantiating evidence to that effect.

After serving prison time for various shootouts from 1868 to 1878, Ben Thompson was hired by Bat Masterson as a security agent for the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway. He opened a gambling hall in 1880, and was elected city marshal of Austin, Texas. Thompson shot and killed prominent sportsman Jack Harris in a card game quarrel in 1882, resigned his marshalcy, and returned to the life of a professional gambler. In 1884, when Thompson approached Harris’s former gambling partners, Joe Foster and Bill Simms, their two hidden accomplices shot him.

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