This day in history! history in Halloween

More than 145 million people in the United states celebrate Halloween each year, but how many candy-craving Americans actually know the story behind Halloween?  Halloween is one of the most loved and celebrated holidays, so it is an interesting  topic to know where the beloved holiday came from and where the traditions began.

One of the places where Halloween is derived from Celtic pagan rituals from the British Isles. The Celts North part of the world experienced harsh winters. Winter was not only scary but often deadly.  Thus, around harvest time, they held a festival to light bonfires and ward off the scary spirits of winter.  So when Christianity came to the British Isles they incorporated the festivals into their faith. 

Illustration of one of the pagan festivals. (

Instead of casting away bad  spirits, the Celts called upon the intercession of good spirits in heaven, a.k.a. the saints. But the saints weren’t the only spirits the Christians celebrated on this day. All Souls’ Day sprang up c. 900 A.D. in the grand monastery of Cluny in France. This became a day to remember the dead. 

“So when you take these two strands together–Christianizing a pagan harvest festival for the warding off of evil by calling on the intercession of the saints, and the commemoration of all the dead, all around the early part of November–you eventually get Halloween”-Dr Keiser

How Halloween came to America is during the Irish potato famine settlers who came from Ireland brought their traditions with them, adding to already established Halloween traditions. One tradition that is celebrated the most is a Jack-o’-lantern. Jack-o’-lantern started from a traditional Irish tale “Man Jack”.  Jack invited the devil for a drink, but didn’t want to pay for the beverages. So he convinced the devil to turn into a coin when he did, Jack shoved the devil into his pocket. Satan found himself trapped in Jack’s pocket next to a cross that would not let him transform back. In exchange for his freedom, Satan agreed to not let Jack into Hell after the clever man’s death, but when Jack did die, he wasn’t let into Heaven either.  Jack was stuck as a ghost, so the devil gave Jack a coal to light his way, which he was good enough to get put into a turnip and later a pumpkin But Halloween is really about how you spend it.

“Halloween is a time to hang out with friends and play some games,” said James Hughes ’24

Trunk or treat is an example of Providence incorporating Halloween during school!- photo courtesy of Emma Wohlwend’22

Providence has incorporated many of these traditions into their school days and many students have found moments with such activities as dressing up during school. Activities such as pumpkin carving let kids have fun with they’re friends during school . Halloween is a holiday with deep ties in faith. The holiday has so much deep history and is a really good topic to do more in depth for your own time. Halloween for many is a time for friends and family. 




This Day in History: Wilhelm Roentgen Discovers the X-Ray

On this day in history, November 8th, 1895, Wilhem Conrad Roentgen discovered a new, high energy wave, one that he’d begin calling the “X-Ray”. As a professor at Wuerzburg University, Roentgen researched cathode tubes heavily. While running an experiment, he observed the glow that could be created in the tube by removing air and adding electrical charge. Running more experiments on the tube, he eventually found that if he placed a thick piece of cardboard in front of the tube, objects in its general area glowed. Drawing on his knowledge of cathode rays, he knew that the glow could not have possibly come from the cathode rays but some other, unidentified ray. 

The first X-ray photograph ever taken. Wilhelm Rottgen took the image of his wife’s hand then presented it to head of physics at the University of Freiburg in 1895.

Roentgen continued to investigate this mysterious wavelength of energy. He found it had the ability to pass through many solid objects with ease, with the notable exception of bone. His discovery rocked the scientific world; regular people, physicists, and medical professionals alike were delighted by the possibilities that this development brought. Everyday people found the ability to see bone beyond fascinating. Physicists and other scientists saw that a new wavelength, shorter than visible light, could lend itself to generating a better understanding of materials present in our world. Doctors rejoiced at Roentgen’s discovery and within six months had multiple medical X-Ray machines in operation in Europe and North America. 

Researchers using a Crookes Tube Apparatus to look at the bones of the hand in the 1890s.

Following the breakout of X-Rays onto the mainstream, Thomas Edison became very interested in Roentgen’s invention. Edison would spend much time and money attempting to create a “X-Ray lamp”. This venture, however would not be successful as the method of creating X-Rays was made publicly available. 

The X-Ray became massively popular in general society, many wrote articles in fear of “X-Ray glasses” and the lead underwear they proposed we’d need in case of a peeping tom. Poems, books, and songs were all written about the X-Ray. X-Rays were especially popular in political cartoons of the time. 

Image of an ad for “X-Ray Spex”, advertising their ability to see through clothing and skin.

Following the initial wave of interest in X-Rays, many scientists began experimenting further and attempting to treat disease with X-Rays themselves. The first documented case of this was a doctor named Emil Grubbe who used X-Rays to treat breast cancer in a woman. Along with cancer treatments, many used X-Rays for treatment of skin lesions and blisters as well as for cosmetic procedures. 

Though he accrued no wealth as a result of his discovery, Roentgen’s pioneering work did earn him the first Nobel Prize in 1901.

In 1901, for his efforts, Roentgen was awarded the first Nobel prize for physics. He was offered a large sum of money as well as entry into the German noble class, he refused his invitation to the nobility and donated all his winnings to his university. Along with this, he was offered an honorary medical degree which he gratefully accepted. 

Wilhelm Roentgen is widely regarded as a scientist who exemplified the principles of altruism and genuine dedication to truth-seeking. Roentgen took out no patents on any of his inventions because he felt that his invention ought to be available to all of humanity, as well as all other items he deemed essential. 

While Roentgen’s ideals certainly were lofty and admirable, they contributed significantly to his penniless death. During the Great War, government funding for research into non-military fields stagnated. Without a way to make money and no patents, Roentgen would retire to his old family estate where he would live out the end of his life, tragically penniless. 

This Day In History: Stonewall Jackson Succumbs to Wounds Inflicted By Own Troops

On this day in 1863, Confederate Lt. General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson succumbed to injuries suffered at the hands of his own troops. Military historians regard Jackson as one of the most gifted tactical commanders in U.S. history, and his death proved to be a severe setback for the Confederacy, affecting not only its military prospects, but also the morale of its army and the general public.

Born on January 21, 1824 in Clarksburg, Virginia, Jackson graduated from West Point in 1846. He began his official military career with the U.S. Army as a lieutenant in the 1st U.S. Artillery, and saw action at the Siege of Veracruz and Chapultepec during the Mexican-American War (1846-1848). In 1851, Jackson accepted a professorship at the Virginia Military Institute. He taught artillery and natural philosophy (similar to modern physics) at VMI for ten years until Virginia seceded from the Union in 1861. While Jackson was disliked by some cadets for his bluntness and eccentricities, he gained a reputation as an honest and dutiful man of devout faith who refused to gamble, drink, or smoke.

“General Jackson” by Augusto Ferrer-Dalmau

Jackson earned his famous nickname at the First Battle of Bull Run. As he quickly relocated his troops to close a gap in the Confederate line and secure the upper hand in the battle, one of his fellow generals, Barnard Bee, exclaimed, “Look, men, there is Jackson standing like a stonewall!!”. According to Providence Academy U.S. History teacher Mr. Edward Hester, “Stonewall” Jackson played a very significant role in many of the Confederacy’s early victories. “Following the First Battle of Bull Run,” Hester noted, “Jackson had a great impact on Southern troops as a heroic image and figurehead; his presence on the battlefield always resulted in a noteworthy morale boost for Confederate soldiers.” Hester continued, saying, “later, it was Jackson’s strategic leadership that made the difference – with his cavalry, he employed flanking maneuvers more effectively than nearly any other general”.

In 1864 Jackson was memorialized on the Confederate $500 banknote

In 1862, Jackson was tasked with defending Virginia from Union advances. Viewed by many as one of the greatest campaigns in military history, “Stonewall” and his less-than 18,000 troops outmaneuvered and outfought a federal army of 60,000 in the Shenandoah Valley. Even when President Lincoln divided the Union forces into three separate armies, Jackson remained unbeaten, taking pressure off of the Confederates pinned down on the James Peninsula. His troops – termed “foot cavalry” for their swiftness – confused and disoriented the separate Union armies. By the summer of 1862, Jackson had become the Confederacy’s most celebrated soldier and the trusted right-hand man of General Robert E. Lee. He and his soldiers played crucial roles at the Second Battle of Bull Run, the Battle of Antietam, and the Battle of Fredericksburg.

General Jackson’s “Chancellorsville” portrait, taken at a Spotsylvania County farm on April 26, 1863, seven days before he was wounded at the Battle of Chancellorsville

Certainly, Lee and Jackson’s partnership reached a climax in the Battle of Chancellorsville. This was their greatest victory; facing a Union army of 130,000 with only 60,000 troops, Lee boldly split his army and ordered Jackson around the Union flank. Jackson and his 28,000 men marched 12 miles undetected and dealt a severe and decisive blow to the Union army, routing its right flank. This action resulted in one of the Army of the Potomac’s most stunning defeats of the war.

However, tragedy struck for the Confederates on the evening of May 2, making the victory at Chancellorsville a pyrrhic one. After halting the attack at dusk, Jackson and his staff rode forward to scout the territory for an attack the next day. As they returned to camp, they were mistaken for Union cavalry by the 18th North Carolina Infantry Brigade and fired upon. As Jackson and his men frantically identified themselves, Major John D. Barry retorted, “it’s a damned Yankee trick! Fire!” Jackson was hit three times, and several others were killed; his left arm was shattered, but the confusion and falling darkness prevented him from receiving immediate medical care. Hester places most of the blame on Jackson himself, arguing that “he should never have been beyond his picket line at dusk, when Confederate troops would have been most wary – especially following his own deceptive tactics against the Union army earlier in the day”. After having his left arm amputated, Jackson – weakened by his wounds – died of pneumonia eight days later. At his death, he remarked, “Let us cross over the river and rest under the shade of the trees.”

“The Death of Stonewall Jackson” – Currier and Ives (1872)

Hester affirmed Jackson’s skills as a general, saying, “though he didn’t get the chance to really demonstrate this in a long-term way, his spirit of battle, drive, and laser focus allowed him to be an influential presence on the battlefield”. Jackson’s death directly affected the Confederate loss at Gettysburg, where J.E.B. Stuart had been given his command. A great horseman with a flair for the dramatic, Hester noted Stuart lacked Jackson’s ability to understand the big picture, and – after almost losing at Brandy Station, attempting a flanking maneuver, and getting completely cut off from the Confederate army –  left Lee in the dark as to the Union army’s position ahead of the battle. “Jackson always obeyed Lee’s orders to the letter, and would never have gone off on his own in such a way”, Hester stated. “It is not hard to picture a different outcome at Gettysburg if Jackson had been present, as well as an elongated Civil War, even if the Union remained ultimately victorious.”

“General Lee’s Last Visit to Stonewall Jackson’s Grave” by Louis Eckhardt (1872)

General Lee articulated Jackson’s value to the Confederacy best: “Could I have directed events, I would have chosen for the good of the country to be disabled in your stead…you have lost your left arm, but I have lost my right”.


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This Day In History: San Francisco Rocked By Great Earthquake of 1906

On this day in 1906, a massive earthquake shook San Francisco, destroying nearly 500 city blocks and igniting several large fires that would rage for days. One of the worst disasters in United States history, the catastrophic quake left over 80% of the city in ruins, killing more than 3,000 people and leveling the homes of hundreds of thousands.

The San Francisco earthquake of April 18, 1906 ranks as one of the most significant earthquakes of all time. Following a strong foreshock by about 20 to 25 seconds, it occurred at approximately 5:12 a.m. Rupturing 296 miles of the San Andreas fault to the north and south of the city, the great tremor could be felt from Oregon to Los Angeles and as far inland as central Nevada. For comparison, the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake had a rupture length of only about 25 miles.

Much of San Francisco was turned to rubble.

The 1906 earthquake preceded the development of the Richter magnitude scale by three decades, but the most widely accepted estimate for the magnitude of the quake is 7.9, described as “major” to “great”. Astonishingly, it permanently shifted the course of the Salinas River near its mouth, diverting it six miles to the south to a new channel.

The fault trace or fracture accompanying the earthquake is inconspicuous, although the horizontal displacement is considerable.

As the epicenter, or “focus”, of the earthquake, San Francisco experienced overwhelming devastation. Though the violent shaking lasted only 45 to 60 seconds, large fires ignited quickly due to bursting gas mains, and much of the city was soon ablaze. Moreover, initial tremors had destroyed San Francisco’s water mains, and firefighters were left with no means of putting out the conflagration. Some firefighters, untrained in the use of dynamite, accidentally ignited more buildings while trying to create firebreaks to slow the advancing flames. Additionally, many San Francisco insurers covered fire damage but not earthquake damage. This led some people to intentionally set fire to damaged properties in order to claim them on their insurance. Capt. Leonard D. Wildman of the U.S. Army Signal Corps confirmed that he was told by a fireman that “people in that neighborhood were firing their houses…they were told that they would not get their insurance on buildings damaged by the earthquake unless they were damaged by fire”.

Hundreds of thousands of residents were rendered homeless by the massive earthquake.

Within a day, 225,000 of San Francisco’s 400,000 citizens were homeless. The survivors slept in tents in city parks and the Presidio, an old Army fort. They waited in long lines for food, and were required to do their cooking in the street to prevent additional fires. After the earthquake struck, the Army was quickly called in to keep the peace, guard important buildings, and assist the thousands of suffering, displaced residents. Riots and looting only added to the chaos. Consequently, San Francisco Mayor Eugene Schmitz announced that “the Federal Troops, the members of the Regular Police Force and all Special Police Officers have been authorized by me to kill any and all persons found engaged in Looting or in the Commission of Any Other Crime”.  All told, over 4,000 troops aided relief efforts during the emergency, finally withdrawing on July 1, 1906.

Many San Francisco residents were forced to live in tents.

The San Francisco earthquake led to a number of scientific studies of the San Andreas fault, and demonstrated the damage and destruction that can accompany a major quake. Providence Academy English teacher Mr. Adam Schmalzbauer visited the city over Spring Break, and while he experience no earthquakes, literal or figurative, he was quite impressed with the Golden Gate Bridge. “That thing is amazing”, he enthused, noting its need to be both strong and flexible in order to survive such disasters. “Otherwise they’d be rebuilding the bridge every six months”, Schmalzbauer said. In fact, the bridge has only been closed three times due to weather since its opening in 1936, all due to winds in excess of 70 mph. Schmalzbauer stated that 80,000 miles of cable support the suspension bridge, enough to go around the earth more than three times.

The Golden Gate Bridge, an engineering marvel.

In total, over 28,000 buildings were destroyed during the great San Francisco earthquake of 1906. Property damage – including that from fires – was estimated to have been more than $400 million, well over $10 billion in 2019. Famous author Jack London remarked, “surrender was complete”.

Following the disaster, many politicians and business leaders strongly downplayed the negative effects of the earthquake, fearing the loss of badly needed outside investment. Reconstruction was swift, and completed for the most part by 1915 in time for the 1915 Panama–Pacific International Exposition celebrating the rebuilding of the city and its “rise from the ashes”. As California governor George Pardee stated in response to the destruction, “this is not the first time that San Francisco has been destroyed by fire, I have not the slightest doubt that the City by the Golden Gate will be speedily rebuilt, and will, almost before we know it, resume her former great activity”.

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This Day in History: RCA Buys Elvis Presley’s Contract

On this day in 1955, RCA-Victor signed Elvis Presley to a recording contract, paying $40,000 to Sun Record Company for his release. The deal, negotiated by special advisor “Colonel” Tom Parker, was record-breaking, amounting to over $375,000 in 2018. Backed by the connections and distribution power of a major label, Presley would soon begin a meteoric rise to international stardom.

Colonel Parker, Gladys, Elvis, and Vernon Presley, H. Coleman Tilly III, and Bob Neal at Sun – November 21, 1955

The best-selling solo artist in the history of recorded music, Presley came from humble beginnings. The Presleys were a poor family, living in rooming houses and public housing in Memphis. Elvis seemed destined to be a truck driver. Providence Academy teacher and lifelong Elvis fan Brian Dudley recalls speaking with a woman who had gone to school with Presley: “She said that ‘he had had the poorest clothes and that nobody would play with him.’ He was the lonely kid in the corner of the playground.” Still, Presley aimed to one day make a name for himself as a singer.

In August 1953, Presley visited Sun Records and recorded – at his own expense – two songs, hoping to be discovered. One year later, owner Sam Phillips was still looking for a singer who could fuse white country music and black rhythm and blues (R&B). He decided to call Elvis. Late at night on July 5, 1954, Presley found his groove. With Scotty Moore on guitar, Bill Black on bass, and D.J. Fontana on drums, the group recorded Arthur Crudup’s “That’s All Right”.

Upon its release, local radio stations played the song over and over again. In a 1955 article for the Memphis Press-Scimitar, Robert Johnson wrote, “His first record, “That’s All Right” and “Blue Moon of Kentucky,” hit the best-seller lists immediately after release in July of last year and both Billboard and Cashbox, trade journals, named him most promising western-star”. Dudley notes the importance of Presley’s time at Sun: “it was integral; it made him the King of Rock ‘n Roll. The raw combination of folk music, blues, and country really came together to form rock ‘n roll.” A growing sensation, Elvis and his band toured the south, playing at fairs and on radio programs like the Louisiana Hayride.

Presley with his manager, Colonel Tom Parker

With regional hits such as “Mystery Train” and a unique blend of rockabilly, blues, and R&B, Presley was outgrowing Sun Records. In addition, the company was in financial trouble. Needing money to back the rest of his artists and overcome mounting debt and operating costs, Phillips considered selling Presley’s contract. In stepped Elvis’s new special advisor, the self-proclaimed “Colonel” Tom Parker. Parker had managed many country singers, and he saw Presley as a potential star. Negotiating on Presley’s behalf, Parker immediately asked Phillips to name his price for the singer’s contract. Phillips demanded $35,000 plus $5,000 to pay back royalties that Sun owed Presley. At the time, this was considered astronomical, more than had ever been paid for a singer. At first, RCA would not offer more than $25,000 for the contract; Parker gave them two weeks, or Presley would sign somewhere else. On November 15 RCA accepted the terms, and the two sides orchestrated a deal.

Replica copy of Elvis’s first recording contract with RCA, written Nov. 15, 1955 and signed on Nov. 21, 1955

The sale of Presley’s contract was finalized on November 21st at Sun. Dudley remarked, “to many, [the sale] meant the beginning of Elvis’s commercialization – ‘here comes packaged Elvis’ as opposed to the raw bluesy, R&B, country Elvis. However, this also gave Elvis necessary exposure. To become a big deal, you had to get people to play your records.” Ultimately, this deal would have many long-term effects on Presley’s career. All of the singles he had recorded at Sun Records were included in the sale, and RCA soon re-released them. On the same day, Elvis signed a contract naming Parker his sole manager – a position the Colonel would hold until Presley’s death in 1977 – and a “long-time exclusive writing pact” with Hill and Range, who would control what he recorded until the early 1970s. By 1956 Presley was recording new material for RCA. His debut single, “Heartbreak Hotel,” reached No. 1 on the Billboard Top 100 chart and his first album, Elvis Presley – featuring the hit “Blue Suede Shoes” – topped the charts and became RCA’s first million-selling album by a single artist. Elvis was on his way, primed to ascend to the throne of musical royalty as the King of Rock ‘n Roll.

Presley’s eponymous debut album with RCA

Dudley concludes, “Elvis represented everything that was good about rock ‘n roll…certainly, rock ‘n roll at its best is so uniquely American, and Elvis harnessed this. It can be said that he gave his life for his country, in a way.”

Elvis Presley, the King of Rock ‘n Roll


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