What happened this month in history?

October 3rd 610 CE

Heraclius arrives by ship from Carthage at Constantinople to overthrow Byzantine emperor Phocas

Sometime around 610 CE, the senate sent out a call for help to be rescued from the paranoid and revengeful Byzantine emperor named Phocas. In short, everyone was praying for a miracle, and it came in the form of Flavius Heraclius, the son of the governor of Carthage.

Heraclius sailed immediately with his fleet from Carthage to Constantinople and on the October 3rd 610 CE, Heraclius with his fleet appeared off Constantinople and was greeted enthusiastically by the people of the great city. The ‘tyrant’ that had ruled over the Byzantine empire for eight years was at once deserted by his supporters. In this charged atmosphere, Heraclius himself seized power, executed Phocas and immediately began work to reinvent the empire.

His thirty year reign came at a time when almost all had felt lost and the initiatives he would go on to introduce would give the empire the strength and backbone it needed for the next 600 years.

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October 13th 1988

The Shroud of Turin pronounced a fake.

Was the Shroud of Turin the work of a medieval forger or was it in fact what many believe to be the burial shroud of Jesus Christ? This huge question about the truth of the Shroud of Turin was addressed at the British Museum on October 13th 1988, at a press conference in London, by Professor Edward Hall, the head of the Oxford team, who revealed that the Carbon C14 dating tests, carried out across three laboratories in Oxford, Zurich and Arizona, concluded that the Shroud of Turin was with 95% certainty a fourteenth century forgery. (Interestingly, its first indisputable appearance was not in Turin, Italy, but in Lirey, France, in 1357, in a period in medieval history when forgery was rife.)

Over the years, the carbon dating results have been vilified by disappointed shroud enthusiasts, especially in the face of other contradictory scientific and scholarly evidence. Some have also argued that the carbon dating process, in this case, was flawed because the samples that were received by the labs were inhomogeneous, making them arguably invalid for establishing the age of the shroud. Others have also argued that if the shroud is indeed a fourteenth century fake, the idea of a ‘super forger’ existing during that time, and the extraordinary feat to accomplish it, is highly improbable. Yet despite these assertions, no truly credible evidence can definitively prove that the burial shroud kept in the Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist, in Turin, to be that of Jesus Christ, dating back over 2,000 years.

To this day, the Catholic Church accepts the results of the 1988 tests, cautiously referring to the shroud as an icon rather than a relic. In short, the truth of it may never be determined.

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October 15th 1940

Premiere of Charlie Chapman’s The Great Dictator.

In 1938, Charlie Chaplin set to work on a film that would ridicule the German tyrant Adolf Hitler. In preparation, for the film, Chaplin watched newsreels of Hitler, to study his mannerisms and his infamous oratorical style. When word got out that Chaplin was going to mock Hitler’s Nazi regime, it created problems for him. Undeterred, he carried on and completed the film as planned.

The film premiered at the Capitol cinema in New York on October 15th 1940 and went on to draw eager audiences worldwide, expect in Spain, Italy and neutral Ireland, in which Hitler got it banned.

Set in the fictitious country called Tomainia (understood to be Germany), Chapman played two roles, the dictator Adenoid Hynkel and a Jewish barber from the ghetto, who had a striking resembles to each other. Exploiting this situation, the dictator Hynkel is accidentally arrested, allowing the barber to pretend to be Hynkel, who then preceeds to reverse all of the dictator’s policies of hatred and injustice.

Interestingly, The Great Dictator would be Chaplin’s first talking film and financially his most successful of his career.

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October 16th 1869

America’s greatest hoax: The petrified man is unearthed in Cardiff, New York. 

A gigantic ten-foot tall stone man, was discovered by two hired workers, digging a well behind the barn, of property owner William C. Newell. The dumbfounded workers helped spread the word of their discovery and soon thousands of people were queuing up to view the colossus of Cardiff. Little did they know though, that the giant was the creation, of an enterprising New Yorker named George Hull.

Hull’s idea for a gigantic petrified man came about, after he got into an argument at a Methodist church meeting, whether things from the bible should be taken literally. When the notion that prehistoric giants once walked the earth came up, Hull could not resist poking fun at them, by conspiring to create his version of a biblical giant. (If anything, he hoped at least to make some money from his absurd idea.)

A few years before the giant was excavated on his cousin’s Cardiff farm, Hull secretly put into place his plans for the hoax. He spent a small fortune on searching for the right material (a block of gypsum), on travel expenses and on the expertise of stone cutters, who would give ‘life’ to the Cardiff Giant. After secretly colluding with his cousin Newell, and the stone cutters he hired to carve the giant, it was moved by railway to Binghampton and then moved again, in the dead of the night to Newell’s farm. Almost a year would lapse, before Hull gave the signal for Newell to hire two workers, to dig a well at the burial site.

The Cardiff Giant soon gained national attention upon its discovery on October 16, 1869. About a week later, Hull decided to sell his interest in it (making a tidy profit), before the giant was reveled as a fake. In November, as one might expect, the inevitable happened, when preeminent Yale professor, Othniel C. March declared it “a most decided humbug.” Though, it’s clumsy attempt to fool the American people, didn’t dampen interest in it at first. For a short while, it was affectionately referred to as “Old Hoaxey”. Still today, tourists can line up to see the fake Cardiff Giant at the Farmers’ Museum in Coopertown, New York.

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October 24th 1889

Henry Parkes’ Tenterfield Address

On October 24th, 1889, at the Tenterfiled School of the Arts, in rural New South Wales, Henry Parkes, known as the “Father of Federation”, delivered a stirring speech that was a call for federation. He had come to realize, like many of his colonial colleagues, that the inefficiency of having seperate colonies was a burden on Australia. (The mismatch of systems like railway gauges, laws and even separate militaries severely restricted the colonies from co operating with each other.) With this in mind, Parkes called upon all seven colonies to unite:

“Surely what the Americans have done by war, Australians can bring about in peace….it seems to me that the time is close at hand when we ought to set about creating this great national Government for all Australia.”

Parkes’ oration it seemed was enough of a push to convince all the colonial premiers of a need for a new federal constitution. Over the next two years meetings were held in both Melbourne and Sydney, which resulted in a complete draft of the proposed Australian Constitution being drawn up. Though, it would take a little over a decade, after many compromises and two referendums, for the Commonwealth of Australia to be proclaimed on January 1st, 1901.

Unfortunately, for Henry Parkes, he would not see his dreams of a unified Australia, dying five years before it was proclaimed a nation.

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October 24th 1975

De Lorean starts up his short-lived company.

The inventor John DeLorean founded the original De Lorean Motor Company on October 24th 1975. Prior to getting the business up and running, DeLorean had many teething problems ranging from investment concerns to production plant locations. Eventually, Dunmurry, Northern Ireland was settled on, as DeLorean’s short lived production site, where the first DMC-12 was rolled out of the assembly line. In total, some 9,000 DMC-12’s were made before production came to an abrupt halt in 1982. The company unfortunately went into liquidation due to a lack of demand, high overheads and a serious downturn in the US car market, a slump not seen since the 1930’s. 

The DMC-12 will always be remembered for its ‘gull-wing’ doors, unpainted stainless steel body and the rear mounted engine. It catapulted to fame in the “Back to the Future’ trilogy as the famous vehicle Doc. Emmett Brown made into a time machine. Marty McFly in ‘Back to the Future’ probably best summed it up when he said to Doc Brown , “Wait a minute, Doc. Ah… Are you telling me that you built a time machine…out of a De Lorean?” Dr. Brown’s reply to Marty was, “The way I see it, if you’re gonna build a time machine into a car, why not do it with some style?”

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October 30th 1938

Halloween radio special of ‘The War of the Worlds’.

In 1938, CBS Radio producer John Houseman asked Orson Welles and his newly formed Mercury Theatre company, whether they would be interested in doing H.G. Wells novel as a radio drama version of H.G. Wells novel The War of the World. Orson Welles initially laughed it off as a boring idea, until it was later reworked and updated from an English country setting to the backwoods of New Jersey and New York City for an American audience. With the change in location to an American setting, he instantly saw the potential in it and decided to direct and narrate the radio drama, as a Halloween special, splitting it into two.

The first part was organised as a series of musical pieces broken up by troubling news bulletins. The news updates became increasingly urgent as the drama unfolds as an alien invasion by Martians annihilates humankind. The second part focused on a survivor as they looked for remains of human life. The story ends with some form of hope with the Martians falling ill to germs that they have no immunity to.

Listening to it today with its crackling dialogue, sounds and shrilling musical pieces, it still holds your attention. (It is often referred to as one of the most breath-taking pieces of live radio drama ever produced.) It’s innovative crosses to other programmes and technical glitches throughout the first part of the drama gives it a feeling of realism. Furthermore, despite the clear identification at the start of the broadcast that it was a fake drama, anyone (back in 1938) who had missed this introduction and tuned in part way into the broadcast would have thought the world was coming to an end!

This, of course, was all part of the controversy that development during the airing of the drama. Horrified listeners rang in to the (CBS) station and police departments believing the world was being attacked by Martians. To his credit at the end of the broadcast, he burst out of character to reassure listeners that it was all a joke.

We will never really know the true extent of this hysteria, although what we do know about it is that it received harsh criticism for its realism in stories written by the newspapers. Apparently many public figures also expressed their anger and outrage. Orson Welles received his fair share of criticism too. He was after the event quoted as saying, “If you read the newspapers the next day, you would have thought I was Judas Iscariot and that my life was over.” In fact, the radio drama had the opposite effect and would make him a star. He would go onto direct, write and co produced arguably the greatest film ever made Citizen Kane in 1941.

This series aims to take a look at many of the important events or memorable moments that shape our history month after month. It will be on occasions updated to include additional material, giving you the reader a rough guide to what happened this month in history! 

*This particular article was originally published on October 2nd 2016. 

Photo Credit: All images used are in the public domain. The images of the Cardiff Giant and The War of the Worlds radio drama rehearsal featuring Orson Welles are both licensed and used under the Getty Images embedding service.