The rumbling shook the sleeping boy’s father from his fading half-sleep on the berth of their single-masted sailing boat. Bolting up and looking out the window, his eyes widened as he saw the still waters of the Alaskan inlet churn and rise into a monstrous, debris-strewn wave, easily fifty feet in height and heading straight toward their tiny craft. The father tossed a life preserver at the groggy boy and said, “Son, start praying.”
In the years before the transcontinental railroad spanned the nation, the quickest and safest method of travel between the west and east coast occurred by sea, with a short land connection across the Isthmus of Panama. On August 20, 1857, newlyweds Ansel and Addie Easton boarded the SS Sonora in San Francisco, bound for Panama; between his burgeoning furniture business and her family inheritance, Ansel and Addie could afford an expensive whirlwind tour to Panama, New York, and eventually Europe. After the Sonora landed, the couple embarked on a short train ride to the Panamanian city of Colon, and then boarded the SS Central America, whose itinerary included a short stop in Havana before heading to its ultimate destination of New York City.
In a memorable scene from the 1975 movie Jaws, Captain Quint, played by Robert Shaw, tells of his World War II experience on board the USS Indianapolis as it sank in shark-infested waters in 1945. Although the characters in the film were all obviously fictitious, the sinking that Quint described was real, and every inch terrible enough to warrant its inclusion in one of the most horrifying thriller movies ever produced.
Henry Beauclerc, the youngest and last surviving son of William the Conqueror, served as King Henry I of England after the death of his older brother, William II, in 1100. Nineteen years into his reign, he and his only legitimate son, William the Atheling, celebrated a successful military campaign against Louis VI of France, and the marriage of the teenaged William to Matilda of Anjou, the daughter of a powerful French Count. They remained in Normandy for some time and, on November 25, 1120, King Henry, Prince William, and their respective entourages prepared to cross the English Channel and return to London.
In the summer of AD 79, A Roman fleet rested in the docks of an Italian town called Misentum, on the western horn of the Bay of Naples, about 150 miles south of Rome. In one of its lavish seaside villas, Pliny, the fat, rich commander of the naval detachment who had also achieved some fame as a philosopher, laid on a blanket in the yard, writing his latest work. A sizable staff attended to his wishes, answering every command he instituted.
No one knows exactly what caused the first small flame in the southwestern corner of the main circus tent in Hartford, Connecticut, on July 6, 1944, but partially obscured by the bleachers, it quickly grew before bursting forth during a packed show on a hot summer day. Karl Wallenda, whose family of trapeze artists were performing under the Big Top, was one of the first to see it, and his reaction prompted Bandleader Merle Evans to play "Stars and Stripes Forever", the universal circus disaster signal. Ushers attempted to extinguish the flame, but the tent had been meticulously waterproofed with paraffin soaked in gasoline, and the entire tent burst into flames within seconds.