This Day in History (24-Jan-1972) – Shoichi Yokoi, a Japanese soldier unaware World War II is over, is found on the island of Guam after hiding for 28 years

During WWII, Shoichi Yokoi had been transferred from Manchuria to Guam, and he served as a sergeant in the supply corps. When the Americans came, he and nine other men hid in the jungle. Their numbers gradually dwindled to three. He knew from a leaflet he found in 1952 that the war was over but never gave himself up because “we Japanese soldiers were told to prefer death to the disgrace of getting captured alive.” Eight years before he was found, the other two men died, leaving him alone.  Yokoi proved to be a real “survival skills” expert living for almost 28 years in adverse conditions. On January 24, 1972, two residents of the village of Talofofo in the southern part of Guam were out hunting along the Talofofo River when they spotted a very old and wild appearing Japanese man carrying a shrimp trap. After a few confused words, they subdued 56-year-old Shoichi Yokoi and took him back to their home. Eventually, the police were summoned, and the story of Shoichi Yokoi’s saga became known.

During this period, Yokoi built little traps and caught shrimp and eel from the river. Yokoi had fashioned a rat trap from wire for rat meat. He wove cloth from the beaten fibre, and sewed the pieces together to make a total of three “suits” during his 28 years on the island. In the beginning, Yokoi used a lens for fire-starting. At some point he lost this lens and he is said to have made his fire by “rubbing two sticks together.” One of his shelters was a small house made from rushes he collected. He also lived in a hole that he dug under a bamboo grove. The entire cave was dug with a trowel that Yokoi fashioned from an old cannon shell. Inside, he had a toilet hole so well designed that it would flow off naturally to the river below. On another end of the cave — the “kitchen” — Yokoi had some shelves, and a hearth with a cooking pot. He carefully cut a Japanese canteen in two, and made a frying pan from one half and a plate from the other half. He took cylinders of bamboo and used them to collect rainwater and as dippers to collect water from the river.

Two weeks after his discovery in the jungle, Yokoi returned home to Japan to a hero’s welcome. He was besieged by the media, and was regularly invited to speak at universities and in schools across the country.


This Day in History (26-Nov-1922) – Howard Carter and Lord Carnarvon enter the tomb of Tutankhamun, the first to do so in 3,000 years

Over the past century, excavators had declared there was nothing left to find in the Valley of the Kings in Egypt, Howard Carter and his sponsor, Lord Carnarvon, spent a number of years and a lot of money searching for a tomb they weren’t sure existed. In November 1922, they found it. They had discovered not just an unknown ancient Egyptian tomb, but one that had lain nearly undisturbed for over 3,000 years. What lay within astounded the world.

King Tutankhamen was enthroned in 1333 B.C. when he was still a child. He died at the age of 18 and thus made only a faint impression on the history of ancient Egypt. In the 13th century B.C., Tutankhamen and the other “Amarna” kings were publicly condemned, and most records of them were destroyed–including the location of Tutankhamen’s tomb.

Carter carefully explored the four-room tomb over several years, uncovering an incredible collection of several thousand objects. In addition to numerous pieces of jewelry and gold, there was statuary, furniture, clothes, a chariot, weapons, and numerous other objects that shed a brilliant light on the culture and history of ancient Egypt. The most splendid find was a stone sarcophagus containing three coffins nested within each other. Inside the final coffin, made out of solid gold, was the mummified body of the boy-king Tutankhamen, preserved for 3,200 years. Most of these treasures are now housed in the Cairo Museum.

The discovery of King Tut’s tomb created an obsession around the world. Ancient Egyptian style clothes quickly hit the markets and appeared in fashion magazines. Even architecture was affected when Egyptian designs were copied into modern buildings. Lord Carnarvon became suddenly ill from an infected mosquito bite on his cheek. On April 5, 1923, within a week of the bite, Lord Carnarvon died. Just as quickly, newspapers were filled with the “news” of a curse. In all, it took Howard Carter and his colleagues ten years to document and clear out Tutankhamun’s tomb. After Carter completed his work at the tomb in 1932, he began to write a six-volume definitive work, A Report upon the Tomb of Tut ‘ankh Amun. Unfortunately, Carter died before he was able to finish.


This Day in History (24-Oct-1901) – First barrel ride down Niagara Falls

It is said that Niagara Falls has a hypnotic allure that gives some people the uncontrollable urge to jump in and join the powerful, swirling waters. Officials say that they recover an average of 20 people per year who chose Niagara Falls as the place to end their lives. But there are those who choose to go over the Falls in the name of adventure, not suicide. Since 1901, 16 people have gone over the Falls in the name of adventure — the most recent in 2012. Their desire to experience the thrill has sent them to the edge of the Falls and down the 170-foot (52-meter) drop into the swirling, icy waters below. Of those 16, 11 have survived, and two men actually went over the falls and survived twice. Some of these daredevils spent thousands of dollars — their life savings, in most cases — building barrels and other craft to protect themselves during the horrific plunge into rocks and rapids. Others went over with no protection at all.

The first person to go over Niagara Falls in a barrel was Annie Edson Taylor. Annie was a 63-year-old, retired school teacher and widow from Bay City, Michigan, who claimed she was only 43. She thought that going over the Falls was the way to fame and fortune. She designed an airtight barrel (actually a modified pickle barrel) and hired a manager to publicize the event. On her birthday, October 24th, she climbed into the barrel with her cat and went over the falls with an audience of reporters and tourists watching. Having compressed the air in the barrel to 30 psi with a bicycle pump, she strapped herself in with pillows and an anvil for ballast. She survived the plunge.

She was pulled from her barrel 17 minutes after going over the Falls. Other than a concussion and a small cut on her head, she was deemed okay. The fame she sought was short-lived, however. She made money posing for pictures with her barrel, but efforts by her manager to convince her to make appearances in venues she deemed unworthy were always in vain. Known as “The Heroine of Niagara Falls,” she died 20 years later, penniless, at the Niagara County Infirmary in Lockport, NY. There is now a law against going over the Falls, referred to as “stunting without a license.” The current fine is $10,000.


This Day in History (14-Oct-2012) – Skydiver breaks sound barrier with 24-mile jump

Austrian daredevil Felix Baumgartner started skydiving at age 16 and spent time in the Austrian army as a paratrooper demonstrating for competition team.  In 1988, he began performing skydiving exhibitions for Red Bull. The company’s out-of-the-box thinking and Felix’s adventurous spirit clicked, and they’ve collaborated ever since. He went on to perform a series of daredevil feats, including becoming the first person to jump from one of the twin 1,483-foot-high Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur, then the world’s tallest buildings, in 1999, and becoming the first person to skydive across the English Channel using a carbon-fiber wing, in 2003. He also set a record for lowest BASE jump (from Rio de Janeiro’s Christ the Redeemer statue).

The record-breaking 2012 jump was more than five years in the making and involved a team of engineers, scientists and other aeronautic experts who custom-designed Baumgartner’s equipment, including his pressurized space suit (intended to prevent his blood from boiling at high altitudes). In 2010 the project, which was financed by energy drink company Red Bull, hit a roadblock when Baumgartner started having panic attacks while undergoing endurance tests in his pressurized suit and helmet. However, a sports psychologist eventually helped him learn to cope with his claustrophobia. On the morning of October 14, 2012, a 550-foot-high helium balloon made of 40 acres of ultrathin plastic lifted the capsule carrying Baumgartner, nicknamed “Fearless Felix,” from the launch site at Roswell International Air Center. After reaching an altitude of 127,852.4 feet, Baumgartner stepped off the capsule and plunged toward Earth. His descent took nine minutes and 18 seconds—four minutes and 20 seconds of it in a free fall of 119,431 feet, during which he reached a top speed of 843.6 miles per hour, or Mach 1.25. Specially designed cameras positioned inside and outside of his capsule, as well as on the ground, enabled millions of people around the world to watch Baumgartner live online and on television. At an altitude of 8,421 feet above sea level, he deployed his parachute and went on to land smoothly in the desert. In addition to breaking the sound barrier, Baumgartner also set a new record for the highest-altitude jump.



This Day in History (6-Sep-1522) – Victoria Sails into Port in Spain, Arriving as the First Ship to Circumnavigate the World

Twenty-five years after Christopher Columbus had set foot in the New World for Spain, Magellan and two associates presented the idea of western route to the “Spice Islands” to King Charles I in 1517.  Excited by the possibility, Charles agreed and guaranteed the men five ships — the Trinidad, San Antonio, Concepcion, Santiago and Victoria.  After building a crew of 270, the voyage departed on August 10, 1519 from Seville with Magellan at the helm of the Trinidad.  Three months later, the group anchored in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil to load up on supplies. Late in the year 1520, the ships reached Tierra del Fuego, the southernmost point of South America. Now through to the South Pacific, Magellan guided his crew northwest.  In March 1521, the expedition reached the Philippines.  Attacked by native tribes upon landing at Mactan, Magellan and 30 crewmen were killed in fierce fighting. The remaining crew, just enough to fill up theTrinidad and Victoria, setting sail in May and landing in Borneo in mid-June.  In November, the 115 remaining crew reached the Spice Islands (Maluku), just as Magellan had intended.

Ready to return to Europe, the remaining two ships split up. Victoria left In December 1521 with Juan Sebastian Elcano in charge.  In May 1522, the ship turned north up the west coast of Africa with only rice to eat, causing 20 sailors to die of starvation.  In September, Elcano had forced 13 others to disembark in order to save the 26-ton load of cinnamon and cloves. Having covered 42,000 miles of ocean, more than half of it completely unfamiliar — the leaking boat only managed to return thanks to the crew working day and night to pump water from within the hull. The 18 men remaining aboard, gaunt and fatigued, presented themselves to the court of Charles I days later. Completing the full trip around the world only occurred because Elcano, relatively unknown to history, decided to strike to the west. It is interesting to note that whilst on the Cape Verde Islands they had discovered that although all the logs on the boat showed that it was a Wednesday, the Calendars on land all showed it to be a Thursday. At first they puzzled over the mistake they thought they had made before eventually realising that by travelling a 360 degree circumference of the globe they had lost a day.



This Day in History (3-Sep-1935) – Sir Malcolm Campbell Surpasses 300 Miles Per Hour

Born to a diamond seller Kent, England, Malcolm Campbell was headed for a life in the family business before fate intervened.  While in Germany learning more about the business of retailing gemstones, he found himself drawn to the motorcycle races held in the countryside.  Fascinated by the power and precision required to pilot the small bikes around the course, he returned to England with a need for speed.  Beginning in 1906, the twenty something Campbell rose to fame on in the speed bike community by winning the prestigious London to Lakes End Trials three times in a row. Driven by his success on two wheels, Campbell made the transition to four by getting behind the wheel at the Brooklands racing circuit in Surrey, the first automotive racetrack in the world, during 1910.  He served as a pilot in the Royal Flying Corps during World War I,  but he continued with his interest in automobile racing. In 1924, he set the land speed record for the first time in his life — just over 146mph at Pendine Sands on the southern coast of Wales.  Three years later, he would take it again, pushing his 350hp Sunbeam to just shy of 175mph just months before winning the first of two consecutive Grand Prix de Boulogne.

It seemed there was nothing that could slow Campbell down, as he took hold of the land speed records both in England and across the Atlantic in the United States (five times at Daytona Beach alone).  Knighted in 1931, it seemed there was little more for the 46-year-old Campbell to achieve, but he continued testing the limits of his vehicles.  After taking the land speed record eight separate times, he set his sights on something even more challenging: passing 300mph. At the age of 50, the thrill seeker headed to the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah to see what could be done.  Making two laps across the famous prehistoric lake bed, he averaged more than 301mph for two passes, earning immortality as the first to break the barrier.  Undeterred by transferring from car to boat, he set speed records on the water, too — four different times, surpassing 140mph on his last attempt in 1939. Each of Campbell’s racing cars and hydroplanes was named Bluebird. His son Donald Malcolm Campbell set subsequent land- and water-speed records.



This Day in History (21-Aug-1770) – James Cook Declares Eastern Australia for Great Britain

In the first of his three expeditions to the South Pacific, Cook managed to be the first man from western Europe to lay eyes upon what is today New South Wales. When he took on the mission, Cook received a grant from the Royal Society to observe the rare celestial occurrence of Venus passing across the sun in the South Pacific and use the information to determine the distance between the Earth and its nearest star.  Seen in 1761 by scientists from Britain, Austria and France at locations all over the world, the Royal Society wished to see if Edmond Halley’s calculations about the transit of Venus were correct.  Dispatching Cook to Tahiti in 1768 for observations, the following year allowed the young navigator ample time to plan his route and gather supplies.

Leaving Plymouth, England on August 26th, Cook sailed across the Atlantic Ocean and down the coast of South America before turning west into the Pacific after rounding Cape Horn.  In mid-April 1769, a minor collection of observations of Venus’ path were made. But the mission also had a hidden military agenda. Cook carried sealed orders instructing him to seek out the “Great Southern Continent,” an undiscovered landmass that was believed to lurk somewhere near the bottom of the globe. Within a few weeks of leaving Tahiti, Cook sailed the HMS Endeavor along the edges of New Zealand, creating a detailed map of the coastline, proving it was a pair of islands and not connected to a larger landmass.   Then he turned toward New Holland – what is now known as Australia – to serve as his guide back toward Southeast Asia on a westward course to Britain.  Early on the morning of April 19, 1770, the southeastern edge of Australia came into view.  Cook and his men entered history as the first Europeans to record seeing that stretch of coastline as they slowly skirted along to the north around the land mass.

While Cook’s journeys took place during a time when Britain was variously at war with the United States, Spain and France, his reputation as a pioneering explorer allowed him to travel the seas with relative impunity.