May 13, 2021

#ThrowbackThursday – 13 May

The number 13 is considered an unlucky number in some cultures, whereas it is considered a symbol of good luck in others.

As history shows us – in particular, these five events that took place on 13 May – sometimes luck favours those who happen to be in the right place at the right time … or, in other instances, disfavours those in the wrong place at the wrong time:

1767 – Young Mozart’s First Opera

Over 250 years ago, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart debuted his first opera … which he had composed when he was just 11-years-old.

Titled “Apollo et Hyacinthus” – which was based on a Greek myth – the three-act opera premiered at Benedictine University in Salzburg, Austria. The university had commissioned the prodigal Classical composer to create the music for the opera, with the libretto written by the Benedictine friar, Rufinus Widl.

Although the source material may have been daunting, young Mozart pulled it off, thus paving the way for many commissions to come.

1923 – “One of Ours” Takes Top Prize

Willa Cather was 50-years-old when she won one of the most prestigious literary awards in the world: the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.

Cather’s award-winning novel, “One of Ours”, tells the story of a privileged son of a successful Nebraskan farmer who struggles to find a purpose in his life, until he enlists in the US Army and fights on the frontlines in France during World War I.

Although “One of Ours” received a somewhat tepid response from literary critics at the time, it won Cather a larger readership than her earlier work, allowing her to follow up with more successful novels. Along with the Pulitzer Prize, it cemented her as one of America’s foremost authors.

1981 – John Paul II Survives Assassination

The peace of Rome’s St. Peter’s Square was shattered instantly when gunshots rang out, wounding Pope John II.

The 60-year-old Polish pontiff was intending to address an audience of 20 000 people in the plaza when the incident occurred: he had been shot four times at close range in his abdomen, left hand and right arm. He was quickly rushed to a local hospital, where – after six hours of surgery – he miraculously pulled through.

The perpetrator behind John Paul II’s attempted assassionation was Mehmet Ali Agca, a 23-year-old Turkish nationalist whose motive behind the crime still remains unknown. Nevertheless, Agca was arrested and imprisoned for the act.

Two years later, John Paul II visited Agca in prison – although what exactly passed between them is not known, the former claims that the latter had repented, and that he had spoken to him “as a brother whom I have pardoned and who has my complete trust.”

2010 – Convent’s Cocaine-Smuggling Ring Busted

Twenty-nine years after John Paul II’s near death in St. Peter’s Square, a Catholic convent over 400 kilometres away from Rome also became a site of infamy.

Italian police officers arrested 33 people at the Convent of Madre Cabrini in Piacenza and seized 30kg of cocaine – per reports, South American smugglers posing as pilgrims hid cocaine in their handbags, Bibles and prayer books. The cocaine was then transported to a house near Bergamo, where it was refined, cut and sent off to major cities for distribution.

The three-year smuggling operation was masterminded by Jose Alois Cervantas, the convent’s South American janitor who had organised the “pilgrims’” trips to the city. The nuns at the convent were completely unaware of the crime being carried out on the premises.

2017 – Blogger Stops Cyber-Attack Short

A 22-year-old, self-trained tech blogger from Devon, England became something of a hero when he halted the spread of a global ransomware cyber-attack.

WannaCry, a ransomware crypto-worm which targeted Microsoft-operated computers in return for ransom payments, had affected more than 200 000 computers across 150 countries. However, Marcus Hutchins discovered its “kill switch”: a URL which was hardcoded in the malware.

Hutchins then registered the URL as a domain name, which prevented further computers from being infected by WannaCry and allowed for defensive measures to be deployed worldwide.

After the ordeal was over, Hutchins told media outlets: “I will confess that I was unaware that registering the domain would stop the malware until after I registered it, so initially it was accidental. So I can only add ‘accidentally stopped an international cyber-attack’ to my resume.”

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