January 05, 2023

#ThrowbackThursday – 5 January

From the chilliest winter ever felt in centuries, to the most chilling debut(s) and disappearance, here are three events that went down in history on 5 January:

1709 – The Great Frost Strikes

Venice is famously known for its canals – so, you can imagine what a bizarre sight it would be to see the waters of the city completely frozen, and people skating to and fro (or slipping) over the ice rather than using the traditional transport mode of gondolas!

The Italian town was one of many European cities which were greatly impacted by the “Great Frost of 1709, a chilly event in which Europe suffered its coldest winter yet. The frost began suddenly during the night of 5 January: temperatures dropped to frigid degrees ranging between −12 °C and −15 °C, and it was immediately felt by citizens from Russia to Scandinavia in the daytime.

The Great Frost was so bitterly cold, that the waterways of Venice, as well as London’s Thames River and the Baltic Sea, were frozen over for anyone to skate or travel over. Church bells broke upon ringing them, birds froze in mid-air before plunging to the ground, wine barrels burst, and the bodies of the dead were difficult to remove from their deathbeds as they were stuck to their sheets. To even do simple things such as writing and walking were accompanied by shivers aplenty.

Thousands of Europeans are said to have died during the Great Frost due to starvation, as the event (and the severe flooding that came with it when it thawed) destroyed the crops, which also led to a rise in grain prices and caused a slump in the European economy.

1886 – Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde Make “Their” Debut

“All human beings, as we meet them, are commingled out of good and evil: and Edward Hyde, alone, in the ranks of mankind, was pure evil.”

This legendary quote comes from “The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde”, a novella that was written by Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson and published on this day in 1886 by Longmans, Green & Co.

It tells the story of Gabriel Utterson, a London-based lawyer who investigates a series of occurrences that links his good friend Dr Henry Jekyll to a malevolent, uncongenial man named Mr Edward Hyde. In doing so, Utterson discovers that Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde are indeed one and the same – experimenting with a serum allowed Dr Jekyll to separate the good and bad aspects of himself. Unfortunately, indulging in misanthropic acts via his Mr Hyde persona goes too far, and it sees him committing a heinous murder.

The novella is a classic favourite among horror buffs, and it has introduced the “Jekyll and Hyde” trope into mainstream media, in which a protagonist might come across their “evil twin” or “evil counterpart”, or even develop a split personality à la Dr Jekyll!

1939 – RIP, Amelia Earhart

Two years after her infamous disappearance, American aviator Amelia Earhart was declared legally dead by the US government.

By the age of 39, Amelia Earhart of Atchinson, Kansas had achieved great prominence as one of the trailblazing female aviators of her era. One of her many accomplishments includes being the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean. However, her disappearance would both add to and overshadow her legendary status.

On 1 June 1937, Earhart and her navigator, Fred Noonan, set off from Oakland, California in a twin-engine Lockheed Electra aircraft with the intention of flying around the world. A month later, they departed from Lae, New Guinea and headed over the Pacific Ocean towards Howland. However, both Earhart and Noonan, as well as the Lockheed, were reported missing on 2 July after they lost contact with the Coast Guard.

The disappearance led to an extensive (and expensive) search for the missing aviators and the aircraft; it cost the US government at least $250 000 a day to send out searchers to comb the waters for their remains and/or any signs of wreckage. Alas, nothing was ever found, the pair were declared lost at sea on 5 January 1939 via a court order.

Many theories abound about how and why Earhart disappeared. A low fuel supply and stormy weather were chalked up as some of the primary factors. Some say that she and Noonan drowned, were eaten by crabs, died on impact when the Lockheed crashed into the sea, or that they were taken prisoner by the Japanese and starved to death in custody.

Others believe that they made an emergency landing on the uninhabited island of Nikumaroro, where they lived as castaways until their deaths – tools and bones were discovered there in recent years, although debates about whether they belong to either aviator in question still rages on.

Whatever the case may, Earhart has yet to be found, although her legacy lives on.