Many claim the Vatican designated St. Isidore of Seville the spiritual protector of internet users

17th century painting of St. Isidore of Seville (Wikimedia)

Websites around the world proclaim St. Isidore of Seville the “patron saint of the internet.” These aren’t no-account sites. They include many focusing on Catholicism and the Vatican, as well as well-respected tech sites. Yet, it’s questionable that Isidore is officially the saint watching over internet users.

Isidore was born into an influential and devout Catholic family in Spain around 560. His elder brother Leander, younger brother Fulgentius, and sister Florentina also are Catholic saints. When Leander died in 600 or 601, Isidore succeeded him as Archbishop of Seville.

Although he lived and died nearly a millennium before, Isidore could…

Some historians believe she’s the reason the queen is the most powerful chess piece.

A modern chess queen and Queen Isabella I (Wikimedia)

What is now the game of chess dates back centuries. Originating in 6th century India, the game spread to Asia and the Arab world and became a popular pastime of European nobility in the Middle Ages. As the game proliferated among different cultures, the rules evolved as well. Some consider Spain’s Queen Isabella I to be responsible for the modern game’s most powerful piece.

In India, the game was called chaturanga, Sanskrit for the four divisions of the army: elephants, chariots, cavalry, and infantry. Although its exact rules are unknown, like chess, it was a two-player game in which the…

Russia holds billions in gold and historical objects it agreed to safekeep in 1917

The USSR kept Romania’s Pietroasele Treasure for decades (National Museum of Romanian History)

When World War I broke out in 1914, most European nations quickly entered the fray. Romania did not, remaining neutral until 1916. After entering the war, though, Romania’s gold reserves and royal treasures would end up in Russia, where much of them remain.

Romania was literally and figuratively amidst warring empires when the war began. It bordered Austria-Hungary, one of the Central Powers, on the west, and Russia, part of the Entente, or Allied, Powers, on the east. Romania’s history with both was checkered. …

America’s lag in space race led to “Mission Impossible”-style feat

Image from September 1961 internal CIA journal (

October 4, 1957, the day the Soviet Union launched the Sputnik satellite, kicked off the “Space Race.” The United States managed to launch a satellite in February 1958, but it was losing the race. On January 2, 1959, that became clearer when the Soviets launched Luna 1, the first of their Lunik (Luna) moon probes. Although Luna 1 didn’t crash into the Moon as hoped, it was the first man-made object to escape Earth’s gravitational field.

But the Lunik spacecraft weren’t finished, either technologically or as public relations tools. On September 14, Luna 2 impacted the Moon, becoming the first…

Three more leaders who died in their bathrooms

14th century illustration of the assassination of King Eglon (Wikimedia)

As I detailed in a previous article, at least three 11th century leaders met their fate in toilets of their day. But that wasn’t the only period where toilets proved deadly — stories of rulers dying in the bathroom date back to the Old Testament. Here are three:

Eglon, King of Moab (12th century BCE)

The story of Eglon appears in Chapter 3 of the Book of Judges in the Old Testament. Yahweh believed the Israelites were evil, so he allowed an alliance led by the king of Moab, located in today’s Jordan, to conquer them. …

Wearing straw hats after September 15 sparked riots in Pittsburgh and New York City

A sea of straw hats in Times Square in 1921 (Wikimedia)

Fashion faux pas often stem from unwritten rules. Take the popular straw hat of early 20th century America for example. Tradition had it that men shouldn’t wear them after September 15. How strong was that tradition? Enough so that it sparked riots in both Pittsburgh and New York City.

Considered summer wear, fashion dictated September 15 was the last day for men to wear straw hats, also know as boaters. Several traditions arose. In some cities, stock exchange traders, including those on Wall Street, wore straw hats on September 15 with plans to destroy them at day’s end. …

Accidents weren’t to blame

The garderobe at the 11th century Peveril Castle in England (Wikimedia Commons)

Toilets can be dangerous. A study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calculated more than 33,000 Americans sought emergency room treatment for injuries suffered while standing up from, sitting down on, or using the toilet. A thousand years ago, though, they could be deadly for political leaders.

Private toilets in the 11th century were crude and small. Often called garderobes, those in castles were a hole in a stone or wooden seat. They commonly jutted out from the walls, and the waste dropped into a moat, stream, or even a street. Occasionally, they were small ground structures…

Cover of first edition of Animal Farm (Wikimedia Commons)

Publishers rejected book for criticizing Soviet Union

Find a list of the best 20th-century novels, and you’re likely to find both George Orwell’s 1984 and his Animal Farm. The former, published in 1949, is such a classic of dystopian literature that it’s hit the top of Amazon’s bestseller lists twice in the last four years. Yet his first tale of dictatorships, Animal Farm, struggled to find a publisher due to World War II politics.

For those unfamiliar with it, Animal Farm is a tale of a group of farm animals overthrowing the farmer to create a society where they are all equal and share the fruits of…

Jefferson’s extensive collection became the core of the Library of Congress

Current display of Thomas Jefferson’s library (Library of Congress)

Congress first funded what would become the Library of Congress in April 1800 as the U.S. government relocated to the District of Columbia. With the U.S. Capitol as its home, the library’s first books arrived the following year. But in August 1814, the library was destroyed when the British burned the Capitol during the War of 1812.

Thomas Jefferson, an acclaimed bibliophile, took a keen interest in the Library of Congress. During his presidency (1801–1809), he appointed the first two Librarians of Congress and personally recommended books for it. So, upon hearing of its destruction, Jefferson stepped up. Aware of…

Gestapo raid sought operation smuggling men and arms to and from Shetland

Buildings in Telavåg being blown up in reprisal for two Gestapo deaths (North Sea Traffic Museum)

When Nazi Germany invaded neutral Norway on April 9, 1940, it caught the Norwegian government by surprise. Both military forces and individuals fought back, but Norway formally surrendered on June 10. However, resistance forces would continue to plague the Nazis until World War II ended. Retaliation for that resistance led to the obliteration of a small island town.

Within a month after the invasion, 63-year-old fisherman Lauritz Telle and his son Lars began using their fishing boat for secret trips between Telavåg, Norway, and Scotland’s Shetland, also known as the Shetland Islands. Telavåg was a small fishing village on the…

Tim Gebhart

Retired Lawyer. Book Addict. History Buff. Lifelong South Dakotan. Blog:

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