Spot­light

Cecil Whig - - ACCENT -

Well be­fore Rus­sian lit­er­ary writer Fy­o­dor Dos­to­evsky wrote the books that con­trib­uted most to his name’s can­on­iza­tion, he was sen­tenced to death for al­legedly antigov­ern­ment ac­tiv­i­ties.

On Nov. 16, 1849, a Rus­sian court ruled that Dos­to­evsky’s par­tic­i­pa­tion in a rad­i­cal in­tel­lec­tual group called the Pe­tra­shevsky Cir­cle war­ranted his death. In De­cem­ber of that year, he was led be­fore a fir­ing squad, only to be saved at the last minute and sent to work at a Siberian la­bor camp for four years.

Dos­to­evsky went on to write a cou­ple clas­sic nov­els, namely “Crime and Pun­ish­ment” (1866) and “The Broth­ers Kara­ma­zov” (1880), which was pub­lished just a year be­fore his death.

Some 72 years be­fore Dos­to­evsky’s sen­tenc­ing, the Sec­ond Con­ti­nen­tal Congress of the United States sub­mit­ted the Ar­ti­cles of Con­fed­er­a­tion to the orig­i­nal 13 states. This doc­u­ment gave some form to the fledg­ling U.S. govern­ment and was a pre­cur­sor to the coun­try’s cur­rent con­sti­tu­tion.

Al­though the Ar­ti­cles were sub­mit­ted on Nov. 17, 1777, it wasn’t un­til March 1, 1781, that all states ap­proved them.

That last state to sign off? Mary­land.

It’s per­haps lit­tle known that North Amer­i­can time zones were es­tab­lished not by any govern­ment, but by rail­road com­pa­nies. On Nov. 18, 1883, Amer­i­can and Cana­dian rail­roads started us­ing four con­ti­nen­tal zones that were very sim­i­lar to the ones used to­day.

The in­sti­tu­tion of th­ese zones was ne­ces­si­tated by highly di­ver­gent lo­cal times across the coun­try. Be­cause many towns would keep to their own time based on when the sun reached high noon, train sta­tions’ timeta­bles would some­times re­quire dozens of listed ar­rival and de­par­ture times for the same train, to ac­com­mo­date the dif­fer­ing zones. It’s a tes­ta­ment to the rail­road com­pa­nies’ power at this point that they could es­tab­lish th­ese zones with­out help from the govern­ment.

Amer­i­cans and Cana­di­ans widely ac­cepted the new time zones, be­cause the rail sys­tem was the lifeblood for many. Congress, how­ever, did not of­fi­cially adopt them un­til 1918.

Th­ese days, the United States is di­vided by much more than time zones. It’s help­ful to re­mem­ber, how­ever, that once the coun­try was so di­vided it fought a war that ended only after the death of more than 600,000 of its cit­i­zens.

On Nov. 19, 1863, Pres­i­dent Abra­ham Lin­coln de­liv­ered his fa­mous Get­tys­burg Ad­dress at the ded­i­ca­tion for the mil­i­tary ceme­tery in Get­tys­burg, Pa., shortly after the Civil War bat­tle that took place there. In less than 300 words, he en­cap­su­lated the war and the young United States in a man­ner few, if any, of his con­tem­po­raries ac­com­plished.

It be­gan with the well­know “Four score and seven years ago,” and de­tailed the Found­ing Fa­thers’ vi­sion that the na­tion sought to op­er­ate un­der a con­cept that all hu­mans were cre­ated equal. The words of that ad­dress are carved into a wall at the Lin­coln Me­mo­rial in Wash­ing­ton.

Our 19th-cen­tury-heavy list this week ends with one of the premier Amer­i­can in­ven­tors and his first great cre­ation.

Thomas Edi­son stum­bled onto the phono­graph while try­ing to record tele­phone com­mu­ni­ca­tion, and he an­nounced it on Nov. 21, 1877. An ex­per­i­ment with a sty­lus on a tin­foil cylin­der led to the play­ing back of a short song he had recorded — “Mary Had a Lit­tle Lamb.” Pub­lic demon­stra­tions of this in­ven­tion made Edi­son fa­mous, even­tu­ally spark­ing the nick­name, “Wizard of Menlo Park” (his lab­o­ra­tory was lo­cated in Menlo Park, N.J.).

He set aside work on this in­ven­tion shortly af­ter­ward to fo­cus on the in­can­des­cent light bulb, for which he de­vel­oped sig­nif­i­cant im­prove­ments and helped to com­mer­cial­ize. To­day he is cred­ited with de­vel­op­ing the first lon­glast­ing, prac­ti­cal light bulb.

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