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What Happened on December 23?

  • Artist Vincent Van Gogh cut off his ear. (1888) Van Gogh had been severely depressed for some time before he cut off the bottom of his left ear with a straight razor in a fit of dementia. It is said that he wrapped the ear up and presented it to a prostitute at a local brothel. After the incident he was hospitalized and then checked himself into a mental institution.

  • The "extinct" coelacanth was discovered to be living. (1938) The coelacanth is one of the oldest living fish, and was thought to have gone extinct some 60 million years before Captain Hendrick Goosen caught one off the coast of South America. Since that time, more than 200 coelacanths have been caught. It is one of the textbook examples of a "living fossil."

  • The first non-stop flight around the world ended. (1986) Dick Rutan and Jeana Yeager flew the Voyager and became the first people to circumnavigate the globe in an airplane without stopping. The flight lasted nine days and four minutes, which also set a record for the longest continual flight. When the flight took off, it was carrying more than three times its own weight in fuel, and it only had five gallons (about 18 liters) left when it landed.

  • The transistor was first demonstrated. (1947) Developed to replace vacuum tubes, the point-contact transistor revolutionized the technological world by making it possible to easily amplify and switch between electric signals. Transistors are used in everything from radios to hearing aids to advanced robotics.

  • A Visit from St. Nicholas was first published. (1823) The classic poem, also known as 'Twas the Night Before Christmas was published anonymously, though most consider the author to be Clement Clark Moore. The poem was responsible for creating the modern perception of Santa Claus, including his reindeer, the sleigh and the fact that he brings toys to children.

  • The first case of space motion sickness in an American was recorded. (1968) All three crew members of Apollo 8, the first manned lunar mission, reported feelings of motion sickness. According to NASA, about half of all space travelers from the US have suffered from space motion sickness.

  • North Korea released 83 Americans suspected of spying. (1968) The crew of the USS Pueblo, an intelligence gathering ship, had been held in North Korea for more than 11 months. During that time, they were imprisoned and tortured until the captain confessed under pressure to spying. Many criticized President Lyndon B. Johnson's lack of response to the issue, since he was more focussed on the Tet Offensive than negotiating with North Korea when the men were taken.

  • St. Philip of Moscow was martyred with a pillow. (1569) The Russian Tzar Ivan the Terrible had him imprisoned and smothered to death for rebuking Ivan for Ivan's treatment of the Russian peasantry. Before his imprisonment, St. Philip had been an abbot and the bishop of Moscow, where he taught, among other things, reindeer herding.

  • The planet Uranus was discovered. (1690) Royal British astronomer John Flamsteed made the first sighting of Uranus by an astronomer. Unfortunately, he didn't know what he was looking at, and classified it as a star. Besides unknowingly discovering Uranus, Flamsteed was known for his personal conflict with Isaac Newton, who published some of Flamsteed's work without crediting him.

  • The first coast-to-coast televised football game was shown. (1951) The 1951 NFL Championship Game was the first game to be televised live coast to coast. The Los Angeles Rams defeated the Cleveland Browns. It would be the last Rams NFL title for 48 years.

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