This Week In History: Feb. 12 – Feb. 18 


From Ford Model T spark plugs to civil war submarines, “This Week in History,” has a solid range of interesting moments from the past. Illustration by Kaitlyn Tran/Daily Campus.

Sometimes history is full of curveballs. Out of the blue comes a farcical, improbable event that one would never imagine appearing in history books. And remarkably, this ordinary February week is full of such topics. So without further ado, let’s begin!  

On Feb. 13, 1961, three daring prospectors were hard at work in Olancha, California, a rural western town with a dry, fairly harsh climate. The three were processing geodes, some of which contained beautiful — and quite lucrative — crystals. But when one prospector cracked open a geode, he found something entirely unexpected, something that breaks the history of humanity. Can you guess what he found? Well if you guessed it was a 1920s era spark plug, you would be correct — and should become a historian! Encased in the hard rock deposit was a Champion spark plug, used in countless engines, most notably the classic Ford Model T

Filled with speculation and excitement, the prospectors brought it to be inspected by a geologist; they knew they had a remarkable piece on their hands. Press and academia were shocked when geologists dated the geode over 500,000 years old. Imagine, the entire timeline of human history would be completely null and void! In fact, a date so far in the past was considered to be before the emergence of Homo sapiens

Perhaps it was made in Atlantis? Or maybe it is proof of an ancient space faring race? Sadly, all of the proposed theories have one thing in common: zero sure proof research and evidence. The geologists who initially dated the rock would neither reveal their methods nor release a paper articulating their findings.  

Once real researchers — spark plug collectors to be precise — had access to view the artifact, there was unanimous agreement that it was simply a spark plug encased in a corroded metal housing. Sadly it was no proof of ancient aliens, though the hunt for that will no doubt continue. For the adventurous, you can lay your eyes on the artifact at the Pacific Science Center in Seattle. 

Despite leaving conspiracy theories behind, the next event takes us to an equally improbable historical situation. On Feb. 16, 1249, a Dominican missionary —  the same group that burned books last week — led an expedition to the Mongol Empire as an ambassador.  

His name was Andrew de Longjumeau, a devout Christian missionary and political advisor to the Kingdom of France. After serving in several royal missions, such as the journey to the Byzantine Empire to receive a golden crown of thorns or the Papal expedition to the Mongols in 1245, Longjumeau proved himself capable of foreign diplomatic action. 

Accompanied by a group of other Dominicans and clerks, the party was to head east and meet with Guyuk Khan, the Mongol leader who potentially supported an alliance with France to fight the rising Islamic powers of the Middle East. And thus, the group set off with gifts and a letter from the King of France for the Khan, traveling for over a year until they finally reached the vast Mongol capital, Karakorum, thousands of miles away from France. 

But alas, the group was not greeted with open arms. Picture the reaction of Longjumeau and his companions who struggled for years on the road, only to find that the amiable Khan they sought was dead. He had been killed by poisoning not long before their arrival by a rival Khan. The Mongols sent the party back with threats and an insulting letter to the King.  

However, along the way Longjumeau saw “wagon churches” amongst the caravans of the Khanate, a sign of the conversion of some Mongols to Christianity — perhaps sparked by his own mission years prior. Additionally, he noted several customs of the Tatar and Mongol traditions, such as the complexities of gift-giving, which denoted submission. Clearly there was a complex culture propelling the empire. 

Unfortunately, Mongols are often described as a purely nomadic, pillaging culture. Their bloody conquests of Europe and Asia are often the centerpiece of their history, while the intricacies of their court processes and diplomatic traditions are sidelined. Longjumeau’s observations highlight the importance of valuing broader perspectives on a hugely influential culture and empire. 

Thankfully after that long journey, we can finish up the week with an event which takes place not too far from home: On Feb. 17, 1863, the Confederate Submarine H.L. Hunley saw its first — and last — use in service. Named after its inventory, Horace Lawson Hunley, the Hunley was the first submarine in history to sink an enemy vessel. 

Let’s face it, the last thing that comes to mind when thinking about the American Civil War are submarines. In a time when the first ironclads fought on sea and were revolutionary (even though they were just wooden ships with some metal strapped on), the submarine wouldn’t be developed for a few more centuries, right?  

Wrong. Submarines captivated the minds of U.S. naval strategists and the Civil War only provided more funding for their crazy prototypes; so by the outbreak of war, the Confederate Hunley and its Northern counterpart, USS Alligator, were to be deployed. Unfortunately, it may have been better if the submarines had stayed on the drawing board. Imagine this: You and seven others are shoved in a metal trash bin, constantly bashing your heads on the sharp wood and metal surfaces which enclose you. Next, you start cranking at the gear shaft which powers the submarine. Sweat and smells fumigate into the damp, dark vessel. You hardly know where you’re going and are armed with one torpedo at the head of the ship — if that misses your target, it is a sure defeat. 

On the evening of the 17th, the Hunley made its move. The USS Housatonic was partaking in a blockade of Charleston, South Carolina, which needed to be broken before the city could be resupplied. The crew of the submarine approached the Housatonic and set off the torpedo. It was a direct hit. However, while the Housatonic sank, so too did the Hunley. 

The submarine never returned that night, and the exact cause of the sinking still remains highly debated, as no clear damage was done to the vessel and no emergency procedures were employed by the crew. The Hunley would remain lost until its rediscovery in 1970 and was raised in 2000. It now has a dedicated museum.[Text Wrapping Break][Text Wrapping Break]And that concludes This Week in History. Hopefully these events raise some interesting thoughts! I’ll see you next week! 

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