1851 — Moby-Dick is published
On this day in 1851, "Moby-Dick," a novel by Herman Melville about the voyage of the whaling ship Pequod, is published by Harper & Brothers in New York. Moby-Dick is now considered a great classic of American literature and contains one of the most famous opening lines in fiction: "Call me Ishmael." Initially, though, the book about Captain Ahab and his quest for a giant white whale was a flop.
Herman Melville was born in New York City in 1819 and as a young man spent time in the merchant marines, the U.S. Navy and on a whaling ship in the South Seas. In 1846, he published his first novel, "Typee," a romantic adventure based on his experiences in Polynesia. The book was a success and a sequel, "Omoo," was published in 1847. Three more novels followed, with mixed critical and commercial results. Melville's sixth book, "Moby-Dick," was first published in October 1851 in London, in three volumes titled "The Whale," and then in the U.S. a month later. Melville had promised his publisher an adventure story similar to his popular earlier works, but instead, "Moby-Dick" was a tragic epic, influenced in part by Melville's friend and Pittsfield, Massachusetts, neighbor, Nathaniel Hawthorne, whose novels include "The Scarlet Letter."
After "Moby-Dick's" disappointing reception, Melville continued to produce novels, short stories ("Bartleby") and poetry, but writing wasn't paying the bills so in 1865 he returned to New York to work as a customs inspector, a job he held for 20 years.
Melville died in 1891, largely forgotten by the literary world. By the 1920s, scholars had rediscovered his work, particularly "Moby-Dick," which would eventually become a staple of high school reading lists across the United States. "Billy Budd," Melville's final novel, was published in 1924, 33 years after his death.
1951 — United States gives military and economic aid to communist Yugoslavia
In a surprising turn of events, President Harry Truman asks Congress for U.S. military and economic aid for the communist nation of Yugoslavia. The action was part of the U.S. policy to drive a deeper wedge between Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union.
Yugoslavia ended World War II with the communist forces of Josip Broz Tito in control. The United States supported him during the war when his group battled against the Nazi occupation. In the postwar period, as Cold War hostilities set in, U.S. policy toward Yugoslavia hardened. Tito was viewed as simply another tool of Soviet expansion into eastern and southern Europe. In 1948, however, Tito openly broke with Stalin, though he continued to proclaim his allegiance to the communist ideology. Henceforth, he declared, Yugoslavia would determine and direct its own domestic and foreign policies without interference from the Soviet Union.
U.S. officials quickly saw a propaganda opportunity in the fallout between the former communist allies. Although Tito was a communist, he was at least an independent communist who might prove a useful ally in Europe. To curry favor with Tito, the United States supported Yugoslavia's efforts in 1949 to gain a seat on the prestigious Security Council at the United Nations. In 1951, President Truman asked Congress to provide economic and military assistance to Yugoslavia. This aid was granted.
Yugoslavia proved to be a Cold War wild card, however. Tito gave tacit support to the Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956, but harshly criticized the Russian intervention in Czechoslovakia in 1968. While the United States admired Tito for his independent stance, he could sometimes be a bit too independent. During the 1950s and 1960s he encouraged and supported the nonalignment movement among Third World nations, a policy that concerned American officials who were intent on forcing those nations to choose sides in the East-West struggle. Relations between the United States and Yugoslavia warmed considerably after Tito's denunciation of the Czech intervention, but cooled again when he sided with the Soviets during the Arab-Israeli conflict of 1973. Tito died in 1980.
1985 — Volcano erupts in Colombia and buries nearby towns
On this day in 1985, a volcano erupts in Colombia, killing well over 20,000 people as nearby towns are buried in mud, ice and lava.
The Nevado del Ruiz volcano is situated in the north-central part of Colombia. Over the centuries, various eruptions caused the formation of large mudflows in the valleys beneath the volcano. When the Nevado del Ruiz went an extended period of time without erupting, people began to build towns over the mudflow areas and glacial ice built up near the volcano's crater.
In last few months of 1984, activity picked up at the volcano. Multiple tremors were recorded and geologists from around the world traveled to Colombia to observe the situation. The following November, an eruption of steam and ash caused ice, rocks and mud to cascade down the mountain. Scientists, believing that a full-blown eruption was possible, recommended evacuating the area. Their concerns, however, were largely ignored.
On the afternoon of November 13, a major eruption occurred. Ash was sent 30 miles into the air, but still, possibly believing they had more time, few residents evacuated. Later that evening into the morning of the November 14, there were several more powerful eruptions. Lava flowed out of the crater, melting the glacial ice surrounding it and causing massive mudslides.
— This Day in History is courtesy of History.com.