Whether it's the discovery of a secret room in an Irish castle or the anniversary of England's infamous Great Train Robbery of 1963, welcome to "History Happy Hour" for August 2023.
It’s the end of August 2023, and we’ve handpicked a few of our favorite history stories from this month, as well as a few historic anniversaries.
This month, we wrote about the discovery of a medieval handheld sundial in Germany, yet another vampire grave uncovered in Poland, the surprise discovery of a Roman ship by Siberian coal miners, why historians now believe that the Hirota people in Japan intentionally deformed their skulls centuries ago, and how conservation work on an Irish castle revealed a secret room.
One of the most fascinating news stories from the month was indeed the discovery of a secret room in Ireland’s Johnstown Castle. It was actually the second such space uncovered on the property in the past year. The Irish Heritage Trust noted that another room was previously found under a tower by the castle’s lake.
This particular room was discovered by a carpenter when he broke through part of a wall while working on the castle’s windows. It’s unclear why the room was boarded up, but the manager of Johnstown Castle believes it may have been due to a mysterious “tragedy.”
There were also a number of historic anniversaries this August, including the shocking death of Warren G. Harding (August 2, 1923), the Great Train Robbery (August 8, 1963), the peak of the deadly Krakatoa eruption (August 27, 1883), the Norrmalmstorg robbery (August 23-28, 1973), and Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech (August 28, 1963).
Looking at these anniversaries, it seems that August is historically a month for robberies. The Great Train Robbery was the largest of its kind in British history. The “South West Gang” boarded a Royal Mail train, beat the conductor, and made off with the equivalent of $70 million in today’s currency.
The Norrmalmstorg robbery didn’t involve nearly as much cash, but it made a significant mark on history for other reasons. Not only was the incident the first crime in Sweden to be covered on live television, but it was also the origin of the phrase “Stockholm syndrome.”
Jan-Erik Olsson was on furlough from prison when he held up a bank in Stockholm, taking four people hostage for five days. The captives then reportedly bonded with Olsson and refused to cooperate with the police. The situation ended when authorities used tear gas to force Olsson from the bank and safely rescued the four hostages.
In addition to these anniversaries, we also discussed our featured cocktail for the month: the aptly-named Krakatoa.