Lesson #334: That Time the Stanley Cup Spent the Night in the Rideau

In 1905, the Ottawa Silver Seven (pre-NHL, so the team was made up of amateur players) won the Stanley Cup*, after which the team went boozing. Like victorious teams — and losing teams, I suspect — are wont to do. As a group of adrenaline-high, liquored up macho dudes aren’t usually the best decision-makers, their post-game festivities took a turn for the rather stupid when forward Harry Smith accepted a dare from his teammates to drop-kick Lord Stanley’s Cup into (or over, depending on what you read) the Rideau Canal. 

Now, I’m definitely not one to throw stones because I have been known to make my own stupid choices after a few beers,** but the men of the Silver Seven then promptly forgot all about Lord Stanley’s Cup and sauntered off — presumably to get more beer — without it. So it spent the night in the Rideau.

Smith went back the next morning to retrieve it.

Here’s the thing: there are varying reports about this. It’s January in Ottawa (remember, this is well before the days when hockey season ends in June). I’m pretty familiar with winter in Ottawa, and the Rideau freezes up pretty well; it’s a big thing to skate on it. So the likelihood that the Cup ended up at the bottom of the Rideau in the dead of winter is almost nil. The Hockey Hall of Fame’s page says it was pulled from the water. Sports Illustrated says it was retrieved from the dry bed of the canal. The Wiki mention of it on the Sens’ page cites Michael McKinley’s Hockey: A People’s History and says it was rescued from the surface of the ice. So…I guess go with whatever version you like? I’ll go with the one that makes the most sense. 

As an aside: I also learned that the Fourth Earl Grey was the Governor General of Canada at the time. As a tea-drinker and hockey fan, this amuses me — though the tea was not named for this particular one, but for his grandfather, the Second Earl Grey, who served as Prime Minister of Great Britain and Ireland in the 1830s. The Grey Cup, however, was named for this Earl Grey.

For more, read the Sports Illustrated article from before I was born. (See, Dad, I’m not “nearly old.” Jerk!***Or see if you can find McKinley’s book. The Hall of Fame’s reference is here. Or you can read the Wiki entry

*which, at the time, was just the sterling silver bowl that makes up the top of the modern trophy

**True story: I have a scar on the back of my left leg from the time I forgot there was a ditch on the other side of a barbed wire fence a friend and I had climbed over in the middle of nowhere in the southern state where I used to live so we could go climb a windmill in the middle of the night. I managed, in one jump, to rip a two-inch gash into my flesh from one of the barbs, damage my right ankle in a way that, to this day, doesn’t allow me to wear certain pairs of high heels, leave myself with a limp for two weeks, and require a tetanus booster. And that was only after three beers. Legally, I was still sober.

***Dear readers, please don’t think I say that with any sort of seriousness. My dad is awesome, and I love him very much.

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Lesson #283: The Dissolved Nobel Prizes

I read a really interesting article on NPR this afternoon (no need to guess which way my politics lean) about how Niels Bohr’s Institute of Theoretical Physics in Copenhagen dissolved a pair of Nobel medals in order to avoid their “reallocation” by the Nazis.* Fascinating!

As a student of revolution, I’m a bit of a sucker for things being stuck, as it were, to The Man, so this little bit of trivia is right up my alley. Gold, it turns out, is a particularly stable element, so its dissolution is a bit tricky. But when German physicists Max von Laue (1914) and James Franck (1925) sent their medals to the Institute for safekeeping**, and the Nazis annexed Denmark (more or less) in 1940 and went searching for gold, — in this specific instance, gold that had been illegally removed from the Reich (and very obviously since the prizes bore the names of their winners) —  Bohr, with the help of Hungarian chemist Georgy de Hevesy, who won his own Nobel prize in 1943, decided that the best way to keep the Nazis from the prizes was to dissolve the pair in aqua regia, a solution that is three parts hydrochloric acid to one part nitric acid.

By some stroke of luck, when the Nazis arrived and tossed the Institute in search of gold, the aqua regia solution was left alone on some shelf, and, after the war, the gold was extracted from the aqua regia and sent off to Stockholm to be restruck for von Laue and Franck.***

Bohr’s medal (1922, Physics), incidentally, was sold at auction just prior to the Nazi occupation.****

I love stories like this — and history is replete with them. There are always people who find ingenious ways of circumventing governments and doing what is right and I love that.

*Interestingly, this story came from a book I’m waiting to get from paperbackswap.com, which is a BRILLIANT book trading site.

** von Laue was of Jewish descent and Franck was a known dissident.

***For more information see here and here.

****As a mostly unrelated aside, Bohr’s son won the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1975. Also, my physicist friends and I have a running joke about how when they win the prize, they’re going to demand a taco dinner because it’s impossible to eat tacos and retain one’s dignity and the image of this is funny to us. In fairness, the idea of a specific one of said friends winning a Nobel Prize is actually a completely real possibility. Not that I expect, if he won, that he’d actually demand a taco dinner.

Lesson #76: Olympic Medals

Yay for you! The Olympics close today and you don’t have to hear about them ever again. Yay! No more posts about curling or Nordic combined — because it will be four years before I watch those events again, super hot thirds or not. You’re screwed if you think you’re getting out of hockey posts, though. That, my friend, is out of the question.*

Anyway, since it’s all over and done with today, I thought it was time to find out what the medals are actually made of.**

I’m actually pretty surprised to learn that both the gold and silver medals are required to be sterling silver. I’d have expected them just to be plated. The gold medals are additionally required to be gilded with at least six grams of 24K gold. The last solid gold medals were awarded at the 1912 Games. Unsurprisingly, the bronze medals are made from a copper alloy. You know, the way bronze has been made since always. As far as size, even that is regulated. Olympic medals must be at least 60mm in diameter and 3mm thick. The Vancouver medals are 100mm in diameter.***

*But you’ll probably get a two month break until the playoffs start and I rediscover that I suck at watching playoff hockey. You’d be surprised how quickly I unlearn that lesson. Anyway, all of this assumes I survive tonight’s Canada/US gold medal game. There’s a good chance my heart explodes in my chest before the end of regulation.

**Two things that are apropos of nothing…1. I really like the Vancouver medals. I know there are a lot of people who hate them, but I think they’re cool. 2. I saw a picture of the women’s figure skaters at the medal ceremony from the other night and it was hilarious; the medals just look ginormous on those tiny little girls.

***More information here and here.