On This Day: Ponce de Leon Claims Florida for the Spanish Crown

On this day in 1513, Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de Leon lands near present-day St. Augustine to explore the Florida coast. He was searching for a “Fountain of Youth,” a magical water source said to bring eternal youth. (He didn’t find it.)

Ponce de Leon made a detailed exploration of what he thought was an island, and named it “La Florida” because he discovered it during the Easter “Pascua Florida,” or “Feast of Flowers” feast.

Ponce de Leon will return in 1521 and try to set up a permanent colony. However he will be wounded after a battle with Native Americans. His force will retreat to Cuba, where he will die.

On This Day: Bologna Gets Its First City Clock

In 1356 the City of Bologna’s first city clock is unveiled. Installed in the Palazzo Capitanato at the Piazza, it strikes the hours for the first time on this day.

Since it was in Italy, the clock was set to “Italian time.” The first hour of the day was a half-hour after sunset. The hours proceeded clockwise around the clock face, with the 19th hour at about the spot where we would have 12. It struck the 24th hour about a half hour before sunset, ringing the bell or bells 24 times. The clock pictured here, which is still in Venice, is similar to the one Bologna had.

Italian time required the clock minders to reset the clock every three weeks or so because the days would grow longer or shorter, depending on the season. They had to lift and move the heavy iron clock works backwards or forwards so that the first hour rang a half-hour after sunset. Strange as this system was, it continued for a long time in Italy, Hungary and some other scattered places.

On This Day: February 13, 1542. Catherine Howard Beheaded

Catherine Howard – by Hans Holbein the Younger, circa 1540

On this day in 1542, King Henry VIII of England has his fifth wife, Catherine Howard, beheaded after two years of marriage.

Henry’s historic mid-life crisis, which culminated in his marrying a teenager 30 years his junior, had given England five queens in a dozen years and three heirs that will cause religious strife in years to come.

On This Day: February 7, 1497. Bonfire of the Vanities

Portrait of Girolamo Savonarola, circa 1497-1498

On this day in 1497, Dominican friar Girolamo Savonarola and his supporters burned thousands of objects that were condemned as sinful. This included mirrors, cosmetics, fine clothing, playing cards, musical instruments, books, paintings and sculpture.

This was the best known, but not the only, or even the first such burning. They were known in Italian as falò delle vanità, or bonfire of the vanities