Cyclopedia of Factoids - The Letter L

Entries written by Sam Vaknin for the Links and Factoids Study List


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Library of Congress

The library of Alexandria was many centuries old when it was devastated by fire in the civil war under the Roman emperor Aurelian in the late 3rd century AD. Its branch was destroyed by Christians in AD 391. This was a traumatic event.

It is little known that the Library of Congress had a similar fate 1500 years later.

On Christmas Eve 1851, the Library of Congress burnt down entirely. More than 35,000 volumes - out of 55,000 - went up in smoke, including two thirds of Thomas Jefferson's invaluable library. It was reconstructed, but nearly 900 volumes (out of 6487 books) are still missing. The fire was caused by faulty chimney flues.

Librarian Meehan wrote to Senator Pearce of Maryland, Chairman of the Joint Committee on the Library:

"It is my melancholy duty to inform you that a fire originated in the principal room of the Library of Congress this morning, about half past seven o'clock, and that nearly everything in the room was destroyed before the flames were subdued."

This was the second fire to have devastated this cultural depository.

On August 24, 1814, the Library's core collection of 3,000 volumes was destroyed when the British burned the Capitol, where the Library was housed.

Lili Marlene

"Lili Marlene" was authored by Hans Leip, a 19-year old German soldier in the first world war. It was put to music by Norbert Schultze (1911-2002), a collaborator with the Hitler regime. But contrary to what Hollywood would have us believe, it was not an exclusively Nazi song, crooned in smoke-filled bars in occupied Europe by drunk SS officers.

"Lili Marlene" was played, sung, and broadcast by all the armies in the second world war - the British, the German, in occupied France, and the Americans (Marlene Dietrich). It was translated to 48 languages, including Hebrew, the language of most holocaust survivors. It made it into the Japanese music charts in 1986.

Lindbergh, Charles Augustus

Charles Augustus Lindbergh was the first person to cross the Atlantic in a nonstop flight. This made him an instant celebrity. When, in 1932, his 19-months old son was kidnapped and murdered, the nation was appalled.

Finally, a German carpenter, Bruno Richard Hauptmann, was apprehended and, following a much-publicized trial, executed.

The police chief who arrested Bruno Richard Hauptmann was the father of Norman Schwarzkopf, commander of the American forces in the Gulf War in 1991.

The affair had many repercussions, both personal and national.

The Lindberghs, revolted by the media's unrelenting prying, moved to live in Europe in 1935. Lindbergh became a fan of Adolf Hitler and in 1938 received from him a decoration for having praised the German Luftwaffe as superior to all other air forces. In 1939, upon his return to the USA, Lindbergh embarked on a cross-country tour of antiwar and pro-Nazi speeches. Consequently, he was ousted from the air corps reserve and the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics.

Still, when war broke out, Lindbergh served as a civilian consultant to aircraft manufacturers. Later, the US Army sent him on clandestine missions to the Pacific and Europe. But he never regained his stature in the eyes of the American public.

He won the Pulitzer prize in 1953 for his tome, The Spirit of Saint Louis and died in 1974 in Hawaii.

The kidnapping and gruesome murder of his son prompted lawmakers to pass the Lindbergh Act in 1932. The Encarta: "The statute made it a federal crime, punishable by life imprisonment, to kidnap a person and transport that person to another state. This law was amended in 1934 making conspiracy to commit a kidnapping also a federal crime. In 1968 the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated that section of the Lindbergh Act that gave the jury the power to recommend the death penalty for kidnapping."

Lloyd’s of London

The world's most famous insurance market, Lloyd's of London, started in a coffee house owned by one, Edward Lloyd.

The coffee house was situated on the Thames bank in Tower Street, close to all the maritime and shipping activities.  It was a well known establishment and is mentioned in contemporary documents as early as 1688.

Lloyd himself had nothing to do with insurance.

Lysenko, Trofim Denisovich

Trofim Denisovich Lysenko (1898-1976) was an agronomist. During the reign of Lenin and Stalin years in the Soviet Union, he became the chief proponent of the work of the  self-taught plant breeder Ivan Vladimirovich Michurin (1855-1935) and his brand of Lamarckism - a pre-Darwinian theory of evolution of the species proposed in the French scientist Jean-Baptiste Lamarck (1744-1829). He was appointed as the president (1938-56) of the Lenin All-Union Academy of Agricultural Sciences and the director (1940-65) of the Institute of Genetics, USSR Academy of Sciences. The leadership of the USSR believed his promises to deliver rapid increases in crop yields.

Lamarck proposed that organisms can inherit traits acquired by their ancestors. The first giraffes stretched their necks to eat leaves on tall trees. Their offspring acquired this elongated neck and the desire to further stretch it. A species with long necks was born.


The Soviet leadership sought an indigenous theory to counter the "capitalistic" works of Mendel and Charles Darwin and to separate evolution from genetics.


Following a speech he gave at a conference in 1948 denouncing Mendelian genetics as "reactionary and decadent", Lysenko rose to prominence. Geneticists who opposed Lysenkoism were dispatched to the gulag as "enemies of the Soviet people". Most confessed to their "errors" in propounding Mendel's and Darwin's teachings - and, consequently, kept their jobs.


No one dared challenge Lysenko until 1964 - 9 years after Stalin died - even when he claimed, between 1948 and 1953, that wheat plants can produce seeds of rye. But, as the Encyclopedia Britannica observes, "he and his followers, however, long retained their degrees, their titles, and their academic positions and remained free to support their aberrant trend in biology."

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