1253: Death of Clare of Assisi (b.1194). She was an early follower of the “joyous poverty” of Francis of Assisi, and founded her own convent as a place where women could join her in a Franciscan-style enclosure of worship and poverty (as opposed to male Franciscan’s gyrovague practices of moving from place to place). She was canonized in 1255 by Pope Alexander IV, a mere two years after her death. If you’ve ever visited a city named Santa Clara or St. Claire, this is who they are named after.
1483: Consecration Mass is held in the newly completed Sistine Chapel in the Vatican.
1519: Five ships under the command of Ferdinand Magellan set sail from Seville on what will become a three-year voyage of discovery, death, endurance, and eventual triumph as the first circumnavigation of the globe.
1576: The cornerstone is laid for an observatory designed by Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe, whose careful and accurate observations of the motions of the heavenly bodies- comets and planets in particular- laid the foundation for the explosion of astronomical theory and science for the next three hundred years. His assistant, the equally brilliant Johannes Kepler, carried on his work after Brahe’s death in 1601.
1607: First performance of William Shakespeare’s Macbeth.
1742: Birth of Nathanael Greene (d.1786), who rose from Private of the Rhode Island militia to Major General of the Continental Army and became one of George Washington’s most trusted advisors and effective subordinate commanders.
1754: Birth of French architect Pierre Charles L’Enfant (d.1825), best known for creating the broad streetscapes and architectural standards for the new capital city of the United States: Washington, District of Columbia.
1768: Completion of the first ascent of Mont Blanc, the tallest mountain in Europe, by Frenchmen Jacques Balmat and Michel-Gabriel Paccard.
1776: Six weeks after it left the printer, news of our Declaration of Independence makes it to London.
1782: General George Washington orders the creation of the Badge of Military Merit to honor wounded soldiers who “has given of his blood in defense of his homeland…” The idea of the award was revived in 1927 and formally re-established as the Purple Heart in 1931 by Chief of Staff Douglas MacArthur.
1792: Three years into the increasing chaos of the French Revolution, a mob finally storms the Tuileries Palace and arrests King Louis XVI.
1794: President George Washington invokes the Militia Act of 1792 to suppress the Whiskey Rebellion, an increasingly violent anti-tax revolt that centered in western Pennsylvania. Washington raised a federal militia (via a draft, because there weren’t enough volunteers) of 12,500 men under the command Virginia governor Henry “Lighthorse Harry” Lee. After a Presidential pass-in-review in Cumberland, Maryland, the army marched westward to regain control of the situation. As news of the army’s movement spread, the revolt collapsed before it could turn into an organized armed resistance. Washington’s actions during this affair are credited with confirming the federal government’s authority and willingness to exercise itself as a national government.
1861: Death of Eliphalet Remington (b.1793), an upstate New York blacksmith who designed and hand-made a new style of sporting rifle that became wildly popular with hunters moving into the Old Northwest. He formed the E. Remington and Sons company to manufacture low-cost but highly effective rifle barrels that were then mated with receivers and stocks made by other gunsmiths. Remington’s line eventually expanded into the full range of firearm manufacturing. Its high-quality machining also made it a natural fit for other precision equipment, most particularly typewriters, in 1873.
1874: Birth of 31st President of the United States, Herbert Hoover (d.1964).
1876: Birth of Margaretha Geertruide Zelle MacLeod (d.1917), better known as Mata Hari, the sultry Dutch “courtesan” of multiple dozens of military and civilian leaders on both sides of the trenches during the Great War. In March of 1905, she opened her act as an exotic dancer on stage in Paris, becoming an overnight sensation, and was almost immediately taken in by a millionaire industrialist. Her sensual exploits kept her in the public limelight for a decade. With the Netherlands remaining neutral during the conflict, Mata Hari exploited her Dutch nationality to travel freely between Germany and France via Britain and Spain during the course of the war. At one point during an interview with British intelligence, she alluded to working for French intelligence, a relationship the French would neither confirm nor deny. After an intercepted German cable from Spain appeared to implicate her, Mata Hari was arrested by the French in February 1917, charged and convicted of espionage, and executed by firing squad in October. She steadfastly denied the charge of being a double agent. At her execution, she stood without the blindfold, and blew a kiss to her lawyer, with her last words being, “Merci, monsieur.” A more lurid account has her flinging open her chemise shouting “Harlot, yes, but traitor, never!” Neither account has a shred of evidence, but they reflect the intensity of public emotion that surrounded her case.
1881: Birth of filmmaker Cecil B. DeMille (d.1959), whose ambitious movies often were advertised as having “a cast of thousands,” because they quite literally had a cast of thousands of fully costumed extras in key scenes.
1889: At Auburn Prison in New York, the first execution by electrocution is conducted on convicted murderer William Kemmler. It took two jolts to do the job; the first 17 seconds of 770 volts blew a fuse before killing him. On the second attempt, 1,030 volts were applied for two minutes. Power was shut off when smoke started emanating from his head. Dr. Albert Southwick, a dentist who was a strong advocate of electrocution as a more humane death declared, “We live in a higher civilization from this day on.” George Westinghouse, who actually put electrical power to practical application elsewhere, stated, “They would have done better with an axe.”
1892: Death of German aviation pioneer Otto Lilienthal (b.1848), whose nominal successes with gliders was a major inspiration to the Wright Brothers’ development of systematic and incremental advances in their flying machine project. He died when one of his gliders stalled and he fell from about 60 feet, breaking his back. Wilbur Wright visited his widow during his 1909 aviation tour de force in Europe.
1898: The United States and Spain agree to an armistice, ending hostilities of the four-month-long Spanish-American War. The two sides agree to send five commissioners each to a peace treaty negotiation in Paris by the first of October.
1908: After four and a half years of guarded patent applications and many more months of practice and refinement in the use of their flying machine on the Huffman Prairie outside their Dayton hometown, Wilbur Wright opens a European flying tour on the race course at Le Mans, France. The formerly skeptical French press is enamored with the skill and ease with which Wright pilots his airplane, and the man and his machine become the toast of the Continent. The European tour continues apace through the late Spring of 1909, concurrent with Orville’s series of stateside test flights for the US Army.
1914: Great War- the descent continues: Serbia declares war on Germany. Austria declares war on Russia. Germany sorties 10 Unterseeboten from their base in Helgoland on their first wartime patrols against the Royal Navy.
1914: Entering the Great War, Great Britain declares war on Austria-Hungary.
1919: The Constitution of the Weimar Republic is adopted by the post-revolutionary German Reichstag. It is designed to create a vibrant, multi-house, representative democracy, but it never lived up to its promise. Coming as it does on the heels of centuries of autocratic government, the physical and spiritual exhaustion of the Great War, and the suffocating provisions of the Treaty of Versailles, the newly-created government cannot cope with the economic and political upheavals that surge through Europe in general, and Germany in particular. The Weimar period becomes an archetype for well-meaning but dithering leadership, perfectly setting the conditions for the rise of a far more assertive autocracy in 1933.
1926: Harry Houdini performs his most difficult escape, spending 91 minutes in a sealed tank before emerging unscathed.
1928: Birth of 1960’s pop artist Andy Warhol (d.1985).
1929: The New York Yankees outfielder Babe Ruth hits his 500th home run, becoming the first player in professional baseball to do so. The Cleveland Indians were on the receiving end that hit at their home stadium.
1932: Death of the original doggy movie star, Rin Tin Tin (b.1918).
1933: Birth of American race car driver Parnelli Jones, winner of the 1963 Indy 500, and the near-winner again in 1967, driving the radical STP turbine car, which dominated the race until three laps to go, when a transmission bearing failed.
1934: Opening day for Alcatraz Federal Prison, a.k.a “The Rock” in the middle of San Francisco Bay. Given the perpetually frigid water and surging currents, no one ever escaped and lived to tell about it. The place looks gloomy, even today, decades after its closing.
1940: Nazi Germany annexes the French-German-French-German provinces of Alsace-Lorraine into the Greater German Reich.
1942: Six would-be German saboteurs are executed in Washington, DC, a mere 8 weeks after their arrests in Long Island, New York, and Ponte Vedra, Florida. Hmm: enemy combatants, time of war, military tribunals… plus ca change, as they say, with a bit of a difference.
1942: At the Battle of Savo Island, a combined Anglo-American force of cruisers and destroyers under the command of Rear Admiral Richmond K. Turner is all that stands between a powerful Japanese cruiser fleet and the otherwise undefended transport ships offloading food and supplies to the Marines who stormed the island of Guadalcanal two days prior. In a desperate night action, Turner’s fleet suffers 4 heavy cruisers sunk, an additional cruiser and two destroyers heavily damaged. 3 Japanese cruisers are moderately damaged. The Japanese were well-practiced at nighttime gunnery, which came as an unwelcome surprise to the Americans, who withdrew what remained of the fighting fleet from the waters around the Solomon Island chain. Even more unwelcome to commander of the 1st Marine Division ashore, Brigadier General Alexander Vandegrift, was the withdrawal a day earlier of Vice Admiral Frank Jack Fletcher’s carrier task force, which on the 8th suffered from the loss of two squadrons’ worth of fighter aircraft to land-based Japanese planes launched from nearby Rabaul. The one bright spot during these initial three days of what would become a bitter six-month battle to control the island was the victorious Japanese task force commander’s decision to not press his advantage to destroy the transport ships offloading their critical cargo. But from this day on, the Marines considered themselves alone and unsupported against a tenacious foe who was re-supplied nightly from the island garrison on Rabaul. The ocean channel leading to the northern reaches of Guadalcanal became known as The Slot, and later Iron Bottom Sound as American counterattacks began to take their own toll on the Japanese forces.
1945: A single American B-29 bomber, nicknamed Enola Gay, drops the world’s first operational atomic bomb over the Japanese industrial center of Hiroshima. The 1200-foot above-ground-level burst flattens all but the most robust masonry buildings and the thermal pulse ignites and burns to ash the 90 percent of the city that is built of wood. 70,000 Japanese are killed immediately, with tens of thousands later dying of the direct effects of radiation and burns.
1945: A lone B-29 Superfortress nicknamed “Bockscar” delivers a second atomic strike on the Japanese mainland, on the backup target of Nagasaki. The bomb, nicknamed “Fat Man” (Hiroshima’s was “Little Boy”) was a plutonium implosion device identical to the one detonated at White Sands during the Yalta conference earlier in the year.
1946: First flight of the Convair B-36 “Peacemaker” strategic nuclear bomber, a hybrid that the soon-to-be independent USAF pitched to Congress as the sole answer to the problem of atomic weapons delivery. Politically, it was more to the point as the answer to the question, “Do we still need all those expensive aircraft carriers?” Answering in the negative, Secretary of Defense Louis Johnson eventually canceled Navy’s construction of the USS United States (CVB-58) in favor of more B-36s, which triggered the famous Revolt of the Admirals, more of which at a later date. Politics aside, the B-36 was a technological tour de force, with huge sections of the fuselage fabricated from titanium, six rearward facing “pusher” engines for a cruise, and eventually, four jet engines added at the wingtips for extra takeoff thrust and dash capability.
1953: Birth of wrestler Hulk Hogan.
1969: Death of actress Sharon Tate (b.1943), pregnant with husband Roman Polanski’s son; brutally murdered along with four house guests by Charles Manson and his “family”. All of the perpetrators have died or will die in prison, a result of their death sentences being overturned by the brief judicial hiatus in capital punishment during the mid-70s.
1974: President Richard M. Nixon resigns from the presidency, sending a short resignation note to Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. Vice President Gerald Ford, himself appointed to the position from the House of Representatives after the earlier resignation of Vice President Spiro Agnew, becomes the first U.S. President not directly elected to the executive office.
1977: First free-flight of prototype Space Shuttle Enterprise, which made a series of five atmospheric glides to verify flight control systems and algorithms, among other shuttle systems tests. It was displayed at the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum Dulles Annex until Shuttle Discovery arrived for its permanent display in 2012. Stewardship of Enterprise passed to the USS Intrepid Sea-Air-Space Museum in New York City in June, 2012, where it is now on display on the flight deck. The spacecraft was lightly damaged during Hurricane Sandy, when the storm deflated its inflatable hangar, a strap of which then broke off a small portion of the vertical stabilizer, which has since been repaired. [The moment of release from the NASA 747 carrier (there’s some negative-G going on in that airliner); turning toward the nearly-infinite runway at Edwards AFB] Note: the aerodynamic tailcone was used to stabilize the airflow around the carrier aircraft’s vertical stabilizer. The cone was removed after the first three free-flights, exposing the main engine and orbital maneuvering system engine components for the remaining two flights.
1988: For the first time in its history, lights are turned on for a night game at Wrigley Field in Chicago, the last field in the major leagues to do so.
1990: Four days after Iraq invades and occupies Kuwait, the United Nations Security Council orders a global trade embargo against Iraq.
1990: The Magellan space probe reaches the planet Venus.
1995: Death of Grateful Dead guitarist Jerry Garcia (b.1942).
1991: Faced with continually declining sales, French car maker Peugeot announces its intention to withdraw from the U.S. car market