600AD: Pope Gregory the Great issues a decree that confirms, “God bless you” is the correct response to a sneeze.
1431: After finally defeating the French forces of Charles VII, the English army, now occupying north-central France, begins a heresy trial of 19 year old Joan of Arc, the young peasant girl whose visions from God induced her to lead the armies of France into several notable victories over the English. Convicted, she is burned at the stake on 30th May.
1473: Birth of Nicolas Copernicus (d.1543) in Torun, Poland. A mathematician and astronomer who proposed that the sun was stationary in the center of the universe and the earth revolved around it. Disturbed by the failure of Ptolemy’s geocentric model of the universe to follow Aristotle’s requirement for the uniform circular motion of all celestial bodies and determined to eliminate Ptolemy’s equant, an imaginary point around which the bodies seemed to follow that requirement, Copernicus decided that he could achieve his goal only through a heliocentric model. He thereby created a concept of a universe in which the distances of the planets from the sun bore a direct relationship to the size of their orbits. At the time Copernicus’s heliocentric idea was very controversial; nevertheless, it was the start of a change in the way the world was viewed, and Copernicus came to be seen as the initiator of the Scientific Revolution.
1621: The newly arrived Plymouth Colony elects Myles Standish as its Commander, a position to which he was repeatedly re-elected to the end of his life.
1801: After 35 ballots in the House of Representatives, and only 15 days before the inauguration, Thomas Jefferson is elected 3rd President of the United States, finally defeating his running mate, Aaron Burr (DLH 2/6). The November 4th general election gave both Burr and Jefferson 73 electoral votes each, thus sending the vote to the House. An electoral technicality- the winner needed a majority of state votes (9 needed (Jefferson had 8))- kept the election in turmoil for over three months. The logjam was broken when the Federalists reasoned that a peaceful turnover of power required that the majority party be allowed to have its choice for President. The following vote gave Jefferson 10 states, Burr 4, and two states voted “blank,” thus launching Jefferson into his highly eventful presidency.
1804: American naval captain Stephen Decatur leads a daring nighttime raid in Tripoli harbor. He and a hand-picked cadre of men re-board and set fire to the American frigate USS Philadelphia, which grounded last October and was subsequently captured by the Pasha of Tripoli. The raid climaxes by burning the ship to the waterline to prevent its use by the Barbary pirates. None other than Horatio Lord Nelson called Decatur’s work “the most bold and daring act of the Age.” Decatur himself returned to the United States a national hero.
1846: The United States Navy issues a General Order replacing the term “larboard” with “port.”
1847: The first rescuers reach the remnants of the Donner Party, a group of pioneers who left the Midwest the previous July for the promise of California. In late October, they became stranded in the Sierra Nevada mountains by an early snow, and the ensuing four months saw them reduced to cannibalism as all of their supplies and oxen were consumed during the brutal winter. Of the original 89 who set out, only 45 made it to the Golden State. Donner Pass and Donner Lake are named for the tragedy. Today’s Interstate 80 runs along the original route through the mountains.
1848: German economist and historian Karl Marx publishes The Communist Manifesto.The opening and closing lines of the book: “A specter is haunting Europe- the specter of communism.” and “The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a whole world to win. Workers of the world, unite!”
1864: Under the command of Lieutenant George Dixon, and with a volunteer crew of seven others, the Confederate submarine CSS Hunley sinks USS Housatanic in Charleston harbor. After completing the attack, the hand-crank powered sub mysteriously sank and remained unlocated until 1995. On recovery, her entire crew of 8 was found entombed on board. They were subsequently re-buried with full military honors in a Confederate cemetery in Charleston. The submarine itself is now on display in the recovery laboratory on the grounds of the former Charleston Naval Base. This was not her first sinking; twice before, she flooded and went to the bottom, the first time killing five, and the second time killing all 8 aboard, including the designer himself. You would correctly surmise that Dixon had no little trouble recruiting another crew for the machine.
1865: General William Tecumseh Sherman’s army sacks Columbia, SC, creating havoc that consumes more than 2/3 of the city by fire. Commenting later, Sherman said, “Though I never ordered it and never wished it, I have never shed any tears over the event because I believe it hastened what we all fought for, the end of the War.”
1867: The first ship passes through the Suez Canal.
1895: The North Carolina legislature adjourns for a day to mark the death of Frederick Douglass.
1898: Birth of il Commendetore, Enzo Ferrari (d.1988), the Italian race car driver for Alfa Romeo, who went on to produce his own series of works of art that bear his name.
1902: Birth of photographer Ansel Adams (d.1984). His work was the result of exceptional patience and a deep understanding of the interplay of light within both the scenes themselves and on the emulsion of his film. Besides his superb eye for composition, his photos technically represent the ultimate in depth, contrast, and clarity. His camera of choice was almost always large format (70mm) because of the negatives’ sharpness when enlarged.
1915: Gallipoli Campaign: Opening guns of what will become a futile 8 month Anglo-French campaign to capture Constantinople and secure the Bosporus and Dardanelles for transit of the Russian fleet. On this day, British warships begin shelling Ottoman coastal artillery positions on the Gallipoli peninsula.
1916: The Battle of Verdun begins with a German artillery barrage on the French fortress city. The battle ends 10 months later with the lines of contact essentially unmoved from their opening positions. What did change is the shattered and cratered landscape, littered with the corpses of 143,000 Germans and 162,440 French soldiers, many of whom remain in situ to this day in the tortured French soil. Total casualties are over 750,000 with some reasonable estimates approaching a million.
1922: The Italian airship Roma explodes over Hampton Roads, killing 34.
1930: Clyde W. Tombaugh, an astronomer working at the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona, discovers Pluto. The formerly 9th planet’s average distance from the sun is 4 billion miles, and it takes 248 earth years to complete one orbit. Without getting into too much detail, the search for “Planet X” had been ongoing since 1906 under the guidance of the great mathematician and astronomer Percival Lowell. The search was a result of observed differences between the actual and predicted positions of the recently discovered planet Neptune, which itself was discovered by similar mathematical calculation (vice direct observation and discovery) in 1846. Tombaugh targeted the predicted position of Planet X with systematic exposures of discrete sky sections taken roughly two weeks apart. The images were then studied through a blink comparator, a device that flashed from one image to another to show motion, similar to the little cartoons you make when you flip the edges of a stack paper. Through this process, the fixed stars will- of course- stay fixed, but planetary motion will be exposed.
1936: Death of Army Air Service Brigadier General Billy Mitchell (b.1879), whom one might either call an “outspoken advocate” or a “grandstanding blowhard” over the nascent capabilities of air power as an arm of combat. He pretty much set the tone for future Air Force-Navy relationships throughout 1921, when both the Army and Navy were conducting tests on the vulnerability of battleships to aerial bombardment. By July, 1921, with the sinking of the ex-German battleship Ostfriesland, the public dispute between Mitchell & his acolytes and the leadership of the Navy and Army reached its nadir. He was court-martialed and convicted for insubordination in 1925, and suspended from active duty on half pay for five years. After his death, and with the rise of the actual viability of air power, Mitchell’s legacy was rehabilitated, including having the B-25 named after him.
1942: President Franklin D. Roosevelt signs Executive Order 9066, ordering the forcible relocation of citizens of Japanese descent into remote internment camps. Nearly 120,000 were arrested in the ensuing dragnet. Great Britain issued a similar order for Canada on the 24th of the month.
1942: Lieutenant Commander Edward “Butch” O’Hare, flying on defensive Combat Air Patrol (CAP) from USS Lexington (CV-2), personally shoots down five Japanese “Betty” bombers in four minutes. His action earns him a Medal of Honor in addition to becoming the first U.S. fighter ace of WWII. He was lost at sea on a night combat mission in November of 1943. Chicago’s major airport is named in his honor.
1943: First day of the Battle of Kasserine Pass in Tunisia, the first major engagement of American units against German forces. The battle ended in a rout, with the combined Anglo-American force pushed back nearly fifty miles from their starting positions. The German commander, Field Marshall Erwin Rommel, was contemptuous of the Americans but wary of their potential. In the aftermath of the defeat, General Eisenhower relieved the Corps commander and replaced him with Lieutenant General George S. Patton, who in short order proved Rommel right to be wary of American potential.
1945: Three years after its loss to the Japanese, American forces re-take the island fortress of Corregidor in Manila Bay.
1950: Birth of Cybill Shepherd. Writer Larry McMurtry said of her on the set of Last Picture Show, “She’s like two scoops of vanilla ice cream.”
1953: Baseball great and USMC combat pilot Ted Williams is shot down over Korea. He rejoined the Red Sox late in the 1953 season.
1959: Fidel Castro is sworn in as Prime Minister of Cuba after forcing former dictator Fulgencio Batista into exile in the Dominican Republic. The event is the culmination of the three year guerrilla campaign that Castro, his brother Raul and Che Guevarra, the hard-line Argentine Marxist, led from the Sierra Maestra mountains. Fidel’s dictatorship was the first Communist government in the western hemisphere.
1959: Birth of tennis great and notorious Bad Boy, John McEnroe.
1962: In the United States’ first orbital mission and Project Mercury’s third manned space flight, Marine LtCol John Glenn makes three orbits of the earth in his capsule “Friendship-7.” His Atlantic Ocean recovery ship was the USS Noa.
1963: Birth of basketball great, Michael Jordan.
1963: The San Francisco Giants sign Willy Mays for a record $100,000 per year contract.
1967: Death of American physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer (b.1904), who served as head of the Manhattan Project in WWII. Following the war he served as chief advisor to the Atomic Energy Commission. He lost his security clearance in 1954, in part for opposing continuing development of the hydrogen bomb. The other part was his outspoken political opinion-making during the Red Scare, a position deemed inappropriate for someone in the AEC. After the 1945 Trinity detonation, Oppenheimer stated that one of the first things he thought of was a quote from the Hindu Bhagavad Gita: “I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.”
1972: Wilt Chamberlain scores his 30,000th point in a game against the Phoenix Suns.
1972: President Richard Nixon departs on his historic trip to Communist China.
1972: President Richard Nixon arrives in China.
1976: President Gerald Ford rescinds Executive Order 9066 with Presidential Proclamation 4417, which opens the door for reparations to surviving Japanese internees.
1997: 25-year-old Jeff Gordon becomes the youngest winner of the Daytona 500, a record that held until 2012 when Trevor Baine took the title the day after his 20th birthday.
1997: The San Francisco Giants sign Willy Mays’ godson Barry Bonds for a record $22,900,000 per year contract.