753BC: Traditional date of the founding of Rome by Romulus and Remus, orphaned brothers, suckled by a she-wolf.
1519: Spanish conquistador Hernando Cortes lands with a small army on the Mexican mainland near present-day Veracruz. To help motivate his men for the task of conquest ahead, he orders his ships scuttled. They are looking for glory and gold, and when they eventually reach the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan.
1529: Signing of the Treaty of Saragossa, which plays out as the third diplomatic act between Spain and Portugal, dividing the world into their “legal” spheres of influence and colonization. Portugal, you’ll recall, had a long history of seaborne exploration into the southern Atlantic and along the coast of Africa, working to find an oceanic path eastwards to the Spice Islands (then called the Moluccas, later the Dutch East Indies, now called Indonesia). Spain focused on the direct route westward, and after Columbus’ discoveries in 1492 both countries realized that some means was needed to assign sovereignty to future discoveries and colonial outposts. First Act: In May of 1493, Pope Alexander VI issued a papal bull Inter Caetera, which defined the Line of Demarcation as a pole-to-pole meridian located halfway between the Cape Verde Islands (Portuguese) and the easternmost islands claimed by Columbus (Spanish). Second Act: The Treaty of Tordesillas, signed in June of 1494, cleaned up some of the ambiguity of the papal bull regarding pre-existing Spanish and Portuguese settlements on the “wrong” sides of the Line. It also moved the line a hundred miles or so westward, which magically gave Portugal a substantial toe-hold in South America, which they parlayed into the massive colony of Brazil. The meridian of Tordesillas did not- alas- extend all the way around the earth, and between Magellan’s (Spanish) claim on the Philippines and Portugal’s claims on the Moluccas, the need for an antipodal line of demarcation resulted in today’s treaty.
1574: Death of Cosimo I de’ Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany, one of the leading lights and great patrons of the Italian Renaissance in Florence.
1770: Captain James Cook in HMS Endeavour arrives at New South Wales and begins exploration and survey of the Great Barrier Reef.
1836:Battle of San Jacinto. Led by Sam Houston, the Army of Texas completely surprises and routs the Mexican army of General Santa Ana, who is also Mexican President. The short, sharp fight opens with the Texas army screaming from the woods adjacent to the Mexican camp with cries of “Remember the Alamo!” and, “Remember Goliad!” 18 minutes later, the fight is over, with over 700 Mexicans dead and what remains of Santa Ana’s army completely shattered and fleeing into the countryside. Santa Ana himself is captured, and Houston negotiates a complete Mexican withdrawal from Texas. Although Mexico does not recognize it until 1848, Santa Ana’s defeat effectively marks the beginning of Texas as an independent republic.
1861: Union forces abandon and burn the Gosport* Navy Yard in Portsmouth, Virginia. Confederate engineers poking through the smoldering wreckage are later able to salvage the lower hull of USS Merrimack and convert it into the ironclad gunboat CSS Virginia.
1889: Birth of Adolf Hitler (d.1945), in the little town of Braunau am Inn, in Austria-Hungary.
1889: The Oklahoma Land Rush, staged at high noon, opened the former Indian Territory for free settlement. Within hours, over 10,000 people coalesced in one spot and founded Oklahoma City.
1898: Two months after the sinking of USS Maine, and one day after Congress declared war on Spain, the US Navy begins a blockade of Cuba.
1903: Birth of Eliot Ness (d.1957). The head of “The Untouchables” of the nascent FBI, who finally nailed Chicago gangster Al Capone on Tax Evasion charges.
1910: Death of Samuel L. Clemens (b.1835), a.k.a. Mark Twain, rumors of whose death are no longer greatly exaggerated. Interestingly, he prophesied a year earlier:“I came in with Halley’s Comet in 1835. It is coming again next year, and I expect to go out with it. It will be the greatest disappointment of my life if I don’t go out with Halley’s Comet. The Almighty has said, no doubt: ‘Now here are these two unaccountable freaks; they came in together, they must go out together.” He did.
1912: First publication of Pravda (“Truth”) as the official organ of the Russian Communist Party.
1918: Death of Baron Manfred von Richthofen (b.1892), a.k.a. “The Red Baron.” The German fighter ace amassed 80 confirmed kills of Allied aircraft, leading his Jagdstaffel 2 squadron to consistent successes not by dramatic acrobatics, but by disciplined tactics and superb marksmanship. The RAF credited his shoot down this day to Canadian Captain Roy Brown, but much controversy surrounds this decision: Richthofen was killed by a single .303 bullet through his chest (shot with an upward trajectory) and he landed his Fokker Dreidecker virtually undamaged in a French field. After recovering his body, the British squadron gave him a funeral with full military honors.
1920: The League of Nations recognizes the Balfour Declaration and creates the British Mandate of Palestine from lands ceded by the Ottoman Empire at the close of the Great War.
1927: Mae West is sentenced to 10 days in jail for obscenity from her recent play Sex. She ended up serving 8 days, with 2 off for good behavior, and ate dinners with the warden, “…and I wore silk underwear while I was in jail.” Somehow, this kept her name in the news…imagine that. [Herself, modest as ever]. Note: I received a dispatch from the wilds of Western PA a couple years ago that lamented the straightening of a notorious river road bend known locally as the Mae West Bend.
1928: For the first time since May, 1926, the New York Yankees are out of first place.
1939: Ted Williams’ first major league hit, a double. His last hit was a home run on September 28th, 1960 at Fenway Park.
1945: Soldiers of the Red Army enter Berlin.
1955: Volkswagen opens its first U.S. dealership in Englewood, NJ. An invasion of Beetles follows. [Immune to disinfectants (these are the 36 HP versions, designed around the exact horsepower it takes to move 2,000 pounds at 60 mph.
1960: Brazilia, a completely artificial city carved out of the jungle, is commissioned as the new capital of Brazil, replacing Rio de Janero.
1970: The first “Earth Day.” Hmm: Lenin… Pravda… Earth Day… Kind of reminds me of one of my favorite terms: Watermelon Environmentalism- green on the outside, red on the inside.
1972: Apollo 16 successfully lands on the Moon. The landing was delayed 7 hours when a control rocket failed in the command module just after Lunar Module (LM) separation. Rather than descend to the surface and risk missing the lunar ascent rendezvous, the LM crew of John Young** and Charlie Duke flew formation on Ken Mattingly in the CM until the problem was solved. The delay cut from three to two the number of excursions taken in the lunar buggy but the instrumentation set up and 212 pound haul of lunar rocks made the mission an outstanding scientific success. [Young and his wheels; Service Module (SM) Casper going solo in lunar orbit- note the jettisoned exterior panel, exposing the array of lunar surface survey equipment and the singed exhaust horn of the SM rocket engine; the landing site, taken from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter; the Lunar Rover after being pulled out from the LM lower stage storage lockers; LM ascent stage Orion during the final rendezvous with the CM Casper (note Charlie Duke’s face in the right hand LM window); Ken Mattingly, about halfway back between the Moon and Earth making a deep space EVA to recover film and digital recording equipment from the lunar survey equipment bay.
1978: A Korean Air Lines jetliner is forced down by the Soviet Air Force. Deviating with a sudden turn to the east from its normal Paris-Seoul polar flight route, the aircraft was intercepted crossing into Soviet airspace. Instead of landing at the airport indicated by the Soviet fighters, the crew put the plane down with a hard landing on a frozen lake south of Murmansk. Two passengers were killed and several others injured. Soviet authorities were “amazingly unhelpful” in helping to understand the incident. This episode not to be confused with the September, 1983 shootdown of a KAL 747 over Sakhalin Island, at the other end of the 11-time-zone-country
1989: A massive explosion in turret 2 of USS Iowa (BB-61) kills 47 sailors. The initial investigation did not conclusively determine the actual cause of the disaster, with potential theories ranging from a suicide by a disgruntled gunner, to unstable powder, to faulty training and procedures, to the usual leadership and management finger-pointing. A second investigation studied in great detail the condition of the powder in the silk bags, first milled in 1930’s, and came to the conclusion that improper powder storage during Iowa’s 1988 overhaul created conditions that generated highly flammable ether gas inside the bags. Iowa’s turret was cleaned and stabilized but was never fired again. The ship was decommissioned in October of 1990, was struck from the Naval Register in 2006, and is now a museum ship at the port of San Pedro, California. [Turret two, on fire and billowing smoke] 2016 Addendum: I was last year hosting my wife’s uncle, former Battleship Sailor Bill Anderson, who was a powder handler aboard Iowa 1951-54, turret 2 to be exact. He tells a hair-raising story about a time during firing when the loudspeakers shouted out “Cease fire! Stand in place!” and moments later, he started feeling grains of powder sprinkling down on him. During the loading sequence one of the bags wasn’t quite in position moving to the loading tray, and the hydraulic ram ripped the bag open, spilling powder from the turret all the way to the bottom of the barbette, where Bill squatted down on the deck with a 120 pound bag of powder on his lap. “It’s pretty hard to find a corner in a round room, but I found one. It was a little tense for a while.”
1989: End of the first week of a student-led mourning period over the death of Chinese reformer Hu Yaobang, who earlier resigned in protest from the Chinese Central Committee in January. On this day, over 10,000 students poured into Tienanmen Square to not only mourn, but to protest the lack of reform promised by the government. The protests would continue to grow, but remained peaceful until early June, when the communist government began its crackdown.
1993: Federal agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms storm the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas with Bradley fighting vehicles and tear gas, igniting the compound into an inferno that kills 77 U.S. citizens. Attorney General Janet Reno authorized and defended the action of the ATF agents.
1995: A truck bomb devastates the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, killing 168 U.S. citizens and injuring 680 others going about their business. Timothy McVey is later convicted and executed for the crime, which he freely admitted was timed to the Waco raid.