70AD: Culminating their Siege of Jerusalem, the Roman army under the command of Titus (later to be Titus Ceasar) loots, burns, and completely demolishes the Temple that had been the center of Jewish worship for a thousand years. The destruction is mourned annually as the fast of Tisha B’Av. Note: in the name of accuracy, the actual structure that fell this day was the Second Temple (also known as Herod’s Temple), which was a complete on-site rebuilding of 10th c. BC Solomon’s Temple eighty years prior to the Roman siege. The famous Western Wall which remains today is part of the foundation of Solomon’s Temple.
1305: Scottish patriot and nationalist William Wallace is captured near Glasgow and hauled off to London, where he is accused, tried, convicted and executed for treason against Edward I. As he faced his accusers, Wallace declared: “I could not be a traitor to Edward, for I was never his subject.”
1576: The cornerstone is laid for an observatory designed by the 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 Johannes Kepler, carried on his work after his death in 1601.
1607: First performance of William Shakespeare’s Macbeth.
1620: The chartered merchant ship Mayflower, in company with the Speedwell, departs Southampton, England on its first attempt to reach North America with its Puritan passengers, who plan on colonizing “North Virginia” near the mouth of the Hudson River. After a very short day at sea, Speedwell develops severe leaks and the two ships return to port for repairs.
1704: As part of the War of Spanish Succession, the Spanish peninsula of Gibraltar is captured by an Anglo-Dutch fleet commanded by Sir George Rooke. Eventually annexed into the British Empire, it remains a thorn in the side of Anglo-Spanish relations to this day, and I bet it will remain that way tomorrow as well, just a hunch.
1742: Birth of Nathaneal Greene 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.
1768: Completion of the first ascent of Mont Blanc, the tallest mountain in Europe, by Frenchmen Jacques Balmat and Michel-Gabriel Paccard. Mont Blanc is 15,781 feet above sea level; the 11th highest peak in the world.
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.
1789: As their reform movement continues to gather momentum, the French National Assembly takes an oath to “end feudalism” and “abandon [their own] privileges”.
1792: Birth of Percy Bysshe Shelley (d.1822), the English poet widely regarded as the greatest lyricist in English history. His most famous poem, Ozymandias, posits the inevitable decline of even the most powerful institutions of men. Shelley lived an “unconventional life” with and around fellow Romanticists Byron and Keates. His uncompromising idealism helped fuel the intellectual “-ism” movements of the mid-19th century, including Thoreau’s Transcendentalism and Marx’s Communism, among others. He drowned under mysterious circumstances while sailing his schooner between Leghorn (Livorno) and Lerici in northern Italy. His second wife, Mary Shelley (1797-1851) was a noted author in her own right, best remembered for her Gothic novel, Frankenstein: or, The Modern Prometheus.
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.
1864: Rear Admiral David Farragut leads a US Navy flotilla into the fortified confines of Mobile Bay, with the mission of permanently closing the port to further trade and blockade running. During the previous year, while Farragut’s attentions were earlier turned to returning the Mississippi River to Union control, the Confederates fortified Mobile with three forts ashore and a minefield guarding the main channel into the bay. Farragut’s flotilla entered the bay at dawn, guns blazing, and overwhelmed the shoreward defenses. When one of his captains slowed his ship due to the threat of the mines (“torpedoes”), Farragut responded with “Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead!” Of note from the Confederate perspective was the single-handed fight of the ironclad ram CSS Tennessee against the entire Union fleet, which took three hours to finally force its surrender.
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. Often imitated, never duplicated, 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.
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: The parents of Lizzie Borden are found murdered in their Fall River, Massachusetts home. Lizzie is acquitted of the murders in the sensational trial that follows, but her notoriety remains to this day in the words of the famous jump-rope song: “Lizzie Borden took an axe…”
1908: After four and a half years of 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 suddenly agog with the skill and ease with which Wright pilots his aero-plane, and the man and his machine become the toast of the Continent. The European tour continues through the late Spring of 1909, concurrent with Orville’s series of stateside test flights for the US Army.
1914: After receiving a negative Belgian response to their request to cross their territory to attack France, the Imperial German army crosses the border anyway, meeting stiff resistance from the Belgian army. With their guarantee of Belgian neutrality at stake, not to mention their alliance with France in the Entente Cordiale, Great Britain declares war on Germany. The Wilson administration in United States declares an official policy of neutrality.
1914: The Great War- 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.
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.
1930: Birth of Neil Armstrong, X-15 pilot; Gemini-8 Commander; Apollo-11 Commander.
1940: Nazi Germany annexes the French-German-French-German provinces of Alsace-Lorraine into the greater German Reich.
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.
1962: Birth of right-handed pitcher Roger “Rocket” Clemens, winner of seven Cy Young awards and one of only four pitchers to achieve more than 4,000 strikeouts in their careers.
1962: Death of Marilyn Monroe.
1964: In the first response to the now-notorious Gulf of Tonkin Incident, aircraft from the carriers USS Ticonderoga (CVA-14) and USS Constellation (CVA-64) launch 60 sorties against the North Vietnamese patrol boat base and oil storage facility, destroying 25 boats and eliminating their entire stock of fuel.
1988: For the first time in its history, lights are turned on for a night game at Wrigley Field in Chicago.
1990: Four days after Iraq invades and occupies Kuwait, the United Nations Security Council orders a global trade embargo against Iraq.