323BC: Death of Alexander the Great (b.356BC). The young King of Macedon initiated a series of conquests that spread Hellenic civilization essentially throughout the known world of his day. He was never defeated in battle, but died at age 32 in Babylon, in the palace of Nebuchadnezzar II, just prior to beginning a planned campaign against Arabia.
1184 BC: The Hellenic city of Troy, located on the Anatolian coastal plain, is sacked and destroyed by a Greek coalition led by King Agamemnon. You can read it all in The Iliad, if you like, by Homer.
632: Death of the Arab warlord and putative prophet Muhammad.
1190: Enroute to the Third Crusade, the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, Fredrick Barbarossa (name means “red beard”) (b.1122), drowns in the Saleph River. His loss causes his Germanic army to nearly collapse, but the remnants eventually join the armies of France’s Philip II and England’s Richard Coeur de Lion in Acre.
1509: Henry VIII marries his brother’s widow, Catherine of Aragon.
1692: Port Royal, Jamaica is destroyed by a three-minute earthquake that kills 1,600 and leaves over 3,000 injured, with huge sections of the city sinking beneath the water. Many attribute the disaster as divine retribution for the venal depths to which the pirate-run city had culturally sunk: “Wine and women drained their wealth to such a degree that… some of them became reduced to beggary. They have been known to spend 2 or 3,000 Pieces of eight in one night; and one gave a strumpet 500 to see her naked. They used to buy a pipe of wine, place it in the street, and oblige everyone that passed to drink.” –Quoted of Charles Leslie in his History of Jamaica.
1775: Eight weeks after the failed raids on Lexington and Concord, British General Thomas Gage declares martial law in Massachusetts. He offers amnesty to any of the American rebels who will lay down their arms, except for Samuel Adams and John Hancock, whom he promises to hang on the spot.
1776: Virginia delegate Richard Henry “Lighthorse” Lee rises to submit to the Continental Congress meeting in Philadelphia, a resolution calling for independence from Great Britain. The stirring text of his message still carries force today:
“That these United Colonies are, and of right out to be, free and independent States, that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved; that measures should be immediately taken for procuring the assistance of foreign powers, and a Confederation be formed to bind the colonies more closely together.” A lively debate ensued and the Congress agreed to two propositions: 1) A committee would be appointed to draft a formal declaration of independence, and; 2) a vote on Lee’s resolution would be delayed until July 1st.
1776: The Continental Congress appoints a “Committee of Five” led by Virginian Thomas Jefferson to draft a declaration of independence from Great Britain.
1789: Virginian James Madison submits to the Continental Congress twelve proposed amendments to the Constitution. By 1791, ten of them are ratified by the states as the Bill of Rights. One more is finally ratified by the Several States in 1992, to become the 27thAmendment- prohibiting changes in Congressional pay and benefits without an intervening election.
1793: The Jacobin faction of the French revolutionary leadership takes over control of the ill-named Committee of Public Safety and converts it into the Revolutionary Dictatorship.
1809: Death of Thomas Paine (b.1737), one of the intellectual fathers of the American Revolution, whose 1776 broadside, Common Sense, laid down in clear rhetoric the foundation for the Colonies making a complete break with the United Kingdom. By 1789 he became an early enthusiast for the French Revolution and was in fact “elected” to the French Assembly, even though he spoke no French. As an ally of Robespierre, he eventually fell into disfavor and was imprisoned in 1793. While in prison he penned The Age of Reason, which excoriated the teachings of the Church in favor of “free rational inquiry” into any and all subjects. But before descending into the mire of revolutionary France, and during the course of the American Revolution, he published a series of pamphlets called The American Crisis. You may recognize these words:
“THESE are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as FREEDOM should not be highly rated.”
1837: In Boston, a race riot break out between “native” Yankee firefighters and immigrant Irish. The commotion began in the afternoon as a group of Yankee firemen left a pub together and forced themselves through a line of mourners in an Irish funeral procession. The whole interaction went peacefully, until, well, it didn’t. Estimates suggest there were about 800 principal pugilists, and another 10,000 or so cheering and egging them on. I have NO IDEA whether alcohol was a factor, but it may have been. The Broad Street Riot lasted around three hours, was finally broken up by the mayor calling up several national guard (-type) units, both cavalry with lances and infantry with fixed bayonets. As the dust settled, the city decided it was time to professionalize and to a certain extent integrate the fire and police departments in the city.
1854: First graduation of midshipmen from the new US Naval Academy.
1891: Birth of songwriter and lyricist Cole Porter (d.1964) whose works include such classics as Begin the Beguine, Just One of Those Things, Anything Goes, In the Still of the Night.
1903: Death of Serbian King Alexander Obrenovic (b.1876) and his wife, Queen Draga Masin. The murders were part of a general restlessness within the officer corps of the Serbian army over Serbia’s status vis-à-vis the decaying Ottoman Empire, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Balkan League, the Russian Pan-Slavic movement, and their own irredentist goals regarding Bosnia & Herzegovina. As a group, the officer corps strongly objected to the marriage of their young king (an only child) to a foreign widow 12 years his senior, who was therefore unlikely to produce a legitimate heir. One of her brothers was rumored to be named as heir apparent at some point, which finally triggered the conspiracy between the officers and members of the Black Hand: you’ll recall them as the anarchists that planned the 1914 assassination of Archduke Ferdinand. Although the formal Balkan wars didn’t start for another 8 years, this event can be seen as one of the myriad facets of the buildup to the eventual Great War.
1913: Birth of Vince Lombardi (d.1970), whose life defined the sport of professional football as player, coach and general manager.
1915: Birth of Les Paul (d.2009), prolific musician and inventor of the legendary Gibson solid body electric guitar that bears his name.
1920: At the Republican National Convention in Chicago, party leaders gather in a small meeting room in the Blackstone Hotel to privately come to consensus on the eventual Republican nominee, Warren G. Harding. Reporters from the Associated Press, not content to wait and see how things shake out, decide that there is perfidy afoot in the smoke filled room, thus creating an undying metaphor for the idea of responsible party leaders acting the part of leaders and making a decision.
1924: Death of George Mallory (b.1886), the great British explorer and mountaineer who, with his climbing partner Andrew Irvine, attempted an ascent to the summit of Mount Everest this day and never returned. Irvine’s ice axe was discovered in 1933, but no trace of either man was found except for a cryptic Chinese report of finding “an English dead” on the north face above 26,000 feet. Mallory’s body was eventually found during a dedicated search mission in 1999, although the question of whether he and Irvine actually achieved the summit remains one of mountaineering’s great mysteries.
1929: Birth of Dutch diarist Anne Frank.
1937: Death of the original Platinum Blonde, Jean Harlow (b.1911). After a rocky start in films, she became a sensation on screen and off. Variety gave her a polite early review: “It doesn’t matter what degree of talent she possesses…nobody ever starved possessing what she’s got.” She collapsed on the set during shooting of Saratoga, with Clark Gable, and died at age 26 a few days later of renal failure.
1939: Birth of Formula One champion Jackie Stewart.
1940(a): Smelling blood up north and using as cover the Pact of Steel with Germany, Italy declares war on France and Great Britain.
1940(b): Under the command of Field Marshall Erwin Rommel, the German Wermacht reaches the English Channel.
1940(c): Canada declares war on Italy.
1940(d): Norway surrenders to Germany.
1940(e): Only days after the British evacuation from Dunkirk, the roughly 50,000 remaining Allied troops on the continent surrender to the overwhelming juggernaut of Field Marshal Erwin Rommel. French General Maxime Weygrand orders Paris to be an open city- “A cessation of hostilities is compulsory-” to save it from certain destruction. Weygrand bitterly blames the British for France’s defeat. France formally capitulates to German arms on the 25th.
1942: On the heels of their disaster at Midway, Japanese forces successfully complete their concurrent invasion and occupation of Attu and Kiska Islands in the Aleutian chain. 25 Americans are killed and the remaining residents are herded into concentration camps. The islands will be liberated a year later in a bitter and usually overlooked three week campaign.
1962: Three men escape from Alcatraz prison using sharpened spoons and an improvised raft. They are never found and are assumed dead from drowning in the frigid waters of San Francisco Bay.
1963: President John F. Kennedy announces from the Oval Office that his administration will seek a comprehensive Civil Rights Bill in order to guarantee equal access to public facilities, ending segregation in education, and guaranteeing federal protection for voting rights.
1964: Senate majority whip Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV) finally sits down after 14 hours and 13 minutes of continuous talking at the end of a marathon 57 day Democratic filibuster of the 1964 Civil Rights Bill. Once the “Conscience of the Senate” yielded the floor, his colleague Senator Richard Russell (D-GA) made his closing argument against the bill. Minority Leader Senator Everett Dirksen (R-IL) then took the floor to invoke cloture: “The time has come for equality of opportunity in sharing in government, in education, and in employment. It will not be stayed or denied. It is here!” The final vote was 71-29, the first time since civil rights bills began moving through Congress in the 1950s that a cloture motion actually ended a filibuster.
1964: Nelson Mandella and others from the African National Congress are sentenced to life in prison for treason and sabotage. Mandella never denies the charge and in fact proudly asserted that the violence planned by the ANC was a legitimate reflection of South African blacks’ grievances. After 27 years of hard labor he is released in 1990 and four years later is elected President of the now-desegregated country.
1966: One of two prototype North American XB-70 Valkyrie supersonic bombers is destroyed in a mid-air collision with an F-104 chase aircraft during a photo shoot. Both crews are killed, and the XB-70 program is cancelled shortly thereafter. The remaining Valkyrie is on display at the USAF Museum at Wright-Patterson AFB in Ohio.
1967: Death of Dorothy Parker (b.1893), the acerbic literary critic, poet and writer, whose wit was the centerpiece of the Algonquin Round Table published in Vanity Fair through the 1920s. Her attraction to leftist causes was energized by the Sacco and Vanzetti case in 1927, when she traveled to Boston to protest their upcoming execution. She ended up on Hollywood’s notorious Black List, but remained vocal and engaged to the end. Some choice quotes:
“You can’t teach an old dogma new tricks.”
“Katherine Hepburn gave a striking performance that ran the gamut of emotions, from A to B.”
“Brevity is the soul of lingerie.” – Caption in Vogue, 1916
1967: The US Navy intelligence gathering ship, USS Liberty (AGTR-5) is bombed and strafed in a coordinated Israeli air attack. 34 crew members are killed and 17 wounded.
1967: Five days into the war with its Arab neighbors, having conquered all of Sinai and the Jordanian territory west of the Jordan River, Israel opens a large-scale armor assault on Syria’s Golan Heights, from which the Syrians had been raining artillery shells on Israeli towns in the Galilee region.
1967: With the complete collapse of Syrian defenses in Golan, and the frontiers with Jordan and Egypt stabilized, Israel signs a ceasefire with Syria, thus ending the Six Day War.
1973: The great Virginia race horse Secretariat wins the third race of the Triple Crown at the Belmont Stakes.
1975: Sony introduces the BetaMax video cassette. Beta was the superior technical product, but VHS licensing and production was available to any and all comers, whereas Beta was marketed as a Sony-only product.
1981: A strike force of 10 Israeli aircraft destroy the nearly-completed Osirak reactor complex just outside of Baghdad. News of the raid does not emerge for 24 hours until the IAF itself announces it, after which Iraq expresses its indignation.
1987: In what may be the defining speech of his presidency, Ronald Reagan stands in the shadow of Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate and issues his stirring call to Soviet premier Mikhail Gorbachev: “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”
2018: U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean tyrant Kim Jon Un meet face to face in Singapore.