337AD: Death of Constantine the Great, the first Roman emperor to embrace Christianity. He aggressively set about un-doing the persecutions carried out by his predecessor, Diocletian. In particular, he issued the Edict of Milan in 313, declaring religious tolerance throughout the Empire as the law of the land. He also rebuilt the ancient Turkish city of Byzantium, re-naming it Constantinople and making it the capital of the eastern portion of the Empire, a position it maintained for another thousand years.
1471: Birth of German artist Albrecht Durer. Best known for his woodcuts, he also worked in oils and pencil. He was deeply engaged in the intellectual unrest of the early Reformation period, but remained loyal to the Roman Catholic church to his death
1626: Director-General of the New Netherlands division of the Dutch West Indian Company, Peter Minuit, purchases Manhattan Island from the local indigenous tribe for items valued at 60 Guilders, often mis-represented as $24 of wampum. Records also exist of Minuit negotiating for similar ownership rights on Staten Island in trade for “duffle cloth, iron kettles and axe heads, hoes, drilling awls, Jew’s Harps and other divers items…” Historians Edwin Burrows and Mike Wallace in 1999 put this into modern terms: “…the Dutch were engaged in high-end technology transfer, handing over equipment of enormous usefulness in tasks ranging from clearing land to drilling wampum.”
1701: Scottish-American privateer Captain William Kidd is hanged by the neck until dead after his conviction for murder and piracy in a London court. His corpse is put into a gibbet on the Execution Dock, where it remains on display for thirty years as a warning to other potential pirates. Kidd’s story is the basis for many tales of buried treasure and other themes from the “golden age” of piracy. There remains to this day something of a cottage industry engaged in clearing his name by establishing his bone fides as an authorized privateer, betrayed by his sponsors in England.
1738: Christian conversion of John Wesley, who went on to lead the Methodist movement in Great Britain.
1856: Abolitionist John Brown leads a group that murders five pro-slavery settlers in Pottawatomie, Kansas. Before the secessionist movement took root in the South, “Bleeding Kansas” became the violent first battleground between pro and anti-slavery forces.
1859: Birth of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (d.1930), British physician, mystic, and man of letters, best known for his creation of the great detective Sherlock Holmes.
1878: Birth of Glenn Curtiss, motorcycle builder and racer, aviation pioneer, and competitor of the Wright Brothers. Barred by the threat of patent infringement of the Wright’s wing warping principles and mechanism, Curtiss invented the aileron as a means of roll control in his airplanes. The Navy was an early purchaser of his machines, which were used for the first launches and recoveries from Navy ships.
1879: Birth in Danville, Virginia of Nancy Langhorne, who rose socially and politically to become The Right Honorable Nancy Astor, Viscountess Astor. On the accession of her husband Waldorf Astor to the House of Lords, she ran for election for his Commons seat and won, becoming the first woman to be seated in that chamber. She was a vocal MP, particularly during the buildup to the Second World War. After a tumultuous period of scathing critiques of just about everyone in the political spectrum, she retired in 1945, but remained in the public eye as something of a curmudgeon until her death. She is especially remembered for her acerbic wit: “I married beneath me. All women do.” “One reason why I don’t drink is because I wish to know when I am having a good time.” “We women talk too much, but even then we don’t tell half what we know.”
1881: Birth of Mustafa Kemel Ataturk (d.1938), the First President of the Turkish Republic. General-Pasha of the Ottoman army during the Great War, he was in command of the Turkish forces that held the ANZAC invasion of Gallipoli to nothing more than a toehold until they withdrew under fire nine months later. He then commanded Ottoman armies both in the Levant and on the northern reaches of Anatolia against the Russians. After the war, he served as Aide-de-Camp in the Sublime Porte during the Allied occupation of Constantinople and Izmir, as the British and French worked to divide up the outer reaches of the Ottoman Empire. By June of 1919, he had had enough of external meddling, and began a two-pronged Army revolt- both militarily and politically- that eventually led to the establishment in October, 1923 of the explicitly secular Turkish state. Ataturk is constitutionally the only person who will every be permitted to assume that title, which means, “Father of Turkey.”
1883: After 14 years of complex construction, the Brooklyn Bridge opens for traffic.
1897: Birth of Phoenix native Frank Luke . World War I American fighter Ace and Medal of Honor winner, he was second only to the great Eddie Rickenbacker for the number of confirmed kills by an American pilot. Luke’s fearlessness and airmanship led him to focus on destroying German observation balloons, and earned him the moniker of “The Balloon Buster.” One would think that diving a screaming fighter in towards a huge, immobile gasbag would not be much of a challenge, but one would be gravely mistaken in that assumption: the balloons were not only surrounded by dozens of pre-loaded light artillery pieces aiming straight up, each one of their ascents was also covered by a flight of German fighter planes flying high cover overhead. Luke and his wingman perfected the technique of diving out of the sun and making repeated passes at the balloon until its hydrogen finally burst into flames and plunged to earth. His total count was 14 balloons and 4 aeroplanes, all shot down in the course of only 10 sorties over 8 days. Rickenbacker himself called Luke the “…the most daring aviator and the greatest fighter pilot of the entire war.” Luke Air Force Base in the Phoenix suburb of Glendale is named for him.
1906: The Wright Brothers receive U.S. Patent number 821,393 for their “flying machine.” The patent is the result of the Wright’s extensive testing and refinement of aircraft control mechanisms on their basic 1903 design, and was indicative of their decision to leave the bicycle business and make a go of it in the nascent field of commercial aviation. This is the same patent I mentioned the other day that led Glenn Curtis and others to create work-arounds that would avoid patent infringement issues, although the patent fights between them would continue for years.
1915: Eruption of Northern California’s Mount Lassen, the only other U.S. volcano in the lower 48– besides Saint Helens– to blow in the 20th century. This was the first of 107 separate eruptions that occurred during the next twelve months.
1921(a): Opening day in the trial of Sacco and Vanzetti, in Boston. The two immigrant Italian anarchists, usually described sympathetically as a shoe-maker and a fish monger, were arrested for robbery and murder, and after a internationally sensational trial were sentenced to death. The trial gained notoriety not only for the lurid twists and turns promulgated by both the prosecution and the defense (“someone changed the barrel of his gun!”), but also by the two’s unrepentant status as international anarchists. Further controversy followed as the presiding judge Webster Thayer refused to grant five motions for new trials, later confronting a colleague with, “Did you see what I did with those anarchistic bastards the other day? I guess that will hold them for a while…” Sacco and Vanzetti’s case became cause célèbre with leftists world-wide, and even non-leftists grew increasingly uncomfortable with the court’s seeming disregard for normal evidentiary rules and appeal procedures. With the wheels of justice inexorably moving forward, Sacco and Vanzetti were electrocuted on August 23rd, 1927. To no one’s surprise, anarchist riots and bombings broke out in response as far away as Buenos Aires.
1921(b): The US Congress passes the Emergency Quota Act, limiting legal immigration to a small percentage of the current nationalities then residing in the country. The act effectively shut off the flow of immigrants who were streaming into the country from southern Europe and the Balkans.
1927: Thirty three and a half hours after his launch from Roosevelt Field, Charles Lindbergh lands in Le Brouget Airport in Paris. Although he expected some level of fame for his accomplishment, the public acclaim that followed him made him one of the 20th century’s first media superstars. As National Geographic put it, “he took off as an unknown boy from rural Minnesota and landed 33 1/2 hours later as the most famous man on earth… and sent the world into an unprecedented frenzy.” When he was sighted in the morning crossing the coast of Ireland the news was immediately broadcast worldwide. Over 150,000 Parisians worked their way to his arrival airport to witness the historic event. He reached Paris in the gathering darkness, and spent several minutes circling the Eiffel Tower to get his bearings, during which time the crowds broke through the police lines protecting the landing area, creating a situation that Lindbergh called the most dangerous part of the entire flight. The crowds that surged around his machine as he rolled out cut swaths of fabric off the fuselage for souvenirs, and despite his fatigue he was forced into event after event with both French and American luminaries.
1932: After a 14 hour flight through turbulence, icing and un-forecast winds, bad weather finally forces Amelia Earhart down into a farmer’s field near Derry, Ireland, and into history as the first woman to solo across the Atlantic. Although only two locals witnessed her touchdown, the media quickly picked up the story and “Lady Lindy” became the next media sensation. Her Lockheed Vega is on display in the National Air and Space Museum.
1934: After a four year spree of robbery and murder, Bonnie Parker (b.1910) and Clyde Barrow (b.1909) are gunned down by a posse in rural Black Lake, Louisiana.
1941(a): On her breakout cruise into the North Atlantic, the German battleship Bismarck engages and sinks HMS Hood, which goes to the bottom with the loss of all hands save three.
1941(b): Birth of Bob Dylan.
1945: Nazi chief of the SS Heinrich Himmler commits suicide in his Allied cell, thus avoiding public responsibility for his war crimes
1947: President Harry S. Truman signs into law an economic assistance act for Greece and Turkey that will become the foundation for the Truman Doctrine on controlling the spread of Communism.
1964: President Lyndon Baines Johnson announces the Great Society legislative program, in which he promises to “eliminate poverty and racial injustice in America”.
1965: Death of Geoffrey de Havilland (b.1882). The British aircraft designer’s Mosquito fighter, made entirely as a “plywood” laminate structure, was one of the most innovative and best-loved fighter planes of the Second World War.