This Week in History
by Dianne Hermann
“That men do not learn very much from the lessons of history
is the most important of all the lessons of history.” Aldous Huxley
Week of April 13-19, 2020
1796 – The first elephant arrives in the U.S. from India. The 2-year-old Asian elephant was bought and transported to the U.S. at a cost of $450. It was taken on tour on the East Coast over the next 12 years. People were charged 25¢ to 50¢ to see it.
1860 – The first Pony Express reaches Sacramento, California, in just under 10 days. The Pony Express originated in St. Joseph, Missouri, and used a relay of about 180 young riders and over 400 horses while in operation to deliver mail. The Pony Express lasted about a year and a half, ending after the transcontinental telegraph was completed.
1883 – Alfred Packer is the first American convicted of cannibalism. He went on a gold prospecting expedition to Colorado in 1874 with five others and returned alone two months later. He claimed self-defense and that he consumed the men to survive. He was sentenced to 40 years, but was paroled after 18 years due to doubt about his guilt.
1902 – James Cash Penney opens his first store, called the “Golden Rule Store,” in Kemmerer, Wyoming. The first day’s sales were $33.41. JC Penny died in 1971 at age 95.
1934 – Congress passes the Johnson Debt Default Act, which prohibits future loans to countries that have preciously defaulted on U.S. loans.
1957 – Due to lack of funds, Saturday mail delivery in the U.S. is temporarily halted. Saturday mail delivery was restored the following week when Congress allocated $41 million to the Post Office.
1984 – Pete Rose becomes the first National League baseball player to get 4,000 hits in a career. American League player Ty Cobb, in 1927, was the only other player to get over 4,000 hits. Watch 42-year-old Charlie Hustle get his 4,000th hit:
2004 – Barry Bonds hits his 661st career home run, passing Willie Mays on the all-time home run list. Bonds ended his career with 762 home runs.
2011 – Former baseball player Barry Bonds is found guilty of obstruction of justice after a trial about his steroid use. Bonds broke Hank Aaron’s home run record in 2007, but his accomplishment is overshadowed by steroid use accusations.
1775 – The first abolitionist society in the U.S. organizes in Philadelphia. Around 1785 Ben Franklin was elected as its president.
1818 – The U.S. Medical Corps forms when physicians are recruited by the Medical Department of the Army, which is created by the Continental Congress.
1865 – President Abraham Lincoln is shot and mortally wounded by John Wilkes Booth at Ford’s Theater during the play “Our American Cousin” in Washington, DC after a plan to kidnap the president fails. Lincoln died 9 hours later. Booth escaped, but he was killed when the barn where he was hiding was set on fire and burned down.
1935 – The worst sandstorm in the U.S., known as Black Sunday, ravages the Midwest and creates the Dust Bowl. The drought and sandstorms continued until 1939. Watch a report with photographs of the sandstorm:
1971 – In Swann vs Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education, the Supreme Court upholds busing as a means of achieving racial desegregation.
2003 – The Human Genome Project is completed with 99% of the human genome sequenced to an accuracy of 99.99% with support from the U.S. Department of Energy. The project was started in 1987.
2009 – Georgetown University covers up its religious symbols at the request of the Obama administration before President Obama speaks at the university.
1817 – Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet opens the first American school for the deaf in Hartford, Connecticut.
1910 – President William Howard Taft begins the tradition of throwing out the ceremonial first pitch on baseball’s opening day at Griffith Stadium in Washington, DC. Every president since Taft has done this.
1955 – Ray Kroc starts the McDonald’s chain of fast food restaurants in Des Plaines, Illinois. There are now more than 35,000 McDonald restaurants in over 100 countries. Kroc died in 1984 at age 81. Watch a 10-minute bio of Krok and the history of McDonald’s:
1964 – The Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel, connecting Virginia and Maryland, opens as the world’s longest bridge-tunnel complex at 23 miles long. The toll is $18.
1967 – Richard Speck is found guilty of murdering eight student nurses in their Chicago home. Although Speck was sentenced to death, his sentence was commuted to 50-100 years after the Supreme Court abolished capital punishment. Speck is never tried for multiple other murders he is suspected of committing. Speck died in prison in 1991 at age 49, having served just 19 years.
1981 – Janet Cooke says her Pulitzer award winning story called “Jimmy’s World” about an 8-year-old heroin addict is a lie. The Washington Post relinquished the Pulitzer Prize on the fabricated story and Cooke resigned from the Post.
2012 – The U.S. Secret Service’s inappropriate conduct scandal begins when at least 11 agents are implicated. The 11 agents were placed on leave after an investigation into inappropriate conduct in Columbia prior to a summit attended by President Obama. Three more agents were sent home for inappropriate conduct prior to President Obama’s trip to Holland in March 2014.
2013 – Three people are killed and 183 injured after two terrorist bombs explode near the finish line of the Boston Marathon. Watch an ABC News report:
1862 – The U.S. Confederate Congress approves the conscription act for all white males 18-35 years of age.
1881 – Bartholomew “Bat” Masterson fights his last gun battle in Dodge City, Kansas. No one was killed and Masterson paid an $8 fine. Masterson served as a sheriff and U.S. Marshall for the next three decades. He became a sports editor in New York City and died of a heart attack at his desk in 1921 at age 67.
1922 – Annie Oakley sets a women’s record by shooting 100 clay targets in a row. Annie also starred in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show.
1962 – Walter Cronkite begins anchoring the CBS Evening News. His news program aired until 1981. He was called “The most trusted man in America.” Cronkite died in 2009 at age 92. Watch his final broadcast:
1992 – The House of Representatives ethics committee listed 303 current and former lawmakers who have overdrawn their House bank accounts.
2002 – The Supreme Court overturns major parts of a 1996 child pornography law based on rights to free speech.
2007 – In one of the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history, 23-year-old student Seung-Hui Cho, shoots 32 people to death and injures at least 17 others on the campus of Virginia Tech before committing suicide.
1704 – John Campbell publishes in Boston the first successful U.S. newspaper.
1865 – Mary Surratt is arrested as a conspirator in President Lincoln’s assassination. She owned the boarding house where her son John Surratt, along with John Wilkes Booth and others, conspired to kill the president. She was hanged on July 7th with three others convicted of the conspiracy. Mary, aged 42, was the first woman executed by order of the U.S. government.
1948 – Bernard Baruch, advisor to presidents Hoover and Truman, introduces term Cold War when he says, “Let us not be deceived, we are today in the midst of a Cold War.”
1961 – A group of 1,500 Cuban exiles supported by the U.S. government invades the Bay of Pigs on the southern coast of Cuba in an attempt to overthrow the government of Fidel Castro. The invasion failed and by April 21st all fighters were killed or captured.
1964 – Jerrie Mock becomes the first woman to fly solo around the world when she completes a flight of 29 days. She flew in a Cessna 180 christened the “Spirit of Columbus.” Mock died in 2014 at age 88. Watch a short slide show of Jerrie’s career:
1969 – Sirhan Sirhan is convicted of assassinating U.S. Senator Robert F. Kennedy. He was sentenced to death but his sentence was commuted to life in prison after California abolished capital punishment. Sirhan is now 76 years old and still in prison.
1996 – Lyle and Erik Menendez are sentenced to life in prison without parole for killing their parents in 1989 when the brothers were age 21 and 18 respectively. All their appeals have been denied. They were recently reunited for the first time in 30 years. They had been housed in separate prisons. Watch a report about the brothers:
2010 – George Washington is reported to have racked up $300,000 in late fees for failing to return a book to a Manhattan library. After staff at George Washington’s former home in Mount Vernon, Virginia, learn of the situation, they get in touch with the library and offer to replace the book with another copy of the same book. During a ceremony in May the Mount Vernon staff present the book to the New York library.
1775 – Paul Revere and William Dawes ride from Charleston to Lexington warning colonists, “The Regulars are coming out!”
1861 – Col. Robert E. Lee turns down President Lincoln’s request to command the Union Army. Lee’s home is now part of Arlington National Cemetery.
1906 – The San Francisco earthquake and subsequent fire kills nearly 4,000 people and destroys 75 percent of city. It ranks as the 16th strongest earthquake in the U.S. at an estimated 7.8 on the Richter scale.
1958 – A U.S. federal court rules that Idaho-born poet Ezra Pound is to be released from St. Elizabeth’s Hospital for the criminally insane after 13 years of confinement. Pound lived in Italy during WWII and strongly supported Mussolini. He was arrested at the end of the war and held in a prison camp, where he suffered a mental breakdown. After his release from St. Elizabeth’s, Pound returned to Italy, where he lived until his death in 1972 at the age of 87.
1968 – U.S. oil executive Robert P. McCulloch buys the London Bridge for $2.4 million to be reassembled in Lake Havasu City, Arizona. The London Bridge, originally build in 1831, opened as an attraction in 1971. Watch an American version of the history of the London Bridge:
1978 – The Senate votes to turn the Panama Canal over to Panama on Dec 31, 1999.
1987 – Gregory Robertson does a 200-mph free fall from 13,500 feet over Phoenix to save fellow skydiver Debbie Williams, who was knocked unconscious when she collided with another skydiver. Robertson pulled her ripcord and Williams landed, sustaining several injuries. Watch a dramatic report with a description by Robertson:
2008 – A Texas District Judge rules that the state will keep temporary custody of the 416 children that were taken from a polygamous sect “Yearning For Zion” West Texas compound. Prosecutors say polygamist sect leader Warren Jeffs and others adults sexually abused the children.
1775 – The American Revolution begins in Lexington Common after the “shot heard round the world” is fired by a British soldier. The phrase comes from the 1837 poem “Concord Hymn” by Ralph Waldo Emerson.
1897 – The first American marathon is held in Boston. John J. McDermott won in 2:55:10. In 1966, Roberta Bignay became the first woman to run in the Boston Marathon. The Boston Marathon is the world’s oldest annual marathon.
1927 – Mae West is sentenced to 10 days in jail and fined $500. The 34-year-old West was charged with “obscenity and corrupting the morals of youth” for writing (under the pen name Jane Mast), directing, and performing in the play “Sex.”
1934 – Shirley Temple appears in her first movie “Stand Up & Cheer” one week before her 6th birthday. During her 30-year career she appeared in over 75 movies and film projects. She later served as the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. and then Ghana. Shirley Temple Black died in 2014 at age 85. Watch the amazing little Shirley Temple:
1982 – Sally Ride is named as the first woman astronaut. In 1983, Ride became the first American woman in space. Ride flew into space on another Space Shuttle mission in 1985. Ride died in 2012 at the age of 61 from pancreatic cancer.
1987 – The last wild condor is captured at a California wildlife reserve. The male condor joined the 27 only remaining condors for the breeding program at the San Diego Wild Animal Park. As of December 2016, there were 446 condors living in the wild or in captivity.
1993 – Seventy-six Branch Davidian men, women, and children in Waco, Texas, die in a fire after a 51-day siege. Janet Reno approved the use of tear gas because Bill Clinton said, “If she thought it was the right thing to do, she should proceed.” Watch a CNN report of the first siege:
1995 – A truck bomb parked at the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City kills 168 and injures 500. Timothy McVeigh is arrested, convicted, and executed for the bombing.
2000 – The Oklahoma City National Memorial is dedicated on the fifth anniversary of the bombing in Oklahoma that kills 168 people.
Image from: nationalgeographic.org