This Week in History: April 17-23, 2023

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This Week in History
by Dianne Hermann

“History is a vast early warning system.” Norman Cousins

April 17-23, 2023




April 17

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 on June 6, 1968. He was sentenced to death but his sentence was commuted to life in prison because California deemed capital punishment as cruel and unusual punishment. Sirhan, now 79, was denied parole in 2022 by Gov. Newsom after being approved for release by the parole board.

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 reunited in 2018 for the first time in over 20 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.


April 18

1775 – Paul Revere and William Dawes ride from Charleston to Lexington warning the 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 will 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 Rescue 911 episode recreating the incident.



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.


April 19

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 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 2022, there were 537 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 about the end of the 51-day stand-off.



1995 – A truck bomb parked at the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City kills 168 and injures 500. Timothy McVeigh was 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.


April 20

1853 – Harriet Tubman starts the Underground Railroad. She made 19 trips to the South over 10 years, escorting over 300 slaves to the North.

1871 – The 3rd Enforcement Act allows the President to suspend the writ of habeas corpus to combat the Ku Klux Klan. President Grant received the legislation within a month of his request and used it to dismantle the KKK. The KKK was started by six Confederate Civil War veterans in December 1865, with Nathan Bedford Forrest serving as its first national leader.

1961 – Harold Graham makes the first untethered flight of the rocket belt. The 108-foot flight lasted 13 seconds. Graham also made a special flight for President Kennedy. Watch a report about the flight, including interviews with Graham.



1962 – NASA civilian pilot Neil Armstrong makes his first X-15 flight. In 1969, Armstrong became the first man to walk on the moon. Armstrong died in 2012 at age 82.

1999 – Students Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold kill 13 people and wound 24 others at Columbine High School in Jefferson County, Colorado, before committing suicide.

2008 – Danica Patrick wins the Indy Japan 300, becoming the first female driver in history to win an Indy car race. In 2005, Patrick became the first woman to lead at the Indy 500 in Indianapolis. Patrick is 41 years old.

2010 – The Supreme Court rules that a law which makes it illegal to sell videos of animals being tortured violates the right to free speech. Chief Justice John Roberts said that the law was too broad and invalid to be used under the First Amendment.


April 21

1789 – John Adams is sworn in as the first vice president. George Washington was sworn in as president 9 days later.

1836 – During the Battle of San Jacinto, the Texas militia under Sam Houston captures Mexican General Santa Anna. In exchange for his freedom Santa Anna recognized Texas’ independence from Mexico.

1904 – Ty Cobb makes his professional baseball debut for Augusta in the South Atlantic League. Cobb spent most of his baseball career with the Detroit Tigers. He still holds the record for career batting average at .367 and was in the first group of Baseball Hall of Fame’s inductees. Cobb died in 1961 at age 74.

1956 – Elvis Presley has his first number one hit when “Heartbreak Hotel” tops the Billboard charts.

1986 – Geraldo Rivera opens Al Capone’s vault during a two-hour special on live TV and finds nothing inside. Watch Geraldo’s own commentary 20 years after the non-event.



1997 – The ashes of the late Gene Roddenberry, the “Star Trek” creator, are launched aboard the Celestis Earthview 01 for a space burial. A sample of his ashes was carried on the Space Shuttle Columbia mission in 1992, but his remains were returned to Earth with the shuttle.

2000 – The 1998 Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act goes into effect to protect children’s privacy and increase safety online, including restrictions on the marketing to those under age 13.


April 22

1864 – The United States mints a 2-cent coin. It has the first appearance of “In God We Trust.” On this date in 1955, Congress ordered all U.S. coins to bear the motto “In God We Trust.”

1931 – James G. Ray lands an autogyro on the lawn of the White House. President Hoover presented pilot Ray and autogyro builder Harold Pitcairn with the National Aeronatic Association’s Collier Trophy, awarded “for the greatest achievement in aviation in America, the value of which has been demonstrated by actual use during the preceding year.” Watch a silent video of the landing.



1970 – The first “Earth Day” is observed by millions of Americans. Twenty million Americans participated in various events coordinated by Denis Hayes. Senator Gaylord Nelson (D-WI), the founder of Earth Day, died in 2005 at age 89.

1972 – Apollo 16 astronauts John Young and Charles Duke ride on the moon in the Lunar Roving Vehicle. Apollo 17 in December 1972 was the last manned mission to the moon. Watch the historic moon ride.



2000 – In a pre-dawn raid, federal agents seize six-year-old Elián González from his uncle’s home in Miami, Florida. González was among Cuban boat people rescued on Thanksgiving Day when 12 members of his family died. He was released to his uncle but his father in Cuba demanded custody. Attorney General Janet Reno approved the plan to forcibly remove González from the home. He returned to Cuba on June 28th. González is now 29 years old.

2005 – Zacarias Moussaoui (a French citizen of Moroccan descent) pleads guilty to conspiring with other al-Qaeda members in the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. He is now serving a life sentence at the Federal ADX Supermax prison in Florence, Colorado.

2014 – The Supreme Court rules 6 to 2 in favor of a University of Michigan ban on affirmative action.


April 23

1635 – The oldest U.S. public institution still in operation, Boston Latin School, is founded.

1908 – President Theodore Roosevelt signs an act creating the U.S. Army Reserve.

1924 – The U.S. Senate passes the Soldiers Bonus Bill for World War I vets. President Coolidge vetoed the bill in May, but Congress overrode the presidential veto. President Harding vetoed a similar bill in 1922. Veterans marched on Washington in 1932 to forced Congress to pay the promised bonuses.

1954 – Hammerin’ Hank Aaron hits the first of his 755 homers. Aaron broke Babe Ruth’s home run record with 715 during a home game for the Atlanta Braves on April 8, 1974. He hit his final home run as a Milwaukee Brewer on July 20, 1976. Aaron is now 86 years old.

1985 – The Coca-Cola Company announces that it is changing its 99-year-old secret formula. New Coke was not successful, which resulted in the resumption of the selling the original version. Watch the mea culpa announcement of Coca-Cola returning to the original formula.



1988 – A federal ban on smoking during domestic airline flights of 2 hours or less takes effect.

2005 – The first video is uploaded to YouTube.com. Watch the first YouTube video, which now has over 226 million views.





Image from: USA Today


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