This Week in History: Dec. 11-17, 2023

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This Week in History
by Dianne Hermann

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

Dec. 11-17, 2023




December 11

1620 – One hundred two Mayflower pilgrims land at Plymouth Rock. Forty-five died the first winter and were buried on Cole’s Hill.

1930 – The Bank of the United States in New York City closes after an estimated 2,500-3,000 depositors withdraw $2 million from the bank the day before. This run on the bank is seen as the beginning of the Great Depression.

1951 – Joe DiMaggio announces his retirement from baseball saying, “When baseball is no longer fun, it’s no longer a game, and so, I’ve played my last game.” He is best known for his 56-game hitting streak (May 15-July 16, 1941), a record that still stands. DiMaggio was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1955.

1964 – Cuban Marxist Revolutionary Che Guevara speaks at the United Nations General Assembly in New York City. An unknown terrorist fired a mortar shell at the building during the speech.

1972 – Astronauts Eugene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt in Apollo 17 become the 11th and 12th (and last) men to walk on the Moon. Schmitt is now 88 years old. Watch Gene Cernan, who died in 2017 at age 82, hop on the moon.



1981 – Muhammad Ali, at age 39, fights his 61st (and last) bout. He lost to Trevor Berbick. Ali died in 2016 at age 74.

1985 – The Dow Jones closes above 1,500 for the first time (1,511.70).

1991 – Salman Rushdie, under an Islamic death sentence for blasphemy after publishing “The Satanic Verses,” makes his first public appearance since 1989 at a New York dinner marking the 200th anniversary of the First Amendment (which guarantees freedom of speech in the U.S.). On August 12, 2022, the 75-year-old Rushdie was stabbed multiple times before a lecture. His 24-year-old attacker pleaded not guilty and is being held without bond while awaiting trial. Watch a New York Times interview with Rushdie.



2008 – Bernard Madoff is arrested and charged with securities fraud in a $50 billion Ponzi scheme. In 2009, he was sentenced to 150 years in prison and ordered to pay $170 billion in restitution. Madoff died in 2021 at age 82. His projected release date was 2139, when he would have been 201 years old.

2015 – “Playboy” magazine publishes its last nude issue, which features Pamela Anderson on the cover. Playboy founder Hugh Hefner died in 2017 at age 91.


December 12

1800 – Washington, DC is established as the permanent capital of the U.S.

1914 – The largest one-day percentage drop in the history of Dow Jones Industrial Average occurs when the Dow drops 24.39 percent. The Dow closed at 54 points.

1925 – The “Motel Inn,” the first motel in the world, opens in San Luis Obispo, California. Originally called the Milestone Mo-Tel, the motel finally closed in the 1991 and most of the structures were bulldozed in 2005. A San Louis Obispo development company had plans in 2017 to build a 55-room hotel on the site, but construction has yet to begin.

1953 – Chuck Yeager sets a new airspeed record at Mach 2.44 (1,620 mph) in his Bell X-1A rocket plane (almost 2 ½ times the speed of sound). Yeager is died in 2020 at age 97.

1963 – Frank Sinatra, Jr., age 19, is released after being kidnapped on December 8th, after his famous father pays $240,000 in ransom. Barry Keenan, Johnny Irwin, and Joe Amsler were quickly caught, tried, and convicted of kidnapping. Although sentenced to long prison terms, Amsler and Irwin were released after 3 ½ years while Keenan, the mastermind, was released after 4 ½ years. Keenan died in November at age 82. Irwin, who was 42 at the time of the kidnapping, disappeared after his release from prison. Amsler died in 2006 at age 65. Watch a newsreel of the ordeal.


1989 – Leona Helmsley, The Queen of Mean, is fined $7 million and sentenced to four years in prison for tax evasion. Helmsley died in 2007 at age 87.

2000 – The U.S. Supreme Court releases its decision in the Bush v. Gore “hanging chad” presidential election case in favor of George W. Bush.


December 13

1636 – The Massachusetts Bay Colony organizes three militia regiments to defend the colony against the Pequot Indians. This organization is recognized today as the founding of the United States National Guard.

1903 – The Wright brothers attempt their first flight at Kittyhawk, North Carolina. Wilbur won the coin toss to pilot the craft. He pulled up too hard after the plane left the rail, stalled, and came down in three seconds, causing minor damage.

1913 – The Federal Reserve System is established by Congress to provide the nation with a safer, more flexible, and more stable monetary and financial system. There are 12 Federal Reserve banks. “The Fed” has never been audited.

1961 – Jimmy Dean’s “Big Bad John” album is country music’s first million-dollar seller. Watch Dean’s 1963 performance:



1978 – The Susan B. Anthony dollar, the first U.S. coin to honor a woman, is issued. Although a half billion coins were minted, the coin was poorly received, partly because of its similarity to the quarter.

2000 – The “Texas 7” escape from the maximum security John Connally Unit near Kenedy, Texas. The 7 escaped prisoners went on a crime spree and killed police officer Aubrey Hawkins during a robbery. After being featured on “America’s Most Wanted” all 7 prisoners were located. One committed suicide and the other six were arrested. Three have already been executed and the other three are awaiting execution for the murder of Officer Aubrey Hawkins.

2003 – Former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein is captured by U.S. troops near his hometown of Tikrit in Operation Red Dawn. He was found hiding in a hole. Hussein was executed in 2006.


December 14

1793 – The first state road is authorized from Frankfort, Kentucky, to Cincinnati, Ohio.

1944 – Congress establishes the rank of General of the Army (five-star General). George C. Marshall was the first five-star general and Omar Bradley was the last. The five-star rank was retired in 1981 with the death of Omar Bradley.

1947 – The National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR) is founded in Daytona Beach, Florida.

1986 – Voyager, piloted by Dick Rutan & Jeana Yeager, takes off from Edwards Air Force Base, California, on the first non-stop, non-refueled flight around world. The trip was successfully completed on December 23rd. The Voyager is now on display in the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC. Watch the tense and thrilling Voyager take off.



2012 – Twenty-eight people, including twenty children, are shot to death at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.


December 15

1791 – The Bill of Rights (first 10 amendments to the Constitution) is ratified when Virginia gives its approval, making the two-thirds majority of states required for ratification.

1836 – A fire at the Patent Office in Washington, DC, destroys virtually all records.

1938 – Groundbreaking begins for the Jefferson Memorial in Washington, DC. The memorial was dedicated in 1943. The statue of President Thomas Jefferson is 19 feet tall and weighs 5 tons.

1944 – Bandleader Major Glenn Miller’s plane is lost over the English Channel. The plane and crew were never found. Listen to a BBC radio broadcast with still photos and Miller’s music.



1952 – Christine Jorgensen (born George William Jorgensen) is the first person to undergo a sex-change operation. The surgery was done in Denmark. Jorgensen died in 1989 at age 62.

1965 – Gemini 6 is launched and makes the first manned rendezvous in space (with Gemini 7).

1979 – The World Court in The Hague rules that Iran should release all U.S. hostages. The hostages were released after 444 days, just moments after Ronald Reagan’s inauguration as president on January 20, 1981.

1993 – John Williams makes his final appearance as conductor of The Boston Pops after 13 years at the helm. Williams was preceded by famed conductor Arthur Fiedler (longest tenured) and succeeded by Keith Lockhart, the current (20th and second-longest tenured) conductor. Watch Williams conduct his theme from “Star Wars.”



2000 – New York Senator-elect Hillary Rodham Clinton accepts an $8 million deal with Simon & Schuster for a book about her eight years in the White House. The advance is the highest ever to be paid to a member of Congress. Hilary received a $14 million advance for her subsequent book “Hard Choices,” which tanked. In 2017 she published another book, “What Happened,” about her stunning loss in the 2016 presidential election.

2015 – The mayor of Flint, Michigan, declares a state of emergency over lead contaminated water supplies amid calls for a criminal investigation. Fifteen current and former state officials, including the head Michigan’s health department, were charged in 2017 with various crimes, including obstruction of justice and involuntary manslaughter. Twelve deaths (from Legionnaire’s Disease) have been attributed to the tainted water. In June 2019, prosecutors dropped all charges pending against city officials.


December 16

1773 – The Sons of Liberty, dressed as Indians, toss crates of tea into the Boston Harbor that is sent by the East India Company in what becomes known as the Boston Tea Party.

1811 – An earthquake hits the New Madrid fault in Missouri, causing widespread damage. The earthquake was estimated by the U.S. Geological Society to have been three times stronger than the 1964 Alaska earthquake. Watch a USGS report on the history and accounts of the New Madrid earthquake.



1953 – The first White House Press Conference is held when President Eisenhower talks to 161 reporters.

1972 – The Miami Dolphins finish the regular season as the first undefeated National Football League team. Their season record was 17-0-0, including a Super Bowl VII win against the Washington Redskins, making them the only undefeated team in NFL history. (The 2007 New England Patriots end the season undefeated, but lose the Super Bowl.) Watch highlights of the Dolphins’ perfect season.



1988 – Political cult leader and 8-time presidential candidate Lyndon LaRouche is convicted of tax and mail fraud. He was sentenced to 15 years in prison, but was released in 1994. Thirteen of his associates were convicted of mail fraud and conspiracy and sentenced to terms ranging from one month to 77 years. LaRouche died in 2019 at age 96.

1991 The United Nations reverses its 1975 ruling that Zionism is racism by a 111-25 vote (13 countries abstain). The U.S. voted “no” on the 1975 resolution and “yes” on the repeal.

2015 – The Federal Reserve raises interest rates for the first time since 2006 by 0.25%. The Fed raised interest rates four times in 2022.


December 17

1798 – The first impeachment trial against a sitting U.S. senator (William Blount of Tennessee) begins. The trial was presided over by Vice President Thomas Jefferson. The conspiracy charges were dismissed after the Senate determined that the Senate had no jurisdiction over its own members beyond its constitutional right to expel members by a two-thirds majority vote.

1903 – Orville Wright makes the first sustained motorized aircraft flight in history at Kill Devil Hills at 10:35 AM. The flight lasts 12 seconds and covers 120 feet at a speed of 6.8 miles per hour. Watch a narrated Discovery video about the flight.



1936 – Ventriloquist Edgar Bergen and dummy Charlie McCarthy make their radio debut on Rudy Vallee’s Royal Gelatin Hour. Bergen died in 1978 at age 75. McCarthy is now at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History.

1944 – The U.S. Army announces the end of excluding Japanese-Americans from the West Coast. Japanese-Americans were released from detention camps. Between 110,000 and 120,000 Japanese-Americans were confined during WWII, most of whom are American citizens. In 1988, President Reagan signed a bill to pay $1.6 in reparations to 82,000 individuals of Japanese ancestry.

1969 – The Air Force closes Project Blue Book, started in 1952, concluding there is no evidence that extraterrestrial spaceships are behind the thousands of UFO sightings. Two Pentagon officials appeared before the House Intelligence Committee in May 2022 to report on more than 140 cases of “unidentified aerial phenomena” or UAPs that were observed by military personnel since 2004. It was the first public hearing on UFOs in more than 50 years. In August 2023, the Department of Defense opened the “All-domain Anomaly Resolution Office (AARO) for reporting and understanding “unidentified anomalous phenomena” (aka UFOs).

1989 – The Simpsons animated TV show makes its debut. It is now the longest-running American TV sitcom. The Simpsons started as a short on The Tracy Ulman Show. Watch a short video on the creation of the show featuring the cartoonist, Matt Groening.



2004 – President George W. Bush signs into law the largest overhaul of U.S. intelligence gathering in 50 years. The bill was aimed at tightening borders and aviation security. It also created a federal counter-terrorism center.




Image from: npr.com


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