This Week in History: Dec 21-27, 2020


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

Dec 21-27, 2020

December 21

1784 – John Jay becomes the first U.S. Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. Jay was also the first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court (1789-1795).

1913 – The first crossword puzzle (with 32 clues) is printed in the New York World newspaper. The crossword puzzle was created by Arthur Wynne.

1933 – Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers appear in their first movie together, “Flying Down to Rio.” Watch them cut a rug.

1954 – Dr. Sam Sheppard is convicted of the murder of his wife Marilyn and sentenced to life in prison. Sheppard was released from prison following a landmark Supreme Court ruling after serving 10 years. He was found not guilty in his second trial in 1966. Sheppard died in 1970 at age 46.

1969 – Vince Lombardi coaches the Washington Redskins in his last football game. As head coach and general manager of the Green Bay Packers, Lombardi led the team to three NFL championships and victories in the first two Super Bowls (1967 and 1968). Lombardi died of colon cancer in 1970 at age 57.

1978 – Police in Des Plaines, Illinois, arrest John Wayne Gacy, Jr. for murder. He is convicted of the assault and murder of 33 teenage boys and young men. Gacy was executed in 1994 at age 52.

1988 – New York bound Pan Am Flight 103 is destroyed by a bomb, killing all 243 passengers and 16 crew over Lockerbie, Scotland. In 2001, Libyan-born Abdelbaset al-Megrahi was found guilty of 270 counts of murder and sentenced to life in prison in Scotland. He was the only person every convicted of the bombing. In 2009, he was released from prison on compassionate grounds due to his terminal prostate cancer. al-Megrahi died in 2012 at age 60.

December 22

1882 – Thomas Edison creates the first string of Christmas tree lights.

1941 – Winston Churchill arrives in Washington, DC for a wartime conference with President FDR. In 1963, Churchill was made an honorary U.S. citizen. Barack Obama sent the bust of Churchill back to the British embassy when he took over the White House. Churchill’s bust was returned to Washington, thanks to the efforts of former Speaker of the House John Boehner. The bust was dedicated on October 30, 2013.

1964 – Comedian Lenny Bruce is convicted of obscenity and sentenced to “four months in the workhouse.” He had already been charged with narcotics possession and obscenity several times. While awaiting an appeal Bruce dies of a heroin overdose on August 3, 1966, at the age of 40.

1964 – The Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird, with test pilot Bob Gilliland, makes its first flight at Plant #42 in Palmdale, California. Watch a documentary with flight footage.

1984 – Bernhard Goetz shoots 4 black muggers on a New York City subway train. The “Subway Vigilante” was acquitted of attempted murder but is convicted of gun violations and served less than a year. Goetz is now 73 years old.

2001 – Richard Reid attempts, but fails, to destroy a passenger airliner by igniting explosives hidden in his shoes aboard American Airlines Flight 63.

2010 – President Barack Obama signs into law the repeal of the “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy, the 17-year-old Clinton administration policy banning homosexuals from serving openly in the U.S. military.

December 23

1779 – Revolutionary War hero Benedict Arnold is court-martialed for improper conduct after he agrees to turn over West Point to the British through Major John Andre in exchange for money. Arnold was cleared of all charges while Andre was captured and subsequently hanged in October 1790.

1788 – Maryland votes to cede a 10-sqaure-mile area to form the District of Columbia. Washington, DC became the permanent capital of the U.S. in 1790.

1823 – “A Visit from St Nicholas” by Clement C. Moore is published in the Troy (New York) Sentinel. It is more commonly known as “T’was The Night Before Christmas.”

1867 – Sarah Breedlove, known as Madame C. J. Walker, is born. She became the first self-made female millionaire in the U.S. with her hair care products for black women. She died in 1919 at age 51.

1913 – President Woodrow Wilson signs the Federal Reserve Act into law. In spite its name, the Federal Reserve is a privately owned banking system and is not part of the federal government. It has never been audited.

1938 – Margaret Hamilton is severely burned after her costume catches fire during the filming of “The Wizard of Oz.” Although she was featured in many other movies, Hamilton was quintessentially known as the Wicked Witch. Hamilton died in 1985 at age 82.

1961 – Fidel Castro announces Cuba will release 1,113 prisoners after the failed 1961 Bay of Pigs Invasion in exchange for $62 million worth of food and medical supplies. Cuba started returning U.S. prisoners from the Bay of Pigs invasion on this date in 1962.

1968 – Eighty-two crew members of U.S. intelligence ship USS Pueblo are released by North Korea, 335 days after it was captured. The ship remains in North Korea.

1972 – In what became known as the “Immaculate Reception” the Pittsburg Steelers turn around a 7-6 deficit with a last second touchdown reception by Franco Harris from Terry Bradshaw against the Oakland Raiders for a 13-7 win. Watch it with player interviews.

1986 – Dick Rutan and Jeana Yeager (no relation to Chuck Yeager) complete the first around-the-world flight without refueling aboard Voyager when they land at Edwards Air Force Base in California 9 days, 3 minutes, and 44 seconds after takeoff.

1997 – Terry Nichols is found guilty of manslaughter in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing. He was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Nichols is now 65 years old.

December 24

1814 – The Treaty of Ghent is signed, ending the War of 1812. The British stalled negotiations awaiting the British capture of New Orleans and the valuable port at the mouth of the Mississippi River. Future president Andrew Jackson, who was very ill at the time, successfully defended New Orleans with a much smaller military force and inferior weapons in January of 1815.

1851 – Fire devastates the U.S. Library of Congress in Washington, DC, destroying 35,000 volumes and documents, about two-thirds of its book collection. The fire destroyed most of the books purchased from Thomas Jefferson in 1815 to replace those lost during the War of 1812.

1948 – The first house in the U.S. completely sun-heated is occupied in Dover, Massachusetts. It cost about $20,000 to build it. Architect Eleanor Raymond designed the structure, scientist Maria Telkes designed the solar heating system, and Boston heiress and sculptress Amelia Peabody financed it.

1968 – Apollo 8 astronauts give a Christmas Eve reading from the Bible book of Genesis while orbiting the Moon. Watch images from Apollo 8 as the astronauts read from Genesis.


2000 – Thirty-six minutes after the end of the football game, the New England Patriots and Miami Dolphins are called back to the field to play the final 3 seconds of the game, which the Dolphins had won 27-24. The final score did not change.

December 25 – Merry Christmas!

1651 – A Massachusetts General Court orders a fine of five shillings for “observing any such day as Christmas.” The law banning Christmas celebrations was passed in 1659 and lasted 22 years.

1776 – General George Washington and his troops cross the Delaware River, surprising and defeating 1,400 Hessians soldiers during the Revolutionary War.

1868 – Despite bitter opposition, President Andrew Johnson grants an unconditional pardon to most persons involved in the Southern Rebellion (aka The Civil War), except former Confederate officers like Jefferson Davis. In 1872 and 1876, Davis was again excluded from citizenship rights granted to the remaining Confederate officers. It wasn’t until 1978 that President Jimmy Carter restored full citizenship rights to Davis. Davis died in 1889 at age 81.

1896 – John Philip Sousa writes “Stars & Stripes Forever.” In 1987, Congress made the song the official national march of the U.S. Sousa served in the Marine Corps as a musician and band leader from 1872 to 1792. He also served as a band leader in the Naval Reserve during WWI. He received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1990. Sousa, known as the “March King,” died in 1932 at age 77. Watch “The President’s Own” U.S. Marine Band perform Sousa’s most famous march.

1939 – Montgomery Ward introduces Rudolph as the 9th reindeer in the story “Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer.” The story was written by marketing employee Robert May. May considered naming the reindeer “Rollo” or “Reginald.” May’s brother-in-law adapted the poem into a song, which was recorded by Gene Autry in 1949. The recording sold 2.5 million copies the first year and hit #1 on the Billboard chart during the week of Christmas that year.

1974 – Marshall Fields drives his vehicle through the gates of the White House, resulting in a four-hour standoff. He surrendered and the bombs he said were strapped to his body turned out to be flares. Fields was sentenced to 18 months in jail.

1990 – The first successful trial test is run on the system that would become the World Wide Web (www). On August 6, 1991, web server creator Tim Berners-Lee posted a short summary of the project, although public availability of the first web servers occurred earlier that year. The original web page was thought to be lost, but Paul Jones of UNC-Chapel Hill saved a copy of the page on a floppy disk.

2020 – Have yourself a merry little Christmas.

December 26

1799 – George Washington is eulogized by Col. Henry Lee as, “First in war, first in peace, and first in hearts of his countrymen.” Henry Lee was the grandfather of Civil War general Robert E. Lee.

1877 – The Socialist Labor Party of North America holds its first national convention. It is the second oldest socialist party in the world still in existence.

1924 – Judy Garland, age 2½, makes her show business debut (as Baby Frances) with her two sisters. Her real name was Frances Gumm. Her most famous role was as Dorothy in “The Wizard of Oz.” Garland died in 1969 at age 47. Her older sister, Dorothy Virginia, died in 1977 at age 59. Her oldest sister, Mary Jane, committed suicide in 1964 at age 48. Watch the Gumm Sisters perform (Baby Frances is on the left).

1928 – Johnny Weissmuller announces his retirement from amateur swimming after winning six Olympic medals. He went on to star as Tarzan in 12 movies. Romanian-born Weissmuller died in 1984 at age 79.

1941 – Winston Churchill becomes the first British Prime Minister to address a joint meeting of Congress, warning that the Axis would “stop at nothing.”

1982 – Time Magazine’s “Man” of the Year is a computer.

1991 – Jack Ruby’s gun, used to kill Lee Harvey Oswald, sells for $220,000 at auction. In 2008, the gun was sold at a Las Vegas auction for the same price.

1996 – Six-year-old beauty queen JonBenét Ramsey is found beaten and strangled to death in the basement of her family’s home in Boulder, Colorado. Her murder remains unsolved.

2018 – The Dow Jones has the largest one-day point increase in history. It rose 1,086.25 points. It was surpassed on March 24, 2020, when the Dow Jones gained 2,112.98 points.

December 27

1900 – Temperance leader Carrie Nation leads her first public smashing of a bar at the Carey Hotel in Wichita, Kansas. Watch a slide show about her life.

1937 – Mae West performs an Adam and Eve skit that is so suggestive it gets her banned from NBC radio. Mae West died in 1980 at age 87.

1947 – The first “Howdy Doody Show” (Puppet Playhouse) is telecast on TV. It aired until 1960. Watch the 1947 intro.

1985 – Dian Fossey, an American naturalist, is found murdered at a research station in Rwanda. She was 53 years old. Her assistant, Wayne McGuire, was found guilty in absentia in a Rwandan court. He stayed in the U.S. and never served prison time for her murder.

2012 – NASA unveils its plan to capture a 500 ton asteroid in 2025. It is called the Asteroid Redirect Mission.

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