Thursday, May 30, 2013

May 31: Johnstown Flood

On this date in History .... May 31, 1889:  

The worst flood in U.S. history happened at Johnstown PA.  

The Schultz House
(Photo compliments of
57 minutes after the dam burst, the raging waters with a 40ft high wave, traveling at 40mph and 60 ft deep, hit Johnstown 14 miles away, killing 2209, the largest loss of civilian life at the time. Over 750 victims were never identified and rest in the “Plot of the Unknown”. It swept several locomotives away, some as far as 4800 ft (that’s almost a mile for those who are mathematically impaired).  

The Schultz house, shown in this photo, is one of the most famous photos of the disaster. All six people who were in the house survived. 

Clara Barton was one of the 1st outsiders to arrive, her newly formed American Red Cross leading their first major non-wartime disaster relief effort. She remained for 5 months. 

The Stone Bridge ... it still exists today.


Many survived the flood, only to die in the fire on the debris that got hung up at the stone bridge. The debris included houses, locomotives, train cars, trees .... and human beings.

Because the bursting of the dam was considered an act of God, the residents failed in their suit for monetary compensation, which prompted  a major development in American law—state courts' move from a fault-based regime to strict liability. 

The flood is referenced in many fictional books, including John Jakes “The Kent Family Chronicles”. 

May 30: Andrew Jackson kills man in duel

On this date in History .... May 30, 1806:  

Future President Andrew Jackson kills Charles Dickinson in a duel. Jackson was not charged with murder as dueling was considered a “time honored tradition”. 

Dickinson accused Jackson of reneging on a horse bet and called him a coward. Dickinson also accused Mrs. Jackson of being a bigamist.  Rachel Jackson thought she was divorced when she married Jackson but her first husband had not finalized the divorce. In the duel, Dickinson’s bullet struck Jackson in the chest, next to the heart. Holding his hand over the wound, Jackson stood long enough to fire his round. His gun misfired, which according the rules of dueling would end the duel. But Jackson re-cocked his gun and killed Dickinson with a second shot. 

Ironically, the story of Rachel’s unfinalized divorce caused more scandal in Washington than the duel.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

May 29: Danica Patrick - Indy 500

On this date in History ... May 29, 2005:  

Danica Patrick becomes 1st woman to lead Indy 500.  

May 29 is a significant date for women in the sports world.  In 1977, Janet Guthrie became the first woman to drive in the Indy 500.  28 years later, on May 29, 2005, Danica Patrick became the first woman to take the lead in the Indy 500.  

Patrick had engine trouble and dropped from 4th to 16th place but climbed back up and with only 10 laps left, she took the lead. Her team gambled with the idea of avoiding one more pit stop, which forced her to conserve gas, allowing Dan Wheldon to pass her and win the race. 

Patrick came in 4th and earned her Rookie of the Year. 


Tuesday, May 28, 2013

May 28: 54th Massachusetts

On this date in History ... May 28, 1863:  

The 54th Massachusetts, the most famous African-American regiment of the Civil War, departs for combat.  

Five days earlier, the government had established the Bureau of Colored Troops. Most blacks who joined the military were freed or escaped slaves. However, 90% of the Colored Troops officers were white. That day in 1863, the 54th had over 1000 black soldiers and 37 white officers, in spite of the Confederate’s threat that every captured black Union soldier would be sold into slavery and every white officer would be executed.  
Col. Robert Shaw

Colonel Robert Shaw, who was only 25 and had dropped out of Harvard to join the military, led the 54th and chose white officers with abolitionist views.  Shaw was killed in the battle at Fort Wagner, SC, which was depicted in the movie “Glory”.  

This battle was also where we find the story of William Harvey Carney, a member of the 54th and the first black American who earned the Medal of Honor (see my blog posting of May 23). 

May 27: The Bismarck

On this date in History .... May 27, 1941:  

The British navy sinks the German battleship Bismarck in the North Atlantic near France. The German death toll was more than 2,000.  

On February 14, 1939, the 823-foot Bismarck was launched at Hamburg. Nazi leader Adolf Hitler hoped that the state-of-the-art battleship would herald the rebirth of the German surface battle fleet. After a May 24th battle with “almost the entire British Home Fleet”, the Bismarck was crippled and badly leaking fuel.  It tried to return to occupied France but the British fleet tracked it down and finished it off. 

The incident inspired this Johnny Horton song:

Sunday, May 26, 2013

May 26: Count Dracula

On this date in History ... May 26, 1897:

Brom Stoker’s novel “Dracula” goes on sale in London. 

While vampires had always been popular characters in folk tales, it was Stoker’s “Dracula” that propelled the predatory character into mainstream literature. Stoker published a total of 17 novels but it was “Dracula” that gave him his 15 minutes of fame, even though when he died in 1912, none of his obituaries even mentioned his most famous writing. 

Bela Lugosi as "Dracula" - 1931
He originally named the vampire Count Wampyr but changed it to Dracula after seeing the name in another book.  

He never earned a great deal of money on the book but after his death, sales skyrocketed when the book was adapted for Broadway in the 1920s. Sales jumped even higher after the movie, starring Bela Lugosi, was made in 1931, giving birth to an entire genre of vampire movies, TV shows and other vampire novels.  

Saturday, May 25, 2013

May 25: Babe Ruth

On this date in History ... May 25, 1935:  

At Forbes Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Babe Ruth hits his 714th home run, a record for career home runs that would stand for almost 40 years. 

This was one of Ruth’s last games, and the last home run of his career.  During his career with the New York Yankees, the team won 4 World Series & 7 American League pennants. After getting rid of Ruth, the Red Sox did not win a World Series until 2004, an 85-year drought known to Red Sox fans as "the Curse of the Bambino."  

His record for career home runs was not broken until Hank Aaron hit his 715th home run on April 8, 1974, 39 years later.

Babe Ruth: Legends in Sports b (Google Affiliate Ad)

Friday, May 24, 2013

May 24: Elmer Ellsworth - 1st Civil War Casualty

On this date in History .... May 24, 1861:  

Add caption
Elmer Ellsworth, 24 years old and a personal friend of Abraham Lincoln, became the first conspicuous casualty of the American Civil War.  

The day after Virginia ratified the decision to secede from the Union, Ellsworth and his troops entered Alexandria, Virginia.  There was an 8x14 foot Confederate flag being flown over an inn. The flag was big enough to be seen through a spyglass from the White House. Ellsworth felt getting that flag down would help avoid any problems. 

When he approached the inn with four soldiers with him, the innkeeper, a strong proponent of slavery, shot Ellsworth at point blank range, killing him instantly. Since Ellsworth was a personal friend of Lincoln, his body lay in state in the White House.  

Corporal Francis Brownell, who had killed the innkeeper for shooting Ellsworth, was eventually awarded the Medal of Honor.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

May 23: William Harvey Carney

On this date in History ... May 23, 1900:  

Sergeant William Harvey Carney is belatedly awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his bravery on July 18, 1863, while fighting for the Union cause as a member of the 54th Massachusetts Colored, becoming the first African American to perform actions that merited the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest military honor. Here is his amazing story (which gives me chills every time I tell it!!!):  

“The Civil War was almost two years old when President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863. With that historic step, for the first time, black American's were encouraged to enlist in the Union Army. Among the enlistees was a young man named William Carney.” 

At the battle at Ft. Wagner, in South Carolina (this battle was depicted in the movie "Glory" (in this clip) ), the Sergeant. carrying the flag was shot. Carney grabbed the flag before it could hit the ground. With a gunshot wound in his leg, he carried the flag & led the advance to the Confederate fort, gaining entrance & planting the Stars and Stripes. Too late, he realized he was alone. Everyone else in his platoon had been killed or wounded. As he was approached by Confederate soldiers, rather than drop the flag and flee for his life, he wrapped the flag tight and ran down an embankment. In chest high water, with the flag held high, he was shot in the chest, the arm and the leg. He continued to struggle forward even when another bullet grazed his head.  

“From the safety of the distance to which they had retreated, what remained of the valiant warriors of the 54th Massachusetts Colored Infantry watched the brave Sergeant struggle towards safety. A retreating member of the 100th New York passed Carney and, seeing the severity of his wounds said, "Let me carry that flag for you." With indomitable courage Sergeant Carney replied, "No one but a member of the 54th should carry the colors." Despite the sounds of rifle and cannon fire that followed him, Carney struggled on. Another enemy bullet found its mark, grazing his head, but Carney wouldn't quit.”  

When he reached safety, collapsing from his wounds, he said, “Boys, I only did my duty.  The flag never touched the ground.”

And with those words, William Harvey Carney, who had been born a slave, whose father had purchased his freedom when he was 15 years old, who had joined the Union Army shortly after President Lincoln signed the bill that allowed him to join, who wanted to fight to preserve the country that had enslaved him, William Harvey Carney, that day, became the first African American to earn the country's highest honor, the Medal of Honor.

Sources for this story include:

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

May 22: Annette Abbott Adams

On this date in History ... May 22, 1920:

Annette Abbott Adams becomes the first woman appointed to the position of Ass’t United States Attorney General. 

She had previously served at the first female United States Attorney, in a temporary position to replace Mr. Preston who had been promoted to U.S. Attorney General.

She served as Ass’t Attorney Gen’l until 1921, resigning when Pres. Hoover took office. In 1942, she became the first woman to serve on the Calif Court of Appeals (and as a presiding justice).

In 1950, she was given a special temporary appointment to the Calif Supreme Court, becoming the 1st woman to serve on that court.


Tuesday, May 21, 2013

May 21: Leopold and Loeb

On this date in History .... May 21, 1924:  

A plan to commit “the perfect crime” was put into action. 

Bobbie Franks
Nathan Leopold & Richard Loeb, wealthy college students and gay lovers, kidnapped & killed 14 yr old Bobby Franks. They dumped his naked body near Hammond, Indiana then returned to their Chicago home.  

The trial was one of the first to be dubbed “Trial of the Century”. Their uncle hired Clarence Darrow, not to help find them “not guilty” but to keep them out of the electric chair.  Darrow, who opposed the death penalty, took the case and advised them to plead guilty so they could avoid the death penalty. The strategy worked and both were committed to life plus 99 years.  

Leopold and Loeb
(photo courtesy of
Both were very wealthy.  Loeb's father was Vice-President of Sears & Roebuck and had a fortune valued at $10 million (approximately $133 million in 2013 dollars).  Leopold's family came from shipping and his father had made a second fortune in box and aluminum can manufacturing.  

Both were extremely intelligent: Leopold had an IQ of 210, claimed to be able to speak 27 languages and at the age of 19 was already in law school.  Loeb, after graduating high school at the age of 14, was the youngest graduate in the history of the Univ of Michigan and at the age of 18 was planning on entering law school.  They believed themselves to be intellectual “supermen”. Leopold wrote "A superman ... is, on account of certain superior qualities inherent in him, exempted from the ordinary laws which govern men. He is not liable for anything he may do.”

It was not the idea of murder that fascinated them.  It was the idea of getting away with it.  For all of their brilliance, though, what got them caught were two things: One, when they stashed Bobby’s body in a culvert, thinking it would be hidden until it turned to a skeleton, they left Bobby’s feet sticking out and the body was discovered the next day.  Two, Leopold dropped his glasses while hiding the body.  He told police he lost them while bird watching, a known hobby of his, but it is speculated that except for this mistake, they may have never been caught.

While in prison, they opened a school and became teachers to other prisoners.  In January, 1936, Loeb was slashed over 50 times with a straight razor while in the shower and died.  Leopold was paroled in 1958 and moved to Puerto Rico.  He died in 1971 of a heart attack.

References to this famous criminal team have been made on shows such as “Law-n-Order: Criminal Intent” and “Mad Men”, and was the basis for the Alfred Hitchcock 1948 film “Rope”. (click HERE to see the trailer for "The Rope").

A documentary about the couple was also made and can be seen in full on this you tube link:  click here for documentary

Monday, May 20, 2013

May 20: Wickersham Commission

On this date in History .... May 20, 1929:  

President Hoover establishes the Wickersham Commission look into prohibition and make recommendations on how it was working out. It was the first national review of crime and law enforcement and the final report spanned fourteen volumes. 

The majority of the commission rejected the idea of repealing prohibition but at the same time agreed it was unenforceable. The biggest reason, they found, was that the public found prohibition laws contemptable and there was pride in violating the prohibition laws. This attitude also saw an increase in “dry” politicians being voted out of office and replaced with “wet” politicians. 

Prohibition, the law that gave birth to bootleggers and an increase in organized crime, was eventually repealed.

May 18: Jackie Cochran

On this date in History .... May 18, 1953:  

Jackie Cochran, who holds more distance & speed records than any pilot ,living or dead, male or female, becomes the 1st woman to break the sound barrier.  Chuck Yeager, who broke the sound barrier in ’47, was “flying chase” w/ her that day (shown together in this photo).  

She was also the 1st woman to:
·         land & take off from an aircraft carrier,
·         reach Mach 2,
·         pilot a bomber across the No. Atlantic (1941)
·         fly a fixed wing jet aircraft across the Atlantic
·         enter the Bendix Transcontinental Race
·         the only woman to be President of the Federation Aeronautique International (1958–1961)
·         be inducted into the California Aerospace Walk of Fame (2006)

She was the first pilot, man or woman to:
·         make a blind (instrument) landing,
·         fly above 20,000 ft w/ an oxygen mask

(So let me ask the question: “Who’s the greatest pilot you ever saw?” And bonus points if you know what movie that line is from!)  

May 17: Brown vs. Board of Education

On this date in History .... May 17, 1954:

U.S. Supreme Court hands down a unanimous decision that racial segregation in schools is unconstitutional in Brown vs. Board of Education. 

The case stemmed from elementary student Linda Brown whose black school was miles further away from her home that the superior white school in her neighborhood. The NAACP took up Ms. Brown’s case with lawyer Thurgood Marshall (future Supreme Court Justice) leading the case. This ruling overturned the 1896 Plessy vs. Ferguson which established the “separate but equal” accommodation in railroad cars and was used to justify segregation in all public facilities.

May 16: President Andrew Jackson's Impeachment Vote

On this date in History ... May 16, 1868:

The U.S. Senate votes against impeaching President Andrew Johnson and acquits him of committing "high crimes and misdemeanors."  The main core of the 11 charges was Johnson’s aversion to the Reconstruction Plan after the Civil War.  The War Dept, and Sec’y of War Edwin Stanton, was in charge of implementing the plan and Johnson is charged with illegally removing Stanton from office. By a vote of 35-19, Johnson was acquitted and finished out his term. 

Presidents Johnson and Clinton are the only presidents for whom the impeachment process went as far as a Senate trial. Nixon resigned before the House of Representatives could vote on impeachment.

May 15: First Machine Gun

On this date in History ... May 15, 1718:  

James Puckle is granted a patent for what is considered the first machine gun, also called the Defence Gun. It could fire 63 shots per minute during a time when a musket’s best was to be reloaded and fired 3 times per minute. 

Two versions of the gun were invented.  The 1st version used regular round bullets.  The 2nd version of the gun fired square bullets and was designed to be used against the Muslin Turks to show them "the benefits of Christian civilization." Square bullets were thought to more damaging but were discontinued due to their unpredictable flight pattern.

May 13: Last Man Killed in Civil War

On this date in History .... May 13, 1865:  

John J. Williams, of Portland Indiana, becomes the last soldier killed in action in  the Civil War.  On May 13, 1865, a month after Lee’s surrender at Appomattox, Pvt. John J. Williams of the 34th Indiana became the last man killed in action in the Civil War, in a battle at Palmetto Ranch, Texas. The final skirmish was a Confederate victory.  Williams is buried in Louisiana.

May 10: First Phone in the WHite House

On this date in History .... May 10, 1877:

President Rutherford B. Hayes has the White House's first telephone installed in the mansion’s telegraph room. President Hayes embraced the new technology, though he rarely received phone calls. In fact, the Treasury Department possessed the only other direct phone line to the White House at that time. The White House phone number was "1." 

It would be 50 more years until President Herbert Hoover had the first telephone line installed at the president's desk in the Oval Office.

May 9: Eugenics Paper Published

On this date in History ... May 9, 1882:

A Richmond, Indiana (my hometown) physician, Dr. Joseph Lutzi, has his paper published & presented at the 32nd Annual Session of the Indianapolis State Medical Society in Indianapolis . The paper, entitled “Heredity and Its Relation to Disease”, argues that insanity, tuberculosis, and syphilis, among other diseases, are predominantly inherited. 

This paper becomes part of the argument for sterilization of “imbeciles and idiots” to prevent further “breeding of undesirables”.  This would eventually lead Indiana to be the first state to pass a eugenics law in 1907 making sterilization of “undesirables” legal.

Missing In Action - My laptop died

Readers will notice a lapse in postings.  My laptop died and it took me a couple of weeks to get a new one ordered, received and all set-up.  Now that I have access to my history files again, the postings will resume, and I'll be posting some to catch up (which is why you will notice a number of them posted on the same day).  

Thanks for your patience!!

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

May 7: Indiana Territory is Formed

On this date in History ... .1800:  

A bill is passed to divide the Northwest Territory and the Indiana Territory is created. The capital was Vincennes, the oldest settlement in Indiana territory, and William Henry Harrison, who would become the 9th President of the United States, was made governor of the Territory. 

After Ohio, Michigan and Illinois were formed   (in 1803, 1805, and 1809), various areas in Indiana, particularly those near the Michigan line and in Wayne County, by the Ohio line, wrote to the government protested the distance of Vincennes from the rest of the people which made it difficult to conduct business with travel times so far.  

In 1813, the capital was moved to Corydon, then in 1820, was moved to centrally located Indianapolis. 

May 6: The Hindenberg

On this date in History .... 1937:  

The Hindenberg explodes while trying to land at New Jersey, marking the end of these giant airships for transportation. The German airship carried 97 passengers and crew but only one death from the accident.  

The event is probably more famous for newsman Herbert Morrison’s comments, which have been widely used in newsreels and pop culture. (I recall one on the TV sitcom, “WKRP” - click here to see the clip). 

As seen in this video clip,  the ship was destroyed in just seconds.  

Saturday, May 4, 2013

May 4: Margaret Thatcher

On this date in History ..... 1979:

Margaret Thatcher becomes the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, the first and only woman to hold the office (and she holds the record for holding the office longer than anyone!), and the first woman to head a major political party in the UK. 

Her leadership style earned her the nickname “The Iron Lady” from a Soviet journalist. She escaped an assassination attempt in 1984 and refused to cancel her speech that day. 

May 3: MADD: Cari Lightner

On this date in History .... 1980:  

13 year old Cari Lightner is killed by a drunk driver, inspiring her mother, Candace “Candy” Lightner, to organize Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD).  Her purpose was to raise awareness  and to promote tough legislation against the crime of drunk driving.  

After she left MADD in 1985 she said MADD has become “far more neo-prohibitionist than I had ever wanted or envisioned … I didn’t start MADD to deal with alcohol. I started MADD to deal with the issue of drunk driving". 

Some statistics ......

  • 1/3 of all traffic deaths in 2010 were attributed to alcohol. 
  • As bad as that is, it is a 30% decrease from 2006.  
  • Men make up 81% of the drunk drivers.   
  • Even tho’ males 21-35 are only 11% of the population, they make up 32% of all drunk drivers.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

May 2: Supreme Court rules on Eugenics

On this date in History .... 1927:  

“Three generations of imbeciles are enough!” 

Those were the famous words of Justice Oliver Wendall Holmes when the Supreme Court decided the case of Buck v. Bell, ruling that eugenics laws (laws permitting sterilization) of the unfit, “including the mentally retarded” did not violate the Due Process clause of the 14th amendment, upholding as constitutional Virginia’s compulsory sterilization of young women considered “unfit to continue their kind.”  The decision has been viewed as “the attempt to improve the human race by eliminating ‘defectives’ from the gene pool.” 

The mother, daughter and granddaughter in this case were considered “feeble-minded and promiscuous” and the court accepted that as reason for sterilization.  It has been since argued that Carrie Buck was not “feeble-minded” but was put away to hide the scandal of having been raped by her adoptive mother’s nephew and was instead labeled as promiscuous when she ended up pregnant.

(Watch for my May 9th post with more background on the eugenics topic.)

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

May 1: Ricky Henderson

On this date in History ..... 1991:  

Rickey Henderson stole his 939th base and became sport’s all-time stolen base leader.  

Henderson also

  • holds the single-season record for stolen bases (130 in 1982)  
  • is the only player in AL history to steal 100 bases in a season, having done so three times. 
  • is the 1st and only player with 14 seasons of 50+ stolen bases per season and his career avg was 48.4 stolen bases per season.
  • holds the major league records for:
    • career stolen bases,
    •  runs scored,
    • unintentional walks and
    • leadoff home runs. 

A left handed player, he batted right handed because “"All my friends were right-handed and swung from the right side, so I thought that's the way it was supposed to be done."