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Hey, there! This is a group where you can post anything you like about History. Do you know an interesting fact about Napoleon Bonaparte? This is the place for you!

This Day in History: May 9th

Posted By Katie Toole on May 9, 2008 at 10:30AM

On this day in 1671, in London, Thomas Blood, an Irish adventurer better known as "Captain Blood," is captured attempting to steal the Crown Jewels from the Tower of London.

Blood, a Parliamentarian during the English Civil War, was deprived of his estate in Ireland with the restoration of the English monarchy in 1660. In 1663, he put himself at the head of a plot to seize Dublin Castle from supporters of King Charles II, but the plot was discovered and his accomplices executed. He escaped capture. In 1671, he hatched a bizarre plan to steal the new Crown Jewels, which had been refashioned by Charles II because most of the original jewels were melted down after Charles I's execution in 1649.

On May 9, 1671, Blood, disguised as a priest, managed to convince the Jewel House keeper to hand over his pistols. Blood's three accomplices then emerged from the shadows, and together they forced their way into the Jewel House. However, they were caught in the act when the keeper's son showed up unexpectedly, and an alarm went out to the Tower guard. One man shoved the Royal Orb down his breeches while Blood flattened the Crown with a mallet and tried to run off with it. The Tower guards apprehended and arrested all four of the perpetrators, and Blood was brought before the king. Charles was so impressed with Blood's audacity that, far from punishing him, he restored his estates in Ireland and made him a member of his court with an annual pension.

Captain Blood became a colorful celebrity all across the kingdom, and when he died in 1680 his body had to be exhumed in order to persuade the public that he was actually dead.


This Day in History: May 8th

Posted By Katie Toole on May 8, 2008 at 11:07AM

On this day in 1945, both Great Britain and the United States celebrate Victory in Europe Day. Cities in both nations, as well as formerly occupied cities in Western Europe, put out flags and banners, rejoicing in the defeat of the Nazi war machine.

The eighth of May spelled the day when German troops throughout Europe finally laid down their arms: In Prague, Germans surrendered to their Soviet antagonists, after the latter had lost more than 8,000 soldiers, and the Germans considerably more; in Copenhagen and Oslo; at Karlshorst, near Berlin; in northern Latvia; on the Channel Island of Sark--the German surrender was realized in a final cease-fire. More surrender documents were signed in Berlin and in eastern Germany.

The main concern of many German soldiers was to elude the grasp of Soviet forces, to keep from being taken prisoner. About 1 million Germans attempted a mass exodus to the West when the fighting in Czechoslovakia ended, but were stopped by the Russians and taken captive. The Russians took approximately 2 million prisoners in the period just before and after the German surrender.

Meanwhile, more than 13,000 British POWs were released and sent back to Great Britain.

Pockets of German-Soviet confrontation would continue into the next day. On May 9, the Soviets would lose 600 more soldiers in Silesia before the Germans finally surrendered. Consequently, V-E Day was not celebrated until the ninth in Moscow, with a radio broadcast salute from Stalin himself: "The age-long struggle of the Slav nations...has ended in victory. Your courage has defeated the Nazis. The war is over."


This Day in History: May 7th

Posted By Katie Toole on May 7, 2008 at 5:55PM

On the afternoon of May 7, 1915, the British ocean liner Lusitania is torpedoed without warning by a German submarine off the south coast of Ireland. Within 20 minutes, the vessel sank into the Celtic Sea. Of 1,959 passengers and crew, 1,198 people were drowned, including 128 Americans. The attack aroused considerable indignation in the United States, but Germany defended the action, noting that it had issued warnings of its intent to attack all ships, neutral or otherwise, that entered the war zone around Britain.

When World War I erupted in 1914, President Woodrow Wilson pledged neutrality for the United States, a position that the vast majority of Americans favored. Britain, however, was one of America's closest trading partners, and tension soon arose between the United States and Germany over the latter's attempted quarantine of the British isles. Several U.S. ships traveling to Britain were damaged or sunk by German mines, and in February 1915 Germany announced unrestricted submarine warfare in the waters around Britain.

In early May 1915, several New York newspapers published a warning by the German embassy in Washington that Americans traveling on British or Allied ships in war zones did so at their own risk. The announcement was placed on the same page as an advertisement of the imminent sailing of the Lusitania liner from New York back to Liverpool. The sinkings of merchant ships off the south coast of Ireland prompted the British Admiralty to warn the Lusitania to avoid the area or take simple evasive action, such as zigzagging to confuse U-boats plotting the vessel's course. The captain of the Lusitania ignored these recommendations, and at 2:12 p.m. on May 7 the 32,000-ton ship was hit by an exploding torpedo on its starboard side. The torpedo blast was followed by a larger explosion, probably of the ship's boilers, and the ship sunk in 20 minutes.

It was revealed that the Lusitania was carrying about 173 tons of war munitions for Britain, which the Germans cited as further justification for the attack. The United States eventually sent three notes to Berlin protesting the action, and Germany apologized and pledged to end unrestricted submarine warfare. In November, however, a U-boat sunk an Italian liner without warning, killing 272 people, including 27 Americans. Public opinion in the United States began to turn irrevocably against Germany.

On January 31, 1917, Germany, determined to win its war of attrition against the Allies, announced that it would resume unrestricted warfare in war-zone waters. Three days later, the United States broke diplomatic relations with Germany, and just hours after that the American liner Housatonic was sunk by a German U-boat. On February 22, Congress passed a $250 million arms appropriations bill intended to make the United States ready for war. In late March, Germany sunk four more U.S. merchant ships, and on April 2 President Wilson appeared before Congress and called for a declaration of war against Germany. On April 4, the Senate voted to declare war against Germany, and two days later the House of Representatives endorsed the declaration. With that, America entered World War I.


This Day in History: May 6th

Posted By Katie Toole on May 6, 2008 at 11:16AM

On this day in 1937, the airship Hindenburg, the largest dirigible ever built and the pride of Nazi Germany, bursts into flames upon touching its mooring mast in Lakehurst, New Jersey, killing 36 passengers and crewmembers.

Frenchman Henri Giffard constructed the first successful airship in 1852. His hydrogen-filled blimp carried a three-horsepower steam engine that turned a large propeller and flew at a speed of six miles per hour. The rigid airship, often known as the "zeppelin" after the last name of its innovator, Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin, was developed by the Germans in the late 19th century. Unlike French airships, the German ships had a light framework of metal girders that protected a gas-filled interior. However, like Giffard's airship, they were lifted by highly flammable hydrogen gas and vulnerable to explosion. Large enough to carry substantial numbers of passengers, one of the most famous rigid airships was the Graf Zeppelin, a dirigible that traveled around the world in 1929. In the 1930s, the Graf Zeppelin pioneered the first transatlantic air service, leading to the construction of the Hindenburg, a larger passenger airship.

On May 3, 1937, the Hindenburg left Frankfurt, Germany, for a journey across the Atlantic to Lakehurst's Navy Air Base. Stretching 804 feet from stern to bow, it carried 36 passengers and crew of 61. While attempting to moor at Lakehurst, the airship suddenly burst into flames, probably after a spark ignited its hydrogen core. Rapidly falling 200 feet to the ground, the hull of the airship incinerated within seconds. Thirteen passengers, 21 crewmen, and 1 civilian member of the ground crew lost their lives, and most of the survivors suffered substantial injuries.

Radio announcer Herb Morrison, who came to Lakehurst to record a routine voice-over for an NBC newsreel, immortalized the Hindenberg disaster in a famous on-the-scene description in which he emotionally declared, "Oh, the humanity!" The recording of Morrison's commentary was immediately flown to New York, where it was aired as part of America's first coast-to-coast radio news broadcast. Lighter-than-air passenger travel rapidly fell out of favor after the Hindenberg disaster, and no rigid airships survived World War II.


This Day in History: May 3rd

Posted By Katie Toole on May 3, 2008 at 8:45AM

On this day in 1952, a ski-modified U.S. Air Force C-47 piloted by Lieutenant Colonel Joseph O. Fletcher of Oklahoma and Lieutenant Colonel William P. Benedict of California becomes the first aircraft to land on the North Pole. A moment later, Fletcher climbed out of the plane and walked to the exact geographic North Pole, probably the first person in history to do so.

In the early 20th century, American explorers Robert Peary and Dr. Frederick Cook, both claiming to have separately reached the North Pole by land, publicly disputed each other's claims. In 1911, Congress formally recognized Peary's claim. In recent years, further studies of the conflicting claims suggest that neither expedition reached the exact North Pole, but that Peary came far closer, falling perhaps 30 miles short. In 1952, Lieutenant Colonel Fletcher was the first person to undisputedly stand on the North Pole. Standing alongside Fletcher on the top of the world was Dr. Albert P. Crary, a scientist who in 1961 traveled to the South Pole by motorized vehicle, becoming the first person in history to have stood on both poles.


Haunted History: The Ghosts of Alcatraz

Posted By Katie Toole on May 2, 2008 at 6:40PM

From 1934 to 1963, few places struck fear into the hearts of American criminals like Alcatraz. The imposing prison peeked through the mist of San Francisco Bay, warning all who looked upon her: Be good. Or you could end up here.

Alcatraz was discovered by Spanish explorers in 1775 and given the name, “La Isla de los Alcatraces”, or “The Island of the Pelicans”. During the 19th century, it served as a Military base and prison. It was clear right away that the Island was the perfect place to house prisoners; escape was practically impossible. Even if one managed to get out of the base, the swift and rocky waters of San Francisco Bay would sweep him off to sea long before he ever reached the mainland. After the Civil War, the fort was deemed obsolete, but the facility continued to be used as a military prison. The Island became a form of punishment for the already punished; those who could not be controlled in other prisons, including repeat escapees, were shipped off to Alcatraz for safe keeping. During this time, the prisoners were usually serving sentences of two years or less. During the 1920’s, attendance dwindled. There was little need for a military prison of that size and in that location.

However, the rampant crime of the 1920’s and 1930’s caused the newly minted FBI to seek an escape proof prison that would deter criminals. They decided that Alcatraz was the perfect place for such a prison and in 1933 the Federal prison bureau took over the building and over the next year a massive renovation took place that turned the Island from a minimum security military prison to an impregnable Federal penitentiary. The best guards of the system were sent to the island. It was still not a place for normal criminals. Repeat escapees, incorrigible inmates, and those who were getting special treatment because they were “famous” at other prisons were sent to Alcatraz as the ultimate non-capital punishment.

If haunting is caused by trauma, then Alcatraz, nicknamed “The Rock” is certainly a logical place for a few ghosts. The punishments there were beyond imagination. There were specialized solitary confinement cells that were designed to inflict psychological and physical torture. One was called the “stip cell” where the prisoner would be stripped naked and thrown in a special cell that had no toilet (only a hole on the floor), no sink and a giant steel door that would block out all the light. The inmate was kept there for one or two days in total darkness; fed only enough to sustain them. A straw mattress was provided at night to sleep on, but removed in the morning. There were four cells known as the “holes” where an inmate was thrown in (allowed to keep their clothes) and left in almost total darkness. The steel door was there, but there was a low wattage light bulb providing some light. They were fed bread and water, with a regular meal every three days. While the conditions were (slightly) more tolerable than the strip cell, men could be kept there for up to 19 days and were often beaten for anything more than the most minor of offenses. Frequently men left the hole and had to be taken straight to the hospital ward because they were sick or had “lost their senses”. There were even dungeons in the basement, where inmates were chained to the wall, naked, and left there all day; given only a blanket to sleep on at night.

The Prison closed in 1963 but it remains a popular tourist attraction to this day. Many a strange occurrences are said to take place there. There are the normal “ghostly” experiences; cold spots, footsteps, ect. However, there are some that are much more interesting. The utility corridor is considered the most haunted place in the prison. Three inmates were killed there in a hail of bullets during a three day prison-wide escape attempt that was nicknamed “The Battle of Alcatraz”. In 1976, a guard kept hearing noises coming from behind the door; when he opened it there was nothing there. The “Hole” on D block (14D) is said to be cold all the time, even when the rest of the prison is warm. Once the Warden of the Prison heard sobbing coming from inside the walls. A psychic once met a ghost named “Butcher” in Cell block C. It’s believed that this is the ghost of Abie Maldowitz, a mob hitman known as Butcher who was murdered in cell block C by another inmate. A guard once heard banjo music in the shower room, the same room where Al Capone, broken by the Rock and driven to insanity by syphilis, would hide during recreation hours (fearing he would be killed in the yard), playing his banjo. The most bizarre report comes from the 1940’s. After a prisoner was thrown in 14D, he started screaming that there was a “creature with glowing eyes” locked in with him. The guards ignored him; ghost sightings were common jokes among inmates and guards alike. In the middle of the night, the screaming finally stopped. The next morning, they found the man dead, strangled. Since there was no way he could have strangled himself, some believe that a guard did it, fed up with the screaming. Some believe it was something else. The next day, several guards counted one too many men in the line; a couple claimed to see the dead man for a second, standing in line like always, before he disappeared.

Alcatraz was America’s first “Escape proof prison” (though that’s debatable) and it’s possible, just possible, that some never escaped; not even through death.

This Day in History: May 2nd

Posted By Katie Toole on May 2, 2008 at 3:09PM

On May 2, 1939, New York Yankees first baseman Lou Gehrig benches himself for poor play and ends his streak of consecutive games played at 2,130. "The Iron Horse" was suffering at the time from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), now known as "Lou Gehrig’s Disease."

Henry Louis Gehrig was born June 19, 1903, in New York, New York, the only child of German immigrants to survive childhood illness. His doting parents were primarily interested in education, not sports, and he attended Columbia University on a football scholarship and studied engineering. After his freshman year, Gehrig played for New York Giants Manager John McGraw in a summer league under the name Henry Lewis; he lost a year of eligibility at Columbia when his ruse was discovered. Gehrig was then signed by a Yankee scout while playing first base at Columbia, much to the consternation of Giants fans who believed their skipper had let the talented slugger get away. Gehrig joined the Yankees in 1923, but he didn’t see any action until 1925, when he backed up star first baseman Wally Pipp. According to legend, Gehrig stepped in at first base when Pipp benched himself with a headache, and Pipp never made it back on to the field. Gehrig didn’t miss a game for the next 13 years. To this day, to be "Wally Pipped" is to be replaced for good.

Gehrig’s offensive output was as extraordinary as his consecutive games streak. The left-handed slugger led the American League in RBIs five times, driving in at least 100 runs 13 years in a row. He led the AL in home runs three times, led in runs four times and led the league in hitting once. In the Yankees first golden era, Gehrig batted cleanup, right after Babe Ruth, the bigger star of the two. It was Gehrig, however, who was named American League MVP in 1927, on a Yankee team considered the greatest team in history; he won the award again in 1936, another championship year for the Yankees. In all, Gehrig won six World Series titles with the Yankees.

Gehrig began to experience symptoms of ALS during the 1938 season, but doctors initially struggled to diagnose him. He played the first eight games of 1939, removing himself mid-game after being congratulated for a routine play at first base. He sat the next day, ending his streak at 2,130 games played. He never played again.

On July 4, 1939, the Yankees held Lou Gehrig Day at Yankee Stadium. With over 60,000 fans in the stands and his former teammates there to honor him, Gehrig was overcome by emotion, and his legs shook from his developing paralysis. Gehrig stared hard at the ground, unable to speak, until his longtime manager Joe McCarthy and teammate Babe Ruth encouraged him. Then, in gratitude for his great career, and knowing he was dying from an unknown disease, he said: "Today, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth."

Lou Gehrig died on June 2, 1941, with his wife Eleanor by his side.


This Day in History: May 1st

Posted By Katie Toole on May 1, 2008 at 12:15PM

On this day in 1931, President Herbert Hoover officially dedicates New York City's Empire State Building, pressing a button from the White House that turns on the building's lights. Hoover's gesture, of course, was symbolic; while the president remained in Washington, D.C., someone else flicked the switches in New York.

The idea for the Empire State Building is said to have been born of a competition between Walter Chrysler of the Chrysler Corporation and John Jakob Raskob of General Motors, to see who could erect the taller building. Chrysler had already begun work on the famous Chrysler Building, the gleaming 1,046-foot skyscraper in midtown Manhattan. Not to be bested, Raskob assembled a group of well-known investors, including former New York Governor Alfred E. Smith. The group chose the architecture firm Shreve, Lamb and Harmon Associates to design the building. The Art-Deco plans, said to have been based in large part on the look of a pencil, were also builder-friendly: The entire building went up in just over a year, under budget (at $40 million) and well ahead of schedule. During certain periods of building, the frame grew an astonishing four-and-a-half stories a week.

At the time of its completion, the Empire State Building, at 102 stories and 1,250 feet high (1,454 feet to the top of the lightning rod), was the world's tallest skyscraper. The Depression-era construction employed as many as 3,400 workers on any single day, most of whom received an excellent pay rate, especially given the economic conditions of the time. The new building imbued New York City with a deep sense of pride, desperately needed in the depths of the Great Depression, when many city residents were unemployed and prospects looked bleak. The grip of the Depression on New York's economy was still evident a year later, however, when only 25 percent of the Empire State's offices had been rented.

In 1972, the Empire State Building lost its title as world's tallest building to New York's World Trade Center, which itself was the tallest skyscraper for but a year. Today the honor belongs to Taiwan's Taipei 101 building, which stretches 1,670 feet into the sky.


This Day in History: April 30th

Posted By Katie Toole on Apr 30, 2008 at 5:25PM

In New York City, George Washington, the great military leader of the American Revolution, is inaugurated as the first president of the United States.

In February 1789, all 69 presidential electors unanimously chose Washington to be the first U.S. president. In March, the new U.S. constitution officially took effect, and in April Congress formally sent word to Washington that he had won the presidency. He borrowed money to pay off his debts in Virginia and traveled to New York. On April 30, he came across the Hudson River in a specially built and decorated barge. The inaugural ceremony was performed on the balcony of Federal Hall on Wall Street, and a large crowd cheered after he took the oath of office. The president then retired indoors to read Congress his inaugural address, a quiet speech in which he spoke of "the experiment entrusted to the hands of the American people." The evening celebration was opened and closed by 13 skyrockets and 13 cannons.

As president, Washington sought to unite the nation and protect the interests of the new republic at home and abroad. Of his presidency, he said, "I walk on untrodden ground. There is scarcely any part of my conduct which may not hereafter be drawn in precedent." He successfully implemented executive authority, made good use of brilliant politicians such as Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson in his cabinet, and quieted fears of presidential tyranny. In 1792, he was unanimously re-elected but four years later refused a third term. In 1797, he finally began a long-awaited retirement at his estate in Virginia. He died two years later. His friend Henry Lee provided a famous eulogy for the father of the United States: "First in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen."


This Day in History: April 27th

Posted By Katie Toole on Apr 27, 2008 at 8:30PM

On this day in 1865, an explosion on a Mississippi River steamboat kills an estimated 1,547 people, mostly Union soldiers returning home after the Civil War. Although this disaster near Memphis took a huge toll, it was barely noticed against the backdrop of the end of the Civil War, a conflict in which tens of thousands had died.
The previous day had marked the final surrender and end of armed resistance by the remaining Confederate forces. Only two weeks earlier, President Abraham Lincoln had been assassinated. Prisoners of war who had been held in hellish conditions in Alabama’s Andersonville and Cahaba prison camps were trying to make their way home to Illinois. The steamboat Sultana was one of their only options.

At 2 a.m. on April 26, the steamboat left Vicksburg, Mississippi. It was built to hold 376 passengers, but reports say that there were as many as 2,700 people on board as it lumbered slowly up the Mississippi River. It took 17 hours to make the journey to Memphis, where it stopped to pick up more coal.

A couple of hours past midnight, the trip came to a sudden end: near the Arkansas side of the river, one of the Sultana’s three boilers suddenly exploded. Hot metal debris ripped through the vessel and two other boilers exploded within minutes of the first. The passengers were killed by flying metal, scalding water, collapsing decks and the roaring fire that broke out on board. Some drowned as they were thrown into the water, but rescue boats were immediately dispatched, saving hundreds of lives.

The final tally of casualties was hotly disputed. Some believe it may have been almost 2,000 people, though the U.S. Army said that only 1,200 people had been killed. Local customs officials determined that 1,547 were killed; that became the generally accepted count. The Sultana disaster remains one the most deadly maritime accidents in U.S. history.

The classic film, White Christmas debuted today in 1954. President Grant was born today in1922 and Explorer Ferdinand Magellan died on this day in 1521 during his around the world voyage. His ships would eventually complete the journey, becoming the first ships to do so.