607 — Halley’s Comet came closest to the sun (aka perihelion passage) on its 12th recorded trip to neighborhood Earth.
1639 — Cambridge College is renamed Harvard. It’s done OK in the meantime, with an estimated endowment of $35.7 billion.
1759 — I’m baaaacccckkk. Halley’s Comet puts on another show in space.
1781 — An unfortunate choice of names: William Herschel discovered Uranus and inspired three centuries of sophomoric humor rendering it the butt of countless jokes.
1790 — John Martin was credited with being the first American-born actor when he took the stage in Philadelphia. That recognition should be reserved for General Benedict Arnold. however. Throughout much of the Revolutionary War, Arnold acted like a man of honor and a patriot. He later broke character and showed his true colors by selling out to the British. When he eluded capture at West Point by George Washington, his escape was fittingly accomplished on a British ship named Vulture.
1852 — The weekly publication New York Lantern is thought to have printed the first cartoon featuring Uncle Sam.
1855 — Percival Lowell lacked a telescope powerful enough to spot Pluto, but the clever fellow accurately predicted its eventual discovery. The American astronomer was born in Boston on this date and died in 1918, 12 years before he was proved right.
1868 — Impeachment hasn’t always been a household word. The U.S. Senate began the first-ever trial of a sitting president on this date, after the House of Representatives brought Articles of Impeachment against Lincoln successor Andrew Johnson. He was acquitted.
1881 –– Tsar was at times a poor career choice in pre-revolutionary Russia. It certainly was for Alexander II, who was assassinated on this date by left-wing “People’s Will” bombers. He is remembered for liberating Russia’s serfs almost two years before Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, and ruled Russia, Finland and Poland for a quarter century.
1888 — The Great Blizzard of 1888, also known as the Great White Hurricane, savaged the east coast of the USA and eastern Canadian provinces. Snow totals in some areas exceeded five feet, and more than 400 people perished.
1900 — Working conditions for French women and children were improved with a mandate of work days not to exceed 11 hours. Union work weeks aren’t much longer than that these days, what with all the espresso and croissant breaks.
1925 — Following the famous Scopes Monkey Trial (Tennessee v. Scopes), Tennessee reasserted that teaching evolution was unlawful. Famed attorneys William Jennings Bryan and Clarence Darrow faced off in the day’s equivalent of an O.J. Simpson media circus. Appeals and controversy followed, but the ban survived well into the 1960s.
1938 –– For Clarence Darrow, the 13th anniversary of his legal defeat as the Scopes Monkey Trial’s defense attorney was a bit of a downer. He died in Chicago at age 88.
1901 — Sheriff Micah Torrance was a good guy in ABC’s long-running series The Rifleman. But he had a habit of being out of town whenever Lucas McCain told son Mark not to watch, and then killed an outlaw (who clearly needed killing) with his sawed-off Winchester Model 1892. Popular character actor Paul Fix, born on this date, played Micah alongside Chuck Connors as Lucas and Johnny Crawford as Mark. Fix acted until shortly before kidney disease claimed his life at age 82.
1911 — This might be a better world if L. Ron Hubbard had stuck to science fiction. Tom Cruise would disagree, but consider: He couldn’t find happiness with the homely likes of Mimi Rogers, Nicole Kidman or Katie Holmes. With respect, and despite his belief that he has All The Good Moves, Cruise’s decision-making may be a Mission Impossible. Membership in Hubbard’s controversial Church of Scientology is costly if not Risky Business, but Cruise keeps his Eyes Wide Shut and bulging checkbook at the ready. He’s clearly Scientology’s Top Gun among A Few Good Men including John Travolta. Here’s all you need to know: People don’t leave Scientology, they escape. Founding jailer Hubbard was born this date and died in 1986.
1929 — Peter Breck was fully capable of smiling, but viewers of the TV hit Big Valley seldom saw the evidence. Breck played all-business Nick Barkley in the show, which is still in syndication 50 years after leaving the air. Big Valley’s players may very well represent the most successful ensemble ever lassoed for a TV western. All 112 episodes featured Barbara Stanwyck, Richard Long, Lee Majors, Linda Evans and Breck, who was born on this date and died in 2012. Only Evans and Majors survive.
1943 — One of several unsuccessful plots to assassinate Adolf Hitler was a dud over German skies on this date. A bomb placed on his plane failed to explode, and the madman/dictator lived two more years at the cost of millions more lives.
1949 — Figure skating today would be unrecognizable to most 1940s competitors, but not 1949 U.S. Men’s Figure Skating Champion Dick Button. The two-time Olympic champion has been a figure skating expert analyst on television since about the time ice cubes were invented and Gordie Howe had all his teeth.
1954 — In what may be the most important baseball ascendancy since ironman Lou Gehrig took over at first base in Yankee Stadium from Wally Pip, Hank Aaron was inserted into the Milwaukee Braves lineup for an injured Bobby Thompson. Twenty two years and 755 home runs later, Aaron called it a day after an amazing career. Hammering Hank is 85.
1955 — Maharajadhiraja Tribhuvana Bir Bikram Yung Bahadur Shum Shere died on this date. Yes, that Maharajadhiraja Tribhuvana Bir Bikram Yung Bahadur Shum Shere. King of Nepal Maharajadhiraja Tribhuvana Bir Bikram Yung Bahadur Shum Shere. I thank The Lord I was not working the obit desk that day.
1961 — Pablo Picasso was not only a legend in his lifetime, but an optimist. On this date, the 79-year-old icon of the art world married 37-year-old fashion model Jacqueline Roque … And then he went house shopping near schools. The marriage apparently worked, as the couple remained together until Pablo’s 1973 death at 91. They did not, however, have any children together.
1964 — The birth of fake news may have occurred simultaneously with the 1964 death of Catherine “Kitty” Genovese on a Kew Gardens street in the Queens. Breathless New York Times reporting asserted that nearly 40 residents from the neighborhood were witnesses to the fatal stabbing and neither came to Genovese’s assistance or called for help. At the time, the incident was said to illustrate the “bystander effect” or “Genovese Syndrome.” That reporting was eventually proven to be grossly exaggerated, and even the stodgy old Times admitted its coverage was “flawed.” More like Shoddy Journalism Syndrome, I would say.
1987 — Third-generation IndyCar driver Marco Andretti was born on Friday the 13th and turned 32 today. While not even close to the achievements of grandfather Mario Andretti or dad Michael Andretti, the young speed merchant is a journeyman in IndyCar with wins under his belt, and he is always considered a contender at the Indianapolis 500. This May marks 50 years since Mario won the 500 in his STP Special. A win for Marco would be huge for him, for Andretti Motorsports and for the sport.
1980 — Ford Motor Company won a battle in a war it had already lost on this date. It was found innocent in the death of three women in the fiery crash of a Ford Pinto sub-compact, but lost in the court of public opinion. Pinto production was discontinued, and it stands along the “star” of Ralph Nader’s book Unsafe at Any Speed, the Chevy Corvair, as a once-popular car that literally and figuratively went up in smoke.
1980 — Infamous mass murderer John Wayne Gacy received the death sentence in Illinois for the murder of at least 33 young men he tortured, sexually abused, strangled and buried beneath his home. Nearly 14 years later, with appeals exhausted, Gacy was executed by lethal injection.
1987 — What goes around comes around. The Dapper Don, John Gotti, was all smiles when acquitted on racketeering charges on this date in 1987. The Gambino Crime Family head went back to his murderous ways for five years, but was finally taken down and sentenced to life in prison in 1992. He lived behind bars for a decade and died of cancer at age 61. His daughter Victoria rode the Gotti family name to prominence in reality TV, if there is such a thing. News from other Gottis typically involves handcuffs and high-powered defense attorneys who specialize in guilty clients.
1991 — Exxon paid $1 billion in fines and cleanup costs as a result of its of Exxon Valdez oil spill two years earlier in Alaska’s Prince William Sound. That, unless you are Exxon, the Federal Reserve, or an evil 1 percenter, is a lot of money.
2003 — The Journal Nature revealed discovery of primate footprints estimated at 350,000 years old. The find was in Italy, and whatever made the impressions was thought to walk upright.
2004 — If Luciano Pavarotti didn’t have the purest operatic tenor voice in, well, forever, I’ll eat my souvenir Three Tenors ticket stubs from an unforgettable concert at The Ohio State University. On the downside, I thought his acting on the operatic stage was almost as wooden as his singing was spectacular. Still, it was sad when he sang Tosca at the
New York Metropolitan Opera for the last time in 2004. Disclaimer: I don’t know diddly about opera, but I know what I like, and Pavarotti’s acting is way down the list.
2006 — Noted actress Maureen Stapleton, not to be confused with Jean (Edith Bunker) Stapleton of All in the Family fame, passed away at 80 due to COPD. Although commonly assumed to be sisters, Maureen and Jean were not related. Maureen’s film credits included Lonelyhearts, Airport and Plaza Suite.
2012 — Encyclopaedia Britannica stopped the presses. After clinging to relevance in the digital age for quite a few years, the iconic book about everything threw in the towel and dropped its printed versions.
2013 — Argentine Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio was elected the Roman Catholic Church’s Pope as something of a compromise candidate. He succeeded Pope Benedict XVI, who broke with long tradition and retired rather than serving for life. Bergoglio took the name Francis, the first Pope to do so in the church’s 2,000-year existence.
2017 — Ed Whitlock was a skinny little guy, but he was a stud. A British-born runner who specialized in the 26-mile marathon distance, he did things into his 80s that most 30-year-old runners would love to equal. He ran the marathon in under three hours in his 70s, and at 85 he was still able to click off a quick 26 in less than four hours. Sadly, prostate cancer took him two years ago at 86.