It all happened April 1
374 AD — Halley’s Comet passed by Earth at a distance of a mere 0.0884 AUs. That’s pretty close close if you’re thinking universe, but a long way off to us flat earthers: About 8.2 million miles.
1204 — Eleanor of Aquitaine died at age 81. Almost eight centuries later she would leap out of the history book and onto the silver screen. Kathryn Hepburn, along with Peter O’Toole and an all-star cast (most notably Anthony Hopkins), made The Lion in Winter one of 1968’s most celebrated films. O’Toole won a Golden Globe for his portrayal of Henry II, and Hepburn’s Eleanor captured the third of her four Best Actress Oscars.
1853 — Cincinnati apparently had more money than it could handle in the years just before and after the Civil War. On this date in 1853, it became the first U.S. city to pay its formerly all-volunteer fire fighters. Shortly after the war, it experimented with paying grown men to pay kids’ games. Must have been a good idea, as the Cincinnati Reds franchise is still pitching and catching in MLB’s National League.
1854 — Another 19th century experiment that worked out well, at least for Charles Dickens, was serialization of novels. Dickens’ periodical Household Words published the first installment of his novel Hard Times on this date.
1867– Paris hosts the opening day of the Exposition Universelle. Many think this marked the debut of the Eiffel Tower, but that famed landmark was actually designed by Gustav Eiffel for the 1899 World’s Fair.
1891 — In arguably the smartest career move prior to Babe Ruth’s arrival in the Bronx, French painter Paul Gauguin left Marseille, bound for Tahiti and destined for canvas immortality.
1917 — “King of Ragtime” composer Scott Joplin died, much too young, at age 48. He was largely forgotten for a time, but in 1973 the film The Sting introduced a whole new audience to Joplin. Half a century after his death, The Entertainer became a Top 10 phenomenon.
1920 — Perhaps the most successful Japanese actor ever in both his native land and in English-speaking films, Toshiro Mifune was born in China on this date. He died in Tokyo at age 77.
1928 — The army of General Chiang Kai-shek crosses the Yang-tse River … presumably to get to the other side.
1932 — Beloved American actress, author, and song-and-dance star Debbie Reynolds was born on this date in 1932. A Screen Actors Guild Lifetime Achievement Award and Humanitarian Oscar were among her top laurels. She died in 1916 at age 84, just one day after the sudden death of her daughter Carrie “Princess Leia” Fischer.
1933 — Hitler’s Germany initiates boycotts of Jewish-owned businesses, a development little noticed at the time but signalling horrors to come.
Nazi Germany’s “art” display “The Eternal Jew,” a hateful exhibition of anti-semitic art, attracted millions to Munich, Vienna and Berlin in the late 1930s.
1934 — Two Texas law officers were shot dead near Grapevine, Texas, by Bonny and Clyde’s outlaw gang. Previously viewed by some as latter day Robin Hoods, the Barrows Gang came away on all of America’s most-wanted list. Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrows perished in a hail of bullets fired from ambush by police … just 52 days later.
1939 — Suitable for April Fools Day: The United States and The Vatican
recognized the Franco government following Generalissimo Francisco Franco’s victory, with Hitler’s assistance, in the bloody Spanish Civil War. Hey, Franklin D and Pope Pius: Way to pick a winner!
1952 — Talk about a big bang — or two: Physical Review published, for the first time, an article proposing the Big Bang Theory as the reason our universe exists. On the same day, we conducted a nuclear test in Nevada. Nuclear testing is pretty much frowned on these days, and the Big Bang Theory has its detractors, but it gets great ratings in TV syndication.
1956 — The Diary of Anne Frank and Damn Yankees earned top honors as the Outstanding Play and Outstanding Musical at Broadway’s 10th Annual Tony Awards. The former was, of course, an intense drama, and the latter a musical. But where Satan in Damn Yankees was mythical, Anne Frank’s devils wore swastikas and were all too real.
1960 — TIROS 1, America’s first weather satellite, was launched. In the 59 subsequent years, we have proved very capable of inserting weather satellites into orbit. Maybe in the 59 years to come we will actually learn to predict the weather. Meanwhile, better pack an umbrella.
1973 — Nutopia may sound like a breakfast drink, but on April Fools Day in 1973, John Lennon and Yoko Ono announced it as their new place of residence. We cannot confirm, but strongly suspect, that recreational pot was legal in Nutopia.
1974 — If only it had been a prank: Iran’s Spiritual Leader and resident madman, Ayatollah Khomeini, declared Iran an Islamic Republic. It is unique as republics go, as it gave all Iranians a free choice between following The Ayatollah or decapitation. Almost made the Shah look good.
1981 — The Soviet Union introduces daylight Savings Time, not realizing that by Springing Forward it would lose an hour of meddling with American elections.
1984 — What a loss. Soul master Marvin Gaye was shot to death in Los Angeles by his father. Gaye was only 44. Dad served six years.
1989 — A. Bartlett Giamatti was named the 7th Commissioner of Baseball. He reportedly asserted that he would “take down gambling in baseball if it’s the last thing I ever do.” He did, and it was.
1990 — Salem, Oregon, tightened its decency laws and made it illegal to come within two feet of a nude dancer. Thus began the scandalous Salem Chick Trials.
1993 — Wisconsin stock car racer Alan Kulwicki, who not only won a NASCAR Championship, but did so his own way with his own team, died at 38 in the crash of a private plane.
1996 — Broadcasting decency laws had become lax enough by April 1 of 1996 to make possible the launch of the Howard Stern Show, that bastion of family values.
1997 — That’s some kind of genes ya got there, Lady! Jolie Gabor, mother of actress/socialites Zsa Zsa, Ava and Magda Gabor, died at age 97. Zsa Zsa lived to 99, and Magda to 81. Eva died relatively young at 76, but the star of TV’s Green Acres died accidentally from complications after a fall.
2001 — The Netherlands legalized same-sex marriage. The progressive Dutch now also allow same-sex assisted suicide, same-sex infanticide, and same-sex euthanasia. We’re not sure exactly how that works, but any country that accounts with a needle for a fourth of its deaths will surely be able to figure it out.
2004 — Another idea doomed to failure: Gmail was launched. How stupid is that? (For more information, shoot us a message at firstname.lastname@example.org).
2012 — At the 47th Country Music Awards, top honors went to Blake Shelton, Miranda Lambert and Taylor Swift. What set Shelton and Lambert apart from Swift is that they actually play country music.
2017 — Robert Allen Zimmerman — poet. lyricist, harmonica-playing folk singer, guitar-picking rocker, and Traveling Wilbury Brother — collected his Nobel Prize in private, under the name Bob Dylan.
2018 — 91 years represents a full life, but not always a good one. Former Guatemalan dictator Efrain Rios Montt died of a heart attack at 91 a year ago. He had evaded punishment, first through legal maneuvering and later by ill health, despite being convicted of genocide. He was also convicted of crimes against humanity in Spain, but skated for lack of an extradition treaty. Bad news, Efrain: God DOES have jurisdiction.