May 23rd 1934: Bonnie and Clyde killed
On this day in 1934 the infamous American bank robbing duo Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow were ambushed by police and killed in Louisiana. Bonnie and Clyde and their gang were outlaws who robbed banks and killed several police officers and civilians from 1931 to 1934. The couple became legendary for their exploits and their love story, especially after Arthur Penn’s 1967 film ‘Bonnie and Clyde’.
“Some day they’ll go down together;
They’ll bury them side by side;
To few it’ll be grief-
To the law a relief-
But it’s death for Bonnie and Clyde.”
- from Bonnie’s poem about the duo
May 20th 1927: Lindbergh begins first solo flight across Atlantic
On this day in 1927 at 7.52am, Charles Lindbergh set off from Long Island in New York on the world’s first solo non-stop flight across the Atlantic Ocean. He landed in Paris at 10.22pm the next day. He covered nearly 3,600 miles in a purpose built single seat plane the Spirit of St. Louis. Lindbergh wanted the Orteig Prize, a $25,000 reward offered by Raymond Orteig for the first non-stop solo flight between New York and Paris; many died in the pursuit of the prize, but Lindbergh won it. Lindbergh was a US Air Mail pilot before his fame from this historic flight, for which he was awarded a Medal of Honor.
May 18th 1980: Mount St. Helens erupts
On this day in 1980, Mount St. Helens erupted in Washington, United States. The eruption killed 57 people and caused $3 billion in damage. There were warning signs before the eruption and so the mountain was closed to the public and this measure saved many lives. The ash from the eruption reached 11 states. The volcano erupted another five times during 1980.
May 16th 1990: Jim Henson dies
On this day in 1990, the creator of The Muppets Jim Henson died aged 53. Henson’s Muppets featured in Sesame Street and The Muppet Show, with his most famous characters including Kermit the Frog and Elmo. Henson died from organ failure in 1990 in New York City. The Jim Henson Company and the Jim Henson Foundation continued after his death and his characters remain famous and popular.
May 8th 1884: Truman born
On this day in 1884, the future 33rd President of the United States Harry S. Truman was born. Truman served as Vice-President under Franklin D. Roosevelt and became President upon Roosevelt’s death in 1945. As President, Truman oversaw the end of World War Two and made the decision to use nuclear weapons against Japan. His other acts as President include passing the Marshall Plan to rebuild Europe, issuing the Truman Doctrine to contain communism and overseeing the Korean War. Truman left the presidency in 1953 and died in 1972 aged 88.
May 2nd 1972: J. Edgar Hoover dies
On this day in 1972 the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), J. Edgar Hoover, died aged 77. Hoover was the first FBI Director and helped found the bureau in 1935. He was a controversial figure, and has been accused of using the FBI to harass political dissenters and making it into a clandestine agency. He was succeeded by L. Patrick Gray upon his death.
April 25th 1898: Spanish-American War begins
On this day in 1898, the United States of America declared war on Spain, thus beginning the Spanish-American War. The war was a result of American intervention in the Cuban War of Independence as Cuba revolted against Spanish rule. Political pressure to end the Spanish atrocities and to avenge the sinking of a US ship forced President McKinley into war. The war was over within the year. Cuban independence was secured, and the US had temporary control of Cuba and authority over Puerto Rico, Guam and the Philippines.
April 19th 1775: American Revolutionary War begins
On this day in 1775, the war for independence of the thirteen American colonies from the British began with victories at the battles of Lexington and Concord. Desires for independence had been growing in America as the distant British King appeared increasingly tyrannical with his insistence on taxing the American colonists but denying them representation. War began when British appointed governor of Massachusetts Thomas Gage became aware the Americans were gathering weapons in Concord, Massachusetts and sent British troops to seize them. Riders such as Paul Revere alerted the people of the arrival of the British and a local militia gathered to battle the troops. With the first shot fired and the British forces defeated, the war began. The War for Independence led to America’s Declaration of Independence from Britain in 1776, but the war continued until official American victory in 1783 with the Treaty of Paris.
“By the rude bridge that arched the flood
Their flag to April’s breeze unfurled
Here once the embattled farmers stood
And fired the shot heard round the world.”
- Ralph Waldo Emerson’s ‘Concord Hymn’
May 21st 1924: Leopold and Loeb kill Bobby Franks
On this day in 1924, University of Chicago students Richard Loeb and Nathan Leopold Jr murdered 14 year old Bobby Franks. The pair killed the boy as a ‘thrill killing’ in their attempt to perform the perfect crime. However, the two were caught and put on trial. They used their wealth and influence to hire famous defence lawyer Clarence Darrow who argued the pair could not be held morally accountable because they had been raised thinking they were superior and thus are not to blame for their actions. He was successful, and the men avoided the death penalty, instead getting life imprisonment.
May 19th 1795: Josiah Bartlett dies
On this day in 1795 the American statesman Josiah Bartlett died in Kingston, New Hampshire aged 65. Bartlett was a delegate to the Continental Congress for New Hampshire and one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. Bartlett went on to become Chief Justice of the New Hampshire Supreme Court and the fourth Governor of New Hampshire. The fictional President on ‘The West Wing’, Josiah Bartlet, is named for him and in the show was descended from this Bartlett.
May 17th 1954: Brown v. Board of Education
On this day in 1954, the US Supreme Court handed down its unanimous decision in the landmark case Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka. The decision declared segregation on grounds of race in schools unconstitutional. The ruling overturned the 1896 decision Plessy v. Ferguson which allowed segregation under the doctrine ‘separate but equal’. The case had been bought by African-American parents, including Oliver L. Brown, against Topeka’s educational segregation. It was argued before the Court by the chief legal counsel of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP): Thurgood Marshall, who became the first African-American Supreme Court justice in 1967. The Court, led by Chief Justice Earl Warren, declared that segregation violates the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. The landmark decision is considered the start of the Civil Rights Movement which led to racial integration and full legal rights for African-Americans.
“We conclude that, in the field of public education, the doctrine of ‘separate but equal’ has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal”
- Warren’s opinion for the Court
May 15th 1886: Emily Dickinson dies
On this day in 1886 the American poet Emily Dickinson died aged 55. Dickinson lived as a recluse in her home town of Amherst, Massachusetts. Her work was not fully appreciated until after her death when the breadth of her work was discovered. Dickinson’s poems include ‘Hope is the Thing with Feathers’, ‘Because I Could Not Stop for Death’ and ‘T’is So Much Joy’. She fell ill following the death of several of her loved ones and died in 1886 from Bright’s disease.
May 6th 1937: Hindenburg disaster
On this day in 1937, a German passenger airship called the Hindenburg caught fire near Lakehurst, New Jersey, killing 36. The ship was attempting to dock at the Lakehurst Naval Air Station but caught fire and was quickly destroyed. The cause of the fire is still unknown. Miraculously, 62 survived the blaze. The disaster was widely broadcast and the commentary of reporter Herbert Morrison highlighted the magnitude of the catastrophe and signalled the end of the era of the passenger airship. (watch footage here)
“Oh, the humanity!”
- Morrison reporting the disaster
April 30th 1789: Washington inaugurated
On this day in 1789 the dominant general of the War of Independence and one of the framers of the Constitution, George Washington, was inaugurated first President of the United States on the balcony of Federal Hall on Wall Street in New York City. He was unanimously chosen President by the Electoral College and the runner-up, John Adams, became Vice President. At his inauguration, Washington set the first of many precedents in making an inaugural address. Washington was re-elected in 1792 but stepped down after two terms, thus setting the precedent that Presidents usually served two terms (this became part of the Constitution with the 22nd Amendment in 1951).
“Long live George Washington, President of the United States!”
- New York Chancellor Livingston upon swearing in the President
April 22nd 1519: Cortés established Veracruz
On this day in 1519 the Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés established a settlement at Veracruz, Mexico. Cortés was one of many who sailed to the Americas for Spanish colonisation and he led the Spanish conquest of the Aztec Empire in Mexico. He founded a city with the name Villa Rica de la Vera Cruz, referring to the land’s gold and the fact he landed on Good Friday. The settlement was the first on the American mainland. His foundation of what would become modern Veracruz was the starting point of the conquest of the Aztec empire.