March 6th 1981: Cronkite signs off
On this day in 1981 the legendary anchor of CBS Evening News, Walter Cronkite, signed off for the last time. Cronkite had been presenting the news for nineteen years and became known as ‘the most trusted man in America’. He is known for his departing catchphrase “And that’s the way it is”, followed by that day’s date. Cronkite reported on some pivotal moments in history including the Nuremberg trials, the moon landing and the Watergate scandal. He also got involved in the politics of the day, and is known for his denunciation of the Vietnam War which led President Johnson to bitterly remark “If I’ve lost Cronkite, I’ve lost Middle America”. Cronkite is also remembered as the anchor who broke the story of the assassination of President Kennedy on November 22nd 1963. After his retirement, Cronkite continued to be an active figure in the American media and as a political activist. He died in 2009 in New York City, aged 92.
"This is my last broadcast as the anchorman of The CBS Evening News; for me, it’s a moment for which I long have planned, but which, nevertheless, comes with some sadness. For almost two decades, after all, we’ve been meeting like this in the evenings, and I’ll miss that…And that’s the way it is: Friday, March 6, 1981. I’ll be away on assignment, and Dan Rather will be sitting in here for the next few years. Good night”
March 4th 1678: Vivaldi born
On this day in 1678, the Italian composer Antonio Vivaldi was born in Venice. He was baptised immediately after birth, a very rare event, most likely because he seemed to be in poor health and his mother wanted him baptised in case he died. Vivaldi is often considered one of the greatest Baroque musicians. Perhaps his most famous work is the series of violin concertos 'The Four Seasons'. His red hair and position as a Catholic priest earned him the nickname ‘il Prete Rosso’ or ‘The Red Priest’. During his lifetime Vivaldi was active in his community, helping in a local orphanage where he supported their music programmes for the children. Antonio Vivaldi died in Vienna in 1741 aged 63, after moving there hoping for employment by Emperor Charles VI.
March 2nd 1657: Great Fire of Meireki
On this day in 1657 a fire ravaged the Japanese capital city of Edo (which is now Tokyo). The fire burned for three days, destroying two thirds of the city and claiming 100,000 lives. Edo Castle, a mighty testament to Edo’s rising prosperity and home of the shogun, was lost to the flames. The event is sometimes called the Furisode Fire, in reference to a legend about the cause of the fire. A furisode is the best kimono for an unmarried woman, and as legend has it the fire was ignited by the ceremonial burning of a supposedly cursed kimono which had been owned by several young women who had died soon after receiving the item. Edo was particularly susceptible to fire, as the buildings were made mostly of wood and paper and stood very close together. The buildings were also very dry due to a recent drought, providing prime conditions for a fire to spread. The fire forever changed the face of Edo, with new firebreaks installed, streets widened and plaster roofs the norm.
February 28th 1525: Cuauhtémoc executed
On this day in 1525, the Aztec ruler of Tenochtitlán Cuauhtémoc was executed by Hernán Cortés’s Spanish forces. Cuauhtémoc began his reign in 1520 soon after his relative Moctezuma II died in battle with the Spanish. Becoming ruler at the young age of 25, he came to power over a land besieged. He faced the threat of the Spanish invasion and a smallpox epidemic, and battled bravely to save Tenochtitlán. However Cuauhtémoc was captured on August 13th 1521, along with his family and most of the remaining Tenochtitlán nobles. The king asked Cortés to kill him, but the conquistador refused and initially let him go. However, lust for the fabled Aztec gold was too much, and Cortés’s forces eventually recaptured and tortured Cuauhtémoc to find its whereabouts. In 1525, Cortés ordered Cuauhtémoc executed for supposedly plotting to kill leading Spaniards, Cortés included. This claim has never been verified, but Cuauhtémoc is remembered in Mexico as a brave warrior who fought to save his country from the invaders.
February 26th 1993: World Trade Center bombing
On this day in 1993 a truck bomb was detonated below the North Tower of the World Trade Center in New York City. The bomb was intended to knock the North Tower into the South Tower to destroy them both but failed. The attack still killed six (including a pregnant woman) and injured over one thousand. The terrorist attack was planned by a group of conspirators and masterminded by Ramzi Yousef. In 1994, four men were convicted of carrying out the bombing and two more in 1997. The group were funded by Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who would go on to be the principal architect behind the destruction of the Twin Towers on September 11th 2001. The memorial to the victims of the 1993 attack was destroyed on 9/11 but they are currently memorialised at the North Pool of the National 9/11 Memorial, opened in 2011.
"It felt like an airplane hit the building"
- eye-witness Bruce Pomper on the 1993 attack
February 24th 1803: Marbury v. Madison
On this day in 1803 in the case Marbury v. Madison the US Supreme Court established the principle of judicial review. The case arose when Secretary of State James Madison failed to deliver documents to Justice of the Peace for DC William Marbury which officially granted his title. The Court decided that the section of the 1789 Judiciary Act allowing Marbury to bring his claim to the Court was itself unconstitutional. On February 24th the Court ruled unanimously to this effect. The decision gave the Supreme Court the power to interpret the constitution and strike down laws as ‘unconstitutional’. Since then, the Court have made many high-profile rulings branding things unconstitutional. For example: school segregation in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka (1954); school prayer in Engel v. Vitale (1962); teaching creationism in science lessons in Edwards v. Aguillard (1987) and the Defense of Marriage Act in United States v. Windsor (2013).
February 22nd 1857: Robert Baden-Powell born
On this day in 1857, the founder of the Scout movement Robert Baden-Powell was born in Paddington, London. Baden-Powell began his career as a lieutenant-general in the British Army; he fought in the Boer War and served in the colonial force in India and Africa. In 1907 he held the first Scout camp on Brownsea Island. After the success of this he published ‘Scouting for Boys’ a year later, which was billed as a ‘Handbook for Instruction in Good Citizenship’. The Scout Movement grew from there, establishing an equivalent for girls in 1910 and is now a worldwide phenomenon. Scouts and Guides continue to learn outdoors skills and get involved with nature and the community.
February 20th 1872: Met opens
On this day in 1872, the Metropolitan Museum of Art opened in New York City. The museum was founded in 1870 by a group of American businessmen and artists who wanted to bring art to the American people, and was originally located in a building at 681 Fifth Avenue. The museum initially held a Roman stone sarcophagus and 174 paintings. As the museum expanded it had to move locations, finally settling on the eastern edge of Central Park. It now stands as one of the most renowned art museums in the world, housing over 2 million works.
"We have something to point to as the Museum, something tangible and something good."
- The Museum’s first President John Taylor Johnston describing his happiness on opening day
March 5th 1946: ‘Iron Curtain’ speech
On this day in 1946, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill made his famous ‘Iron Curtain’ speech at Westminster College, Missouri. The term had been used prior to 1946, but this was the most public use of it. In the ‘Sinews of Peace’ address, Churchill used the term ‘iron curtain’ to reference a Soviet dominated Eastern Europe. At the time, the West still saw the Soviet Union as an ally after the defeat of Nazi Germany in World War Two, but Churchill’s speech heralded the onset of the Cold War tensions between the capitalist West and communist Russia. As the Cold War took hold, the phrase became popular as a reference to repressive Communist domination of Europe which hid Soviet actions and set a clear divide in Europe.
"From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic an iron curtain has descended across the continent”
March 3rd 1931: ‘Star-Spangled Banner’ adopted
On this day in 1931, the United States formally adopted 'The Star-Spangled Banner' as its national anthem. The song was written by Francis Scott Key, who was inspired after witnessing the defence of Fort McHenry during the War of 1812. He was particularly moved by the sight of an American flag being raised over the fort in defiance of the British; this image inspired the poem which provides the lyrics to ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’. The tune came from a well-known 18th century British song. The anthem was a popular patriotic American song for many years, and was commonly used by the armed forces prior to its official adoption. In 1931, at the urging of many patriotic organisations, a congressional resolution was signed by President Hoover which affirmed Key’s song as America’s national anthem.
March 1st 1692: The Salem Witch Trials begin
On this day in 1692, three women were brought before local magistrates in Salem Village, Massachusetts, thus beginning the infamous Salem Witch Trials. The women were Sarah Good, Sarah Osborne and Tituba and all three had been accused of witchcraft after local girls began experiencing strange fits. Given the lack of medical knowledge at the time and the preponderance of beliefs in the supernatural, witchcraft was the only logical explanation for their condition. The accused women matched the description of the stereotypical witch: Good was a beggar, Osborne rarely went to church and Tituba was a slave of different ethnicity. The women were interrogated by magistrates John Hathorne and Jonathan Corwin and Tituba eventually confessed to witchcraft, claiming Good and Osborne were her co-conspirators. The three were then sent to jail; Osborne died in jail, Good was hanged and Tituba (as a useful confessor) was kept alive and eventually released after the trials ended. This initial interrogation was followed by many more accusations of witchcraft throughout the village and the surrounding area, fueled perhaps by local rivalries, poisoned grain or just mass fear. The manhunt resulted in 19 ‘witches’ being hanged, one pressed to death and hundreds more imprisoned in horrendous conditions. The event is a famous example of mass hysteria and has become a cautionary tale for religious extremism and false accusations.
February 27th 1892: Louis Vuitton dies
On this day in 1892 the French businessman Louis Vuitton, founder of the namesake fashion brand, died aged 70. From a working class French family, Vuitton had ambitions beyond his small hometown of Anchay. He famously spent two years traveling to Paris on foot between 1835 and 1837. Once there he had great success as a box maker, eventually becoming Emperor Napoleon III’s wife’s personal box maker. He established the Louis Vuitton company in 1854, and passed the business to his son George upon his death in 1892. Louis Vuitton remains one of the world’s leading high-fashion brands.
February 25th 1870: Hiram Rhodes Revels inaugurated
On this day in 1870 Hiram Rhodes Revels, the first African-American to sit in Congress, was inaugurated into the Senate. Before he was elected to the Senate, Revels was a Methodist minister and led black Union regiments during the Civil War. Revels gained his post after the Mississippi state legislature voted for Revels to fill one of the state’s Senate seats which had been vacant since Mississippi seceded. His appointment was initially resisted by the United States Senate, and his legitimacy was debated for several days. On February 25th, the Senate voted to allow Revels to take up his seat, with only Republicans voting for him and Democrats against. His inauguration that day received a standing ovation as the Senate witnessed the first African-American member of Congress joining their ranks. Revels served one term in the Senate, consistently pushing for racial equality, until he resigned in 1871 to become a college president.
February 23rd 303: Great Persecution begins
On this day in 303, the Roman Emperor Diocletian began the systematic persecution of Christians in the Roman Empire. It was this day that Diocletian ordered the total destruction of the new Christian church in Nicomedia, demanding the building and its scriptures to be burned and its treasures seized. The following day Diocletian issued an ‘Edict Against the Christians’; the persecution of Christians had begun. Christians had been targeted throughout the history of the empire, but violence was at its fiercest between 303 and 313. The campaign did not end with Diocletian’s retirement in 305, as his successors continued what he had begun (though to varying degrees of intensity). The persecution saw the execution of Christians, the rescinding of their legal rights and the requirement that they embrace traditional Roman polytheistic religion. The persecution is generally considered to have ended with the 313 Edict of Milan issued by the converted Christian Emperor Constantine and Licinius.
February 21st 1848: Communist Manifesto published
On this day in 1848 the Manifesto of the Communist Party (now known as The Communist Manifesto) was published. It was written by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, often considered the founding fathers of communism, on behalf of the London-based Communist League. Engels laid the foundations for the theory, and had been drafting a treatise on communism for some years until he collaborated with Marx who developed his work and proposed the leading principles. The main ideas expressed in the manifesto are chiefly that capitalism and class struggle (between the proletariat and bourgeoisie) have been the chief concerns of society throughout history. Marx and Engels theorised that capitalism would be replaced by socialism and then communism, fulfilling their vision of global communism. Their work has been incredibly influential; communism has become the ideological basis of several states including the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China.