April 3rd 1882: Jesse James killed
On this day in 1882 the famous outlaw of the Wild West, Jesse James, was killed by Robert Ford. James was a robber and murderer and a member of the James-Younger Gang from Missouri and became a legendary figure of the Wild West. His gang gained notoriety in the period 1866 to 1876 as they robbed banks, stagecoaches and trains. He first gained national attention after shooting a cashier during a robbery of a Missouri bank. Their decline began with an attempted robbery of a bank in Northfield, Minnesota when the majority of the gang was captured or killed. James and his gang were pursued by law enforcement until the outlaw Robert Ford, who had posed as James’ friend, shot him in the back of the head in order to collect the bounty on his head. The governor of Missouri quickly pardoned Ford, which shocked the public as it suggested their governor had conspired to kill a private citizen. James’ mother wrote the epitaph for Jesse James:
“In Loving Memory of my Beloved Son, Murdered by a Traitor and Coward Whose Name is not Worthy to Appear Here”
April 1st 1957: BBC broadcasts the ‘spaghetti tree hoax’
On this day in 1957 for April Fools’ Day, the BBC current affairs programme Panorama broadcast a story about spaghetti trees. The piece told of a Swiss family who harvested spaghetti from a tree, and it was widely believed as spaghetti was not well known in Britain at the time. Many also considered it credible as the voice-over was done by the respected broadcaster Richard Dimbleby. Hundreds of people wrote to the BBC to ask how to grow their own spaghetti tree to which the BBC replied: “place a sprig of spaghetti in a tin of tomato sauce and hope for the best”. CNN later called the broadcast the “biggest hoax that any reputable news establishment ever pulled”.
March 30th 1981: Reagan assassination attempt
On this day in 1981 at 2.27pm John Hinckley Jr. shot the President of the United States Ronald Reagan in the chest outside a hotel in Washington DC. The President was leaving the Washington Hilton after giving a speech when he and three others were shot by the gunman. Hinckley’s motivation was to impress the young actress Jodie Foster having seen her in the film ‘Taxi Driver’. When he opened fire on the day, he injured White House Press Secretary James Brady (who would later become an advocate of gun control and lend his name to the Brady Bill), police officer Thomas Delahanty and Secret Service agent Timothy McCarthy who had spread himself over Reagan to take the bullet. Hinckley was apprehended and eventually found not guilty by reason of insanity and remains in a psychiatric facility. Reagan suffered a punctured lung and, despite coming very close to death, made a speedy recovery at the George Washington University Hospital. In the operating room, Reagan joked “I hope you are all Republicans”, to which the lead surgeon replied “Today, Mr President, we are all Republicans”. When the First Lady, Nancy Reagan, arrived Reagan remarked to her:
“Honey, I forgot to duck”
March 28th 1939: Franco conquers Madrid
On this day in 1939 during the Spanish Civil War, Generalissimo Francisco Franco’s Nationalists conquered the Spanish capital after a three year siege. The capital had been held by the Republican loyalist supporters of the left-wing government and was besieged by Franco’s right-wing forces in the Siege of Madrid from 1936 to 1939. The most concentrated fighting was during the Battle of Madrid in November 1936. After years of fighting and thousands of casualties, on March 28th 1939, the capital fell to the Nationalists. The victory at Madrid was part of a greater consolidation of power for the Nationalists and paved the way for their victory in the Civil War which was official by early April 1939. The democratic government was overthrown, left-wing Spaniards were exiled and Franco established a right-wing dictatorship. Franco’s authoritarian and repressive state lasted until his death in 1975, when Spain once again became a democracy.
March 26th 1830: The Book of Mormon is published
On this day in 1830, the Book of Mormon was first published at E.B Grandin’s New York bookstore. The founder of Mormonism, Joseph Smith Jr, claimed that he had been visited by an angel called Moroni who told him of ancient writings on golden plates which described people who God led to the Western hemisphere before the birth of Jesus Christ. Smith said he was told by Moroni to translate the plates into English and publish them. Smith initially struggled to find someone to publish the book as many considered it risky, fraudulent and blasphemous. Smith and his friend Martin Harris began work on translating the Book of Mormon, but when Harris’s wife stole some pages, work halted. Translation recommenced in 1829 and was soon finished and ready for publication in March 1830. It had taken eight men and boys working 12 hours a day, six days a week, for almost eight months to print the 5,000 copies. Upon the book’s publication Smith said he returned the plates to Moroni. The building in New York where the Book of Mormon was first published and sold is now the Book of Mormon Historic Publication Site.
March 24th 1989: Exxon Valdez oil spill
On this day in 1989, hundreds of thousands of barrels of crude oil were spilled into Prince William Sound in Alaska by the Exxon Valdez oil tanker after it ran aground. Between 11 and 32 million US gallons of oil was spilled, creating one of the worst human-caused environmental disasters in history. The cleanup operation was especially difficult due to the Sound’s remote location which was only accessible by air or by boat. The spill damaged the local habitat, covering 1,300 miles of coastline and 11,000 square miles of ocean. It was the largest ever oil spill in US waters until the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Whilst the cleanup operation was completed, it is believed that the oil will continue to have a negative effect on the area for many years.
March 22nd 1622: Jamestown massacre
On this day in 1622, the Jamestown massacre of English settlers occurred. Jamestown, in the Colony of Virginia, was the first successful English settlement in North America. On March 22nd, the Powhatan confederation of Indian tribes came into the houses of the settlers in the Jamestown area and grabbed any weapons they could and killed all English settlers they could find including men, women and children; 347 people died, which was a quarter of the English population at Jamestown. The massacre occurred due to the colonists’ treatment of Native Americans, as they burned down their homes and destroyed food supplies and showed desire to take their land. The colonists also began demanding food from the Powhatan tribe. In retaliation the Natives launched a surprise attack on the area, however Jamestown itself was spared as it was forewarned.
March 20th 2003: The Iraq War begins
On this day in 2003, 9 years ago, the Iraq War began. In the early hours of the morning the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia and Poland began a military invasion of Iraq. According to US President George W Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair the mission was “to disarm Iraq of weapons of mass destruction, to end Saddam Hussein’s support for terrorism, and to free the Iraqi people”. It appears that the main motive of the USA was in response to the 2001 9/11 terrorist attacks in order to confront the perpetrators: al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden. However, many have questioned whether Hussein was in co-operation with al-Qaeda, and in 2005 it was discovered that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction. On 19th March, an air strike hit the Presidential Palace in Baghdad and the next day coalition forces began an invasion into Basra province. The forces drove into the country and occupied areas, eventually driving Iraqi President Saddam Hussein into hiding. With Hussein gone and Iraq occupied, the end of combat was announced on 1st May, marking the transition from invasion to occupation. Hussein was captured in December 2003 and executed in December 2006. UK troops remained in Iraq until April 2009 and US troops were gradually withdrawing. The occupation continued until December 15th 2011 when US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta declared the Iraq War over.
April 2nd 1982: Argentina invades the Falkland Islands
On this day in 1982, 30 years ago, Argentine forces landed on the Falkland Islands and occupied the area, which marked the beginning of the Falklands War. The war was the product of long tensions over who possessed the islands, with Argentina claiming ownership and Britain seeing the islands as British territory. On this day 30 years ago Argentina landed at the islands and fought the British Royal Marines at Government House, leading to British surrender and thus Argentina seizing control of the Falklands. British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher responded by sending a naval task force to attack the Argentinians. The conflict lasted 74 days, ending with Argentine surrender on 14th June, thus returning the islands to Britain. 649 Argentine military personnel, 255 British military personnel and three Falkland Islanders died during the conflict.
March 31st 1889: Eiffel Tower opens
On this day in 1889 in the French capital of Paris, the iconic Eiffel Tower was officially opened. The tower was built for the 1889 World’s Fair to celebrate the centenary of the French Revolution and is named after its designer Gustave Eiffel. After two years of building it was inaugurated on March 31st 1889 with Eiffel, government officials and the press going to the top of the tower by foot. Upon reaching the top, Eiffel hoisted a French flag which was accompanied with a 25 gun salute. The tower was supposed to be dismantled in 1909 but it soon became apparent the tower had both cultural and practical value as it was used for communications. Upon its creation it was the tallest man-made structure in the world (it was defeated by the Chrysler Building in New York City in 1930). The tower is now the national icon of France and is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the world.
March 29th 1871: Royal Albert Hall opens
On this day in 1871 Queen Victoria officially opened the concert hall in London which was named after her late husband Prince Albert. The hall had been initially planned by Albert after the success of the Great Exhibition in the Crystal Palace in 1851. Work began in 1867; the hall was designed by Captain Francis Fowke and Major-General Henry Scott and built by Lucas Brothers. It was completed in 1871 and at the official opening on March 29th the Queen was so overcome with emotion she was unable to speak. It was Edward, Prince of Wales who had to announce:
“The Queen declares this Hall is now open”
March 27th 1958: Nikita Khrushchev becomes Premier of the Soviet Union
On this day in 1958, Nikita Khrushchev became the head of government of the Soviet Union. Khrushchev served as Premier of the world’s first Communist state from 1958 to 1964. He, along with Lenin and Stalin are the only Premiers to also have been party leader simultaneously. Under Khrushchev, Russia was partially de-Stalinised, began its space program, underwent some liberal domestic reforms and saw the Cuban Missile Crisis and some of the tensest years of the Cold War. Khrushchev was deposed by party colleagues in 1964 and replaced by Leonid Brezhnev as First Secretary of the Communist Party and by Alexei Kosygin as Premier.
March 25th 1969: John Lennon & Yoko Ono begin their first ‘Bed-In for Peace’
On this day in 1969, the newly married John & Yoko began their first ‘bed-in’ to promote world peace during the Vietnam War at the Amsterdam Hilton Hotel. The Beatle and his wife remained until March 31st, allowing press into their presidential suite in order to publicise their efforts. John & Yoko’s second ‘bed-in’ took place in May in Montreal, where they and others recorded the song ‘Give Peace a Chance’. The ‘bed-in’ became famous, and has been commemorated and copied by later advocates of world peace.
March 23rd 1933: Enabling Act passed
On this day in 1933, the German Reichstag passed the Enabling Act, which made Adolf Hitler dictator of Germany. The law gave Chancellor Hitler legal powers to establish his dictatorship as it gave the Cabinet the power to enact laws independently of the legislature (the Reichstag). Its formal name was ‘Law to Remedy the Distress of People and Reich’. Hitler had been appointed Chancellor on January 30th, and just before the scheduled election, the Reichstag fire occurred. The Nazis used the incident to suggest a Communist revolution was imminent and passed the Reichstag Fire Decree which suspended civil liberties and habeas corpus. The Nazis failed to gain an absolute majority in the Reichstag and so Hitler drafted the Enabling Act to secure his position. The Nazis pressured and threatened representatives of the Reichstag to pass the bill, positioning SA men and Nazi swastikas in and around the Reichstag. With the bill’s passing, Hitler’s dictatorship was assured, and thus began a regime which would last until 1945. As Joseph Goebbels wrote after the passing of the act:
“The authority of the Führer has now been wholly established. Votes are no longer taken. The Führer decides. All this is going much faster than we had dared to hope.”
March 21st 1871: Otto von Bismarck becomes the first Chancellor of Germany
On this day in 1871, Otto von Bismarck became the first Chancellor the newly united German Empire. He had previously served as Minister President of Prussia, and oversaw the Austro-Prussian War (1866) and Franco-Prussian War (1870-1871) which together made up the German Unification Wars. The wars made Prussia dominant over Austria and France and allowed Bismarck to create the German Empire in 1871 out of the old Germanic states, thus essentially making him the father of Germany. Bismarck served as Chancellor until he was dismissed by the Kaiser in 1890 and during that time he had almost complete control over domestic and foreign policy and was known for his ‘revolutionary conservatism’. Bismarck has been called the greatest politician in history and has become known as the ‘Iron Chancellor’ due to his focus on military power.
“The great questions of the time will not be resolved by speeches and majority decisions…but by iron and blood.”