Little Bits of History

April 23

Posted in History by patriciahysell on April 23, 2017

1879: A fire starts at the University of Notre Dame. The Catholic research university was established on November 26, 1842 near South Bend, Indiana. Father Edward Sorin, CSC (Congregation of the Holy Cross) was the founder and first president of the then all-male institution. It was built on land donated by the Bishop of Vincennes, Indiana. Sorin arrived at the site with eight Holy Cross brothers from France and Ireland on November 26 and opened school in Father Stephen Badin’s log chapel. They began building with the Old College building, the first church, and the first main building. They began with just two students as a primary and secondary school, but by 1844 were given a charter by the Indiana General Assembly granting them full college status.

The first main building, or administrative center, came under construction on August 28, 1843 shortly after architect Mr. Marsile arrived on the scene. It was completed by fall 1844. It was a 4 ½ story brick building without a dome and built in the French style. The second Main Building replaced the first and was built between 1864 and 1865. It was larger and six stories high with a dome on top. Mr. Thomas of Chicago was the architect and it was built by brothers of the Congregation of the Holy Cross. Classes were held on the third floor and the upper two floors were dormitories.

On this day, at about 11 AM, smoke and flames could be seen rising from the roof. Men had been working on repairs on the roof until an hour earlier. Students and faculty began a bucket brigade and attempted to put the fire out. Steam engines sprayed water onto the roof, but the fire continued to spread and before the all-volunteer South Bend fire department could arrive, the building was engulfed. Attempts to put out the fire were abandoned and instead, they began to try and save valuables from the lower floors, tossing items out of windows to people below – many of which crashed to the ground and broke anyway. In three hours, the building was entirely consumed. The fire spread to other nearby buildings as well. The $200,000 loss was covered by only $45,000 insurance.

Father Sorin and university president Rev. William Corby immediately began plans to rebuild. The new design was by Willoughby J Edbrooke who had plans ready by May 10th. Groundbreaking for the new Main Building was held on May 17. Funded by donations and bringing in skilled stonemasons from far and wide. Workers and volunteers moved quickly and the building grew almost overnight. The building was completed before the fall semester of 1879. The not yet Golden Dome was finished in September of 1882. It was gilded in 1886 and topped with a 19 foot statue of “Our Mother”. The Golden Dome is the most recognized landmark of the University and stands brightly at 187 feet high.

An atheist is a man who watches a Notre Dame – Southern Methodist University game and doesn’t care who wins. – Dwight D. Eisenhower

You don’t go to Notre Dame to learn something; you go to Notre Dame to be somebody. – Lou Holtz

You have to be equal at both – great at football and great at dedicating yourself to the academics at Notre Dame. It’s hard. There are no rooty-toot classes for athletes in South Bend. – Justin Tuck

In 1953 there were two ways for an Irish Catholic boy to impress his parents: become a priest or attend Notre Dame. – Phil Donahue

April 22

Posted in History by patriciahysell on April 22, 2017

1864: The Coinage Act of 1864 is passed. Due to this law, the United States Mint changed the composition of the one-cent coin and authorized the minting of a two-cent coin. The Director of the United States Mint designed the new coins and sent them to the Secretary of the Treasury for approval. Also included in the design for the two-cent piece was the phrase “In God We Trust” on the coin. It was the first time the phrase appeared. By March of 1865, the phrase was to be placed on all gold and silver coins that held an inscription. Finally, in 1956 In God We Trust replaced E Pluribus Unum as the national motto and it was printed on all money made by the US Mint.

The Coinage Act of 1792 was the first in the series of these acts and passed the US Congress on April 2, 1792. It created the US dollar as the country’s standard unit of money, established the United States Mint, and regulated coinage throughout the new country. The silver dollar was the basic unit rather than a paper version. A decimal system was enacted for partitioning the dollar into smaller units. It also pegged the value of the American dollar to the Spanish milled dollar which caused some issues with those holding silver at the time. By 1794 and 1795 the US dollar used a 0.900 fine standard while the Spanish dollar used 0.8924+ fine standard which meant that people bringing silver to the mint ended up with less money than they thought they had.

The last major Coinage Act of the US was passed in 1965. This eliminated silver from the dime and quarter or ten- and twenty-five-cent pieces respectively. It reduced the silver in the half dollar (and silver was eliminated entirely in 1970). There had been coin shortages due to silver’s increased demand in other industries as well as for coinage. This increased the price of silver dramatically and made the silver used in the coinage worth more than the coins themselves. It worked and the elimination of silver in the coins permitted enough of them to be minted to eliminate the shortage. The law also banned the minting of silver dollars but these were once again on the market in 1970.

E pluribus unam is Latin for “Out of many, one” and the 13-letter phrase was the traditional motto of the United States and appears on the Great Seal of the United States. It was adopted by the US Congress in 1782 and remained the motto for the country until 1956 when Congress passed H.J. Resolution 396 making In God We Trust the new motto. E pluribus unam was an understanding that from many states or colonies came one new nation. It can also mean a diverse pool of peoples from a wide variety of places came together to create a new country and is a nod to the melting pot theory of the United States. In God We Trust as a motto has been challenged in many lawsuits, unsuccessfully, as it does not endorse any specific religion.

The trouble with America is that when the dollar only earns 6 percent over here, then it gets restless and goes overseas to get 100 percent. Then the flag follows the dollar and the soldiers follow the flag. – Smedley Butler

As you know, low demand and high supply means a drop in value of anything, including the dollar. – Robert Kiyosaki

Money won’t create success, the freedom to make it will. – Nelson Mandela

Money can buy you a fine dog, but only love can make him wag his tail. – Kinky Friedman

April 21

Posted in History by patriciahysell on April 21, 2017

900:  Lady Angkatan is forgiven all debts by Commander in Chief of Tundun. In 1989 a man was at the mouth of the Lumbang River in Barnagay Wawa, Lumban, Laguna, the Philippines. Laguna province is located on Luzon, the largest and most populous island of the archipelago. While dredging for sand to turn into concrete, the worker found a small copper plate. It measure about 8 x 12 inches and had words directly embossed onto it which was different from Javanese scrolls of the period where markings were inscribed onto a heated and softened scroll of metal. The laborer sold it to an antique dealer who held if for some time without finding a private buyer. Eventually the National Museum of the Philippines purchased it and Alfredo E Evangelista, head of the Anthropology Department was in charge of it.

It was a year later when Antoon Postma was examining it and noted the inscription was similar to Kawi, an ancient Indonesian script. He was able to translate the writing on what is known as the Laguna Copperplate Inscription. It was self dated to the Saka year 822 during the month of Waisakha on the fourth day of the waning moon, or as we know it, April 21, 900. This predates, by centuries, the first visit of Europeans when Ferdinand Magellan arrived in 1521. It does correspond with the official Chinese Song dynasty History of Song where the Philippines are mentioned in the year 972.

The debt is cleared for Lady Angkatan and her relative named Bukah and they and all their descendants were cleared from repaying the debt of 1 Kati and 8 Suwarna. The debt was gold weighing 865 grams or 30.5 ounces or about $36,600 today. The writing on the copperplate is Kawi Script but the language is a variety of Old Malay. There are many words from Sanskrit and some words are possibly from Old Javanese. Some historians feel the language is between Old Tagalog and Old Javanese. The places mentioned in the message are in some instances known to us today and some are only surmised. It is also possible the term “Namwaran” is an elder who had died, as names of the dead were not uttered because it was considered disrespectful.

This find, along with some other recently found artifacts including the Golden Tara of Butuan, 14th century pottery, and gold jewelry in Cebu have led historians to create a different pre-European history for the islands. It was once thought the Philippines were isolated from the rest of Asia, but recent discoveries are changing our knowledge of what happened prior to Magellan’s “discovery” of rich cultured peoples living within a community of interwoven Asiatic diversity. Today, the Laguna Copperplate Inscription is considered a national treasure and remains housed in the National Museum of the Philippines in Manila.

First our pleasures die – and then our hopes, and then our fears – and when these are dead, the debt is due dust claims dust – and we die too. – Percy Bysshe Shelley

Debt is one person’s liability, but another person’s asset. – Paul Krugman

You can’t be in debt and win. It doesn’t work. – Dave Ramsey

Rather go to bed without dinner than to rise in debt. – Benjamin Franklin

April 20

Posted in History by patriciahysell on April 20, 2017

1818: The case of William Ashford v Abraham Thornton ends. In 1817 Thornton was charged with the murder of Mary Ashford. Mary was around 20 years old at the time of her death and worked as a general servant and housekeeper in Warwichshire, England. Her father was a gardener near Erdington. On May 26, 1817, she worked as usual and then went to a Hannah Cox’s house to change into party clothes. Hannah also lived in Erdington. The two young women then went to the Tyburn House where an annual dance was held. Thornton was also there and the 24 year old was taken with Mary. He was either a “well-looking fellow” or “of repulsive appearance” as descriptions differ. He was with Mary at the party and she and Hannah left with Thornton to walk home around 11 PM.

Hannah wanted to continue onto her grandfather’s house since it was closer to her place of employment and she and Thornton continued on while Hannah went home. Around 2.45 AM Thornton was seen leaving a friend’s house in the company of a woman who shielded her face with her bonnet. Just before 4 AM, Mary was at Hannah’s house in order to collect her work clothes and then she hurried away. A late partygoer saw her leaving Hannah’s house in a hurry. Around 6 AM a passing laborer saw a woman’s blood-covered shoe near a water filled pit. He called for help, the pit was dredged, and Mary’s body was found. There were two sets of footprints in the mud leading up to the pit, a man’s and a woman’s, but only the man’s left.

Thornton was found and he admitted to having been with Mary and having had sex with her. He claimed it was consensual. He denied having seen her after 4 AM. He was charged with murder and the townspeople were of the opinion that he was guilty of both murder and rape. The trial began on August 8, 1817 and a crowd rushed in to see the spectacle (women were not permitted because of the nature of the evidence). There were eleven witnesses able to provide an alibi for Thornton. The jury came back with a not guilty verdict in only six minutes. Thornton was freed, but Mary’s brother was outraged. William brought an appeal of murder against Thornton which was issued on October 1, 1817 and Thornton was once again arrested.

The Ashford family tried to find evidence to implicate Thornton but finally on April 16, 1818 the court ruled in favor of Thornton. Thornton had offered to meet Ashford in battle, an old Norman law still on the books. Ashford was unable to withstand a physical battle with his larger opponent and on this day had to decide to allow him to go free. The old law was predicated on the idea that God would side with the innocent and allow him to kill off the opponent. This was the last time this law was invoked as it was soon removed from British law.

Can it be possible that this “wager of battle” is being seriously insisted on? Am I to understand that this monstrous proposition as being propounded by the bar—that we, the judges of the Court of King’s Bench—the recognized conservators of the public peace, are to become not merely the spectators, but the abettors of a mortal combat? Is that what you require of us? – Irish Chief Justice William Downes, refusing to invoke trial by battle in 1815

I am sorry to say that difficulties have been started likely to occasion much trouble and perhaps ultimate defeat. it seems the Appellee [Thornton] has the option of waging Battle and of challenging the Appellor [William Ashford] in single combat which if not accepted by the Appellor the suit is lost and, if accepted, and the Appellee can hold out from sun rise to sun set, then he wins the contest and claims his discharge, otherwise his election subjects him not only to a good threshing but also the pain of death into the bargain. – William Bedford, November 11, 1817 (Thornton’s lawyer)

The discussion which has taken place here, and the consideration which has been given to the facts alleged, most conclusively show that this is not a case that can admit of no denial or proof to the contrary; under these circumstances, however obnoxious I am myself to the trial by battle, it is the mode of trial which we, in our judicial character, are bound to award. We are delivering the law as it is, and not as we wish it to be, and therefore we must pronounce our judgment, that the battle must take place. – Lord Ellenborough

If we desire respect for the law, we must first make the law respectable. – Louis D. Brandeis

April 19

Posted in History by patriciahysell on April 19, 2017

1971: Charles Manson is sentenced to death. Manson was born in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1934. His mother was just 16 and his father was not named. She would later file a paternity suit against Colonel Walker Scott. She was briefly married to William Manson and her son was given his name. His childhood was troubled and he spent much of his early life being shuffled between relatives. He ran away and was robbing stores to pay for food and lodging. He was first arrested at the age of 13 and sent to the Indiana Boys School where he was abused, physically and sexually. He escaped there after three years and was soon caught and arrested again for robbery and grand theft auto. He was again sent to a Boys School, a juvenile detention center. He was considered to be “dangerous” and transferred to prison. He was paroled in May 1954.

He tried living within the law, unsuccessfully, and was arrested again in March 1956 and sentenced to prison. He was paroled in September 1958. Still in trouble with the law, he was in and out of prison, paroled, violated parole, and constantly living outside the law. He was released from prison in March 1967 and given permission to move to San Francisco. He moved in with Mary Brunner, a library assistant, and soon had himself and 18 women living in her house. He set himself up as a guru/hippie and the group soon came to be known as the Manson Family. They followed a haphazard composite philosophy of various fringe belief systems.

Over the course of five weeks in 1969, the Family committed a series of nine murders at four locations. The most famous of these was the Tate murders committed on the night of August 8-9, 1969. Sharon Tate, wife of film director Roman Polanski, was eight months pregnant. She was hosting a party at her house when the Manson Family arrived and killed the four people in the house after having already killed a visitor in the driveway as they approached the house. Investigations finally led to the capture of the murderers and the group went on trail beginning in June 1970. Manson along with Susan Atkins, Linda Kasabian, and Patricia Krenwinkel were charged with seven counts of murder and one of conspiracy. Kasabian was the prosecution’s main witness and by all accounts she had not participated in the killings.

On January 25, 1971 the jury returned guilty verdicts against all four defendants on each of the 27 counts against them. During the penalty phase, Manson’s presentation of “explanation” was put forth. They were copycat murders to lead police astray. The ploy did not work and Manson was not exonerated for a “copycat” scenario. On March 29, 1971 the jury returned verdicts of death against all four defendants and on this day, Judge Older sentenced them to death. In February 1972, all four death sentences were changed to life in prison as California abolished the death penalty. Manson has applied for parole twelve times since 1972 and been denied each time. He remains in prison at the age of 82. He is eligible to apply again in 2027 when he will be 92 years old.

I am the Devil, and the Devil always has a bald head. – Charles Manson, after shaving his head during the penalty phase of his trial for murder

You know, a long time ago being crazy meant something. Nowadays everybody’s crazy.

From the world of darkness I did loose demons and devils in the power of scorpions to torment.

Living is what scares me. Dying is easy. – all from Charles Manson

April 18

Posted in History by patriciahysell on April 18, 2017

1899: Queen Victoria grants a Royal Charter to St. Andrew’s Ambulance Association. Today, known as St Andrew’s First Aid, it was Scotland’s first ambulance service and founded in 1882. Their national headquarters are located in Glasgow. They teach first aid, supply the equipment needed to offer quality first aid in emergencies, and train and staff their ambulance service with volunteers. They are overseen by a Board of trustees who are elected each year and delegate power to a variety of other entities concerned with providing first aid to the sick and injured.

They offer a variety of first aid classes lasting from just a couple hours to an all inclusive basic first aid class which is offered over 24 hours and cover many aspects of first aid required in a number of situations. They offer classes to junior (children under the age of 15) and have a course designed to help those injured while playing sports. Courses and classes are available individually or via the workplace. Within St Andrew’s itself are many further educational aspects covered for their volunteer staff. They constantly update their teaching and bring in the newest technologies available to medical personnel. They are also trained in the administrative side of patient care such as leadership and radio control issues.

St Andrew’s was first formed by a group of local doctors and businessmen in Glasgow. There had been an increase in accidents due to traffic and modern machinery. Getting the injured from the scene and to the hospital became an issue. Within four years, the group had six ambulances stationed in towns throughout Scotland. To keep all volunteers up to speed, they published a Dr. George T Beatson’s Ambulance Hand-Book which helped those in the field with direct patient care as first responders. The book was used for over 40 years, updated and republished. Two major changes to the original concern were the Royal Charter granted on this day and the bringing together of several smaller entities under one umbrella, the St Andrew’s Ambulance Corps in 1904.

Within 48 hours of World War I being declared, the Corps was able to staff all of Scotland’s military hospitals which allowed regular staff to perform at a higher level. They also were able to send people overseas to help. Between the Wars, they were able to upgrade services and expand operations when the British Red Cross Society was able to give them motorized ambulances no longer needed by the military. They were again brought into major service during World War II and helped with many aspects of health care and preparation for disasters. Their name changed in 2006 to St Andrew’s First Aid and in 2010 their national headquarters were given a massive refurbishment.

The only times I’m consistent about praying are when I’m on an airplane or when an ambulance goes by. – China Chow

I’m a praying atheist. When I hear an ambulance siren, I ask for a blessing for those people in trouble, knowing that no one’s listening. I think it’s just a habit of mindfulness. – Geraldine Brooks

I don’t think my wife likes me very much, when I had a heart attack she wrote for an ambulance. – Frank Carson

We must be part of the general staff at the inception, rather than the ambulance drivers at the bitter end. – Lane Kirkland

April 17

Posted in History by patriciahysell on April 17, 2017

1912: The Lena Massacre or Lena Execution takes place. Gold miners working in northeast Siberia near the Lena River went on strike. The gold fields were owned by Lena Goldfields, a company registered and traded in London, Paris, and St. Petersburg. Most of the shares were owned by Russian businessmen and managed by Russian investors with a substantial portion (about 20%) own by British interests. The gold mines produced large profits for the shareholders but the working conditions were harsh in the extreme. Miners worked fifteen to sixteen hours a day and for every 1,000 miners, there were over 700 accidents. The men were paid low wages and much of that money went to pay fines. Portions of their pay was in the form of coupons used to purchase food and essentials from the company store.

The miners had been dissatisfied for quite some time, but the immediate cause of the strike came when the company store sold the starving miners rotten meat. On March 13, they spontaneously walked out. On March 17 they issued a list of demands: 8-hour workdays, a 30% rise in wages, cessations of fines, and improvement of food delivery. Nothing was done to relieve the horrific conditions. While the original walkout was at only one mine, it soon expanded and over 6,000 workers throughout the region walked off the job. The tsarist government sent troops in to do something.

All the members of the strike committee were arrested. On this day, the workers demanded the release of their leaders and by afternoon about 2,500 of them marched towards the Nadezhdinsky goldfield to deliver a complaint to the prosecutor’s office regarding the arbitrariness of the authorities. The soldiers who had been sent in were blocking the way and under orders of Captain Treshchenkov, they began shooting into the crowd. The local newspaper, Zvezda, reported 270 dead and 250 wounded in the massacre.

News spread and outraged workers around Russia began to strike and protest. The miners were offered a new and unsatisfactory contract. Over 300,000 people participated in strikes and protests through the rest of April with over 700 strikes held. There were 1,000 strikes held on May 1 in the St. Petersburg area alone. These uprising continued through August 25 when the last of the miners withdrew from the mines and moved elsewhere. Over 9,000 miners and their families abandoned the region. Lenin argued that the miners were the spark that lit the fire of the revolutionary spirit in Russia.

The Lena shots broke the ice of silence, and the river of popular resentment is flowing again. The ice has broken. It has started! – Joseph Stalin

So it was. So it will be. – Minister Maklokov dismissing the massacre

The most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed. – Steven Biko

We draw our strength from the very despair in which we have been forced to live. We shall endure. – Cesar Chavez



April 16

Posted in History by patriciahysell on April 16, 2017

1457 BC: The Battle of Megiddo is fought. The Egyptian forces were led by the Pharaoh, Thutmose III while the opposition was a coalition of Canaanite vassal states led by the King of Kadesh. The battle is noteworthy because it is the earliest battle to have been recorded in what is today considered to be relatively reliable detail. It was not written about at the time of the battle itself, but rather later in the Pharaoh’s life when he had his scribe/historian write out the wonders of his many conquests. The hieroglyphic writings were preserved in the Hall of the Annals in the Temple of Amun-Re at Karnak, Thebes or what is today, Luxor. Tjaneni was the author.

The battle was the 21st day of the first month of the third season of Year 23 of the reign of Thutmose III which calculated to this date, according to the Middle Chronology. Other publications put the date in 1482 BC or 1479 BC. The battle was an Egyptian victory and not only were the Canaanite forces defeated, but they were forced to flee to city of Megiddo which was then placed under a lengthy siege. The battle was the first where composite bows were used and it was the first to have had a fairly accurate body count. Thutmose led between 10- and 20,000 men into battle with 4,000 killed and another 1,000 wounded. The Canaanites had between 10- and 15,000 men fighting with 8,300 killed and another 3,400 captured.

This was Thutmose’s first campaign in the Levant (a term first used 3,000 years later to describe the eastern region of the Mediterranean Sea and the lands found there) and is also sometimes referred to as the Fertile Crescent region, the lands of the Nile, Tigris, and Euphrates Rivers. The Pharaoh brought his scribe with him and Tjaneni kept a daily journal on parchment. Years later, in the 42nd regnal year and after Thutmose’s campaigns in the Levant had ended with great expansion of lands under his control, he had his scribe write out the history of his illustrious battles. Also included were the tribute received from the conquered and the gifts offered to Amun-Re.

Megiddo is an archaeological tell or mound found in present day northern Israel about 20 miles southeast of Haifa. This important site is more familiarly known by its Greek name, Armageddon. During this time in history, it was an important Canaanite city-state. It was first settled in the Early Bronze Age about 3500 BC – 3100 BC and there have been 26 layers of excavation at the site. Megiddo was at its largest during the Middle Bronze Age and was still able to prosper after Thutmose conquered it during this campaign in the Late Bronze Age. During this time, and elaborate palace was built there.

By 3000 B.C. the art of Egypt was so ripe and so far advanced that it is surprising to find any student of early culture proposing that the crude contemporary art of the early Babylonians is the product of a civilization earlier than that of the Nile. – James Henry Breasted

Egypt gave birth to what later would become known as ‘Western Civilization,’ long before the greatness of Greece and Rome. – John Henrik Clarke

Our earliest evidence of government, in the ruins of Babylon and Egypt, shows nothing but ziggurats and pyramids of wasted taxpayer money, the TARP funds and shovel-ready stimulus programs of their day. – P. J. O’Rourke

A book has got smell. A new book smells great. An old book smells even better. An old book smells like ancient Egypt.  – Ray Bradbury

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April 15

Posted in History by patriciahysell on April 15, 2017

1892: General Electric (GE) is founded. Thomas Edison opened his laboratory in Menlo Park, New Jersey in 1876. By 1889, he had several electricity-related companies: Edison Lamp Company, Edison Machine Works, Bergmann & Company, and Edison Electric Light Company among them. The last of these was the patent holding company as well as the financially backed portion of the business with money from JP Morgan and the Vanderbilt family. In 1889, Drexel, Morgan & Co. were financing Edison’s research and helped to merge his many business holding into one corporation, the Edison General Electric Company. It was incorporated on April 24, 1889 and began acquiring other ventures.

About the same time, Thomson-Houston Electric Company was also building a conglomerate of related business, buying up competitors in order to gain control over patents. On this day, with the merger of the two major players, General Electric was born. Edison’s base had been in Schenectady, New York while Thomson was located in Lynn, Massachusetts. Both companies continue to operate under the GE banner to this day. In 1896, GE was one of the original twelve companies listed on the newly formed Dow Jones Industrial Average and all these years later, it is the only company on the beginning registry still in existence.

The businesses under the GE umbrella have grown with time. The first major sector brought in was the National Electric Lamp Association which in 1911 was merged and the headquarters set in East Cleveland, Ohio. By 1919, RCA was founded and remained part of GE until 1930. GE became interested in television almost immediately and owned and operated several TV stations. GE is involved in power generation from many different sources and is involved in the production of many different types of power, including solar and wind. In the 1960s, they were one of the eight major computer companies.

GE is a multinational company with business in several segments of the economy: power and water, oil and gas, aviation, healthcare, transportation, and capital. Originally headquartered in Schenectady, today’s headquarters are in Boston, Massachusetts with a changing site to the South Boston Waterfront area taking place over the course of two years. Jeffrey Immelt is Chairman and CEO of GE which has over 300,000 employees in the various divisions and businesses. There are eight major subsidiaries bringing in over $140 billion. It is one of the largest companies in the world and has had employees who won the Nobel Prize twice (once in 1932 and again in 1973).

Electricity is really just organized lightning. – George Carlin

We forget just how painfully dim the world was before electricity. A candle, a good candle, provides barely a hundredth of the illumination of a single 100 watt light bulb. – Bill Bryson

We believe that electricity exists, because the electric company keeps sending us bills for it, but we cannot figure out how it travels inside wires. – Dave Barry

Why is electricity so expensive these days? Why does it cost so much for something I can make with a balloon and my hair? – Dennis Miller

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April 14

Posted in History by patriciahysell on April 14, 2017

1865: Shots are fired at Ford’s Theatre. The US Civil War was coming to a close with the Union troops bringing a victory. Robert E. Lee had surrendered to Union troops five days earlier effectively ending the War. The proclamation to end the war was still in the future, but close at hand and was signed on May 9. Because news was not instantaneous, the last shots of the War were fired on June 22. Easter was two days hence and on Good Friday, President Abraham Lincoln and his wife went to see Our American Cousin being presented at Ford’s Theatre.

It was thought that General Ulysses S Grant and his wife would be joining the President and Mrs. Lincoln in the booth, but the two women were not on good terms. Others were issued an invitation and declined. The box was filled with Major Henry Rathbone and his fiancée Clara Harris. Lincoln had been plagued by bad dreams and had wished to stay away from the theater that night, but he had promised his wife an outing and they left to enjoy an evening out. The party arrived late but settled into the Presidential Box. The performance was stopped briefly while the orchestra played “Hail to the Chief” and the audience gave Lincoln a standing ovation. The theater was full with about 1,700 people watching the play.

The box was to have been guarded by a policeman, John Frederick Parker. Parker left during the intermission and went to nearby tavern with Lincoln’s footman and coachman. He was not at his post when John Wilkes Booth entered the box. Booth was a famous actor and may have been able to persuade the policeman even if he had been present, but without impedance, he was able to enter and then barricaded the first door from the inside. Booth had never starred in Our American Cousin, but knew the play and waited for the precise moment when the funniest line was delivered. He opened the second door and fired a shot into the laughing President’s head behind his left ear. The bullet traversed the brain and exited just above his right eye. The President slumped, Mary caught him and screamed.

Rathbone, having heard the shot, attempted to catch Booth. The two men struggled and Booth dropped his gun to the floor and drew a knife with which he stabbed his opponent in the arm. Rathbone was able to recover and again tried to capture the assailant. Rathbone grabbed at Booth as he attempted to vault over the Box wall to the stage below. Because of the interference, Booth’s boot caught and when he landed, he broke his leg. Booth held the bloody knife over his head as he made his way from the theater. Lincoln never regained consciousness and died the next day. Booth was killed while trying to elude capture on April 26.

Mary Todd Lincoln: What will Miss Harris think of my hanging on to you so? (as she held his hand)
Abraham Lincoln: She won’t think anything about it. (his last words)

Our cause being almost lost, something decisive and great must be done. – John Wilkes Booth diary entry for April 14, 1865

About 10:25 pm, a man came in and walked slowly along the side on which the “Pres” box was and I heard a man say, “There’s Booth” and I turned my head to look at him. He was still walking very slow and was near the box door when he stopped, took a card from his pocket, wrote something on it, and gave it to the usher who took it to the box. In a minute the door was opened and he walked in. – eyewitness account by Dr. George Brainerd Todd

I am a slow walker, but I never walk back. – Abraham Lincoln