This Day in History
1739 — Dick Turpin hung for horse stealing. Turpin was a famous outlaw in England, much like Jesse James in America or Ned Kelly in Australia. He started out as a butcher and became involved in crime when a gang brought cattle they had rustled to him. He graduated from that to being a highwayman and horse thief. He would have soon been forgotten after his execution except for being romanticized in a novel. After that, as so often happens, fiction trumped fact in regard to his life. He was a killer, a thief, and did not rob from the rich to give to the poor. Turpin was stealing horses under the pseudonym of John Palmer when he was arrested for shooting a chicken in the street and then threatening to shoot its owner as well.
A couple of noteworthy things here, to me anyway. First, why use a pseudonym to steal horses? What good does that do? And then, shooting a chicken in the street? I’m somewhat at a loss trying to visualize how that scenario came to be. Was some guy out walking his chicken? Did the chicken somehow offend or challenge the horse thief. Just speculating but I bet alcohol had something to do with it.
1926 — Assassination attempt on Benito Mussolini. Violet Gibson, a fifty year old English woman to whom God often spoke, encountered the fascist dictator in Rome. Small, thin, gray-haired, Mussolini’s bodyguards took no notice and she slipped past them. Holding a small pistol a foot away she fired at the exact moment the unaware Mussolini turned to look at something. The bullet went through his nose instead of his head. The police save Gibson from being beaten to death by an angry fascist crowd. She was declared insane and sent back to English where she spent the rest of her life in a mental institution.
But for the turn of a head maybe history could have escaped the evils of Fascism. Mussolini was in power before Hitler, and Hitler followed his rise and charted the same course. I wish God would have told Violet to take better aim.
1966 — H-bomb recovered from the Mediterranean Sea. The Cold War was in full swing and the U.S. kept a fleet of B-52s, armed with nuclear warheads, in the air at all times ready to attack the Soviet Union. In January of 1966 one of those B-52s collided with its tanker while refueling in the air. The B-52 broke apart and the tanker exploded in flames. Four airmen survived and seven died. The crash took place above the Mediterranean Sea and four H-bombs aboard the B-52 fell along the Spanish coastline. Not armed, they did not explode. Three were located on Spanish farmland, the fourth was missing. After months of searching, the bomb was finally found in 2,500 feet of water. A delicate rescue operating brought it to the surface on this date in 1966.
Although no nuclear explosions were triggered, the countryside was contaminated with radiation. 1,400 tons of topsoil was removed and stored somewhere in the U.S, and some areas where the bombs fell remained closed and off limits to this day. The area and residents are still being monitored.
And this is from nuclear devices that didn’t explode!
1915 — Eleanora Fagan. AKA Billie Holiday, AKA “Lady Day”. Female vocalist, one of the greatest ever. Holiday’s harsh and difficult life was reflected in her unique voice and singing style. Born into poverty, she was sexually assaulted as a child and forced into prostitution as a teenager. She was put into a home for wayward African-American girls and there found refuge in music. She began singing in nightclubs in Harlem and was “discovered.” She found success in her twenties, first with the Count Basie Band, and then with Artie Shaw. She was the first black vocalist with the all-white Shaw band. Although Shaw defended her it was the reason she quit the band. She tired of having to enter a white nightclub through the kitchen, of not being able to go to the bar with the rest of the band, and being told to use a cargo elevator rather than the passenger one was the last straw.
Holiday also became addicted to drugs, leading to personal, career, and legal problems. Despite it all she was a huge commercial success. Two of her biggest hits were “Strange Fruit” and “God Bless the Child.” However both her health and career suffered because of drugs. Arrested several times, jailed, her life became a downward spiral. She died in 1959 at age 44.
Although her life was tragic, she left a beautiful legacy with her music.
1930 — Andrew Sachs. Actor. Sachs had a sixty year acting career but is most famous for his role as Manuel in the British sit-com, “Fawlty Towers.” The thirteen episodes of “Fawlty Towers were shot in the short time period of three months, and those three months gained Manuel a reputation as the most famous waiter ever.
For me, with John Cleese as the lead, and a touch of “Monty Python”, those mere thirteen episodes established “Fawlty Towers” as the most outrageously funny TV I’ve ever watched.
1931 — Daniel Ellsberg. Military analyst and anti-war activist. A scholar and government insider, Ellsberg worked both at the Pentagon and for the Rand Corporation, a think tank created to provide information to the U.S. military. He also spent two years in Vietnam working for the State Department. He eventually became completely disillusioned by the war and the government’s duplicity in it. Along with Anthony Russo, he photocopied and released the Pentagon Papers, a governmental study supporting the theory the war was not winnable and also exposing the lies the various administrations had perpetrated upon the American public. Charged with treason under the Espionage Act, Ellsberg faced 115 years in prison. A judge dismissed the charges against him due to governmental misconduct. At the time some viewed Ellsberg as a true patriot, others a traitor.
Much the same as with Edward Snowden today.