Today in History

May 2, 1920: The first game of the Negro National League baseball is played in Indianapolis. The eight initial teams were the Chicago American Giants, Detroit Stars, Kansas City Monarchs, Indianapolis ABCs, St. Louis Giants, Cuban Stars, Dayton Marcos and Chicago Giants.

May 3, 1978: The first unsolicited bulk commercial email (which will later become known as “spam”) is sent by Gary Thuerk, a Digital Equipment Corporation marketing representative, to all 600 ARPANET addresses on the west coast of the United States. Mr. Thuerk is reprimanded and told not to do it again.

May 4, 1970: The Kent State Massacre of unarmed college students by members of the Ohio National Guard at Kent State University in Kent, Ohio, during a mass protest against the bombing of Cambodia by United States military forces. Twenty-eight guardsmen fire approximately 67 rounds over a period of 13 seconds, killing four students and wounding nine others.

Two of the four students killed, Allison Krause and Jeffrey Miller, had participated in the protest. The other two, Sandra Scheuer and William Knox Schroeder, were walking from one class to the next at the time of their deaths. Schroeder was also a member of the campus ROTC battalion. One of the injured, Dean R. Kahler, suffers fractures of his vertebrae, causing permanent paralysis from the chest down. Kahler was walking from one class to another, and briefly stopped to see what the protest was about.

May 5, 1961: Alan Shepard becomes the first American to travel into outer space, on a sub-orbital flight. He has named his spacecraft Freedom 7. When reporters ask Shepard what he thinks about as he sits atop the Redstone rocket, waiting for liftoff, he replies, “The fact that every part of this ship was built by the lowest bidder." Shepard stays on a suborbital trajectory for the 15-minute flight, which is seen live on television by millions.

May 6, 2013: Three women missing for more than a decade are found alive in the home of Ariel Castro, in the Tremont neighborhood of Cleveland, Ohio. Michelle Knight, Amanda Berry, and Georgina “Gina” DeJesus had been kidnapped by Ariel Castro and held captive in his home. They had been subsequently imprisoned until Berry escapes with her then-six-year-old daughter and contacts the police. Knight and DeJesus are rescued by responding officers, and Castro is arrested within hours.

Two day later, Castro will be charged with four counts of kidnapping and three counts of rape. He will plead guilty to 937 criminal counts of rape, kidnapping, and aggravated murder as part of a plea bargain. He’ll be sentenced to life plus 1,000 years in prison without the possibility of parole. One month into his sentence, Castro will commit suicide by hanging himself with bed sheets in his prison cell.

May 7, 1915: German submarine U-20 sinks RMS Lusitania, killing 1,198 people, including 128 Americans. Public reaction to the sinking turns many formerly pro-Germans in the United States against the German Empire.

May 8, 1902: In one of the deadliest volcanic disasters in history, Mt. Pelee on Martinique erupts, killing over 30,000 people. Most deaths are caused by pyroclastic flows which destroy the city of Saint-Pierre, which had been the largest city on the island, within minutes of the eruption. It will be reported that out of the 30,000 in the city, there are only two survivors: Louis-Auguste Cyparis, a felon held in an underground cell in the town’s jail, and Léon Compère-Léandre, a man who had lived at the edge of the city. In reality, there are a number of survivors who made their way out of the fringes of the blast zone. Many of these survivors are horribly burned, and some will later die from their injuries.

On a trip to Martinique in 1998, I stood in Louis-Auguste Cyparis’ cell, and I climbed Mt. Pelee. Very foggy, wet and muddy.

May 9, 1974: The United States House Committee on the Judiciary opens formal and public impeachment hearings against President Richard Nixon.

May 10, 1869: The First Transcontinental Railroad, linking the eastern and western United States, is completed at Promontory Summit, Utah Territory, with the golden spike.

The Golden Spike was kind of an afterthought. San Francisco contractor David Hewes, friend of Central Pacific President Leland Stanford, was disappointed to discover no one had prepared a commemorative item for the completion of the transcontinental railroad, which was scheduled to be finished on May 8, 1869. Unable to persuade anyone to finance the casting of a solid gold or silver section of rail, Hewes decided upon a more practical token. Using $400 of his own gold, he had the William T. Garatt Foundry of San Francisco cast a golden spike. The spike was 5 5/8 inches long, weighed 14.03 ounces and was made of 17.6 carat gold.


May 11, 1960: In Buenos Aires, Argentina, four Israeli Mossad agents capture fugitive Nazi Adolf Eichmann who has been living under the alias of Ricardo Klement. Eichmann had been one of the major organizers of the Holocaust.

Eichmann will be brought to Israel to stand trial on 15 criminal charges, including war crimes, crimes against humanity, and crimes against the Jewish people. During the trial, he will not deny the Holocaust or his role in organizing it, but will claim that he was simply following orders in a totalitarian Führerprinzip system. He will be found guilty on all of the charges, and will be executed by hanging on June 1, 1962.

May 12, 1846: The Donner Party of pioneers departs Independence, Missouri, for California, on what will become a year-long journey of hardship and cannibalism. Delayed by a series of mishaps, they will spend the winter of 1846–47 snowbound in the Sierra Nevada. Some of the emigrants will resort to cannibalism to survive, eating the bodies of those who had succumbed to starvation and sickness.

May 13, 1637: Cardinal Richelieu of France reputedly creates the table knife. The distinguishing feature of a table knife is its blunt or rounded end. Richelieu’s invention is an attempt to cure dinner guests of the habit of picking their teeth with their knife-points.

Later, in 1669, King Louis XIV of France will ban pointed knives in the street and at his table, insisting on blunt tips, in the hope that it would reduce violence.

May 14, 1932: The “WE WANT BEER!” parade in New York City.

During the height of the Great Depression, getting 100,000 people hyped up about anything other than available paid work would seem an impossible task. Jobs are scarce, money is tight, and morale is low. But there is one thing that can drive the masses to the streets of New York City in the thousands – Beer.

May 15, 1836: Francis Baily observes “Baily’s beads” during an annular eclipse.

As the moon covers the sun during a solar eclipse, the rugged topography of the lunar limb allows beads of sunlight to shine through in some places while not in others. Lunar topography has considerable relief because of the presence of mountains, craters, valleys, and other topographical features. The irregularities of the lunar limb profile (the “edge” of the Moon, as seen from a distance) are known accurately from observations of grazing occultations of stars. Astronomers thus have a fairly good idea which mountains and valleys will cause the beads to appear in advance of the eclipse. While Baily’s beads are seen briefly for a few seconds at the center of the eclipse path, their duration is maximized near the edges of the path of the umbra.

May 15, 1988: The Soviet Union began the process of withdrawing its troops from Afghanistan, more than eight years after Soviet forces entered the country.

May 16, 1866: The U.S. Congress eliminates the “half dime” coin and replaces it with the five cent piece, or “nickel”.

May 17, 1990: The General Assembly of the World Health Organization (WHO) eliminates homosexuality from the list of psychiatric diseases.

May 18, 1980: Mount St. Helens erupts in Washington State, killing 57 people and causing $3 billion in damage.

May 19, 1962: A 45th birthday salute to U.S. President John F. Kennedy takes place at Madison Square Garden, New York City, attended by more than 15,000 people. The highlight is Marilyn Monroe’s rendition of "Happy Birthday.”

Monroe’s dress is made of a sheer flesh-colored marquisette fabric, with 2,500 shimmering rhinestones sewn into it. The dress is so tight-fitting that she has difficulty putting it on. She wears nothing under it.