Monthly Archives: February 2019

Americans hold a Nazi rally in Madison Square Garden

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/americans-hold-nazi-rally-in-madison-square-garden

Six and a half months before Adolf Hitler invaded Poland, New York City’s Madison Square Garden hosted a rally to celebrate the rise of Nazism in Germany. Inside, more than 20,000 attendees raised Nazi salutes toward a 30-foot-tall portrait of George Washington flanked by swastikas. Outside, police attacked New Yorkers, 100,000 of whom had gathered to protest the rally.

The organization behind the February 20, 1939 event—advertised on the arena’s marquee as a “Pro American Rally”—was the German American Bund (“Bund” is German for “federation”). The anti-semitic organization held Nazi summer camps for youth and their families during the 1930s. The Bund’s youth members were present that night, as were the Ordnungsdienst, or OD, the group’s vigilante police force who dressed in the style of Hitler’s SS officers.

Banners at the rally had messages like “Stop Jewish Domination of Christian Americans” and “Wake Up America. Smash Jewish Communism.” When the Bund’s national leader, Fritz Kuhn, gave his closing speech, he referred to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt as “Rosenfield,” and Manhattan District Attorney Thomas Dewey as “Thomas Jewey.”

“We, with American ideals, demand that our government shall be returned to the American people who founded it,” declared Kuhn, a naturalized American who lost his citizenship during World War II. “If you ask what we are actively fighting for under our charter: First, a socially just, white, Gentile-ruled United States. Second, Gentile-controlled labor unions, free from Jewish Moscow-directed domination.”

Kuhn’s speech was interrupted by a Jewish-American man named Isadore Greenbaum who charged the stage in protest. Police and the vigilante force quickly tackled him, and proceeded to beat him up on stage. The crowd cheered as they threw him off stage, pulling his pants down in the process. Police charged Greenbaum with disorderly conduct and gave him a $25 fine, about $450 in 2019 dollars.

At the time the rally took place, Hitler was completing his sixth concentration camp; and protesters—many of them Jewish Americans—called attention to the fact that what was happening in Germany could happen in the U.S. “Don’t wait for the concentration camps—Act now!” proclaimed fliers advertising the protest. Outside the rally, people carried signs with messages like “Smash Anti-Semitism” and “Give me a gas mask, I can’t stand the smell of Nazis.”

Police responded to the protesters with violent attacks. In one instance, a protester escaped a mounted police officer who’d grabbed him by punching his horse in the face. As the rally broke up that night, some protesters were able to slip by police and punch departing Nazis in the face.

American colonists practice scalping

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/american-colonists-practice-scalping

In the American colonies, a posse of New Hampshire volunteers comes across a band of encamped Native Americans and takes 10 “scalps” in the first significant appropriation of this Native American practice by European colonists. The posse received a bounty of 100 pounds per scalp from the colonial authorities in Boston.

Although the custom of “scalping” was once practiced in Europe and Asia, it is generally associated with North American native groups. In scalping, the skin around the crown of the head was cut and removed from the enemy’s skull, usually causing death. In addition to its value as a war trophy, a scalp was often believed to bestow the possessor with the powers of the scalped enemy. In their early wars with Native Americans, European colonists of North America retaliated against hostile native groups by adopting their practice of scalp taking. Bounties were offered for them by colonial authorities, which in turn led to an escalation of intertribal warfare and scalping in North America.

An American orbits earth

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/an-american-orbits-earth

From Cape Canaveral, Florida, John Hershel Glenn Jr. is successfully launched into space aboard the Friendship 7 spacecraft on the first orbital flight by an American astronaut.

Glenn, a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Marine Corps, was among the seven men chosen by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in 1959 to become America’s first astronauts. A decorated pilot, he flew nearly 150 combat missions during World War II and the Korean War. In 1957, he made the first nonstop supersonic flight across the United States, flying from Los Angeles to New York in three hours and 23 minutes.

Glenn was preceded in space by two Americans, Alan B. Shepard Jr. and Virgil I. “Gus” Grissom, and two Soviets, Yuri A. Gagarin and Gherman S. Titov. In April 1961, Gagarin was the first man in space, and his spacecraft Vostok 1 made a full orbit before returning to Earth. Less than one month later, Shepard was launched into space aboard Freedom 7 on a suborbital flight. In July, Grissom made another brief suborbital flight aboard Liberty Bell 7. In August, with the Americans still having failed to make an orbital flight, the Russians sprinted further ahead in the space race when Titov spent more than 25 hours in space aboard Vostok 2, making 17 orbits. As a technological power, the United States was looking very much second-rate compared with its Cold War adversary. If the Americans wanted to dispel this notion, they needed a multi-orbital flight before another Soviet space advance arrived.

It was with this responsibility in mind that John Glenn lifted off from the launch pad at Cape Canaveral at 9:47 a.m. on February 20, 1962. Some 100,000 spectators watched on the ground nearby and millions more saw it on television. After separating from its launching rocket, the bell-shaped Friendship 7 capsule entered into an orbit around Earth at a speed of about 17,500 miles per hour. Smoothing into orbit, Glenn radioed back, “Capsule is turning around. Oh, that view is tremendous.”

During Friendship 7‘s first orbit, Glenn noticed what he described as small, glowing fireflies drifting by the capsule’s tiny window. It was some time later that NASA mission control determined that the sparks were crystallized water vapor released by the capsule’s air-conditioning system. Before the end of the first orbit, a more serious problem occurred when Friendship 7‘s automatic control system began to malfunction, sending the capsule into erratic movements. At the end of the orbit, Glenn switched to manual control and regained command of the craft.

Toward the end of Glenn’s third and last orbit, mission control received a mechanical signal from the spacecraft indicating that the heat shield on the base of the capsule was possibly loose. Traveling at its immense speed, the capsule would be incinerated if the shield failed to absorb and dissipate the extremely high reentry temperatures. It was decided that the craft’s retrorockets, usually jettisoned before reentry, would be left on in order to better secure the heat shield. Less than a minute later, Friendship 7 slammed into Earth’s atmosphere.

During Glenn’s fiery descent back to Earth, the straps holding the retrorockets gave way and flapped violently by his window as a shroud of ions caused by excessive friction enveloped the spacecraft, causing Glenn to lose radio contact with mission control. As mission control anxiously waited for the resumption of radio transmissions that would indicate Glenn’s survival, he watched flaming chunks of retrorocket fly by his window. After four minutes of radio silence, Glenn’s voice crackled through loudspeakers at mission control, and Friendship 7 splashed down safely in the Atlantic Ocean. He was picked up by the USS destroyer Noa, and his first words upon stepping out of the capsule and onto the deck of the Noa were, “It was hot in there.” He had spent nearly five hours in space.

Glenn was hailed as a national hero, and on February 23 President John F. Kennedy visited him at Cape Canaveral. He later addressed Congress and was given a ticker-tape parade in New York City.

Out of a reluctance to risk the life of an astronaut as popular as Glenn, NASA essentially grounded the “Clean Marine” in the years after his historic flight. Frustrated with this uncharacteristic lack of activity, Glenn turned to politics and in 1964 announced his candidacy for the U.S. Senate from his home state of Ohio and formally left NASA. Later that year, however, he withdrew his Senate bid after seriously injuring his inner ear in a fall. In 1970, following a stint as a Royal Crown Cola executive, he ran for the Senate again but lost the Democratic nomination to Howard Metzenbaum. Four years later, he defeated Metzenbaum, won the general election, and went on to win reelection three times. In 1984, he unsuccessfully sought the Democratic nomination for president.

In early 1998, NASA announced it had approved Glenn to serve as a payload specialist on the space shuttle Discovery. On October 29, 1998, nearly four decades after his famous orbital flight, the 77-year-old Glenn became the oldest human ever to travel in space. During the nine-day mission, he served as part of a NASA study on health problems associated with aging. In 1999, he retired from his U.S. Senate seat after four consecutive terms in office, a record for the state of Ohio.

Chunnel plans announced

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/chunnel-plans-announced

Attempts to dig a channel tunnel between Britain and France date back to 1883, and Napoleon drew blueprints for a tunnel in 1802. Yet not until February 20, 1986, were France and Britain able to announce that a tunnel would soon become a reality. Trains, cars and buses would be able to speed through the tunnel in less than half an hour. Construction began in December 1987 and the “chunnel” was finally completed in 1994.

Yarborough wins fourth Daytona 500

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/yarborough-wins-fourth-daytona-500

Driver Cale Yarborough wins his fourth Daytona 500 on this day in 1984. In the history of the 200-lap, 500-mile race, which was first run at Florida’s Daytona International Speedway in 1959 and is considered one of the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR)’s premiere events, only one driver topped Yarborough’s record—Richard Petty, who took home seven victories (1964, 1966, 1971, 1973, 1974, 1979, 1981).

Yarborough was born on March 27, 1940, in Timmonsville, South Carolina, and began racing cars as a teenager. In 1968, he won his first Daytona 500 as well as the first of his five Southern 500 victories at the Darlington Raceway (his other wins came in 1973, 1974, 1978 and 1982). Yarborough then went on to three consecutive Winston Cup (now known as the Sprint Cup) Series championships, in 1976, 1977 and 1978; he was the first driver to accomplish this feat. (Jimmie Johnson was the second driver to do so, with Sprint Cup victories in 2006, 2007 and 2008.) Yarborough collected his second Daytona 500 trophy in 1977.

At the 1979 Daytona 500, the first time the event was ever broadcast live on national TV from start to finish, Yarborough famously got into a post-race brawl with fellow drivers Donnie and Bobby Allison. Yarborough and Donnie Allison had been competing for the lead during the last lap of the race when they crashed. (Richard Petty won the event, ending his 45-race losing streak.) As it happened, a larger-than-anticipated audience saw Yarborough’s slugfest with the Allison brothers on TV, as a snowstorm in the Northeast had left millions of people housebound. The fight was credited with helping to put NASCAR on the map and transform it in the coming years from a regional Southern sport to a national phenomenon.

In 1983 and 1984, Yarborough won back-to-back victories at the Daytona 500, becoming just the second driver to do so, after Richard Petty’s consecutive wins in 1973 and 1974. At the 1984 Daytona 500, Yarborough became the first driver ever to qualify for the race with a speed of over 200 mph. He retired from racing at the end of the 1988 season with a career total of 83 Winston Cup wins and 70 pole positions.

Aaron Burr arrested for treason

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/aaron-burr-arrested-for-treason

Aaron Burr, a former U.S. vice president, is arrested in Alabama on charges of plotting to annex Spanish territory in Louisiana and Mexico to be used toward the establishment of an independent republic.

In November 1800, in an election conducted before presidential and vice-presidential candidates shared a single ticket, Thomas Jefferson and his running mate, Aaron Burr, defeated Federalist incumbent John Adams with 73 electoral votes each. The tie vote then went to the House to be decided, and Federalist Alexander Hamilton was instrumental in breaking the deadlock in Jefferson’s favor. Burr, because he finished second, became vice president.

During the next few years, President Jefferson grew apart from his vice president and did not support Burr’s renomination to a second term in 1804. A faction of the Federalists, who had found their fortunes drastically diminished after the ascendance of Jefferson, sought to enlist the disgruntled Burr into their party. However, Alexander Hamilton opposed such a move and was quoted by a New York newspaper saying that he “looked upon Mr. Burr to be a dangerous man, and one who ought not to be trusted with the reins of government.” The article also referred to occasions when Hamilton had expressed an even “more despicable opinion of Burr.” Burr demanded an apology, Hamilton refused, so Burr challenged his old political antagonist to a duel.

On July 11, 1804, the pair met at a remote spot in Weehawken, New Jersey. Hamilton, whose son was killed in a duel in 1801, deliberately fired into the air, but Burr fired with intent to kill. Hamilton, fatally wounded, died in New York City the next day. The questionable circumstances of Hamilton’s death effectively brought Burr’s political career to an end.

Fleeing to Virginia, he traveled to New Orleans after finishing his term as vice president and met with U.S. General James Wilkinson, who was an agent for the Spanish. The exact nature of what the two plotted is unknown, but speculation ranges from the establishment of an independent republic in the American Southwest to the seizure of territory in Spanish America for the same purpose.

In the fall of 1806, Burr led a group of well-armed colonists toward New Orleans, prompting an immediate investigation by U.S. authorities. General Wilkinson, in an effort to save himself, turned against Burr and sent dispatches to Washington accusing Burr of treason. On February 19, 1807, Burr was arrested in Alabama for treason and sent to Richmond, Virginia, to be tried in a U.S. circuit court.

On September 1, 1807, he was acquitted on the grounds that, although he had conspired against the United States, he was not guilty of treason because he had not engaged in an “overt act,” a requirement of treason as specified by the U.S. Constitution. Nevertheless, public opinion condemned him as a traitor, and he spent several years in Europe before returning to New York and resuming his law practice.

Copernicus born

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/copernicus-born

On February 19, 1473, Nicolaus Copernicus is born in Torun, a city in north-central Poland on the Vistula River. The father of modern astronomy, he was the first modern European scientist to propose that Earth and other planets revolve around the sun.

Copernicus was born into a family of well-to-do merchants, and after his father’s death, his uncle–soon to be a bishop–took the boy under his wing. He was given the best education of the day and bred for a career in canon (church) law. At the University of Krakow, he studied liberal arts, including astronomy and astrology, and then, like many Poles of his social class, was sent to Italy to study medicine and law.

While studying at the University of Bologna, he lived for a time in the home of Domenico Maria de Novara, the principal astronomer at the university. Astronomy and astrology were at the time closely related and equally regarded, and Novara had the responsibility of issuing astrological prognostications for Bologna. Copernicus sometimes assisted him in his observations, and Novara exposed him to criticism of both astrology and aspects of the Ptolemaic system, which placed Earth at the center of the universe.

Copernicus later studied at the University of Padua and in 1503 received a doctorate in canon law from the University of Ferrara. He returned to Poland, where he became a church administrator and doctor. In his free time, he dedicated himself to scholarly pursuits, which sometimes included astronomical work. By 1514, his reputation as an astronomer was such that he was consulted by church leaders attempting to reform the Julian calendar.

The cosmology of early 16th-century Europe held that Earth sat stationary and motionless at the center of several rotating, concentric spheres that bore the celestial bodies: the sun, the moon, the known planets, and the stars. From ancient times, philosophers adhered to the belief that the heavens were arranged in circles (which by definition are perfectly round), causing confusion among astronomers who recorded the often eccentric motion of the planets, which sometimes appeared to halt in their orbit of Earth and move retrograde across the sky.

In the second century A.D., the Alexandrian geographer and astronomer Ptolemy sought to resolve this problem by arguing that the sun, planets, and moon move in small circles around much larger circles that revolve around Earth. These small circles he called epicycles, and by incorporating numerous epicycles rotating at varying speeds he made his celestial system correspond with most astronomical observations on record.

The Ptolemaic system remained Europe’s accepted cosmology for more than 1,000 years, but by Copernicus’ day accumulated astronomical evidence had thrown some of his theories into confusion. Astronomers disagreed on the order of the planets from Earth, and it was this problem that Copernicus addressed at the beginning of the 16th century.

Sometime between 1508 and 1514, he wrote a short astronomical treatise commonly called the Commentariolus, or “Little Commentary,” which laid the basis for his heliocentric (sun-centered) system. The work was not published in his lifetime. In the treatise, he correctly postulated the order of the known planets, including Earth, from the sun, and estimated their orbital periods relatively accurately.

For Copernicus, his heliocentric theory was by no means a watershed, for it created as many problems as it solved. For instance, heavy objects were always assumed to fall to the ground because Earth was the center of the universe. Why would they do so in a sun-centered system? He retained the ancient belief that circles governed the heavens, but his evidence showed that even in a sun-centered universe the planets and stars did not revolve around the sun in circular orbits. Because of these problems and others, Copernicus delayed publication of his major astronomical work, De revolutionibus orbium coelestium libri vi, or “Six Books Concerning the Revolutions of the Heavenly Orbs,” nearly all his life. Completed around 1530, it was not published until 1543–the year of his death.

In the work, Copernicus’ groundbreaking argument that Earth and the planets revolve around the sun led him to make a number of other major astronomical discoveries. While revolving around the sun, Earth, he argued, spins on its axis daily. Earth takes one year to orbit the sun and during this time wobbles gradually on its axis, which accounts for the precession of the equinoxes. Major flaws in the work include his concept of the sun as the center of the whole universe, not just the solar system, and his failure to grasp the reality of elliptical orbits, which forced him to incorporate numerous epicycles into his system, as did Ptolemy. With no concept of gravity, Earth and the planets still revolved around the sun on giant transparent spheres.

In his dedication to De revolutionibus–an extremely dense scientific work–Copernicus noted that “mathematics is written for mathematicians.” If the work were more accessible, many would have objected to its non-biblical and hence heretical concept of the universe. For decades, De revolutionibus remained unknown to all but the most sophisticated astronomers, and most of these men, while admiring some of Copernicus’ arguments, rejected his heliocentric basis. It was not until the early 17th century that Galileo and Johannes Kepler developed and popularized the Copernican theory, which for Galileo resulted in a trial and conviction for heresy. Following Isaac Newton’s work in celestial mechanics in the late 17th century, acceptance of the Copernican theory spread rapidly in non-Catholic countries, and by the late 18th century it was almost universally accepted.

Roosevelt signs Executive Order 9066

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/roosevelt-signs-executive-order-9066

Ten weeks after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt signs Executive Order 9066, authorizing the removal of any or all people from military areas “as deemed necessary or desirable.” The military in turn defined the entire West Coast, home to the majority of Americans of Japanese ancestry or citizenship, as a military area. By June, more than 110,000 Japanese Americans were relocated to remote internment camps built by the U.S. military in scattered locations around the country. For the next two and a half years, many of these Japanese Americans endured extremely difficult living conditions and poor treatment by their military guards.

On December 17, 1944, U.S. Major General Henry C. Pratt issued Public Proclamation No. 21, declaring that, effective January 2, 1945, Japanese-American “evacuees” from the West Coast could return to their homes. During the course of World War II, 10 Americans were convicted of spying for Japan, but not one of them was of Japanese ancestry. In 1988, President Ronald Reagan signed a bill to recompense each surviving internee with a tax-free check for $20,000 and an apology from the U.S. government.

Solzhenitsyn reunited with family

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/solzhenitsyn-reunited-with-family

Alexander Solzhenitsyn awaits reunion with his family after exile from Russia. Publication of The Gulag Archipelago, a detailed history of the Soviet prison system, prompted Russia to exile the 55 year-old author. One of Russia’s most visible and vocal dissidents, Solzhenitsyn once served an 11-year prison term. Solzhenitsyn had previously been prevented by the Soviets from receiving a Nobel Prize for literature, but finally in 1978, he received the award in Switzerland.