Monthly Archives: September 2019

Michael Chabon’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel debuts

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/michael-chabons-pulitzer-prize-winning-novel-debuts

Michael Chabon’s third novel The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay is published on September 19, 2000. It went on to win the Pulitzer Prize for fiction the following year. 

Chabon, who was born in Washington, D.C., in 1963, graduated from the University of Pittsburgh and earned a master’s degree in creative writing from the University of California, Irvine. His first novel, The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, a coming-of-age story set in the city named in the title, was written as his graduate school thesis. Published in 1988, the book became a best-seller and was later made into a movie.

Among Chabon’s other credits are The Yiddish Policemen’s Union, a 2007 detective novel; Telegraph Avenue, a 2012 novel; and Moonglow, a 2016 novel. He has also written screenplays and several collections of short stories. 

Chabon is married to writer Ayelet Waldman, with whom he has four children. 

The struggling Donner Party sends ahead to California for food

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/the-struggling-donner-party-sends-ahead-to-california-for-food

Weeks behind schedule and the massive Sierra Nevada mountains still to be crossed, on September 18, 1846, the members of the ill-fated Donner party realize they are running short of supplies and send two men ahead to California to bring back food.

The group of 89 emigrants had begun their western trek earlier that summer in Springfield, Illinois, under the leadership of the brothers Jacob and George Donner. Unfortunately, the Donner brothers had recently read The Emigrant’s Guide to Oregon and California, the imaginative creation of an irresponsible author-adventurer named Lansford Hastings, who wanted to encourage more overland emigrants to travel to the Sacramento Valley of California. The Donners innocently accepted Hastings’ claim that a shorter route he had blazed to California would cut weeks off the usual trip and agreed to place the fate of the wagon train in his hands once they reached Fort Bridger, Wyoming. From that point forward, the men, women, and children of the Donner Party were in trouble.

Though the so-called Hastings Cutoff was indeed shorter than the usual route, Hastings’ glowing descriptions of his trail irresponsibly downplayed its many difficulties, as the Donner party soon discovered. After following a boulder-strewn and nearly impassable route over the Wasatch Range in Utah, the party embarked on an arduous six-day trek across the desert-a journey that Hastings had promised would take only two days. Lightening their loads by abandoning chairs, family heirlooms, wagons, and livestock to be swallowed up by the blazing sands, the emigrants struggled onward towards the Sierra Nevada.

A month after the two men had left for California, one returned with the desperately needed provisions as well as two Indian guides to help lead the party on the final stage of the trip through the Sierras. But by then it was already late October. Hastings’ “shortcut” had cost the Donner group so much time that they now risked being trapped in the high mountains if an early snowstorm chanced to fall. Unfortunately for the luckless emigrants, just such a snowstorm arrived on the night of October 28. The next day the Donner party was snowbound in the Sierras.

Jimmy Carter files report on UFO sighting

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/carter-files-report-on-ufo-sighting

Future President Jimmy Carter files a report with the National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomena (NICAP) on September 18, 1973, claiming he had seen an Unidentified Flying Object (UFO) in October 1969.

During the presidential campaign of 1976, Democratic challenger Carter was forthcoming about his belief that he had seen a UFO. He described waiting outside for a Lion’s Club Meeting in Leary, Georgia, to begin, at about 7:30 p.m., when he spotted what he called “the darndest thing I’ve ever seen” in the sky. Carter, as well as 10 to 12 other people who witnessed the same event, described the object as “very bright [with] changing colors and about the size of the moon.” Carter reported that “the object hovered about 30 degrees above the horizon and moved in toward the earth and away before disappearing into the distance.” He later told a reporter that, after the experience, he vowed never again to ridicule anyone who claimed to have seen a UFO.

During the presidential campaign of 1976, Carter promised that, if elected president, he would encourage the government release “every piece of information” about UFOs available to the public and to scientists. After winning the presidency, though, Carter backed away from this pledge, saying that the release of some information might have “defense implications” and pose a threat to national security.

Capitol cornerstone is laid

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/capitol-cornerstone-is-laid

On September 18, 1793, George Washington lays the cornerstone to the United States Capitol building, the home of the legislative branch of American government. The building would take nearly a century to complete, as architects came and went, the British set fire to it and it was called into use during the Civil War. Today, the Capitol building, with its famous cast-iron dome and important collection of American art, is part of the Capitol Complex, which includes six Congressional office buildings and three Library of Congress buildings, all developed in the 19th and 20th centuries.

As a young nation, the United States had no permanent capital, and Congress met in eight different cities, including Baltimore, New York and Philadelphia, before 1791. In 1790, Congress passed the Residence Act, which gave President Washington the power to select a permanent home for the federal government. The following year, he chose what would become the District of Columbia from land provided by Maryland. Washington picked three commissioners to oversee the capital city’s development and they in turn chose French engineer Pierre Charles L’Enfant to come up with the design. However, L’Enfant clashed with the commissioners and was fired in 1792. A design competition was then held, with a Scotsman named William Thornton submitting the winning entry for the Capitol building. In September 1793, Washington laid the Capitol’s cornerstone and the lengthy construction process, which would involve a line of project managers and architects, got under way.

In 1800, Congress moved into the Capitol’s north wing. In 1807, the House of Representatives moved into the building’s south wing, which was finished in 1811. During the War of 1812, the British invaded Washington, D.C., and set fire to the Capitol on August 24, 1814. A rainstorm saved the building from total destruction. Congress met in nearby temporary quarters from 1815 to 1819. In the early 1850s, work began to expand the Capitol to accommodate the growing number of Congressmen. In 1861, construction was temporarily halted while the Capitol was used by Union troops as a hospital and barracks. Following the war, expansions and modern upgrades to the building continued into the next century.

Today, the Capitol, which is visited by 3 million to 5 million people each year, has 540 rooms and covers a ground area of about four acres.

Anne Hutchinson arrives in the New World

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/anne-hutchinson-arrives-in-the-new-world

Anne Hutchinson, an Englishwoman who would become an outspoken religious thinker in the American colonies, arrives at the Massachusetts Bay Colony with her family.

She settled in Cambridge and began organizing meetings of Boston women in her home, leading them in discussions of recent sermons and religious issues. Soon ministers and magistrates began attending her sessions as well. Hutchinson preached that faith alone was sufficient for salvation, and therefore that individuals had no need for the church or church law. By 1637, her influence had become so great that she was brought to trial and found guilty of heresy against Puritan orthodoxy. Banished from Massachusetts, she led a group of 70 followers to Rhode Island–Roger Williams’ colony based on religious freedom–and established a settlement on the island of Aquidneck.

After the death of her husband in 1642, she settled near present-day Pelham Bay, New York, on the Long Island Sound. In 1643, she and all but one of her children were massacred in an Indian attack. She is recognized as the first notable woman religious leader in the American colonies.

Patty Hearst captured

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/patty-hearst-captured

Newspaper heiress and wanted fugitive Patty Hearst is captured in a San Francisco apartment and arrested for armed robbery.

On February 4, 1974, Patricia Hearst, the 19-year-old daughter of newspaper publisher Randolph Hearst, was kidnapped from her apartment in Berkeley, California, by two black men and a white woman, all three of whom were armed. Her fiancé, Stephen Weed, was beaten and tied up along with a neighbor who tried to help. Witnesses reported seeing a struggling Hearst being carried away blindfolded, and she was put in the trunk of a car. Neighbors who came out into the street were forced to take cover after the kidnappers fired their guns to cover their escape.

Three days later, the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA), a small U.S. leftist group, announced in a letter to a Berkeley radio station that it was holding Hearst as a “prisoner of war.” Four days later, the SLA demanded that the Hearst family give $70 in foodstuffs to every needy person from Santa Rosa to Los Angeles. This done, said the SLA, negotiations would begin for the return of Patricia Hearst. Randolph Hearst hesitantly gave away some $2 million worth of food. The SLA then called this inadequate and asked for $4 million more. The Hearst Corporation said it would donate the additional sum if the girl was released unharmed.

In April, however, the situation changed dramatically when Patty Hearst declared, in a tape sent to the authorities, that she was joining the SLA of her own free will. Later that month, a surveillance camera took a photo of her participating in an armed robbery of a San Francisco bank, and she was also spotted during the robbery of a Los Angeles store.

On May 17, police raided the SLA’s secret headquarters in Los Angeles, killing six of the group’s nine known members. Among the dead was the SLA’s leader, Donald DeFreeze, an African American ex-convict who called himself General Field Marshal Cinque. Patty Hearst and two other SLA members wanted for the April bank robbery were not on the premises.

Finally, on September 18, 1975, after crisscrossing the country with her captors–or conspirators–for more than a year, Hearst, or “Tania,” as she called herself, was captured in a San Francisco apartment and arrested for armed robbery. Despite her later claim that she had been brainwashed by the SLA, she was convicted on March 20, 1976, and sentenced to seven years in prison. Her prison sentence was commuted by President Jimmy Carter and she was released in February 1979. She later married her bodyguard. In 2001, she received a full pardon from President Bill Clinton.

1 million people attend funeral of Mao Zedong

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/funeral-of-mao-zedong

More than one million people gather at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing for the funeral of Mao Zedong, the leader of the Chinese Communist Party and chairman of the People’s Republic of China since 1949.

Mao, who died on September 9, 1976, at the age of 82, was born on December 26, 1893, to a peasant family in the Hunan province of central China. Trained to be a teacher, he helped found the Chinese Communist Party in 1921. After they claimed victory in a civil war with the nationalist party following WWII, Mao founded the People’s Republic of China and became its leader.

During an eight-day mourning period after his death, more than 1 million people paid their respects, as Mao’s body, in a flag-draped coffin, lay in state. At the start of the 30-minute public funeral in Tiananmen Square, a three-minute moment of silence was observed in honor of the leader, with reports that nearly all of China’s 800 million residents stood in silent tribute.

The ceremony included music from an army band that played a funeral march, China’s national anthem and the Communist “Internationale” and was televised live to the nation, which was a Chinese broadcast first. No foreign leaders were allowed to attend the service or the mourning period.

Hua Guofeng, China premier and Communist party first vice chairman who served as Mao’s immediate successor, delivered the eulogy. “It was under Chairman Mao’s leadership that the disaster-plagued Chinese nation rose to its feet,” he said. “The Chinese people love, trust and esteem Chairman Mao from the bottom of their hearts.” 

READ MORE: What was Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution? 

Battle of Antietam breaks out

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/battle-of-antietam

Beginning early on the morning of September 17, 1862, Confederate and Union troops in the Civil War clash near Maryland’s Antietam Creek in the bloodiest single day in American military history.

The Battle of Antietam marked the culmination of Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s first invasion of the Northern states. Guiding his Army of Northern Virginia across the Potomac River in early September 1862, the great general daringly divided his men, sending half of them, under the command of General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, to capture the Union garrison at Harper’s Ferry.

President Abraham Lincoln put Major General George B. McClellan in charge of the Union troops responsible for defending Washington, D.C., against Lee’s invasion. Over the course of September 15 and 16, the Confederate and Union armies gathered on opposite sides of Antietam Creek.

Fighting began in the foggy dawn hours of September 17. As savage and bloody combat continued for eight hours across the region, the Confederates were pushed back but not beaten, despite sustaining some 15,000 casualties.

By the time the sun went down, both armies still held their ground, despite staggering combined casualties–nearly 23,000 of the 100,000 soldiers engaged, including more than 3,600 dead. McClellan’s center never moved forward, leaving a large number of Union troops that did not participate in the battle.

On the morning of September 18, both sides gathered their wounded and buried their dead. That night, Lee turned his forces back to Virginia.

Camp David Accords signed

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/camp-david-accords-signed

At the White House in Washington, D.C., Egyptian President Anwar el-Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin sign the Camp David Accords, laying the groundwork for a permanent peace agreement between Egypt and Israel after three decades of hostilities. The accords were negotiated during 12 days of intensive talks at President Jimmy Carter’s Camp David retreat in the Catoctin Mountains of Maryland. The final peace agreement–the first between Israel and one of its Arab neighbors–was signed in March 1979. Sadat and Begin were jointly awarded the 1978 Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts.

A state of war had existed between Egypt and the State of Israel since the establishment of Israel in 1948. In the first three Arab-Israeli wars, Israel decisively defeated Egypt. As a result of the 1967 war, Israel occupied Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, the 23,500-square-mile peninsula that links Africa with Asia. When Anwar el-Sadat became Egyptian president in 1970, he found himself leader of an economically troubled nation that could ill afford to continue its endless crusade against Israel. He wanted to make peace and thereby achieve stability and recovery of the Sinai, but after Israel’s stunning victory in the 1967 war it was unlikely that Israel’s peace terms would be favorable to Egypt. So Sadat conceived of a daring plan to attack Israel again, which, even if unsuccessful, might convince the Israelis that peace with Egypt was necessary.

In 1972, Sadat expelled 20,000 Soviet advisers from Egypt and opened new diplomatic channels with Washington, which, as Israel’s key ally, would be an essential mediator in any future peace talks. Then, on October 6, 1973, Egyptian and Syrian forces launched a joint attack against Israel. It was Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year for Jews, and Israeli forces were taken entirely by surprise. It took more than a week for Israel to beat back the impressive Arab advances. A U.S. airlift of arms aided Israel’s cause, but President Richard Nixon delayed the emergency military aid for seven days as a tacit signal of U.S. sympathy for Egypt. In November, an Egyptian-Israeli cease-fire was secured by the United States.

Although Egypt had again suffered military defeat against its Jewish neighbor, the initial Egyptian successes greatly enhanced Sadat’s prestige in the Middle East and provided him with an opportunity to seek peace. In 1974, the first of two Egyptian-Israeli disengagement agreements providing for the return of portions of the Sinai to Egypt were signed, and in 1975 Sadat traveled to the United States to discuss his peace efforts and seek American aid and investment.

When talks with Israel stalled, Sadat made a dramatic journey to Jerusalem in November 1977 and spoke before the Israeli Knesset (Parliament). In September 1978, President Jimmy Carter invited Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Begin to the presidential retreat at Camp David, Maryland, where dual peace accords were hammered out under the direction of Carter. Signed on September 17, the historic agreements provided for complete Israeli evacuation from the Sinai, laid the groundwork for the signing of a final peace agreement, and outlined a broader framework for achieving peace in the Middle East.

Sadat and Begin received the Nobel Peace Prize, and on March 29, 1979, a permanent peace agreement was signed that closely resembled the Camp David Accords. The treaty ended the state of war between the two countries and provided for the establishment of full diplomatic and commercial relations.

Although Sadat was greatly praised in the West, he was widely condemned in the Arab world. In 1979, Egypt was expelled from the Arab League, and internal opposition to his policies led to domestic crises. On October 6, 1981, Sadat was assassinated by Muslim extremists in Cairo while viewing a military parade commemorating the Yom Kippur War. Despite Sadat’s death, the peace process continued under Egypt’s new president, Hosni Mubarak. In 1982, Israel fulfilled the 1979 peace treaty by returning the last segment of the Sinai Peninsula to Egypt.