Monthly Archives: October 2019

Perfect storm hits North Atlantic

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/perfect-storm-hits-north-atlantic

On October 30, 1991, the so-called “perfect storm” hits the North Atlantic producing remarkably large waves along the New England and Canadian coasts. Over the next several days, the storm spread its fury over the ocean off the coast of Canada. The fishing boat Andrea Gail and its six-member crew were lost in the storm. The disaster spawned the best-selling book The Perfect Storm by Sebastian Junger and a blockbuster Hollywood movie of the same name.

On October 27, Hurricane Grace formed near Bermuda and moved toward the coast of the southeastern United States. Two days later, Grace continued to move north, where it encountered a massive low pressure system moving south from Canada. The clash of systems over the Atlantic Ocean caused 40-to-80-foot waves on October 30—unconfirmed reports put the waves at more than 100 feet in some locations. This massive surf caused extensive coastal flooding, particularly in Massachusetts; damage was also sustained as far south as Jamaica and as far north as Newfoundland.

The storm continued to churn in the Atlantic on October 31; it was nicknamed the “Halloween storm.” It came ashore on November 2 along the Nova Scotia coast, then, as it moved northeast over the Gulf Stream waters, it made a highly unusual transition into a hurricane. The National Hurricane Center made the decision not to name the storm for fear it would alarm and confuse local residents. It was only the eighth hurricane not given a name since the naming of hurricanes began in 1950.

Meanwhile, as the storm developed, the crew of the 70-foot fishing boat Andrea Gail was fishing for swordfish in the Grand Banks of the North Atlantic. The Andrea Gail was last heard from on October 28. When the boat did not return to port on November 1 as scheduled, rescue teams were sent out.

The week-long search for the Andrea Gail and a possible cause of its demise were documented in Junger’s book, which became a national bestseller. Neither the Andrea Gail nor its crew—David Sullivan and Robert Shatford of Gloucester, Mass.; William Tyne, Dale Murphy and Michael Moran of Bradenton Beach, Fla.; and Alfred Pierre of New York City—was ever found.

“Sense and Sensibility” is published

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/sense-and-sensibility-is-published

On October 30, 1811, Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility is published anonymously. A small circle of people, including the Price Regent, learned Austen’s identity, but most of the British public knew only that the popular book had been written “by a Lady.”

Austen was born in 1775, the seventh of eight children born to a clergyman in Steventon, a country village in Hampshire, England. She was very close to her older sister, Cassandra, who remained her faithful editor and critic throughout her life. The girls had five years of formal schooling, then studied with their father. Jane read voraciously and began writing stories as young as age 12, completing an early novella at age 14.

Austen’s quiet, happy world was disrupted when her father retired to Bath in 1801. Jane hated the resort town but amused herself by making close observations of ridiculous society manners. After her father’s death in 1805, Jane, her mother, and sister lived with one of her brothers until 1808, when another brother provided them a permanent home at Chawton Cottage, in Hampshire.

Jane concealed her writing from most of her acquaintances, slipping her writing paper under a blotter when someone entered the room. Though she avoided society, she was charming, intelligent, and funny. She rejected at least one proposal of marriage. She published several more novels before her death, including Pride and Prejudice (1813), Mansfield Park (1814), and Emma (1815). She died at age 42, of what today is thought to be Addison’s disease.

The city of Helena, Montana, is founded after miners discover gold

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/the-city-of-helena-montana-is-founded-after-miners-discover-gold

On October 30, 1864, the town of Helena, Montana, is founded by four gold miners who struck it rich at the appropriately named “Last Chance Gulch.”

The first major Anglo settlement of Montana had begun just two years before in the summer of 1862, when prospectors found a sizeable deposit of placer gold at Grasshopper Creek to the west. When other even richer deposits were soon discovered nearby, a major rush began as tens of thousands of miners scoured the territory in search of gold. In 1864, four prospectors spotted signs of gold in the Helena area while on their way to the Kootenai country, but they were eager to reach the reportedly rich gold regions farther to the north and did not to stop. But after striking out on the Kootenai, they decided to take “one last chance” on finding gold and returned. When the signs turned out to mark a rich deposit of placer gold, they staked their claims and named the new mining district Last Chance Gulch.

Eventually, Last Chance Gulch would prove to be the second biggest placer gold deposit in Montana, producing some $19 million worth of gold in just four years. Overnight, thousands of miners began to flood into the region, and the four original discoverers added to their fortunes by establishing the town of Helena to provide them with food, lodging, and supplies. But unlike many of the early Montana mining towns, Helena did not disappear once the gold gave out, which it inevitably did. Located on several major transportation routes, well supplied with agricultural products from an adjacent valley, and near to several other important mining towns, Helena was able to survive and grow by serving the wider Montana mining industry. In 1875, the city became the capital of Montana Territory, and in 1894, the capital of the new state of Montana.

John Adams is born

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/john-adams-is-born

On October 30, 1735, John Adams, the son of a farmer and a descendant of Plymouth Rock pilgrims, is born in Braintree, Massachusetts. He enrolled in Harvard University at 16 and went on to teach school and study law before becoming America’s second president.

Adams did not fight in the Revolutionary War, but was instrumental in crafting the foundation of the American government. In 1776, he anonymously published Thoughts on Government, which proposed the three-tiered system upon which the United States government is modeled: a bicameral legislature, independent judiciary and strong executive. In 1783, Adams brokered the peace treaty with Britain that ended the American Revolution. Fellow founding father Thomas Jefferson once referred to Adams as “the colossus of independence.” The two men developed a deep friendship during the Revolutionary era and both served in George Washington’s first cabinet–Adams as vice president and Jefferson as secretary of state.

Adams, Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton and James Madison articulated the basis of the Federalist policy— featuring above all a strong centralized government and favoring an economy based on manufacturing–that dominated the Washington and Adams presidencies. Jefferson, a Republican, favored stronger states’ rights and a primarily agricultural economy. Following Washington’s retirement in 1796, Jefferson and Adams ran against each other for the presidency. Adams won and, due to a procedure that gave the next highest vote-getter the vice-presidency, Jefferson became his adversary’s vice president. In personality as well as politics, the obstinate and hot-tempered Adams clashed with the genteel, diplomatic Thomas Jefferson and the two grew increasingly alienated during Adams’ presidency.

As president, Adams lobbied for and signed the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798, which many observers, including Jefferson, feared would give Adams despotic powers. In Jefferson’s opinion, the acts threatened to compromise the constitutional right to free speech and severely limited the definition of citizenship. In the election of 1800, Jefferson again ran against Adams and, under the guise of a pseudonym or using ghost writers, published vicious denouncements of Adams’ policies and character in the press. Jefferson won and though Adams retired to Quincy, Massachusetts, to write his memoirs, the bitterness between the two former friends endured.

Throughout his political career, Adams was steadfastly supported—and sometimes challenged–by his wife, Abigail. The couple’s correspondence, which has been preserved, thoroughly catalogued and published, provides insight into their private lives and early American culture. When Abigail learned that Jefferson was behind the newspaper attacks against her husband, she too felt betrayed. Nevertheless, it was she who initiated contact between the sworn political enemies when she wrote a letter of condolence to Jefferson upon the death of his daughter in 1812. After that, Adams and Jefferson resumed their long-halted correspondence and repaired their friendship.

Adams lived to see his son, John Quincy Adams, become president in 1825. A year later, he and Thomas Jefferson died on the same day, July 4, 1826, only hours apart.

READ MORE: Two Presidents Died on the Same July 4

Killer smog claims elderly victims

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/killer-smog-claims-elderly-victims

Killer smog continues to hover over Donora, Pennsylvania, on October 29, 1948. Over a five-day period, the smog killed about 20 people and made thousands more seriously ill.

Donora was a town of 14,000 people on the Monongahela River in a valley surrounded by hills. The town was home to steel mills and a zinc smelting plant that had released excessive amounts of sulphuric acid, carbon monoxide and other pollutants into the atmosphere for years prior to the disaster. During the 1920s, the owner of the zinc plant, Zinc Works, paid off local residents for damages caused by the pollution. Still, there was little or no regulation of the air pollution caused by the industries of Donora.

Beginning sometime on October 26, weather conditions in the valley brought a heavy fog into Donora. This fog appears to have trapped the airborne pollutants emitted from the zinc smelting plant and steel mills close to the ground, where they were inhaled by the local residents. Soon, a wave of calls came in to area hospitals and physicians. Dr. William Rongaus, the head of the local Board of Health, suggested that all residents with pre-existing respiratory problems leave town immediately. However, 11 people, all elderly and with heart problems or asthma, were already dead.

Most residents then attempted to evacuate, but the heavy smog and increased traffic made leaving difficult. Thousands flooded the hospitals when they experienced difficulty breathing. It was not until October 31 that Zinc Works shut down operations. Later that day, rain fell on Donora and dispersed the pollutants. By that time, another nine people had already perished.

The Donora smog disaster received national attention when it was reported by Walter Winchell on his radio show. In the aftermath, air pollution finally became a matter of public concern; the incident led to the passage of 1955 Clean Air Act. The Donora Zinc Works shuttered operations in 1957. Although the types of heavy visible pollutants responsible for the deaths in Donora have now been mostly outlawed and eliminated, invisible pollutants such as ozone remain a threat to people with chronic respiratory ailments.

Years later, a local high-school student’s research and activism led the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission to place a commemorative plaque in Donora honoring the victims of the killer smog.

The first store opens in the frontier town of Denver, Colorado

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/the-first-store-opens-in-the-frontier-town-of-denvercolorado

On October 29, 1858, the first store opens in a small frontier town in Colorado Territory that a month later will take the name of Denver in a shameless ploy to curry favor with Kansas Territorial Gover nor James W. Denver.

The brainchild of a town promoter and real estate salesman from Kansas named William H. Larimer Jr., Denver and its first store were created to serve the miners working the placer gold deposits discovered a year before at the confluence of Cherry Creek and the South Platte River. By 1859, tens of thousands of gold seekers had flooded into the area, but by then the placer deposits were already playing out and most miners quickly departed for home or headed west into the mountains in search of richer lodes.

As a result, by 1860, Larimer’s new town had almost failed before it had even really started. Although it was still centrally located for servicing the mining camps along the Rocky Mountain Front Range, Denver had neither the rail or water transportation routes needed to bring in goods cheaply. Even the trans continental Union Pacific railroad, which opened in 1869, didn’t stop at Denver initially. In 1870, Denver began to overcome its geographical isolation with the arrival of the Kansas Pacific Railroad from the East and the completion of the 105-mile Denver Pacific Railway joining Denver to the Union Pacific line at Cheyenne. Other lines began to connect Denver to the booming mining regions in the Rockies, and by the mid-1870s, the city was thriving as a railroad hub and center of the western mining industry.

By 1890, Denver had a population of more than 106,000, making it the 26th largest urban area in the nation and earning it the nickname, the “Queen City of the Plains.” However, the Silver Panic of 1893 brought the boom to an abrupt end, though it was partially revived a year later by the gold discoveries on Cripple Creek. Although the growing significance of farming and ranching helped moderate its ups and downs by decreasing the city’s dependency on mining, this cyclical pattern of economic boom and bust would continue to dominate Denver, and many other western cities, throughout much of the 20th century.

President William McKinley’s assassin is executed

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/mckinley-assassin-is-executed

On October 29, 1901, President William McKinley’s assassin, Leon Czolgosz, is executed in the electric chair at Auburn Prison in New York. Czolgosz had shot McKinley on September 6, 1901; the president succumbed to his wounds eight days later.

McKinley was shaking hands in a long reception line at the Pan-American Exhibition in Buffalo, New York, when a 28-year-old anarchist named Leon Czolgosz approached him with a gun concealed in a handkerchief in his right hand. McKinley, perhaps assuming the handkerchief was an attempt by Czolgosz to hide a physical defect, kindly reached for the man’s left hand to shake. Czolgosz moved in close to the president and fired two shots into McKinley’s chest. The president reportedly rose slightly on his toes before collapsing forward, saying “be careful how you tell my wife.” Czolgosz was attempting to fire a third bullet into the stricken president when aides wrestled him to the ground.

McKinley suffered one superficial wound to the sternum and another bullet dangerously entered his abdomen. He was rushed into surgery and seemed to be on the mend by September 12. Later that day, however, the president’s condition worsened rapidly and, on September 14, McKinley died from gangrene that had remained undetected in the internal wound. According to witnesses, McKinley’s last words were those of the hymn “Nearer My God to Thee.” Vice President Theodore Roosevelt was sworn in as president immediately following McKinley’s death.

Czolgosz, a Polish immigrant, grew up in Detroit and had worked as a child laborer in a steel mill. As a young adult, he gravitated toward socialist and anarchist ideology. He claimed to have killed McKinley because the president was the head of what Czolgosz thought was a corrupt government. The unrepentant killer’s last words were “I killed the president because he was the enemy of the good people—the working people.” His electrocution was allegedly filmed by Thomas Edison.

Leif Erickson Tunnel completes 1,593-mile I-35

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/leif-erickson-tunnel-completes-1593-mile-i-35

On October 28, 1962, Duluth, Minnesota mayor Gary Doty cuts the ribbon at the mouth of the brand-new, 1,480-foot–long Leif Erickson Tunnel on Interstate 35. With the opening of the tunnel, that highway—which stretches 1,593 miles, from Mexico all the way to Canada—was finished at last. As a result, the federal government announced, the Interstate Highway System itself was 99.7 percent complete.

In 1958, the Minnesota Highway Department proposed a highway, to be paid for with federal interstate highway funds, right through the middle of downtown Duluth. It would be elevated and run right along the Lake Superior shoreline; to build it, many downtown buildings, not to mention pedestrian access to the waterfront, would be eliminated. It would, the mayor said, be “a face-lifter and a solution to Duluth’s downtown traffic problems.”

But by the 1960s, freeways in cities across the country were growing less popular every year. Opponents argued that they destroyed homes and businesses, eviscerated poor neighborhoods and made traffic congestion worse, not better. In Duluth, anti-road activists geared up for a fight. In 1970, a group called Citizens for Integrating Highways and the Environment began to argue that the waterfront was the city’s biggest asset and that putting a huge expressway between it and downtown was a terrible idea. Meanwhile, a group called Stop the Freeway mobilized to do just that.

Highway officials came up with a compromise: They would keep the road, but they would put it underground instead of on stilts and they would build a lakefront park on its lid. This “cut-and-cover” plan turned out to be a smashing success. The $220 million tunnel kept the disruption of the road to a minimum and provided city residents and tourists with an extremely pleasant place to go and relax. The month it opened, the tunnel won an Excellence in Highway Design Award from the Federal Highway Administration. “People who once adamantly opposed the downtown freeway,” Lake Superior Magazineexplained, “are now some of the same people who are responsible for its aesthetic appeal. Likewise, those who insisted that the freeway could be built in no other place in Duluth admit that citizen concern forced an admiral design that might not otherwise have been considered.” A spokesman for the Minnesota Department of Transportation summed it up: “The great thing is that this… was Duluthians deciding what was best for Duluth and then all working together to make it happen.”