Monthly Archives: July 2020

Last classic VW Beetle rolls off the line

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/last-classic-vw-beetle-rolls-off-the-line

On July 30, 2003, the last of 21,529,464 Volkswagen Beetles built since World War II rolls off the production line at Volkswagen’s plant in Puebla, Mexico. One of a 3,000-unit final edition, the baby-blue vehicle was sent to a museum in Wolfsburg, Germany, where Volkswagen is headquartered.

The car produced in Puebla that day was the last so-called “classic” VW Beetle, which is not to be confused with the redesigned new Beetle that Volkswagen introduced in 1998. (The new Beetle resembles the classic version but is based on the VW Golf.) The roots of the classic Beetle stretch back to the mid-1930s, when the famed Austrian automotive engineer Dr. Ferdinand Porsche met German leader Adolf Hitler’s request for a small, affordable passenger car to satisfy the transportation needs of the German people Hitler called the result the KdF (Kraft-durch-Freude)-Wagen(or “Strength-Through-Joy” car) after a Nazi-led movement ostensibly aimed at helping the working people of Germany; it would later be known by the name Porsche preferred: Volkswagen, or “people’s car.”

The first production-ready Kdf-Wagen debuted at the Berlin Motor Show in 1939; the international press soon dubbed it the “Beetle” for its distinctive rounded shape. During World War II, the factory in Kdf-stat (later renamed Wolfsburg) continued to make Beetles, though it was largely dedicated to production of war vehicles. Production was halted under threat of Allied bombing in August 1944 and did not resume until after the war, under British control. Though VW sales were initially slower in the United States compared with the rest of the world, by 1960 the Beetle was the top-selling import in America, thanks to an iconic ad campaign by the firm Doyle Dane Bernbach. In 1972, the Beetle surpassed the longstanding worldwide production record of 15 million vehicles, set by Ford Motor Company’s legendary Model T between 1908 and 1927. It also became a worldwide cultural icon, featuring prominently in the hit 1969 movie “The Love Bug” (which starred a Beetle named Herbie) and on the cover of the Beatles album “Abbey Road.”

In 1977, however, the Beetle, with its rear-mounted, air-cooled-engine, was banned in America for failing to meet safety and emission standards. Worldwide sales of the car shrank by the late 1970s and by 1988, the classic Beetle was sold only in Mexico. Due to increased competition from other manufacturers of inexpensive compact cars, and a Mexican decision to phase out two-door taxis, Volkswagen decided to discontinue production of the classic bug in 2003. The final count of 21,529,464, incidentally, did not include the original 600 cars built by the Nazis prior to World War II.

Union forces stopped at the Battle of the Crater

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/union-forces-stopped-at-the-battle-of-the-crater

On July 30, 1864, at the Battle of the Crater, the Union’s ingenious attempt to break the Confederate lines at Petersburg, Virginia, by blowing up a tunnel that had been dug under the Rebel trenches fails. Although the explosion created a gap in the Confederate defenses, a poorly planned Yankee attack wasted the effort and the result was an eight-month continuation of the siege.

The bloody campaign between Union General Ulysses S. Grant and Confederate Robert E. Lee ground to a halt in mid-June, when the two armies dug in at Petersburg, south of Richmond. For the previous six weeks, Grant had pounded away at Lee, producing little results other than frightful casualties. A series of battles and flanking maneuvers brought Grant to Petersburg, where he opted for a siege rather than another costly frontal assault.

READ MORE: Petersburg Campaign

In late June, a Union regiment from the 48th Pennsylvania Infantry began digging a tunnel under the Rebel fortifications. The soldiers, experienced miners from Pennsylvania’s anthracite coal regions, dug for nearly a month to construct a horizontal shaft over 500 feet long. At the end of the tunnel, they ran two drifts, or side tunnels, totaling 75 feet along the Confederate lines to maximize the destruction. Four tons of gunpowder filled the drifts, and the stage was set.

Union soldiers lit the fuse before dawn on July 30. The explosion that came just before 5:00 a.m. blew up a Confederate battery and most of one infantry regiment, creating a crater 170 feet long, 60 to 80 feet wide, and 30 feet deep. As one Southern soldier wrote, “Several hundred yards of earth work with men and cannon was literally hurled a hundred feet in the air.” However, the Union was woefully unprepared to exploit the gap. The Yankees were slow to exit the trenches, and when they did the 15,000 attacking troops ran into the crater rather than around it. Part of the Rebel line was captured, but the Confederates that gathered from each side fired down on the Yankees. The Union troops could not maintain the beachhead, and by early afternoon they retreated back to their original trenches.

This failure led to finger pointing among the Union command. General Ambrose Burnside, the corps commander of the troops involved, had ordered regiments from the United States Colored Troops to lead the attack, but the commander of the Army of the Potomac, George G. Meade, nixed that plan shortly before the attack was scheduled. Fearing that it may be perceived as a ploy to use African-American soldiers as cannon fodder, Meade ordered that white troops lead the charge. With little time for training, General James H. Ledlie was left to command the attack.

The Battle of the Crater essentially marked the end of Burnside’s military career, and on April 15, 1865, he resigned from the army.

Man charged in murder of Megan Kanka

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/man-charged-in-murder-of-megan-kanka

Jesse Timmendequas is charged with the murder of seven-year-old Megan Kanka in New Jersey. Kanka’s death inspired Megan’s Law, a statute enacted in 1994 requiring that information about convicted sex felons be available to the public. Versions of Megan’s Law have been passed in many states since her murder.

Megan had last been seen riding her bike outside her home in West Windsor Township, New Jersey, on July 29. Her parents found her bike on the front lawn and immediately began to search for her. The following day, her body was discovered in Mercer County Park. Jesse Timmendequas, who lived across the street from Kanka and had two prior convictions for sexual assault, was arrested.

In the aftermath of this horrible crime, Megan’s parents lobbied state legislators for a new law, arguing that if they had known about Timmendequas’ background they would have been able to protect their daughter. New Jersey and several other states passed laws following the public outcry. Megan’s Law became a federal law in 1996.

Fighter jet collides with passenger plane

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/fighter-jet-collides-with-passenger-plane

A mid-air collision between a Boeing 727 and a fighter jet in Japan kills 162 people on July 30, 1971. The military plane was flying without radar.

All Nippon Airways Flight 58 was traveling from Chitose Airport in Hokkaido to Tokyo, filled largely with members of a group dedicated to the assistance of war victims. Takeoff was uneventful and the plane soon reached 28,000 feet. Cruising over the Japanese Alps, Flight 58 suddenly encountered two military jets.

One of the Japanese F-86 Sabre jets was piloted by Captain Kuma; the other was being flown by his student, Sergeant Ichikawa, who had only a few hours of flying experience. Neither jet was equipped with radar, which would have indicated the presence of the Boeing 727. Ichikawa’s fighter jet struck the airliner and sent both planes plunging into the mountains. Ichikawa was able to eject himself and parachute to safety. Everyone on board Flight 58, however, was killed.

Yoshimi Ichikawa was charged with involuntary manslaughter, but was acquitted at trial.

"The Blair Witch Project" released in theaters

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/blair-witch-project-released

On July 30, 1999, The Blair Witch Project, a low-budget, independent horror film that will become a massive cult hit, is released in U.S. theaters.

Shot with shaky, handheld cameras, the documentary-style movie told the story of three student filmmakers who disappeared into the woods and were never heard from again, although their footage was later discovered. With the help of a Web-based viral marketing strategy–a relatively new concept at the time–The Blair Witch Project generated huge buzz over the question of whether or not it was based on a true story. In fact, the story was entirely fake. Fake or not, it didn’t matter at the box office: The Blair Witch Project grossed some $250 million worldwide and was featured on the covers of Newsweek and Time magazines.

The Blair Witch Project followed the young filmmakers as they went into the woods near Burkittsville, Maryland, to make a documentary about a local legend known as the Blair Witch. The filmmakers got lost and experienced a series of scary events and unexplained phenomena, such as strange noises and piles of stones being inexplicably re-arranged. The trio never returned to civilization, but their film equipment was supposedly found and the footage they shot became The Blair Witch Project. Unlike other horror films that featured bloody scenes and special effects, The Blair Witch Project scared moviegoers through implied terror and violence.

Eduardo Sanchez and Daniel Myrick, who met as film students at the University of Central Florida, wrote and directed The Blair Witch Project. The two filmmakers had their lead actors–Heather Donahue, Michael Williams and Joshua Leonard–improvise their lines based on private messages each actor received during filming. To make The Blair Witch Project seem more realistic and heighten the psychological tension, Sanchez and Myrick reportedly did things to agitate the actors during production, such as shaking their tent and cutting back on their food supply. They also had the actors do their own filming, and the resulting grainy, black-and-white footage became a Blair Witch trademark.

Confederate spy Belle Boyd is captured

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/confederate-spy-belle-boyd-is-captured

Confederate spy Marie Isabella “Belle” Boyd is arrested by Union troops and detained at the Old Capitol Prison in Washington, D.C. It was the first of three arrests for this skilled spy who provided crucial information to the Confederates during the war.

The Virginian-born Boyd was just 17 when the war began. She was from a prominent slaveholding family in Martinsburg, Virginia (now West Virginia), in the Shenandoah Valley. In 1861, she shot and killed a Union solider for insulting her mother and threatening to search their house. Union officers investigated and decided the shooting was justified.

Soon after the shooting incident, Boyd began spying for the Confederacy. She used her charms to engage Union soldiers and officers in conversations and acquire information about Federal military affairs. Suspecting her of spying, Union officers banished Boyd further south in the Shenandoah, to Front Royal, Virginia, in March 1862. Just two months later, Boyd personally delivered crucial information to General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson during his campaign in the valley that allowed the Confederates to defeat General Nathaniel Banks’s forces at the Battle of Winchester. In another incident, Boyd turned two chivalrous Union cavalrymen who had escorted her back home across Union lines over to Confederate pickets as prisoners of war.

READ MORE: Secret Agents in Hoop Skirts: Women Spies of the Civil War

Boyd was detained on several occasions, and on July 29 she was placed in the Old Capitol Prison in Washington. But her incarceration was evidently of limited hardship. She was given many special considerations, and she became engaged to a fellow prisoner. Upon her release one month later, she was given a trousseau by the prison’s superintendent and shipped under a flag of truce to Richmond, Virginia. Boyd was arrested again in 1863 and held for three months. After this second imprisonment, she became a courier of secret messages to Great Britain. In 1864, her ship was captured off the coast of North Carolina, and the ship and crew were taken to New York. Captain Samuel Hardinge commanded the Union ship that captured Boyd’s vessel, and the two were seen shopping together in New York. He followed her to London, and they were married soon after.

Boyd was widowed soon after the end of the war, but the union produced one child. Still just 21, Boyd parlayed her spying experiences into a book and an acting career. She died in Wisconsin in 1900.

Son of Sam terrorizes New York

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/son-of-sam-terrorizes-new-york

The so-called “Son of Sam” pulls a gun from a paper bag and fires five shots at Donna Lauria and Jody Valenti of the Bronx while they are sitting in a car, talking. Lauria died and Valenti was seriously wounded in the first in a series of shootings by the serial killer, who terrorized New York City over the course of the next year.

Once dubbed the “.44 Caliber Killer,” the Son of Sam eventually got his name from letters he sent to both the police and famed newspaper writer Jimmy Breslin that said, “…I am a monster. I am the Son of Sam. I love to hunt, prowling the streets looking for fair game. The weman are prettyist of all [sic]…”

The second attack came on October 23, 1976, when a couple was shot as they sat in a car in Queens. A month later, two girls were talking on a stoop outside a home when the serial killer approached, asked for directions, and then suddenly pulled a gun out and fired several shots. Joanne Lomino was paralyzed from a bullet that struck her spine, but her friend was not seriously injured.

The Son of Sam attacked again in January and March of 1977. In the latter attack, witnesses provided a description of the killer: an unattractive white man with black hair. After yet another shooting in the Bronx in April, the publicity hit a fever pitch. Women, particularly those with dark hair, were discouraged from traveling at night in the city.

When the Son of Sam missed his intended victims in another murder attempt in June, vigilante groups formed across New York City looking for the killer. His last two victims were shot on July 31, 1977, in Brooklyn; one died. Then, police following up on a parking ticket that had been given out that night discovered a machine gun in a car belonging to David Berkowitz of Yonkers, New York.

When questioned, Berkowitz explained that “Sam” was his neighbor Sam Carr—an agent of the devil. Sam transmitted his orders through his pet black Labrador. Years earlier, Berkowitz had shot the dog, complaining that its barking was keeping him from sleeping. After the dog recovered, Berkowitz claimed that it began speaking to him and demanding that he kill people.

In an unusual sequence of events, Berkowitz was allowed to plead guilty before claiming insanity and was sentenced to over 300 years in prison. In prison, he later claimed to be a born-again Christian.

READ MORE: Inside the Son of Sam Case

Rocket causes deadly fire on aircraft carrier

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/rocket-causes-deadly-fire-on-aircraft-carrier

A fire on a United States Navy carrier stationed off the coast of Vietnam kills 134 service members on July 29, 1967. The deadly fire on the USS Forrestal began with the accidental launch of a rocket.

During the Vietnam War, the USS Forrestal was often stationed off the coast of North Vietnam, conducting combat operations. On the morning of July 29, the ship was preparing to attack when a rocket from one of its own F-4 Phantom jet fighters was accidentally launched. The rocket streaked across the deck and hit a parked A-4 Skyhawk jet. The Skyhawk, which was waiting to take off, was piloted by John McCain, the future senator from Arizona.

Fuel from the Skyhawk spilled out and caught fire. The fire then spread to nearby planes on the ship’s deck and detonated a 1,000-pound bomb, which killed many of the initial firefighters and further spread the fire. A chain reaction of explosions blew holes in the flight deck and had half the large ship on fire at one point. Many pilots were trapped in their planes as the fire spread. It took a full day before the fires could be fully contained.

Hundreds of sailors were seriously injured and 134 lost their lives in the devastating fire. Twenty planes were destroyed. It was the worst loss of a life on a U.S. Navy ship since World War II. Temporary repairs were made to the ship in the Philippines before the Forrestal headed back to Norfolk, Virginia. It was repaired and put back into service the following April, but never returned to Vietnam.

John McCain narrowly escaped the fire and, afterwards, volunteered for duty on the USS Oriskany. Just three months later, his plane was shot down over North Vietnam and he was taken prisoner. He was not released until five-and-a-half years later, in 1973.

Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston wed

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/hollywood-golden-couple-weds

On July 29, 2000, Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston, one of Hollywood’s highest-profile couples, marry at the Malibu, California, estate of the producer Marcy Carsey (The Cosby Show). The two actors reportedly met on a blind date in 1998 and quickly became favorites of the tabloid media once they went public with their romance. Their wedding cost an estimated $1 million and featured tight security to keep out the paparazzi.

Pitt, who was born in 1963 in Oklahoma, rose to fame in the early 1990s with roles in such films as Thelma & Louise (1991), A River Runs Through It (1992) and Kalifornia (1993). He went on to build a long list of starring movie credits, including Fight Club (1999), Ocean’s Eleven (2001) and Babel (2006). Aniston, who was born in 1969 in California, became famous for her role as Rachel Green on the hit TV sitcom Friends, which aired from 1994 to 2004. The actress has also made a number of movies, including The Good Girl (2002), Bruce Almighty (2003), Rumor Has It (2005), Wanderlust (2012), We’re the Millers (2013) and Cake (2014).

Despite their reputation as one of Hollywood’s golden couples, rumors eventually began to circulate that Aniston and Pitt were having problems. In 2004, speculation swirled that Pitt had become romantically involved with Angelina Jolie, his co-star in Mr. & Mrs. Smith (2005). Over the New Year, Pitt and Aniston were photographed walking hand-in-hand on the beach in Anguilla, yet just days later, while they were still on vacation, a joint statement was issued announcing their separation. Though it seemed to be an amicable breakup, the press speculated that Pitt had wanted to have a family and Aniston–who had recently wrapped up a 10-year-run with Friends and had begun appearing in more films–was reluctant to take a break in her career for motherhood. Pitt was also depicted as being increasingly involved in global charity work, including the AIDS crisis in Africa.

Analysis of the breakup only intensified that spring, after Pitt was photographed with Jolie, a UNICEF representative, and her adopted son at a beach resort in Africa. Soon, they emerged as a full-blown couple, posing as a 1960s-era husband and wife (with a brood of blond children) for a 60-page photo spread titled “Domestic Bliss” in the July 2005 issue of W magazine. Outraged Aniston fans and friends denounced Pitt (who had in fact come up with the concept for the photo spread himself) as insensitive, and Jolie as a glamorous homewrecker. Novelty T-shirts at the time advertised their wearers as belonging to “Team Aniston” or “Team Jolie”; according to Vanity Fair, Aniston T-shirts outsold Jolies 25 to one.

Aniston and Pitt’s divorce was finalized in October 2005. In January 2006, Jolie announced she was pregnant with Pitt’s child; soon after, the news broke that Pitt had successfully adopted Jolie’s children Maddox and Zahara, whose surnames were legally changed to Jolie-Pitt. Pitt and Jolie divorced in 2016.