All posts by sleuthboss

18-year-old Ryan White, national symbol of the AIDS crisis, dies

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/ryan-white-dies-hiv-aids

On April 8, 1990, 18-year-old Ryan White dies of pneumonia, due to having contracted AIDS from a blood transfusion. He had been given six months to live in December of 1984 but defied expectations and lived for five more years, during which time his story helped educate the public and dispel widespread misconceptions about HIV/AIDS.

White suffered from hemophilia and thus required weekly blood transfusions. On December 17, 1984, just after his 13th birthday, he was diagnosed with AIDS, which he had contracted from one such transfusion. It was later revealed that roughly 90 percent of American hemophiliacs who had received similar treatments between 1979 and 1984 suffered the same fate. White was given six months to live, but recovered from the illness that had brought his disease to light and eventually felt healthy enough to return to school.

Though the scientific community knew that AIDS could only be transmitted through bodily fluids, the community around White’s Russiaville, Indiana school was paranoid that he would contaminate his classmates. White was denied entry to his school, and when the Indiana Department of Education ruled that he must be admitted the local school board unanimously voted to appeal the decision. From August of 1985 until the following June, White’s family and their opponents—who at one point held a fundraiser in the school gymnasium to support the cause of keeping him out—fought a legal battle that garnered national headlines. A diverse array of public figures appeared with White and spoke on his behalf, including Elton John, Michael Jackson, Alyssa Milano, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and former President Ronald Reagan.

White was eventually allowed to return to school and spent his remaining years living a relatively normal life, although he made regular media appearances in an effort to educate the public about his illness. By the time of his death, just months before he was to graduate high school, White had become one of the leading figures in the movement to destigmatize HIV/AIDS. Several months later, the Ryan White CARE Act became federal law, providing a dramatic boost in funding for the treatment of low-income and un-insured people with HIV/AIDS.

READ MORE: The History of AIDS

Somali pirates hijack Maersk Alabama ship

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/somali-pirates-hijack-maersk-alabama-ship

Pirates had not captured a ship sailing under the American flag since the 1820s until April 8, 2009, when the MV Maersk Alabama was hijacked off the coast of Somalia. The high-profile incident drew worldwide attention to the problem of piracy, commonly believed to be a thing of the past, in the waters off the Horn of Africa.

Decades of instability in Somalia and the accompanying lack of policing in its territorial waters led to a resurgence of piracy in the region that peaked in the late 2000s. Just a day before the attack, the Maersk Alabama received warning from the United States government to stay at least 600 miles off the coast of Somalia, but Captain Richard Phillips kept the ship about 240 miles from the coast, a decision which was later criticized by members of his crew. On April 8, the crew saw a skiff carrying four armed pirates approaching the ship and initiated the protocol for such an event. Chief Engineer Mike Perry got most of the crew to a safe room and managed to swamp the pirates’ craft by swinging his ship’s rudder, but the pirates were nonetheless able to board and take Phillips hostage. After one of their number was injured fighting with the ship’s crew, the other three pirates fled in a lifeboat, taking Phillips with them in the hopes of using him as a bargaining chip.

Early the next morning, the destroyer USS Bainbridge and another U.S. Navy vessel arrived on the scene. What followed was a three-day standoff, with the pirates holding Phillips in the lifeboat. Attempts to negotiate failed, and at one point the pirates fired (harmlessly) at the destroyer. Finally, on April 12, with authorization from recently inaugurated President Barack Obama, Navy SEAL snipers opened fire on the lifeboat. In a stunning display of accuracy, the SEALS firing from a ship’s deck through the windows of the tiny boat hit all three pirates in the head, killing them, while leaving Phillips unharmed.

The surviving pirate, Abduwali Muse, was taken into custody and later sentenced to over 33 years in U.S. prison—though he was tried as an adult, he and the other hijackers were reportedly all teenagers at the time of the attack. The incident received international attention, bringing the problem of modern-day piracy to many people’s attention for the first time. Phillips’ story was made into a movie starring Tom Hanks. Piracy remained an issue in the region—the Maersk Alabama herself was the target of four more pirate attacks between 2009 and 2011, each of which was repelled by armed security teams.

Battle of Shiloh concludes

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

Two days of heavy fighting conclude near Pittsburgh Landing in western Tennessee. The Battle of Shiloh became a Union victory after the Confederate attack stalled on April 6, and fresh Yankee troops drove the Confederates from the field on April 7.

Shiloh began when Union General Ulysses S. Grant brought his army down the Tennessee River to Pittsburgh Landing in an effort to move on Corinth, Mississippi, 20 miles to the southwest. Union occupation of Corinth, a major rail center, would allow the Yankees to control nearly all of western Tennessee. At Corinth, Confederate General Albert Sidney Johnston did not wait for Grant to attack. He moved his army toward Grant, striking on the morning of April 6. Throughout the day, the Confederates drove the Yankees back but could not break the Union lines before darkness halted the advance. Johnston was killed during the first day, so General P.G.T. Beauregard assumed command of the Confederate force.

Now, Grant was joined by the vanguard of Buell’s army. With an advantage in terms of troop numbers, Grant counterattacked on April 7. The tired Confederates slowly retreated, but they inflicted heavy casualties on the Yankees. By nightfall, the Union had driven the Confederates back to Shiloh Church, recapturing grisly reminders of the previous days’ battle such as the Hornets’ Nest, the Peach Orchard, and Bloody Pond. The Confederates finally limped back to Corinth, thus giving a major victory to Grant.

The cost of the victory was high. Grant’s and Buell’s forces totaled about 62,000, of which 1,754 were killed, 8,408 were wounded, and 2,885 were captured or missing for a total of 13,047 casualties. Of 45,000 Confederates engaged, 1,723 were killed, 8,012 wounded, and 959 missing for a total of 10,694 casualties. The 23,741 casualties were five times the number at the First Battle of Bull Run in July 1861, and they were more than all of the war’s major battles (Bull Run, Wilson’s Creek, Fort Donelson and Pea Ridge) to that date combined. It was a sobering reminder to all in the Union and the Confederacy that the war would be long and costly.

John Wayne wins Best Actor Oscar

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/john-wayne-wins-best-actor-oscar

On April 7, 1970, the legendary actor John Wayne wins his first—and only—acting Academy Award, for his star turn in the director Henry Hathaway’s Western True Grit.

Wayne appeared in some 150 movies over the course of his long and storied career. He established his tough, rugged, uniquely American screen persona most vividly in the many acclaimed films he made for the directors John Ford and Howard Hawks from the late 1940s into the early 1960s. He earned his first Oscar nomination, in the Best Actor category, for Sands of Iwo Jima (1949). The Alamo (1960), which Wayne produced, directed and starred in, earned a Best Picture nomination.

Wayne’s Oscar for True Grit at the 42nd annual Academy Awards in 1970 was generally considered to be a largely sentimental win, and a long-overdue reward for one of Hollywood’s most enduring performers. The Academy had failed to even nominate Wayne for any of his most celebrated performances, in films such as Stagecoach (1939), Red River (1948), The Quiet Man (1952), The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962) and especially Ford’s The Searchers (1956), considered by many to be the greatest Western ever made. In True Grit, Wayne played a drunken, foul-tempered but endearing U.S. marshal named Rooster Cogburn, who becomes an unlikely hero when he helps a young girl avenge the murder of her father. He would reprise the role in the film’s sequel, Rooster Cogburn (1975), opposite Katharine Hepburn.

Nominated for seven Oscars at the 42nd annual awards ceremony that night, John Schlesinger’s gritty urban drama Midnight Cowboy won in the Best Picture, Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay categories. The film’s stars, Jon Voight and Dustin Hoffman, were both nominated in the Best Actor category but lost out to Wayne. Richard Burton (as King Henry VIII in Anne of the Thousand Days) and Peter O’Toole (as the beloved schoolmaster Arthur Chipping in Goodbye, Mr. Chips) rounded out the category. It was the fourth of what would be eight career nominations (and no wins) for O’Toole.

In 1964, Wayne battled lung cancer, undergoing surgery to remove his entire left lung. He went public with news of his illness in hopes of convincing people to remain vigilant about cancer. In his last movie, The Shootist (1976), Wayne portrayed an aging gunfighter dying of cancer. Three years later, the great actor himself succumbed to stomach cancer at the age of 72 on June 11, 1979.

Lewis and Clark depart Fort Mandan

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/lewis-and-clark-depart-fort-mandan

After a long winter, the Lewis and Clark expedition departs its camp among the Mandan Indians and resumes its journey West.

The Corps of Discovery had begun its voyage the previous spring, and it arrived at the large Mandan and Minnetaree villages along the upper Missouri River (north of present-day Bismarck, North Dakota) in late October. Once at the villages, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark directed the men to build a sturdy log fort. The following winter was a harsh one, but the expedition had plenty of provisions. The two captains made the best of their enforced halt, making copious notes in their journals and preparing maps of their route. Most importantly, they met frequently with the local Indians, who provided them with valuable information about the mysterious country that lay ahead.

READ MORE: Lewis and Clark: A Timeline of the Extraordinary Expedition

As spring came to the upper Missouri, Lewis and Clark prepared to resume their journey. Lewis penned a long report for President Thomas Jefferson that would be sent back down to St. Louis with 16 men traveling on the expedition’s large keelboat. Although Lewis had yet to explore any truly unknown country, his report provided a good deal of valuable information on the upper Missouri River region and its inhabitants. He optimistically predicted the expedition would be able to reach the Pacific and make a good start on the return journey before the coming winter. “You may therefore expect me to meet you at Monachello [Monticello] in September 1806,” he told the president.

In fact, the journey was more difficult and slow than Lewis anticipated. The expedition actually spent the winter of 1805-06 along the Pacific Coast, and Lewis did not finally meet with Thomas Jefferson in Washington, D.C., until January 1, 1807. However, as Lewis and Clark prepared to leave Fort Mandan on this day in 1805, they did not know the trials ahead and were likely filled with optimism and excitement. As the keelboat shoved off and started down the Missouri with Lewis’ report to Jefferson, the Corps of Discovery (and their female guide, Sacagawea) resumed the far more difficult task of rowing their small boats upstream.

That night Lewis wrote in his journal that, “Our vessels consisted of six small canoes, and two large pirogues. This little fleet altho’ not quite so rispectable as those of Columbus or Capt. Cook, were still viewed by us with as much pleasure as those deservedly famed adventurers ever beheld theirs.” As Lewis began his journey into a land “on which the foot of civilized man had never trodden,” he proclaimed this day of departure as “among the most happy of my life.”

READ MORE: Lewis and Clark’s Travels Included Dozens of Astonishing Animal Encounters

JFK lobbies Congress to help save historic sites in Egypt

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/jfk-lobbies-congress-to-help-save-historic-sites-in-egypt

On April 7, 1961, President John F. Kennedy sends a letter to Congress in which he recommends the U.S. participate in an international campaign to preserve ancient temples and historic monuments in the Nile Valley of Egypt. The campaign, initiated by UNESCO, was designed to save sites threatened by the construction of the Aswan High Dam.

JFK believed that America’s participation in the project would reflect “the interests of the United States,” as well as the country’s interest in ancient Egyptian culture “from which many of our own cultural traditions have sprung” and the U.S.’s “deep friendship for the people who live in the valley of the Nile.” Kennedy possessed a personal interest in the sciences and history and, from the beginning of his presidency, set out to promote American scholarship in these areas. His administration also wanted to develop diplomatic ties with the Arab nations in the Middle East and North Africa.

READ MORE: Ancient Egypt’s 10 Most Jaw-Dropping Discoveries

In 1961, the total cost of preserving Egypt’s historic sites was estimated at $100 million; the U.S. contributed a total of $16 million toward the effort, which was used to help protect ruins from water re-routed for the dam or to relocate antiquities. Endangered sites helped by U.S. money included the 13th century temples at Abu Simbel dedicated to Ramses II and Queen Nefertari (not to be confused with Queen Nefertiti) and a temple at Philae called “the Pearl of Egypt.” In exchange for the preservation aid, the United Arab Republic (formed by Egypt and Syria in 1958) and Sudan agreed to let American archaeologists excavate areas outside of the Nile Valley and take some Nile Valley treasures back to U.S. museums.

Kennedy, assassinated in 1963, did not live to see any of the precious antiquities arrive in America. His widow, however, former first lady Jacqueline Kennedy, helped arrange to have Eqypt’s Temple of Dendur brought to New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1965. The temple remains a centerpiece of the museum’s collections.

Japanese battleship Yamato is sunk by Allied forces

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/japanese-battleship-yamato-is-sunk-by-allied-forces

On April 7, 1945, the Japanese battleship Yamato, ostensibly the greatest battleship in the world, is sunk in Japan’s first major counteroffensive in the struggle for Okinawa.

Weighing 72,800 tons and outfitted with nine 18.1-inch guns, the battleship Yamato was Japan’s only hope of destroying the Allied fleet off the coast of Okinawa. But insufficient air cover and fuel cursed the endeavor as a suicide mission. Struck by 19 American aerial torpedoes, it was sunk, drowning 2,498 of its crew.

READ MORE: Remembering the Battle of Okinawa

Sam Sheppard, the inspiration for “The Fugitive,” dies

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/sam-sheppard-dies

On April 6, 1970, Sam Sheppard, a doctor convicted of murdering his pregnant wife in a trial that caused a media frenzy in the 1950s, dies of liver failure. After a decade in prison, Sheppard was released following a re-trial. His story is rumored to have loosely inspired the television series and movie “The Fugitive.”

On July 4, 1954, Sheppard’s wife Marilyn was beaten to death in the couple’s Bay Village, Ohio, home. Sheppard, an osteopathic doctor, contended the “bushy-haired” attacker had beaten him as well. The Sheppards’ son slept through the murder in a bedroom down the hall. Sam Sheppard was arrested for murder and stood trial in the fall of 1954. The case generated massive media attention, and some members of the press were accused of supporting the perception that Sheppard was guilty. Prosecutors argued that Sheppard was motivated to kill his wife because he was cheating on her and wanted out of his marriage. In his defense, Sheppard’s attorney said his client had sustained serious injuries that could only have been inflicted by an intruder.

In December 1964, a jury convicted Sheppard of second-degree murder and he was sentenced to life in prison. However, after a decade behind bars, Sheppard’s new criminal defense attorney F. Lee Bailey convinced the U.S. Supreme Court to grant his client a new trial because he had been denied due process. At the second trial, Sheppard was found not guilty in November 1966. The case put Bailey on the map, and he went on to represent many high-profile clients, including the Boston Strangler, Patty Hearst and O.J. Simpson.

After being released from prison, Sheppard briefly returned to his medical career and later embarked on a short stint as a pro wrestler, going by the name “The Killer Sheppard.” No one else was ever charged for Marilyn Sheppard’s murder; in the late 1950s, however, a window washer named Richard Eberling, who had worked at the Sheppard house, came under suspicion when one of Marilyn’s rings was found in his possession. In the 1980s, Eberling was convicted of murdering another woman, and he died in prison. Sam Sheppard, who became a heavy drinker in the last years of his life, died of liver failure on April 6, 1970, at age 46. His son has made multiple attempts to clear Sheppard’s name, including unsuccessfully suing the government for wrongful imprisonment of his father in 2000.

“2001: A Space Odyssey” released in theaters

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/2001-a-space-odyssey-released

Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey debuts in theaters on April 6, in 1968.

Kubrick, whose 1964 Cold War satire Dr. Strangelove had been popular with audiences and critics alike, was intrigued by science fiction but felt the genre rarely produced interesting films. He became determined to make one, using the sci-fi story The Sentinel as source material and enlisting its author, Arthur C. Clarke, as his co-writer. The film does feature a coherent plot, involving two scientists and a highly-intelligent computer sent to investigate a mysterious event near Jupiter, but several scenes—including the film’s now-legendary opening, which seems to depict hominids learning to use tools after the appearance of a mysterious monolith—are surreal and highly open to interpretation. Filming required the construction of a giant centrifuge to serve as the spaceship’s interior and numerous expensive visual effects, including a groundbreaking psychedelic sequence near the end of the film so complex that staff referred to it as the “Manhattan Project.” Kubrick is said to have removed over 15 minutes from the final cut, which nonetheless ran well over 2 hours.

Today, few would argue against the greatness of 2001, but on the night of its debut Kubrick felt he had failed. Lead actor Keir Dullea estimated that he saw 250 people walk out of the premier, while Clarke reported hearing a studio executive remark, “Well, that’s the end of Stanley Kubrick.” Some reviewers agreed, calling the film “plodding,” “immensely boring,” and even “a disaster.” Many reviews were glowing, however – Roger Ebert gave it four stars, while Charles Champlin of The Los Angeles Times called it the “ultimate statement of the science fiction film.” Audiences seemed to agree with Champlin, flocking to the film upon its release and creating such demand that many American theaters screened it regularly for over a year. The film went on to win an Oscar for Best Visual Effects and numerous other awards. Today, it is regarded not only as a seminal work of science fiction but as one of the defining films of the 20th century.

READ MORE: 11 Things You Didn’t Know About ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’