Southern congressman beats Northern senator with a cane in the halls of Congress

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/southern-congressman-attacks-northern-senator

Southern Congressman Preston Brooks savagely beats Northern Senator Charles Sumner in the halls of Congress as tensions rise over the expansion of slavery.

When the controversial Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 was passed, popular sovereignty was applied within the two new territories and people were given the right to decide the slave issue by vote. Because the act nullified the Missouri Compromise of 1820, the debate over slavery intensified. Northerners were incensed that slavery could again resurface in an area where it had been banned for over 30 years. When violence broke out in Kansas Territory, the issue became central in Congress. On May 19, Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner, an ardent abolitionist, began a two-day speech on the Senate floor in which he decried the “crime against Kansas” and blasted three of his colleagues by name, one of whom—South Carolina Senator Andrew P. Butler—was elderly, sick and absent from the proceedings.

Butler’s cousin, Representative Preston Brooks of South Carolina, who had a history of violence, took it upon himself to defend the honor of his kin. Wielding the cane he used for injuries he incurred in a duel over a political debate in 1840, Brooks entered the Senate chamber and attacked Sumner at his desk, which was bolted to the floor. Sumner’s legs were pinned by the desk so he could not escape the savage beating. It was not until other congressmen subdued Brooks that Sumner finally escaped.

Brooks became an instant hero in the South, and supporters sent him many replacement canes. He was vilified in the North and became a symbol of the stereotypically inflexible, uncompromising representative of the slave power. The incident exemplified the growing hostility between the two camps in the prewar years.

Sumner did not return to the Senate for three years while he recovered.

READ MORE: Violence in Congress Before the Civil War: From Canings and Stabbings to Murder

Atlanta child murderer is traced using rare nylon fiber

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/atlanta-child-murderer-is-questioned

Police staking out a bridge over the Chattahoochee River near Atlanta, Georgia, hear a loud splash, and begin chasing Wayne Williams as he attempts to drive away in a station wagon. After questioning him about his involvement in the unprecedented string of child murders in Atlanta over the two previous years, Williams was released. However, he was arrested two days later when the body of Nathaniel Cater was found in the river near the bridge.

In a spree that began in July 1979, 29 black children and young men disappeared or were killed in the Atlanta area. The only clue detectives had to go on was that many of the bodies had the same rare yellow-green nylon fiber on them, leading investigators to believe that all of the killings were connected.

As they desperately searched for the manufacturer of the fiber, a newspaper reported on the significance of the fiber evidence. Fearing that he was on the verge of being discovered, the killer then began dumping the bodies of his victims in the Chattahoochee River. This, in turn, inspired the police surveillance that ensnared Williams on May 22.

The rare fiber was eventually identified as a yarn that was sold to a Georgia carpet company, West Point Pepperell, which used it to make a line called Luxaire. The color of the fibers found on the bodies, including Nathaniel Cater, matched Luxaire English Olive; this was the type of carpet found in Williams’ home.

Experts estimated that one in approximately 8,000 Atlanta area homes contained Luxaire English Olive carpet. Prosecutors used this probability, along with fiber and hair evidence from Williams’ car and dog, to establish the fact that it was an extremely small chance that anyone other than Williams could be the killer. Adding to the already damning evidence against him, the killings immediately stopped after Williams was arrested.

On February 27, 1982, the jury found Wayne Williams guilty of the murders of Cater and Jimmy Ray Payne, and he was sentenced to life in prison. After the verdict, the Atlanta police department closed 22 other cases, but Williams was never tried, or charged, for those crimes. Since that time, some conspiracy theorists have advanced the idea that it was members of the Ku Klux Klan, not Wayne Williams, who was responsible for the killings in the hopes of starting a race war. Though this theory has not been accepted by the courts, an investigation into five of the murders for which Williams was not convicted was reopened in 2005. It was closed again in 2006 after police dropped an unpromising probe into the Ku Klux Klan’s possible involvement.

Chandra Levy’s remains found

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/chandra-levys-remains-found

The remains of former Federal Bureau of Prisons intern Chandra Levy are found on May 22, 2002, over a year after the 24-year-old was last seen at a health club. The bone remains, discovered by a man walking through Washington, D.C.’s Rock Creek Park, were identified through dental records. A sweatshirt, sneakers and a Sony Walkman cassette player were also found in the vicinity.

Levy, a native of Modesto, California, had been working in Washington as part of her Master’s degree program at the University of Southern California, though her academic eligibility to work at the Prisons Bureau had expired shortly before her death and she had been scheduled to return to California for her school graduation. Levy’s parents reported Chandra missing on May 1, 2001. What might have been a routine missing-persons investigation became the subject of intense national media coverage when it was discovered that Levy had had an affair with then-U.S. Representative Gary Condit (D-CA), a married 53-year-old grandfather whose congressional district included Levy’s hometown of Modesto. Although police did not name Condit as a suspect, suspicion was rampant, among the Levy family and the popular media, that Condit was withholding information from investigators.

Over the year-long investigation into Levy’s disappearance, police utilized phone-record and internet-usage searches, used bloodhounds to follow Levy’s scent and conducted hundreds of interviews, but few leads materialized. After finding evidence of an internet search performed on her computer for Rock Creek Park’s Klingle Mansion, police searched the park, but found nothing.

An autopsy was performed on Levy’s remains and police pronounced her death a homicide on May 29, 2002. In subsequent weeks, police questioned Ingmar Guandique, who was then serving prison time for assaults on two women in Rock Creek Park, but did not press charges against him. The investigation was reopened in 2006, and in November 2010 Guandique was convicted of murdering Levy and sentenced to 60 years in prison.

Gary Condit lost his Congressional re-election bid, failing to win the primary election in March 2002, a defeat widely attributed to his association with the disappearance of Chandra Levy.

Controversial documentary “Fahrenheit 9/11” wins Palme d’Or prize

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/controversial-documentary-fahrenheit-911-wins-palme-dor

On May 22, 2004, Michael Moore’s documentary film Fahrenheit 9/11 beats out 18 other films to win the coveted Palme d’Or, the top prize at the Cannes Film Festival. It became the first documentary to triumph at Cannes since The Silent World, co-directed by Jacques Cousteau and Louis Malle, won the Palme d’Or in 1956.

The director Quentin Tarantino, president of the Cannes jury, announced the winner in front of an appreciative crowd at the Grand Theatre Lumiere. The previous week, an audience in that same theater gave the film a standing ovation after its screening. It was a surprise win, not least because the Cannes festival had historically shunned documentaries. Fahrenheit 9/11 and The Silent World were two of only three nonfiction films to be allowed in competition in more than five decades.

Moore’s film was a fierce critique of the foreign policy decisions made by the presidential administration of George W. Bush, principally its response to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and its decision to invade Iraq in 2003. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld came under the harshest fire from Moore, who had caused a stir the previous year for his anti-war comments during his acceptance of the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature for Bowling for Columbine.

Miramax Films, the production company that financed Fahrenheit 9/11, was originally set to distribute the film, until its parent company, Walt Disney, blocked it from doing so. The ensuing controversy reportedly led to the 2005 split between Disney and Miramax founders Harvey and Bob Weinstein. When it was eventually distributed by Lion’s Gate, Fahrenheit 9/11 earned some $119 million at the U.S. box office. 

Jerry Lee Lewis drops a bombshell in London

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/jerry-lee-lewis-drops-a-bombshell-in-london

The arrival in the United Kingdom of one of the biggest figures in rock and roll was looked forward to with great anticipation in May of 1958. Nowhere in the world were the teenage fans of the raucous music coming out of America more enthusiastic than they were in England, and the coming tour of the great Jerry Lee Lewis promised to be a rousing success. “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On” and “Great Balls Of Fire” had both been massive hits in the UK, and early demand for tickets was great enough that 27 appearances were booked in what promised to be the biggest tour yet by an American rock-and-roll star. There was just one problem: Unbeknownst to the British public and the organizers of the coming tour, Jerry Lee Lewis would be traveling to England as a newly married man, with his pretty young wife in tow. Just how young that wife really was would be revealed on this day in 1958, when Jerry Lee “The Killer” Lewis arrived at Heathrow Airport with his new “child bride.”

It was an inquisitive reporter for the Daily Mail named Paul Tanfield who unwittingly broke the scandal when he inquired as to the identity of an especially young woman he’d spotted in the Killer’s entourage. “I’m Myra, Jerry’s wife,” said Myra Gail Lewis. Tanfield followed up with a question for the Killer himself: “And how old is Myra?” It was at this point that Jerry Lee must have cottoned to the fact that the rest of the world might take a somewhat skeptical view of his third marriage, because the answer he gave was a lie: “Fifteen.”

Myra Gail Lewis was actually only 13 years old, a fact that would soon come out along with certain other details, such as the fact that she was Jerry Lee’s first cousin (once removed) and that the pair had married five months before his divorce from his second wife was made official. Jerry Lee tried to set minds at ease on this last point—the second marriage was null and void, he explained, because it had taken place before his divorce from his first wife—but even the most skilled public-relations expert would have had a hard time spinning the unfolding story in Jerry Lee’s favor.

As the press hounded Jerry Lee and Myra Gail Lewis over the coming week, the Killer tried to go on with business as usual, but his first three shows drew meager audiences, and those that did buy tickets showered him with boos and catcalls. When the Rank chain of theaters cancelled the rest of his dates and his fashionable Mayfair hotel encouraged him to seek lodgings elsewhere, Jerry Lee Lewis left the UK, less than a week after his dramatic arrival on this day in 1958. Back home, he would face a blacklisting from which his career would never fully recover.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes, is born

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/sir-arthur-conan-doyle-is-born

It’s the birthday of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of master sleuth Sherlock Holmes.

Doyle was born in Scotland and studied medicine at the University of Edinburgh, where he met Dr. Joseph Bell, a teacher with extraordinary deductive reasoning power. Bell partly inspired Doyle’s character Sherlock Holmes years later.

After medical school, Doyle moved to London, where his slow medical practice left him ample free time to write. His first Sherlock Holmes story, A Study in Scarlet, was published in Beeton’s Christmas Annual in 1887. Starting in 1891, a series of Holmes stories appeared in The Strand magazine. Holmes enabled Doyle to leave his medical practice in 1891 and devote himself to writing, but the author soon grew weary of his creation. In The Final Problem, he killed off both Holmes and his nemesis, Dr. Moriarty, only to resuscitate Holmes later due to popular demand. 

In 1902, Doyle was knighted for his work with a field hospital in South Africa. In addition to dozens of Sherlock Holmes stories and several novels, Doyle wrote history, pursued whaling, and engaged in many adventures and athletic endeavors. After his son died in World War I, Doyle became a dedicated spiritualist. He died in 1930.

A thousand pioneers head West as part of the Great Emigration

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/a-thousand-pioneers-head-west-on-the-oregon-trail

The first major wagon train to the northwest departs from Elm Grove, Missouri, on the Oregon Trail.

Although U.S. sovereignty over the Oregon Territory was not clearly established until 1846, American fur trappers and missionary groups had been living in the region for decades. Dozens of books and lectures proclaimed Oregon’s agricultural potential, tweaking the interest of American farmers. The first overland immigrants to Oregon, intending primarily to farm, came in 1841 when a small band of 70 pioneers left Independence, Missouri. They followed a route blazed by fur traders, which took them west along the Platte River through the Rocky Mountains via the easy South Pass in Wyoming and then northwest to the Columbia River. In the years to come, pioneers came to call the route the Oregon Trail.

In 1842, a slightly larger group of 100 pioneers made the 2,000-mile journey to Oregon. The next year, however, the number of emigrants skyrocketed to 1,000. The sudden increase was a product of a severe depression in the Midwest combined with a flood of propaganda from fur traders, missionaries, and government officials extolling the virtues of the land. Farmers dissatisfied with their prospects in Ohio, Illinois, Kentucky, and Tennessee, hoped to find better lives in the supposed paradise of Oregon.

READ MORE: 9 Things You May Not Know About the Oregon Trail

On this day in 1843, some 1,000 men, women, and children climbed aboard their wagons and steered their horses west out of the small town of Elm Grove, Missouri. The train comprised more than 100 wagons with a herd of 5,000 oxen and cattle trailing behind. Dr. Elijah White, a Presbyterian missionary who had made the trip the year before, served as guide.

The first section of the Oregon Trail ran through the relatively flat country of the Great Plains. Obstacles were few, though the river crossings could be dangerous for wagons. The danger of Indian attacks was a small but genuine risk. To be on the safe side, the pioneers drew their wagons into a circle at night to create a makeshift stockade. If they feared Indians might raid their livestock—the Plains tribes valued the horses, though generally ignored the oxen—they would drive the animals into the enclosure.

Although many neophyte pioneers believed Indians were their greatest threat, they quickly learned that they were more likely to be injured or killed by a host of more mundane causes. Obstacles included accidental discharge of firearms, falling off mules or horses, drowning in river crossings, and disease. After entering the mountains, the trail also became much more difficult, with steep ascents and descents over rocky terrain. The pioneers risked injury from overturned and runaway wagons.

Yet, as with the 1,000-person party that made the journey in 1843, the vast majority of pioneers on the trail survived to reach their destination in the fertile, well-watered land of western Oregon. The migration of 1844 was smaller than that of the previous season, but in 1845 it jumped to nearly 3,000. Thereafter, migration on the Oregon Trail was an annual event, although the practice of traveling in giant convoys of wagons gave way to many smaller bands of one or two-dozen wagons. The trail was heavily traveled until 1884, when the Union Pacific constructed a railway along the route.

READ MORE: Manifest Destiny 

First Lady Martha Washington dies

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/martha-washington-dies

President George Washington’s devoted widow and the nation’s first first lady, Martha Dandridge Custis Washington, dies at her Mt. Vernon home on May 22, 1802. She was 70 years old.

Like her husband, Martha Washington was born in the American colonies as a British subject (1731). The petite, dark-haired 19 year old married her first husband, a prosperous 39-year-old Virginia planter named Daniel Parke Custis in 1750. The couple resided in a mansion called the White House and, after Custis died in 1757, Martha ran the plantation, aided by her innate business sense. Two years later, Martha, then 26 and a wealthy and socially prominent widow with two children, met George Washington. At the time, George was a colonel in the British army, a veteran of the French and Indian War and a member of the Virginia House of Burgesses. The two were married in 1759.

George and Martha moved to Mt. Vernon when he inherited the estate in 1761. Although the couple had no children of their own–many scholars suggest Washington may have been sterile–George adopted Martha’s children as his own. Before the American Revolution began in 1776, Martha helped to run two households–Mt. Vernon and the estate she inherited from Custis–with an enormous staff of slaves and servants. During the war, while George led the Continental Army, she frequently followed him to military encampments to take care of him and urge the local women to help feed, clothe and tend to the soldiers.

READ MORE: Why Martha Washington Was the Ultimate Military Spouse

In 1789, George was elected the first president of the United States and the 57-year-old Martha struggled to fill a role for which she had no model. She shunned the spotlight and resented having her every move being restricted by advisors and documented by the press. Forbidden from dining in private homes with friends, the Washingtons held regular formal dinner parties and receptions at the presidential mansions, first in New York and then in Philadelphia. She disliked both cities and looked forward to returning to Mt. Vernon upon George’s retirement. At that time, the term first lady was not in popular use and Martha was referred to affectionately as Lady Washington.

Friends and acquaintances observed that George and Martha were very close. She considered her primary job to be taking care of her husband. When he had a cancerous growth removed from his tongue in 1789, she personally nursed him back to health and ordered that the streets around their house be cordoned off so that he could convalesce without being disturbed by the sounds of rattling carriages. Despite her doting, Martha may not have been the great passion of George’s life. Before their marriage, George had fallen in love with Sally Fairfax, the wife of an old friend, and some evidence suggest that his feelings for her remained even after his marriage to Martha. It is not known if Martha knew of George’s love for Sally. After he died in 1799, Martha burned all correspondence with her husband, according to his wishes.

Martha graciously gave up a private burial place for her husband and gave John Adams permission to entomb him in Washington at the U.S. Capitol building. He was never interred there, however, and lies buried at his beloved Mt. Vernon. Martha lived the rest of her days at Mt. Vernon and was also buried there in 1802.

READ MORE: One of America’s First Travel Trends Was Dining at George Washington’s Home

Soap star Susan Lucci wins first Emmy after 19 nominations

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/soap-star-susan-lucci-wins-first-emmy-after-19-nominations

“The streak is over…Susan Lucci!” announces Shemar Moore of The Young and the Restless on this night in 1999, right before presenting the Daytime Emmy Award for Best Actress to the tearful star of ABC’s All My Children. The award was Lucci’s first win in 19 straight years of being nominated in the Best Actress category for her portrayal of Erica Kane.

A native of Garden City, New York, Lucci moved to New York City after graduating from college in 1968. She played bit parts in the films Goodbye, Columbus and Me, Natalie (both 1969) before landing the role of the troubled teenager Erica Kane on a new soap opera, All My Children. The show debuted on January 5, 1970, and Lucci would go on to play Erica Kane over the next four decades, as the character married no fewer than 11 times (to eight different men, and several of the marriages were invalid), had several children and grandchildren, was kidnapped, survived an airplane crash and a car accident, battled drug addiction and became the owner of her own cosmetics company (among other notable events). By 1991, Erica Kane was, according to TV Guide, “unequivocally the most famous soap-opera character in the history of TV.”

As reported by the New York Times, Lucci at that time was the highest-paid actor on daytime television, earning more than $1 million per year for her work on All My Children. Her honors included a Best Soap Actress win in a 1985 People magazine poll, and a 1989 Soap Opera Digest Editors Award for an “outstanding contribution to daytime television.” One thing she didn’t have, however, was an Emmy. She received her first nomination in 1978, and before long had received several nominations in a row without a win. After reportedly losing her temper after failing to take home the award in 1982 and 1983, Lucci began accepting her runner-up status with more humor. In the fall of 1990, she appeared as a guest host on an episode of Saturday Night Live, in which all of the show’s cast and crew members carried Emmy statuettes past her during her opening monologue. She also filmed a commercial for a sugar substitute called the Sweet One, in which she lampooned her own hunger for an Emmy.

Lucci was the favorite to win that May night in 1999, and Moore’s announcement brought the audience in the theater at Madison Square Garden to their feet for a standing ovation that lasted several minutes. Lucci’s emotional acceptance speech brought tears to the eyes of many in the crowd, including the talk show host Rosie O’Donnell and Lucci’s All My Children co-stars Kelly Ripa and Marcy Walker. After thanking her husband, Helmut Huber, the All My Children cast and crew and her fans, Lucci closed her speech by announcing “I’m going to go back to that studio Monday and I’m going to play Erica Kane for all she’s worth.”

In addition to her work on All My Children, Lucci guest-starred repeatedly on the prime-time soap opera Dallas during the 1990s and has appeared in a number of TV movies and series.