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April 20, 1980: Castro announces Mariel Boatlift

Sat, 04/19/2014 - 10:00pm

On April 20, 1980, the Castro regime announces that all Cubans wishing to emigrate to the U.S. are free to board boats at the port of Mariel west of Havana, launching the Mariel Boatlift. The first of 125,000 Cuban refugees from Mariel reached Florida the next day.

The boatlift was precipitated by housing and job shortages caused by the ailing Cuban economy, leading to simmering internal tensions on the island. On April 1, Hector Sanyustiz and four others drove a bus through a fence at the Peruvian embassy and were granted political asylum. Cuban guards on the street opened fire. One guard was killed in the crossfire.

The Cuban government demanded the five be returned for trial in the dead guard's death. But when the Peruvian government refused, Castro withdrew his guards from the embassy on Good Friday, April 4. By Easter Sunday, April 6, some 10,000 Cubans crowded into the lushly landscaped gardens at the embassy requesting asylum. Other embassies, including those of Spain and Costa Rica, agreed to take a small number of people. But suddenly, two weeks later, Castro proclaimed that the port of Mariel would be opened to anyone wishing to leave, as long as they had someone to pick them up. Cuban exiles in the United States rushed to hire boats in Miami and Key West and rescue their relatives.

In all, 125,000 Cubans fled to U.S. shores in about 1,700 boats, creating large waves of people that overwhelmed the U.S. Coast guard. Cuban guards had packed boat after boat, without considering safety, making some of the overcrowded boats barely seaworthy. Twenty-seven migrants died, including 14 on an overloaded boat that capsized on May 17.

The boatlift also began to have negative political implications for U.S. President Jimmy Carter. When it was discovered that a number of the exiles had been released from Cuban jails and mental health facilities, many were placed in refugee camps while others were held in federal prisons to undergo deportation hearings. Of the 125,000 "Marielitos," as the refugees came to be known, who landed in Florida, more than 1,700 were jailed and another 587 were detained until they could find sponsors.

The exodus was finally ended by mutual agreement between the U.S. and Cuban governments in October 1980.

April 19, 1897: First Boston Marathon held

Fri, 04/18/2014 - 10:00pm

On April 19, 1897, John J. McDermott of New York won the first Boston Marathon with a time of 2:55:10.

The Boston Marathon was the brainchild of Boston Athletic Association member and inaugural U.S. Olympic team manager John Graham, who was inspired by the marathon at the first modern Olympic Games in Athens in 1896. With the assistance of Boston businessman Herbert H. Holton, various routes were considered, before a measured distance of 24.5 miles from the Irvington Oval in Boston to Metcalf's Mill in Ashland was eventually selected.

Fifteen runners started the race but only 10 made it to the finish line. John J. McDermott, representing the Pastime Athletic Club of New York City, took the lead from Harvard athlete Dick Grant over the hills in Newton. Although he walked several times during the final miles, McDermott still won by a comfortable six-minute, fifty-two-seconds. McDermott had won the only other marathon on U.S. soil the previous October in New York.

The marathon's distance was changed in 1908 in accordance with Olympic standards to its current length of 26 miles 385 yards.

The Boston Marathon was originally held on Patriot's Day, April 19, a regional holiday that commemorates the beginning of the Revolutionary War. In years when the 19th fell on a Sunday, the race was held the following Monday. In 1969, Patriots Day was officially moved to the third Monday in April and the race has been held on that Monday ever since.

Women were not allowed to enter the Boston race officially until 1972, but Roberta "Bobbi" Gibb couldn't wait: In 1966, she became the first woman to run the entire Boston Marathon, but had to hide in the bushes near the start until the race began. In 1967, Kathrine Switzer, who had registered as "K. V. Switzer", was the first woman to run with a race number. Switzer finished even though officials tried to physically remove her from the race after she was identified as a woman.

In the fall of 1971, the Amateur Athletics Union permitted its sanctioned marathons (including Boston) to allow female entry. Nina Kuscsik became the first official female participant to win the Boston Marathon in 1972. Seven other women started and finished that race.

In 1975, the Boston Marathon became the first major marathon to include a wheelchair division competition. Bob Hall won it in two hours, 58 minutes.

April 18, 1906: The Great San Francisco Earthquake

Thu, 04/17/2014 - 10:00pm

At 5:13 a.m., an earthquake estimated at close to 8.0 on the Richter scale strikes San Francisco, California, killing hundreds of people as it topples numerous buildings. The quake was caused by a slip of the San Andreas Fault over a segment about 275 miles long, and shock waves could be felt from southern Oregon down to Los Angeles.

San Francisco's brick buildings and wooden Victorian structures were especially devastated. Fires immediately broke out and--because broken water mains prevented firefighters from stopping them--firestorms soon developed citywide. At 7 a.m., U.S. Army troops from Fort Mason reported to the Hall of Justice, and San Francisco Mayor E.E. Schmitz called for the enforcement of a dusk-to-dawn curfew and authorized soldiers to shoot-to-kill anyone found looting. Meanwhile, in the face of significant aftershocks, firefighters and U.S. troops fought desperately to control the ongoing fire, often dynamiting whole city blocks to create firewalls. On April 20, 20,000 refugees trapped by the massive fire were evacuated from the foot of Van Ness Avenue onto the USS Chicago.

By April 23, most fires were extinguished, and authorities commenced the task of rebuilding the devastated metropolis. It was estimated that some 3,000 people died as a result of the Great San Francisco Earthquake and the devastating fires it inflicted upon the city. Almost 30,000 buildings were destroyed, including most of the city's homes and nearly all the central business district.

April 17, 1970: Apollo 13 returns to Earth

Wed, 04/16/2014 - 10:00pm

With the world anxiously watching, Apollo 13, a U.S. lunar spacecraft that suffered a severe malfunction on its journey to the moon, safely returns to Earth.

On April 11, the third manned lunar landing mission was launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida, carrying astronauts James A. Lovell, John L. Swigert, and Fred W. Haise. The mission was headed for a landing on the Fra Mauro highlands of the moon. However, two days into the mission, disaster struck 200,000 miles from Earth when oxygen tank No. 2 blew up in the spacecraft. Swigert reported to mission control on Earth, "Houston, we've had a problem here," and it was discovered that the normal supply of oxygen, electricity, light, and water had been disrupted. The landing mission was aborted, and the astronauts and controllers on Earth scrambled to come up with emergency procedures. The crippled spacecraft continued to the moon, circled it, and began a long, cold journey back to Earth.

The astronauts and mission control were faced with enormous logistical problems in stabilizing the spacecraft and its air supply, as well as providing enough energy to the damaged fuel cells to allow successful reentry into Earth's atmosphere. Navigation was another problem, and Apollo 13's course was repeatedly corrected with dramatic and untested maneuvers. On April 17, tragedy turned to triumph as the Apollo 13 astronauts touched down safely in the Pacific Ocean.

April 16, 1943: Hallucinogenic effects of LSD discovered

Tue, 04/15/2014 - 10:00pm

In Basel, Switzerland, Albert Hoffman, a Swiss chemist working at the Sandoz pharmaceutical research laboratory, accidentally consumes LSD-25, a synthetic drug he had created in 1938 as part of his research into the medicinal value of lysergic acid compounds. After taking the drug, formally known as lysergic acid diethylamide, Dr. Hoffman was disturbed by unusual sensations and hallucinations. In his notes, he related the experience:

"Last Friday, April 16, 1943, I was forced to interrupt my work in the laboratory in the middle of the afternoon and proceed home, being affected by a remarkable restlessness, combined with a slight dizziness. At home I lay down and sank into a not unpleasant, intoxicated-like condition characterized by an extremely stimulated imagination. In a dreamlike state, with eyes closed (I found the daylight to be unpleasantly glaring), I perceived an uninterrupted stream of fantastic pictures, extraordinary shapes with intense, kaleidoscopic play of colors. After some two hours this condition faded away."

After intentionally taking the drug again to confirm that it had caused this strange physical and mental state, Dr. Hoffman published a report announcing his discovery, and so LSD made its entry into the world as a hallucinogenic drug. Widespread use of the so-called "mind-expanding" drug did not begin until the 1960s, when counterculture figures such as Albert M. Hubbard, Timothy Leary, and Ken Kesey publicly expounded on the benefits of using LSD as a recreational drug. The manufacture, sale, possession, and use of LSD, known to cause negative reactions in some of those who take it, were made illegal in the United States in 1965.

April 15, 1947: Jackie Robinson breaks color barrier

Mon, 04/14/2014 - 10:00pm

On this day in 1947, Jackie Robinson, age 28, becomes the first African-American player in Major League Baseball when he steps onto Ebbets Field in Brooklyn to compete for the Brooklyn Dodgers. Robinson broke the color barrier in a sport that had been segregated for more than 50 years. Exactly 50 years later, on April 15, 1997, Robinson's groundbreaking career was honored and his uniform number, 42, was retired from Major League Baseball by Commissioner Bud Selig in a ceremony attended by over 50,000 fans at New York City's Shea Stadium. Robinson's was the first-ever number retired by all teams in the league.

Jack Roosevelt Robinson was born January 31, 1919, in Cairo, Georgia, to a family of sharecroppers. Growing up, he excelled at sports and attended the University of California at Los Angeles, where he was the first athlete to letter in four varsity sports: baseball, basketball, football and track. After financial difficulties forced Robinson to drop out of UCLA, he joined the army in 1942 and was commissioned as a second lieutenant. After protesting instances of racial discrimination during his military service, Robinson was court-martialed in 1944. Ultimately, though, he was honorably discharged.

After the army, Robinson played for a season in the Negro American League. In 1945, Branch Rickey, general manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers, recruited Robinson, who was known for his integrity and intelligence as well as his talent, to join one of the club's farm teams. In 1947, Robinson was called up to the Majors and soon became a star infielder and outfielder for the Dodgers, as well as the National League's Rookie of the Year. In 1949, the right-hander was named the National League's Most Valuable Player and league batting champ. Robinson played on the National League All-Star team from 1949 through 1954 and led the Dodgers to six National League pennants and one World Series, in 1955. He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962, his first year of eligibility.

Despite his talent and success as a player, Robinson faced tremendous racial discrimination throughout his career, from baseball fans and some fellow players. Additionally, Jim Crow laws prevented Robinson from using the same hotels and restaurants as his teammates while playing in the South.

After retiring from baseball in 1957, Robinson became a businessman and civil rights activist. He died October 24, 1972, at age 53, in Stamford, Connecticut.

April 14, 1865: Lincoln is shot

Sun, 04/13/2014 - 10:00pm

On this day in 1865, John Wilkes Booth, an actor and Confederate sympathizer, fatally shoots President Abraham Lincoln at a play at Ford's Theater in Washington, D.C.  The attack came only five days after Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered his massive army at Appomattox Court House, Virginia, effectively ending the American Civil War.

Booth, a Maryland native born in 1838, who remained in the North during the war despite his Confederate sympathies, initially plotted to capture President Lincoln and take him to Richmond, the Confederate capital. However, on March 20, 1865, the day of the planned kidnapping, the president failed to appear at the spot where Booth and his six fellow conspirators lay in wait. Two weeks later, Richmond fell to Union forces.

In April, with Confederate armies near collapse across the South, Booth hatched a desperate plan to save the Confederacy. Learning that Lincoln was to attend a performance of "Our American Cousin" at Ford's Theater on April 14, Booth masterminded the simultaneous assassination of Lincoln, Vice President Andrew Johnson and Secretary of State William H. Seward. By murdering the president and two of his possible successors, Booth and his conspirators hoped to throw the U.S. government into disarray.

On the evening of April 14, conspirator Lewis T. Powell burst into Secretary of State Seward's home, seriously wounding him and three others, while George A. Atzerodt, assigned to Vice President Johnson, lost his nerve and fled. Meanwhile, just after 10 p.m., Booth entered Lincoln's private theater box unnoticed and shot the president with a single bullet in the back of his head. Slashing an army officer who rushed at him, Booth leapt to the stage and shouted "Sic semper tyrannis! [Thus always to tyrants]–the South is avenged!" Although Booth broke his leg jumping from Lincoln's box, he managed to escape Washington on horseback.

The president, mortally wounded, was carried to a lodging house opposite Ford's Theater. About 7:22 a.m. the next morning, Lincoln, age 56, died–the first U.S. president to be assassinated. Booth, pursued by the army and other secret forces, was finally cornered in a barn near Bowling Green, Virginia, and died from a possibly self-inflicted bullet wound as the barn was burned to the ground. Of the eight other people eventually charged with the conspiracy, four were hanged and four were jailed. Lincoln, the 16th U.S. president, was buried on May 4, 1865, in Springfield, Illinois.

April 13, 1997: Tiger Woods wins first major

Sat, 04/12/2014 - 10:00pm

On this day in 1997, 21-year-old Tiger Woods wins the prestigious Masters Tournament by a record 12 strokes in Augusta, Georgia. It was Woods' first victory in one of golf's four major championships–the U.S. Open, the British Open, the PGA Championship, and the Masters–and the greatest performance by a professional golfer in more than a century.

Eldrick "Tiger" Woods was born in a suburb of Los Angeles, California, on December 30, 1975. The only child of an African-American father and a Thai mother, Woods was encouraged from infancy by his father for a career in golf. At the age of two, he teed off against comedian Bob Hope on television's Mike Douglas Show. At five years old, he was featured on the television show That's Incredible. At age eight, Tiger won his first junior world championship, and in 1991, at age 15, he became the youngest player ever to win the U.S. Junior Amateur Championship. He also captured the 1992 and 1993 Junior Amateur titles, and in 1994 accepted a scholarship to attend Stanford University. That year, he came from six holes behind to win the first of his three consecutive U.S. Amateur championships. He was 18 years old and the youngest Amateur champion in history.

In 1995, Tiger played the Masters, his first professional major championship. The Augusta National Golf Club, which runs the Masters, had not let an African-American join its ranks until 1991. Woods finished 41st in his first Masters appearance. In 1996, he won the collegiate title. By this time, he was already attracting considerable media attention and attracting throngs of new fans to the sport. After claiming his third U.S. Amateur title, Woods left college and turned professional in August 1996. Playing as a pro in eight Professional Golfers' Association (PGA) events in 1996, he won a title and was named the PGA Tour's outstanding rookie. In December 1996, he was celebrated by the magazine Sports Illustrated as its "Sportsman of the Year."

In professional play, most of Woods' opponents were in their late 30s or early 40s. At 6'2" and 155 pounds, he was slender and athletic, and had developed a devastating swing that routinely allowed him to hit drives of more than 300 yards. He also had a reputation for mental toughness and was a superb putter and chipper. In April 1997, all these attributes came together for the most decisive victory in the Masters' 44-year history.

His margin of victory–12 strokes–was the largest in the 20th century, and second only to Old Tom Morris' 13-shot margin at the 1862 British Open. His score of 18-under-par 270 broke Jack Nicklaus' 32-year-old Masters record of 17-under-par 271. He was the youngest golfer by two years to win the Masters and the first person of Asian or African heritage to win a major. Never before had so many spectators come to Augusta National, and never before had so many people watched it on television.

By June 1997, Tiger was ranked number one in the world. In 1999, he won eight PGA tournaments, earned a record $6 million, and began a winning streak that eventually tied Ben Hogan's 1948 streak, the second longest in PGA history. In June 2000, he won his first U.S. Open title, shooting a record 12-under-par 272 to finish 15 strokes ahead of his nearest competitors. It was the greatest professional golf performance in history, surpassing even his 1997 Masters' triumph and Old Tom Morris' 1862 showing. In July 2000, he captured the British Open, and in August the PGA championship. At the age of 24, he was the youngest player ever to win all four major golf titles and just the second to win three majors in a year. On April 10, 2005, he earned his fourth green sport coat at Augusta National, becoming the first person to win four Masters before age 30.

Tiger’s winning pace slowed around 2004, when he devoted time to reworking his swing and rehabilitating his surgically repaired knee. It was also during this period that he married Elin Nordegren, a Swedish former model who would become the mother of his two children. Tiger was back in top form by 2005, winning his 10th major. His performance fluctuated throughout the rest of the decade as he struggled with a torn ACL and personal problems that garnered substantial media attention: In late 2009, in the wake of events surrounding a car accident outside Tiger’s Florida home, several women came forward claiming to have had affairs with the famous golfer. Nordegren divorced him in August 2010, just as Tiger began his first winless season in his career.

April 12, 1861: The Civil War begins

Fri, 04/11/2014 - 10:00pm

The bloodiest four years in American history begin when Confederate shore batteries under General P.G.T. Beauregard open fire on Union-held Fort Sumter in South Carolina's Charleston Bay. During the next 34 hours, 50 Confederate guns and mortars launched more than 4,000 rounds at the poorly supplied fort. On April 13, U.S. Major Robert Anderson surrendered the fort. Two days later, U.S. President Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation calling for 75,000 volunteer soldiers to quell the Southern "insurrection."

As early as 1858, the ongoing conflict between North and South over the issue of slavery had led Southern leadership to discuss a unified separation from the United States. By 1860, the majority of the slave states were publicly threatening secession if the Republicans, the anti-slavery party, won the presidency. Following Republican Abraham Lincoln's victory over the divided Democratic Party in November 1860, South Carolina immediately initiated secession proceedings. On December 20, the South Carolina legislature passed the "Ordinance of Secession," which declared that "the Union now subsisting between South Carolina and other states, under the name of the United States of America, is hereby dissolved." After the declaration, South Carolina set about seizing forts, arsenals, and other strategic locations within the state. Within six weeks, five more Southern states--Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, and Louisiana--had followed South Carolina's lead.

In February 1861, delegates from those states convened to establish a unified government. Jefferson Davis of Mississippi was subsequently elected the first president of the Confederate States of America. When Abraham Lincoln was inaugurated on March 4, 1861, a total of seven states (Texas had joined the pack) had seceded from the Union, and federal troops held only Fort Sumter in South Carolina, Fort Pickens off the Florida coast, and a handful of minor outposts in the South. Four years after the Confederate attack on Fort Sumter, the Confederacy was defeated at the total cost of 620,000 Union and Confederate soldiers dead.

April 11, 1814: Napoleon exiled to Elba

Thu, 04/10/2014 - 10:00pm

On this day in 1814, Napoleon Bonaparte, emperor of France and one of the greatest military leaders in history, abdicates the throne, and, in the Treaty of Fontainebleau, is banished to the Mediterranean island of Elba.

The future emperor was born in Ajaccio, Corsica, on August 15, 1769. After attending military school, he fought during the French Revolution of 1789 and rapidly rose through the military ranks, leading French troops in a number of successful campaigns throughout Europe in the late 1700s. By 1799, he had established himself at the top of a military dictatorship. In 1804, he became emperor of France and continued to consolidate power through his military campaigns, so that by 1810 much of Europe came under his rule. Although Napoleon developed a reputation for being power-hungry and insecure, he is also credited with enacting a series of important political and social reforms that had a lasting impact on European society, including judiciary systems, constitutions, voting rights for all men and the end of feudalism. Additionally, he supported education, science and literature. His Code Napoleon, which codified key freedoms gained during the French Revolution, such as religious tolerance, remains the foundation of French civil law.

In 1812, thinking that Russia was plotting an alliance with England, Napoleon launched an invasion against the Russians that eventually ended with his troops retreating from Moscow and much of Europe uniting against him. In 1814, Napoleon's broken forces gave up and Napoleon offered to step down in favor of his son. When this offer was rejected, he abdicated and was sent to Elba. In March 1815, he escaped his island exile and returned to Paris, where he regained supporters and reclaimed his emperor title, Napoleon I, in a period known as the Hundred Days. However, in June 1815, he was defeated at the bloody Battle of Waterloo. Napoleon's defeat ultimately signaled the end of France's domination of Europe. He abdicated for a second time and was exiled to the remote island of Saint Helena, in the southern Atlantic Ocean, where he lived out the rest of his days. He died at age 52 on May 5, 1821, possibly from stomach cancer, although some theories contend he was poisoned.

April 10, 1866: ASPCA is founded

Wed, 04/09/2014 - 10:00pm

On April 10, 1866, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) is founded in New York City by philanthropist and diplomat Henry Bergh, 54.

In 1863, Bergh had been appointed by President Abraham Lincoln to a diplomatic post at the Russian court of Czar Alexander II. It was there that he was horrified to witness work horses beaten by their peasant drivers. En route back to America, a June 1865 visit to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in London awakened his determination to secure a charter not only to incorporate the ASPCA but to exercise the power to arrest and prosecute violators of the law.

Back in New York, Bergh pleaded on behalf of "these mute servants of mankind" at a February 8, 1866, meeting at Clinton Hall. He argued that protecting animals was an issue that crossed party lines and class boundaries. "This is a matter purely of conscience; it has no perplexing side issues," he said. "It is a moral question in all its aspects." The speech prompted a number of dignitaries to sign his "Declaration of the Rights of Animals."

Bergh's impassioned accounts of the horrors inflicted on animals convinced the New York State legislature to pass the charter incorporating the ASPCA on April 10, 1866. Nine days later, the first effective anti-cruelty law in the United States was passed, allowing the ASPCA to investigate complaints of animal cruelty and to make arrests.

Bergh was a hands-on reformer, becoming a familiar sight on the streets and in the courtrooms of New York. He regularly inspected slaughter houses, worked with police to close down dog- and rat-fighting pits and lectured in schools and to adult societies. In 1867, the ASPCA established and operated the nation's first ambulance for horses.

As the pioneer and innovator of the humane movement, the ASPCA quickly became the model for more than 25 other humane organizations in the United States and Canada. And by the time Bergh died in 1888, 37 of the 38 states in the Union had passed anti-cruelty laws.

Bergh’s dramatic street rescues of mistreated horses and livestock served as a model for those trying to protect abused children. After Mary Ellen McCormack, 9, was found tied to a bed and brutally beaten by her foster parents in 1874, activists founded the New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. Bergh served as one of the group’s first vice presidents.

April 9, 1865: Robert E. Lee surrenders

Tue, 04/08/2014 - 10:00pm

At Appomattox, Virginia, Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrenders his 28,000 troops to Union General Ulysses S. Grant, effectively ending the American Civil War. Forced to abandon the Confederate capital of Richmond, blocked from joining the surviving Confederate force in North Carolina, and harassed constantly by Union cavalry, Lee had no other option.

In retreating from the Union army's Appomattox Campaign, the Army of Northern Virginia had stumbled through the Virginia countryside stripped of food and supplies. At one point, Union cavalry forces under General Philip Sheridan had actually outrun Lee's army, blocking their retreat and taking 6,000 prisoners at Sayler's Creek. Desertions were mounting daily, and by April 8 the Confederates were surrounded with no possibility of escape. On April 9, Lee sent a message to Grant announcing his willingness to surrender. The two generals met in the parlor of the Wilmer McLean home at one o'clock in the afternoon.

Lee and Grant, both holding the highest rank in their respective armies, had known each other slightly during the Mexican War and exchanged awkward personal inquiries. Characteristically, Grant arrived in his muddy field uniform while Lee had turned out in full dress attire, complete with sash and sword. Lee asked for the terms, and Grant hurriedly wrote them out. All officers and men were to be pardoned, and they would be sent home with their private property--most important, the horses, which could be used for a late spring planting. Officers would keep their side arms, and Lee's starving men would be given Union rations.

Shushing a band that had begun to play in celebration, General Grant told his officers, "The war is over. The Rebels are our countrymen again." Although scattered resistance continued for several weeks, for all practical purposes the Civil War had come to an end.

April 8, 1974: Aaron sets new home run record

Mon, 04/07/2014 - 10:00pm

On this day in 1974, Hank Aaron of the Atlanta Braves hits his 715th career home run, breaking Babe Ruth's legendary record of 714 homers. A crowd of 53,775 people, the largest in the history of Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, was with Aaron that night to cheer when he hit a 4th inning pitch off the Los Angeles Dodgers' Al Downing. However, as Aaron was an African American who had received death threats and racist hate mail during his pursuit of one of baseball's most distinguished records, the achievement was bittersweet.

Henry Louis Aaron Jr., born in Mobile, Alabama, on February 5, 1934, made his Major League debut in 1954 with the Milwaukee Braves, just eight years after Jackie Robinson broke baseball's color barrier and became the first African American to play in the majors. Aaron, known as hard working and quiet, was the last Negro league player to also compete in the Major Leagues. In 1957, with characteristically little fanfare, Aaron, who primarily played right field, was named the National League's Most Valuable Player as the Milwaukee Braves won the pennant. A few weeks later, his three home runs in the World Series helped his team triumph over the heavily favored New York Yankees. Although "Hammerin' Hank" specialized in home runs, he was also an extremely dependable batter, and by the end of his career he held baseball's career record for most runs batted in: 2,297.

Aaron's playing career spanned three teams and 23 years. He was with the Milwaukee Braves from 1954 to 1965, the Atlanta Braves from 1966 to 1974 and the Milwaukee Brewers from 1975 to 1976. He hung up his cleats in 1976 with 755 career home runs and went on to become one of baseball's first African-American executives, with the Atlanta Braves, and a leading spokesperson for minority hiring. Hank Aaron was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1982.

April 7, 1994: Civil war erupts in Rwanda

Sun, 04/06/2014 - 10:00pm

On this day in 1994, Rwandan armed forces kill 10 Belgian peacekeeping officers in a successful effort to discourage international intervention in the genocide that had begun only hours earlier. In approximately three months, the Hutu extremists who controlled Rwanda brutally murdered an estimated 500,000 to 1 million innocent civilian Tutsis and moderate Hutus in the worst episode of ethnic genocide since World War II.

The immediate roots of the 1994 genocide dated back to the early 1990s, when President Juvenal Habyarimana, a Hutu, began using anti-Tutsi rhetoric to consolidate his power among the Hutus. Beginning in October 1990, there were several massacres of hundreds of Tutsis. Although the two ethnic groups were very similar, sharing the same language and culture for centuries, the law required registration based on ethnicity. The government and army began to assemble the Interahamwe (meaning "those who attack together") and prepared for the elimination of the Tutsis by arming Hutus with guns and machetes. In January 1994, the United Nations forces in Rwanda warned that larger massacres were imminent.

On April 6, 1994, President Habyarimana was killed when his plane was shot down. It is not known if the attack was carried out by the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), a Tutsi military organization stationed outside the country at the time, or by Hutu extremists trying to instigate a mass killing. In any event, Hutu extremists in the military, led by Colonel Theoneste Bagosora, immediately went into action, murdering Tutsis and moderate Hutus within hours of the crash.

The Belgian peacekeepers were killed the next day, a key factor in the withdrawal of U.N. forces from Rwanda. Soon afterward, the radio stations in Rwanda were broadcasting appeals to the Hutu majority to kill all Tutsis in the country. The army and the national police directed the slaughter, sometimes threatening Hutu civilians when persuasion didn't work. Thousands of innocent people were hacked to death with machetes by their neighbors. Despite the horrific crimes, the international community, including the United States, hesitated to take any action. They wrongly ascribed the genocide to chaos amid tribal war. President Bill Clinton later called America's failure to do anything to stop the genocide "the biggest regret" of his administration.

It was left to the RPF, led by Paul Kagame, to begin an ultimately successful military campaign for control of Rwanda. By the summer, the RPF had defeated the Hutu forces and driven them out of the country and into several neighboring nations. However, by that time, an estimated 75 percent of the Tutsis living in Rwanda had been murdered.

April 6, 1896: First modern Olympic Games

Sat, 04/05/2014 - 10:00pm

On April 6, 1896, the Olympic Games, a long-lost tradition of ancient Greece, are reborn in Athens 1,500 years after being banned by Roman Emperor Theodosius I. At the opening of the Athens Games, King Georgios I of Greece and a crowd of 60,000 spectators welcomed athletes from 13 nations to the international competition.

The first recorded Olympic Games were held at Olympia in the Greek city-state of Elis in 776 B.C., but it is generally accepted that the Olympics were at least 500 years old at that time. The ancient Olympics, held every four years, occurred during a religious festival honoring the Greek god Zeus. In the eighth century B.C., contestants came from a dozen or more Greek cities, and by the fifth century B.C. from as many as 100 cities from throughout the Greek empire. Initially, Olympic competition was limited to foot races, but later a number of other events were added, including wrestling, boxing, horse and chariot racing, and military competitions. The pentathlon, introduced in 708 B.C., consisted of a foot race, the long jump, discus and javelin throws, and wrestling. With the rise of Rome, the Olympics declined, and in 393 A.D. the Roman Emperor Theodosius I, a Christian, abolished the Games as part of his efforts to suppress paganism in the Roman Empire.

With the Renaissance, Europe began a long fascination with ancient Greek culture, and in the 18th and 19th centuries some nations staged informal sporting and folkloric festivals bearing the name "Olympic Games." However, it was not until 1892 that a young French baron, Pierre de Coubertin, seriously proposed reviving the Olympics as a major international competition that would occur every four years. At a conference on international sport in Paris in June 1894, Coubertin again raised the idea, and the 79 delegates from nine countries unanimously approved his proposal. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) was formed, and the first Games were planned for 1896 in Athens, the capital of Greece.

In Athens, 280 participants from 13 nations competed in 43 events, covering track-and-field, swimming, gymnastics, cycling, wrestling, weightlifting, fencing, shooting, and tennis. All the competitors were men, and a few of the entrants were tourists who stumbled upon the Games and were allowed to sign up. The track-and-field events were held at the Panathenaic Stadium, which was originally built in 330 B.C. and restored for the 1896 Games. Americans won nine out of 12 of these events. The 1896 Olympics also featured the first marathon competition, which followed the 25-mile route run by a Greek soldier who brought news of a victory over the Persians from Marathon to Athens in 490 B.C. In 1924, the marathon was standardized at 26 miles and 385 yards. Appropriately, a Greek, Spyridon Louis, won the first marathon at the 1896 Athens Games.

Pierre de Coubertin became IOC president in 1896 and guided the Olympic Games through its difficult early years, when it lacked much popular support and was overshadowed by world's fairs. In 1924, the first truly successful Olympic Games were held in Paris, involving more than 3,000 athletes, including more than 100 women, from 44 nations. The first Winter Olympic Games were also held that year. In 1925, Coubertin retired. The Olympic Games have come to be regarded as the foremost international sports competition. At the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, more than 10,000 athletes from 200 countries competed, including nearly 4,000 women. In 2004, the Summer Olympics returned to Athens, with more than 11,000 athletes competing from 202 countries. In a proud moment for Greeks and an exciting one for spectators, the shotput competition was held at the site of the classical Games in Olympia.

April 5, 1614: Pocahontas marries John Rolfe

Fri, 04/04/2014 - 10:00pm

Pocahontas, daughter of the chief of the Powhatan Indian confederacy, marries English tobacco planter John Rolfe in Jamestown, Virginia. The marriage ensured peace between the Jamestown settlers and the Powhatan Indians for several years.

In May 1607, about 100 English colonists settled along the James River in Virginia to found Jamestown, the first permanent English settlement in America. The settlers fared badly because of famine, disease, and Indian attacks, but were aided by 27-year-old English adventurer John Smith, who directed survival efforts and mapped the area. While exploring the Chickahominy River in December 1607, Smith and two colonists were captured by Powhatan warriors. At the time, the Powhatan confederacy consisted of around 30 Tidewater-area tribes led by Chief Wahunsonacock, known as Chief Powhatan to the English. Smith's companions were killed, but he was spared and released, (according to a 1624 account by Smith) because of the dramatic intercession of Pocahontas, Chief Powhatan's 13-year-old daughter. Her real name was Matoaka, and Pocahontas was a pet name that has been translated variously as "playful one" and "my favorite daughter."

In 1608, Smith became president of the Jamestown colony, but the settlement continued to suffer. An accidental fire destroyed much of the town, and hunger, disease, and Indian attacks continued. During this time, Pocahontas often came to Jamestown as an emissary of her father, sometimes bearing gifts of food to help the hard-pressed settlers. She befriended the settlers and became acquainted with English ways. In 1609, Smith was injured from a fire in his gunpowder bag and was forced to return to England.

After Smith's departure, relations with the Powhatan deteriorated and many settlers died from famine and disease in the winter of 1609-10. Jamestown was about to be abandoned by its inhabitants when Baron De La Warr (also known as Delaware) arrived in June 1610 with new supplies and rebuilt the settlement--the Delaware River and the colony of Delaware were later named after him. John Rolfe also arrived in Jamestown in 1610 and two years later cultivated the first tobacco there, introducing a successful source of livelihood that would have far-reaching importance for Virginia.

In the spring of 1613, English Captain Samuel Argall took Pocahontas hostage, hoping to use her to negotiate a permanent peace with her father. Brought to Jamestown, she was put under the custody of Sir Thomas Gates, the marshal of Virginia. Gates treated her as a guest rather than a prisoner and encouraged her to learn English customs. She converted to Christianity and was baptized Lady Rebecca. Powhatan eventually agreed to the terms for her release, but by then she had fallen in love with John Rolfe, who was about 10 years her senior. On April 5, 1614, Pocahontas and John Rolfe married with the blessing of Chief Powhatan and the governor of Virginia.

Their marriage brought a peace between the English colonists and the Powhatans, and in 1615 Pocahontas gave birth to their first child, Thomas. In 1616, the couple sailed to England. The so-called Indian Princess proved popular with the English gentry, and she was presented at the court of King James I. In March 1617, Pocahontas and Rolfe prepared to sail back to Virginia. However, the day before they were to leave, Pocahontas died, probably of smallpox, and was buried at the parish church of St. George in Gravesend, England.

John Rolfe returned to Virginia and was killed in an Indian massacre in 1622. After an education in England, their son Thomas Rolfe returned to Virginia and became a prominent citizen. John Smith returned to the New World in 1614 to explore the New England coast. On another voyage of exploration in 1614, he was captured by pirates but escaped after three months of captivity. He then returned to England, where he died in 1631.

April 4, 1968: Dr. King is assassinated

Thu, 04/03/2014 - 10:00pm

Just after 6 p.m. on April 4, 1968, Martin Luther King Jr. is fatally shot while standing on the balcony outside his second-story room at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee. The civil rights leader was in Memphis to support a sanitation workers' strike and was on his way to dinner when a bullet struck him in the jaw and severed his spinal cord. King was pronounced dead after his arrival at a Memphis hospital. He was 39 years old.

In the months before his assassination, Martin Luther King became increasingly concerned with the problem of economic inequality in America. He organized a Poor People's Campaign to focus on the issue, including an interracial poor people's march on Washington, and in March 1968 traveled to Memphis in support of poorly treated African-American sanitation workers. On March 28, a workers' protest march led by King ended in violence and the death of an African-American teenager. King left the city but vowed to return in early April to lead another demonstration.

On April 3, back in Memphis, King gave his last sermon, saying, "We've got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn't matter with me now, because I've been to the mountaintop...And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over, and I've seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight that we, as a people, will get to the promised land."

One day after speaking those words, Dr. King was shot and killed by a sniper. As word of the assassination spread, riots broke out in cities all across the United States and National Guard troops were deployed in Memphis and Washington, D.C. On April 9, King was laid to rest in his hometown of Atlanta, Georgia. Tens of thousands of people lined the streets to pay tribute to King's casket as it passed by in a wooden farm cart drawn by two mules.

The evening of King's murder, a Remington .30-06 hunting rifle was found on the sidewalk beside a rooming house one block from the Lorraine Motel. During the next several weeks, the rifle, eyewitness reports, and fingerprints on the weapon all implicated a single suspect: escaped convict James Earl Ray. A two-bit criminal, Ray escaped a Missouri prison in April 1967 while serving a sentence for a holdup. In May 1968, a massive manhunt for Ray began. The FBI eventually determined that he had obtained a Canadian passport under a false identity, which at the time was relatively easy.

On June 8, Scotland Yard investigators arrested Ray at a London airport. He was trying to fly to Belgium, with the eventual goal, he later admitted, of reaching Rhodesia. Rhodesia, now called Zimbabwe, was at the time ruled by an oppressive and internationally condemned white minority government. Extradited to the United States, Ray stood before a Memphis judge in March 1969 and pleaded guilty to King's murder in order to avoid the electric chair. He was sentenced to 99 years in prison.

Three days later, he attempted to withdraw his guilty plea, claiming he was innocent of King's assassination and had been set up as a patsy in a larger conspiracy. He claimed that in 1967, a mysterious man named "Raoul" had approached him and recruited him into a gunrunning enterprise. On April 4, 1968, he said, he realized that he was to be the fall guy for the King assassination and fled to Canada. Ray's motion was denied, as were his dozens of other requests for a trial during the next 29 years.

During the 1990s, the widow and children of Martin Luther King Jr. spoke publicly in support of Ray and his claims, calling him innocent and speculating about an assassination conspiracy involving the U.S. government and military. U.S. authorities were, in conspiracists' minds, implicated circumstantially. FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover obsessed over King, who he thought was under communist influence. For the last six years of his life, King underwent constant wiretapping and harassment by the FBI. Before his death, Dr. King was also monitored by U.S. military intelligence, which may have been asked to watch King after he publicly denounced the Vietnam War in 1967. Furthermore, by calling for radical economic reforms in 1968, including guaranteed annual incomes for all, King was making few new friends in the Cold War-era U.S. government.

Over the years, the assassination has been reexamined by the House Select Committee on Assassinations, the Shelby County, Tennessee, district attorney's office, and three times by the U.S. Justice Department. The investigations all ended with the same conclusion: James Earl Ray killed Martin Luther King. The House committee acknowledged that a low-level conspiracy might have existed, involving one or more accomplices to Ray, but uncovered no evidence to definitively prove this theory. In addition to the mountain of evidence against him--such as his fingerprints on the murder weapon and his admitted presence at the rooming house on April 4--Ray had a definite motive in assassinating King: hatred. According to his family and friends, he was an outspoken racist who informed them of his intent to kill Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He died in 1998.

April 3, 1860: Pony Express debuts

Wed, 04/02/2014 - 10:00pm

On this day in 1860, the first Pony Express mail, traveling by horse and rider relay teams, simultaneously leaves St. Joseph, Missouri, and Sacramento, California. Ten days later, on April 13, the westbound rider and mail packet completed the approximately 1,800-mile journey and arrived in Sacramento, beating the eastbound packet's arrival in St. Joseph by two days and setting a new standard for speedy mail delivery. Although ultimately short-lived and unprofitable, the Pony Express captivated America's imagination and helped win federal aid for a more economical overland postal system. It also contributed to the economy of the towns on its route and served the mail-service needs of the American West in the days before the telegraph or an efficient transcontinental railroad.

The Pony Express debuted at a time before radios and telephones, when California, which achieved statehood in 1850, was still largely cut off from the eastern part of the country. Letters sent from New York to the West Coast traveled by ship, which typically took at least a month, or by stagecoach on the recently established Butterfield Express overland route, which could take from three weeks to many months to arrive. Compared to the snail's pace of the existing delivery methods, the Pony Express' average delivery time of 10 days seemed like lightning speed.

The Pony Express Company, the brainchild of William H. Russell, William Bradford Waddell and Alexander Majors, owners of a freight business, was set up over 150 relay stations along a pioneer trail across the present-day states of Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, Nevada and California. Riders, who were paid approximately $25 per week and carried loads estimated at up to 20 pounds of mail, were changed every 75 to 100 miles, with horses switched out every 10 to 15 miles. Among the riders was the legendary frontiersman and showman William "Buffalo Bill" Cody (1846-1917), who reportedly signed on with the Pony Express at age 14. The company's riders set their fastest time with Lincoln's inaugural address, which was delivered in just less than eight days.

The initial cost of Pony Express delivery was $5 for every half-ounce of mail. The company began as a private enterprise and its owners hoped to gain a profitable delivery contract from the U.S. government, but that never happened. With the advent of the first transcontinental telegraph line in October 1861, the Pony Express ceased operations. However, the legend of the lone Pony Express rider galloping across the Old West frontier to deliver the mail lives on today.

April 2, 2005: Pope John Paul II Dies

Tue, 04/01/2014 - 10:00pm

On this day in 2005, John Paul II, history's most well-traveled pope and the first non-Italian to hold the position since the 16th century, dies at his home in the Vatican. Six days later, two million people packed Vatican City for his funeral, said to be the biggest funeral in history.

John Paul II was born Karol Jozef Wojtyla in Wadowice, Poland, 35 miles southwest of Krakow, in 1920. After high school, the future pope enrolled at Krakow's Jagiellonian University, where he studied philosophy and literature and performed in a theater group. During World War II, Nazis occupied Krakow and closed the university, forcing Wojtyla to seek work in a quarry and, later, a chemical factory. By 1941, his mother, father, and only brother had all died, leaving him the sole surviving member of his family.

Although Wojtyla had been involved in the church his whole life, it was not until 1942 that he began seminary training. When the war ended, he returned to school at Jagiellonian to study theology, becoming an ordained priest in 1946. He went on to complete two doctorates and became a professor of moral theology and social ethics. On July 4, 1958, at the age of 38, he was appointed auxiliary bishop of Krakow by Pope Pius XII. He later became the city s archbishop, where he spoke out for religious freedom while the church began the Second Vatican Council, which would revolutionize Catholicism. He was made a cardinal in 1967, taking on the challenges of living and working as a Catholic priest in communist Eastern Europe. Once asked if he feared retribution from communist leaders, he replied, "I m not afraid of them. They are afraid of me."

Wojtyla was quietly and slowly building a reputation as a powerful preacher and a man of both great intellect and charisma. Still, when Pope John Paul I died in 1978 after only a 34-day reign, few suspected Wojtyla would be chosen to replace him. But, after seven rounds of balloting, the Sacred College of Cardinals chose the 58-year-old, and he became the first-ever Slavic pope and the youngest to be chosen in 132 years.

A conservative pontiff, John Paul II s papacy was marked by his firm and unwavering opposition to communism and war, as well as abortion, contraception, capital punishment, and homosexual sex. He later came out against euthanasia, human cloning, and stem cell research. He traveled widely as pope, using the eight languages he spoke (Polish, Italian, French, German, English, Spanish, Portuguese, and Latin) and his well-known personal charm, to connect with the Catholic faithful, as well as many outside the fold.

On May 13, 1981, Pope John Paul II was shot in St. Peter s Square by a Turkish political extremist, Mehmet Ali Agca. After his release from the hospital, the pope famously visited his would-be assassin in prison, where he had begun serving a life sentence, and personally forgave him for his actions. The next year, another unsuccessful attempt was made on the pope s life, this time by a fanatical priest who opposed the reforms of Vatican II.

Although it was not confirmed by the Vatican until 2003, many believe Pope John Paul II began suffering from Parkinson s disease in the early 1990s. He began to develop slurred speech and had difficulty walking, though he continued to keep up a physically demanding travel schedule. In his final years, he was forced to delegate many of his official duties, but still found the strength to speak to the faithful from a window at the Vatican. In February 2005, the pope was hospitalized with complications from the flu. He died two months later.

Pope John Paul II is remembered for his successful efforts to end communism, as well as for building bridges with peoples of other faiths, and issuing the Catholic Church s first apology for its actions during World War II. He was succeeded by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, who became Pope Benedict XVI. Benedict XVI began the process to beatify John Paul II in May 2005.

April 1, 1700: April Fools tradition popularized

Mon, 03/31/2014 - 10:00pm

On this day in 1700, English pranksters begin popularizing the annual tradition of April Fools' Day by playing practical jokes on each other.

Although the day, also called All Fools' Day, has been celebrated for several centuries by different cultures, its exact origins remain a mystery. Some historians speculate that April Fools' Day dates back to 1582, when France switched from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian calendar, as called for by the Council of Trent in 1563. People who were slow to get the news or failed to recognize that the start of the new year had moved to January 1 and continued to celebrate it during the last week of March through April 1 became the butt of jokes and hoaxes. These included having paper fish placed on their backs and being referred to as "poisson d'avril" (April fish), said to symbolize a young, easily caught fish and a gullible person.

Historians have also linked April Fools' Day to ancient festivals such as Hilaria, which was celebrated in Rome at the end of March and involved people dressing up in disguises. There's also speculation that April Fools' Day was tied to the vernal equinox, or first day of spring in the Northern Hemisphere, when Mother Nature fooled people with changing, unpredictable weather.

April Fools' Day spread throughout Britain during the 18th century. In Scotland, the tradition became a two-day event, starting with "hunting the gowk," in which people were sent on phony errands (gowk is a word for cuckoo bird, a symbol for fool) and followed by Tailie Day, which involved pranks played on people's derrieres, such as pinning fake tails or "kick me" signs on them.

In modern times, people have gone to great lengths to create elaborate April Fools' Day hoaxes. Newspapers, radio and TV stations and Web sites have participated in the April 1 tradition of reporting outrageous fictional claims that have fooled their audiences. In 1957, the BBC reported that Swiss farmers were experiencing a record spaghetti crop and showed footage of people harvesting noodles from trees; numerous viewers were fooled. In 1985, Sports Illustrated tricked many of its readers when it ran a made-up article about a rookie pitcher named Sidd Finch who could throw a fastball over 168 miles per hour. In 1996, Taco Bell, the fast-food restaurant chain, duped people when it announced it had agreed to purchase Philadelphia's Liberty Bell and intended to rename it the Taco Liberty Bell. In 1998, after Burger King advertised a "Left-Handed Whopper," scores of clueless customers requested the fake sandwich.