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Today in History

April 18, 1775: Paul Revere's Ride. "'Twas the 18th of April, '75..." Revere's ride was immortalized by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's famous poem, first published in 1861. Although Longfellow got some of the details wrong, it wasn't through lack of research -- he carefully manipulated events for the effect he wanted. It was all part of the Abolitionist movement.

April 17, 1896: Born, Wenceslao Moreno, "Senor Wences". This Spanish ventriloquist achieved fame on The Ed Sullivan Show during the 50's and 60's. His most popular characters were Johnny Wences' hand on a headless dummy) and Pedro (a disembodied head in a box). Pedro had been invented when Wences' full-sized dummy had been destroyed in a train accident. S'awright.

April 16, 1178 BC: Odysseus Slays the Suitors. The hero of Homer's Odyssey may be a mythological figure, but the day that he slew his wife's suitors appears to have been real, and has been pinpointed by people who know about these kinds of things. Significant clues include: a total solar eclipse, the appearance of Venus, the position of Mercury, and the positions of the constellations Bootes and Pleiades.Apparently, this is the ONLY day when ALL of those factors occurred.

April 15, 1912: Titanic sinks. The British passenger liner had struck an iceberg shortly before midnight and went down 2 hours and 40 minutes later. Out of the 2227 passengers and crew, only 710 survived.

April 14, 1935: Black Sunday Dust Storm takes place. It was one of the worst dust storms in American history, and is estimated to have displaced 300,000 tons of topsoil. This is what it looked like approaching Spearman, Texas.

April 13, 1953: Mind-control program MKULTRA launched by CIA. 44 American colleges, 15 research foundations of pharmaceutical companies, 12 hospitals or clinics, and 3 prisons are known to have participated in this program, which experimented with the effects of hypnosis, sensory deprivation, verbal and sexual abuse, and administration of drugs, including LSD. Among those known to have guinea pigs are author Ken Kesey ("One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest") and Unabomber Ted Kacznski.

April 12, 1975: Died, Josephine Baker. The American-born singer/dancer/actress later became a French citizen. She has been honored for her contributions to the both the American Civil Rights Movement and the French Resistance during WWII. Ernest Hemingway called her "the most sensational woman anyone ever saw."

April 11, 1862: Born, Joseph Merrick. Better known as "The Elephant Man", Merrick was born with severe deformities and spent most of his life on exhibition as a curiosity. His sad life came to an end in 1890, when he died, officially of asphyxia. An autopsy revealed that his neck was broken. It is believed that Merrick, who normally slept sitting up because of the great weight of his head, had attempted to sleep lying down, to "be like other people."

April 10, 1925: Published, The Great Gatsby. F. Scott Fitzgerald's best-known novel was not an immediate success commercially. It got a big boost during WWII, however, when it was selected for an Armed Service Edition, given away to soldiers during the war. The photograph is of the now-demolished Beacon Towers, a Gilded Age mansion on Long Island that may have served as an inspiration to Fitzgerald.

April 9, 1939: Marian Anderson sings at the Lincoln Memorial. The huge open-air event, attended by more than 75,000 people, had been organized in response to the refusal of the DAR to allow the African-American contralto to sing to an integrated audience at their Constitution Hall. Another result of the DAR's decision was the resignation of thousands of members in protest, including Eleanor Roosevelt.

April 8, 1320: Born, Peter I of Portugal. He was called Peter the Just -- or Peter the Cruel -- because of his love of justice, particularly when administered by his own hands. When his mistress Ines's assassins were apprehended, he ripped out their hearts with his own hands, because of what they had done to his own heart. He later had Ines exhumed and crowned, and required all his vassals to kneel and kiss her hand.

April 7, 1663: Born, Francis Cooke. One of the 41 passengers to sign the Mayflower Compact, Cooke was a leader in the community, serving on coroner's, petit and grand juries, and helping to administer land grants and roads. He is also one of 26 Mayflower Pilgrims known to have descendents. Among Cooke's are Franklin Delano Roosevelt, George H W and George W Bush, Orson Welles, Grandma Moses, Dick Van Dyke, Richard Gere, and Brian, Dennis and Carl Wilson of the Beach Boys.

April 6, 1327: Petrarch first sees his beloved, Laura, in the church of Saint-Clare d'Avignon. The Italian poet would celebrate his idealized love in 366 poems, but it is believed that the two had little, if any, personal contact. “I freeze and burn, love is bitter and sweet, my sighs are tempests and my tears are floods, I am in ecstasy and agony, I am possessed by memories of her and I am in exile from myself.”

March 5, 1960: "Guerrillero Heroico" taken. Called the world's most famous photograph, this image of Che Guevara was taken by Alberto Korda in Havana at a memorial service for victims of the La Coubre explosion. Korda believed that the photo represented Guevara's ideals, and never asked for royalties on its reproduction. He did, however, object when Smirnoff used it in a vodka commercial, and claimed "moral rights" to the image. Che, he reasoned, would not support the promotion of alcohol.

April 4, 1841: Died, William Henry Harrison. When he came to office, Harrison, then 68, wanted to prove that he was still the stalwart hero of Tippecanoe, so he rode horseback to the ceremony in the rain wearing neither hat nor overcoat. He then delivered a 2-hour speech, rode in a parade, and attended 3 inaugural balls. He died of pneumonia on his 32nd day in office.

April 3, 1930: Born, Calvlin Graham. He was called the Baby Vet for good reason. Only 12 when he enlisted in the US Navy, he was injured at the Battle of Guadalcanal only 5 months later. He was awarded the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart for his actions there, only to have them taken away from him -- along with his disability benefits -- when the Navy found out he'd lied about his age. (He eventually got them all back, the Purple Heart posthumously.)

April 2, 1938: Born, Whirlaway. He lost nearly half of all the races he ever ran. He preferred to run on the outside rail. When he got ahead of the other horses in a race, he got bored and started zigzagging all over the track. All in all, he was a pretty unlikely horse to win the Triple Crown, but that's what he did, in 1941.

April 1, 1891: The Wrigley Company is founded. William Wrigley came to Chicago with $32 and an idea -- he wanted to sell scouring powder. He began offering baking powder as a premium with the soap, and it proved more popular, so he switched to selling baking powder. With it, he offered a premium of 2 packages of chewing gum. Guess what he switched to next?

March 31, 1951: UNIVAC I sold to the Census Bureau. It weighed 29,000 pounds and was the first computer built specifically for business purposes. Eventually, Remington would build 46 of the model, with prices rising as high as $50,000. The illustration is of the console.

March 30, 1842: Anesthetic first used in surgery. Crawford Long was the surgeon who first got the idea that ether might be useful in surgery. It wasn't his first use of it however -- he'd gotten the idea in his college days when attending "ether frolics", parties where the gas was used recreationally.

March 29, 1683: Yaoya Oshichi burned at the stake. The 16-year-old girl was in love with a Temple page she had met during a fire the previous year. Hoping to meet him again, she started another fire. During her arson trial the magistrate, wanting to help her out, repeatedly asked if she was 15 years old. At the age of 15, she would have been tried as a minor, and not been subject to the death penalty. Yaoya didn't take the hint, and replied truthfully.

March 28, 1941: Died, Virginia Woolf. The English author and publisher suffered throughout her life from bouts of mental illness (probably what is now called bipolar disorder). She committed suicide by drowning on March 28, 1941, at the age of 59. Her body was not discovered until the 18th of April.

March 27, 1886: Geronimo surrenders. After a lifetime of fighting both Mexican and American forces, the Apache chief surrendered to the US Army in 1886. He would live another 23 years, becoming a celebrity in later life and appearing in local fairs. On his deathbed, he told his nephew, "I should have never surrendered. I should have fought until I was the last man alive."

March 26, 1923: Died, Sarah Bernhardt. "The Divine Sarah" was easily the most famous actress of the 19th century, known all over the world for her serious -- and sometimes controversial -- dramatic roles. She died at the age of 78 of kidney failure, continuing to work almost until her death.

March 25, 1807: The Swansea and Mumbles Railway begins carrying passengers. Originally built to move limestone from the quarries to the market, it became the first passenger railway in the world on this date in 1807. Initially, it was horse-drawn, but various later incarnations of the railway were powered by sail, steam, electricity, gasoline, and petrol.