Today in 1946, in Las Vegas, Nevada, mobster Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel opened The Pink Flamingo Hotel & Casino, named after Siegel’s girlfriend Virginia Hill, nicknamed “The Flamingo,” at a total cost of $6 million. The 40-acre facility wasn’t complete and Siegel was hoping to raise some revenue with the grand opening.
Singer and comedian Jimmy Durante headlined the entertainment, with music by Cuban band leader Xavier Cugat. Some of Siegel’s Hollywood-celebrity friends were in attendance.
The grand opening was a flop. Bad weather kept many guests from arriving. Because gamblers had no rooms at the hotel, they took their winnings and gambled elsewhere. The casino lost $300,000 in the first week of operation. Two weeks after the grand opening, the Flamingo closed down. It re-opened March 1, 1947, as The Fabulous Flamingo.
Convinced that Siegel wasn’t giving them a “square count,” it is widely believed that his partners in organized crime had him killed while he was reading the paper June 20, 1947, at Hill’s Beverly Hills mansion. Hill was in Paris, having flown the coop after a fight with Siegel 10 days prior. The crime remains unsolved to this day.
Surviving a series of name and ownership changes, the hotel is known today as The Flamingo Las Vegas, owned and operated by Harrah’s Entertainment. The property offers 3,626 hotel rooms and a 77,000-square-foot casino.
At approximately 8 a.m. today in 1776, General George Washington’s Continental Army reached the outskirts of Trenton, New Jersey. Trenton’s 1,400 Hessian defenders were still groggy from the previous evening’s Christmas festivities and had underestimated the Patriot threat after months of decisive British victories throughout New York. The troops of the Continental Army quickly overwhelmed the German defenses.
Although several hundred Hessians escaped, nearly 1,000 were captured at the cost of only four American lives.
The victory was minor from a strategic perspective, but bore tremendous significance for the future of the Continental Army. The victories at Trenton and a few days later at Princeton proved to the American public that their army was indeed capable of victory and worthy of support.
The image of ragged farm-boy Patriots defeating drunken foreign mercenaries has become ingrained in the American imagination. Then as now, Washington’s crossing and the Battle of Trenton were emblematic of the American Patriots’ surprising ability to overcome tremendous odds.
Today in 1861, Confederate diplomats James Mason and John Slidell were freed by President Abraham Lincoln’s administration, heading off a possible war between the United States and Great Britain.
The two men were aboard the Trent, a British mail steamer, on November 8, 1861, when they were pulled over by the U.S.S. San Jacinto. They were headed to London to lobby for recognition of the Confederacy. The Union ship intercepted the English ship near the Bahamas, arrested the Southerners, and took them back to Boston. The British were outraged. They had not taken sides in the American Civil War and their policy was to accept any paying customer who wished to travel aboard their ships. The British government dispatched a message to the American government demanding the release of Mason and Slidell, along with an apology for the transgression of British rights on the high seas.
Lincoln decided not to push the issue. On December 26, he ordered the envoys released, commenting, “One war at a time.”
The incident gave the Confederates hope that there was support for their cause in Britain. Once they reached London, however, they were politely ignored. Britain was not inclined to recognize a slave state.
Today in 1941 Winston Churchill became the first British prime minister to address Congress. Churchill, urged Congress to back President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s proposal that America become the “great arsenal of democracy” and warned that the Axis powers would “stop at nothing” in pursuit of their war aims.
Today in1820 at San Antonio, Texas, Moses Austin requested a land grant from the Spanish governor, who initially turned him down. Austin persisted and was finally granted permission to settle 300 Anglo families on 200,000 acres of Texas land.
Austin immediately set out for the United States to begin recruiting colonists, but he became ill and died on the long journey back. The task of completing the arrangements for Austin’s Texas colony fell to his son, Stephen Fuller Austin. Over the next decade, Stephen Austin and other colonizers brought nearly 25,000 people into Texas, most of them Anglo-Americans. Always more loyal to the United States than to Mexico, the settlers eventually broke from Mexico to form the independent Republic of Texas in 1836.
The U.S. entry into the war in April 1917 coincided with a downturn in the fortunes of the nation’s railroads: rising taxes and operations costs, combined with prices that were fixed by law, had pushed many railroad companies into receivership as early as late 1915.
By the end of 1917, it seemed that the existing railroad system was not up to the task of supporting the war effort and Wilson decided on nationalization. Today in 1917 President Woodrow Wilson announced the nationalization of a large majority of the country’s railroads under the Federal Possession and Control Act.
Two days after his announcement, the United States Railroad Administration (USRA) seized control. The railroads were subsequently divided into three divisions—East, West and South. Passenger services were streamlined, eliminating a significant amount of inessential travel. Over 100,000 new railroad cars and 1,930 steam engines were ordered–designed to the latest standards–at a total cost of $380 million.
In March 1918, the Railroad Control Act was passed into law. It stated that within 21 months of a peace treaty, the railroads would be returned by the government to their owners and that the latter would be compensated for the usage of their property. Consequently, the USRA was disbanded two years later, in March 1920, and the railroads became private property once again.
Kwanzaa, an African American family observance was established today in 1966 celebrating traditional African harvest festivals, focusing on family unity, with a community harvest feast on the seventh day. Kwanzaa means “first fruit” in Swahili.
Rest in peace Harry S. Truman. judge, senator, Vice President, and 33rd President, who died today in 1972 at Kansas City Missouri. He was age 88.
Truman was born May 8, 1884 at Lamar, Missouri. He is buried at Independence, Missouri.