Today in 1827, a group of masked and costumed students danced through the streets of New Orleans, Louisiana, marking the beginning of the city’s famous Mardi Gras celebrations.
The celebration of Carnival–or the weeks between Twelfth Night on January 6 and Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the Christian period of Lent–spread from Rome across Europe and later to the Americas.
Early French settlers brought the tradition of Mardi Gras to Louisiana at the end of the 17th century; Spanish governors of the province later banned the celebrations. After Louisiana became part of the United States in 1803, the New Orleans city council lifted the ban.
The parties grew more popular, and in 1833 a rich plantation owner named Bernard Xavier de Marigny de Mandeville raised money to fund an official Mardi Gras celebration. After rowdy revelers began to get violent during the 1850s, a secret society called the Mistick Krewe of Comus staged the first large-scale, well-organized Mardi Gras parade in 1857.
Over time, hundreds of krewes formed, building elaborate and colorful floats for parades held over the two weeks leading up to Fat Tuesday. Riders on the floats are usually local citizens who toss “throws” at passersby, including metal coins, stuffed toys or those now-infamous strands of beads. Though many tourists mistakenly believe Bourbon Street and the historic French Quarter are the heart of Mardi Gras festivities, none of the major parades have been allowed to enter the area since 1979 because of its narrow streets.
In February 2006, New Orleans held its Mardi Gras celebrations despite the fact that Hurricane Katrina had devastated much of the city with massive flooding the previous August. Attendance was at only 60-70 percent of the 300,000-400,000 visitors who usually attend Mardi Gras, but the celebration marked an important step in the recovery of the city, which counts on hospitality and tourism as its single largest industry.
Today in 1864, the first Union inmates arrived at Andersonville prison, which was still under construction in southern Georgia. Andersonville became synonymous with death as nearly a quarter of its inmates died in captivity. Henry Wirz, who ran Andersonville, was executed after the war for the brutality and mistreatment committed under his command.
The prison, officially called Camp Sumter, became necessary after the prisoner exchange system between North and South collapsed in 1863 over disagreements about the handling of black soldiers. The stockade at Andersonville was hastily constructed using slave labor, and was located in the Georgia woods near a railroad but safely away from the front lines. Enclosing 16 acres of land, the prison was supposed to include wooden barracks but the inflated price of lumber delayed construction, and the Yankee soldiers imprisoned there lived under open skies, protected only by makeshift shanties called “shebangs,” constructed from scraps of wood and blankets. A stream initially provided fresh water, but within a few months human waste had contaminated the creek.
Andersonville was built to hold 10,000 men, but within six months more than three times that number were incarcerated there. The creek banks eroded to create a swamp, which occupied a significant portion of the compound. Rations were inadequate, and at times half of the population was reported ill. Some guards brutalized the inmates and there was violence between factions of prisoners.
Andersonville was the worst among many terrible Civil War prisons, both Union and Confederate.
Today in 1972 Richard Nixon and Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai issued a joint statement summarizing their agreements (and disagreements) of the past week. The “Shanghai Communique” set into motion the slow process of the normalization of relations between the two former Cold War enemies.
President Nixon arrived in the People’s Republic of China (PRC) on February 21, the first time an American president had ever set foot in China. The visit was immensely significant for other reasons, as well. Following communist leader Mao Zedong’s 1949 revolution, the United States had refused to establish diplomatic ties with the PRC.
During the 1950s and 1960s, China was one of the main suppliers of aid to Ho Chi Minh’s communist regime in North Vietnam. Nixon had been one of the harshest critics of the PRC during this time.
The situation had changed dramatically by the early-1970s. Relations between the PRC and the Soviet Union had grown tense and angry. The United States was embroiled in an unpopular and fruitless battle in Vietnam. Nixon and his foreign policy advisors saw a unique opportunity in these circumstances. Establishing closer relations with the PRC might further divide the two great communist powers and make the Soviets more malleable concerning several issues—including their support of North Vietnam. And the PRC might conceivably put pressure on its North Vietnamese ally to agree to a peace settlement in Vietnam in order to curry more favor with the United States.
The Shanghai Communiqué set the stage for a dramatic reversal in the U.S. policy toward China. Since 1949, the United States had recognized the Nationalist regime on Taiwan as the government of China. It had consistently refused efforts to have the PRC government represented in the United Nations. After 1972, relations between the United States and the PRC began to warm. By the end of the administration of Jimmy Carter (1977-1981), the United States had—in one of the most surprising twists of the Cold War—severed diplomatic relations with Taiwan and formally extended diplomatic recognition of the PRC.
Today in 1897 Great Britain agreed to U.S. arbitration in a border dispute between Venezuela and British Guiana, defusing a dangerous U.S.-British diplomatic crisis.
In 1841, gold was discovered in eastern British Guiana, intensifying a long-standing boundary dispute between Britain and Venezuela. In 1887, Venezuela accused Britain of pushing settlements farther into the contested area and cut diplomatic ties with Great Britain.
In July 1895, Secretary of State Richard Olney, invoking a new and broader interpretation of the Monroe Doctrine, demanded U.S. arbitration on the basis that any quarrel in the Western Hemisphere directly affected American interests and thus the United States had a right to intercede. The Marquis of Salisbury, the British prime minister, rebuffed Olney, prompting President Grover Cleveland to appeal to the U.S. Congress in December 1895 to denounce British authority over the disputed zone. Congress, in support of the president, created a committee to settle the boundary, and there was talk of war in both the Capitol and the British Parliament.
Prime Minister Salisbury sent a conciliatory note to the United States recognizing Cleveland’s broad interpretation of the Monroe Doctrine and agreeing to U.S. arbitration. A U.S. commission was appointed, and in 1899 a border was decided on that largely upheld Britain’s original claims.
Today in 1922 the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was unanimously declared constitutional by the eight members of the U.S. Supreme Court. The 19th Amendment, which stated that “the right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any State on account of sex,” was the product of over seven decades of meetings, petitions, and protests by women suffragists and their supporters.
On August 18, 1920, Tennessee became the 36th state to ratify the amendment and on August 26 the 19th Amendment officially took effect.
Today in 1973 at the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, some 200 Sioux Native Americans, led by members of the American Indian Movement (AIM), occupied Wounded Knee, the site of the infamous 1890 massacre of 300 Sioux by the U.S. Seventh Cavalry. The AIM members, some of them armed, took 11 residents of the historic Oglala Sioux settlement hostage as local authorities and federal agents descended on the reservation.
The day after the Wounded Knee occupation began, AIM members traded gunfire with the federal marshals surrounding the settlement and fired on automobiles and low-flying planes that dared come within rifle range. Russell Means of AIM began negotiations for the release of the hostages, demanding that the U.S. Senate launch an investigation of the Bureau of Indian Affairs and all Sioux reservations in South Dakota, and that the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hold hearings on the scores of Indian treaties broken by the U.S. government.
The Wounded Knee occupation lasted for a total of 71 days, during which time two Sioux men were shot to death by federal agents and several more were wounded. On May 8, the AIM leaders and their supporters surrendered after officials promised to investigate their complaints. Russell Means and Dennis Banks were arrested, but on September 16, 1973, the charges against them were dismissed by a federal judge because of the U.S. government’s unlawful handling of witnesses and evidence.
Violence continued on the Pine Ridge Reservation throughout the rest of the 1970s, with several more AIM members and supporters losing their lives in confrontations with the U.S. government. In 1975, two FBI agents and a Native man were killed in a shoot-out between federal agents and AIM members and local residents. In the trial that followed, AIM member Leonard Peltier was found guilty of first-degree murder and sentenced to two consecutive life terms. With many of its leaders in prison, AIM disbanded in 1978. Local AIM groups continued to function, however, and in 1981 one group occupied part of the Black Hills in South Dakota. Congress took no steps to honor broken Indian treaties, but in the courts some tribes won major settlements from federal and state governments in cases involving tribal land claims.
Russell Means continued to advocate for Native rights at Pine Ridge and elsewhere and in 1988 was a presidential candidate for the Libertarian Party. In 2001, Means attempted to run for the governorship of New Mexico, but his candidacy was disallowed because procedure had not been followed. Beginning in 1992, Means appeared in several films, including Last of the Mohicans. He also had a guest spot on HBO’s Curb Your Enthusiasm. His autobiography, Where White Men Fear to Tread, was published in 1997. Means died on October 12, 2012, at age 72.
Today in 1936, Shirley Temple received a new contract from 20th Century Fox that paid the seven-year-old star $50,000 per film, knowing they had a cash cow on their hands. They also altered the year on her birth certificate, making it appear that she was a year younger in order to prolong her adorable child-star status. By 1938, Temple was the No. 1 box-office draw in America. Over the course of the 1930s, the box-office success of her more than 40 films, including Poor Little Rich Girl, Wee Willie Winkie, Heidi and Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, went a long way towards helping Fox weather the Depression.
Temple was born in 1928 in Santa Monica, California, and started appearing in a series of short films spoofing current movies, called Baby Burlesks, at the age of four. At six, she attracted attention with her complex song-and-dance number “Baby Take a Bow,” performed with James Dunn, in the 1934 movie Stand Up and Cheer. Based on the film’s success, 20th Century Fox signed little Shirley to a seven-year contract. She would appear in a string of films that year and the next, including Little Miss Marker, Change of Heart, Bright Eyes (which featured one of her most famous songs, the bouncy tune “On the Good Ship Lollipop”), and Curly Top. At the height of the Great Depression, Temple’s films provided a cheery alternate universe for audiences.
Temple’s career began to diminish in her teenage years and her later films met with less success with audiences. In 1950, she retired from movies and married naval officer Charles Black, changing her name to Shirley Temple Black though she narrated the television series Shirley Temple’s Storybook from 1957 to 1959
In 1968 President Richard Nixon appointed her as an ambassador to the United Nations; she worked for the State Department in the United States and overseas for more than two decades. She was the first woman to ever serve as chief of protocol, a post she held for 11 years under President Gerald R. Ford, and President George H.W. Bush named her ambassador to Czechoslovakia in 1989. (By the end of her term in 1993, it had become the Czech Republic.)
Temple Black published her autobiography, Child Star, in 1988. She still serves on the Institute of International Studies. The former child star also became a spokeswoman for breast cancer awareness. In 1999, at an event hosted by President Bill Clinton, Temple Black received a medal from the Kennedy Center for lifetime achievement to the United States and the world.
Today in 1980 the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences decided to give a Grammy award for Best Disco Recording, just as the musical style was preparing to die. The first and final Grammy for Best Disco Recording was awarded to Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive.”
The Best Disco Recording category was eliminated from the following year’s awards.
Today in 1860, President Abraham Lincoln posed for the first of several portraits by photographer Mathew Brady. Days later, the photograph was published on the cover of Harper’s Bazaar with the caption, Hon. Abram [sic] Lincoln, of Illinois, Republican Candidate for President.
The photograph (or daguerreotype) showed beardless Lincoln just moments before he delivered an address at Cooper Union that day. The address, in which he articulated his reasons for opposing slavery in the new territories, received wild applause and garnered strong support for his candidacy among New Yorkers.
Lincoln was re-introduced to Brady a year after his election. The president shook Brady’s hand and said, “Mr. Brady and the Cooper Institute made me president.” Brady went on to photograph Lincoln several more times before Lincoln’s death in 1865. Brady also made photos of first lady Mary Todd Lincoln and two of Lincoln’s sons.
Brady’s works also include shots of President Zachary Taylor at his inauguration in 1849, President Millard Fillmore in 1850 and Confederate President Jefferson Davis in 1861. After Brady’s wife approached Mrs. Grant on behalf of her husband, General Ulysses S. Grant agreed to let Brady tag along with the Union Army during the Civil War. Many of his resulting works now reside in the Smithsonian Institution’s National Portrait Gallery.
Lincoln was not the first presidential candidate, or president, to be photographed–that honor went to John Quincy Adams in 1843.
Today in 1960, the underdog U.S. Olympic hockey team defeated the Soviet Union in the semifinals at the Winter Games in Squaw Valley, California. The next day, the U.S. beat Czechoslovakia to win its first-ever Olympic gold medal in hockey. The Americans had taken home silver medals in hockey at the Winter Games in 1952 and 1956, but going into the 1960 Olympics they were considered a long shot.
The last player cut from the 1960 U.S. squad was Herb Brooks, who went on to coach the “Miracle on Ice” team two decades later.
Today in 1942 the U.S. Navy’s first aircraft carrier, the Langley, was sunk by Japanese warplanes (with a little help from U.S. destroyers), and all of its 32 aircraft were lost.
The Langley was launched in 1912 as the naval collier (coal transport ship) Jupiter. After World War I, the Jupiter was converted into the Navy’s first aircraft carrier and rechristened the Langley (after aviation pioneer Samuel Pierpoint Langley). It was also the Navy’s first electrically propelled ship. On October 17, 1922, a VE-7-SF launched from the Langley’s decks. Although planes had taken off from ships before, it was nevertheless a historic moment. After 1937, the Langley lost the forward 40 percent of her flight deck as part of a conversion to seaplane tender, a mobile base for squadrons of patrol bombers.
On February 22 the Langley, carrying 32 Warhawk fighters, was part of a convoy to aid the Allies in their battle against the Japanese in the Dutch East Indies.
The ship parted from the convoy and headed straight for the port at Tjilatjap, Java. About 74 miles south of Java, the carrier met with two U.S. escort destroyers when nine Japanese twin-engine bombers attacked. The Langley was hit three times, setting the planes on her flight deck aflame. The carrier began to list. The Langley was abandoned and the escort destroyers were able to take the crew to safety. Of the 300 crewmen, only 16 were lost. The destroyers then sank the Langley before the Japanese were able to capture it.
Today in 1950 the 22nd Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified, limiting the president to two terms or a maximum of ten years in office.
Today in 1991 in Desert Storm, the 100-hour ground war ended as Allied troops entered Kuwait just four days after launching their offensive against Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi forces.
Happy birthday Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, poet, born today in 1807 at Portland, Maine.
Longfellow wrote predominantly lyric poems, known for their musicality and often presenting stories of mythology and legend. He became the most popular American poet of his day and also had success overseas. He is buried with both of his wives at Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
He is best known for Paul Revere’s Ride, The Song of Hiawatha, and The Wreck of the Hesperus.
Longfellow died surrounded by family March 24, 1882. He was age 75. He is buried at Cambridge, Massachusetts.