This Week In American History: June 5th - June 11th

June 5


The United States went off the gold standard, a monetary system in which currency is backed by gold, when Congress enacted a joint resolution nullifying the right of creditors to demand payment in gold. The United States had been on a gold standard since 1879, except for an embargo on gold exports during World War I, but bank failures during the Great Depression of the 1930s frightened the public into hoarding gold, making the policy untenable. On April 5, FDR ordered all persons to deliver all gold coin, gold bullion and gold certificates owned by them to the Federal Reserve by May 1 for the set price of $20.67 per ounce. By May 10, the government had taken in $300 million of gold coin and $470 million of gold certificates.


Senator Robert Kennedy was shot at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles after winning the California presidential primary. Immediately after he announced to his cheering supporters that the country was ready to end its fractious divisions, Kennedy was shot several times by 24-year-old Palestinian Sirhan Sirhan, who believed Kennedy was “instrumental” in the oppression of Palestinians. He was pronounced dead a day later. The summer of 1968 was a tempestuous time in American history. Both the Vietnam War and the anti-war movement were peaking. Martin Luther King, Jr. had been assassinated in the spring, igniting riots across the country. Kennedy was perceived by many to be the only person in American politics capable of uniting the people.


Ronald Wilson Reagan, the 40th president of the United States, died after a long struggle with Alzheimer’s disease. Reagan, who was also a well-known actor and served as governor of California, was a popular president known for restoring American confidence after the problems of the 1970s, and helping to defeat communism. He retired to his California ranch, Rancho del Cielo, after his second term. His announcement in 1994 that he had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease was greeted with great sadness by many across the country. He wrote, in an open letter to the American people, "I now begin the journey that will lead me into the sunset of my life. I know that for America there will always be a bright dawn ahead."

June 6


Eager motorists parked their automobiles on the grounds of Camden Drive-In, the first-ever drive-in movie theater, located on Admiral Wilson Boulevard in Pennsauken, New Jersey. The drive-in theatre was the brainchild of Richard Hollingshead. The popularity of the drive-in spiked after World War II and reached its heyday in the late 1950s to mid-60s, with some 5,000 theaters across the country. Since then, however, the rising price of real estate, especially in suburban areas, combined with the growing numbers of walk-in theaters and the rise of video rentals to curb the growth of the drive-in industry. Today, fewer than 500 drive-in theaters survive in the United States.


Twenty-three years after its 1948 premiere, The Ed Sullivan Show had its final broadcast. Sunday nights, 8:00 pm, CBS. Ask almost any American born in the 1950s or earlier what television program ran in that timeslot on that network, and they’ll probably know the answer. Sullivan’s variety show was the premiere television showcase for entertainers of all stripes, including borscht-belt comedians, plate-spinning vaudeville throwbacks and, most significantly, some of the biggest and most current names in rock and roll. Gladys Knight and the Pips were the musical guests on the final episode of The Ed Sullivan Show, which was cancelled shortly after its rerun broadcast.


The Guardian and The Washington Post published the first of a series of reports put together from documents leaked by an anonymous source. The material exposed a government-run surveillance program that monitored the communications records of not just criminals or potential terrorists, but law-abiding citizens as well. Three days later the source unmasked himself as Edward Snowden, a National Security Agency contractor. Snowden was charged with theft of government property, unauthorized communication of national defense information and willful communication of classified communications intelligence. Facing up to 30 years in prison, Snowden left the country, originally traveling to Hong Kong and then to Russia, to avoid being extradited to the U.S.

June 7



Hudson Stuck, an Alaskan missionary, led the first successful ascent of Denali (formerly known as Mt. McKinley), the highest point on the American continent at 20,320 feet. Stuck, an accomplished amateur mountaineer, was born in London in 1863. After moving to the United States, in 1905 he became archdeacon of the Episcopal Church in Yukon, Alaska. Stuck traveled Alaska’s difficult terrain to preach to villagers and establish schools. Hudson Stuck died in Alaska on October 10, 1920. Today, over 1,000 hopeful climbers attempt to scale Denali each year, with about half of them successfully reaching their goal.


"The Tribal Rites of the New Saturday Night,” by journalist Nik Cohn—was published in New York magazine. The article detailed the struggles and dreams of a talented, young, Italian-American disco dancer, "Vinnie," and his scruffy entourage in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. It was the basis for the blockbuster film Saturday Night Fever that skyrocketed John Travolta, the Bee Gees’ and lead to disco being an all-consuming cultural phenomenon. Claiming to be from his immersion into Brooklyn street life, Cohn admitted in 1994 that the story was almost entirely fabricated and based on his imagination.


The Texas Legislature passed a bill declaring Juneteenth a state holiday. The annual June 19 celebration of the Emancipation Proclamation—not the announcement itself, but the arrival of the news of the proclamation in Texas—is now officially observed in almost all 50 states. News of slavery’s demise did not arrive until two months after Robert E Lee's surrender at Appomattox ended the Civil War when Union General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston and proclaimed the news to the enslaved people there. The day instantly became an important one to the African American citizens of Texas, who held annual celebrations and even made pilgrimages to Galveston each Juneteenth.

June 8


During the SIx-Day War, Israeli aircraft and torpedo boats attacked the USS Liberty in international waters off Egypt’s Gaza Strip. The intelligence ship, well-marked as an American vessel and only lightly armed, was attacked first by Israeli aircraft that fired napalm and rockets at the ship. In violation of international law, life boats were also attacked. In all, 34 Americans were killed and 171 were wounded in the two-hour attack. Israel apologized, claiming that it had mistaken the Liberty for an Egyptian ship. However, Liberty survivors, and some former U.S. officials, believe that the attack was deliberate, staged to conceal Israel’s pending seizure of Syria’s Golan Heights, which occurred the next day.


James Earl Ray, an escaped American convict, was arrested in London, England, and charged with the assassination of African American civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. On April 4, 1968, in Memphis, King was fatally wounded by a sniper’s bullet while standing on the balcony outside his second-story room at the Motel Lorraine. 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 massive manhunt for Ray began, with Scotland Yard investigators arrested him while he was trying to escape to Belgium. He initially pled guilty, but later claimed he was innocent and the victim of a larger conspiracy.



The now-classic comedy Ghostbusters was released in theaters across the US. Starring Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis and Ernie Hudson as "paranormal investigators", hunting down and capturing ghosts, until the increased supernatural activity leads to a catastrophic Judgement Day-like scenario. Despite its hefty $30 million production budget–an unprecedented amount for a comedy—Ghostbusters was a box-office hit by any standard, beating out Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom to become the second-highest-grossing movie of the year with $229 million. 

June 9


In an incident regarded as the first naval engagement of the American Revolution John Brown, an American merchant angered by high British taxes on his goods, and other colonists rowed out to the Gaspee, which had run aground off Namquit Point in Providence’s Narragansett Bay while pursuing the Hanna, an American smuggling ship. The colonists set the Gaspee aflame. British officials attempted to prosecute the colonists involved in the so-called “Gaspee Affair,”, but could find no one to testify againt them. This renewed the tension in British-American relations and inspired the Boston Patriots to found the “Committee of Correspondence,” a propaganda group that rallied Americans to their cause by publicizing all anti-British activity that occurred throughout the 13 colonies.



United States Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan resigned due to his concerns over President Woodrow Wilson’s handling of the crisis generated by a German submarine’s sinking of the British passenger liner Lusitania the previous month, in which 1,201 people—including 128 Americans—died. The United States maintained a policy of strict neutrality during the first two years of World War I, but Germany's announcement of unrestricted submarine warfare was viewed by Wilson as a provocation and illegal. Wilson penned a strongly worded note to Germany, but objecting to the strong position taken by Wilson in the note, and believing it could be taken as a precursor to a war declaration, Bryan tendered his resignation rather than sign it.



With a spectacular victory at the Belmont Stakes, Secretaria became the first horse since Citation in 1948 to win America’s coveted Triple Crown: the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness and the Belmont Stakes. In one of the finest performances in racing history, Secretariat, ridden by Ron Turcotte, completed the 1.5-mile race in 2 minutes and 24 seconds, a dirt-track record for that distance. In November 1973, the “horse of the century” was retired and put to stud at Claiborne Farm in Paris, Kentucky. In 1999, ESPN ranked Secretariat No. 35 in its list of the Top 50 North American athletes of the 20th century, the only non-human on the list.

June 10


Benjamin Franklin was said to have flown a kite during a thunderstorm to collect ambient electrical charge in a Leyden jar, enabling him to demonstrate the connection between lightning and electricity. Franklin became interested in electricity in the mid-1740s, a time when much was still unknown on the topic, and spent almost a decade conducting electrical experiments. He coined a number of terms used today, including battery, conductor and electrician. He also invented the lightning rod, used to protect buildings and ships.


15-year-old Joe Nuxhall became the youngest person ever to play Major League Baseball when he pitched in a game for the Cincinnati Reds. Nuxhall threw two-thirds of the ninth inning in an 18-0 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals; he was pulled only after one wild pitch and allowing five runs on five walks and two hits. The game was played during World War II, when it became common for adolescent and older players to fill in for big leaguers fighting overseas. After the 1942 season, more than 500 big league players enlisted, including stars Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio, Bob Feller, Dom DiMaggio and Pee Wee Reese. Though the June 10 outing was Nuxhall's only appearance in 1944, he rejoined the Reds in 1952 when he was 23 years old and pitched 15 seasons in the big leagues.


Author and illustrator Maurice Sendak, who revolutionized children’s literature with such best-selling books as Where the Wild Things Are and became one of the most celebrated children’s authors in contemporary history, was born in Brooklyn, New York. First published in 1963, Where the Wild Things Are was pioneering in its realistic depiction of childhood anxieties and rebellious behavior at a time when many stories for young readers presented a sugar-coated version of life. Sendak, who wrote or illustrated close to 100 books during his career, also designed productions for operas, plays and ballets. He died of complications from a stroke at age 83 on May 8, 2012.

June 11


Hank Williams made his debut on the Grand Ole Opry. The then-25-year-old performed "Lovesick Blues," his first No.1 hit, as well as his self-penned single "Mind Your Own Business" ... and earned an incredible six encores. Three years following his debut performance, in 1952, after making numerous performances at the Grand Ole Opry, Williams was fired from the organization, with his heavy drinking cited as the reason. Only a few months later, on Jan. 1, 1953, he passed away from heart failure, which was brought on by his excessive drinking.


Facing Alabama National Guard troops federalized by President John F. Kennedy, Alabama Governor George Wallace ended his blockade of the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa and allowed two African American students to enroll. George Wallace, one of the most controversial politicians in U.S. history, was elected governor of Alabama in 1962 under an ultra-segregationist platform. When African American students attempted to desegregate the University of Alabama, Alabama’s new governor, flanked by state troopers, literally blocked the door of the enrollment office. The U.S. Supreme Court,  however, had declared segregation unconstitutional in 1954’s Brown v. Board of Education and the executive branch undertook aggressive tactics to enforce the ruling.


Steve Spielberg's science-fiction classic E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial was released. With E.T., Spielberg created an appealing vision of alien life, in the form of a diminutive creature with wrinkled skin and a glowing belly. From the time that E.T. had its first showing, on closing night at the 1982 Cannes Film Festival, the film’s buzz was overwhelmingly positive. TIME also included the fictional alien in its list of candidates for Man of the Year–the first film character to receive that honor. E.T. had stupendous success at the box office, eventually raking in some $435 million (it was re-released in 1985 and a special 20th-anniversary edition was issued in 2002).