This Week In American History: October 23rd - October 29th

October 23

1915

At least 50,000 people take to the streets of New York City to march in the country’s largest women’s suffrage parade up to that time. Dr. Anna Shaw and Carrie Chapman Catt, founder of the League of Women Voters, lead the marchers up Fifth Avenue from Washington Square to Fifth-Ninth Street. At that point, the fight had been ongoing for more than 65 years, with the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848 first passing a resolution in favor of women’s suffrage. But, many still had reservations. The New York Times ran an article warning that if women get the vote, they will “play havoc for themselves and society,” and that “granted the suffrage, they would demand all the rights that implies. It is not possible to think of women as soldiers and sailors, police patrolmen, or firemen” Heavens, think of the chaos!

  

1964

With a broken thumb, Joe Frazier announced his presence on the international boxing scene by winning heavyweight boxing gold at the Tokyo Olympics. Boxing as an unknown alternate, Frazier defeated German Hans Huber with a 3-2 judges decision. Six years later, he was world champion. He is now considered one of the 10 greatest heavyweights of all time, and his professional contests against Muhammad Ali and George Foreman have become some of the most discussed and written-about fights of all time. The golden era of boxing included a trilogy of matches between Ali and Frazier, with the final "Thrilla in Manilla" being watched by an estimated 1 billion viewers across the world.

1983

A suicide bomber drove a truck filled with 2,000 pounds of explosives into a U.S. Marine Corps barracks at the Beirut International Airport. The explosion killed 220 Marines, 18 sailors and three soldiers. A few minutes later, a second bomber drives into the basement of the nearby French paratroopers’ barracks, killing 58 more people. Four months after the bombing, American forces left Lebanon without retaliating. The Marines were in Beirut as part of a multinational peacekeeping force that was trying to broker a truce between warring Christian and Muslim Lebanese factions.

October 24

1901

63-year-old schoolteacher Annie Edson Taylor became the first person to successfully take the plunge over Niagara Falls in a barrel. Knocked violently from side to side by the rapids and then propelled over the edge of Horseshoe Falls, Taylor reached the shore alive, if a bit battered, around 20 minutes after her journey began. Between 1901 and 1995, 15 people went over the falls; 10 of them survived. Among those who died were Jesse Sharp, who took the plunge in a kayak in 1990, and Robert Overcracker, who used a jet ski in 1995. No matter the method, going over Niagara Falls is illegal, and survivors face charges and stiff fines on either side of the border.

1921

In the French town of Chalons-sur-Marne, an American officer selected the body of the first “Unknown Soldier” to be honored among the approximately 77,000 United States servicemen killed on the Western Front during WW1. Bearing the inscription “An Unknown American who gave his life in the World War,” the chosen casket traveled to Paris and then to Le Havre, France, where it would board the cruiser Olympia for the voyage across the Atlantic. Once back in the United States, the Unknown Soldier was buried in Arlington National Cemetery, near Washington, D.C. Today, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is guarded by Soldiers of the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment, "The Old Guard." Since 1921, two other unknown Soldiers have joined the World War I unknown Soldier: one from World War II and one from the Korean War.

1931

Eight months ahead of schedule, New York governor Franklin D. Roosevelt dedicated the George Washington Bridge over the Hudson River. The 4,760-foot–long suspension bridge, the longest in the world at the time, connected Fort Lee, New Jersey with Washington Heights in New York City. One year later, it had carried 5 million cars from New York to New Jersey and back again. In 1946, engineers added two lanes to the bridge. In 1958, city officials decided to increase its capacity by 75 percent by adding a six-lane lower level.

October 25

1929

Albert B. Fall, Secretary of the Interior under President Warren G. Harding, was found guilty of accepting a bribe from Edward Doheny of the Pan-American Petroleum and Transport Company, who wanted Fall to grant his firm an oil lease in the Elk Hills naval oil reserve in California. The site, along with the Teapot Dome naval oil reserve in Wyoming, had been previously transferred to the Department of the Interior on the urging of Fall, who realized the personal gains he could achieve by leasing the land to private corporations. He was the first individual to be convicted of a crime committed while a presidential cabinet member.

1944

During the Battle of the Leyte Gulf, the largest naval battle in history, the Japanese deployed kamikaze (“divine wind”) bombers against American warships for the first time. Kamikaze pilots deliberately crashed specially made planes directly into enemy warships, which resulted in suicide. Motoharu Okamura, who commanded a kamikaze squadron, remarked that by 1944, “I firmly believe that the only way to swing the war in our favor is to resort to crash-dive attacks with our planes. There is no other way. Provide me with 300 planes and I will turn the tide of war.” Japan was forced to surrender less than a year later.

    

1994

Susan Smith reported that she was carjacked in South Carolina by a man who took her two small children, three year old Michael and one year old Alex, from the backseat of her car. After nine days of around the clock searches and intense media scrutiny, Smith finally confessed that the carjacking tale was false and that she had driven her Mazda into the John D. Long Lake in order to drown her children. Apparently, Susan was involved with another man who did not want children, and she thought that killing her children was the only way to continue the relationship. She was convicted on two counts of murder and sentenced to life in prison.

October 26

1881

The Earp brothers and Doc Holliday faced off against the Clanton-McLaury gang in a legendary shootout at the O.K. Corral in Tombstone, Arizona. While Wyatt Earp and his brothers represented “law and order," the Clantons and McLaurys were cattle rustlers, thieves and murderers. The Earps and Holliday were arrested and charged with murder, but a Tombstone judge found the men not guilty, ruling they were “fully justified in committing these homicides.” The famous shootout has been immortalized in many movies, including Gunfight at the OK Corral (1957), Tombstone (1993) and Wyatt Earp (1994).

1825

The Erie Canal opened, providing overland water transportation between the ­­Hudson River on the east and Lake Erie at the western end. Popularly known as “Clinton’s Folly,” the eight-year construction project was the vision of New York Governor DeWitt Clinton. He convinced the New York State legislature to commit seven million dollars to the construction of a 363-mile ditch, forty feet wide and four feet deep. A tremendous success, the waterway accelerated settlement of western New York, Ohio, Indiana, and the upper Midwest including the founding of hundreds of towns such as Clinton, in DeWitt County, Illinois, and DeWitt, in Clinton County, Iowa.

1985

Whitney Houston had her first #1 hit on the Billboard Hot 100 with "Saving All My Love For You." The daughter of soul singer Cissy Houston and the niece of pop star Dionne Warwick, Whitney Houston parlayed her vocal gifts and the professional nurturing of her well-connected family into superstardom of a kind rarely matched before or since. A near-unknown prior to the release of her debut album "Whitney Houston," she shot to fame and eventually became one of the best-selling music artists of all time. She is still the only artist to have seven consecutive #1 hits.

October 27

1904

At 2:35pm, New York City Mayor George McClellan took the controls on the inaugural run of the city’s innovative new rapid transit system: the subway. While London boasts the world’s oldest underground train network (opened in 1863) and Boston built the first subway in the United States in 1897, the New York City subway soon became the largest American system. The system now has 26 lines and 472 stations in operation; the longest line, the 8th Avenue “A” Express train, stretches more than 32 miles, from the northern tip of Manhattan to the far southeast corner of Queens.

1970

Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice, who would go on to become the most successful composer-lyricist team in modern theater history, released a double-LP “concept” album called Jesus Christ Superstar, which only later would become the smash-hit Broadway musical of the same name. Superstar grew out of Tim Rice’s longtime fascination with Judas Iscariot, whom he conceived not as a craven betrayer of Jesus, but rather as a dear friend struggling with the implications of Jesus’ growing celebrity. Although the musical would later find broad support among leaders of liberal Christian churches, it was nevertheless too controversial to gain the financial backing necessary for a stage production. Lloyd Webber and Rice therefore chose to package Superstar as an album first.

2004

The Boston Red Sox won the World Series for the first time since 1918, finally vanquishing the so-called “Curse of the Bambino” that had plagued them for 86 years. Ever since team owner and Broadway producer Harry Frazee sold the great Babe Ruth to the Yankees in 1920, the Sox had been tragically unable to win the World Series. People said that the team was cursed. Before 1920, the Sox had won five championships and the Yanks hadn’t won any; after the Babe left, Boston’s well ran dry. The Yankees, meanwhile, won a record 26 times after 1920. The team featured all-stars David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez, with Ramirez being named World Series MVP. In the 2007 World Series, the Sox did it again—they swept the Rockies for another easy victory. They won the World Series again in 2013 and 2018.

October 28

1919

Congress passed the Volstead Act over President Woodrow Wilson’s veto. The Volstead Act, passed nine months after the ratification of the 18th Amendment, provided for the enforcement of prohibition, including the creation of a special unit of the Treasury Department. Despite a vigorous effort by law-enforcement agencies, the Volstead Act failed to prevent the large-scale distribution of alcoholic beverages, and organized crime flourished in America. In 1933, the 21st Amendment to the Constitution was passed and ratified, repealing prohibition.

1962

The Cuban Missile Crisis finally came to an end when Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev ordered withdrawal of missiles from Cuba. In the summer of 1962, U.S. spy planes flying over Cuba had photographed construction work on missile facilities. President John F. Kennedy announced a naval blockade to prevent the arrival of more missiles and demanded that the Soviets dismantle and remove the weapons already in Cuba. While the situation was extremely tense and could have resulted in war, Kennedy and his advisers had stared the Soviets down until the apparent capitulation of the Soviet Union.

1965

Construction was completed on the Gateway Arch, a spectacular 630-foot-high parabola of stainless steel marking the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial on the waterfront of St. Louis, Missouri. The Gateway Arch, designed by Finnish-born, American-educated architect Eero Saarinen, was erected to commemorate President Thomas Jefferson’s Louisiana Purchase of 1803 and to celebrate St. Louis’ central role in the rapid westward expansion that followed.

October 29

1965

Nine months after its subject’s assassination, The Autobiography of Malcolm X was first published. Through his work with the Nation of Islam and advocacy for Black power, Malcolm X became one of the most prominent figures in the civil rights movement. Written in collaboration with journalist Alex Haley, the future author of Roots, Malcolm X was initially skeptical of the project. During the course of its writing, he publicly broke with the Nation of Islam, gave his “The Ballot or the Bullet” speech, converted to Sunni Islam, and made a pilgrimage to Mecca. Already an icon, in death he became a martyr. The book has long been considered required reading for civil rights activists and continues to form the basis of Malcolm X’s enduring legacy.

 

1971

Duane Allman, a slide guitarist and the leader of the Allman Brothers Band, was killed when he lost control of his motorcycle and drove into the side of a flatbed truck in Macon, Georgia. He was 24 years old. After Allman’s death, his band continued to tour and record. Duane Allman was born in Nashville and grew up in Florida. Before he formed the Allman Brothers Band with his brother Gregg, a singer and keyboard player, Duane had made a name for himself as a session musician playing with artists like Wilson Pickett, Clarence Carter, Aretha Franklin, King Curtis, John Hammond, Ronnie Hawkins, Boz Scaggs and Herbie Mann. In 1969, the Allmans put together their own band. In 2004, Rolling Stone declared that the Allman Brothers were the 52nd-greatest rock band of all time.