On this day in 1509 – (507 years ago) – the area around the Sea of Marmara in Turkey— including the great city of Constantinople, now known as Istanbul—was hit by a major earthquake that demolished more than a thousand houses, killing some five thousand people and injuring another ten thousand. The earthquake also knocked down many long stretches of the Constantipole city walls, including the last remnants of the ones built during the rule of the Roman emperor Constantine in the fourth century. In the city and for miles around, it toppled hundreds of mosques, minarets, and bridges; destroyed countless shops and other public buildings; sent waterfront houses tumbling into the sea; and heavily damaged one of the most important aqueducts providing water to the city. The shock of the main earthquake was felt as far away as Greece, the Danube, and Egypt, and the aftershocks left people so frightened that they camped outdoors for the next two months. Islamic historians later came to refer to the event as “the lesser Judgment Day.”
On this day in 1897 – (119 years ago) – a group of three to four hundred striking coal miners, mostly recent immigrants from Germany and eastern Europe, was marching on the Lattimer coal mine near Hazleton, Pennsylvania, when it was confronted by a 150-member armed posse newly deputized by the local county sheriff. The strikers were from other mines in the area, and had come to support new union organizing at the Lattimer mine, which was still open. The sheriff ordered the unarmed strikers to disperse, and when the strikers refused to do so, the deputies opened fire. Nineteen miners were killed, and dozens more were injured as they tried to flee. The deputies were soon heard bragging to each other about how many so-called “hunkies” they had shot. They later claimed in court that they had shot in self-defense, but a coroners’ analysis revealed that most of the dead miners had been shot in the back. The shooters were never convicted of any crime, and the Lattimer incident led directly to the original rise of the United Mine Workers union.
On this day in 1976 – (40 years ago) — at an altitude of 29,000 feet near Zagreb, Yugoslavia, two passenger jets collided in midair, killing all 176 people aboard both airplanes. The collision, between planes owned by British Airways and Inex-Adria Airlines, was witnessed by the crew and passengers of a Lufthansa airliner that was dangerously close to the other two. It was also seen by people on the ground, who later spoke of “suitcases falling from the air,” and reported that a baby was heard crying in the wreckage, though it did not survive long enough to be rescued. The accident was later ascribed to a breakdown in communication and procedure on the part of Zagreb air traffic controllers, who were seriously understaffed, underequipped, and overworked at what had become one of the busiest air traffic areas in Europe.