On This Day in Rotten History...
In 1349 – (667 years ago) – as the Black Plague ravaged Europe, killing millions, the panicky citizens of Basel, Switzerland, rounded up the city’s Jewish population, whom they noticed were suffering much less from the pestilence, and whom they accused of having created it by poisoning wells. After separating the Jewish children from their parents and forcing them to convert to Christianity, the townspeople locked the adults—some six hundred in number—inside a specially constructed building on an island in the Rhine and burned them alive by setting the building on fire. Historians now say that Jewish people suffered less from the plague due to their tradition of sweeping and cleaning houses before Passover, which reduced infestation by rats, now believed to have been plague carriers. About a month after the Basel massacre, a similar one occurred in nearby Strasbourg, where some two thousand Jewish people were burned alive.
On this day in 1858 – (158 years ago) – Anson Jones—a failed doctor, failed pharmacist, and failed businessman who had served as the fourth and last president of Texas during its brief existence as an independent republic, and who then had failed in his attempt to become a US senator after Texas joined the Union—finally gave up, checked into Houston’s Capitol Hotel, had dinner, went up to his room alone, and shot himself. He was fifty-nine years old.
On this day in 1927 – (89 years ago) – during a Sunday matinee at the Laurier Palace movie theater in Montreal, with about eight hundred children in attendance, someone tossed a still-burning cigarette butt onto the floor. The cigarette rolled into an inaccessible area and started a fire that provoked a stampede toward the exits, some of which were locked. A total of seventy-eight children were crushed to death, killed by smoke inhalation, or killed directly by the flames. The disaster provoked the Montreal citizenry and the Catholic Church to call for a law that would ban children under sixteen from movie theaters. The law was soon passed, and would remain in effect until 1961.
Rotten History is written by Renaldo Migaldi.