On this day in 1934 – (82 years ago) – several French right-wing anti-parliamentary political groups staged demonstrations in Paris to demand the resignation of France’s left-leaning coalition government. When the groups converged on the Place de la Concorde, the assembly turned violent, quickly escalating from rock-throwing to bullets as rioters and police exchanged fire. In the end, sixteen people were killed, some two thousand were injured, and the French government resigned — soon to be replaced by a so-called national union government composed mainly of conservatives, including Marshal Phillipe Pétain, a French World War I hero who would later become leader of France’s Vichy regime, which collaborated with Nazi Germany during World War II.
On this day in 1951 – (65 years ago) – during a rainstorm near Woodbridge Township, New Jersey, an overcrowded nine-car train carrying more than a thousand evening commuters derailed as it crossed a temporary wooden trestle in a construction area without heeding warnings to slow down from fifty miles an hour to twenty-five. The train’s weight and speed caused several cars to jump the track, tumble down an embankment, and crash onto the street twenty feet below. Other cars were left hanging off the tracks, partly suspended in the air — and many of those passengers jumped to their deaths, wrongly assuming that the shiny, rain-washed pavement below them was a river. Eighty-five people died and five hundred were injured in what was the third most deadly train wreck in American history.
On this day in 1971 – (45 years ago) – during his live-televised walk on the moon as commander of Apollo 14, NASA astronaut Alan Shepard got out a six-iron club and two golf balls he had smuggled aboard the spacecraft, and used them to take sand trap shots on the lunar surface — thus providing the world with an unforgettable illustration of white American privilege, and a memorable emblem of fun and frivolity to go with the Apollo program’s price tag, which in 1973 was reckoned as some twenty-five billion dollars, or well over one hundred billion in today’s money.
On this day in 1998 – (18 years ago) – President Bill Clinton signed legislation renaming Washington National Airport after former president Ronald Reagan. The bill had been hurriedly passed by the Republican-controlled Congress to be ready for signing on Reagan’s birthday, in spite of what the Washington Post called “strong opposition” by the governor of Virginia and other DC-area business and political leaders — both Democratic and Republican — who considered the change unnecessarily partisan and divisive. One Republican congressman who voted for the renaming, Thomas M. Davis of Virginia, even admitted: “Most of my constituents won’t stop calling [the airport] Washington National.” The change forced DC-area authorities to spend thousands of dollars on new highway and transit signs.