On this day in 1928 – (88 years ago) – near Los Angeles, the two-year-old Saint Francis Dam collapsed, hurling massive chunks of concrete and releasing 12.4 billion gallons of water. A wave more than one hundred feet high rushed down the San Francisquito Canyon, destroying powerhouses, neighborhoods, and farm worker camps, and cutting off electric power to large parts of metropolitan Los Angeles. Within hours, some four to six hundred people were dead. The exact number is unknown, because many bodies were washed into the Pacific Ocean. Remains were still being found as recently as 1994. It was determined that the dam had failed not due to any earthquake, but because it had been built on inadequate bedrock. Chief engineer William Mulholland — who had also designed the far more successful Los Angeles Aqueduct — took full responsibility for the dam’s collapse. A jury found him not guilty of criminal negligence, but he immediately ended his career and lived the rest of his life a broken man. A famous street in Los Angeles is named after him.
On this day in 1938 – (78 years ago) – Austria was invaded by the forces of Nazi Germany. It was one of the Hitler regime’s first moves toward the creation of a greater German Reich. While the Nazis’ annexation of Austria was forbidden by international treaties, it met with relatively little protest from neighboring countries. It would soon lead to the dismantling of Czechoslovakia, the invasion of Poland, and the many other horrors of World War II.
On this day in 1955 – (61 years ago) – the saxophonist and composer Charlie Parker, one of the greatest figures in the history of jazz, died while watching television at the hotel suite of the Baroness Pannonica de Koenigswarter, who acted as friend and patron to many avant-garde jazz musicians in New York City. Parker, also known to jazz fans as “Bird,” had revolutionized the music with his harmonic innovations, inspiring colleagues like Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk, Miles Davis, and many others in the development of bebop — a new musical language that reached only limited commercial success in its original form, but whose echoes spread throughout serious and popular music, and remain potent to this day. When he died, Parker had suffered from heroin addiction, alcohol abuse, cirrhosis, obesity, pneumonia, bleeding ulcers, and a heart attack. He was thirty-four.
Rotten History is written by Renaldo Migaldi