On this day in 1687 – (329 years ago) – the French explorer Robert de La Salle was murdered by his own men. For more than twenty years, La Salle had led expeditions deep into parts of North America never before seen by Europeans — up the Saint Lawrence, through four of the five Great Lakes, and down the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers to the Gulf of Mexico. After claiming the Mississippi watershed for France, and naming it “Louisiana” after King Louis XIV, La Salle finally led some two hundred colonists in a doomed attempt to establish a settlement on the Gulf of Mexico. The party was plagued by sickness, shipwrecks, pirates, and Indian attacks until only thirty-six men remained. Fed up with La Salle’s arrogance and never-ending demands, a group of the men lured him into an ambush and killed him. The street at the center of Chicago’s downtown financial district is named after him.
On this day in 1866 – (150 years ago) – A British sailing ship named the Monarch of the Seas departed from Liverpool, England, bound for New York with 738 passengers aboard. It was never seen again. Four months later, one of its lifeboats washed up on the west coast of Ireland, containing several decomposed and unidentifiable human bodies. Two weeks after that, a bottle was found on a beach in Cornwall, containing a handwritten message. Dated May 2, the note read in part: “Monarch of the Seas, left Liverpool 19th March . . . no wind, short of provisions and no water.”
On this day in 1958 – (58 years ago) – an oven explosion at a third-floor textile plant in downtown Manhattan caused a massive fire at the Monarch Underwear Company, located on the loft floor just above. Dozens of garment workers, mostly women, jumped from windows into fire rescue nets. In the panic, six of the workers missed the nets, hitting the sidewalk instead. When firefighters managed to get inside the building’s upper floors, they found charred bodies piled near doorways and windows, and under work benches. Twenty-four people were dead and another fifteen were seriously injured. One woman survived the blaze by hiding inside a metal storage cabinet. The building was located just three blocks from the former site of the Triangle Shirtwaist Company, where another fire had killed 145 people in 1911.