On this day in the year 752 – (1,264 years ago) – in Rome, Pope Stephen II died of a stroke just three days after being elected to succeed the former Pope Zacharias. To this day, Stephen II holds the record for the shortest time in office of any Catholic pope.
On this day in 1812 – (204 years ago) – the city of Caracas, Venezuela, was struck by two major seismic tremors within a half hour. The earthquakes leveled the city, along with five nearby towns, and killed some fifteen to twenty thousand people. The tremors were so severe that they created a new lake and permanently changed the courses of several rivers and streams in the area. Since Venezuela was fighting its war of independence at the time, local representatives of the Spanish crown viewed the earthquakes as divine punishment for the colonial rebellion — and the Catholic archbishop of Caracas pronounced the deadly cataclysm “terrifying, but well-deserved.”
On that SAME DAY in 1812 – (again, 204 years ago) – the Boston Gazette published a political cartoon that ridiculed how electoral districts in the state of Massachusetts had been redrawn in such a bizarre and contorted way as to benefit candidates of the state party organization led by Governor Elbridge Gerry. Noting that the long, strange, twisting boundaries on the map of one new district made it resemble the shape of a salamander, the cartoonist labeled it a “Gerry-mander,” after the governor and party boss. The name stuck, and more than two hundred years later, “gerrymandering” remains a favorite practice of party leaders and politcos across America who seek to create inpenetrably “safe” electoral districts for their favored career legislators.
On this day in 1969 – (47 years ago) – having suffered for months from severe depression and paranoia after his novel The Confederacy of Dunces was rejected by two major publishers, the author John Kennedy Toole committed suicide by running a garden hose from his car’s exhaust pipe into the car. It was almost ten years later that his mother finally managed to browbeat the famous novelist Walker Percy into reading her dead son’s unpublished manuscript. Percy was wowed, the book was published in 1980, and Toole was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1981, twelve years after his death.
On this day in 1998 – (18 years ago) – a group of men armed with hatchets and knives went on a murderous rampage in the Algerian town of Oed Bouaicha, about one hundred fifty miles south of Algiers. According to news reports, the armed gang killed forty-seven people, including eight women, a seventy-year-old man, and thirty-two children under the age of two. A doctor who witnessed the massacre later told reporters that the attackers chopped the small children into pieces and hung them from poles.
Rotten History is written by Renaldo Migaldi