On this day in the year 599 – (1417 years ago) — in what is now Chiapas, Mexico, near the Guatemalan border, Uneh Chan, also known as “Scroll Serpent” — the king of Calakmul, one of the largest and most powerful city-states of ancient Mayan civilization — led his troops across the Usumacinta River to attack the rival city-state of Palenque, which at the time was ruled by queen Yohl Ik’nal, the first female ruler recorded in Mayan history. In the ensuing battle, Palenque suffered a massive and probably bloody defeat. Though the city-state retained its political identity and its queen survived for five more years, historians believe that for at least the next decade Palenque was a client state of Calakmul, which in turn was locked in a long-term power struggle with the rival city-state of Tikal, in what is now Guatemala. Calakmul and Tikal are often described as the two major superpowers of the classic Mayan era, and historians liken their political maneuvering to a modern cold war.
On this day in 1940 – (76 years ago) — Walter Barnes and his Royal Creolians, a highly regarded swing orchestra from Chicago, were in the middle of their set at the Rhythm Club dance hall in Natchez, Mississippi, when a fire started near the building entrance. The flames moved through the club quickly because the rafters were heavily festooned with Spanish moss that had been sprayed with a petroleum-based insecticide to prevent bugs. A few people managed to escape through the building’s front entrance, but the other doors and windows were boarded shut, trapping most of the patrons inside. As flames spread and smoke grew thick, Walter Barnes directed his band to keep playing, in an attempt to calm the increasingly hysterical crowd. In the end, 209 people were killed and many more were seriously burned. Among the dead were Barnes and most of his band. The town’s morticians were so overwhelmed that they had to bury the dead in mass graves. The Rhythm Club fire was later the subject of songs by Howlin’ Wolf and John Lee Hooker.
On this day in 1967 – (49 years ago) — Soviet cosmonaut Vladimir Komarov was launched into orbit aboard Soyuz 1, a brand-new spacecraft that — as he and his colleagues knew very well — was not ready for spaceflight. Members of the Soviet Politburo, anxious to score political propaganda points in the ongoing space race with the Americans, had insisted that the launch go forward despite the warnings of their space engineers that the Soyuz was still full of serious unresolved problems. Though Komarov knew his spaceship was a potential death trap, he refused to back out — knowing that if he did, his close friend Yuri Gagarin would be sent in his place as backup pilot. Soon after Komarov reached orbit, the Soyuz lost power and became almost impossible to control, though Komarov struggled with it for hours. As the situation grew desperate, Soviet Premier Alexei Kosgygin was brought onto the radio link to tearfully tell Komarov that he was a great Soviet hero, only to be cursed out by the angry cosmonaut for sending him on a pointless suicide mission. Komarov was then allowed a few minutes to talk to his wife, after which he was ordered to attempt re-entry. He raged and swore as the Soyuz went into a uncontrolled spin that caused his parachutes to tangle and become useless. A few minutes later, the spacecraft slammed into the ground near the Russian Ural Mountains and exploded. Komarov was killed instantly.
Rotten History is written by Renaldo Migaldi