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ROTTEN HISTORY

Posted by Alexander Jerri

On This Day in Rotten History...

In 244 – (1,773 years ago) – the nineteen-year-old Roman emperor Gordian III was killed by his own troops after being defeated by the Persians at the ancient city of Circesium in what is now Syria. The Roman Empire was in a period of bloody civil war, border insecurity, and economic collapse. Young Gordian had been made emperor six years earlier, in what is known as the Year of the Six Emperors. In that year (238), a revolt against the tyrant Maximius had resulted in a frail, elderly provincial governor being proclaimed Emperor Gordian I, and the old man had insisted that his son share power with him as Gordian II. The father-and-son co-emperors were popular with the Senate, but only lasted a month before being attacked at Carthage by an army led by a rival governor loyal to Maximius. When Gordian II was killed in the battle, his father, Gordian I, promptly committed suicide. The Senate quickly responded by installing two new co-emperors, Pupienus and Balbius, who not only mistrusted and feared each other but were hated by the Praetorian Guard. After just three months in power, they too, were killed. So it was in desperation that the Senate then turned to the terrified thirteen-year-old grandson of the first Gordian and nephew of the second, declaring him Emperor Gordian III. The young man struggled to grow into his role, but he died at Circesium, probably in a mutiny led by the general known as Philip the Arab. Philip then succeeded Gordian III as Roman emperor — and he, too, would be killed a few years later.

In 1823 – (194 years ago) – in Valletta, the capital of Malta, it was the last day of the public celebration of Carnival before the Catholic religious period of Lent. A church convent was observing its annual tradition of handing out free bread and fruit to poor children from the area, partly in order to keep them away from the bawdy confusion of the outdoor festival. Since Malta was experiencing a famine that year, the crowd of children was especially large, with some adults sneaking in as well. In a corridor of the old convent, the crowd got out of control and began pushing and shoving against a locked door. Soon a lamp went out, leaving the corridor in darkness, and the shoving got worse. Screams were heard as children were trampled, crushed, and suffocated. By the time people outside managed to pry the door open, more than a hundred children were dead.

Rotten History is written by Renaldo Migaldi


Posted by Alexander Jerri

On This Day in Rotten History...


In 1555 — (462 years ago) — the English Protestant clergyman John Rogers was executed for heresy on the order of Queen Mary I, daughter of Henry VIII. The new queen resented her father’s break with the papacy and was now keen to reestablish Catholicism in England. During her five-year reign she would have more than 280 Protestants executed, thus earning the nickname “Bloody Mary.” Rogers was the first of those Protestant martyrs. Like the others, he was burned alive at the stake.     

In 1899 — (118 years ago) — units of the US military based in Manila, having taken possession of the Philippines from Spain the previous year in the Spanish-American War, found themselves in armed conflict with Philippine nationalist insurgents who were just as eager to get rid of the Americans as they had been to get rid the Spaniards. A few minor skirmishes escalated into large-scale fighting that continued through the next day. The Philippine president, Emilio Aguinaldo, tried to broker a cease-fire, but it was rejected by the top American general. More than five hundred Philippine soldiers were killed, along with some fifty to sixty Americans. The so-called Battle of Manila thus became the first and most deadly episode of the Philippine-American War, which lasted more than three years and solidified the United States’ colonial domination of the islands. It also killed some eighteen thousand Philippine soldiers and six thousand Americans — along with an estimated two hundred thousand Filipino noncombatants who died of violence, famine, and disease.

In 1977 – (40 years ago) – during the evening rush hour in the Loop area of downtown Chicago, the operator of a Lake–Dan Ryan elevated train missed a signal and allowed his train to plow into the one ahead. Instead of hitting his brake when the “el” trains made contact, he accidentally applied more motor power, causing the first two cars on his train to jackknife upward until a coupling bar snapped. Both cars fell off the elevated track and crashed onto the street below, along with two more train cars right behind them. Eleven people were killed and 180 were injured. Later it was revealed that the train operator had a bad safety record, including a prior derailment and several citations for reading and talking to passengers while operating his train. After the fatal accident, four joints were found in his shoulder bag, and a drug test for marijuana came up positive.


Posted by Alexander Jerri

On This Day in Rotten History...

In 1932 – (85 years ago) – Japanese aircraft began an unprovoked bombing of the Chinese city of Shanghai. Japan had invaded northern China a year earlier and established a puppet state there called Manchukuo, as a base from which it could attack the rest of China. Now it followed up its bombing of Shanghai with an attack on targets around the city by thousands of ground-based troops. The bombardments and fighting between Japanese and Chinese forces continued for several weeks until the League of Nations helped negotiate a cease-fire. Some thirteen thousand Chinese were killed, and about five thousand Japanese. Along with being one of the important precursors to World War II, the battle marked Japan’s establishment of the so-called “comfort women” system, which forced local women into sexual slavery to keep Japanese troops less inclined to revolt against their superiors.  
 
In 1964 – (53 years ago) – an unarmed US Air Force T-39 carrying a flight instructor and two pilots took off from the US air base in Wiesbaden, West Germany, on what was called a routine training flight. Within an hour the airplane flew off course, over the so-called “Iron Curtain” into East German airspace, and the crew did not respond to the air controllers’ frantic calls. The plane was shot down by a Soviet jet fighter and all three crewmembers were killed. The incident sparked an ugly Cold War dispute. Soviet diplomat Giorgi Kornienko called the flight “a clear intrusion” and a “case of gross provocation.” Meanwhile, US Secretary of State Dean Rusk called the downing of the plane “a shocking and senseless act,” and Senator Hubert Humphrey called it “an act of brutality, force, and premeditated slaughter.” But US Senator Barry Goldwater, a former Air Force pilot and a Republican candidate for president, expressed skepticism. He told reporters: “It’s kind of hard to believe that all your navigational equipment would go out at once on that plane.” 

In 1986 – (31 years ago) – at Cape Canaveral, Florida, engineers from aerospace contractor Morton Thiokol urged managers at NASA not to launch the space shuttle Challenger, warning that cold weather and ice conditions at the Cape would prevent key components of the launch vehicle from working safely. But the NASA people were impatient; they argued with the engineers, resisted their warnings, and finally ignored them. The launch went ahead, and the space shuttle rose majestically from the pad. Seventy-three seconds later it exploded, killing all seven members of the crew.

Rotten History is written by Renaldo Migaldi


Posted by Alexander Jerri

On This Day in Rotten History...

In 1793 – (224 years ago) – King Louis XVI of France was led to a carriage and escorted by more than a thousand horsemen and armed citizens to the Place de la Revolution in Paris, where a huge crowd awaited him, along with a ragtag group of executioners. His failure to address his country’s economic crisis had sparked a revolution, and the new National Assembly had found him guilty of treason and stripped him of his crown and title. Upon reaching the scaffold, the ex-king loudly proclaimed his innocence to the crowd, and then was seized and shoved into the guillotine. Moments later, the heavy blade came down and separated his head from his body. One of the executioners, a young man of about eighteen, grabbed the severed head and held it high for the crowd to see. After a long moment of silence, a few people shouted: “Vive la Republique!” Others in the vast crowd picked up the phrase until it became a repetitive chant, growing louder and louder for more than ten minutes. Nine months later, Marie Antoinette, the ex-king’s wife, was beheaded in much the same way.

In 1941 – (76 years ago) – in Bucharest, Romania, a rebellion against the head of state, General Ion Antonescu, by Legionnaires of the Iron Guard, a right-wing Orthodox Christian paramilitary group, boiled over into an anti-Semitic pogrom. For the next two days, mobs of local people rampaged through the city’s predominantly Jewish neighborhoods, ransacking and burning down synagogues, businesses, and homes. Thousands of people from all walks of life were dragged into the streets, beaten, and tortured. Some were also slaughtered and mutilated, and still others were taken out of town and shot. By the time the bedlam died down, some 125 victims of the pogrom were dead.

In 1968 – (49 years ago) – near the US Air Force Base at Thule, Greenland, an American B-52 bomber carrying four hydrogen bombs experienced a cabin fire in flight. The whole crew was forced to bail out, one crew member being killed in the process. The burning airplane crashed onto the ice in nearby North Star Bay, not far from an indigenous Inuit settlement. The fiery crash ignited conventional detonators on the H-bombs, which in turn ruptured the bomb canisters and spread plutonium and other radioactive debris for miles. The subsequent cleanup operation by US and Danish personnel failed to locate an important missing piece of one bomb, and high levels of radioactive plutonium remained, contaminating the ancient Inuit hunting grounds. To this day, bizarrely deformed seals and musk oxen are common in the area, and the dangerous pollution remains a touchy issue in diplomatic relations between the United States, Greenland, and Denmark.

Rotten History is written by Renaldo Migaldi


Posted by Alexander Jerri

On This Day in Rotten History...


In 1761 – (256 years ago) – in one of the most significant armed conflicts of the eighteenth century, forces of the Maratha empire met Afghan invaders in battle near Paripat, in what is now northern India. The Marathas were at the peak of their power, and they came to the fight with brand-new French-built artillery. But after heavy bloodshed they were pushed back by the more numerous and better trained Afghans in a battle that is viewed today as having marked the beginning of the Maratha empire’s decline. Between thirty and forty thousand Maratha warriors were killed, as were some twenty to forty thousand Afghans. And on the next day the Afghans overrran the city of Paripat, massacring some forty to seventy thousand noncombatants. But the Afghans would fail to follow up on their victory, and were soon pushed out of India by the Sikhs. One historian has written that the battle at Paripat “did not decide who was to rule India, but rather who was not. The way was, therefore, cleared for the rise of the British power in India.”


In 1907 – (110 years ago) – the city of Kingston, Jamaica, was struck by an estimated magnitude 6.5 earthquake. It was seen as one of the deadliest earthquakes recorded up to that time. All buildings in Kingston were damaged, with about 85 percent of them completely destroyed. The initial quake was followed by fires, a tsunami, and some eighty aftershocks over the next several weeks. All in all, about eight hundred to one thousand people were killed, and another ten thousand were left homeless.
 
In 1966 – (51 years ago) – Sergei Korolev, chief designer of the Soviet Union’s space program, died from a bungled surgical operation. Korolev, a rocket scientist whom Stalin had exiled to Siberia, had later been recalled to design and build military missiles. After Nikita Khrushschev came to power, Korolev shrewdly diverted resources toward space exploration, leading the projects to launch Sputnik into orbit in 1957, and Yuri Gagarin in 1961. Through the early Sixties he labored to satisfy Khrushchev’s constant demands for Cold War propaganda victories over the United States, by masterminding a series of politically driven space spectaculars, including the first spaceflight by a woman, and the first spacewalk. But in 1966 he underwent routine surgery for hemorrhoids, performed personally by the Soviet minister of health, Dr. Boris Petrovsky. According to one account, the operation unexpectedly revealed a malignant tumor. The health minister lacked the training or experience to remove it, but was too proud to call for help. So he began cutting, and accidentally ruptured a crucial blood vessel. Korolev died on the operating table, and without his leadership, the Soviet space program went into a tailspin. After the death of a cosmonaut during re-entry, and four giant rocket explosions in a row, the effort to beat the Americans to the moon was abandoned.

Rotten History is written by Renaldo Migaldi


Posted by Alexander Jerri

On This Day in Rotten History...


In 1131 – (886 years ago) – a Danish prince named Canute Lavard was killed by his cousin Magnus, who viewed him as competition for the Danish throne. Canute was the son and nephew of Danish kings and had been chosen by his uncle, King Niels of Denmark, to establish peace with the Slavic warriors who kept attacking the area of what is now the border between Denmark and Germany. Canute’s success in that assignment made him a contender for kingship, a favorite of the Holy Roman Emperor, and a target of the jealous hatred of Magnus, the son of King Niels. A few years after murdering Canute, Magnus himself would die in battle, still trying to cement his own claim to the throne. Canute, meanwhile, would be canonized as a Roman Catholic saint in 1169.

In 1355 – (662 years ago) – Inês de Castro, the mistress of Crown Prince Pedro of Portugal, was beheaded in front of her own children on orders of Pedro’s father, King Afonso IV. Inês had been a lady-in-waiting to Constança of Castile, Prince Pedro’s lawful wife, whom he had been forced to marry for political reasons. Pedro and Inês became passionate lovers, and after Constança died of childbirth, Pedro went on to have four more children with Inês. But King Afonso still would not let his son marry Inês, since he feared that it would confuse future claims of royal succession, which could escalate into bloody political conflict. Instead, the king sent three courtiers to kill Inês. When the king died two years later, Pedro inherited the throne and had two of the courtiers executed by having their hearts ripped out of their bodies as he watched. Pedro then announced that he and Inês had been secretly married, thus retroactively and posthumously making her queen. On his orders, her body was exhumed, dressed in royal finery, presented to the court, and then given a majestic reburial. In ensuing centuries the story of Inês de Castro would be told in countless works of literature, and would give rise to a conversational expression that persists in Portugal to this day: “Agora é tarde; Inês é morta” — It’s too late, Inês is dead.

In 1948 – (69 years ago) – Captain Thomas Mantell, a twenty-five-year-old Air National Guard pilot and World War II veteran on routine patrol in the skies over Fort Knox, Kentucky, was told to pursue an unidentified flying object that other witnesses later described either as round and white or as having “the appearance of a flaming red cone” in the sky. Mantell put his P-51 Mustang fighter into a steep climb, chasing the UFO until he reached an altitude of twenty-five thousand feet. But his cockpit was not pressurized and he had no oxygen mask, so he lost consciousness as his plane spun out of control and finally crashed. The death of an experienced military pilot in pursuit of a UFO made national headlines, and UFO sightings suddenly became a matter of great public concern. The pop-culture fascination would continue through the 1950s and beyond as commentators speculated about whether UFOs and so-called flying saucers came from Soviet Russia or even from outer space. Meanwhile, Air Force investigators concluded that Mantell’s mysterious object had most likely been a high-altitude balloon from the US Navy’s then-secret Skyhook research program.

Rotten History is written by Renaldo Migaldi


Posted by Alexander Jerri

On This Day in Rotten History...

In 1944 – (72 years ago) – on the second day of the Battle of the Bulge during World War II, members of a Nazi German combat unit intercepted a US truck convoy near Malmedy, Belgium, took some 120 American troops prisoner, confiscated their weapons, herded them into a field, and mowed them down with machine guns and pistols. Eighty-one soldiers were killed in what became known as the single worst atrocity against US troops in Europe. News of the Malmedy massacre had a major impact in the States, and led to war crimes trials in 1946, in which forty-three German soldiers were sentenced to death and another twenty-two to life in prison. But legal and political disputes over details of the defendants’ arrest and trial eventually led to none of the death sentences being carried out —and by 1956 all the convicted war criminals had been released. One of the German commanders went to live in France, where he received constant death threats. He finally died on Bastille Day 1976, when his house was set on fire by arsonists who were never apprehended, and firefighters arrived to find that their equipment had been sabotaged.


In 1961 – (55 years ago) – In Niterói, Brazil, near Rio de Janeiro, a circus attended by three thousand people went down in a massive fire. The Gran Circus Norte-Americano featured some 60 humans and 150 animals performing inside an enormous tent pitched in the city’s central square. The circus tent was advertised as being made of nylon, but it was actually made of cotton treated with paraffin wax. When fire broke out during a trapeze performance, the flames spread so fast that the whole tent was consumed in five minutes. Some 500 people were killed, including about 350 children.

In 1967 – (49 years ago) – Australian Prime Minister Harold Holt, who had cooperated with US President Lyndon Johnson by sending Australian troops to the war in Vietnam, went for a swim at a beach south of Melbourne that was noted for its often dangerous riptides. Holt, then fifty-nine years of age, was known to be an athletic type and a good swimmer, but he was also suffering from health problems, having collapsed in a parliament session some months earlier. Soon after swimming into the surf, he disappeared under a wave — and before long, Australian police, navy, and air force personnel were out over the ocean in what quickly became one of the largest search operations in that nation’s history. But no trace of Holt could be found — and two days later he was declared dead, triggering a leadership crisis in Australia’s coalition government.

Rotten History is written by Renaldo Migaldi


Posted by Alexander Jerri

On This Day in Rotten History...

In 1510 – (506 years ago) – forces of the Portuguese navy, led by the admiral Afonso de Albuquerque and assisted by local mercenaries, seized the prosperous, centuries-old port city of Goa on India’s west coast. The Portuguese, who had briefly held Goa earlier that year and then lost it to a local sultan, now retook the city in less than a day, defeating the sultan and putting large numbers of the Muslim population to death by the sword. Men, women, and children were massacred, and Albuquerque allowed his troops to spend three days sacking the city. Though the conquest took place against the wishes of the Portuguese king, it gave him an important colonial port and commercial capital which remained under Portuguese control for more than 450 years until it was finally reclaimed and annexed by India in 1961. To this day, Goa remains perhaps the most culturally European-influenced city in India, and the only one in which soccer is more popular than cricket. 

In 1796 – (220 years ago) – in Caracas, Venezuela, José Leonardo Chirino, a free farmer of mixed African and indigenous blood, was hanged for the crime of leading a slave revolt in the sugar plantations of the Spanish New World colonies. Chirino had been inspired by the ongoing slave rebellion in Haiti, which would later prove successful in establishing an independent republic there. He had also been deeply affected by the ideals of the faraway French Revolution. In the eastern Veneuzelan city of Coro, he led an uprising of Congolese slaves, with the aim of expelling the Spanish and abolishing slavery and white supremacy. But when his rebellion failed, he was betrayed by an associate. The Spanish authorities executed Chirino, cut his body into pieces, put his head on public display, and sold his wife and children into slavery.


In 1907 – (109 years ago) – in the Battersea district of London, about a thousand medical students of University College and other schools staged a demonstration supporting the practice of vivisection, in which living, conscious animals were cut open, operated on for purposes of medical research and instruction, and then killed. Public passions had been aroused by the court trial of a medical lecturer who, according to witnesses, had muzzled and bound a brown terrier in his classroom, cut it open to remove internal organs, and subjected it to electric shocks, all while the dog struggled and tried to escape. After a jury found the doctor not guilty and awarded him monetary compensation for the insult to his reputation, outraged anti-vivisectionists commissioned a public statue and fountain in memory of the brown dog. When offended medical students arrived to tear down the statue, it turned into a riot involving some four hundred police officers. It was but the worst of many violent clashes around that time that pitted medical students against Marxists, trade unionists, and suffragists who empathized with the suffering of innocent animals. The Brown Dog memorial was vandalized so many times, and required such heavy police guard, that after three years the local authorities removed it. A new memorial to the dog was erected at the same site in 1985.   

Rotten History is written by Renaldo Migaldi


Posted by Alexander Jerri

On This Day in Rotten History...

In 1964 – (52 years ago) – police arrested almost eight hundred students on the campus of the University of California at Berkeley, where several thousand had occupied the central plaza and administration building to protest the university’s rules against on-campus political activity. Some activists in what became known as the Berkeley Free Speech movement had already spent the summer traveling through the South with the Freedom Riders, registering African Americans to vote. Returning to Berkeley in the fall, they tried to seek donations for more civil rights efforts, but were stymied by the university’s tight restrictions on political speech, organizing, and fund-raising. When the resulting student protests led to a sit-in of the university’s administration building, California Governor Pat Brown authorized police to move in. But despite hundreds of arrests, and despite charges later brought against the demonstrators, many Californians thought the state had been too lenient. The conservative backlash led directly to the 1966 election of Ronald Reagan as California governor, which was a crucial step in his road to the US presidency.

In 1976 – (40 years ago) – in Kingston, Jamaica, reggae singer Bob Marley and members of his household were seriously wounded by three would-be assassins who invaded his home, shot up the place, and hurried away, never to be found. An upcoming national election had given rise to street violence between rival factions loyal to parties led by the socialist prime minister, Michael Manley, and the US-backed opposition leader, Edward Seaga. Marley was scheduled to perform two days later at a free outdoor concert — and while it was billed as a politically neutral event, he was widely perceived as backing Manley and the socialists. Though the bullet in his arm left him unable to play guitar, he could still sing, and in defiance of the death threat he surprised his fans by performing the full concert with his band. But he fled to the UK soon afterward, and within a year he was diagnosed with a malignant tumor under his toenail, which would eventually spread cancer throughout his body and cause his death in 1981 at the age of thirty-six.

In 1984 – (32 years ago) – in Bhopal, India, a city of more than two million people, a high-pressure gas leak occurring in the middle of the night at a Union Carbide pesticide plant blanketed the surrounding residential neighborhood with some forty metric tons of deadly methyl isocynate gas. The gas killed almost four thousand people that night. An estimated eight thousand more died within the next few weeks, and it was later determined that more than a half million people were left with either chronic or temporary illness and injuries. Investigators in Bhopal later found problems with broken equipment, poor maintenance, and inadequate safety measures. Also, staff at nearby hospitals had never been informed about the type of gas used in the plant, so they had no antidotes or treatments on hand. Thousands of farm animals also died in the accident; trees were damaged, and the area remains contaminated to this day. Seven Union Carbide employees were later convicted of causing death by negligence, but the company still maintains that the gas leak was caused by an act of sabotage.

Rotten History is written by Renaldo Migaldi