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ROTTEN HISTORY

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


Posted by Alexander Jerri

On This Day in Rotten History...

In 1915 – (101 years ago) – the Swedish-American labor activist and songwriter Joe Hill was executed by firing squad, in the state of Utah, for allegedly having shot and killed a grocer and his son. A jury had convicted Hill on circumstantial evidence, even though eyewitnesses could not identify him in court and the murder weapon was not found. In the weeks before his death, tens of thousands of people around the world campaigned in vain for clemency, convinced that Hill had been convicted mainly for his involvement with the Industrial Workers of the World, also known as the IWW or the Wobblies. The campaigners included labor activists, Mormon dignitaries, the Swedish foreign minister, and even US President Woodrow Wilson. On the day of his death, Hill sent a telegram to IWW leader Bill Haywood. It read, [quote] “I die like a true blue rebel. Don’t waste time in mourning. Organize.” Joe Hill’s body was shipped from Salt Lake City to Chicago, and he was cremated at Graceland Cemetery. His ashes were divided into hundreds of small packages, mailed to union locals and supporters across the United States and on six continents, with instructions to scatter the ashes in all corners of the world. 

In 1984 – (32 years ago) – a major tank farm in San Juanico, Mexico, was rocked by a series of massive explosions that began in early evening and continued well into the next morning, consuming one-third of Mexico City’s supply of LPG, or liquid petroleum gas. The explosions and fire destroyed the tank farm and devastated the surrounding town. Some five to six hundred people died in the inferno, consumed so completely that only two percent of their remains could be recovered afterwards. Another five to seven thousand people suffered major injuries, including severe, life-changing burns. It was the worst LPG disaster in history.

Rotten History is written by Renaldo Migaldi


Posted by Alexander Jerri

On This Day in Rotten History...

In 1618 – (398 years ago) – the Elizabethan courtier, politician, soldier, explorer, and poet Sir Walter Raleigh was executed by beheading in the Old Palace Yard of Westminster. In his sixty-five years, Raleigh had become one of the richest and most famous men of his time, having led troops in battle, headed expeditions to the Americas, founded an ill-fated colony in Virginia, and popularized the use of tobacco in England. But he’d also angered the wrong people, including Queen Elizabeth I, King James I, and the Spanish ambassador to England. Raleigh was imprisoned in the Tower of London more than once and spent several years of his life there, but he managed to use that time constructively — not only writing several books, but also conceiving a son. Raleigh’s execution drew a big crowd. When he was shown the ax blade that would kill him, he remarked: “This is a sharp medicine, a physician that will cure all my diseases and miseries.” He then lay down on the scaffold and yelled to the executioner: “Strike, man, strike!” Raleigh’s severed head was given to his wife, who carried it home in a leather bag and kept it in a cupboard until the day she died. 

In 1929 – (87 years ago) – a rash of panic selling on the New York Stock Exchange, which had gone on for several days, reached its peak as the Dow Jones Industrial Average lost 12 percent of its value in a single day. Known as “Black Tuesday,” it was the worst day of the most severe stock market crash in US history. This failure of capitalism ushered in the Great Depression, which wiped out fortunes, threw millions out of work, and created material deprivation across the industrialized world. The depression would not end until, several years later, some thirty national governments declared war on each other and put their citizens back to work building ships, airplanes, weapons, and equipment for a global bloodbath that would last six years and kill an estimated fifty to eighty million people.



In 1971 – (45 years ago) – the Southern blues-rock guitarist Duane Allman, co-leader of the Allman Brothers Band, who also did session work with Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett, and other soul greats, was riding his Harley-Davidson motorcycle through the streets of Macon, Georgia, when he plowed into the end of a flatbed truck that had stopped in the middle of an intersection. The impact threw Allman from his bike, which landed on top of him. He was hurried to a nearby hospital, where he died of internal injuries at the age of twenty-four.

Rotten History is written by Renaldo Migaldi


Posted by Alexander Jerri

On This Day in Rotten History...

In 1894 – (122 years ago) – Alfred Dreyfus, a French army officer of Jewish descent, was arrested for treason and falsely accused of passing military secrets to the Germans. His case would spark intense public debate after newspapers reported that evidence proving his innocence was being covered up by the army. Dreyfus was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment at Devil’s Island in French Guiana. Meanwhile, protests led by prominent intellectuals culminated in a front-page newspaper piece entitled “J’accuse . . . !” by the writer Émile Zola, accusing the French military command of being motivated by anti-Semitism to convict an innocent man. Zola’s article and his subsequent trial and conviction for libel led to a reopening of the Dreyfus case. And although Dreyfus was again convicted, the French president bowed to public outcry in granting him a pardon. It was only in 1906 — twelve years after the original arrest — that further evidence and litigation led to Dreyfus being officially exonerated and readmitted to the French army with promotion and honors.      

In 1940 – (76 years ago) – the last president of Catalonia was executed by a Spanish fascist firing squad. Lluís Companys had been active for years as a lawyer and leader in Catalan nationalist groups that sought to create an autonomous political entity within a larger Iberian federation. Amid the turbulent Spanish politics of the 1920s and ’30s, Companys held increasingly important offices and was in and out of prison more than a dozen times. In 1934 he was elected president of a newly proclaimed Catalan state, only to be to be arrested and jailed after just a few hours in office. In 1936 he was released from prison by the new left-wing Republican Spanish government, just in time to be caught up in the violent chaos of the Spanish Civil War. In the struggle against right-wing Nationalists led by General Francisco Franco and aided by Nazi Germany, Companys reluctantly cooperated with Marxists and anarchists in Barcelona until they were finally crushed by Franco’s forces and the civil war came to a bloody end. Companys escaped to France for a few months in exile, but was captured by Nazi German occupiers who sent him back to Spain, where he was quickly tried and executed. The main stadium used in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics is named after him.

In 1970 – (46 years ago) – the partial collapse of the West Gate Bridge — under construction in Melbourne, Australia — sent a two-thousand-ton chunk of the span falling more than 150 feet into the Yarra River with an impact and explosion that was heard up to twelve miles away. Thirty-five workers were killed and another eighteen were seriously injured in the blast and the fire that followed. Some of those workers were inside the span when it fell; others were eating their lunch in huts on the riverside below. Investigators later found that two girders that were to be joined had been a few inches out of alignment, and that bridge builders had lined them up by weighing down the higher one with huge concrete blocks. This made it possible to join the girders, but it also caused visible stress on the span. When the concrete blocks were removed, the metal snapped and the span collapsed. Construction was halted for two years, but the West Gate Bridge finally opened in 1978. It’s now one of the busiest bridges in Australia — hosting up to 200,000 vehicles a day, and about one suicide every three weeks.  


Rotten History is written by Renaldo Migaldi


Posted by Alexander Jerri

On This Day in Rotten History...

On this date in the year 314 – (1,702 years ago) – two rival Roman emperors met in battle on a field in what is now Croatia. The armies of Licinius and Constantine fought all day until Constantine led a cavalry charge that turned the tide. Twenty thousand of Licinius’s men were killed, along with an unknown number on Constantine’s side. But after nightfall, Licinius managed to retreat and escape with remnants of his army. For the next ten years, the two co-emperors would maintain an uneasy truce in the sprawling, fragmented empire. But in the year 324, another civil war would erupt between them. Once again, Constantine defeated Licinius, and this time he had him imprisoned. A year later, he had him hanged. Constantine was later declared a saint by the Orthodox, Anglican, and Byzantine churches, for having decriminalized Christianity in the Roman Empire.      

On this date in 1871 – (144 years ago) – a fire broke out in Chicago that would burn down the city center over the next three days. The Great Chicago Fire killed some three hundred people in the city, destroyed a third of its real estate, and left more than one hundred thousand people homeless. To this day, its original cause remains unknown, despite many theories advanced by historians. The popular myth of Mrs. O’Leary’s cow kicking over the lantern was debunked long ago. Several other major fires occurred on the same day in Michigan and Wisconsin — including a forest wildfire in and around Peshtigo, Wisconsin, that was far more deadly than the one in Chicago, killing an estimated two thousand to twenty-five hundred people. Some people have speculated that the simultaneous fires across the Great Lakes region were perhaps ignited by red-hot meteorite fragments fallen through earth’s atmosphere from an exploding comet. But scientists have pointed out that hot meteorites cool off before reaching the ground, and that the fires were probably just due to high winds in the region following an unusually dry summer.



On this date in 1952 – (63 years ago) – during the morning rush hour at the Harrow and Wealdstone station in London, a high-speed express train arriving from Scotland plowed into the rear end of a passenger train standing at a platform. Within moments, another express train came smashing into the other two. Sixteen train cars were destroyed, 112 people were killed, and another 340 were injured. Since the driver and crew of the second train were killed in the accident, a cause was never established for certain — but investigators concluded that human error was most likely to blame. At the time, railroad safety still depended mainly on engineers seeing and obeying visual signals. But the London accident spurred British Railways to speed up its introduction of a new automated warning system.

Rotten History is written by Renaldo Migaldi