This Day In History

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On this day in 1887, Groundhog Day, featuring a rodent meteorologist, is celebrated for the first time at Gobbler's Knob in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. According to tradition, if a groundhog comes out of its hole on this day and sees its shadow, there will be six more weeks of winter weather; no shadow means an early spring.

Groundhog Day has its roots in the ancient Christian tradition of Candlemas Day, when clergy would bless and distribute candles needed for winter. The candles represented how long and cold the winter would be. Germans expanded on this concept by selecting an animal--the hedgehog--as a means of predicting weather. Once they came to America, German settlers in Pennsylvania continued the tradition, although they switched from hedgehogs to groundhogs, which were plentiful in the Keystone State.

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On this day in 1933, a deranged, unemployed brick layer named Giuseppe Zangara shouts Too many people are starving! and fires a gun at America's president-elect, Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Roosevelt had just delivered a speech in Miami's Bayfront Park from the back seat of his open touring car when Zangara opened fire with six rounds. Five people were hit. The president escaped injury but the mayor of Chicago, Anton Cermak, who was also in attendance, received a mortal stomach wound in the attack.

Several men tackled the assailant and might have beaten him to death if Roosevelt had not intervened, telling the crowd to leave justice to the authorities. Zangara later claimed I don't hate Mr. Roosevelt personallyI hate all officials and anyone who is rich. He also told the FBI that chronic stomach pain led to his action: Since my stomach hurt I want to make even with the capitalists by kill the president. My stomach hurt long time [sic].

Zangara's extreme action reflected the anger and frustration felt among many working Americans during the Great Depression. At the time of the shooting, Roosevelt was still only the president-elect and had yet to be sworn in. His policies remained untested, but reports of Roosevelt's composure during the assassination attempt filled the following day's newspapers and did much to enforce Roosevelt's public image as a strong leader.

Unsubstantiated reports later claimed that Zangara's real target had been Cermak and hinted at Zangara's connection to organized crime in Chicago. Zangara was initially tried for attempted murder and sentenced to 80 years in prison, but when Mayor Cermak later died of his wounds, Zangara was retried and sentenced to death. Zangara died on the electric chair on March 5, 1933.

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On March 13, 1781, the German-born English astronomer William Hershel discovers Uranus, the seventh planet from the sun. Herschel's discovery of a new planet was the first to be made in modern times, and also the first to be made by use of a telescope, which allowed Herschel to distinguish Uranus as a planet, not a star, as previous astronomers believed.

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On this day, during the battle for Iwo Jima, U.S. Marines raise the American flag atop Mt. Suribachi, the highest point on the island of Iwo Jima and a key strategic point.

Later, Marine commanders decide to raise a second, larger flag, an event which an Associated Press photographer captured on film. The resulting photograph became a defining image of the war.

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Deerfield, a frontier settlement in western Massachusetts, is attacked by a French and Native American force. Some 100 men, women, and children were massacred as the town was burned to the ground.

Continue reading over at History.com.

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Following Britain's bloodless Glorious Revolution, Mary, the daughter of the deposed king, and William of Orange, her husband, are proclaimed joint sovereigns of Great Britain under Britain's new Bill of Rights.

William, a Dutch prince, married Mary, the daughter of the future King James II, in 1677. After James' succession to the English throne in 1685, the Protestant William kept in close contact with the opposition to the Catholic king. After the birth of an heir to James in 1688, seven high-ranking members of Parliament invited William and Mary to England. William landed at Torbay in Devonshire with an army of 15,000 men and advanced to London, meeting no opposition from James' army, which had deserted the king. James himself was allowed to escape to France, and in February 1689 Parliament offered the crown jointly to William and Mary, provided they accept the Bill of Rights.

The Bill of Rights, which greatly limited royal power and broadened constitutional law, granted Parliament control of finances and the army and prescribed the future line of royal succession, declaring that no Roman Catholic would ever be sovereign of England. The document also stated that Englishmen possessed certain inviolable civil and political rights, a political concept that was a major influence in the composition of the U.S. Bill of Rights, composed almost exactly a century later.

The Glorious Revolution, the ascension of William and Mary, and the acceptance of the Bill of Rights were decisive victories for Parliament in its long struggle against the crown.

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On this day in 1898, French writer Emile Zola is brought to trial for libel for "J'Accuse," his newspaper editorial attacking the French army over the Dreyfus affair.

On January 13, Zola had published his editorial in the newspaper L'Aurore. The letter exposed a military cover-up regarding Alfred Dreyfus. Dreyfus, a French army captain, had been accused of espionage in 1894 and sentenced in a secret military court-martial to imprisonment in a South American penal colony. Two years later, evidence of Dreyfus' innocence surfaced, but the army suppressed the information. Zola's letter exposed the military's mistaken conviction.

Zola's letter provoked national outrage on both sides of the issue, among political parties, religious organizations, and others. Supporters of the military sued Zola for libel. He was convicted and sentenced to one year's imprisonment, but he fled France. In 1899, Dreyfus was pardoned, but for political reasons he was not exonerated until 1906. Shortly after Dreyfus' pardon, Zola returned to France, where he died in 1902.

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