This Day In History

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On March 9, 1916, Germany declared war on Portugal, who earlier that year honored its alliance with Great Britain by seizing German ships anchored in Lisbon's harbor.

When World War I began in 1914, Portugal was a fledgling democratic republic, and newly elected president Manuel JosÉ de Arriaga was anxious about the security of Portugal's colonial holdings in Angola and Mozambique but desperate to remain neutral in the war.

In order to secure international support for its authority in Africa, Portugal begrudgingly entered the war on the side of Britain and the Allies. Its participation was at first limited to naval support, but by February of 1917, Portugal had 50,000 men stationed on the Western Front.

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At approximately 8:12 p.m. Eastern time, Sunday, February 9, 1964, The Ed Sullivan Show returned from a commercial (for Anacin pain reliever), and there was Ed Sullivan standing before a restless crowd. He tried to begin his next introduction, but then stopped and extended his arms in the universal sign for "Settle Down." "Quiet!" he said with mock gravity, and the noise died down just a little. Then he resumed: "Here's a very amusing magician we saw in Europe and signed last summer....Let's have a nice hand for him—Fred Kaps!"

For the record, Fred Kaps proceeded to be quite charming and funny over the next five minutes. In fact, Fred Kaps is revered to this day by magicians around the world as the only three-time Fédération Internationale des Sociétés Magiques Grand Prix winner. But Fred Kaps had the horrific bad luck on this day in 1964 to be the guest that followed the Beatles on Ed Sullivan—possibly the hardest act to follow in the history of show business.

It is estimated that 73 million Americans were watching that night as the Beatles made their live U.S. television debut. Roughly eight minutes before Fred Kaps took the stage, Sullivan gave his now-famous intro, "Ladies and gentlemen...the Beatles!" and after a few seconds of rapturous cheering from the audience, the band kicked into "All My Lovin'." Fifty seconds in, the first audience-reaction shot of the performance shows a teenage girl beaming and possibly hyperventilating. Two minutes later, Paul is singing another pretty, mid-tempo number: "Til There Was You," from the Broadway musical Music Man. There's screaming at the end of every phrase in the lyrics, of course, but to view the broadcast today, it seems driven more by anticipation than by the relatively low-key performance itself. And then came "She Loves You," and the place seems to explode. What followed was perhaps the most important two minutes and 16 seconds of music ever broadcast on American television—a sequence that still sends chills down the spine almost half a century later.

The Beatles would return later in the show to perform "I Saw Her Standing There" and "I Wanna Hold Your Hand" as the audience remained at the same fever pitch it had reached during "She Loves You." This time it was Wells & the Four Fays, a troupe of comic acrobats, who had to suffer what Fred Kaps had after the Beatles' first set. Perhaps the only non-Beatle on Sullivan's stage that night who did not consider the evening a total loss was the young man from the Broadway cast of Oliver! who sang "I'd Do Anything" as the Artful Dodger midway through the show. His name was Davy Jones, and less than three years later, he'd star in a TV show of his own that owed a rather significant debt to the hysteria that began on this night in 1964: The Monkees.

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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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On this day in 1827, a group of masked and costumed students dance through the streets of New Orleans, Louisiana, marking the beginning of the city's famous Mardi Gras celebrations.

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On March 16, 1850, Nathaniel Hawthorne's story of adultery and betrayal in colonial America, The Scarlet Letter, is published.

Hawthorne was born in Salem, Massachusetts, in 1804. Although the infamous Salem witch trials had taken place more than 100 years earlier, the events still hung over the town and made a lasting impression on the young Hawthorne. Witchcraft figured in several of his works, including "Young Goodman Brown" (1835) and The House of the Seven Gables (1851), in which a house is cursed by a wizard condemned by the witch trials.

Hawthorne worked at Salem's custom house following a period of poor literary sales and financial hardships in order to provide for his growing family. After leaving the job, he spent several months writing The Scarlet Letter, which made him famous.

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King Henry IV, the first English monarch of the Lancastrian dynasty, dies after years of illness, and his eldest son, Henry, ascends to the English throne.

In 1399, Henry Bolingbroke was crowned King Henry IV of England following the forced abdication of King Richard II, who was greatly weakened by internal conflicts stemming from his quarrels with Parliament. In later years, Henry IV was a chronic invalid, and his son Henry presided over the king's royal council. Young Henry also led armies against Owen Glendower and the Welsh rebels, and figured largely in the English victory over the Welsh at the Battle of Shrewdsbury.

Click here to read more over at History.com!

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On this day in 1959, rising American rock stars Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson are killed when their chartered Beechcraft Bonanza plane crashes in Iowa a few minutes after takeoff from Mason City on a flight headed for Moorehead, Minnesota. Investigators blamed the crash on bad weather and pilot error. Holly and his band, the Crickets, had just scored a No. 1 hit with "That'll Be the Day."

After mechanical difficulties with the tour bus, Holly had chartered a plane for his band to fly between stops on the Winter Dance Party Tour. However, Richardson, who had the flu, convinced Holly's band member Waylon Jennings to give up his seat, and Ritchie Valens won a coin toss for another seat on the plane.