This Day in History – August 28th – Hijinx, Humor, and Insight


NewsWhistle is pleased to feature Gary Jenneke’s “This Day In History” column.

You can read the original at Gary’s THIS DAY IN HISTORY blog — or scroll down to enjoy Gary’s unique look at life’s comings and goings.




1861 – Battle of Ft. Hatteras.

Combined Union Army and Naval forces captured Ft. Clark and Ft. Hatteras. The forts had only recently been constructed and the soldiers there were bored, having little to do other than drink and keep their powder dry. The battle was a minor one, with only one Union soldier killed and twelve rebels. It was an easy victory for the North because the hungover defenders weren’t able to fire their cannons, because they failed to keep their powder dry.

Well, one out of two isn’t bad.


1921 – Battle of Blair Mountain.

Set in the coal-mining region of West Virginia, this was a labor dispute that grew into war. It pitted 10,000 coal miners wanting to form a union against 3,000 Logan Defenders. The Logan Defenders were backed by the coal mine owners and were comprised of lawmen, hired guns, and strikebreakers. The union was well organized and well armed and the labor uprising remains the largest in U.S. history. The fighting took place from August 25th to September 2nd, and ranged around Blair Mountain. President Harding threatened to send in federal troops, army bombers roared overhead, and coal miners commandeered a train and named it the Blue Steel Special to get to the fighting. Over 100 lives were lost, and it is estimated a million rounds of ammunition were fired. Outgunned and fearing losing more lives to airplane bombing, union leaders instructed the miners to abandon the fight. Mine owners were victorious and labor organizing took a big hit. Almost a thousand miners were arrested and prosecuted although many were acquitted due to sympathetic juries.

While union membership initially declined, the battle did help to publicize the plight of coal miners and the conditions under which they worked. It was a hollow victory for the mine owners, in that the battle galvanized unions across the U.S., and the bad publicity forced them to improve working conditions for the miners. Although it wasn’t until 1935 that the United Mine Workers finally organized in West Virginia.

Come and listen you fellows, young and so fine,
And seek not your fortune in the dark, dreary mines. 


1963 – “I Have a Dream.”

Standing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, addressing a crowd that stretched all the way to the Washington Monument, Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his famous speech for equality. An estimated quarter of a million people had come to the nation’s capitol for the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. There were other speakers and also performers such as Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, and Mahalia Jackson, before King stepped to the microphone and captivated the crowd. The speech has been lauded as one of the best, if not the best, speech given by an American in the 20th century. It helped inspire Congress to pass the Civil Rights Act, and later the Voting Rights Act.

One of the lines in the speech is: “Let us not wallow in the valley of despair, I say to you, my friends.” Given the current assault on our nation’s sense of decency, the assault on voting rights, and everything else King stood for, right now it is difficult not to wallow in despair.



1728 – John Stark.

General in the Continental Army. He commanded troops at the Battle of Bunker Hill and the Battle of Bennington, and had a significant role in the British defeat at Saratoga. Leading up to the Revolutionary War, he had lived an interesting life. As a young man, while hunting, he was captured by Abenaki Indians and taken to Canada. There he was forced to run a gauntlet of warriors holding clubs. Instead he wrested away a club from the first Indian in line and launched his own attack. Impressed by his courage, the chief adopted him into the tribe. He lived with them for almost a year before a ransom was paid for his release. Then he became a lieutenant with Rogers Rangers during the French and Indian War. Both experiences gave him knowledge about the American frontier that aided him in his role with the Continental Army.

At age 81, Stark wrote a letter to some of his former colleagues who were gathering for a reunion. He closed the letter with the words, “Live free or die: Death is not the worst of evils.” The words “Live Free or Die” became New Hampshire’s state motto in 1945. It is said that Stark was a good commander because he understood his men. Historian Mark Boatner wrote of him: “As a commander of New England militia Stark had one rare and priceless quality: he knew the limitations of his men. They were innocent of military training, undisciplined, and unenthusiastic about getting shot.”

Unenthusiastic about getting shot? Oh yes, now there’s a concept I would want my commander to grasp.


1925 – Donald O’Connor.

Actor, singer, and dancer. He started in vaudeville with his family and moved into motion pictures. Of vaudeville he said he’d stood backstage and watched some of the greats work. Burns and Allen, Marx Brothers, Jack Benny and more. His first film role was with Bing Crosby, who he said was very helpful to him. O’Connor’s career ascended with a series of films featuring Francis the Talking Mule. He was supposed to star in “White Christmas” with Bing Crosby but was forced to withdraw when he contacted a disease from the mule. His “Make Em’ Laugh” routine in the musical “Singing in the Rain” remains a classic, and is more astonishing given that he was smoking four packs of cigarettes a day at the time. O’Connor also fought alcoholism, and was proud of the fact he spent the last part of his life in recovery. Two days before he died, in 2003, he jokingly thanked the Academy for the Lifetime Achievement Award he was bound to win someday.

I loved Francis the Talking Mule movies when I was a kid. To a seven-year-old it was the level of sophisticated humor I was seeking.


1944 – Melvin Dummar.

Gas station worker Melvin Dummar claims to have picked up and saved a recluse one night in 1967 in the Nevada desert. He then took the man to the Sands Hotel in Las Vegas. The recluse told him he was Howard Hughes, one of the world’s richest men. After Hughes died a handwritten will was found that left one sixteenth of his estate to Dummar. The will was contested by relatives of Hughes and determined to be a hoax, and Dummar never received any of the inheritance. An Academy Award winning movie “Melvin and Howard” was made about the supposed encounter between Hughes and Dummar.

One of the opening scenes in the movie, between Paul LeMat and Jason Robards in the cab of Dummar’s pickup, is absolutely brilliant.



At various junctures of his life, Gary has been an indifferent grade school student, poor high school student, good Navy radioman, one-time hippie, passable college student, inveterate traveler, dedicated writer, miscast accountant (except for one interesting stint at a Communist café), part-time screenwriting teacher, semi-proud veteran, unsuccessful retiree and new blogger.

You can reach him at



The above information was sourced from the following sites and newspapers.


Merle Travis


We’d also like to thank the following photographers and videographers for the use of their images:

* Donald O’Connor, Singin’ In The Rain (still) – Warner Bros.

* “I Have A Dream” (video) – LogistiKHD /

* General John Stark (video) – Frank Breen /

* “Make ‘Em Laugh” (video) – Warner Bros., Singin’ In The Rain & opeldsign /

* Melvin and Howard (video) – Universal Pictures Home Entertainment, Melvin and Howard & Daniel j. Harris /

* Outro (Man-In-Museum Cartoon) – SkyPics Studio /



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