This Day in History – February 18 – 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 substack — or scroll down to enjoy Gary’s unique look at life’s comings and goings.




1814 – Battle of Montereau.

This took place during the War of the Sixth Coalition. (This was the best name they could come up with?) The battle pitted the French army led by Napoleon Bonaparte against an allied force of Austrians and Württembergs. (What are Württembergs you ask?  We’ll deal with that later. )The allies were threatening Paris when Napoleon rushed onto the scene. He defeated them at a place called Montereau and sent them scurrying back to Austria, cementing his reputation as a military genius. At the site of the original battle there is now a Napoleonic theme park.

Now as far as the Württembergs, another quiz. They were:

  1. Swabian Germans who spoke a High German dialect.
  2. A small, sausage-like people who subsisted almost entirely on rutabagas and bratwurst.
  3. Bavarian Catholics who thought Napoleon was the anti-Christ.
  4. Illegitimate descendants of Herman the German.


1922 – Capper-Volstead Act.

This was a law that allowed farmers and agriculture producers to form cooperatives to sell and markets their goods. It was named after its sponsors, Senator Arthur Capper of Kansas and Representative Andrew Volstead of Minnesota. It basically exempted cooperatives from anti-trust laws.

Not to be confused with the Volstead Act, which prohibited the manufacture and sale of alcoholic beverages, and opened the doors for organized crime. The honorable Representative from Minnesota had some good ideas, and some bad ideas.


1954 – First Church of Scientology opens.

Incorporated in 1953 under Ron Hubbard, Scientology opened its first church in Los Angeles. It has since gone on to become a worldwide religious movement.

One day in the early 1970s, my friend Steve and I were in downtown Minneapolis. We were both marginally employed, so we had a weekday afternoon off to see a movie. That mission accomplished, we were walking down Hennepin Avenue when two quite attractive young women approached us. Bright-eyed, effusive, smiling seductively, they were an effective lure. After chatting a short bit, they inquired whether we would be willing to take a survey. I don’t know what Steve was thinking, but I was sort of hoping “survey” was code for something more exciting.

We followed them into a building and took an elevator to an upper floor. They immediately separated us, with Steve being ushered into one room and I another. The girls disappeared and I was left alone with two middle-aged men. Their manner was friendly and insistent, and the “survey” was an inquisition into my life. The questions were designed to make me realize there was a void in my existence, a void that could be filled with their spirituality. They were good at what they were doing and someone weak or floundering in life could easily have become their prey. At that juncture in my life however, I was fully in control of who I was.

I was polite at first but when they ignored my rejections I simply stood up and said this was over. There was a brief moment of anxiety as I wondered if the door was locked, for the whole experience did have the feeling of entrapment. Steve made his escape about the same time and back out on Hennepin Avenue, we laughed about it as we deposited the pamphlets on Scientology into a trash can. And that was my brief glimpse into the religion, cult, sect, or whatever you want to call it.  



1853 – August Belmont, Jr.

Financier and thoroughbred racehorse owner. Belmont financed the construction of the original New York subway and was the breeder of the famous racehorse Man o’War. Although sixty-four years old when America entered WWI, Belmont volunteered his services. Commissioned a major, he served in France. Man o’War was born while he was overseas and his wife named the horse in honor of him. Unsure when the war would end and he could return, Belmont disbanded his stable and sold Man o’War before the famous horse had ever run a race.

He built Belmont Racetrack, still in operation, and named it after his father. Belmont died at age seventy-one, and his wife, obviously much younger, outlived him by fifty-five years.

There’s fun arguments over the greatest racehorse ever, Man o’War or Secretariat. My entry into the discussion would be Seabiscuit.


1892 – Wendell Willkie.

1940 Republican presidential candidate. After Roosevelt defeated him, Willkie shifted his views and supported many of FDR’s policies. During the war he acted as the President’s personal representative in traveling to Britain, the Middle East, China, and Russia. He wrote a book advocating an international peacekeeping force after the war. Willkie was also an early supporter of civil rights.

From The New Yorker: “In the 1940 campaign, he blasted Roosevelt for his foot-dragging in fighting discrimination against African-Americans and promised, if elected, to ban segregation in the military and civil service, as well as in education and housing. He also supported legislation to crack down on lynching and ban the poll tax, used to prevent blacks in the South from voting.”

Willkie sought the nomination again in 1944 but due to the Republican Party’s shift to the right, his more liberal policies were rejected. He did not support the eventual nominee, Thomas Dewey, in the general election. Willkie died of a heart attack at age 52.

I never knew anything about him other than his loss to FDR. Impressive man, the kind our country could use again today.


1906 – Hans Asperger.

German pediatrician known for his studies on mental disorders in children. An early pioneer in the study of autism, Asperger’s Syndrome is named after him. His work was mostly unnoticed in his lifetime and only discovered later. Also discovered later was his collaboration with the Third Reich in sending disabled children to be euthanized. After the war, Asperger continued his research and became chair of the pediatrics department at the University of Vienna. He died in 1980 unrecognized for either the good or the evil he did.

I imagine it might be easier to do human research when there aren’t pesky obstacles like ethics standing in the way.


Answer to quiz: A. Swabian Germans. Don’t be too upset if you missed it. I’ve never heard of Swabia before either.



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: 

University of Wisconsin-Madison 

George Washington University 

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

* Lead-In Image – Everett Historical / – “’Wendell L. Willkie Notification Ceremony, in Elwood, Indiana, August 17, 1940. This ceremony dated from the 19th century, when Presidential candidates did not attend nominating conventions, but were.'”

wendell willkie - everett historical - shutterstock - embed

* August Belmont, Jr. (video) – Keeneland /

* Wendell Willkie (speech) – BJ82 /

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