This Day in History – February 23 – 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.




1820 – Cato Street Conspiracy.

In the late 1790s and early 1800s in England, industrialization was replacing agriculture as a way of life. At the same time the labor market was flooded with unemployed soldiers and sailors due to the Napoleonic Wars having ended. Inflation and food shortages occurred leading to a radicalization bred from discontent among workers. The government reacted to a series of riots with the Combination Act, which “forbade the gathering of workers with a common purpose.” This resulted in further radicalization. A group met on Cato Street in London conspiring to overthrow the government. Their plan was to assassinate the entire cabinet. Unbeknown to them, in their midst was an undercover cop, who also happened to be one of the more bloodthirsty radical agitators among them. The police stormed their Cato Street headquarters and based on the undercover agent’s testimony, five of the conspirators were hung and five deported to Australia. 

Justice prevailed. I mean, really, “workers with a common purpose!” What could be more dangerous? Next thing you know they’d be wanting unions.


1896 – Tootsie Roll introduced.

An immigrant candymaker from Austria, Leo Hirschfield, came up with the idea of Tootsie Roll in his New York City shop. At that time, because of a lack of refrigeration chocolate became a sticky mess when served during the summer. Hirschfield discovered by cooking his product for two hours at a low heat it wouldn’t lose its shape or melt and had a chocolate taste. It especially became a favorite during the Depression because it was cheap and again with GIs overseas during WWII. The candy has survived into the new millennium.

I went through my share of them when I was a kid. A cheap treat, that was enough to do it. 


1991 – The North Carolina basketball team wins its 1,500th game.

The Tar Heels were the first college program to achieve this feat. 

Ok, put me in the cynic column. For nearly two decades North Carolina offered fake classes, not taught by any instructors yet giving college credits. Many taking these classes were athletes. It was discovered during an investigation that some of these “student athletes” read like fifth graders. So what, if they could dunk, a realist might say. After six years of investigation, and despite widespread evidence of cheating, the NCAA decided to impose no sanctions on North Carolina. They were, after all, one of the NCAA’s “cash cows.” This scandal took place after North Carolina reached the 1,500 mark so I suppose the NCAA also didn’t want to tarnish those victories. In contrast the Minnesota program was caught having a tutor doing some of the course work for basketball players. Cheating no doubt, but on a small scale compared to what took place at North Carolina. Yet the NCAA came down full force on Minnesota.



1868 – W.E.B. Du Bois.

Teacher, scholar, writer, editor, historian, socialist, and civil rights and peace activist. Du Bois was the first African-American to receive a doctorate from Harvard University. Previously he had attended the University of Berlin and traveled in Europe. While there, he noted, he was mostly judged on his qualities and not rejected because of the color of his skin. Back in America, he was a tireless advocate for the rights of people of his race, believing that African Americans should embrace their African heritage while contributing to American society. He also supported women’s suffrage but did not publicly endorse it because the suffrage movement did not speak out against racism. Du Bois traveled the country documenting lynching and race massacres and he also documented racism within the U.S. military. He was at the conference where the NAACP was founded and it was his suggestion the word “colored” be used instead of black because he believed the organization should support dark-skinned people everywhere. 

In addition to fighting for racial equality Du Bois was a peace advocate and spoke out against nuclear armament. He also associated with known communist sympathizers and this made the NAACP anxious so he resigned from the organization. During the Joseph McCarthy era Du Bois was investigated by the FBI. Indicted for subversive activities he was brought to trial in 1951 but the judge dismissed the case when he learned that Albert Einstein was going to testify as a character witness for Du Bois. Du Bois was never a communist but he believed that system was better suited to address racism than capitalism. He had stated, from “that wealthy capitalists had pacified white workers by giving them just enough wealth to prevent them from revolting, and by threatening them with competition by the lower-cost labor of colored workers.” In 1960 Du Bois traveled to Africa and when the U.S. refused to renew his passport he became a citizen of Ghana, but he never renounced his U.S. citizenship. While working on a book about Africa, Du Bois died in Ghana at age 95 in 1963.

Speaking out for peace and against racism… That is enough to get you labeled as a subversive in America. 


1889 – Victor Fleming.

Film director. Fleming (not pictured above) started out as a cameraman in the silent film era and then became a successful director. He has a long list of credits and in 1939 he directed both “Gone with the Wind” and “The Wizard of Oz.” He received an Academy Award for Best Director for the former. Fleming died from a heart attack in 1949 at age 59 shortly after finishing the filming of “Joan of Arc.”

African-American newspapers criticized “Gone with the Wind” at the time of its release for romanticizing the pre Civil War slavery era and its portrayal of slaves in the film. I searched but was unable to find any comments W.E.B. Du Bois might have made about the film.


1915 – Jon Hall.

Actor. Hall had a long movie career, mostly in adventure films, but is best known for the TV series, “Ramar of the Jungle.” In 1944, after a night of heavy drinking, Hall ended up at the apartment of bandleader Tommy Dorsey. Dorsey was very intoxicated and a fight broke out between the two men that became infamously known as the Battle of the Balcony. Dorsey was trying to throw Hall over the railing of the balcony and Hall had his hands around Dorsey’s neck. Mrs. Dorsey rushed next door for help, where gangster Bugsy Siegel’s right hand man lived. He intervened with a knife and Hall ended up in the hospital with fifty stitches to his face and having one nostril cleanly sliced through. This was said to be the inspiration to what happened to the Jack Nicholson’s character in the movie “Chinatown.” There were about a dozen or so other people present at the apartment that night but no criminal charges were filed because nobody would admit to seeing or remembering anything.

As they say, you can’t make this stuff up.



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:

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

* Lead-In Image (Tootsie Roll Art) – Tootsie Roll Industries

* W.E.B. Du Bois (video) Biography /

* Victor Fleming (video) Library of Congress /

* John Hall (video) Classic TV Channel  /

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