This Day in History – May 21st – Hijinx, Humor, and Insight

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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.

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THIS DAY IN HISTORY… MAY 21

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1856 – 1st sack of Lawrence, Kansas.

Not to be confused by the sack of the town during the Civil War by Quantrill’s Raiders. Kansas was the epicenter of the nation’s slavery issue; pro and anti forces contested the control of the territory. Lawrence was founded with an anti-slavery focus in mind. In fear the anti-slavery forces were assembling a militia, a pro-slavery county sheriff entered the city with about 750 men. Its leaders arrested, the town offered no resistance. The presses of the two newspapers were thrown into the Kansas River. (Allegedly for printing fake news.) A hotel was blown up and destroyed because pro-slavery forces said it could be used as a fortress, and the homes of the leading abolitionists were ransacked. Despite this violence there was only one casualty, a pro-slavery man killed when hit in the head by a brick from the hotel explosion. In retaliation for this raid abolitionist John Brown and his band killed five pro-slavery men. All this contributed to the territory gaining the name of “Bleeding Kansas.” The Republican newspapers sensationalized the event and the pro-slavery newspapers downplayed it.

Kind of like MSNBC and Fox News. 

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1924 – Leopold and Loeb kidnap and murder Bobby Franks.

That set the scene for what became known as the “Trial of the Century.” This was long before the Manson Gang or OJ Simpson. Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb came from wealthy families in Chicago and both graduated from high school in their early teens. Because of their intellectual superiority they believed they were not bound by the moral codes imposed on the rest of society. They went from petty thievery to concocting a scheme to commit the perfect crime. They settled on a kidnaping, and on the afternoon of May 21st they drove around Chicago looking for a victim. They saw Bobby Franks, Loeb’s cousin, and persuaded him to get in the car. Leopold was driving, Loeb was in the back seat, and Franks in the passenger’s seat. Grasping Franks around the neck and using the blunt end of a chisel, Loeb repeatedly struck him in the head until he quit struggling. Outside of Chicago in a remote area, they disposed of the body in a culvert. At this point their perfect crime fell apart as a pair of eyeglasses fell out of Leopold’s jacket pocket. The body was discovered, and the eyeglasses found and traced back to the duo. They confessed, with Leopold saying they had done it for the thrill of the experience. Their families hired renowned lawyer Clarence Darrow, who was morally opposed to the death penalty, to defend them. In his conclusion arguing for leniency, Darrow gave what many considered the finest speech of his career. The judge was impressed and sentenced them to 99 years in prison rather than the death penalty. The prosecutor was incensed, believing they should have been hanged. The two were 18 and 19 at the time of their trial. Loeb was stabbed to death in prison at age 30. Leopold served 33 years and was paroled in 1958. He died in Puerto Rico of a heart attack at age 66 in 1971.

Too much too soon in academic success and their egos rampaged out of control. I wonder if maturity caught up with them in prison?

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1961 – Martial Law declared in Montgomery, Alabama. 

1966 – Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) declares war on the Irish Republican Army (IRA) during The Troubles in Northern Ireland.

1971 – National Guard called out for riots in Chattanooga, Tennessee. 

1979 – White Night riot.

– In Montgomery Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was scheduled to speak at a church. A mob of enraged whites was determined to disrupt the event. Attorney General Bobby Kennedy sent in federal marshals for protection, and when more unrest followed martial law was declared and the National Guard deployed.

– This is part of the statement the UVF released on May 21st:  “From this day, we declare war against the Irish Republican Army and its splinter groups. Known IRA men will be executed mercilessly and without hesitation.” Over the next five years, 500 people, mostly Catholics, were killed.

– Race protests in Chattanooga turned violent and the National Guard was called out.

– In San Francisco riots broke out after the lenient sentence Dan White received for killing Mayor George Moscone and Harvey Milk. Instead of 1st degree murder, which gay activists wanted (and White later admitted the murders were premeditated), White got off on voluntary manslaughter and a short prison sentence.

Beware May 21st.

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Birthdays:

1688 – Alexander Pope.

English poet. Disease and misfortune as a child left Pope with a crippled body and he grew to only four and a half feet in height. However, he had an indomitable, witty spirit. Besides his own works he translated “The Iliad” and “The Odyssey.” Two of his phrases that are still in use today are: “Damning with faint praise” and “To err is human, to forgive, divine.” Pope comes in second to only Shakespeare in the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations.

I’m fairly well read but I’ve missed Pope. Just can’t get to all of them. 

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1930 – John Malcolm Fraser.

22nd Prime Minister of Australia. Serving seven and a half years Fraser had the fourth longest tenure in office in Australian history. A Liberal, Fraser opened up Australia to non-whites. He allowed South Vietnamese boat people, fleeing their country after its collapse, to enter Australia. This effectively ended the White Australia Policy and opened up the country to people of non-European descent. 

An act for which I’m sure he’ll be forever criticized. 

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1985 – Mark Cavendish.

Bicycle racer. Cavendish is a sprinter; in a multiple day event like the Tour de France, he sprints hard at end to win the stage, knowing he has no chance to be the overall winner. Cavendish has 34 stage wins in the Tour de France, the most of any racer in its history.

Nothing compared to the professionals, but I’ve biked somewhere north of 150,000 miles since I took up the activity. In that time I’ve accumulated many stories and this is one of them. My friend Dick and I were mountain biking along the river bottoms of the Minnesota River. Dick was not having a good day. He had failed to navigate some muck and gotten his biking shoes full of mud, and he had ridden into a patch of burning nettle that rubbed against his bare legs. During our ride he was working on perfecting the art of whining. I was in the lead, ahead of him by fifty feet. I crested a hill before descending slightly downhill into a sharp right-hand turn. A forty-five degree slope dropped off to my left, covered with brush and small trees. In front of me, right in the middle of the trail, a stump, six-inch in diameter, protruded from the ground. I avoided it and shouted back to Dick to be aware. He did not hear me. The next sound I heard was something along the lines of “aagghh!” I had already rounded the bend so when I stopped I couldn’t see anything. I went back, expecting to see him lying in the trail. What I saw instead was his bike, a few feet down the slope, hanging upside down in a tree. I suppose the proper response would have been concern over my friend’s welfare. My impulse to laugh was most definitely inappropriate. Thankfully, Dick was okay. Grabbing onto branches and exposed roots, he was pulling himself up the incline. No serious injuries, just some scratches on his legs. The visual was just too wonderful, a bicycle hanging upside down in a tree! Any attempts on my part to be a nice guy were obliterated as an avalanche of laughter washed over me. The kind of laughter where you think you have it under control, then a whole new wave bursts out. Dick found the episode less amusing.

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ABOUT GARY JENNEKE

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 gary@newswhistle.com.

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CREDITS

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

Sources:

OnThisDay.com

Wikipedia.org

CivilWarOnTheWesternBorder.org

SmithsonianMagazine.com

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

* Lead-In Image (To ere is human…) – NewsWhistle 😉

* Alexander Pope (video) – BBC FOUR/ YouTube.com

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

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