Presidential intrigue characterizes this week in history. In 1881 President Garfield was assassinated in a train station, and in 1893 Grover Cleveland hid a life-threatening surgery. On July 4—the country’s birthday—two of the Founding Fathers, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, died hours apart from each other. Plane crashes, famous battles and the birth of the modern bathing suit—all this week in history.
“Gone with the Wind” Published
Margaret Mitchell’s novel of romance, war, and the American South was published on this day in 1936. It won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award for best novel. “Gone with the Wind” was a bestseller in its first year, selling around one million copies in six months. It has been translated into more than 40 languages and adapted into one of the most enduring films of all time.
Grover Cleveland’s Secret Surgery
In the summer of 1893, the U.S. was entering an economic depression and the country did not need any more bad news. President Grover Cleveland was beginning his second term and was well aware of this. He was also well aware of a cancerous tumor in his mouth. Cleveland announced he was going on a four-day fishing trip, and aboard the yacht Oneida, a team of six surgeons removed the tumor, some teeth, and a portion of Cleveland’s jaw. Soon, the public began to question the president’s absence from his office for those four days. E.J. Edwards, a reporter for the “Philadelphia Press,” published a story about what happened on the Oneida, but the president denied his claims. Information about the surgery did not become public knowledge until after Cleveland’s death; William Williams Keen published a story about it in the “Saturday Evening Post” in 1917, 24 years after the event.
Battle of Gettysburg
The bloodiest battle of the Civil War, with some 50,000 casualties, began on this day 150 years ago. The Battle of Gettysburg turned the tide of the war solidly against the Confederacy. General Robert E. Lee had just come off a victory at Chancellorsville, Va., and was marching north. Union forces met Lee at Gettysburg, and Lee’s forces surged, hoping for a decisive battle. The battle raged from July 1-3, with the death blow coming with failure of Pickett’s Charge, an infantry attack of 12,500 Confederate troops against the Union line. The South never recovered from this devastating loss of numbers. Lee retreated to Virginia, signaling the Union victory. This battle is one of the most well known in American history.
Amelia Earhart Goes Missing
Since this day in 1937, Amelia Earhart has been missing. Earhart earned fame by being the 16th woman to receive a pilot’s license and for being the first woman to fly across the Atlantic; she was also the first person to fly over both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. She and her navigator, Fred Noonan, went missing while flying around the world on the equator, a route that would have would been the longest ever flown. Earhart and Noonan’s bodies have never been found, although various items found around the Pacific may serve as evidence of where their plane went down. Earhart was declared dead in 1939.
President Garfield Assassinated
President James A. Garfield was inaugurated on March 4, 1881. Less than 5 months later, as he was walking through a railway station in Washington, D.C., he was shot twice in the abdomen and arm. On this day in 1881, assassin Charles Guiteau, a failed lawyer and preacher, approached Garfield and fired at point blank range. Garfield never recovered from his wounds and died Sept. 19. Guiteau was hanged for the murder on June 30, 1882. Garfield’s presidency was the second shortest in history, at 199 days long; William Henry Harrison’s was shorter—31 days.
Destruction of Iran Air Flight 655
One of the deadliest events in aviation history, on this date in 1988, a U.S. warship fired two missiles at Iran Air Flight 655, destroying the plane and killing all 290 people aboard. U.S. Navy ship Vincennes was patrolling the Straights of Hormuz making sure Iranian ships were not dropping mines. The Vincennes had the most advanced radar equipment of the time. A Defense Department investigation ruled the firing of missiles a human failure, rather than mechanical malfunction. This event negatively affected U.S.-Iran relations for years to come.
Deaths of Thomas Jefferson and John Adams
The second and third presidents of the U.S. died on this day in 1826, 50 years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Though bitterly disagreeing on political issues, the two respected each other and forged a friendship in their later years. Their correspondence in their last years speaks to the enduring legacy of democracy and their mutual regard. With the last words “Today is the Fourth?” Thomas Jefferson died at 82, five hours before Adams. Adams, at 90, died saying, “Thomas Jefferson still survives.”
Tuskegee University Established
What began in a one-room shanty in Tuskegee, Ala., became one of the most well-known historically black universities in the country. Booker T. Washington, famed black education and civil rights leader, established the school on July 4, 1881. The school grew through the passion of its students, who helped to build classrooms, dormitories, and other buildings on campus. Tuskegee University is the only historically black university to be named a National Historic Landmark. The university has a wide variety of degrees, with special focus on engineering and the sciences.
This iconic bathing suit made a splash at a Paris fashion show in 1946. Named for Bikini Atoll, the site of the atomic bomb testing, this suit was created by Louis Reard. However, at the same time, another Frenchman, Jacques Heim, had crafted a similarly small suit, the Atome. The bikini was new, in a sense; two-piece designs appear in Roman bath murals as well as earlier Greek urns. Tighter-fitting bathing suit designs came into the public consciousness in the 1920s and ‘30s. When the bikini was introduced, it was not immediately accepted, but took until the 1960s for widespread commercial acceptance. Until then, only those in the avant-garde fashion scene or in some areas of Europe embraced the skimpy suit. The bikini remains a cultural touchstone and a point of controversy.
Formation of the Republican Party
In early 1854, anti-slavery Whig party members considered creating a new political party to better serve their interests. After encountering more disagreeable slavery legislation, these Whigs met in Ripon, Wisconsin on this day in 1854 and held the first Republican convention. Northern states quickly embraced their antislavery ideals and became a stronghold for the Republicans for many years. Abraham Lincoln was the first Republican to win the presidency, thus giving the party the nickname “Party of Lincoln.”