This was a week of mayhem. A shipwreck killed an entire crew. Nazi officials targeted Gypsies for extermination. A legally insane man began planting bombs around a city. A politician created a state of fear and paranoia unlike any other seen in American history. Read below to find out how and why these events happened this week in history.
Wreck of the ‘Edmund Fitzgerald’
One of the Great Lakes’ worst shipwrecks happened on this day in 1975. The freighter “Edmund Fitzgerald” sunk in a horrible storm, killing all 29 crewmembers. The boat split in two and now rests at the bottom of Lake Superior. No bodies have been recovered. The exact cause of sinking remains questionable.
Kurt Vonnegut Birthday
One of America’s favorite satirists and black humorists was born on this day in 1922 in Indianapolis, Indiana. Kurt Vonnegut fought in World War II; he was captured in the Battle of the Bulge and taken to Dresden. There, he witnessed the Firebombing of Dresden, an event that would later influence his work. Vonnegut began his writing career after the war, producing semi-autobiographical pieces of gallows humor mixed with science fiction. “Slaughterhouse-Five” recollects his experiences in Dresden. Vonnegut is known other books such as “Cat’s Cradle” and “Breakfast of Champions” and for his outspoken political views. He died in 2007.
Elizabeth Cady Stanton Birthday
A mother of the American women’s suffrage movement was born on this day in 1815 in Johnstown, New York. Elizabeth Cady Stanton was an outspoken critic of the current voting rights situation in the U.S. She helped organized the Seneca Falls Convention that spurred the suffrage movement. Stanton worked for abolitionist causes as well. She died in 1902, 18 years before her legacy would be realized by the 19th Amendment.
Ronald DeFeo Jr. Murders
On the night of November 13, 1974, Ronald DeFeo Jr. alerted authorities and friends that his family had been shot. Police discovered six victims, ranging from ages 9 to 43, in the DeFeo family house. All had been shot and killed while they slept. Ronald admitted to all the murders the next day. He was convicted on six counts of second-degree murder and remains in prison. The murders served as the inspiration for the “Amityville Horror” series of books and movies.
Joseph McCarthy Birthday
The man behind America’s anti-Communist fears was born on this day in 1908. Joseph McCarthy was a Republican senator from Wisconsin who claimed he knew of large numbers of Communists in the State Department, executive branch, U.S. Army and America’s entertainment industries during the 1950s. McCarthy is famous for holding hearings about suspected communists’ allegiances and sympathies. His practices spurred a feeling of paranoia that captured the country; historians have dubbed this activity and similar methods “McCarthyism.” McCarthy was later censured for his actions when no such Communists were found. He died in 1957.
Gypsy Condemnation Order
The Holocaust’s fiery grasp extended to another minority group on this day in 1943. High-ranking Nazi Heinrich Himmler issued the Gypsy Condemnation Order, forcing Gypsies into concentration camps. Local police were given authority to determine who was a Gypsy or part-Gypsy. Around half a million Gypsies were killed in the Holocaust.
New York’s Mad Bomber
A 16-year streak of bombings and terror began on this day in 1940 when George Metesky planted his first bomb at a New York City power plant. The “Mad Bomber” planted a total of 33 pipe bombs around New York, 22 of which exploded and injured 15 people. Metesky hid his bombs in phone booths, movie theaters and other public spaces, famously cutting into seat cushions of theaters and planting bombs there. His attacks were in response to a workplace injury from years before. Metesky was caught using early profiling techniques; he was declared legally insane and died in prison.