1787 – Pennsylvania became the second state to ratify the Constitution, by a vote of 46 to 23. Pennsylvania was the first large state to ratify, as well as the first state to endure a serious Anti-Federalist challenge to ratification.
1862 – The USS Cairo, an ironclad gunboat, was struck by a naval mine detonated by Confederate volunteers who were hiding near the Yazoo River in Mississippi. The ship went down in 12 minutes but although there were 250 men on board, there were no casualties.
1901 – Italian physicist and radio pioneer Guglielmo Marconi succeeded in sending the first radio transmission across the Atlantic Ocean, disproving detractors who told him that the curvature of the earth would limit transmission to 200 miles or less. The message – simply the Morse Code signal for the letter “s” – traveled more than 2,000 miles from Poldhu in Cornwall, England, to Newfoundland, Canada.
1917 – Over 600 French soldiers – returning from fighting World War I in Italy – were killed when their train derailed in Modane, France. More than 1,000 (some estimate the number to be as high as 1,200) French soldiers were trying to travel between Turin, Italy, and Lyon, France, through the Alps in southeastern France to return home in time for Christmas. However, so many coach cars were attached to a single locomotive that the engineer in charge protested and refused to leave the station. The danger was not so much that the locomotive would not be able to pull the 19 cars, but that it wouldn’t be able to stop the cars since there were no brakes on 16 of the coaches.
A French officer, anxious to get the men home for the holidays, pulled out a gun and threatened the engineer until he agreed to begin the trip. Unfortunately, the engineer’s concerns were valid: As the train came out of the Mount Cern tunnel and approached the town of Modane in France, it had to descend a steep grade. The brakes could not hold the weight of the crowded coach cars and the train went out of control down the hill. Near the bottom, the train came to a wooden bridge and shot off the rails. The coach cars piled up; as they were made mostly of wood, many caught fire immediately.
1939 – Actor Douglas Fairbanks (major star in the silent movie era: The Thief Of Bagdad, Robin Hood, The Three Musketeers, The Iron Mask, The Mark Of Zorro) died after suffering a heart attack at the age of 56.
His famous last words were, “I’ve never felt better.”
1941 – The U.S. Navy took control of the largest and most luxurious ocean liner on the seas at that time, France’s Normandie, while it is docked at New York City. Shortly thereafter, the conversion for U.S. wartime use began.
When France surrendered to the Germans in June 1940, and the puppet Vichy regime was installed, the Normandie was in dock at New York City. Immediately placed in “protective custody” by the Navy, it was clear that the U.S. government was not about to let a ship of such size and speed fall into the hands of the Germans, which it certainly would upon returning to France. When the Navy did take control of the ship, shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor, it began the conversion of the liner to a troop ship, renamed the USS Lafayette after the French general who aided the American Colonies in their original quest for independence.
The Lafayette never served its new purpose. On February 9, 1942, the ship caught fire and capsized. Sabotage was originally suspected, but the likely cause was sparks from a welder’s torch.
1941 – Adolf Hitler ordered 50 leading members of the Nazi party to a meeting in his private rooms at the Reich Chancellery in Berlin. They were present to hear Hitler declare the imminent destruction of the Jewish race. The meeting marked a turning point in the Nazi regime’s attitude towards the Jewish people. It was part of a shift from propaganda, intimidation and attacks to outright and planned extermination.
Because the meeting took place in private rooms rather than Hitler’s office, no official record of it exists. However, an entry in the diary of Joseph Goebbels confirms it.
“With respect of the Jewish Question, the Fuhrer has decided to make a clean sweep. He prophesied to the Jews that if they again brought about a world war, they would live to see their annihilation in it. That wasn’t just a catch-word. The world war is here, and the annihilation of the Jews must be the necessary consequence.”
1963 – John Fitzgerald Kennedy – A Memorial Album became the fastest-selling record of all time when 4 million copies, each selling for 99 cents, were sold in six days – between December 7-12. The memorial tribute was recorded November 22, the day President Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas.
1967 – Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner, a groundbreaking movie about an interracial romantic relationship, starring Katharine Hepburn, Spencer Tracy, Sidney Poitier and Katharine Houghton, opened in theaters.
The film – which was completed 17 days before Tracy’s death – was nominated for 10 Academy Awards, including Best Picture, and collected two Oscars, including Best Actress for Hepburn.
1975 – Sara Jane Moore pleaded guilty to the charge of attempting to assassinate President Gerald Ford on September 22, 1975. She was sentenced to life in prison, but in 2007, at the age of 77, she was released on parole.
1976 – Actor/Singer Jack Cassidy (Broadway: She Loves Me for which he won a Tony Award for Best Featured Actor in a Musical – Television: An Emmy Award for Outstanding Single Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role for the film The Andersonville Trial, plus numerous guest appearances in many television series) died when a (dropped) lit cigarette ignited a fire in his apartment while he slept. He was 49.
1980 – American oil tycoon Armand Hammer paid $5,126,000 at auction for a notebook containing writings by the legendary artist Leonardo da Vinci. The manuscript, written around 1508, was one of some 30 similar books da Vinci produced during his lifetime on a variety of subjects. It contained 72 loose pages featuring some 300 notes and detailed drawings, all relating to the common theme of water and how it moved. Experts have said that da Vinci drew on it to paint the background of his masterwork, the Mona Lisa. The text, written in brown ink and chalk, read from right to left, an example of da Vinci’s favored mirror-writing technique.
1982 – The Snowplow Game: The night before a game between the Miami Dolphins and the New England Patriots, heavy rains had soaked the Astroturf surface at New England’s Schaefer Stadium. To make matters worse, a heavy snowstorm began shortly after the game began. As a result, an emergency ground rule had been established for this game: the officials could call time-out, and allow the ground crew to use a snowplow to clear the yard markers.
The two teams remained scoreless late into the fourth quarter. With 4:45 left to go in the game and on-field conditions worsening, snowplow operator Mark Henderson – a convict on work release – was sent onto the field with his tractor. No one thought it was suspicious, assuming the plow would go straight across the 20-yard line.
Instead, the plow suddenly swerved over to the 23-yard line; the exact spot from which Smith would kick. Miami coach Don Shula protested furiously but the field goal was good and the Patriots won the game by the final score of 3–0.
1989 – Leona Helmsley, nicknamed the “Queen of Mean” by the press, received a four-year prison sentence, 750 hours of community service, and a $7.1 million tax fraud fine in New York. For many, Helmsley became the object of loathing and disgust when she quipped that “only the little people pay taxes.” Federal Judge John Walker publicly reprimanded her, saying, “Your conduct was the product of naked greed and the arrogant belief that you were above the law.”
Helmsley was sent to jail in 1992 and was released in 1994. In 2002, Helmsley, whose billionaire husband Harry died in 1997, again found herself in court after being sued by Charles Bell, a former employee who accused Leona of firing him solely because he was homosexual. A jury ordered Helmsley to pay him more than $11 million in damages.
Helmsley died in August 2007 at the age of 87. She left $12 million to her dog.
1997 – Fourteen-year-old Michael Carneal was indicted as an adult on three counts of murder and five counts of attempted murder for the shooting of his classmates at Heath High School in West Paducah, Kentucky. Eleven days earlier, Carneal had pulled out a pistol and fired 11 shots into a group of students in the school’s lobby.
Although charged as an adult, Carneal’s young age made him ineligible for the death penalty. He pleaded guilty but mentally ill, and was sentenced to life in prison with a possibility of parole in 25 years.
2000 – General Motors declared that it would begin to phase out the 103-year-old Oldsmobile, the oldest automotive brand in the U.S.. Oldsmobile had once been one of the most innovative American brands. Olds cars were the first to have decorative chrome trim, for example, and the first to have fully automatic transmissions, but a GM reorganization in the mid-1980s had drained the brand of most of its unique identity.
2000 – In Bush v Gore, The U.S. Supreme Court overturned the Florida Supreme Court, ruling 5-4 that there would be no further counting of Florida’s disputed presidential votes. The following day, Gore conceded the presidential election to Bush.
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