December 2 in History

1777 – Philadelphia housewife and nurse Lydia Darragh single-handedly saved the lives of General George Washington and his Continental Army when she overheard the British planning a surprise attack on Washington’s army in Whitemarsh, PA for the following day.

Using a cover story that she needed to buy flour from a nearby mill just outside the British line, Darragh passed the information to American Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Craig the following day.

The British marched towards Whitemarsh on the evening of December 4, 1777, and were surprised to find General Washington and the Continental Army waiting for them. After three inconclusive days of skirmishing, General Howe chose to return his troops to Philadelphia.

1804 – In Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, Napoleon Bonaparte was crowned Napoleon I, the first Frenchman to hold the title of emperor in a thousand years. Pope Pius VII handed Napoleon the crown that the 35-year-old conqueror of Europe placed on his own head.

1814 – Donatien Alphonse François de Sade (better known as the Marquis de Sade), French aristocrat, revolutionary politician, philosopher and writer, famous – or infamous – for being a proponent of extreme freedom, unrestrained by morality, religion or law, died of natural causes at the age of 74.

1823 – During his annual address to Congress, President James Monroe proclaimed a new U.S. foreign policy initiative that became known as the “Monroe Doctrine”. Primarily the work of Secretary of State John Quincy Adams, the Monroe Doctrine forbade European interference in the American hemisphere but also asserted U.S. neutrality in regard to future European conflicts.

1859 – In Charles Town, VA, militant abolitionist John Brown was executed on charges of treason, murder, and insurrection.

At Harpers Ferry on October 16, Brown’s well-trained unit was initially successful, capturing key points in the town, but Brown’s plans began to deteriorate after his raiders stopped a Baltimore-bound train and then allowed it to pass through. News of the raid spread quickly, and militia companies from Maryland and Virginia arrived the next day, killing or capturing several raiders.

On October 18, U.S. Marines commanded by Colonel Robert E. Lee and Lieutenant J.E.B. Stuart – both of whom were destined to become Confederate generals – recaptured the arsenal, taking Brown and several other raiders alive. On the day of his hanging, 16 months before the outbreak of the Civil War, Brown prophetically wrote, “The crimes of this guilty land will never be purged away but with blood.”

1927 – The first Ford Model A was unveiled on this day in New York City’s Waldorf Hotel and in 35 other cities around the U.S., Canada and Europe. The car was priced affordably: the Phaeton sold for $395.00 and the Tudor Sedan for $495.00. The lag between cars available and orders on hand had mounted to 800,000 by the spring of 1928.

1952 – Denver’s KOA-TV transmitted, for 49 stations on the NBC network, the first human birth to be seen on TV. It was a part of the program, The March Of Medicine.

1954 – The U.S. Senate voted 65 to 22 to condemn Senator Joseph R. McCarthy for conduct unbecoming of a senator. The condemnation, which was equivalent to a censure, related to McCarthy’s controversial investigation of suspected communists in the U.S. government, military, and civilian society.

1959 – The Malpasset Dam in France collapsed and the resulting flood killed more than 400 people. Some victims were buried in mud, while others were swept out to sea.

1961 – Following a year of severely strained relations between the United States and Cuba, Cuban leader Fidel Castro openly declared that he was a Marxist-Leninist. The announcement sealed the bitter Cold War animosity between the two nations.

1962 – Following a trip to Vietnam at President John F. Kennedy’s request, Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield (D-Montana) became the first U.S. official to refuse to make an optimistic public comment on the progress of the war.

Originally a supporter of South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem, Mansfield changed his opinion of the situation after his visit. He claimed that the $2 billion the U.S. had poured into Vietnam during the previous seven years had accomplished nothing.

1972 – The largest sinkhole in Alabama developed near Calera in Shelby County and has been called the “Golly Hole.” A local resident heard what sounded like trees crashing during the night. The following day, hunters in the area discovered a large sinkhole – about 325 feet long, 300 feet wide (roughly a football field length across!), and 120 feet deep. This sinkhole occurred during a drought when the water table was much lower than normal.

1975 – Ohio State University running back Archie Griffin became the first player in history to win the Heisman Trophy two years in a row.

1980 – In El Salvador, Maryknoll Sisters Ita Ford and Maura Clarke, Ursuline Sister Dorothy Kazel, and laywoman Jean Donovan were tortured, raped and murdered by five members of a military death squad of the Salvadoran military-led government.

The night before the murders, Sister Ita Ford, speaking at a rally in Nicaragua, spoke these chilling words: “Christ invites us not to fear persecution because, believe me, brothers and sisters, the one who is committed to the poor must run the same fate as the poor, and in El Salvador we know what the fate of the poor signifies: to disappear, be tortured, to be held captive – and to be found dead.”

Four years later, the soldiers were convicted and sentenced to 30 years in prison, but three were released for good behavior in 1998,

1982 – Barney B. Clark became the first recipient of an artificial heart. The 61-year-old retired dentist from Seattle underwent a 7½-hour operation at the University of Utah Medical Center in Salt Lake City. The operation was performed by a surgical team headed by Dr. William C. DeVries. Clark survived with the artificial heart for over 3 months. He died on March 23, 1983.

1982 – Marty Feldman (British comedy writer, comedian and actor, perhaps best known for his role of Igor in Young Frankenstein) died of a heart attack at the age of 48.

1986 – Desi Arnaz (musician, actor and producer best known for his role as Ricky Ricardo on I Love Lucy, starring with Lucille Ball, to whom he was married at the time) died of lung cancer at the age of 69.

1990 – Actor Robert Cummings (Saboteur, Dial M For Murder and best known for television’s The Bob Cummings Show) died of kidney failure at the age of 80.

1991 – Opening testimony took place in the highly publicized rape trial of William Kennedy Smith, a nephew of President John F. Kennedy and son of Jean Kennedy Smith, the president’s sister and a former ambassador to Ireland.

Smith, then a 30-year-old medical student at Georgetown University, was accused of sexually assaulting a 29-year-old Florida woman in the early hours of March 30, 1991, at the Kennedy family’s Palm Beach compound.

On December 11, after deliberating for 77 minutes, a six-member jury acquitted Smith on all charges. In an interesting side note, Smith’s lead defense attorney, Roy Black, later married Lisa Haller, one of the jurors, in 1995.

1993 – Columbian drug-lord Pablo Escobar was shot to death in Medellín, Columbia, ending a 15-month search effort that cost hundreds of millions of dollars. Known as “The King of Cocaine,” he was regarded as the wealthiest criminal in history, with an estimated net-worth of $30 billion by the early 1990s.

1997 – Good Will Hunting, a movie that would earn childhood friends Ben Affleck and Matt Damon a Best Screenplay Oscar and propel them to Hollywood stardom, premiered in Los Angeles.

A big box-office success, the film received nine Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture, Best Director (Gus Van Sant), Best Actor (Damon) and Best Supporting Actress (Minnie Driver) and won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar (Robin Williams) in addition to the gold statue for Best Original Screenplay.

2001 – The Enron Corporation filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, sparking one of the largest corporate scandals in U.S. history. A subsequent investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission and the U.S. Justice Department revealed that Enron had inflated its earnings by hiding debts and losses in subsidiary partnerships.

The government subsequently accused Kenneth Lay, Enron chairman and former CEO, and Jeffrey K. Skilling, who served as Enron’s CEO from February to August 2001, of conspiring to cover up their company’s financial weaknesses from investors. The investigation also brought down accounting giant Arthur Anderson, whose auditors were found guilty of deliberately destroying documents incriminating to Enron.
Over the course of the trial, the defiant Skilling – who unloaded almost $60 million worth of Enron stock shortly after his resignation but refused to admit he knew of the company’s impending collapse – emerged as the figure many identified most personally with the scandal.

In May 2006, Skilling was convicted of 19 of 35 counts, while Lay was found guilty on 10 counts of fraud and conspiracy. When Lay died from heart disease just two months later, a Houston judge vacated the counts against him.

In October, 2006, the 52-year-old Skilling was sentenced to more than 24 years in prison and fined $45 million. His prison sentence was later reduced to 14 years.

2014 – Jean Beliveau, who spent his entire 18-year hockey career with the Montreal Canadiens, died at the age of 83. He scored 507 goals, won 10 Stanley Cups as a player (and 7 more as an executive), and was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1972.

More important perhaps than anything else, words like class and gentleman were attached to Beliveau by virtually everyone who met him. Montreal owner Geoff Molson said, “Jean Beliveau was a great leader, a gentleman and arguably the greatest ambassador our game has ever known.”

2015 – Syed Rizwan Farook and his wife Tashfeen Malik perpetrated a terrorist attack at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino, CA. In the attack, they killed 14 civilians and injured 22 others. Both died in a shootout with police later that same day.

In response to the shooting, Donald Trump, then a candidate for president, called for a “total and complete” ban on Muslims entering the United States “until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on.” Trump’s statement drew widespread condemnation, from the United Nations and foreign leaders such as British Prime Minister David Cameron and French Prime Minister Manuel Valls.

Trump’s suggestion was also met with condemnation from both Democratic and Republican candidates for the presidency. Trump, in an interview on Good Morning America, cited the internment of Japanese Americans, German Americans, and Italian Americans during World War II as precedent for his proposal.

Compiled by Ray Lemire ©2017 All Rights Reserved.

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