Today in History
Today is Monday, March 18, the 77th day of 2019. There are 288 days left in the year.
Today’s Highlight in History:
On March 18, 1965, the first spacewalk took place as Soviet cosmonaut Alexei Leonov went outside his Voskhod 2 capsule, secured by a tether.
On this date:
In 1766, Britain repealed the Stamp Act of 1765.
In 1925, the Tri-State Tornado struck southeastern Missouri, southern Illinois and southwestern Indiana, resulting in some 700 deaths.
In 1937, in America’s worst school disaster, nearly 300 people, most of them children, were killed in a natural gas explosion at the New London Consolidated School in Rusk County, Texas. See more below.
In 1938, Mexican President Lazaro Cardenas nationalized his country’s petroleum reserves and took control of foreign-owned oil facilities.
In 1940, Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini met at the Brenner Pass, where the Italian dictator agreed to join Germany’s war against France and Britain.
In 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed an executive order authorizing the War Relocation Authority, which was put in charge of interning Japanese-Americans, with Milton S. Eisenhower (the younger brother of Dwight D. Eisenhower) as its director.
In 1959, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the Hawaii statehood bill. (Hawaii became a state on Aug. 21, 1959.)
In 1963, the U.S. Supreme Court, in Gideon v. Wainwright, ruled unanimously that state courts were required to provide legal counsel to criminal defendants who could not afford to hire an attorney on their own.
In 1980, Frank Gotti, the 12-year-old youngest son of mobster John Gotti, was struck and killed by a car driven by John Favara, a neighbor in Queens, New York. (The following July, Favara vanished, the apparent victim of a gang hit.)
In 2002, Brittanie Cecil died two days short of her 14th birthday after being hit in the head by a puck at a game between the host Columbus Blue Jackets and Calgary Flames; it was apparently the first such fan fatality in NHL history.
In 2005, Doctors in Florida, acting on orders of a state judge, removed Terri Schiavo’s feeding tube. (Despite the efforts of congressional Republicans to intervene and repeated court appeals by Schiavo’s parents, the brain-damaged woman died on March 31, 2005, at age 41.)
In 2017, Chuck Berry, rock ‘n’ roll’s founding guitar hero and storyteller who defined the music’s joy and rebellion in such classics as “Johnny B. Goode,” ”Sweet Little Sixteen” and “Roll Over Beethoven,” died at his home west of St. Louis at age 90.
Ten years ago: Under intense pressure from the Obama administration and Congress, the head of bailed-out insurance giant AIG, Edward Liddy, told Congress that some of the firm’s executives had begun returning all or part of bonuses totaling $165 million. Tony-winning actress Natasha Richardson, 45, died at a New York hospital two days after suffering a head injury while skiing in Canada.
Five years ago: With a sweep of his pen, President Vladimir Putin added Crimea to the map of Russia, provoking denunciations from the Western leaders who called Putin a threat to the world. Venture capitalist Bruce Rauner won the GOP primary in his bid for Illinois governor (he went on to defeat the Democratic incumbent, Pat Quinn). A KOMO-TV news helicopter crashed and burst into flames near Seattle’s Space Needle, killing both people on board.
One year ago: A self-driving Uber SUV struck and killed a pedestrian in suburban Phoenix in the first death involving a fully autonomous test vehicle; Uber suspended its autonomous vehicle testing program in Arizona, California, Pittsburgh and Toronto after the crash. Vladimir Putin rolled to a crushing re-election victory for six more years as Russia’s president. The fourth in a series of bombings in Austin, Texas, left two people injured; authorities said it was triggered along a street by a nearly invisible tripwire. “Black Panther” became the first film since “Avatar” in 2009 to top the weekend box office for five weeks in a row.
Today’s Birthdays: Composer John Kander is 92. Country singer Charley Pride is 85. Nobel peace laureate and former South African president F.W. de Klerk is 83. Country singer Margie Bowes is 78. Actor Kevin Dobson is 76. Actor Brad Dourif is 69. Jazz musician Bill Frisell is 68. Singer Irene Cara is 60. Alt-country musician Karen Grotberg (The Jayhawks) is 60. Movie writer-director Luc Besson is 60. Actor Geoffrey Owens is 58. Actor Thomas Ian Griffith is 57. Singer-songwriter James McMurtry is 57. TV personality Mike Rowe is 57. Singer-actress Vanessa L. Williams is 56. Olympic gold medal speedskater Bonnie Blair is 55. Country musician Scott Saunders (Sons of the Desert) is 55. Actor David Cubitt is 54. Rock musician Jerry Cantrell (Alice in Chains) is 53. Rock singer-musician Miki Berenyi is 52. Actor Michael Bergin is 50. Rapper-actress-talk show host Queen Latifah is 49. Former White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus (ryns PREE’-bus) is 47. Actor-comedian Dane Cook is 47. Country singer Philip Sweet (Little Big Town) is 45. Rock musician Stuart Zender is 45. Singers Evan and Jaron Lowenstein are 45. Actress-singer-dancer Sutton Foster is 44. Singer Devin Lima (LFO) is 42. Rock singer Adam Levine (Maroon 5) is 40. Rock musician Daren Taylor (Airborne Toxic Event) is 39. Olympic gold medal figure skater Alexei Yagudin is 39. Actor Adam Pally is 37. Actor Cornelius Smith Jr. is 37. Actor Duane Henry (TV: “NCIS”) is 34. Actress Lily Collins is 30. Actress-dancer Julia Goldani Telles is 24. Actress Ciara Bravo is 22. Actor Blake Garrett Rosenthal is 15.
Thought for Today: “It’s easy to be independent when you’ve got money. But to be independent when you haven’t got a thing — that’s the Lord’s test.” — Mahalia Jackson, American gospel singer (1911-1972).
From the Texas State Historical Association:
On March 18 students prepared for the next day’s Interscholastic Meet in Henderson. At the gymnasium, the PTA met. At 3:05 P.M. Lemmie R. Butler, instructor of manual training, turned on a sanding machine in an area which, unknown to him, was filled with a mixture of gas and air. The switch ignited the mixture and carried the flame into a nearly closed space beneath the building, 253 feet long and fifty-six feet wide. Immediately the building seemed to lift in the air and then smashed to the ground. Walls collapsed. The roof fell in and buried its victims in a mass of brick, steel, and concrete debris. The explosion was heard four miles away, and it hurled a two-ton concrete slab 200 feet away, where it crushed a car.
Fifteen minutes later, the news of the explosion had been relayed over telephone and Western Union lines. Frantic parents at the PTA meeting rushed to the school building. Community residents and roughnecks from the East Texas oilfield came with heavy-duty equipment. Within an hour Governor James Allred had sent the Texas Rangersqqv and highway patrol to aid the victims. Doctors and medical supplies came from Baylor Hospital and Scottish Rite Hospital for Crippled Children in Dallas and from Nacogdoches, Wichita Falls, and the United States Army Air Corps at Barksdale Field in Shreveport, Louisiana. They were assisted by deputy sheriffs from Overton, Henderson, and Kilgore, by the Boy Scouts, the American Legion, the American Red Cross, the Salvation Army, and volunteers from the Humble Oil Company, Gulf Pipe Line, Sinclair, and the International-Great Northern Railroad.
Workers began digging through the rubble looking for victims. Floodlights were set up, and the rescue operation continued through the night as rain fell. Within seventeen hours all victims and debris had been taken from the site. Mother Francis Hospital in Tyler canceled its elaborate dedication ceremonies to take care of the injured. The Texas Funeral Directors sent twenty-five embalmers. Of the 500 students and forty teachers in the building, approximately 298 died. Some rescuers, students, and teachers needed psychiatric attention, and only about 130 students escaped serious injury. Those who died received individual caskets, individual graves, and religious services.
Three days after the explosion, inquiries were held to determine the cause of the disaster. The state of Texas and the Bureau of Mines sent experts to the scene. Hearings were conducted. From these investigations, researchers learned that until January 18, 1937, the school had received its gas from the United Gas Company. To save gas expenses of $300 a month, plumbers, with the knowledge and approval of the school board and superintendent, had tapped a residue gas line of Parade Gasoline Company. School officials saw nothing wrong because the use of “green” or “wet” gas was a frequent money-saving practice for homes, schools, and churches in the oilfield. The researchers concluded that gas had escaped from a faulty connection and accumulated beneath the building. Green gas has no smell; no one knew it was accumulating beneath the building, although on other days there had been evidence of leaking gas. No school officials were found liable.
These findings brought a hostile reaction from many parents. More than seventy lawsuits were filed for damages. Few cases came to trial, however, and those that did were dismissed by district judge Robert T. Brown for lack of evidence. Public pressure forced the resignation of the superintendent, who had lost a son in the explosion. The most important result of the disaster was the passage of a state odorization law, which required that distinctive malodorants be mixed in all gas for commercial and industrial use so that people could be warned by the smell. The thirty surviving seniors at New London finished their year in temporary buildings while a new school was built on nearly the same site. The builders focused primarily on safety and secondarily on their desire to inspire students to a higher education. A cenotaph of Texas pink granite, designed by Donald S. Nelson, architect, and Herring Coe, sculptor, was erected in front of the new school in 1939.