John’s Believe It Or Not… April 15th

John Fioravanti standing at the front of his classroom.

It’s Holy Saturday in the Christian World! Did you know…

* 1853 – HBC surgeon John Rae starts a search for Sir John Franklin; will find the first evidence of the disaster. (Hudson’s Bay Company surgeon John Rae sets out from Fort Confidence on an extensive search for Sir John Franklin’ lost expedition; he will survey over 1100 km of coastline, including the final undiscovered parts of the North West Passage, and find the first evidence of the disaster met by the expedition, including the fact that some of the survivors had resorted to cannibalism. Franklin’s widow Lady Jane was outraged and pamphleteers like Charles Dickens raged at Rae for daring to suggest British sailors were capable of such outrages.)

A few skeletons of Franklin's doomed expedition are found on King William's Island in the 19th century.
A few skeletons of Franklin’s doomed expedition are found on King William’s Island in the 19th century.

* 1947 Jackie Robinson breaks the color barrier. (On this day in 1947, Jackie Robinson, age 28, becomes the first African-American player in Major League Baseball when he steps onto Ebbets Field in Brooklyn to compete for the Brooklyn Dodgers. Robinson broke the color barrier in a sport that had been segregated for more than 50 years. Exactly 50 years later, on April 15, 1997, Robinson’s groundbreaking career was honored and his uniform number, 42, was retired from Major League Baseball by Commissioner Bud Selig in a ceremony attended by over 50,000 fans at New York City’s Shea Stadium. Robinson’s was the first-ever number retired by all teams in the league. Despite his talent and success as a player, Robinson faced tremendous racial discrimination throughout his career, from baseball fans and some fellow players. Additionally, Jim Crow laws prevented Robinson from using the same hotels and restaurants as his teammates while playing in the South. After retiring from baseball in 1957, Robinson became a businessman and civil rights activist. He died October 24, 1972, at age 53, in Stamford, Connecticut.)

1947 Jackie Robinson breaks color barrier

* 1959 Castro visits the United States. (Four months after leading a successful revolution in Cuba, Fidel Castro visits the United States. The visit was marked by tensions between Castro and the American government. The trip got off to an inauspicious start when it became clear that President Dwight D. Eisenhower had no intention of meeting with Castro. Instead, Eisenhower went to the golf course to avoid any chance meeting with Castro. Castro gave a talk to the Council on Foreign Affairs, a New York-based group of private citizens and former government officials interested in U.S. international relations. Castro was confrontational during the session, indicating that Cuba would not beg the United States for economic assistance. Angered by some of the questions from the audience, Castro abruptly left the meeting. Finally, before departing for Cuba, Castro met with Vice President Richard Nixon. Privately, Nixon hoped that his talk would push Castro “in the right direction,” and away from any radical policies, but he came away from his discussion full of doubt about the possibility of reorienting Castro’s thinking. Nixon concluded that Castro was “either incredibly naive about communism or under communist discipline-my guess is the former.”)

U.S. Vice President Richard Nixon and Cuba's then-Prime Minister Fidel Castro meet.

* 2013 Three people killed, hundreds injured in Boston Marathon bombing. (On this day in 2013, two bombs go off near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, killing three spectators and wounding more than 260 other people in attendance. Four days later, after an intense manhunt that shut down the Boston area, police captured one of the bombing suspects, 19-year-old Dzhohkar Tsarnaev; his older brother and fellow suspect, 26-year-old Tamerlan Tsarnaev, died following a shootout with law enforcement earlier that same day. The 117th Boston Marathon began in the morning from Hopkinton, Massachusetts, with some 23,000 participants. At around 2:49 that afternoon, with more than 5,700 runners still in the race, two pressure cooker bombs hidden in backpacks exploded within seconds of each other near the finish line along Boylston Street. Three people died: a 23-year-old woman, a 29-year-old woman, and an 8-year-old boy. Among the scores of others who were injured, more than a dozen people required amputations.

Runners continue to run towards the finish line of the Boston Marathon

* 1912 Molly Brown avoids sinking with the Titanic. (A 20th-century version of the strong and resourceful women of the Wild West, Molly Brown wins lasting fame by surviving the sinking of the Titanic. Molly Brown was an unlikely candidate for fame and fortune. Born Margaret Tobin in 1867 in Hannibal, Missouri, she was the daughter of an impoverished ditch-digger. When she was a teenager, she went west and joined her brother, who was working in the booming silver mining town of Leadville, Colorado. She caught the eye of James J. Brown, the manager of a local silver mine, and the couple married in 1886. Not long after the marriage, James J. Brown discovered a fabulously profitable deposit of gold. Almost overnight, the Browns became enormously rich. The couple moved to Denver, bought a beautiful mansion, and tried unsuccessfully to become a part of the exclusive high society of the city. A flamboyant woman with a forceful personality, Molly appears to have been too much for Denver’s bluebloods to handle. Apparently, she was also more than her husband could handle, and the couple soon separated. Brown’s rise to national fame began on this night in 1912, while she was aboard the Titanic, returning from a European trip. After the ship hit an iceberg and began to sink, Brown was tossed into a lifeboat. She took command of the little boat and helped rescue a drowning sailor and other victims. To keep spirits up, she regaled the anxious survivors with stories of her life in the Old West. When newspapers later learned of Brown’s courageous actions, they promptly dubbed her “the unsinkable Mrs. Brown” and she became an international heroine. Eventually, Brown’s money ran out and she faded from the public view, dying in modest circumstances in New York City in 1932. However, the Broadway musical The Unsinkable Molly Brown revived her fame for a new generation in 1960.)

Arthur Rostron, captain of Carpathia, receives a trophy from Titanic survivor Molly Brown

Look who was born on this date!

Portrait of da Vinci* Leonardo da Vinci in 1452. (Italian Painter, Scientist & Visionary: Renaissance polymath: painter, sculptor, architect, musician, mathematician, engineer, inventor, anatomist, geologist, cartographer, botanist, and writer. One of the greatest painters of all time. He conceptualized flying machines, a tank, concentrated solar power, an adding machine, the double hull, and a theory of plate tectonics.)


head shot of Khruschev* Nikita Khrushchev in 1894. (Russian Soviet First Secretary:  First Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union from Joseph Stalin’s death in 1953 to 1964. Khrushchev was responsible for the de-Stalinization of the Soviet Union, supporting the early Soviet space program and for several relatively liberal reforms in areas of domestic policy. These were often ineffective, especially in agriculture. Khrushchev ordered major cuts in conventional forces, hoping to rely on missiles and nuclear weapons to defend the Soviet Union. He also led the USSR during the Cuban missile crisis which these policies helped cause. Khrushchev’s party colleagues removed him from power in 1964, replacing him with Leonid Brezhnev.)

Head shot of Montgomery* Elizabeth Montgomery in 1933. (American Actress:  Film and TV actress with several Emmy nominations to her credit, but best remembered for playing the witch with the twitchy nose, Samantha, in Bewitched.)


Author: John Fioravanti

I'm a retired History teacher (35 years), husband, father of three, grandfather of three. My wife, Anne, and I became business partners in December, 2013, and launched our own publishing company, Fiora Books (, to publish my books. We have been married since 1973 and hope our joint business venture will be as successful as our marriage.

12 thoughts on “John’s Believe It Or Not… April 15th”

  1. Hey John,

    I must say, I am enjoying this series of historical snippets and believe it or nots.

    One smiles at Old Chucky’s excitable Victorian rhetoric when despite the blight of Blighty’s great expectation, it was really more about loves labour lost. Forever the scrooge with his compliments and master of the twisted comment, tricky Dicky is remains a mystery in the guise of Edwin Brood.

    One has to admire Jackie Robinson, for his fortitude and courage as much his skill and achievements on the field of play. An monumental moment in American history. The removal of his number, 42 from all Leagues, I find quite moving.

    I must get a copy of the Molly Brown musical. I have a certain penchant for them. The film, Titanic, I enjoyed also, and with your post in mind I will reflect on her character a little more. As Teagan suggests, the look on her face is priceless….a lady who din’t suffer fools gladly.

    Another fascinating list of characters you have provided. I am better acquainted with the life and work of the illumined Leonardo than I am Khrushchev, recalling only a little of his history from my schooldays, but I remember sharing television time with Sammi the twitchy witch and her hang-dog husband. Whereas he always appeared so troubled, most I imagine, including me would relish having a benign witch as a friend. Such fun!

    Thank you John. Hoping Easter has been kind with her blessings.

    Take care.

    Namaste 🙂


    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m very pleased you’re enjoying this series of historical flashbacks, Dewin. One of the reasons I loved teaching the 20th Century Canadian History course was that since I was born in 1951, I lived through the second half of that course and could bring those shared memories to the table. Bewitched was one of my favourite TV shows – I must confess that I fell hopelessly in love with “Sam”. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I remember Castro coming to the US. He was pretty flamboyant and stories of his entourage were the stuff of scandal. A bunch of my liberal friends wanted to join his revolution which I found their desire to be laughable since it was already finished. I remember Castor wore two watches on one arm so he didn’t have to turn his hand to see the time.Something about not wanting to appear rude when he was bored. Good post, John.

    Liked by 1 person

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