John’s Believe It Or Not… April 19th

John Fioravanti standing at the front of his classroom.

It’s Wondrous Wednesday! Did you know…

* 1897 First Boston Marathon held. (On April 19, 1897, John J. McDermott of New York won the first Boston Marathon with a time of 2:55:10. The Boston Marathon was the brainchild of Boston Athletic Association member and inaugural U.S. Olympic team manager John Graham, who was inspired by the marathon at the first modern Olympic Games in Athens in 1896. With the assistance of Boston businessman Herbert H. Holton, various routes were considered, before a measured distance of 24.5 miles from the Irvington Oval in Boston to Metcalf’s Mill in Ashland was eventually selected. Fifteen runners started the race but only 10 made it to the finish line. John J. McDermott, representing the Pastime Athletic Club of New York City, took the lead from Harvard athlete Dick Grant over the hills in Newton. Although he walked several times during the final miles, McDermott still won by a comfortable six-minute, fifty-two-seconds. McDermott had won the only other marathon on U.S. soil the previous October in New York. The marathon’s distance was changed in 1908 in accordance with Olympic standards to its current length of 26 miles 385 yards.)

Runner crosses the finish line.

* 1775 The American Revolution begins. (At about 5 a.m., 700 British troops, on a mission to capture Patriot leaders and seize a Patriot arsenal, march into Lexington to find 77 armed minutemen under Captain John Parker waiting for them on the town’s common green. British Major John Pitcairn ordered the outnumbered Patriots to disperse, and after a moment’s hesitation, the Americans began to drift off the green. Suddenly, the “shot heard around the world” was fired from an undetermined gun, and a cloud of musket smoke soon covered the green. When the brief Battle of Lexington ended, eight Americans lay dead or dying and 10 others were wounded. Only one British soldier was injured, but the American Revolution had begun. In the spring of 1775, General Thomas Gage, the British governor of Massachusetts, received instructions from England to seize all stores of weapons and gunpowder accessible to the American insurgents. On April 18, he ordered British troops to march against the Patriot arsenal at Concord and capture Patriot leaders Samuel Adams and John Hancock, known to be hiding at Lexington. When the British troops reached Concord at about 7 a.m., they found themselves encircled by hundreds of armed Patriots. They managed to destroy the military supplies the Americans had collected but were soon advanced against by a gang of minutemen, who inflicted numerous casualties. Lieutenant Colonel Frances Smith, the overall commander of the British force, ordered his men to return to Boston without directly engaging the Americans. As the British retraced their 16-mile journey, their lines were constantly beset by Patriot marksmen firing at them Indian-style from behind trees, rocks, and stone walls. At Lexington, Captain Parker’s militia had its revenge, killing several British soldiers as the Red Coats hastily marched through his town. By the time the British finally reached the safety of Boston, nearly 300 British soldiers had been killed, wounded, or were missing in action. The Patriots suffered fewer than 100 casualties. The battles of Lexington and Concord were the first battles of the American Revolution, a conflict that would escalate from a colonial uprising into a world war that, seven years later, would give birth to the independent United States of America.)

Painting of the battle at Lexington
The American Revolution begins as fighting breaks out at Lexington, Massachusetts.

* 1902 Earthquake rocks Guatemala. (The last and most powerful in a series of earthquakes rocks Western Guatemala on this day in 1902. More than 2,000 people were killed and 50,000 left homeless by the destruction. The quakes struck the Quezaltenago area in southwestern Guatemala beginning the previous evening. In the midst of flooding caused by a thunderstorm, a 7.5-magnitude quake centered near the Santa Maria volcano caused panic in the nearby towns, as houses shook violently on the dark, stormy night. Fleeing to the streets, though, was perilous because of flooding and mudslides. In the early morning hours of April 19, the biggest tremor, with a magnitude of 8.2, struck. It was felt by people as far north as Mexico and as far south as Belize. Bridges and roads were destroyed by the seismic shaking, seriously impeding rescue efforts. Guatemala was in the middle of an economic depression at the time and the quakes were a particular hardship for the thousands whose homes were made uninhabitable.)

Map showing location of Guatemala

* 1943 Warsaw Ghetto Uprising begins. (In Warsaw, Poland, Nazi forces attempting to clear out the city’s Jewish ghetto are met by gunfire from Jewish resistance fighters, and the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising begins. Shortly after the German occupation of Poland began, the Nazis forced the city’s Jewish citizens into a “ghetto” surrounded by barbwire and armed SS guards. The Warsaw ghetto occupied an area of less than two square miles but soon held almost 500,000 Jews in deplorable conditions. Disease and starvation killed thousands every month, and beginning in July 1942, 6,000 Jews per day were transferred to the Treblinka concentration camp. Although the Nazis assured the remaining Jews that their relatives and friends were being sent to work camps, word soon reached the ghetto that deportation to the camp meant extermination. An underground resistance group was established in the ghetto–the Jewish Combat Organization (ZOB)–and limited arms were acquired at great cost. On January 18, 1943, when the Nazis entered the ghetto to prepare a group for transfer, a ZOB unit ambushed them. Fighting lasted for several days, and a number of Germans soldiers were killed before they withdrew. On April 19, Nazi leader Heinrich Himmler announced that the ghetto was to be emptied of its residents in honor of Hitler’s birthday the following day, and more than 1,000 S.S. soldiers entered the confines with tanks and heavy artillery. Although many of the ghetto’s remaining 60,000 Jewish dwellers attempted to hide in secret bunkers, more than 1,000 ZOB members met the Germans with gunfire and homemade bombs. Suffering moderate casualties, the Germans initially withdrew but soon returned, and on April 24 launched an all-out attack against the Warsaw Jews. Thousands were slaughtered as the Germans systematically progressed down the ghettos, blowing up the buildings one by one. The ZOB took to the sewers to continue the fight, but on May 8 their command bunker fell to the Germans and their resistant leaders committed suicide. By May 16, the ghetto was firmly under Nazi control, and mass deportation of the last Warsaw Jews to Treblinka began. During the uprising, some 300 German soldiers were killed, and thousands of Warsaw Jews were massacred. Virtually all those who survived the Uprising to reach Treblinka were dead by the end of the war.)

SS troops enter Warsaw Ghetto on the eve of Passover in order to liquidate it.
“On the eve of Passover, April 19, 1943, SS and police units entered the Warsaw ghetto, intending to liquidate it

* 1967 Air Force pilot cited for bravery. (Over North Vietnam, Air Force Maj. Leo K. Thorsness, from the 357th Tactical Fighter Squadron, and his electronic warfare officer, Capt. Harold E. Johnson, destroy two enemy surface-to-air missile sites and then shoot down a MiG-17 before escorting search-and-rescue helicopters to a downed aircrew. Although his F-105 fighter-bomber was very low on fuel, Major Thorsness attacked four more MiG-17s in an effort to draw the enemy aircraft away from the downed aircrew. Awarded the Medal of Honor for his courageous action this day, Major Thorsness did not receive his medal until 1973–on April 30, 1967, he was shot down over North Vietnam and spent the next six years as a prisoner of war.)

Photo of Thorsness with his medal of honor

Look who was born on this date!

Head shot of Vargas* Getulio Vargas in 1883. (President and Dictator of Brazil: Served as the President of Brazil, first as the dictator, from 1930 to 1945, and then in a democratically elected term from 1951 until 1954. He led Brazil for 18 years, the most of any President, and second in Brazilian history only to Emperor Pedro II among heads of government. He favored nationalism, industrialization, centralization, social welfare, and populism. He was both a proponent of workers’ rights and a staunch anti-communist.)

Head shot of Sharapova* Maria Sharapova in 1987. (Russian Tennis Player:  Ranked World No. 5 by the Women’s Tennis Association and won twenty-nine WTA singles titles along with four Grand Slam singles titles.)

 

 

 

Head shot of Estrada* Joseph Estrada in 1937. (13th President of the Philippines from 1998 to 2001. He initially gained popularity as a film actor, which he used to make gains in politics. He was eventually ousted as President, however, after allegations of corruption spawned an impeachment trial.)

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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 (http://fiorabooks.com), to publish my books. We have been married since 1973 and hope our joint business venture will be as successful as our marriage.

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