John’s Believe It Or Not… April 20th

John Fioravanti standing at the front of his classroom.

It’s Therapeutic Thursday! Did you know…

* 1534 – Jacques Cartier departs St-Malo on his first voyage to Canada. (Cartier sets sail on a voyage with to Canada in two ships, with 61 men. He was commissioned by François I to find a passage to Asia and ‘lands where there is a great quantity of gold’; makes crossing to Newfoundland in just 20 days; explores Strait of Belle Isle, which he hoped was the beginning of a river leading to China; says of the coast, ‘I believe that this was the land God gave to Cain’; will chart the coasts of Newfoundland, Les Îles de la Madeleine, Prince Edward Island, the Baie de Chaleur and the Gaspé peninsula, where he will trade with the Mi’kmaq; returns September 5, with Iroquois youths Domagaya and Taignoagny; after a harrowing voyage to St-Malo, France.)

Portrait of Cartier

* 1980 Castro announces Mariel Boatlift. (On April 20, 1980, the Castro regime announces that all Cubans wishing to emigrate to the U.S. are free to board boats at the port of Mariel west of Havana, launching the Mariel Boatlift. The first of 125,000 Cuban refugees from Mariel reached Florida the next day. The boatlift was precipitated by housing and job shortages caused by the ailing Cuban economy, leading to simmering internal tensions on the island. In all, 125,000 Cubans fled to U.S. shores in about 1,700 boats, creating large waves of people that overwhelmed the U.S. Coast guard. Cuban guards had packed boat after boat, without considering safety, making some of the overcrowded boats barely seaworthy. Twenty-seven migrants died, including 14 on an overloaded boat that capsized on May 17. The boatlift also began to have negative political implications for U.S.President Jimmy Carter.When it was discovered that a number of the exiles had been released from Cuban jails and mental health facilities, many were placed in refugee camps while others were held in federal prisons to undergo deportation hearings. Of the 125,000 “Marielitos,” as the refugees came to be known, who landed in Florida, more than 1,700 were jailed and another 587 were detained until they could find sponsors.)

Photo of an overloaded boat of Cuban refugees.

* 2008 Danica Patrick becomes the first woman to win Indy race. (On April 20, 2008, 26-year-old Danica Patrick wins the Indy Japan 300 at Twin Ring Montegi in Montegi, Japan, making her the first female winner in IndyCar racing history. On May 29, 2005, Patrick made her Indy 500 debut, becoming just the fourth female driver ever to compete in the celebrated 500-mile race, which was first held in 1911 and today is considered one of auto racing’s premier events. (Driver Janet Guthrie first broke the gender barrier at the Indy 500 in 1977.) During Patrick’s inaugural Indy 500, she led the race for 19 laps, marking the first time a woman ever led a lap in the competition. In the end, the diminutive driver, who stands 5’2″ and tips the scales at 100 pounds, finished the race in fourth place. She later earned Rookie of the Year honors for the Indy Racing League’s 2005 season and finished 12th in the overall standings. During the 2006 season, Patrick finished in ninth place in the overall IndyCar standings but didn’t win any major races. In 2007, she moved to the Andretti Green Racing team and finished the season seventh in the standings. On April 20, 2008, Patrick won the Indy Japan 300–her 50th IndyCar Series race–at Twin Ring Motegi, a 1.5-mile oval track, making her the first female winner of a major U.S.-sanctioned open-wheel race. She finished the 200-lap race 5.8594 seconds ahead of Helio Castroneves, then a two-time Indy 500 champ. At the 2009 Indy 500, Patrick came in third behind winner Castroneves and second-place finisher Dan Wheldon. Off the track, the photogenic Patrick has been a media and fan favorite and has found success with a number of commercial endorsements. In 2005 she appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated, and in 2008 she was featured in the magazine’s famous swimsuit issue.)

Photo of Danica Patrick after the race.

* A massacre at Columbine High School. (Two teenage gunmen kill 13 people in a shooting spree at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado. At about11:20 a.m., Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris, dressed in long trench coats, began shooting students outside the school before moving inside to continue their rampage. By the time SWAT team officers finally entered the school at about 3:00 p.m., Klebold and Harris had killed 12 fellow students and a teacher, and had wounded another 23 people. Then, around noon, they turned their guns on themselves and committed suicide. Columbine High School reopened in the fall of 1999, but the massacre left behind an unmistakable scar on the Littleton community. Mark Manes, the young man who sold a gun to Harris and bought him 100 rounds of ammunition the day before the murders, was sentenced to six years in prison. Carla Hochhalter, the mother of a student who was paralyzed in the attack, killed herself at a gun shop. Several other parents filed suit against the school and the police. Even Dylan Klebold’s parents filed notice of their intent to sue, claiming that police should have stopped Harris earlier. A senior at Columbine was arrested after he threatened to “finish the job.” And when a carpenter from Chicago erected 15 crosses in a local park on behalf of everyone who died on April 20, parents of the victims tore down the two in memory of Klebold and Harris.

photo of the shooters

* 1689 Siege of Londonderry begins. (James II, the former British king, begins a siege of Londonderry, a Protestant stronghold in Northern Ireland. In 1688, James II, a Catholic, was deposed by his Protestant daughter, Mary, and her husband, William of Orange, in a bloodless coup known as the Glorious Revolution. James fled to France and in 1689 landed in Ireland, hoping to incite his Catholic supporters there and regain the British throne. Aided by French forces, James captured Dublin in late March and in April marched on Londonderry, the northern town where Irish supporters of Britain had fled. On April 20, 1689, James, having encircled Londonderry, began a bombardment of the fortified city, causing devastating fires and significant loss of life. However, despite this and other assaults, the city refused to surrender, and its poorly supplied defenders managed to repulse repeated attacks from James’ soldiers. In the face of famine conditions, George Walker, the joint governor of the town and an Anglican clergyman, gave inspired public sermons that roused the people to a fierce resistance. Finally, on August 1, after 105 days of siege, British forces arrived to relieve the defiant Protestant city, and James retreated. Eleven months later, at the Battle of Boyne in eastern Ireland, James suffered a final defeat against the forces of William and Mary. George Walker, the defender of Londonderry, was killed during the battle.)

Painting of the Siege of Derry

Look who was born on this date!

head shot of Hitler* Adolf Hitler in 1889. (Dictator of Nazi Germany: Adolf Hitler’s policies led to World War II in Europe and the Holocaust. Hitler served in the German army in World War I and was awarded the Iron Cross for bravery twice. After the war he became the leader of the National Socialist German Workers (Nazi) Party. As leader he attacked the Treaty of Versailles, promoted Pan-Germanism, anti-Semitism and anti-communism. His charismatic oratory backed by Nazi propaganda found a receptive audience in Germany during the Great Depression. Appointed chancellor in 1933, Hitler quickly consolidated power. Appointing himself Führer in 1934 he soon turned Germany into a totalitarian one party dictatorship.)

Head shot of Takei* George Takei in 1937. (George Hosato Takei is an American actor, director, author, and activist of Japanese descent. Takei is best known for his role as Hikaru Sulu, helmsman of the USS Enterprise in the television series Star Trek. He also portrayed the character in six Star Trek feature films and one episode of Star Trek: Voyager.Takei’s involvement in social media has brought him fresh attention. As of February 2017, his Facebook page has over 10 million likes since he joined in 2011, and he frequently shares photos with original humorous commentary. Takei is a proponent of LGBT rights and is active in state and local politics. He has won several awards and accolades in his work on human rights and Japan–United States relations, including his work with the Japanese American National Museum.)

Head Shot of Electra* Carmen Electra in 1972. (American Actress: Gained fame for her appearances in Playboy magazine, on the MTV game show “Singled Out”, on the TV series “Baywatch”, and dancing with the Pussycat Dolls, and has since had roles in the parody films “Scary Movie”, “Date Movie”, “Epic Movie”, “Meet the Spartans”, and “Disaster Movie”.)


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.

9 thoughts on “John’s Believe It Or Not… April 20th”

  1. Great post, John. Although we have a lot of violent crime in South Africa, School shootings has never featured – it is quite difficult for regular people to get a gun here. The information about the Cuban refugees is very sad, particularly, in light of the current refugee crisis the world is facing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Glad to hear you have stricter gun control in South Africa, Robbie. Yes, the refugee crisis is not going to go away until citizens around the globe decide that enough is enough – and actually do something about it. Thanks for sharing your thoughts today!

      Liked by 1 person

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