John’s Believe It Or Not… April 21st

John Fioravanti standing at the front of his classroom.

It’s Fabulous Friday! Did you know…

* 1918 – Red Baron shot down during a dogfight with Canadian Ace Roy Brown. (On the morning of 21 April 1918, No. 209 was on patrol when they became engaged in combat with fighters of Jagdstaffel 11, led by Manfred von Richthofen, the “Red Baron”. A newcomer to No. 209, Brown’s school friend, Lt. Wop May, had been instructed to stay clear of any fight and watch. May noticed an enemy pilot doing the same thing. That pilot was the Red Baron’s cousin, Lt. Wolfram von Richthofen, who had been given the same instructions as May. May attacked Wolfram and soon found himself in the main fight, firing at several fleeting targets until his guns jammed. May dived out of the fight, and Manfred von Richthofen gave chase down to ground level. Brown saw May in trouble and dived steeply in an attempt to rescue his friend. His attack was necessarily of fairly short duration, as he was obliged to climb steeply to avoid crashing into the ground, losing sight for the moment of both Richthofen and May. What happened next remains controversial to this day, but it seems highly probable that Richthofen turned to avoid Brown’s attack, and then, instead of climbing out of reach of ground fire and prudently heading for home, remained at low altitude and resumed his pursuit of May, who was still zig-zagging, as he had not noticed that Richthofen had been momentarily distracted. It should be noted that it would have been physically impossible for Richthofen to have done this had he already received the wound from which he died. May and Richthofen’s route now took them at low level over the heavily defended Allied front line. Franks and Bennett have suggested that Richthofen had become lost, as the wind that day was blowing the “wrong way”, towards the west, and the fight had drifted over to the Allied side. The front was also in a highly fluid state at the time, in contrast to the more common static trench lines earlier in the Great War, and landmarks can be confusing in very low-level flight. Australian Army machine gunners on the ground fired at Richthofen, who eventually crashed near the Australian trenches. His initial combat report was that the fight with Richthofen was “indecisive” – this was altered by his commanding officer to “decisive”. Modern historical consensus suggests that Australian anti-aircraft gunner Sergeant Cedric Popkin is the person most likely to have been responsible for the shot that actually downed the Baron.

Painting depicting the aerial dogfight

* 753 B.C. Rome founded. (According to tradition, on April 21, 753 B.C., Romulus and his twin brother, Remus, found Rome on the site where they were suckled by a she-wolf as orphaned infants. Actually, the Romulus and Remus myth originated sometime in the fourth century B.C., and the exact date of Rome’s founding was set by the Roman scholar Marcus Terentius Varro in the first century B.C. According to the legend, Romulus and Remus were the sons of Rhea Silvia, the daughter of King Numitor of Alba Longa. Alba Longa was a mythical city located in the Alban Hills southeast of what would become Rome. Before the birth of the twins, Numitor was deposed by his younger brother Amulius, who forced Rhea to become a vestal virgin so that she would not give birth to rival claimants to his title. However, Rhea was impregnated by the war god Mars and gave birth to Romulus and Remus. Amulius ordered the infants drowned in the Tiber, but they survived and washed ashore at the foot of the Palatine hill, where they were suckled by a she-wolf until they were found by the shepherd Faustulus. Reared by Faustulus and his wife, the twins later became leaders of a band of young shepherd warriors. After learning their true identity, they attacked Alba Longa, killed the wicked Amulius, and restored their grandfather to the throne. The twins then decided to found a town on the site where they had been saved as infants. They soon became involved in a petty quarrel, however, and Remus was slain by his brother. Romulus then became ruler of the settlement, which was named “Rome” after him. To populate his town, Romulus offered asylum to fugitives and exiles. Rome lacked women, however, so Romulus invited the neighboring Sabines to a festival and abducted their women. A war then ensued, but the Sabine women intervened to prevent the Sabine men from seizing Rome. A peace treaty was drawn up, and the communities merged under the joint rule of Romulus and the Sabine king, Titus Tatius. Tatius’ early death, perhaps perpetrated by Romulus, left the Roman as the sole king again. After a long and successful rule, Romulus died under obscure circumstances. Many Romans believed he was changed into a god and worshiped him as the deity Quirinus. After Romulus, there were six more kings of Rome, the last three believed to be Etruscans. Around 509 B.C., the Roman republic was established.)

 

753 BC: According to Legend, Romulus Founds Rome and then Kills his Brother Remus

* 1992 Executions resume in California. (Robert Alton Harris is executed in California’s gas chamber after 13 years on death row. This was California’s first execution since former Chief Justice Rose Bird and two other state supreme court justices, Joseph Grodin and Cruz Reynoso, had been rejected by California voters. From 1979 to 1986, the Bird court had reversed 64 out of the 68 death penalty cases on appeal. Supporters of capital punishment initiated a campaign against Bird, Grodin, and Reynoso, successfully ousting them from the court in 1986. Republican Governor George Deukmejian then appointed three justices in favor of the death penalty to take their places. On July 5, 1978, Harris abducted John Mayeski and Michael Baker, both 16, from a fast-food restaurant in Mira Mesa, California. After he shot both Mayeski and Baker, he then ate their hamburgers. In an amazing coincidence, the father of one of the boys pulled Harris over for a traffic violation later that same day. Attorneys for Harris sought to avoid the death penalty by arguing that the killer suffered organic brain damage as a result of fetal alcohol syndrome. The case became a focal point for death penalty abolitionists, who held rallies across the state. Amnesty International even tried to lobby on Harris’ behalf, but their efforts proved unsuccessful and Harris was executed on April 21. Since then, California has had a steady stream of executions but remains far behind Texas and Florida in the number of inmates put to death.)

Police head shots of Harris

* 1930 Prisoners left to burn in Ohio fire. (A fire at an Ohio prison kills 320 inmates, some of whom burn to death when they are not unlocked from their cells. It is one of the worst prison disasters in American history. The Ohio State Penitentiary was built in Columbus in 1834. Throughout its history, it had a poor reputation. A cholera epidemic swept through the facility in 1849, killing 121 convicts. In 1893, a prison superintendent wrote that Ten thousand pages of the history of the Ohio Penitentiary would [not] give one idea of the inward wretchedness of its 1,900 inmates. The unwritten history is known only by God himself. The prison, built to hold 1,500 people, was almost always overcrowded and notorious for its poor conditions. At the time of the 1930 fire, there were 4,300 prisoners living in the jail. Construction crews were working on an expansion and scaffolding was set up along one side of the building. On the night of April 21, a fire broke out on the scaffolding. The cell block adjacent to the scaffolding housed 800 prisoners, most of whom were already locked in for the night. The inmates begged to be let out of their cells as smoke filled the cell block. However, most reports claim that the guards not only refused to unlock the cells, they continued to lock up other prisoners. Meanwhile, the fire spread to the roof, endangering the inmates on the prison’s upper level as well. Finally, two prisoners forcibly took the keys from a guard and began their own rescue efforts. Approximately 50 inmates made it out of their cells before the heavy smoke stopped the impromptu evacuation. The roof then caved in on the upper cells. About 160 prisoners burned to death. Although some guards did work to save the lives of their charges, the seemingly willful indifference displayed by other guards led to a general riot. Firefighters initially could not get access to the fire because angry prisoners were pelting them with rocks. By the time the fire was controlled, 320 people were dead and another 130 were seriously injured. The tragedy was roundly condemned in the press as preventable. It also led to the repeal of laws on minimum sentences that had in part caused the overcrowding of the prison. The Ohio Parole Board was established in 1931 and within the next year, more than 2,300 prisoners from the Ohio Penitentiary had been released on parole.)

Photo of the burned out ruins.

* 1836 The Battle of San Jacinto. (During the Texan War for Independence, the Texas militia under Sam Houston launches a surprise attack against the forces of Mexican General Santa Anna along the San Jacinto River. The Mexicans were thoroughly routed, and hundreds were taken prisoner, including General Santa Anna himself. After gaining independence from Spain in the 1820s, Mexico welcomed foreign settlers to sparsely populated Texas, and a large group of Americans led by Stephen F. Austin settled along the Brazos River. The Americans soon outnumbered the resident Mexicans, and by the 1830s attempts by the Mexican government to regulate these semi-autonomous American communities led to rebellion. In March 1836, in the midst of armed conflict with the Mexican government, Texas declared its independence from Mexico. The Texas volunteers initially suffered defeat against the forces of Santa Anna–Sam Houston’s troops were forced into an eastward retreat, and the Alamo fell. However, in late April, Houston’s army surprised a Mexican force at San Jacinto, and Santa Anna was captured, bringing an end to Mexico’s effort to subdue Texas. In exchange for his freedom, Santa Anna recognized Texas’s independence; although the treaty was later abrogated and tensions built up along the Texas-Mexico border. The citizens of the so-called Lone Star Republic elected Sam Houston as president and endorsed the entrance of Texas into the United States. However, the likelihood of Texas joining the Union as a slave state delayed any formal action by the U.S. Congress for more than a decade. Finally, in 1845, President John Tyler orchestrated a compromise in which Texas would join the United States as a slave state. On December 29, 1845, Texas entered the United States as the 28th state, broadening the irrepressible differences in the U.S. over the issue of slavery and igniting the Mexican-American War.)

 

Painting depicting the surrender of Santa Anna
The surrender of Mexican General Santa Anna.

Look who was born on this date!

Portrait of Bronte* Charlotte Brontë in 1816. (English Novelist:  Charlotte Brontë’s novels have become classics of English literature. Her first works including her best-known novel, “Jane Eyre” were published under the pen name Currer Bell. Sister of Emily Brontë.)

 

 

head shot of Muir* John Muir in 1838. (Scottish Environmental Philosopher:  Founder of the Sierra Club, a prominent American conservation organization, his activism helped to preserve the Yosemite Valley, Sequoia National Park, and other wilderness areas.)

 

 

head shot of Queen Elizabeth II* Queen Elizabeth II in 1926. (Queen of the United Kingdom:  The constitutional monarch of 16 sovereign states and head of the Commonwealth of Nations, Queen Elizabeth is also the head of the Church of England. The eldest daughter of George VI she ascended the British throne in 1952 and in 2015 became the longest reigning British monarch ever. She is also the Queen of Canada, Australia, and several other British Commonwealth states who share her with the UK as their Head of State.)

 

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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.

7 thoughts on “John’s Believe It Or Not… April 21st”

  1. Enjoyed the Red Baron story. I used to visit the facility in Chillicothe Ohio as a sales representative for my company. (We sold items to the commissary) I can tell you it was always a relief to drive away from there. There was a 700 yard “kill zone” all around the place. So it stood out on the prairie like a haunted castle. I remember the sun catching the concertina wire on the walls which made an eerie flashing visual as you approached. A push of the button on the outer gate brought the response, “state your business.” “J-J-John Howell to see the commissary officer.””One moment.” Yeeeeekkkkkkk.

    Liked by 1 person

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