John’s Believe It Or Not… June 9th

In 1973 – Ron Turcotte rides Secretariat to victory in 105th Belmont Stakes. In 1954 Joseph McCarthy meets his match. In 1534 Cartier discovers St. Lawrence River. In 1856 Mormon handcart pioneers depart for Salt Lake City. In 1815 End of the Congress of Vienna.

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John Fioravanti Stands at the front of his classroom in 2006

It’s Friday – TGIF! Did you know…

* 1973 – Ron Turcotte rides Secretariat to victory in 105th Belmont Stakes in record time. (With a spectacular victory at the Belmont Stakes, Secretariat becomes the first horse since Citation in 1948 to win America’s coveted Triple Crown–the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness, and the Belmont Stakes. In one of the finest performances in racing history, Secretariat, ridden by Canadian jockey Ron Turcotte, completed the 1.5-mile race in 2 minutes and 24 seconds, a dirt-track record for that distance. On June 9, 1973, almost 100,000 people came to Belmont Park near New York City to see if “Big Red” would become the first horse in 25 years to win the Triple Crown. Secretariat gave the finest performance of his career in the Belmont Stakes, completing the 1.5-mile race in a record 2 minutes and 24 seconds, knocking nearly three seconds off the track record set by Gallant Man in 1957. He also won by a record 31 lengths. Ron Turcotte, who jockeyed Secretariat in all but three of his races, claimed that at Belmont he lost control of Secretariat and that the horse sprinted into history on his own accord. Secretariat would race six more times, winning four and finishing second twice. In November 1973, the “horse of the century” was retired and put to stud at Claiborne Farm in Paris, Kentucky. Among his notable offspring is the 1988 Preakness and Belmont winner, Risen Star. Secretariat was euthanized in 1989 after falling ill. An autopsy showed that his heart was two and a half times larger than that of the average horse, which may have contributed to his extraordinary racing abilities. In 1999, ESPN ranked Secretariat No. 35 in its list of the Top 50 North American athletes of the 20th century, the only non-human on the list.)

Ron Turcott riding Secretariat to Triple Crown victory
(samequizy.pl)

* 1954 Joseph McCarthy meets his match. (In a dramatic confrontation, Joseph Welch, special counsel for the U.S. Army, lashes out at Senator Joseph McCarthy during hearings on whether communism has infiltrated the U.S. armed forces. Welch’s verbal assault marked the end of McCarthy’s power during the anticommunist hysteria of the Red Scare in America. Senator McCarthy (R-Wisconsin) experienced a meteoric rise to fame and power in the U.S. Senate when he charged in February 1950 that “hundreds” of “known communists” were in the Department of State. In the years that followed, McCarthy became the acknowledged leader of the so-called Red Scare, a time when millions of Americans became convinced that communists had infiltrated every aspect of American life. Behind-closed-door hearings, McCarthy bullied, lied, and smeared his way to power, destroying many careers and lives in the process. Prior to 1953, the Republican Party tolerated his antics because his attacks were directed against the Democratic administration of Harry S. Truman. When Republican Dwight D. Eisenhower entered the White House in 1953, however, McCarthy’s recklessness and increasingly erratic behavior became unacceptable and the senator saw his clout slowly ebbing away. In a last-ditch effort to revitalize his anticommunist crusade, McCarthy made a crucial mistake. He charged in early 1954 that the U.S. Army was “soft” on communism. As Chairman of the Senate Government Operations Committee, McCarthy opened hearings into the Army. Joseph N. Welch, a soft-spoken lawyer with an incisive wit and intelligence, represented the Army. During the course of weeks of hearings, Welch blunted every one of McCarthy’s charges. The senator, in turn, became increasingly enraged, bellowing “point of order, point of order,” screaming at witnesses, and declaring that one highly decorated general was a “disgrace” to his uniform. On June 9, 1954, McCarthy again became agitated at Welch’s steady destruction of each of his arguments and witnesses. In response, McCarthy charged that Frederick G. Fisher, a young associate in Welch’s law firm, had been a long-time member of an organization that was a “legal arm of the Communist Party.” Welch was stunned. As he struggled to maintain his composure, he looked at McCarthy and declared, “Until this moment, Senator, I think I never really gauged your cruelty or your recklessness.” It was then McCarthy’s turn to be stunned into silence, as Welch asked, “Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last?” The audience of citizens and newspaper and television reporters burst into wild applause. Just a week later, the hearings into the Army came to a close. McCarthy, exposed as a reckless bully, was officially condemned by the U.S. Senate for contempt against his colleagues in December 1954. During the next two-and-a-half years McCarthy spiraled into alcoholism. Still in office, he died in 1957.)

Joseph Welch reacts to Senator Joseph McCarthy
Joseph Welch reacts to Senator Joseph McCarthy (www.senate.gov)

* 1534 Cartier discovers St. Lawrence River.  (French navigator Jacques Cartier becomes the first European explorer to discover the St. Lawrence River in present-day Quebec, Canada. In 1534, Cartier was commissioned by King Francis I of France to explore the northern American lands in search of riches and the rumored Northwest Passage to Asia. That year, Cartier entered the Gulf of St. Lawrence by the Strait of Belle Isle, explored its barren north coast for a distance, and then traveled down the west shore of Newfoundland to Cape Anguille. From there, he discovered Magdalen and Prince Edward islands, explored Chaleur Bay, and claimed Quebec’s Gaspe Peninsula for France. He then discovered the inlet of the St. Lawrence River, sailed north to Anticosti Island, and then returned to Europe. Previously thought to be a barren and inhospitable region, Cartier’s discoveries of the warm and fertile lands around the Gulf of St. Lawrence inspired Francis I to dispatch him on a second expedition in 1535. On this voyage, he ascended the St. Lawrence to the native village of Hochelaga, site of the modern-day city of Montreal. On his return voyage to France, he explored Cabot Strait along the southern coast of Newfoundland. Cartier led a final expedition to the region in 1541, as part of an unsuccessful colonization effort. His extensive geographical discoveries formed the basis of France’s claims to the rich St. Lawrence Valley in the 17th century.)

1541: Cartier on the St. Lawrence
1541: Cartier on the St. Lawrence (www.uppercanadahistory.ca)

* 1856 Mormon handcart pioneers depart for Salt Lake City. (In an extraordinary demonstration of resolve and fortitude, nearly 500 Mormons leave Iowa City and head west for Salt Lake City carrying all their goods and supplies in two-wheeled handcarts. Of all the thousands of pioneer journeys to the West in the 19th century, few were more arduous than those undertaken by the so-called Handcart Companies from 1856 to 1860. The secular and religious leader of the Mormons, Brigham Young, had established Salt Lake City as the center of a new Utah sanctuary for the Latter-day Saints in 1847. In subsequent years, Young worked diligently to encourage and aid Mormons who made the difficult overland trek to the Great Salt Lake. In 1856, however, a series of poor harvests left the church with only a meager fund to help immigrants buy wagons and oxen. Young suggested a cheaper mode of travel: “Let them come on foot with handcarts or wheelbarrows; let them gird up their loins and walk through and nothing shall hinder or stay them.” Amazingly, many Mormons followed his advice. On this day in 1856, a band of 497 Mormons left Iowa City, Iowa, and began the more than 1,000-mile trek to Salt Lake City. They carried all their goods in about 100 two-wheeled handcarts, most of which were heaped with the maximum load of 400 to 500 pounds. Each family usually had one cart, and the father and mother took turns pulling while any children old enough helped by pushing. The handcart immigrants soon ran into serious problems. The Mormon craftsmen who had constructed the handcarts back in Iowa City had chosen to use wooden axles instead of iron in order to save time and money. Sand and dirt quickly wore down the wood, and water and heat made the axles splinter and crack. As the level terrain of the prairies gave way to the more rugged country of the Plains, the sheer physical challenge of hauling a 500-pound cart began to take its toll. One British immigrant who was a skilled carpenter wrote of having to make three coffins in as many days. Some of the pilgrims gave up. Two girls in one handcart group left to marry a pair of miners they met along the way. The majority, however, struggled on and eventually reached the Salt Lake Valley. Over the course of the next four years, some 3,000 Mormon converts made the overland journey by pushing and pulling heavy-laden handcarts. Better planning and the use of iron axles made the subsequent immigrations slightly easier than the first, and some actually made the journey more quickly than if they had used ox-drawn wagons. Still, once the church finances had recovered, Young’s followers returned to using conventional wagons. The handcart treks remained nothing less than heroic. One Mormon girl later estimated that she and her family had each taken over a million steps to reach their goal, pushing and pulling a creaking wooden handcart the entire way.)

Sculpture of Mormon HandCart Pioneers on Temple Square, Salt Lake City UT
Sculpture of Mormon HandCart Pioneers on Temple Square, Salt Lake City UT (dmblood.typepad.com)

* 1815 End of the Congress of Vienna: New European political situation is set.  (The Congress of Vienna (German: Wiener Kongress) was a meeting of ambassadors of European states chaired by Austrian statesman Klemens von Metternich, and held in Vienna from November 1814 to June 1815, though the delegates had arrived and were already negotiating by late September 1814. The objective of the Congress was to provide a long-term peace plan for Europe by settling critical issues arising from the French Revolutionary Wars and the Napoleonic Wars. The goal was not simply to restore old boundaries but to resize the main powers so they could balance each other and remain at peace. The leaders were conservatives with little use for republicanism or revolution, both of which threatened to upset the status quo in Europe. France lost all its recent conquests, while Prussia, Austria and Russia made major territorial gains. Prussia added smaller German states in the west, Swedish Pomerania and 60% of the Kingdom of Saxony; Austria gained Venice and much of northern Italy. Russia gained parts of Poland. The new Kingdom of the Netherlands had been created just months before, and included formerly Austrian territory that in 1830 became Belgium. The immediate background was Napoleonic France’s defeat and surrender in May 1814, which brought an end to twenty-five years of nearly continuous war. Negotiations continued despite the outbreak of fighting triggered by Napoleon’s dramatic return from exile and resumption of power in France during the Hundred Days of March–July 1815. The Congress’s “Final Act” was signed nine days before his final defeat at Waterloo on 18 June 1815.)

The Congress of Vienna, watercolour etching by August Friedrich Andreas Campe, in the collection
The Congress of Vienna, watercolour etching by August Friedrich Andreas Campe, in the collection (Encyclopedia Britannica)

Acknowledged Sources:

* Canadian History Timeline – Canada’s Historical Chronology  http://canadachannel.ca/todayincanadianhistory/index.php

* On This Day – History, Film, Music and Sport       http://www.onthisday.com/

* This Day In History – What Happened Today   http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/

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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