John’s Believe It Or Not… September 12th

In 1940 Lascaux cave paintings discovered. In 1993 New floating bridge opens in Seattle – I-90 stretches from coast to coast. In 1990 German occupation rights are relinquished. In 1953 JFK marries Jacqueline Bouvier. In 1977 Steven Biko dies.

John Fioravanti stands at the front of his classroom.

It’s Tuesday! Did you know…

* 1940 Lascaux cave paintings discovered.

Near Montignac, France, a collection of prehistoric cave paintings are discovered by four teenagers who stumbled upon the ancient artwork after following their dog down a narrow entrance into a cavern. The 15,000- to 17,000-year-old paintings, consisting mostly of animal representations, are among the finest examples of art from the Upper Paleolithic period.

First studied by the French archaeologist Henri-Édouard-Prosper Breuil, the Lascaux grotto consists of a main cavern 66 feet wide and 16 feet high. The walls of the cavern are decorated with some 600 painted and drawn animals and symbols and nearly 1,500 engravings. The pictures depict in excellent detail numerous types of animals, including horses, red deer, stags, bovines, felines, and what appear to be mythical creatures. There is only one human figure depicted in the cave: a bird-headed man with an erect phallus. Archaeologists believe that the cave was used over a long period of time as a center for hunting and religious rites.

The Lascaux grotto was opened to the public in 1948 but was closed in 1963 because artificial lights had faded the vivid colors of the paintings and caused algae to grow over some of them. A replica of the Lascaux cave was opened nearby in 1983 and receives tens of thousands of visitors annually.

This Day in History: Sep 12, 1940: Lascaux cave paintings discovered
This Day in History: Sep 12, 1940: Lascaux cave paintings discovered. (

* 1993 New floating bridge opens in Seattle – I-90 stretches from coast to coast.

On September 12, 1993, the rebuilt Lacey V. Murrow Bridge over Lake Washington opens in Seattle. The new bridge, which was actually the eastbound lanes of Interstate 90 (the westbound lanes cross the lake on a separate bridge), connects the city and its eastern suburbs. It replaced the original Murrow Bridge, the first floating concrete bridge in the world, which was destroyed by a flood in November 1990.

In December 1938, Washington governor Clarence Martin and Lacey V. Murrow, the director of the Washington Toll Bridge Authority, broke ground on what would be the largest floating structure in the world: the Lake Washington Floating Bridge, also known as the Mercer Island Bridge, between Seattle to the west and Bellevue, Washington, to the east. (It was renamed for Murrow in 1967.) At the time the bridge was built, it carried US Route 10 across the lake; a few decades later, that highway became Interstate 90. The bridge was a Public Works Administration-financed project designed to give work to unemployed Washingtonians and to make the towns across the lake from Seattle more accessible to suburban development.

When the bridge opened in 1940, the Seattle Times called it “the biggest thing afloat.” It was almost two miles long, contained 100,000 tons of steel, floated on more than 20 hollow concrete pontoons, and carried 5,000 cars each day. (By 1989, its daily load was closer to 100,000 cars.)

In 1990, while the bridge was closed for repairs, construction workers punched giant holes in the pontoons that kept it afloat and went home for the weekend. A few days of rain and high winds filled the pontoons with water, and the bridge broke apart and sank.

Repairing it was no easy task: The sinking pontoons had pulled more than a half-mile of the highway into the lake with them, and the structure needed to be rebuilt from scratch. This project took three years and cost $93 million. When the bridge finally reopened, it closed one of the last remaining gaps in the interstate highway system: a person could drive from Boston to Seattle without ever leaving I-90.

I-90 floating bridges, Seattle
I-90 floating bridges, Seattle. (Mother Nature Network)

* 1990 German occupation rights are relinquished.

Representatives from the United States, Great Britain, France, and the Soviet Union sign an agreement giving up all occupation rights in Germany. The largely symbolic action cleared the way for East and West Germany to reunite.

In 1945, the Allied Powers–America, England, France, and the Soviet Union–agreed that defeated Nazi Germany would be divided into four zones of occupation, one for each nation. Berlin would be likewise divided. The separation was intended to be temporary, but Cold War animosities quickly developed after World War II and the division between the Russian zone and those controlled by the other three nations became permanent. In the late 1940s, the American, French, and English zones were consolidated into West Germany and the Soviet zone became East Germany. The division came to symbolize the Cold War, and the divided Germany was the scene of many Cold War dramas, like the Berlin Airlift. In 1961, East German authorities began construction of the Berlin Wall, physically dividing East and West Berlin.

By 1989, however, the communist grip on East Germany was rapidly slipping away. The Soviet Union, facing its own severe economic and political problems, could do little to prop up the East German communist regime. In November 1989, the East German government announced that the Berlin Wall would be torn down. The next year, representatives from East and West Germany began negotiations to finally reunite their country. Among the many obstacles to overcome was the historical legacy of occupation by the Allied forces. Although the four Allies had long since removed their occupation forces and given up most of their occupation rights, some treaty rights still technically remained–for instance, the four countries still had the right to “oversee” Berlin. On September 12, 1990, representatives from the four nations met in Moscow and formally gave up all remaining occupation rights in Germany. Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze declared, “We are going through emotional and historic events…We have drawn a line under World War II and we have started keeping the time of a new age.” In October 1990, East and West Germany formally reunited under a democratic government.

Map: The four sectors of the Allied occupation of Berlin and exclaves.
The four sectors of the Allied occupation of Berlin and exclaves. (Wikipedia)

* 1953 JFK marries Jacqueline Bouvier.

Senator John Fitzgerald Kennedy of Massachusetts marries Jacqueline Lee Bouvier, a photographer for the Washington Times-Herald, at St. Mary’s Church in Newport, Rhode Island. More than 750 guests attended the ceremony presided over by Boston Archbishop Richard Cushing and featuring Boston tenor Luigi Vena, who sang “Ave Maria.” A crowd of 3,000 onlookers waited outside the church for a glimpse of the newlyweds, who were taken by motorcycle escort to their wedding reception at Hammersmith Farm, an estate overlooking Narragansett Bay. Kennedy was elected the 35th president of the United States seven years later.

Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy and Senator John F. Kennedy at their wedding reception at Hammersmith Farm
Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy and Senator John F. Kennedy at their wedding reception at Hammersmith Farm. (Pinterest)

* 1977 Steven Biko dies.

Steven Biko, leader of South Africa’s “Black Consciousness Movement,” dies of severe head trauma on the stone floor of a prison cell in Pretoria. Six days earlier, he had suffered a major blow to his skull during a police interrogation in Port Elizabeth. Instead of receiving medical attention, he was chained spread-eagled to a window grill for 24 hours. On September 11, he was dumped, naked and shackled, on the floor of a police vehicle and driven 740 miles to Pretoria Central Prison. He died the next day. In announcing his death, South African authorities claimed Biko died after refusing food and water for a week in a hunger strike.

Steven Bantu Biko, born in 1946, was the most influential anti-apartheid leader of the 1970s. As a medical student in 1968, he founded the all-black South African Students’ Organization with the aim of overcoming the “psychological oppression of blacks by whites.” Similar to the “Black Power” movement in the United States, Biko’s Black Consciousness Movement stressed black identity, self-esteem, and self-reliance. In the 1970s, Black Consciousness spread from the university communities to black communities throughout South Africa.

In 1972, Biko helped organize the Black People’s Convention, and in the next year, he was banned from politics by South Africa’s white-minority government. As a “banned person,” he was forbidden by law from speaking in public or being quoted, leaving the area around King William’s Town, and being in the company of more than one person at a time. However, he continued to oppose apartheid covertly and was arrested four times during the next few years and held without trial for months at a time.

On August 18, 1977, he was arrested with another activist at a roadblock outside the small town of Grahamstown on his way to a political meeting in Cape Town. Taken to a prison in Port Elizabeth, he was stripped naked, manacled to a grate, and forced to lie on a filthy blanket for 18 days. On September 6, he was brought to the Sanlam Building, where police tortured prisoners as a means of interrogation. Five security officers took Biko into room 619 for interrogation. When he emerged, he was in a semi-conscious state, having suffered severe head trauma that left him with multiple brain lesions. His injuries were left unattended, and he was chained, standing up, to a window grill for 24 hours.

On September 7, two government doctors finally examined Biko and found him hyperventilating, frothing at the mouth, and unable to speak or stand. They pronounced him fit to travel. On September 11, Biko, by then comatose, was thrown naked and chained into the back of a police truck, which drove 10 hours to Pretoria in the north. Dropped in a cell in Pretoria Central Prison, he succumbed to his injuries on September 12. He was 30 years old.

South African authorities attempted to cover-up the circumstances of Biko’s death, saying he starved himself on a hunger strike. They later claimed he died of kidney failure. Finally, when the findings of a postmortem were made public, they said he might have “hurt his head when he fell out of bed.” A judicial inquiry found no one responsible for his death and most of the policemen who interrogated Biko were promoted.

Steven Biko was hailed as a martyr in the anti-apartheid struggle, and his death became an international rallying point against South Africa’s repressive government. In November 1977, the United Nations voted a partial arms embargo against South Africa. U.N. resolutions calling for sweeping economic and military sanctions against South Africa were vetoed by the United States, Britain, and France.

Apartheid was abolished in South Africa in 1991, and in 1994 Nelson Mandela was elected the country’s first black head of government. The following year, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) was established to examine apartheid-era crimes. In exchange for full confessions of politically motivated crimes, the TRC promised amnesty for those who came forward. In 1997, the five former security officers who interrogated Steven Biko on September 6, 1977, applied for amnesty from the TRC.

One of the former officers, Daniel Siebert, said in his application to the TRC that he and two other officers ran Biko headfirst into a far wall of the interrogation room. Several of the officers spoke of Police Colonel Gideon Nieuwoudt striking Biko with a pipe. However, when the men testified before the TRC shortly before the 20th anniversary of Biko’s death, they claimed, in conflicting accounts, that Biko had injured himself in a scuffle. They said that the handcuffed Biko lunged at them during the interrogation and struck his own head against the wall. They said they didn’t provide immediate medical attention to him because they thought he was faking his injuries.

In February 1999, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission denied the men amnesty, saying that the former officers’ version of Mr. Biko’s death was “so improbable and contradictory that it has to be rejected as false.” With the exception of murder, there is a 20-year limit on prosecution of criminal charges in South Africa. It is unlikely that the former officers will face trial.

Head shot of Steven Biko
Steven Biko (

Today’s Sources: 


* This Day In History – What Happened Today              

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.

20 thoughts on “John’s Believe It Or Not… September 12th”

  1. Even though I’ve driven coast to coast, I’ve never taken the I-90 – another Bucket List item! 🙂 I would love to see the Lascaux cave paintings – original or replica. The story of Steven Biko is wrenching, horrifying. In August 1983, I climbed on a church bus with my 4 kids (my youngest just a few months old) to protest Apartheid in D.C. Though I don’t remember much about the speeches, I do remember chasing kids and pulling them out of the water fountain near the Capitol building. They were my teachers that day, but aren’t children always showing us the way?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Gwen! I agree that children teach us at least as much as we teach them – that’s my experience of 35 years in a high school classroom. Funny, I was on the I-90 last weekend to get to my friend’s place in Utica, NY.


  2. Those caves are awesome John – so was Jacqui Kennedy.
    Steve Biko’s torture and murder was terrible but most probably put the nail in the coffin of apartheid – so some good came out of it.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. The brutality of men always makes me weep. Why? I. Just. Don’t. Get. It. Thankfully, the rest of the posts were more uplifting.

    Quick thoughts:
    * Didn’t Jackie O’ look lovely? So young and so happy.
    * I was gifted a small piece of the wall, btw, by two young men who were there when it came down. I treasure it.
    * Amazing that those teens stumbled upon such an important piece of history. Lovely photo.

    Gotta’ go to bed, brain barely working – little sleep last nite thinking about Irma, but I wanted to read this one before I headed off. G’nite, my friend. Lovin’ these posts.
    (Madelyn Griffith-Haynie – ADDandSoMuchMORE dot com)
    ADD/EFD Coach Training Field founder; ADD Coaching co-founder
    “It takes a village to educate a world!”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Madelyn, that lovely comment about my posts just made my day! Jackie O was so much more than a pretty face, wasn’t she! I think she became the conscience of the Kennedy clan. Speaking of Irma – I was so dismayed to see reports of people arrested for looting in Miami – and in other places too. My first angry thought was “shoot ’em!” I do hope the courts throw max penalties at them. So sad.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’m glad, John. Re: Jackie – she was gracious and seemed open minded and embracing. Interesting comment about her being “the conscience of the Kennedy clan.” She certainly encouraged spending their money in arenas they may never have considered otherwise.

        Stiff penalties for looting may or may not change those behaviors – but it feel appropriate to me as something to try. It will depend on how it is enforced, however. Stealing food in a disaster when one has none feels different to me than grabbing electronics, jewelry, etc. And yet both are, technically, looting. Sticky wicket, in terms of legislating.

        Liked by 1 person

                    1. I think that “looting” should be defined as theft of and damage to property for purposes of personal profit. Someone caught stealing food for themselves and/or their kids would be treated differently – and hopefully, fairly.

                      Liked by 1 person

                    2. Hopefully. Still, what defines “personal profit?”

                      i.e., I’m okay as long as I don’t sell what I steal? Or maybe if I only steal basics that “everybody” is entitled to own but some people cannot afford – like an older unused cellphone or a push lawn mower? It would quickly become a legislative nightmare.

                      Liked by 1 person

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