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Today in History 7/08/20

1776 – On July 8, 1776, a 2,000-pound copper-and-tin bell now known as the “Liberty Bell” rings out from the tower of the Pennsylvania State House (now Independence Hall) in Philadelphia, summoning citizens to the first public reading of the Declaration of Independence. Four days earlier, the historic document had been adopted by delegates to the Continental Congress, but the bell did not ring to announce the issuing of the document until the Declaration of Independence returned from the printer on July 8.

1853 – Commodore Matthew Calbraith Perry, representing the U.S. government, sails into Tokyo Bay, Japan, with a squadron of four vessels. For a time, Japanese officials refused to speak with Perry, but under threat of attack by the superior American ships they accepted letters from President Millard Fillmore, making the United States the first Western nation to establish relations with Japan since it had been declared closed to foreigners two centuries before. Only the Dutch and the Chinese were allowed to continue trade with Japan after 1639, but this trade was restricted and confined to the island of Dejima at Nagasaki.

1889 – John L. Sullivan beat Jake Kilrain in 75 rounds to defend his title in the last heavyweight championship bout held under London Prize Ring rules.

1896 – William Jennings Bryan delivered his “Cross of Gold” speech at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago.

1898 – A disgruntled city engineer in Skagway, Alaska, murders “Soapy” Smith, one of the most notorious con men in the history of the West. Born in Georgia in 1860, Jefferson Randolph Smith went west while still a young man, finding work as a cowboy in Texas. Smith eventually tired of the hard work and low wages offered by the cowboy life, though, and discovered that he could make more money with less effort by convincing gullible westerners to part with their cash in clever confidence games. One of Smith’s earliest swindles was the “prehistoric man” of Creede, Colorado. Smith somehow obtained a 10-foot statue of a primitive looking human that he secretly buried near the town of Creede. A short time later, he uncovered the statue with much fanfare and publicity and began charging exorbitant fees to see it. Wisely, he left town before the curious turned suspicious. Smith earned his nickname “Soapy” with a more conventional confidence game. Traveling around the Southwest, Smith would briefly set up shop in the street selling bars of soap wrapped in blue tissue paper. He promised the credulous crowds that a few lucky purchasers would find a $100 bill wrapped inside a few of the $5 bars of soap. Inevitably, one of the first to buy a bar would shout with pleasure and happily display a genuine $100 bill. Sales were generally brisk afterwards. The lucky purchaser, of course, was a plant.

 

1918 – On July 8, 1918, Ernest Hemingway, an 18-year-old ambulance driver for the American Red Cross, is struck by a mortar shell while serving on the Italian front, along the Piave delta, in World War I. A native of Oak Park, Illinois, Hemingway was working as a reporter for the Kansas City Star when war broke out in Europe in 1914. He volunteered for the Red Cross in France before the American entrance into the war in April 1917 and was later transferred to the Italian front, where he was on hand for a string of Italian successes along the Piave delta in the first days of July 1918, during which 3,000 Austrians were taken prisoner. On the night of July 8, 1918, Hemingway was struck by an Austrian mortar shell while handing out chocolate to Italian soldiers in a dugout. The blow knocked him unconscious and buried him in the earth of the dugout; fragments of shell entered his right foot and his knee and struck his thighs, scalp and hand. Two Italian soldiers standing between Hemingway and the shell’s point of impact were not so lucky, however: one was killed instantly and another had both his legs blown off and died soon afterwards.

 

1928 – Rose Booher, her son Fred, and two hired workers are all shot to death on a secluded farm in Mannville, Alberta, Canada, while the rest of the Booher family is away. Although nothing appeared to be stolen from the house and few clues were found, authorities determined that a rifle had caused the gunshot wounds. Not coincidentally, a rifle had been taken from a neighbor’s farm just prior to the killings. The investigation centered on the Booher family—Rose’s son Vernon, in particular. Vernon was known to have had problems with his mother, but he denied any involvement in the murders. After persistent interrogation failed to crack Vernon, Max Langsner, who had reputedly solved crimes all over Europe by picking up “mind signals” from criminals, was summoned from Vienna, Austria. Using his alleged psychic powers, Langsner sketched a scene that included a rifle hidden under some bushes. Using the sketch as a makeshift map, the police discovered the murder weapon near the Booher home. With this new evidence, Vernon confessed to the crime. He had planned to kill his mother because he despised her. The other three were killed only because they had stumbled on to the scene. Vernon expressed remorse only for killing his brother, Fred. Langsner went on to conduct psychic research with the Eskimos in Northern Canada and Alaska. However, there is no record of his involvement in allegedly solving any additional crimes through psychic measures.

1950 – Douglas MacArthur was appointed commander of United Nations forces in the Korean War.

 

1951 – On July 8, 1951, Paris, the capital city of France, celebrates turning 2,000 years old. In fact, a few more candles would’ve technically been required on the birthday cake, as the City of Lights was most likely founded around 250 B.C. The history of Paris can be traced back to a Gallic tribe known as the Parisii, who sometime around 250 B.C. settled an island (known today as Ile de la Cite) in the Seine River, which runs through present-day Paris. By 52 B.C., Julius Caesar and the Romans had taken over the area, which eventually became Christianized and known as Lutetia, Latin for “midwater dwelling.” The settlement later spread to both the left and right banks of the Seine and the name Lutetia was replaced with “Paris.” In 987 A.D., Paris became the capital of France. As the city grew, the Left Bank earned a reputation as the intellectual district while the Right Bank became known for business.

1959 – Maj. Dale R. Buis and Master Sgt. Chester M. Ovnand become the first Americans killed in the American phase of the Vietnam War when guerrillas strike a Military Assistance Advisory Group (MAAG) compound in Bien Hoa, 20 miles northeast of Saigon. The group had arrived in South Vietnam on November 1, 1955, to provide military assistance. The organization consisted of U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps personnel who provided advice and assistance to the Ministry of Defense, Joint General Staff, corps and division commanders, training centers, and province and district headquarters.

 

1994 – Kim Il-Sung, the communist dictator of North Korea since 1948, dies of a heart attack at the age of 82. In the 1930s, Kim fought against the Japanese occupation of Korea and was singled out by Soviet authorities, who sent him to the USSR for military and political training. He became a communist and fought in the Soviet Red Army in World War II. In 1945, Korea was divided into Soviet and American spheres, and in 1948 Kim became the first leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea). Hoping to reunify Korea by force, Kim launched an invasion of South Korea in June 1950, thereby igniting the Korean War, which ended in a stalemate in 1953.

1996 – The British pop band the Spice Girls released their debut single, Wannabe, which helped make them an international sensation.