This Week in History

This Week in History

July 16
On July 16, 1999, John F. Kennedy, Jr.; his wife, Carolyn Bessette Kennedy; and her sister, Lauren Bessette, die when the single-engine plane that Kennedy was piloting crashes into the Atlantic Ocean near Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts.

July 17
Disneyland, Walt Disney's metropolis of nostalgia, fantasy, and futurism, opened on July 17, 1955. The $17 million theme park was built on 160 acres of former orange groves in Anaheim, California, and soon brought in staggering profits. Today, Disneyland hosts more than 14 million visitors a year, who spend close to $3 billion.

July 18
Pioneer of "gonzo" journalism, Hunter S. Thompson is born in Louisville, Ky., on this day in 1929. He wrote conventional journalism pieces for various magazines, and in 1967 he expanded one of his articles into his first book, Hells Angels, which became a bestseller. In 1970, while covering the Kentucky Derby, Thompson went on a weeklong bender and developed severe writer's block. He handed his scrawled notes to the copy boys his editors sent after him, and the result, "The Kentucky Derby Is Decadent and Depraved," was hailed as a landmark in journalism. One of his editors dubbed the new style "gonzo," for its wild, careening style. In 1972, Thompson's "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" became a bestseller.

July 19
On July 19, 1911 Pennsylvania passes censorship laws, becoming the first state to pass laws censoring movies. From their debut as peep shows in penny arcades and vaudeville attractions, movies were viewed with suspicion by authorities wishing to safeguard American morals. As early as 1909, movie producers had submitted to censorship, allowing the Board of Censorship in New York, for example, to review new films. The board, a citizens committee later called The National Board of Review, soon became a national organization. The Pennsylvania laws, however, were the first specifically allowing censorship by a government body.

July 20
At 10:56pm on this day in 1969, American astronaut Neil Armstrong, 240,000 miles from Earth, speaks these words to more than a billion people listening at home: "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind." Stepping off the lunar landing module Eagle, Armstrong became the first human to walk on the surface of the moon.
The American effort to send astronauts to the moon has its origins in a famous appeal President John F. Kennedy made to a special joint session of Congress on May 25, 1961: "I believe this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to Earth."

July 21
1861 First Battle of Bull Run
The war erupts on a large scale in the east when Confederate forces under P. T. Beauregard turn back Union General Irvin McDowell's troops along Bull Run in Virginia. The inexperienced soldiers on both sides slugged it out in a chaotic battle that resulted in a humiliating retreat by the Yankees and signaled, for many, the true start of the war.
Casualties at Bull Run shocked the nation. The Union count came to 2,800, including 460 killed, and the Confederates had 1,900, with nearly 400 dead. Although future battles would make these numbers appear small, they were a wake-up call to a public, in both the North and the South, unprepared for such a bloody conflict.

July 22
Outside Chicago's Biograph Theatre, notorious criminal John Dillinger--America's "Public Enemy No. 1"--is killed in a hail of bullets fired by federal agents on this day in 1934. In a fiery bank-robbing career that lasted just over a year, Dillinger and his associates robbed 11 banks for more than $300,000, broke jail and narrowly escaped capture multiple times, and killed seven police officers and three federal agents. John Dillinger was born in Indianapolis, Indiana, in 1903. Some researchers have claimed that another man, not Dillinger, was killed outside the Biograph, citing autopsy findings on the corpse that allegedly contradict Dillinger's known medical record.