The people and events that shaped this week in history.
1871 – Flames spark in a Chicago barn, igniting a two-day blaze that killed between 200 and 300 people, destroying 17,450 buildings, leaving 100,000 homeless, and causing an estimated $200 million (in 1871 dollars; $3 billion in 2007 dollars) in damages. Legend has it that a cow kicked over a lantern in the O’Leary barn and started the fire, but other theories hold that humans or even a comet may have been responsible for the event that left four square miles of the Windy City, including its business district, in ruins. Dry weather and an abundance of wooden buildings, streets and sidewalks made Chicago vulnerable to fire. The city averaged two fires per day in 1870; there were 20 fires throughout Chicago the week before the Great Fire of 1871.
1998 – The U.S. House of Representatives votes to proceed toward impeaching President Bill Clinton on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice. By December 1998, the Republican-led House had gathered enough information from an investigation committee to vote in favor of impeachment, which in turn sent the case to the Senate.
1974 – Oskar Schindler dies. German businessman Oskar Schindler, credited with saving 1,200 Jews from the Holocaust, dies at the age of 66. A member of the Nazi Party, he ran an enamel-works factory in Krakow during the German occupation of Poland, employing workers from the nearby Jewish ghetto. When the ghetto was liquidated, he persuaded Nazi officials to allow the transfer of his workers to the Plaszow labor camp, thus saving them from deportation to the death camps. In 1944, all Jews at Plaszow were sent to Auschwitz, but Schindler, at great risk to himself, bribed officials into allowing him to keep his workers and set up a factory in a safer location in occupied Czechoslovakia. By the war’s end, he was penniless, but he had saved 1,200 Jews.
1992 – Meteorite crashes into 18-year-old Michelle Knapp’s 1980 Chevy Malibu while she is watching TV in her parent’s home in Peekskill, New York. After hearing the thunderous crash, she discovered a hole in the back of her car and in the gravel in the driveway underneath the vehicle. A curator from the American Museum of Natural History in NYC confirmed that the object was a genuine meteorite.
1944 – Eight hundred children are gassed to death at Auschwitz. 800 Gypsy children, including more than 100 boys between nine and 14 years old are systematically murdered. Auschwitz was a group of camps, designated I, II, and III. There were also 40 smaller “satellite” camps. It was at Auschwitz II, at Birkenau, established in October 1941, that the SS created a complex, monstrously orchestrated killing ground: 300 prison barracks; four “bathhouses,” in which prisoners were gassed; corpse cellars; and cremating ovens. Thousands of prisoners were also used as fodder for medical experiments, overseen and performed by the camp doctor, Josef Mengele (“the Angel of Death”).
1991 – Former U.S. postal worker Joseph Harris shoots two former co-workers to death at the post office in Ridgewood, New Jersey. The night before, Harris had killed his former supervisor, Carol Ott, with a three-foot samurai sword, and shot her fiance, Cornelius Kasten, in their home. After a four-hour standoff with police at the post office, Harris was arrested. His violent outburst was one of several high-profile attacks by postal workers that resulted in the addition of the phrase “going postal” to the American lexicon.
2002 – Former President Jimmy Carter wins the Nobel Peace Prize “for his decades of untiring effort to find peaceful solutions to international conflicts, to advance democracy and human rights, and to promote economic and social development.”
2008 – Blind driver breaks land-speed record. Belgium man, Luc Costermans, sets a new world speed record for blind drivers: 192 mph. Costermans set the record in a borrowed Lamborghini Gallardo on a long, straight stretch of airstrip near Marseilles, France. He was accompanied by a carload of sophisticated navigational equipment as well as a human co-pilot, who gave directions from the Lamborghini’s passenger seat.
1492 – Columbus reaches the New World. After sailing across the Atlantic Ocean, Italian explorer Christopher Columbus sights a Bahamian island, believing he has reached East Asia. His expedition went ashore the same day and claimed the land for Isabella and Ferdinand of Spain, who sponsored his attempt to find a western ocean route to China, India, and the fabled gold and spice islands of Asia.
1998 – University of Wyoming student Matthew Shepard dies after a vicious attack by two anti-gay bigots. After meeting Shepard in a Laramie, Wyoming, gay bar, The Fireside Lounge, Russell Henderson and Aaron McKinney lured him to the parking lot, where he was savagely attacked and robbed. The two attackers then took Shepard, 21 years old and weighing just over 100 pounds, to a remote spot outside of town and tied his naked body to a wooden fence, tortured him, and left him in the freezing cold.
1792 – The cornerstone of the Executive Mansion was laid in Washington, DC. The building became known as the White House in 1818.
1843 – B’nai B’rith, the Jewish organization, was founded by Henry Jones and eleven others in New York City, NY.
1998 – The National Basketball Association (NBA) canceled regular season games, due to work stoppage, for first time in its 51-year history.
1962 – Cuban Missile Crisis begins. The Cuban Missile Crisis begins on October 14, 1962, bringing the United States and the Soviet Union to the brink of nuclear conflict. Photographs taken by a high-altitude U-2 spy plane offered incontrovertible evidence that Soviet-made medium-range missiles in Cuba—capable of carrying nuclear warheads—were now stationed 90 miles off the American coastline.
1964 – African American Civil Rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., is awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his non-violent resistance to racial prejudice in America. At 35 years of age, the Georgia-born minister was the youngest person ever to receive the award.