Historical Events for 31st August 2022

1142 – Possible date for establishment of the Iroquois (Haudenosaunee) League [disputed date – other research places date between 1450 and 1660] 1942 – U-boats sink and damage 131 allied ships this month (639,946 tons)
1947 – NY Giants set season record for HRs by a club 183 (en route to 221)
1954 – Cincinnati 1st baseman Ted Kluszewski hits 2 HRs in a 9-3 loss v Phillies at Connie Mack Stadium, Philadelphia; 1st Redleg to ever hit 40 MLB HRs, en route to season total 49
1955 – KTRE TV channel 9 begins broadcasting in Lufkin, Texas (ABC/NBC affiliate)
1966 – Referee Leo Horn whistles his last soccer match (Ajax-Bulgaria)
1969 – 25,000 attend New Orleans Pop Festival
1977 – Ian Smith, espousing racial segregation, wins Rhodesian general election with 80% of overwhelmingly white electorate’s vote
1997 – Diana, Princess of Wales, dies in a car crash in a road tunnel in Paris
2012 – “Argo” directed by Ben Affleck and starring Ben Affleck, Bryan Cranston and John Goodman premieres at the Telluride Film Festival (Best Picture 2013)

More Historical Events »

Los Angeles mob attacks “Night Stalker” serial killer

Richard Ramirez, the notorious “Night Stalker,” is captured and nearly killed by a mob in East Los Angeles, California, after being recognized from a photograph shown both on television and in newspapers. Recently identified as the serial killer, Ramirez was pulled from the enraged mob by police officers.

During the summer of 1985, the city of Los Angeles was panic-stricken by a killer who crept into his victims’ homes at night. The Night Stalker, as the press dubbed the murderer, first turned his attention on the men in the house, usually shot any men in the house with a .22 caliber handgun before raping, stabbing, and mutilating his female victims. He cut out one of his victim’s eyes, and sometimes carved satanic pentagrams on the bodies before he left.

By August, the Night Stalker has murdered at least a dozen people, and law enforcement officials were desperate to stop him. One witness, who managed to note the license plate of the car in which Ramirez fled, led police to a single, partial fingerprint left in the vehicle.

Apparently, the task force looking for the Night Stalker had already received information that someone named Ramirez was involved, so only the records for men with that name were checked against the fingerprint. Although the Los Angeles Police Department’s new multimillion-dollar computer database of fingerprints only contained the records of criminals born after January 1960, Richard Ramirez, who had a record of petty crimes, had been born in February 1960.

When Ramirez was identified as the chief suspect, authorities debated whether to release his name and picture to the public, fearing that it might give him the chance to escape. Nonetheless, they decided to take the risk, and Ramirez, who was actually traveling back to Los Angeles at the time, arrived to find his face and name on the front of every newspaper.

Ramirez turned his trial into a circus by drawing pentagrams on his palms and making devil’s horns with his fingers. When he was convicted, he shouted at the jury, “You make me sick. I will be avenged. Lucifer dwells within all of us.” After the judge imposed a death sentence, Ramirez said, “Big deal. Death always went with the territory. See you in Disneyland.” Ramirez married a female admirer and penpal while incarcerated at California’s San Quentin Prison in 1996. In 2006, his first appeals were denied and he died in prison on June 7, 2013.

Earthquake shakes Charleston, South Carolina

An earthquake near Charleston, South Carolina, on August 31, 1886 leaves more than 100 people dead and hundreds of buildings destroyed. This was the largest recorded earthquake in the history of the southeastern United States.

The earthquake was preceded by foreshocks felt in Summerville, South Carolina, on August 27 and 28 but, still, no one was prepared for the strength of the August 31 quake. At 9:51 p.m., the rumbling began, and it was felt as far away as Boston, Chicago and Cuba. There was damage to buildings as far away as Ohio and Alabama. It was Charleston, South Carolina, though, that took the biggest hit from the quake, which is thought to have had a magnitude of about 7.6. Almost all of the buildings in town were seriously damaged. It is estimated that 14,000 chimneys fell from the earthquake. It caused multiple fires and water lines and wells were ruptured. The total damage was in excess of $5.5 million (about $112 million in today’s money).

While there were no apparent surface cracks as a result of this tremor, railroad tracks were bent in all directions in some locations. Acres of land were liquefied. This quake remained a mystery for many years since there were no known underground faults for 60 miles in any direction. However, better science and detection methods have recently uncovered a concealed fault along the coastal plains of Virginia and the Carolinas. Still, a quake of this magnitude remains highly unlikely in this location.

READ MORE: The Deadliest Natural Disasters in US History

Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill’s “The Threepenny Opera” premieres in Berlin

Die Dreigroschenoper (The Threepenny Opera) receives its world premiere in Berlin on August 31, 1928.

“I think I’ve written a good piece and that several numbers in it, at least musically, have the best prospects for becoming popular very quickly.” This was the assessment offered by the German composer Kurt Weill in a letter to his publisher 10 days before the premiere of his latest work. Created in partnership with the revolutionary dramatist Bertolt Brecht, that work would, in fact, prove to be the most significant and successful of Weill’s career and one of the most important works in the history of musical theater: Die Dreigroschenoper (The Threepenny Opera). In addition to running for 400-plus performances in its original German production, Brecht and Weill’s masterpiece would go on to be translated into 18 languages and receive more than 10,000 performances internationally.

The premiere of The Threepenny Opera on this day in 1928 came almost exactly 200 years after the premiere of the work on which it was based: John Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera. In Gay’s satirical original, the thieves, pickpockets and prostitutes of London’s Newgate Prison competed for power and position in the accents and manners of the English upper classes. It was Bertolt Brecht’s idea to adapt The Beggar’s Opera into a new work that would serve as a sharp political critique of capitalism and as a showcase for his avant-garde approach to theater. Much of The Threepenny Opera‘s historical reputation rests on Brecht’s experimental dramaturgical techniques—such as breaking “the fourth wall” between audience and performers—but the music of Kurt Weill was just as important in turning it into a triumph.

The drama critic for The New York Times said of Weill in 1941, “He is not a song writer but a composer of organic music that can bind the separate elements of a production and turn the underlying motive into song.” While this comment was intended as praise of Weill, who had by then fled his native Germany for the United States, it nevertheless sold Weill’s songwriting somewhat short. By 1959, Weill’s opening song from The Threepenny Opera, “The Ballad of Mackie Messer” would be one of the biggest pop hits of all time for Bobby Darin in a jazzy variation inspired by Louis Armstrong and renamed “Mack The Knife.”

FDR signs Neutrality Act

On August 31, 1935, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signs the Neutrality Act, or Senate Joint Resolution No. 173, which he calls an “expression of the desire…to avoid any action which might involve [the U.S.] in war.” The signing came at a time when newly installed fascist governments in Europe were beginning to beat the drums of war.

In a public statement that day, Roosevelt said that the new law would require American vessels to obtain a license to carry arms, would restrict Americans from sailing on ships from hostile nations and would impose an embargo on the sale of arms to “belligerent” nations. Most observers understood “belligerent” to imply Germany under its new leader, Adolf Hitler, and Italy under Benito Mussolini. It also provided the strongest language yet warning other countries that the U.S. would increase its patrol of foreign submarines lurking in American waters. This was seen as a response to Hitler’s March 1935 announcement that Germany would no longer honor the terms of the Treaty of Versailles, which prohibited Germany from rebuilding her military; he had then immediately stepped up the country’s submarine production.

Although the legislation stated that the U.S. intended to stay out of foreign wars, Roosevelt insisted that the country could not foresee future situations in which the U.S. might have to amend its neutral stance. Noting that “history is filled with unforeseeable situations that call for some flexibility of action,” Roosevelt contended that the law would not prevent the U.S. from cooperating with other “similarly minded Governments to promote peace.” In other words, he left plenty of room for America to change its mind regarding the sale of arms to friendly countries and gave it the right to exercise options to protect her own safety. This came to pass in March 1941, when the passing of the Lend-Lease Act increased America’s military exports to the British in order to help them fight off Hitler’s advance toward England.

William Cobb demonstrates first solar-powered car

On August 31, 1955, William G. Cobb of the General Motors Corp. (GM) demonstrates his 15-inch-long “Sunmobile,” the world’s first solar-powered automobile, at the General Motors Powerama auto show held in Chicago, Illinois.

Cobb’s Sunmobile introduced, however briefly, the field of photovoltaics–the process by which the sun’s rays are converted into electricity when exposed to certain surfaces–into the gasoline-drenched automotive industry. When sunlight hit 12 photoelectric cells made of selenium (a nonmetal substance with conducting properties) built into the Sunmobile, an electric current was produced that in turn powered a tiny motor. The motor turned the vehicle’s driveshaft, which was connected to its rear axle by a pulley. Visitors to the month-long, $7 million Powerama marveled at some 250 free exhibits spread over 1 million square feet of space on the shores of Lake Michigan. In addition to Cobb’s futuristic mini-automobile, Powerama visitors were treated to an impressive display of GM’s diesel-fueled empire, from oil wells and cotton gins to submarines and other military equipment.

Today, more than a half-century after Cobb debuted the Sunmobile, a mass-produced solar car has yet to hit the market anywhere in the world. Solar-car competitions are held worldwide, however, in which design teams pit their sun-powered creations (also known as photovoltaic or PV cars) against each other in road races such as the 2008 North American Solar Challenge, a 2,400-mile drive from Dallas, Texas, to Calgary, Alberta, Canada.

READ MORE: The Cars That Made America 

Thomas Edison patents the Kinetograph

Thomas Edison receives a patent for his movie camera, the Kinetograph. Edison had developed the camera and its viewer in the early 1890s and staged several demonstrations.

The camera was based on photographic principles discovered by still-photograph pioneers Joseph Nicephone Niepce and Louis Daguerre of France. In 1877, inventor Edward Muybridge developed a primitive form of motion pictures when Leland Stanford, governor of California, invited him to develop photo studies of animals in motion. Muybridge developed an ingenious system for photographing sequential motion, setting up 24 cameras attached to trip wires stretched across a racetrack. As the horse tripped each wire, the shutters snapped. The resulting series of photos could be projected as something resembling a motion picture. This breakthrough in the early 1870s inspired another student of animal motion, Etienne Jules Marey of France, to develop in 1882 a rotating camera rather like a rifle, where different pictures were taken in a rapid sequence by a rotating cartridge.

Unlike these earlier cameras, Edison’s Kinetoscope and Kinetograph used celluloid film, invented by George Eastman in 1889. In February 1893, Edison built a small movie studio that could be rotated to capture the best available sunlight. He showed the first demonstration of his films—featuring three of his workers pretending to be blacksmiths—in May 1893.

READ MORE: 6 Key Inventions by Thomas Edison

The invention inspired French inventors Louis and August Lumiere to develop a movie camera and projector, the Cinematographe, that allowed a large audience to view a film. Several other cameras and projectors were also developed in the late 1800s.

In 1898, Edison sued American Mutoscope and Biograph Pictures, claiming that the studio had infringed on his patent for the Kinetograph. He had entrusted the development of the machine to his assistant, W.L.K. Dickson, who left Edison’s company in 1895 and helped found Biograph. However, in 1902, the U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that although Thomas Edison had patented the Kinetograph, he only owned rights to the sprocket system that moved perforated film through the camera, not the entire concept of the movie camera.

In 1909, Edison and Biograph joined forces with other filmmakers to create the Motion Pictures Patents Company, an organization devoted to protecting patents and keeping other players from entering the film industry. In 1917, the Supreme Court dissolved the trust, and the Edison Company left the film industry the same year.

Jack the Ripper’s first victim murdered

Prostitute Mary Ann Nichols, the first known victim of London serial killer “Jack the Ripper,” is found murdered and mutilated in the city’s Whitechapel district. London saw four more victims of the murderer during the next few months, but no suspect was ever found.

In Victorian England, London’s East End was a teeming slum occupied by nearly a million of the city’s poorest citizens. Many women were forced to resort to prostitution, and in 1888 there were estimated to be more than 1,000 prostitutes in Whitechapel.

That summer, a serial killer began targeting these downtrodden women. On September 8, the killer claimed his second victim, Annie Chapman, and on September 30 two more prostitutes–Liz Stride and Kate Eddowes–were murdered and carved up on the same night.

READ MORE: 7 People Suspected of Being Jack the Ripper 

By then, London’s Scotland Yard police had determined the pattern of the killings. The murderer, offering to pay for sex, would lure his victims onto a secluded street or square and then slice their throats. As the women rapidly bled to death, he would then brutally disembowel them with the same six-inch knife.

The police, who lacked modern forensic techniques such as fingerprinting and blood typing, were at a complete loss for suspects. Dozens of letters allegedly written by the murderer were sent to the police, and the majority of these were immediately deemed fraudulent. However, two letters–written by the same individual–alluded to crime facts known only to the police and the killer. These letters, signed “Jack the Ripper,” gave rise to the serial killer’s popular nickname.

On November 7, after a month of silence, Jack took his fifth and last victim, Irish-born Mary Kelly, an occasional prostitute. Of all his victims’ corpses, Kelly’s was the most hideously mutilated. In 1892, with no leads found and no more murders recorded, the Jack the Ripper file was closed.

Polish government signs accord with Gdansk shipyard workers

On August 31, 1980, representatives of the communist government of Poland agree to the demands of striking shipyard workers in the city of Gdansk. Former electrician Lech Walesa led the striking workers, who went on to form Solidarity, the first independent labor union to develop in a Soviet bloc nation.

In July 1980, facing economic crisis, Poland’s government raised the price of food and other goods, while curbing the growth of wages. The price hikes made it difficult for many Poles to afford basic necessities, and a wave of strikes swept the country. Amid mounting tensions, a popular forklift operator named Anna Walentynowicz was fired from the Lenin Shipyard in the northern Polish city of Gdansk. In mid-August, some 17,000 of the shipyard’s workers began a sit-down strike to campaign for her reinstatement, as well as for a modest increase in wages. They were led by the former shipyard electrician Lech Walesa, who had himself been fired for union activism four years earlier.

Despite governmental censorship and attempts to keep news of the strike from getting out, similar protests broke out in industrial cities throughout Poland. On August 17, an Interfactory Strike Committee presented the Polish government with 21 ambitious demands, including the right to organize independent trade unions, the right to strike, the release of political prisoners and increased freedom of expression. Fearing the general strike would lead to a national revolt, the government sent a commission to Gdansk to negotiate with the rebellious workers. On August 31, Walesa and Deputy Premier Mieczyslaw Jagielski signed an agreement giving in to many of the workers’ demands. Walesa signed the document with a giant ballpoint pen decorated with a picture of the newly elected Pope John Paul II (Karol Wojtyla, the former archbishop of Krakow).

In the wake of the Gdansk strike, leaders of the Interfactory Strike Committee voted to create a single national trade union known as Solidarnosc (Solidarity), which soon evolved into a mass social movement, with a membership of more than 10 million people. Solidarity attracted sympathy from Western leaders and hostility from Moscow, where the Kremlin considered a military invasion of Poland. In late 1981, under Soviet pressure, the government of General Wojciech Jaruzelski annulled the recognition of Solidarity and declared martial law in Poland. Some 6,000 Solidarity activists were arrested, including Walesa, who was detained for almost a year. The Solidarity movement moved underground, where it continued to enjoy support from international leaders such as U.S. President Ronald Reagan, who imposed sanctions on Poland. Walesa was awarded the 1983 Nobel Peace Prize, and after the fall of communism in 1989 he became the first president of Poland ever to be elected by popular vote.

Sam Mason survives Native American attack

Samuel Mason, a Patriot captain in command of Fort Henry on the Ohio frontier, survives a devastating Native American attack on August 31, 1777.

The son of a distinguished Virginia family, Samuel Mason became a militia officer and was assigned to the western frontier post of Fort Henry in present-day West Virginia. In the summer of 1777, with the colonies fighting a war for independence, Mason feared attacks by the Native allies of the British. He was proven correct on August 31, 1777, when a band of Native Americans from several eastern tribes attacked the fort.

The Native Americans initially fired only on several men who were outside the fort rounding up horses. Hearing the shots, Mason gathered 14 men and rode to their rescue; this was exactly what the warriors hoped he would do. They ambushed the party, killing all but Mason. Badly wounded, Mason escaped death by hiding behind a log. A second party that attempted to come to his rescue suffered the same fate as the first. All told, Mason lost 15 men, compared to only one fatality among the attackers.

Mason recovered from his wounds and continued to command Fort Henry for several years. Following the end of the war, though, he fell on hard times. Repeatedly accused of being a thief, he moved farther west into the lawless frontier of the young American nation. By 1797, he had become a pirate on the Mississippi River, preying on boatmen who moved valuable goods up and down the river. He also reportedly took to robbing travelers along the Natchez Trace (or trail) in Tennessee, often with the assistance of his four sons.

By the early 1800s, Mason had become one of the most notorious desperados on the American frontier, a precursor to Jesse James, Cole Younger and later outlaws of the “Wild West.” In January 1803, Spanish authorities arrested Mason and his four sons and decided to turn them over to the Americans. En route to Natchez Trace, Tennessee, Mason and his sons killed the commander of the boat and escaped.

Determined to apprehend Mason, the Americans upped the reward for his capture, dead or alive. The reward money soon proved too tempting for two members of Mason’s gang; in July 1803 they killed Mason, cut off his head and brought it into the Mississippi territorial offices to prove that they had earned the reward. The men were soon identified as members of Mason’s gang, however, and they were arrested and hanged.