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Your Week in History: Congress' pay and an unseen enemy

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The airship Hindenburg burns just prior to landing in Lakehurst, NJ, on May 6, 1937. (Source: U.S. Navy/Wikimedia Commons) The airship Hindenburg burns just prior to landing in Lakehurst, NJ, on May 6, 1937. (Source: U.S. Navy/Wikimedia Commons)
Plaque commemorating the first time a human ran a mile in under 4 minutes. (Source: Wikimedia Commons) Plaque commemorating the first time a human ran a mile in under 4 minutes. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)
The RMS Lusitania, shown here, was sunk by a German U-boat May 7, 1915. (Source: Library of Congress/Wikimedia Commons) The RMS Lusitania, shown here, was sunk by a German U-boat May 7, 1915. (Source: Library of Congress/Wikimedia Commons)

(RNN) – Hydrogen is flammable.

I could go into detailed scientific analysis as to why (one electron!), but rather than explain that, I'll just say hydrogen is flammable because hydrogen is flammable.

The world learned this in spectacular fashion May 6, 1937, when the Hindenburg burst into flames in New Jersey. There were almost 100 people on board and nearly two-thirds of them lived. That's right – lived. Thirty-six people died, including one person who was on the ground.

It's hard to imagine how anyone could have lived through the disaster, but it has proven even more difficult to determine why there was a disaster in the first place. MythBusters dedicated an episode to it, and they still couldn't figure it out. They had some awesome results, though.

Here are some of the events of note that happened between May 6-12.

Life and Death

I'll get the John Wayne stuff out of the way early. Denver Pyle was born May 11, 1920. Pyle is most known for his appearances on The Andy Griffith Show as Briscoe Darling and as Uncle Jesse on The Dukes of Hazzard, but he also appeared with The Duke in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance and The Alamo.

Katherine Hepburn appeared with John Wayne in Rooster Cogburn and was born May 12, 1907. It was a movie that didn't really need to be made and can be watched in its entirety on YouTube. It's a sequel to True Grit and not nearly as good, but it's not as terrible as most reviews make it out to be. It has a gatling gun, a wagon load of nitroglycerine and self-righteous judgment of drunkards. It's fun for the whole family.

Chang and Eng Bunker were born May 11, 1811. They were conjoined twins who earned the condition its moniker of Siamese Twins. Their fused liver is on display at the Mutter Museum. Had they been born today, they could have been separated. They did a pretty good joined together, though, because one fathered 10 children and the other fathered 11.

Orson Welles (1915), Willie Mays (1931) and George Clooney (1961) were all born May 6. Jefferson Davis' wife, Varina, (1826) and Russian composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840) were born May 7. Harry Truman was born May 8, 1884, America's sweetheart Missy Franklin was born May 10, 1995, and Salvadore Dali was born May 11, 1904.

Last week was full of Looney Tunes stuff, so here's a few more. Arthur Q. Bryan was born May 8, 1899, and Bob Clampett was born the same day in 1913. Bryan was the original voice of Elmer Fudd and the character was done away with for more than a decade after Bryan died in 1959. Clampett directed cartoons for Warner Bros. and was the first person to animate Daffy Duck. He also created Tweety.

Another Looney Tunes director, Arthur Davis, died May 9, 2000. Davis took over Clampett's unit, but didn't last long as a director due to budget problems.

Wizard of Oz author L. Frank Baum died May 6, 1919. His birthday is next week – May 15, 1856. Seattle Slew died May 7, 2002.

Overlooked Anniversaries

Minnesota became a state May 11, 1858. I don't know much about Minnesota other than the Mississippi River starts there and it's full of lakes. Its claim to statehood seems a little flimsy to me, but I have no reason to kick it out, so I guess it can stay.

The 27th Amendment was ratified May 7, 1992, except that it wasn't. It was actually ratified May 5, 1992, but nobody knew it because when Kentucky ratified it June 27, 1792, nobody bothered to count it. The amendment limits when Congress can give itself a raise and it sat in limbo for 200 years. It was the second amendment ever proposed (before the entire Bill of Rights) and is so far the last amendment to be ratified.

Beethoven's Ninth Symphony debuted May 7, 1824. It is notable for its inclusion of the Ode de Joy in the fourth movement, but it is the second movement for which it is most recognized.

Rock Around the Clock was the first rock and roll song to top the Billboard chart and was released May 10, 1954, the Eiffel Tower opened May 6, 1889, radio was first demonstrated publicly May 7, 1895, the first Westminster Kennel Club dog show was held May 8, 1877, smallpox was certified as eradicated May 8, 1980, and the Incredible Hulk was first published May 10, 1962.

Something About Sports

Roger Bannister was the first person to run a mile in under 4 minutes May 6, 1954, which he did by about a half a second. Today the record for the mile is held by Morocco's Hicham El Geurrouj at 3:43.13.

The Soviet Union announced it would boycott the 1984 Summer Olympics on May 8, 1984. This will probably pop up again in July, but the U.S. dominated the medal table without the communist bloc countries in attendance.

Jim Gentile became the first player to hit a grand slam in consecutive innings May 9, 1961 – in the first and second innings off different pitchers. The only player to hit a grand slam in the same inning is Fernando Tatis, who did it April 23, 1999.

The Week in Warfare

Charleston, SC, was captured by the British on May 12, 1780, and dealt a huge blow to the Continental Army. However, the loss only increased support for the war in the Southern colonies. The Mel Gibson movie The Patriot is centered around the aftermath of the fall of Charleston. It's a good movie, but not exactly historically accurate.

The RMS Lusitania was suck by a German U-boat on May 7, 1915. More than 1,100 people died and anti-German sentiment became stronger in the buildup of World War I.

The Battle of the Coral Sea was fought May 7-8, 1942. It marked the first time opposing aircraft carriers had engaged each other, and the first naval battle where the ships involved never saw each other. The U.S. and Japanese forces each lost an aircraft carrier and a destroyer, but Japan suffered more heavy damage to its surviving ships. The battle was a strategic victory for the Allies and set the stage for a bigger victory at Midway a month later.

Three years later, Germany formally surrendered to the Allies on May 8, 1945, in what is known as Victory in Europe Day.

Holiday You Should Celebrate

International No Diet Day is May 6. If you're like me, you celebrate this every day. But Monday you actually have a reason to eat an entire pizza by yourself, so do it.

Public Service Announcement

Sunday is Mother's Day.

Preview of next week

"Happy birthday, Mr. President."

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