APRIL’S HISTORIC CHILL

History is full of fateful coincidences and other relative oddities.  But mid April is strikingly chilling for a time when we think of the renewal that Spring brings.

April 12: Franklin Delano Roosevelt dies in office (1945)
FDR was long stricken with Polio, so his death was not particularly a surpise, the nation nonetheless reeled in shock. His death ushers in eight more tragic days of death, destruction and devestation in American History throughout time.

April 13: Fort Sumter surrendered, Civil War begins (1861)
I suppose another one of those not-really-surprising moments, but Historians need a starting date and secession could have been one on December 20th, 1860… but there was no trigger for war yet.

April 14: Lincoln shot at Ford’s Theater, Washington, DC (1865)
Poor Abe, if he only would have known his presidency and assassination would spawn so many books that a three story tower of them resides in the building next to where he died. The vast and unbelievable-but-true story of the plot to kill Lincoln, Secretary of State Seward, General Grant and Vice-President Johnson was oh-so-close to succeeding.  Mr. Spielberg, answer your phone please.  This has Academy Award written all over it.

April 15: Lincoln dies (1865), the Titanic sinks (1912), and the Boston Marathon bombing (2013)
Et tu Brute, the Ides of March has nothing on the Ides of April. While Lincoln’s death is recorded on this date, it was only because his body was so strong that it defied the logic of a bullet shattering his brain to linger until the morning hours of the 15th.

It was perhaps hubris that sank the ship that was to be unsinkable.  Well, technically it was an iceberg, but hubris played a bigger role in the outcome than Celine Dione’s song that went on forever on the radio in 1997.

Then there was the cavalier disregard of unusually dangerous environmental conditions—a flat calm and a moonless night that made icebergs very hard to spot at any distance, along with a careless, even negligent failure to ensure that the lookouts had binoculars. These essential, age-old shipboard tools had mysteriously gone missing or were never brought aboard during the fitting out of the brand new ship.
– Peter Corning, PhD in Psychology Today

The traumatic trinity of the 15th concludes with the bombing at the finish line of the Boston Marathon in 2013.  While the casualty was lower than other world wide post-9/11 terrorist attacks, the resulting fear was not.

April 16: Texas City fertilizer plant explodes (1947), Virginia Tech shooting of 32 (2007)  Rivaling the 15th for historic devestation, this date begins with a horrific body count in post-war America, where 580 souls were lost in a unfortunate industrial accident.

The Virginia Tech shooting opened the slowly healing wound of Columbine and deepened it. While school shootings still happened after Columbine, the cold, calculated killing of Virginia Tech was chilling.  Perhaps we felt a college campus would be safer, but it turned out in many ways to be worse.

April 17: US sponsored Bay of Pigs invasion fails (1961); Apollo 13 suffers “problem” (1970); another Texas fertilizer explosion kills 15, hurts 100+ (2013)
It’s eerie that the video (above) for the Texas City fertilizer plant from 2007 wondered if it could happen again… and so the very next day (plus 56 years and 250 miles) it did but with fewer casualties.

Both the Bay of Pigs and Apollo 13 saw no loss of American life, and perhaps Apollo 13 does not belong in this list.  Thanks to Ron Howard’s movie making magic, Apollo 13 seems a triumph from tragedy.  The Bay of Pigs is more a political problem than a deathly one. 

April 18: Great San Francisco Earthquake (1906)
In the pantheon of American tragedy, the San Francisco Earthquake would rank among the highest.  The death toll, while lower than September 11th, was estimated between 500 and 700 but the property damage was estimated at $350 million.  Adjusted to 2016 dollars, that’s a minimum of $9 billion and possibly as high as $200 billion.

April 19: Lexington & Concord (1775), Waco Siege ends (1993), Oklahoma City Bombing (1995)
Another triple header, but in reality a date with many symbolic connections.  While the deaths in 1775 are considered noble and honorable, as Massachussets Minutemen started a revolution that would lead to our nation’s birth, the date may have deeper meaning for the Oklahoma City Bombing.  What might have stood as the worst act of terrorism in modern history, had there been no September 11th, OKC still is shrouded in some mystery.  We have never identified, found, nor explained “John Doe #2” whom the government was seeking out as a responsible party.  There are countless conspiracy theories.  But the since-executed guilty party (I wish not to name) was part of a extremist right-wing anti-government militia movement.  The militia movement blames the BATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms) for bull-headedly storming a religious cult compound (also another leader whose name I wish not to glorify) in after a several month standoff.  The Waco Siege, as it would be called, ended with an raid that left 76 dead with worse visual imagery of a military style assault on the compound.  Oklahoma City was said by the militia types to be retaliation for that raid but also a day that would start another revolution. 

April 20: Columbine High School Shooting (1999)
Two teenagers, deciding that “420” (urban slang/code for Marijuana) was a perfect day to be glorified in history, their calculated assassination of students forever altered the landscape of schools.  Where post-nuclear America realized that “duck and cover” drills were pointless, replacing them were drills for students to hide and cower from shooters. What the pair desired (and I have never used their names either) has come to fruition as copycat school shootings have followed.  

American History will always be full of tragic accidents and evil incarnate, but let’s hope that we are done with these events in April.

  • J.
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