Explorers Jacques Marquette and Louis Jolliet began their journey to map the Mississippi River on May 17th, 1673. The trip started on Lake Michigan. The explorers traveled down the Wisconsin River to reach the Mississippi a month later, near the modern towns of Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin, and Marquette, Iowa.
Marquette and Jolliet passed present-day Kentucky on their trek down the Mississippi. The first Kentucky Derby was run on this day in 1875 — not the first Saturday in May, or even a Saturday at all (it was a Monday). The winning horse was Aristides.
Secretariat set the record for the fastest time at the Kentucky Derby in 1973. Now, “Secretariat” makes regular appearances on a late-night talk show (okay, it’s two guys in a horse costume) on “The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson.” Scottish comedian Ferguson was born May 17th, 1962. Before getting the hosting job on “The Late Late Show,” Ferguson played Drew’s boss on “The Drew Carey Show.”
And May 17th is the birthday of an actor famous for roles in movies about a river journey (“Apocalypse Now”) and a motorcycle trek (“Easy Rider”) — Dennis Hopper (born 1936).
February 13th in history:
American painter Grant Wood was born in Iowa on February 13th, 1891. Wood created the famous 1930 painting “American Gothic,” showing a farmer and his daughter standing outside their house.
Another Midwestern artist, Charles Schulz, achieved fame and fortune drawing Charlie Brown, Snoopy, and the other “Peanuts” characters. Schulz chose to stop drawing the comic strip after 50 years, and coincidentally died the day before the last original “Peanuts” cartoon appeared in newspapers on February 13th, 2000.
And Jesse James and his gang drew their guns and held up a Midwestern bank (in Liberty, Missouri) on February 13th, 1866. It’s said to be the first armed robbery ever committed in the U.S. during peace-time.
Men landed on the moon for the third time on February 3rd, 1971. America’s first man in space, Alan Shepard, landed on the lunar surface with Edgar Mitchell during the Apollo 14 mission.
Another famous flight ended tragically on February 3rd, 1959. Singers Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper were killed when their plane crashed near Clear Lake, Iowa, shortly after their last concert at the nearby Surf Ballroom.
Iowa made history on this date in 1870 by becoming the 28th state to approve the 15th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, making it law. That amendment allowed former slaves and other non-white citizens to vote.
October 4 in history:
Paul the 6th became the first reigning pope to visit the U.S. on this date in 1965. During a one-day trip to New York, the pope spoke at the United Nations and attended an outdoor mass at Yankee Stadium.
Fourteen years later, Pope John Paul the 2nd spent an entire week in America. On October 4th of 1979, he conducted a large outdoor service at the Living History Farms, near Des Moines, Ia. The crowd of 300-thousand was said to be the largest single gathering in Iowa history.
Iowa’s neighbor to the northwest, South Dakota, may be most famous for the presidential scuptures on Mount Rushmore. On this date in 1927, sculptor Gutzon Borglum began work on the faces of four presidents…Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and Theodore Roosevelt.
The supercarrier USS Theodore Roosevelt launched the first air strikes against Afghanistan in “Operation Enduring Freedom” on this date in 2001, three weeks after the September 11 attacks on America.
And a boy named Theodore Cleaver was introduced to TV audiences on October 4th, 1957. Theodore was better known as “Beaver”…the main character in “Leave It to Beaver.”
August 10 in history:
On August 10th, 1792, King Louis the 16th of France was sent to prison, and a royal art collection at the Louvre Palace in Paris was confiscated by the government. The Louvre reopened as a museum exactly one year later.
On this date in 1846, the U.S. government established the Smithsonian Institution as a museum and research organization. The original half-million dollar sum used to establish the Institution came from the estate of British scientist James Smithson.
Herbert Hoover became the fourth U.S. president to have his own official museum and library, when the Hoover Library was dedicated on August 10th, 1962 at West Branch, Iowa. That was Hoover’s 88th birthday.