May 20th in history:
Christopher Columbus died in Spain on May 20th, 1506. Columbus reportedly never thought that he had come upon a new continent, but always believed that he had reached Asia by crossing the Atlantic.
Vasco da Gama reached India on this date in 1498, after starting in Portugal and going around Africa.
Charles Lindbergh began his historic flight across the Atlantic from Long Island on May 20th, 1927. He was the first person to successfully fly solo across the ocean to Europe without stopping.
Lindbergh’s flight began on the 19th birthday of future movie star Jimmy Stewart (1908). In 1957, Stewart would star as Lindbergh in a movie about the flight to Paris, called The Spirit of St. Louis.
Jimmy Stewart won an Oscar for “The Philadelphia Story,” and his hit movies include “Vertigo” and “It’s a Wonderful Life,” but he also starred as a lawyer in the CBS TV series “Hawkins” in 1973. Another prime-time series on CBS in ’73 was “The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour.” Cher, born on this date in 1946, moved beyond records and TV to a successful movie career, and won a Best Actress Oscar for “Moonstruck” in 1987.
May 19th in history:
King Henry VIII and his relatives made history on May 19th in different years.
On this day in 1499, Catherine of Aragon was married by proxy to Henry’s brother Arthur, the Prince of Wales. When Arthur died months after their formal marriage, it was arranged for Catherine to marry Henry.
Henry ended his marriage to Catherine so he could marry Anne Boleyn. But after Anne did not give Henry a male heir, he had her tried for treason. Anne was beheaded on May 19th, 1536.
Henry and Anne’s only child, Princess Elizabeth, eventually became queen of England. On May 19th, 1568, Elizabeth had her rival, Mary, Queen of Scots, arrested.
Two very tall actors associated with princesses were born on May 19th. Andre the Giant (born 1946) played Fezzik in the movie “The Princess Bride.” And Peter Mayhew (1944) appeared on-screen with Princess Leia while playing Chewbacca in “Star Wars” episodes IV through VII.
May 18th in history:
On May 18th, 1927, more than 40 people, mostly children, died in the deadliest attack on a school in U.S. history, when a bomb went off at a school in Bath Township, Michigan. The explosion was planned by a school board member, who was upset that rising property taxes used to fund the schools were driving him out of his farm home.
Another man-made blast, by a rocket, sent the Apollo 10 mission into space on May 18th, 1969. It was the second manned spacecraft to orbit the moon, and the crew rehearsed procedures needed for the landing of Apollo 11 two months later.
Nature created a major explosion on this date in 1980, when the Mount St. Helens volcano in Washington State erupted. Fifty-seven people died in the explosion, which followed weeks of earthquakes and the venting of steam.
May 17th in history:
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. “Secretariat” made regular appearances on a late-night talk show (okay, it was 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).
May 16th in history:
“The bells, bells, bells, bells…”
Wedding bells for author Edgar Allan Poe and his cousin, Virginia Clemm, on May 16th, 1836. Edgar was 27, Virginia was 13. Some sources claim that the two had been married secretly for almost a year.
Did they eat cake at this wedding? Fourteen-year-old Marie Antoinette married 15-year-old French Prince Louis-Auguste (who became King Louis XVI) on May 16th, 1770. One legend about Marie Antoinette is that Mozart said he wanted to marry her, when they met as young children.
Another flamboyant musician (one who didn’t marry) was born on this date in 1919 – the man with the candelabra on his piano, Liberace.
Actress Norma Shearer received an Oscar nomination in 1938 for playing Marie Antoinette. Shearer didn’t win that year, but she was named Best Actress for “The Divorcee” at the 3rd Academy Awards, in 1930. The very first Oscar ceremony happened on May 16th, 1929, at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel. “Wings” was the first winner for Best Picture.
May 15th in history:
Some famous storytellers were born on May 15th. They include twins Anthony and Peter Shaffer (1926). Anthony wrote the play “Sleuth,” while Peter is famous for “Equus” and “Amadeus.” It’s also the birthday of L. Frank Baum (1856), who took readers to the Emerald City down the road of yellow brick in “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.”
It may not have a yellow-brick road, but it does have a Golden Nugget (casino). The city of Las Vegas was founded on May 15th, 1905, when 110 acres of railroad property were auctioned off.
And the home of the Golden Arches and Chicken McNuggets was established on May 15th, 1940, when the McDonalds – brothers Dick and Mac – opened a restaurant in San Bernardino, California.
May 14th in history:
The Lewis and Clark Expedition began its journey up the Missouri River on May 14th, 1804, with William Clark leading a group of explorers from a camp in the Illinois territory. Meriwether Lewis met up with Clark’s group a week later.
The U.S. space program began a new chapter when Skylab was launched on May 14th, 1973, just five months after the last manned flight to the moon. Skylab was America’s first orbiting space station, and remained in orbit for six years.
“Star Wars” creator George Lucas was born on this date in 1944. Lucas also is famous for his collaboration with Steven Spielberg on the Indiana Jones movies. And it’s the birthday of Robert Zemeckis (1952), who directed and co-wrote the “Back to the Future” movies produced by Spielberg.