May 31st in history:
More than two thousand people died on May 31st, 1889, in the great Johnstown, Pennsylvania, flood. Heavy rains caused a dam to break, unleashing all the water from a lake a few miles outside of Johnstown.
In legend, and in the movie “The Ten Commandments,” he’s the pharaoh whose army drowned in the Red Sea while pursuing Moses and his followers. Rameses II became the pharaoh of Egypt on May 31st in 1279 B.C.
Richard Nixon’s rule as president was sunk partly by leaks to the Washington Post from a source nicknamed “Deep Throat.” On this date in 2005, former FBI agent Mark Felt revealed himself to be Bob Woodward’s secret source.
And on May 31st, 1911, a huge ocean liner which would sink less than a year later was launched. It was the RMS Titanic.
May 30th in history:
Decoration Day was observed in the U.S. for the first time on May 30th, 1868. It later became known as Memorial Day, and it would be observed on May 30th every year for over a century, until 1971, when it was turned into a Monday holiday.
The Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., was dedicated on Memorial Day of 1922.
Memorial Day of 1911 was chosen as the occasion for a 500-mile car race in Indianapolis. The Indy 500 has continued since then – first on May 30th for many years, and now on the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend.
Daredevil Evel Knievel jumped his vehicle of choice – a motorcycle – over 16 cars at a racetrack in California on May 30th, 1967.
May 29th in history:
A National World War II Memorial was dedicated in Washington, D.C. on May 29th, 2004, nearly 60 years after the end of the war. The monument was built on the National Mall, between the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial.
Two famous Americans who have had U.S. Navy ships named after them were born on May 29th: President John F. Kennedy (1917), and comedian Bob Hope (1903). It was during World War II when Kennedy commanded the boat PT-109 in the Pacific, and Hope began a long tradition of taking USO shows to American troops overseas.
Shortly after JFK’s assassination, his widow Jacqueline compared the Kennedy White House to King Arthur’s Camelot. The musical “Camelot” was based on the “Once and Future King” series of books about Arthur by English author T.H. White, born on May 29th, 1906.
Bob Hope’s partner in the popular “Road” pictures, Bing Crosby, starred in a movie version of “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court.” On this day in 1942, Crosby recorded his biggest hit, introduced in the movie “Holiday Inn.” His version of Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas” was recorded in just 18 minutes.
Edmund Hillary and his guide Tenzing Norgay reached the white, snow-covered summit of Mount Everest on May 29th, 1953. While there is speculation that other climbers reached the summit years before, Hillary claimed credit as the first one to come back from the summit alive.
May 28th in history:
When wedding bells rang for King Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, not everybody was happy. Henry had ended his first marriage so he could make Anne his wife, and eventually became the head of the Church of England. But on May 28th, 1533, the Archbishop of Canterbury declared that the king’s new marriage was valid.
The most famous bell in England, “Big Ben,” was hauled by 16 horses from the foundry where it was made to the Palace of Westminster on this date in 1859. The 13-ton bell still rings on the hour inside the palace tower.
On May 28th, 1930, the Chrysler Building towered over every other building in the world, when it opened in New York. It lost the honor of being the world’s tallest building less than a year later, when the Empire State Building opened several blocks away.
May 27th in history:
Henry Ford stopped making the Model T on May 27th, 1927. It had been the first really popular American car model, bought by millions of drivers over the 19 years it was on the market. Ford replaced the Model T with the Model A.
Drivers in the San Francisco area had a new way to get across the bay when the Golden Gate bridge opened on May 27th, 1937.
“The Three Little Pigs” was considered a ground-breaking Walt Disney cartoon, paving the way for animated features. It opened on this date in 1933. Like many future Disney cartoons, “Pigs” introduced a popular song, “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?”
And a couple of horror-movie actors who have scared countless audiences were born on May 27th: Vincent Price (1911) and Christopher Lee (1922).
May 26th in history:
On this date in 1894, Nicholas II became the czar of Russia. As it turned out, he would be the last czar.
President Andrew Johnson narrowly avoided being removed from office as his impeachment trial in the Senate ended on May 26th, 1868. Johnson would not be the last president to be impeached and tried.
Visitors to the Eiffel Tower in Paris could get to the top by elevator for the first time on this date in 1889. The tower had opened to the public less than a month earlier.
And mountain climber George Willig chose May 26th as the day in 1977 that he would climb the South Tower of New York’s World Trade Center … from the outside. Willig had designed special climbing tools to be inserted into the tracks used for window-washing scaffolds. After he reached the top, Willig was fined for his stunt: a total of a dollar and 10 cents (one cent for each of the skyscraper’s 110 stories).
May 25th in history:
The deadliest single airplane accident ever in the U.S. occurred at O’Hare Airport on May 25th, 1979, when American Airlines Flight 191 crashed shortly after takeoff. All 271 people aboard the DC-10 died after one engine fell off, and the plane tilted more than 100 degrees to the left before crashing.
On May 25th, 1961, President Kennedy announced the Apollo Project, stating his goal of landing a man on the moon and returning him to Earth before the end of the decade. This was only three weeks after America’s first manned space flight.
On the same date in 1977, the original “Star Wars” movie opened around the U.S. That was the 33rd birthday of Muppet master Frank Oz, who played Jedi master Yoda in later “Star Wars” films, and has portrayed many other Muppets characters, including Fozzie Bear and Miss Piggy.
May 25th also is the birthday of screenwriter Bob Gale (born 1951), who (with Robert Zemeckis) created a flying DeLorean time machine in the “Back to the Future” movies, and real-life helicopter developer Igor Sikorsky (1889).