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.
May 13th in history:
On May 13th, 1917, three young shepherds reported seeing a vision of the Virgin Mary for the first time at Fatima, Portugal.
One “Secret” reportedly revealed to the children by Mary has been interpreted as a prediction of an attack against a future Pope. On this date in 1981, Pope John Paul II was shot and wounded by a gunman in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican.
The founder of the Peoples Temple, Jim Jones, was born May 13th, 1931.
A segment on “The Daily Show” called “This Week in God” turned out to be a blessing for actor and comedian Stephen Colbert, born on this day in 1964. Colbert got his own late-night spinoff called “The Colbert Report,” and in 2015, he succeeded David Letterman as host of “The Late Show” on CBS.
Colbert was not born on a Friday, but singer Darius Rucker, formerly of Hootie and the Blowfish, was a Friday the 13th baby on this day in 1966. And Stevie Wonder, who had a hit record called “Superstition” in 1972, was born on May 13th in 1950.
May 12th in history:
On May 12th, 1937, Prince Albert Frederick Arthur George, the Duke of York, was officially crowned King of England, taking the name George VI. He already had been the king since the previous December, when his brother, King Edward VIII, abdicated to marry a divorced American woman.
Actor Colin Firth won an Oscar for playing Albert, or “Bertie,” in the movie The King’s Speech. Firth’s portrayal included frequent cursing, including some of the “Seven Words You Can’t Say on Television,” immortalized in a routine by comedian George Carlin…born on the same day King George was crowned in 1937.
Carlin created the character of Al Sleet, the “hippie-dippie” weatherman. On May 12th, 1978, Al Sleet could have announced the news that the U.S. would start using men’s names for hurricanes again, after years of using only women’s names. (The name “George” already had been used for a hurricane in 1950.)
May 11th in history:
Nova Roma, not Constantinople …
On May 11th, 330 A.D., the city of Byzantium was renamed “Nova Roma” by Roman emperor Constantine I. After he died, the city became known as “Constantinople.”
Siam changed its name to Thailand on May 11th, 1949.
Shortly after he was killed in Vietnam on this day in 1972, the remains of Air Force Lt. Michael Blassie were sent to Thailand for storage. Eventually, the remains were returned to the U.S., but Blassie’s identity could not be confirmed, and he became the Unknown Soldier for the Vietnam War. He was buried at the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington National Cemetery from 1984 until 1998, when his identity was proved. Blassie was re-buried in Missouri.
The composer who wrote “God Bless America” and “White Christmas” was born Israel Baline in Russia on May 11th, 1888. He spelled his last name “Beilin” when he became a songwriter, but when it was misspelled “Berlin” on the sheet music for his first published song, he adopted the name Irving Berlin.
And actor Philip Silver changed his name to Phil Silvers, although TV audiences of the ’50s knew him better as “Sergeant Bilko.” Silvers, born on this day in 1911, also starred in “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World” and his TV production company Gladasya made “Gilligan’s Island”, on which he guest-starred as producer Harold Hecuba.