May 22nd in history:
Only two volcanic eruptions occurred in the U.S. during the 20th century. One was the Mount St. Helens eruption of 1980. The other happened on May 22nd, 1915, with an explosion at Lassen Peak in northern California.
Another powerful act of nature, an earthquake, struck southern Chile on this date in 1960, killing thousands of people. Known as the Valdivia quake, it was the strongest earthquake ever recorded, measuring 9.5 on the Richter Scale. Severe tornadoes also have occurred on May 22nd, in Hallam, Nebraska (in 2004) and Joplin, Missouri (2011). The Joplin twister caused more than 150 deaths, and was the deadliest tornado in the U.S. in more than 60 years.
Wreckage from an airplane explosion fell from the sky onto Missouri and Iowa on May 22nd, 1962, when a Continental Airlines flight between Chicago and Kansas City blew up. All 45 people aboard were killed. One of the passengers, who had earlier taken out a large insurance policy, apparently planted a bomb in a restroom. The tragedy reportedly inspired part of the plot of the 1970 movie “Airport.”
In May of 1962, Iowa native Johnny Carson was preparing to take over NBC’s “Tonight Show.” He had just been hired to replace the departing Jack Paar. Carson stayed on as host of “Tonight” longer than any other person, almost 30 years, ending his run on May 22nd, 1992.
Another TV personality named “Johnny” made his debut on this day in 1910: that was the birthdate of announcer Johnny Olson, who’s most famous for shouting “Come on down!” to contestants on “The Price Is Right.” Olson also served as the announcer on “What’s My Line?,” “Match Game,” and “The Jackie Gleason Show.”
May 21st in history:
Michelangelo’s sculpture, the Pieta, was vandalized at the Vatican on May 21st, 1972 by a geologist named Laszlo Toth. He damaged the statue of the Virgin Mary with several blows from a hammer.
Writer and actor Don Novello, alias “Father Guido Sarducci”, used the name Lazlo Toth when writing prank letters to famous people. He published a few books containing many of the letters he received in return. Novello wrote and performed on “Saturday Night Live” in the late 1970s, along with actor, writer and U.S. Senator Al Franken, born May 21st, 1951.
“All My Children” star Susan Lucci has never run for public office, but she’s famous for being an also-ran. Her string of Emmy nominations without a win ended on May 21st, 1999, when she won a Daytime Emmy Award on her 19th try.
May 20th in history:
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 the original “Star Wars” movies.
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.
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.