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.”
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).
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.
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.