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).
June 17th in history:
An empress of India died during childbirth on June 17th, 1631, and her tomb has become one of the world’s most recognizable works of architecture. It took over 20 years to build the monument to Mumtaz Mahal, called (logically enough) the Taj Mahal.
One of the most famous statues of a woman arrived in the U.S. on June 17th, 1885. The pieces were all boxed up aboard a ship from France, and it took a year to put them together, to form the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor.
There was no statue of any kind waiting for Father Jacques Marquette and Louis Jolliet when they reached the Mississippi River on June 17th, 1673. They were the first white men to see the northern part of the Mississippi, as they arrived at the mouth of the Wisconsin River. But today, a few miles north of that point, a statue of Marquette stands high on a pedestal near a bridge linking Marquette, Iowa, and Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin.