June 1st 1967: Sgt. Pepper released

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The final version of the Sgt. Pepper album cover – which has now become famous

On this day in the 1967 the British band The Beatles released their iconic album ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’. Their eighth album, Sgt. Pepper was an experimental piece as one of the world’s first concept albums, and represented a marked break from the Beatles’ earlier work. The concept of the album came from bassist Paul McCartney and is that the album is being performed by a fictional band – the titular ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’. Each Beatle took on a new persona in the band, most prominently drummer Ringo Starr as Billy Shears.

 

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The picture of the band in the album (from left: Ringo Starr, John Lennon, Paul McCartney and George Harrison)

 

Having decided to stop touring in 1966, the band were freer to write songs that would be difficult to play live, including the famous ‘A Day In The Life’. Other songs on the album have acquired equally legendary status, including ‘With a Little Help from My Friends’, ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds’ and ‘When I’m Sixty-Four’. The album cover was designed by artists Peter Blake and Jann Haworth based on a sketch by McCartney, and featured cut-outs of famous figures. The figures depicted include Bob Dylan, Edgar Allan Poe, Marilyn Monroe, Robert Peel, Stuart Sutcliffe, Laurel and Hardy, Karl Marx, Oscar Wilde and wax versions of the Beatles themselves; John Lennon was denied his request to feature Adolf Hitler and Jesus Christ. This article gives a great account of the reasoning behind some of the choices and includes a handy chart to help identity the figures behind the band. Sgt. Pepper was an instant success, spending 22 weeks at the top of the UK album chart and winning four Grammy Awards; it is still considered one of the band’s best albums and one of the greatest albums of all time.

 

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Outtakes from Sgt. Pepper cover shoot (source, and for more of the alternate covers: http://www.thatericalper.com/2014/02/24/outtakes-from-the-beatles-sgt-pepper-cover-shoot/)

 

May 31st 1962: Eichmann hanged

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Adolf Eichmann (1906 – 1962)

 

On this day in 1962, the fugitive Nazi officer Adolf Eichmann was executed in Israel. During the Nazi rule of Germany Eichmann was one of Chancellor Adolf Hitler’s top men in the paramilitary organisation the SS, charged with overseeing the deportation of Jews to extermination camps. For this role, and his prominent participation in the 1942 Wannsee Conference that planned the ‘Final Solution to the Jewish Problem’, he is considered one of the chief architects of the Holocaust. After the fall of the Third Reich with Germany’s defeat in the Second World War and Adolf Hitler’s suicide in 1945, many top Nazi officials faced charges of war crimes. Many were captured, and either committed suicide rather than face trial (like SS leader Heinrich Himmler), were executed after the Nuremberg Trials (like Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop), or were sent to prison (like Deputy Führer Rudolf Hess). Eichmann however, fled first to Austria and then to Argentina in 1950, where he lived until he was captured by Israeli intelligence services. Eichmann was subsequently put on trial in Jerusalem for war crimes, found guilty and was executed by hanging in 1962.

 

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Eichmann’s false Red Cross identity records he used to enter Argentina as ‘Ricardo Klement’ in 1950

May 30th 1854: Kansas-Nebraska Act passed

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The Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 (source: http://www.ourdocuments.gov/doc.php?flash=true&doc=28)

 

On this day in 1854, the US President Franklin Pierce signed the Kansas-Nebraska Act into law. This controversial law was designed to settle the question of whether the remaining unorganised land gained from the Louisiana Purchase of 1803 would enter the Union as slave or free states. Democratic Senator Stephen Douglas of Illinois – who would gain later fame for his Senate race against Abraham Lincoln in 1858 which gave rise to the famous Lincoln-Douglas debates – was the architect of the law. It provided that the slavery question would be settled by the principle of popular sovereignty – the settlers themselves would determine slavery’s fate. The act therefore repealed the Missouri Compromise of 1820, which many Americans considered a ‘sacred pledge’, by allowing slavery above the line established by the compromise. Douglas pushed the law as he wanted to secure a Transcontinental Railroad which would have its Eastern terminus in Chicago, and did not think slavery would be able to take root in the less fertile land of the West. He failed to foresee the problems over popular sovereignty that would arise, such as how and when to determine the slavery question.

 

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Stephen Douglas, architect of the Kansas-Nebraska Act (1813 – 1861)

 

The bill passed Congress after a sharply sectional vote, with most Northerners voting against it and most Southerners for it, before it was approved by Pierce. The Kansas-Nebraska Act was immediately controversial, contributing to the collapse of the Whig party, the birth of the Republican party, the entrance of Abraham Lincoln into politics, the rise of fear of the ‘Slave Power’ conspiracy in the North and the rush of settlers to Kansas which resulted in the bloody warfare of ‘Bleeding Kansas’ between pro-slavery and anti-slavery settlers. Due to these sectional animosities stirred by the Kansas-Nebraska Act, it is considered a pivotal moment on the road to the Civil War.

 

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Republican cartoon from the 1856 election depicting the violence during Bleeding Kansas as Missourians crossed the border into Kansas to cast fraudulent pro-slavery ballots. Note the way Douglas on the far left is scalping a freesoil settler – evoking imagery of the supposed savagery of Native Americans (source: http://loc.harpweek.com/LCPoliticalCartoons/IndexDisplayCartoonLarge.asp?SourceIndex=Topics&IndexText=Kansas&UniqueID=14&Year=1856)

 

“This will raise one hell of a storm”
- Douglas’s prescient comment after deciding his Kansas-Nebraska Act would repeal the Missouri Compromise

May 29th 1953: Hillary and Norgay reach Everest summit

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Norgay on Everest’s summit

 

On this day in 1953, Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay become the first people to reach the summit of the world’s highest mountain: Mount Everest. Many previous attempts to scale the peak had failed, but New Zealander Hillary and Nepalese Norgay reached the top (29,028 feet) at 11.30am local time on May 29th 1953. Norgay later revealed that Hillary had been the first to step onto the summit. The pair spent only 15 minutes taking pictures at the summit before they began their descent. Norgay left chocolates in the snow as an offering and Hillary left a cross that he had been given by John Hunt (leader of the expedition). News of their success reached London on the morning of Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation on June 2nd and upon arrival in Kathmandu Hillary and Hunt discovered they had been knighted.

 

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Hillary & Norgay near summit – May 28th

 

May 28th 1892: Sierra Club founded

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Sierra Club logo

 

On this day in 1892, John Muir founded the famous environmental organisation the Sierra Club in San Francisco, California. Muir was a notable conservationist and preservationist and became the Club’s first president. The Sierra Club worked to establish and protect federal national parks, most famously Yosemite National Park. Their cause received a boost during Progressive Theodore Roosevelt’s presidency (1901-1909), who was a naturalist like Muir.

 

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Roosevelt (left) & Muir in Yosemite

 

Some of the Club’s most notable successes since 1892 came during Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society programme, including the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act. The Sierra Club continues to be an influential group in the United States as one of the largest pressure groups in the nation. It has a significant influence over environmental issues and dedicates itself to tackling climate change and damage to the environment, most recently protesting against the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline.

 

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Painting of Yosemite National Park

 

May 27th 1564: Calvin dies

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John Calvin (1509 – 1564)

 

On this day in 1564, the French theologian John Calvin died in Geneva aged 54. Calvin, born in France in 1509, is best known for his formulation of the Protestant doctrine known as Calvinism. Calvinism advocates the view of predestination – that God chooses who will be saved and who will be damned even before their birth; there is thus nothing one can do in this life to alter their fate in the next. Whilst there is nothing one can do to alter their fate, Calvinists hold that those who live a godly life show evidence of being one of God’s elect, and so there is a point to living righteously. The elect had to prove their status by giving a narrative of their conversion before the church (which at this point meant the congregation of the elect). It was these views that provided the foundation of Puritan belief in Britain and colonial America. Calvin’s views made him a controversial figure in his lifetime, and he was an early supporter of Martin Luther’s Protestant Reformation. In the last years of his life, Calvin was the ruler of Geneva where he relentlessly promoted Protestantism, even resorting to executing and exiling religious dissenters.

 

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The exact location of Calvin’s grave is unknown, but this site in Geneva is the traditional site

 

“We call predestination God’s eternal decree, by which He determined what He willed to become of each man. For all are not created in equal condition; rather, eternal life is ordained for some, eternal damnation for others.”
- John Calvin

May 26th 1868: President Johnson acquitted

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Senate trial of Johnson – Theodore Davis

 

On this day in 1868 President Andrew Johnson’s impeachment trial ended, finding him not guilty by one vote. Johnson became President in 1865 after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, and was thus in power during the crucial stage of Reconstruction after the Civil War. However, Johnson did little to support the newly emancipated slaves, and opposed measures like the Fourteenth Amendment which granted them citizenship. A Tennesseean, chosen as Lincoln’s running-mate to give the impression of national unity, Johnson was more sympathetic to the former Confederate states than a Northern counterpart may have been.

 

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Andrew Johnson (1808-1875)

 

The unpopular President was impeached in February by the House of Representatives, with the main charge being that he violated the Tenure of Office Act by attempting to remove Edwin Stanton as Secretary of War. Johnson was then put on trial in the Senate, with Chief Justice Salmon Chase presiding. He was tried by two articles of impeachment, and both fell short – by just one vote – of the required two thirds majority needed to find him guilty and remove him from office. Whilst Congress gave specific reasons for the impeachment, many still consider the affair a mostly political retaliation by Radical Republicans against the President’s Reconstruction policies. Johnson and Bill Clinton in 1998 remain the only two Presidents to have been impeached.

 

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The affair became a national scandal – tickets were sold for the trial

May 25th 1085: Pope Gregory VII dies

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Pope Gregory VII (1020 – 1085)

 

On this day in 1085 Pope Gregory VII died in Salerno. He became Pope in 1073 and was known for his advocacy of Church reform such as ending the practice of simony (selling Church offices) and ensuring clerical celibacy. Gregory VII was crucial in the Investiture Controversy which was a dispute between the Pope and Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV over who had the power to invest bishops with the symbols of their office. Gregory VII excommunicated Henry IV twice, leading the Emperor to wait outside Canossa Castle for the Pope for three days in the snow, begging for his excommunication to be rescinded, which Gregory granted. Gregory’s excommunication of Henry was considered by some as an over-extension of papal power over secular matters.

 

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Emperor Henry IV (1050 – 1106)

May 24th 1956: First Eurovision

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The original Eurovision logo

 

On this day in 1956, the first Eurovision Song Contest (then known as the Eurovision Grand Prix) was held in Lugano, Switzerland. The idea for the event came about in a 1955 meeting of the European Broadcasting Union in Monaco, after they were inspired by the Sanremo Music Festival in Italy. The first ever Eurovision broadcast lasted for one almost two-hour show on May 24th, primarily broadcast over radio. The event saw seven European countries (Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Switzerland) submit two songs each. The winner was picked by a jury panel made up of representatives from the participating countries who voted for their favourite song in secret.

 

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1956 winner Lys Assia of Switzerland

 

In 1956, the prize went to Switzerland’s own Lys Assia with the song ‘Refrain’. The tradition of the Eurovision song contest continues annually to this day, though the format is very different to how it was in 1956 – most notably the increased number of participant countries (37 took part this year) and the fact that each country only enter one song each. The 2014 Eurovision contest was won by Austria’s Conchita Wurst for the song ‘Rise Like a Phoenix’.

 

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2014 winner Conchita Wurst of Austria

May 23rd 1701: Captain Kidd executed

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Willliam “Captain” Kidd (c.1654 – 1701)

 

On this day in 1701 the Scottish pirate William Kidd was executed in England. Kidd, born in Dundee around 1654, enjoyed a successful career as a seaman before his turn to piracy. In May 1696 Kidd set sail charged with the job of hunting pirates and attacking enemy French ships as a privateer. However whilst on this voyage around the Indian Ocean, Kidd and his crew began plundering treasure ships. During his time, Kidd killed a mutinous gunner on his ship, contributing to his fearsome piratical reputation. Their main prize was the Quedagh Merchant which carried a wealth of gold, silk and spices – the haul from this came to around £15,000, a huge amount of money for this period. As news broke in England of Kidd’s activities, his wealthy and powerful patrons at home scrambled to condemn him.

 

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William Kidd’s body hanging in a cage on the River Thames – from ‘The Pirates Own Book’ by Charles Ellms (source: http://www.historytoday.com/richard-cavendish/execution-captain-kidd)

 

Kidd was eventually arrested in New York, where he had gone with hopes of support from his powerful contacts there, insisting he was innocent and had acted only as a privateer. Whilst he gave up some of his buried treasure on Gardiners Island, he claimed he had more buried somewhere else; would-be treasure hunters have been searching for his haul ever since. Kidd was put on trial for piracy in England, in what became a public spectacle due to his prominent connections, where he was found guilty and sentenced to death. On May 23rd, Kidd was hanged on the River Thames in London and his body encased in an iron cage and left to rot as a warning to other pirates.

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