It’s Sunday Again! Did you know…
* 1934 – Birth of Dionne Quintuplets: Annette, Cecile, Emilie, Marie, and Yvonne. (The quintuplets, born to Oliva and Elzire Dionne at Corbeil, Ontario, near Callander, May 28, 1934. The Dionnes were the first surviving quints in history; two months premature, each weighed less than two pounds and together they weighed only 10 lbs in total a week after birth. Allan Roy Dafoe, the doctor who delivered the babies, also became a celebrity, when he arranged to make them wards of the Ontario government, under his supervision, in a virtual theme park called Quintland, across from the parents’ home east of North Bay. Over 3 million people – up to 6,000 a day – came to watch them play behind a one-way screen; they endorsed hundreds of products ranging from Quaker Oats to Beehive corn syrup to Lysol before they were returned to their parents in 1943 after a long custody battle. Their family reunion was bitter and the surviving sisters have recently claimed they were sexually abused by their father. They also started a suit against the Ontario government for a portion of their trust fund, but recently settled for $3 million. three films were made about the Quints: The Country Doctor (1936), Reunion (1936) and Five of a Kind (1938).
* 1961 Appeal for Amnesty campaign launches. (On this day in 1961, the British newspaper The London Observer publishes British lawyer Peter Benenson’s article “The Forgotten Prisoners” on its front page, launching the Appeal for Amnesty 1961–a campaign calling for the release of all people imprisoned in various parts of the world because of the peaceful expression of their beliefs. Benenson was inspired to write the appeal after reading an article about two Portuguese students who were jailed after raising their glasses in a toast to freedom in a public restaurant. At the time, Portugal was a dictatorship ruled by Antonio de Oliveira Salazar. Outraged, Benenson penned the Observer article making the case for the students’ release and urging readers to write letters of protest to the Portuguese government. The article also drew attention to the variety of human rights violations taking place around the world, and coined the term “prisoners of conscience” to describe “any person who is physically restrained (by imprisonment or otherwise) from expressing…any opinion which he honestly holds and does not advocate or condone personal violence.” “The Forgotten Prisoners” was soon reprinted in newspapers across the globe, and Berenson’s amnesty campaign received hundreds of offers of support. In July, delegates from Belgium, the United Kingdom, France, the United States, Germany, Ireland, and Switzerland met to begin “a permanent international movement in defense of freedom of opinion and religion.” The following year, this movement would officially become the human rights organization Amnesty International.)
* 1937 Volkswagen is founded. (On this day in 1937, the government of Germany–then under the control of Adolf Hitler of the National Socialist (Nazi) Party–forms a new state-owned automobile company, then known as Gesellschaft zur Vorbereitung des Deutschen Volkswagens mbH. Later that year, it was renamed simply Volkswagenwerk, or “The People’s Car Company.” Originally operated by the German Labor Front, a Nazi organization, Volkswagen was headquartered in Wolfsburg, Germany. In addition to his ambitious campaign to build a network of autobahns and limited access highways across Germany, Hitler’s pet project was the development and mass production of an affordable yet still speedy vehicle that could sell for less than 1,000 Reich marks (about $140 at the time). To provide the design for this “people’s car,” Hitler called in the Austrian automotive engineer Ferdinand Porsche. In 1938, at a Nazi rally, the Fuhrer declared: “It is for the broad masses that this car has been built. Its purpose is to answer their transportation needs, and it is intended to give them joy.” However, soon after the KdF (Kraft-durch-Freude)-Wagen (“Strength-Through-Joy” car) was displayed for the first time at the Berlin Motor Show in 1939, World War II began, and Volkswagen halted production. After the war ended, with the factory in ruins, the Allies would make Volkswagen the focus of their attempts to resuscitate the German auto industry. Volkswagen sales in the United States were initially slower than in other parts of the world, due to the car’s historic Nazi connections as well as its small size and unusual rounded shape. In 1959, the advertising agency Doyle Dane Bernbach launched a landmark campaign, dubbing the car the “Beetle” and spinning its diminutive size as a distinct advantage to consumers. Over the next several years, VW became the top-selling auto import in the United States. In 1960, the German government sold 60 percent of Volkswagen’s stock to the public, effectively denationalizing it. Twelve years later, the Beetle surpassed the longstanding worldwide production record of 15 million vehicles, set by Ford Motor Company’s legendary Model T between 1908 and 1927.)
* 1987 Matthias Rust lands his plane in Red Square. (Matthias Rust, a 19-year-old amateur pilot from West Germany, takes off from Helsinki, Finland, travels through more than 400 miles of Soviet airspace, and lands his small Cessna aircraft in Red Square by the Kremlin. The event proved to be an immense embarrassment to the Soviet government and military. Rust, described by his mother as a “quiet young man… with a passion for flying,” apparently had no political or social agenda when he took off from the international airport in Helsinki and headed for Moscow. He entered Soviet airspace, but was either undetected or ignored as he pushed farther and farther into the Soviet Union. Early on the morning of May 28, 1987, he arrived over Moscow, circled Red Square a few times, and then landed just a few hundred yards from the Kremlin. Curious onlookers and tourists, many believing that Rust was part of an air show, immediately surrounded him. Very quickly, however, Rust was arrested and whisked away. He was tried for violating Soviet airspace and sentenced to prison. He served 18 months before being released. The repercussions in the Soviet Union were immediate. Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev sacked his minister of defense, and the entire Russian military was humiliated by Rust’s flight into Moscow. U.S. officials had a field day with the event–one American diplomat in the Soviet Union joked, “Maybe we should build a bunch of Cessnas.” Soviet officials were less amused. Four years earlier, the Soviets had been harshly criticized for shooting down a Korean Airlines passenger jet that veered into Russian airspace. Now, the Soviets were laughingstocks for not being able to stop one teenager’s “invasion” of the country. One Russian spokesperson bluntly declared, “You criticize us for shooting down a plane, and now you criticize us for not shooting down a plane.”)
* 2014 Author Maya Angelou dies. (On this day in 2014, author and poet Maya Angelou, who published more than 30 books, including 1969’s “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” a best-selling memoir about the racism and abuse she experienced growing up, dies at 86 at her home in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. In addition to her celebrated literary career, Angelou was a performer, civil rights activist and college professor. Born Marguerite Annie Johnson on April 4, 1928, in St. Louis, Angelou was sent at age 3 to live with her grandmother in segregated Stamps, Arkansas, after her parents divorced. When Angelou was 7 or 8, she was raped by her mother’s boyfriend in St. Louis. He was convicted of the crime but beaten to death soon afterward. For the next five years, the traumatized Angelou stopped speaking to anyone except her beloved older brother. As a teen, Angelou moved to San Francisco, where her mother was living, and worked as the city’s first African-American female cable car conductor. She became pregnant at 16 and gave birth shortly after graduating high school then held a series of jobs, including waitress, cook, and madam while raising her son on her own. In the early 1950s, she worked as a nightclub singer and dancer and began using the name Maya Angelou—Maya was her brother’s nickname for her and Angelou was a variation on the last name of the man to whom she briefly was married around this time. Angelou, who stood 6 feet tall, went on to tour Europe in a production of “Porgy and Bess” and release an album of calypso songs. In the late 1950s, she moved to New York City, where she joined the Harlem Writers Guild and became involved in the civil rights movement; she later got to know both Martin Luther King and Malcolm X. During the early 1960s, she lived in Egypt and Ghana and worked as a writer and editor. In 1969, Angelou published her first book, the critically acclaimed “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” which chronicles the first 17 years of her life. The best-selling memoir has been translated into multiple languages and is a mainstay on high school and college reading lists. Angelou subsequently published other autobiographies, including “Gather Together in My Name” (1974), “Singin’ and Swingin’ and Gettin’ Merry Like Christmas” (1977), “The Heart of a Woman” (1981), “All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes” (1986), “A Song Flung Up to Heaven” (2002) and “Mom & Me & Mom” (2013). She also released a number of volumes of poetry, the first of which, “Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water ‘fore I Diiie” (1971), was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. In 1993, she delivered her poem “On the Pulse of Morning” at Bill Clinton’s presidential inauguration. Angelou further expanded her audience in 2002 when Hallmark began selling greeting cards and other products featuring her words. Besides her books and poems, Angelou wrote for theater, film, and television was a Tony Award-nominated actress and directed a feature film, “Down in the Delta” (1998). She also taught at Wake Forest University for three decades, starting in the early 1980s. In 2011, President Barack Obama, whose own sister was named for Angelou, awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom, America’s highest civilian honor, saying: “By holding on even amid cruelty and loss, and then expanding to a sense of compassion, an ability to love–by holding on to her humanity, she has inspired countless others who have known injustice and misfortune in their own lives.”)
* Canadian History Timeline – Canada’s Historical Chronology http://canadachannel.ca/todayincanadianhistory/index.php
* This Day In History – What Happened Today http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/