John’s Believe It Or Not… April 25th

* 1849 – Lord Elgin signs Rebellion Losses Bill – Tory mobs set fire to the Legislature. * 1983 Andropov writes to U.S. student * 1989 James Richardson is exonerated after 21 years * 1995 Ginger Rogers dies * 1947 Truman inaugurates White House bowling alley

Ginger Rogers

It’s Hump Day Wednesday! Did You Know…

* 1849 – Lord Elgin signs Rebellion Losses Bill – Tory mobs set fire to the Legislature.

Rebellion Losses Bill, modeled on Upper Canadian legislation, was introduced by Louis LaFontaine in Feb 1849 to compensate Lower Canadians whose property had been damaged during the Rebellions of 1837-38 (totaling approximately £100,000). It was similar to legislation for Upper Canada and was based upon a claims report approved in principle in 1846. LaFontaine saw the bill as a symbolic means to heal the wounds of the rebellion and buttress French Canadian claims to equality and power in the Canadas by testing the strength of responsible government. Consequently, the growing influence of Louis-Joseph Papineau could be stemmed. The Tories saw the bill as a sign of French domination of the union (the union of Upper Canada & Lower Canada into The Province of Canada) and their own loss of power; they criticized it as payment for disloyalty. (In fact, because it was difficult in any given instance to determine which side in the conflict had caused the damage, some rebels, as well as those who remained loyal to the government, were compensated for losses; only those convicted or exiled were excluded.) Over heated Tory opposition, the legislation was passed by a majority of Reformers in both sections; the Tories then demanded that Gov Gen Lord Elgin refuse assent.

Despite his misgivings, Elgin understood the meaning of local responsibility and signed the bill into law 25 April 1849. His carriage was attacked by an English-speaking mob hurling rocks in Montréal and the Parliament buildings were burned (see Montréal Riots). The Montréal merchants, feeling the effects of an economic depression, advocated annexation to the US. However, Elgin was supported by the British government, and the concept of responsible government was confirmed.

Rioters infuriated by the passing of a law to compensate the victims of the 1837 Rebellions. Painting by Joseph Légaré (courtesy McCord Museum).
Rioters infuriated by the passing of a law to compensate the victims of the 1837 Rebellions. Painting by Joseph Légaré (courtesy McCord Museum).

* 1983 Andropov writes to U.S. student

On this day in 1983, the Soviet Union releases a letter that Russian leader Yuri Andropov wrote to Samantha Smith, an American fifth-grader from Manchester, Maine, inviting her to visit his country. Andropov’s letter came in response to a note Smith had sent him in December 1982, asking if the Soviets were planning to start a nuclear war. At the time, the United States and the Soviet Union were Cold War enemies.

President Ronald Reagan, a passionate anti-communist, had dubbed the Soviet Union the “evil empire” and called for massive increases in U.S. defense spending to meet the perceived Soviet threat. In his public relations duel with Reagan, known as the “Great Communicator,” Andropov, who had succeeded longtime Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev in 1982, assumed a folksy, almost grandfatherly approach that was incongruous with the negative image most Americans had of the Soviets.

Andropov’s letter said that Russian people wanted to “live in peace, to trade and cooperate with all our neighbors on the globe, no matter how close or far away they are, and, certainly, with such a great country as the United States of America.” In response to Smith’s question about whether the Soviet Union wished to prevent nuclear war, Andropov declared, “Yes, Samantha, we in the Soviet Union are endeavoring and doing everything so that there will be no war between our two countries so that there will be no war at all on earth.” Andropov also complimented Smith, comparing her to the spunky character Becky Thatcher from “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” by Mark Twain.

Smith, born June 29, 1972, accepted Andropov’s invitation and flew to the Soviet Union with her parents for a visit. Afterward, she became an international celebrity and peace ambassador, making speeches, writing a book and even landing a role on an American television series. In February 1984, Yuri Andropov died from kidney failure and was succeeded by Konstantin Chernenko. The following year, in August 1985, Samantha Smith died tragically in a plane crash at age 13.

Samantha Smith holds the letter she received from Soviet leader Yuri Andropov.
Samantha Smith holds the letter she received from Soviet leader Yuri Andropov. (maghweb.org)

* 1989 James Richardson is exonerated after 21 years

James Richardson walks out of a Florida prison 21 years after being wrongfully convicted of killing his seven children. Special prosecutor Janet Reno agreed to the release after evidence showed that the conviction resulted from misconduct by the prosecutor. In addition, neighbor Betsy Reese had confessed to the crime to a nursing home employee.

On October 25, 1967, James and his wife, Annie, were working in a field picking fruit when Reese came over to heat up a meal for the Richardsons’ seven kids. After they finished eating, the children began foaming at the mouth. They were dead moments later from poisoning. Police found that the rice and beans had been laced with the pesticide parathion. Reese then reported that she saw a bag of the poison in a shed behind the Richardsons’ home.

Police discovered that an insurance salesman had visited the Richardsons’ home shortly before the poisoning and that James had discussed life insurance for the entire family. The prosecution made a big deal of this fact at trial but neglected to inform the jury that the salesman had made an unsolicited visit and that Richardson never bought the insurance because he couldn’t afford the premiums. The prosecutors also introduced three convicts who claimed that Richardson had admitted to the mass murder while he was being held in jail. It was later revealed that this testimony was manufactured in return for leniency on their sentences.

The jurors were not told about Reese’s criminal history. She was on parole at the time for killing her second husband and was suspected of killing her first husband with poison. After less than an hour and a half of deliberation, the jury convicted Richardson and sentenced him to the electric chair.

AfterRichardson’s release in 1989, the governor of Florida ordered an investigation into the prosecutor’s office to discover what prompted the miscarriage of justice.

James Richardson, center, leaves the DeSoto County Jail in Arcadia a free man
James Richardson, center, leaves the DeSoto County Jail in Arcadia a free man (TBO.com)

* 1995 Ginger Rogers dies

On this day in 1995, the actress Ginger Rogers, best known for the 10 films she made with her dance partner Fred Astaire, dies at the age of 83.

Born in Missouri, Rogers began taking dance and singing lessons as a toddler. By age five, she was appearing in commercials. At age 15, she won a Charleston dancing contest and soon after began touring the Southern and Midwestern vaudeville circuit with her act, “Ginger and the Redheads.” Her mother, Lela, a reporter and writer, worked as Ginger’s manager and traveled with her as a chaperone. She and Ginger’s father had divorced shortly after Ginger was born, and Lela would continue to manage her daughter’s career until her death in 1971.

After making a splash on Broadway in George Gershwin’s hit play Girl Crazy, Rogers signed a film contract in 1931. She would play a series of wisecracking blondes in a number of B movies, working at various studios before settling at RKO. In 1933, she was paired with Fred Astaire in Flying Down to Rio. Although she lacked formal ballroom training, she and Astaire made a perfect match on the dance floor. Audiences flocked to the 10 movies they made together, including The Gay Divorcee (1933), Top Hat (1935), Swing Time (1936) and Shall We Dance? (1937). Apart from her graceful dance moves, Rogers also established her credentials as a serious actress with her performance in the 1940 film Kitty Foyle, for which she won an Academy Award for Best Actress.

According to an obituary published in the New York Times, Rogers was the highest-paid women in America by 1941, earning $355,000 per year. In addition to a hilltop mansion in Beverly Hills, she also bought a ranch on Oregon’s Rogue River, where she spent as much of her free time as possible. Married and divorced five times, Rogers had no children. She continued to perform into the mid-1960s, scoring triumphs on Broadway in Hello, Dolly in 1965 and in London with Mame in 1969. Rogers made her final film appearance in 1965 when she played the mother of the actress Jean Harlow in the biopic Harlow.

Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers dancing
Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers (Alamy)

* 1947 Truman inaugurates White House bowling alley

President Harry S. Truman officially opens the first White House bowling alley on this day in 1947. The two-lane bowling alley, situated in the West Wing, had been constructed earlier that year.

According to Smithsonian Magazine, a group of Truman’s fellow Missourians funded the construction of the bowling alley in honor of the president. They had intended to open the alley as part of Truman’s 63rd birthday celebration on May 8, but construction was completed ahead of schedule. Truman’s favorite pastime was poker and although he had not bowled since he was a teenager, he gamely hoisted the first ball, knocking down 7 out of 10 pins. One of the pins is now on display at the Smithsonian Institution.

Truman did not use the alley much himself but supported a group of White House employees in forming a White House Bowling League in 1950. Teams included Secret Service agents, household staff, secretaries, switchboard operators, and groundskeepers. The teams competed in tournaments across the country; many opponents were surprised to discover that the players were from the real White House.

Eisenhower closed the alley in 1955 and turned it into a mimeograph room. Later, another alley was opened next door in the Old Executive Office Building (now the Eisenhower Building), which President Johnson and his wife Lady Bird used frequently. Nixon used that second bowling alley until he had an additional one-lane alley installed underground directly beneath the North Portico entrance of the White House.

Bowling is just one of the many recreational facilities presidents have enjoyed the use of at the White House–over the years, the presidential residence has also been outfitted with putting greens, swimming pools, a jogging track, a tennis court and a pool table.

April 25, 1947: The White House Bowling Alley Opens On this day in 1947
April 25, 1947: The White House Bowling Alley Opens On this day in 1947 (This Day In History)

Today’s Sources: 

* Canadian History Timeline – Canada’s Historical Chronology  http://canadachannel.ca/todayincanadianhistory/index.php

* The Canadian Encyclopedia                                 http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/rebellion-losses-bill/

* This Day In History – What Happened Today                        http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/                              

Author: John Fioravanti

I'm a retired History teacher (35 years), husband, father of three, grandfather of three. My wife, Anne, and I became business partners in December 2013 and launched our own publishing company, Fiora Books (http://fiorabooks.com), to publish my books. We have been married since 1973 and hope our joint business venture will be as successful as our marriage.

9 thoughts on “John’s Believe It Or Not… April 25th”

    1. Cases like James Richardson’s are the best argument against capital punishment. Brutal crimes enrage us and that’s where mistakes can be made. Ginger Rogers was very special. Thanks, Jennie!

      Liked by 1 person

  1. How lovely to see Ginger Rogers featured here, John. My Mother often refers to her. The tale of the murder of the seven children is utterly terrible.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. How sad to lose your family and your freedom as James Richardson did. Rogers and Astaire were quite a team. I think Andropov was a genuine person. Sad he and Becky died so soon. I love the mid-century design of the bowling alley. (Well I guess since it was mid-century it fits.)

    Liked by 2 people

  3. The Andropov/Becky story is one that demonstrates that small things can sometimes make a huge difference. What a great shame that they both died so soon. That difference might have swept the world.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree with you. It would have been interesting to see what good might have come out of that incident. Her visit to the USSR went well according to reports I read. If nothing else, the story cut through the Cold War rhetoric to show there were real people with hopes and fears behind the Iron Curtain. Thanks, Opher.

      Like

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