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John’s Believe It Or Not… May 28th

* 1934 – Birth of Dionne Quintuplets * 1937 Volkswagen is founded * 1987 Matthias Rust lands his plane in Red Square * 1983 Irene Cara has a #1 pop hit with the Flashdance theme * 2014 Author Maya Angelou dies

Maya Angelou

It’s Monday! Did You Know…

* 1934 – Birth of Dionne Quintuplets: Annette, Cecile, Emilie, Marie and Yvonne.

Annette, Emilie, Yvonne, Cecile and Marie aroused worldwide attention after their birth at Corbeil, Ontario, to Oliva and Elzire Dionne on 28 May 1934. With only two previous cases on record, they were the only quintuplets to survive for more than a few days. This miracle, plus their baby cuteness, the poverty of their French Canadian parents, and the controversy over their guardianship, made them the sensation of the 1930s.

Fearing private exploitation, the Ontario government removed them from their parents and placed them in a specially built hospital under the care of Dr Allan Roy Dafoe, who had delivered them. Oliva Dionne fought a nine-year battle to regain them. In the interval, they became the country’s biggest tourist attraction and a $500 million asset to the province. Three million people trekked to “Quintland” to watch the babies at play behind a one-way screen.

Hollywood fictionalized their story in three movies in the 1930s. Dozens of commercial endorsements swelled their trust fund to nearly $1 million. A reunion with the family in November 1943 was not successful. Eventually, the quintuplets moved to Montréal. Three of the quintuplets — Annette, Cecile, and Marie — married but later divorced. Emilie, an epileptic, entered a convent and died in August 1954 during a seizure. The four survivors told their own often bitter story in We Were Five, published in 1965. Five years later Marie died in February 1970 from what was apparently a blood clot in the brain (the cause of death is uncertain). The remaining three shared the final installment of the much-depleted trust fund in 1979.

In 1997, Annette, Cecile, and Yvonne claimed that their father had sexually abused them in their book Family Secrets: The Dionne Quintuplets’ Own Story, co-authored by Jean-Yves Soucy. In March 1998, the Ontario government announced that it would pay the three surviving quints $4 million in compensation for the nine years they spent on display at a tourist theme park. Three years later Yvonne died of cancer. Not until September 1987 was another set of quints — this time two boys and three girls — born in Canada.

The Dionne Quintuplets as infants with their doctor
The Dionne Quintuplets as infants with their doctor. (

* 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.

With the Beetle’s design relatively unchanged since 1935, sales grew sluggish in the early 1970s. VW bounced back with the introduction of sportier models such as the Rabbit and later, the Golf. In 1998, the company began selling the highly touted “New Beetle” while still continuing production of its predecessor. After nearly 70 years and more than 21 million units produced, the last original Beetle rolled off the line in Puebla, Mexico, on July 30, 2003.

Adolf Hitler founding the Volkswagen factory in 1938 © Getty Images
Adolf Hitler founding the Volkswagen factory in 1938 © Getty Images

* 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.”

Rust's Cessna 172, resting near Red Square some time after his landing. Rust is standing on the right in the photo, wearing colored overalls.
Rust’s Cessna 172, resting near Red Square some time after his landing. Rust is standing on the right in the photo, wearing colored overalls. (Rare Historical Photos)

* 1983 Irene Cara has a #1 pop hit with the Flashdance theme

Irene Cara’s song “Flashdance (What a Feeling)”, from the Flashdance movie soundtrack, goes to the top of the U.S. pop charts on this day in 1983.

“Flashdance (What a Feeling)” was not the first hit song from a movie soundtrack for Irene Cara, whose star was launched by the 1980 film Fame. Cara not only played the starring role of Coco in the movie Fame, but she also recorded not one but two Oscar-nominated songs for it: the title song “Fame” (a top-10 hit in the summer of 1980) and “Out Here On My Own” (a top-20 hit that same fall). By far her biggest impact as a musician, however, would come with her work on the movie Flashdance. Flashdance was the first collaboration between producers Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer, and it made extensive use of what would become a signature element of their films: montage sequences set to the tune of original soundtrack music and cut in the style of the then-infant medium of music videos. This incredibly lucrative formula, which was new to the world of feature films in 1983, would later reach its apotheosis with the Simpson-Bruckheimer classic Top Gun (1986). And what Top Gun did for fighter jets, beach volleyball and Kenny Loggins, Flashdance did for blast furnaces, barefoot lobster dinners and Irene Cara. When “Flashdance (What a Feeling),” went to #1, it gave Cara the biggest hit of her career and helped propel the relatively low-budget film from which it came to the #3 spot on the total box-office revenue list for 1983.

Unfortunately for Cara, her next soundtrack hit—”The Dream (Hold Onto Your Dream)” from the Mr. T vehicle D.C. Cab—would not have nearly the same cultural impact as the song that reached the top of the charts on this day in 1983.

Album Cover: Flashdance What a Feeling [super extended] - Irene Cara
Flashdance What a Feeling [super extended] – Irene Cara (YouTube)

* 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.

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.”

A literary voice revered globally for her poetic command and her commitment to civil rights has. Dr. Maya Angelou
A literary voice revered globally for her poetic command and her commitment to civil rights has. Dr. Maya Angelou (Baltimore Times)

Today’s Sources: 

* Canadian History Timeline – Canada’s Historical Chronology

* The Canadian Encyclopedia                            

* This Day In History – What Happened Today                                             

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 (, to publish my books. We have been married since 1973 and hope our joint business venture will be as successful as our marriage.

30 thoughts on “John’s Believe It Or Not… May 28th”

  1. John, sometimes your posts remind me of my age. I say to myself, I remember that, then I see the year. I don’t know how many of your fellow Canadians read your blog, but I am quite saddened that the man in the US White House continues to do harm to our valued relationships with allies. The bullying, lying and myopic transactional view of his is frustrating to watch and is far more damaging than tariffs, which are rarely, if ever a good idea.

    To show our adroit the man is with gaslighting, he has been able to convince his misinformed and uninformed base of followers, that Trudeau embodies what Trump in fact caused. I want Canadians to know I consistently reach out to Senators begging them to do their job and provide oversight. While no country is perfect, America has become less trustworthy and reliable. As I have said earlier, if we told US and allied soldiers who freed Berlin in 1945, that 73 years later, the two most visible leaders of the free world would be Germany and France with Japan being another top leader, they would not believe us.

    Trump and his sycophants owe Trudeau, Canada and other members of the G7 a huge apology. Almost every Senator knows this, but now they need to do their job.


    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you very much, Keith. I’m very happy that you visit my blog. Most of my regular readers are from the USA and the UK – Canadians are in the minority. Some people might think that I include a Canadian story each day for my Canadian readers. Not so. I do it so my American readers may learn some things about Canada’s history.

      Thanks for your kind words about the shabby treatment that Trump and his minions have dealt to the other 6 countries of the G7 – and especially to Justin Trudeau. I’m very proud that our PM has not reciprocated in kind. Like the Obamas, he takes the high road. Here in Canada, we’re aware that Trump does not speak for the entire country and has been enabled by GOP legislators who are afraid to oppose him – except the ones who will not be seeking re-election. I certainly hope he doesn’t chuck NAFTA out the window. There would be no winners there.

      Again, thanks for your kind words and your efforts to influence lawmakers in Washington.

      Liked by 1 person

        1. Indeed. Wednesday Anne and I were in Toronto and we’re fortunate to meet and exchange a few words with former Prime Minister Paul Martin. I told him the exact same thing and also said that Trudeau made me very proud to be Canadian. Martin shook my hand and said that he would tell Justin that. Later I discovered that Martin was at the G7 as an advisor to Trudeau. Thanks, Keith.

          Liked by 1 person

      1. Hi John! I’m sorry to hear that. I know how hard it is to keep up a blog. I’d never be able to write all that you do each day. A thought… could you post the same thing, but once a week? Meaning what happened in history that week. Selfish me just doesn’t want to see you go. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  2. This was a powerful post, John. I never knew the background of the Dionne Quintuplets. Gosh, so much pain. Maya Angelou left us treasures, she being the primary treasure. Such an amazing woman and extraordinary human being. She lives on through anyone with a heart. ♥


  3. Thank you for the story of Maya Angelou. I did not know of her early years. She was a role model for humanity. Realizing that Volkswagen was founded by Hitler is a little creepy. And those poor babies, what a tragic story for that family.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. During the 60s, Maya worked with MLK and they became close friends. He was assassinated on her birthday. It was decades after before Maya could celebrate her own birthday. Yes, the Dionne Quints had a very hard life. Thanks, Jennie!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, and it just got worse when they were finally returned to their parents and the father sexually abused them. A horror story, indeed.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. My family never dreamed that, in a way, we’d rival the Dionne Quintuplets. We now have a set of triplets and a set of quadruplets! I have 13 (soon to be 14) great nieces and nephews. Family gatherings are a challenge, wavering between circus and zoo 🙂 I was devastated when Maya Angelou died. She was larger than life, and many expected her to live forever. Another great post, John ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Wow! I can’t imagine entertaining your family all at once! All of us who loved and admired Maya were saddened by her parting – but what a legacy! Thanks, Tina!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. The quints were news. Can you imagine having your children taken away? I can’t. Rust was lucky. I think what it showed was the defenses of Russia has a huge small plane hole in it. Maya was a treasure. Thanks, John

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree. If somebody tried to fly a warplane into Russian airspace, there would have been a different outcome. The Dionnes we’re so poor that the probably welcomed the financial compensation along with five fewer mouths to feed and bodies to clothe.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I cannot imagine carrying five babies! Lordy! I was big as a barn with one! I even gained weight when adopted Stef!!! LOVE, LOVE, LOVE, LOVE Flashdance. An old favorite. But I was sad reading this as I had not realized that Maya Angelou had died.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, Flashdance was a favourite of mine too. I can’t watch that dance clip without tearing up. Wow! I can’t imagine carrying 5 babies around at once either.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree, Maya lived a full life utilizing her talents to inspire millions around the world. Perhaps Mathias had a death wish. Who knows?


  7. Such a sad way for those 5 babies to live. I have a question: Did Rust get his plane back when the Soviets finally released him? And I’ve always adored Maya Angelou … she was a compassionate and intelligent human being. Thanks for this great post, John!!! Hugs!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The Dionne Quints had a tragic life – a miracle birth turned into a lifelong nightmare. As far as Rust’s plane, he didn’t own it. Found this on Wikipedia: “Rust’s rented Reims Cessna F172P (serial #F17202087[9]), registered D-ECJB, was sold to Japan where it was exhibited for several years. In 2008 it was returned to Germany and was placed in the Deutsches Technikmuseum in Berlin.” Thanks a bunch, Jill!

      Liked by 1 person

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