On September 30, 1955, Hollywood star James Dean was driving his Porsche 550 Spyder racing car that he nicknamed “Little Bastard.” At an intersection near Cholame, California on Route 466, Dean’s car crashed head-on with an oncoming car. The young star was killed in the wreck. To hear all about the life of this “too fast to live, to young to die” star, check out this episode of “Remarkable Lives, Tragic Deaths.”
On September 29, 1328, a daughter, Joan, was born to the Earl of Kent in Oxfordshire, England. She would grow up to have an incredibly interesting life – especially if you consider the stereotypes that surround medieval women. As a young girl, Joan befriended her cousin, the royal Prince Edward of Woodstock, also known as the Black Prince. This friendship will come back into play soon! At the age of 12, Joan secretly married disgraced nobleman, Thomas Holland, who was fourteen years her senior. Holland then left England for Crusade against the pagans of Prussia and Joan was forced to marry William Montacute, heir of the Earl of Salisbury. Joan did not bring up the fact that she was already married, fearful that Thomas would be killed because of it. As such, there would be an issue when Thomas Holland returned home.
When he did, the marriage with Joan was made known and Thomas demanded the return of his wife. William Montacute responded by imprisoning Joan in his home until the Pope finally ruled in favor of Joan’s first marriage and she returned to the house she preferred. Over the next 11 years, Thomas and Joan celebrated the births of five children prior to Thomas’ death in 1360. Throughout her marriage(s), Joan had maintained a close friendship with Prince Edward who had never married. After the mourning period for Thomas was over, Edward approached Joan and gifted her a silver cup from his military exploits. King Edward III, the Prince’s father, was concerned about his son’s courtship of a widow who had already been secretly married – but Joan and the Prince approached the king and told him that they would be married in secret, if the king did not bless the marriage. Faced with this ultimatum from his heir, Edward III relented. Joan of Kent and Edward, the Black Prince, were married on 10 October 1361. Joan took the title Princess of Wales, as her new husband was the Prince of Wales (the first time this was used for the heir to the throne!). This marriage lasted for 10 years until the death of Edward and produced two children, one of whom survived to adulthood to become King Richard II upon the death of his grandfather, Edward III.
When Edward III passed away in 1377, young Richard became king at the age of 10. Despite mismanagement of much royal power by the subsequent regency led by Richard’s uncle, John of Gaunt, Joan brilliantly managed her own reputation and that of her son. For example, during the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381, Joan passed through the lines of the rebels unmolested and, in fact, was cheered as she went by. Due to her popularity, which rubbed off on her young son, the rebels never condemned the monarchy – just the bad advisors. A strong argument, therefore, can be made that Joan of Kent held much of the responsibility for the continued success of the English monarchy during a period of particularly acute trouble. The beloved queen mother died in 1385 and was buried, per her request, with her first husband, Thomas.
Featured Image: “Joan of Kent.”English Monarchs.
Image 1. “Richard II.” By English: Anonymous – http://www.archist.com.au/assets/images/Richard_II.jpg, Public Domain.
Source: “Joan, ‘Fair Maid of Kent’.” English Monarchs.
On September 28, 1975, three armed men burst into the Spaghetti House Restaurant in Knightsbridge, London. The staff had come in prior to opening to count the previous week’s take and to balance the books. The three assailants were looking to rob the store and had not expected the nine employees to be there. In response, they hustled the employees into the storage room, but one of the workers was able to sneak out a back door and went to alert police. Shortly thereafter, the Spaghetti House was surrounded by law enforcement and the criminals had an unexpected hostage situation on their hands. Over the next five days, a tense standoff ensued. The would-be robbers claimed to be members of the Black Liberation Army, a Black Panther splinter group. Authorities, however, dismissed these claims, but still approached the situation cautiously. The thieves’ demand for an airplane to Jamaica was denied and on the fifth day, they were finally talked down. All three armed men were immediately arrested. Several of the hostages, however, had taken a liking to the captors and refused to testify against them. Despite this, all three criminals were found guilty and faced long prison terms.
Source: “1975: London’s Spaghetti House siege ends.” BBC News.
On September 27, 1916, Emperor Iyasu V of Ethiopia was deposed by a palace coup. His advisors were concerned about Iyasu’s close ties to the Empire’s Muslim minority. In his place, his aunt, Zewditu, took the throne. She was the first internationally recognized African female head of state. She modeled her reign after that of Queen Victoria and intended to use her new-found powers to help strengthen the Christian Church in Ethiopia. Zewditu’s cousin,Tafari Mekonnen (the future Haile Selassie) was named Prime Minister. Mekonnen was a reformer, but Zewditu was quite conservative, worried about giving up too much of the monarchy’s power. The Prime Minister, however, pushed through reforms such as outlawing slavery and joining the League of Nations. The Empress focused much of her time to strengthening the Ethiopian Orthodox Church that had been so instrumental in her elevation to the throne. In 1930, Zewditu’s husband led a revolt against the modernizing Mekonnen in the hopes of consolidating power in the person of the Empress. Unfortunately, for the ruling family, Zewditu’s husband was defeated and killed at the Battle of Anchem against Mekonnen on March 31, 1930. Zewditu died under mysterious circumstances two days later as Mekonnen took the throne to rule until 1974 as Haile Selassie I.
Featured Image: “Empress Zewditu.” Public Domain.
Image 1: “Haile Selassie I in November 1930.” By Cover credit: International – http://www.time.com/time/covers/0,16641,1101301103,00.html, Public Domain.
Source: Tesfu, Julianna. “Empress Zewditu (1876-1930).” BlackPast.org.
On September 26, 1983, in the midst of heightened Cold War tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union, the USSR’s Oko early warning system for nuclear strikes went off, indicating that the US had fired five nuclear missiles. Lieutenant Colonel Stanislav Petrov was the ranking officer on duty at the time and could have made a call to his superiors that would likely have triggered a nuclear war. Instead, he recognized that the one-year old Oko system had bugs and could be mistaken. He also thought it odd that the United States only launched five missiles. If this was nuclear war, one would think that they would launch many more. Petrov held off for a few minutes and was able to confirm that it was a false alarm. The retired lieutenant colonel downplays his heroism, stating “I was in the right place at the right moment.”
Featured Image: “Stanslav Petrov.” By Petrow_semperoper2.JPG: Z thomasderivative work: Hic et nunc – This file was derived from Petrow semperoper2.JPG:, CC BY-SA 3.0.
Source: Thomson, Iain. “30 years on: The day a computer glitch nearly caused World War III.” The UK Register. 27 September 2013.
On September 25, 1911, the French battleship Liberte was sitting in harbor in Toulon. Seemingly out of nowhere, a massive explosion rocked the ship, killing some 250 sailors and officers and sending the massive ship to the bottom of the harbor. In the previous five years, the French navy had suffered a series of major naval disasters – ending in the deaths of over 400 French sailors. These explosions eventually tied to a degraded gunpowder known as Poudre B which was prone to blowing up accidentally when improperly stored. During this stretch, the biggest adversary of the French navy was, far and away, the French navy. More men were lost in in-harbor accidents than in any other way.
Featured Image: “French Battleship Liberte.” Public Domain.
Source: “French Battleship Blown Up in Toulon Harbor.” Popular Mechanics. November 1911.
In 1868, two American financiers, Jay Gould and James Fisk came up with a plan to corner the gold market in the United States. Their goal was to use the access they had to new president, Ulysses S. Grant, to make a lot of money. Gould and Fisk looked upon the war-hero president as a political novice and planned to use that to their advantage. The two conspirators brought Grant’s brother-in-law, Abel Rathbone Corbin, into their plans to gain even more access to the president to influence policy decisions.
Gould and Fisk wanted to prevent Grant from buying back wartime greenbacks with American gold as an attempt to help the struggling post-Civil War economy. Grant, however, eventually decided to sell government gold. However, the two robber barons had hints that this was going to happen before it became public knowledge and bought up as much gold as they could – raising the price as supply went down. On September 24, 1868, the United States government started selling their gold supply causing panic and a plummet it the price of gold. Many investors were ruined by this sudden fall in gold prices – Abel Corbin among them, as he did not start selling off his gold soon enough. The two masterminds of the plot escaped the panic without so much as a scratch. In fact, Jay Gould would go on to control mammoths such as the Union Pacific Railroad and Western Union within five years. Fisk, however, didn’t make it five years – he was shot dead by another financier over a dispute over Josie Mansfield, a Broadway showgirl. Fisk, at least, got some level of comeuppance.