It was on this day in 240 BC that ancient astronomers first recorded the perihelion passage of the celestial body that would eventually come to be known as Halley's Comet. Clear records of its appearances had been made by Chinese, Babylonian, and medieval European chroniclers over time, but it wasn't until 1705 that Edmond Halley realized it was the same object making return trips to our Solar System once every 75 years or so. Halley's Comet's last fly-by took place in 1986, and it won't be back until 2061.
On this day in 1521, rogue cleric Martin Luther is declared an outlaw by Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, who ends the Diet of Worms by declaring the Edict of Worms: "For this reason we forbid anyone from this time forward to dare, either by words or by deeds, to receive, defend, sustain, or favour the said Martin Luther. On the contrary, we want him to be apprehended and punished as a notorious heretic, as he deserves, to be brought personally before us, or to be securely guarded until those who have captured him inform us, where upon we will order the appropriate manner of proceeding against the said Luther. Those who will help in his capture will be rewarded generously for their good work." To protect him, Prince Frederick of Saxony had Martin Luther kidnapped and hidden away in Wartburg Castle. Jeez... warts, worms... this story is making me nauseous. Let's move on, shall we?
On this day in 1895, playwright, poet, and novelist Oscar Wilde is convicted of "committing acts of gross indecency with other male persons" and sentenced to serve two years in prison. While at Reading Gaol, he writes De Profundis, essentially one of the best-written break-up letters of all time.
On this day in 1926, Jewish anarchist Sholom Schwartzbard assassinates Symon Petliura, the head of the Paris-based government-in-exile of the Ukrainian People's Republic, ostensibly in retaliation for the latter's failure to prevent anti-Semitic pogroms in his former homeland during his two-year reign (1918-20).
On this day in 1953, the United States military conducts their first - and final - nuclear artillery test, at the Nevada Test Site. Fired as part of Operation Upshot-Knothole and codenamed Shot GRABLE, a 280 mm shell with a gun-type fission warhead was fired 6.2 miles and detonated 525 feet above the ground with an estimated yield of 15 kilotons. The shell was 4.5 feet long and weighed 805 lbs. It was fired from a special, very large, artillery piece, nicknamed Atomic Annie (see above). About 3,200 soldiers and civilians were present to witness the impressive fireworks display (see below).
On this day in 1961, President John F. Kennedy announces before a special joint session of the Congress his goal to initiate a project to put a "man on the Moon" before the end of the decade. Some people believe we made it, but a growing number beg to differ. Personally, whether we got to leave our footprints on the Moon or not, I think the whole thing was just a feel-good cover story for pouring billions into the development of Inter-Continental Ballistic Missiles... but what do I know?
On this day in 1986, a massive public event featuring a boatload of creepy participants taking part in an activity that is more than a little reminiscent of a massive occult ritual takes place. I refer, of course, to Hands Across America. I shudder to think what would have happened if the opposite ends of such a tremendous human circle had come together, Ouroboros-style. Perhaps...