Why you should care
Because sometimes important events get brushed away in the sweep of history.
It’s easy to remember history’s most important events such as World War II, the civil rights movement or 9/11. But the past is also full of fascinating, transformative moments that slipped under the radar. Did you know, for instance, that the United States already had its first female president? It’s true — when Woodrow Wilson became incapable of leading the country late in his second term due to illness, his wife Edith took over and made several significant decisions. Read below for similar historical happenings that were forgotten but are finally getting the attention they deserve.
Nearly a century ago, a bomb ripped through the lunchtime crowds in the financial heart of New York City. On Sept. 16, 1920, 38 people died and hundreds more were wounded when explosives planted on a horse-drawn wagon detonated, gouging holes in buildings still visible today. Shocking as the incident was, it’s more surprising how few remember it. So what happened? Turns out authorities were so embarrassed about not finding the parties responsible, they orchestrated a hush campaign that included stopping newspapers from writing about it out of fear that they’d give radicals a powerful public forum. Read more here.
In 1971, at the height of the Cold War, the USSR was desperate to one-up the United States in the race to space. The Americans had beaten them to the moon, so they set their sights further — 249 million miles away from Earth to the red planet. After years of failed missions, the Soviet Union succeeded by sending its Mars 3 rocket into space, landing on Dec. 2 that year. The achievement was amazing but short-lived. Upon landing, the transmission signal lasted a mere 20 seconds before falling silent forever. While the event was largely forgotten, it was important because it proved that a successful landing on Mars was indeed possible. Read more here.
It’s good to be the king, or in the case of Paddy Roy Bates, “Prince Roy.” In 1967, Roy created his own country off the coast of England, dubbing it the Principality of Sealand and declaring himself head of state. While Sealand may have started life as a World War II fortress, a steel-and-concrete platform constructed by the British to fend off German invaders, today it boasts its own currency and constitution. It has also weathered decades of stormy seas and even an attempted coup by Bates’ former business partner. When Prince Roy died in 2012, he passed the royal scepter to his son, Michael, who continues to oddly rule over the tiny island-nation. Read more here.
Will 2016 be the year Americans have their first female president? Absolutely not — because the U.S. already had a woman in the Oval Office in 1920. Thirty years before Hillary Clinton was born, Woodrow’s second wife, Edith, filled the void after her husband suffered a massive stroke. Wilson’s vice president refused to assume the president’s duties (there was no chain of command in place), so Edith, with two years of formal education, took charge of all communication with the paralyzed president and issued orders on his behalf supporting the Treaty of Versailles. At the time, critics lambasted the “petticoat presidency,” but others praised Edith for her loyalty to her husband and her steadying effect on postwar America. Read more here.
Grover Cleveland is usually remembered as the only president to serve two nonconsecutive terms. Or for being a larger-than-life commander in chief, weighing in at more than 250 pounds. But what most don’t remember is that when the 22nd president arrived at the White House in 1885, he was a bachelor with a bad reputation for carousing. To improve his image, the president got married the following year to the young beauty he’d helped raise since she was 11, when her father — Cleveland’s former drinking buddy — was killed. First lady Frances was an instant sensation, and the country applauded as “Big Steve” was transformed from a debauched womanizer to a devoted family man. Read more here.