1608: Smith to lead Jamestown
1897: First drunk driving arrest
1977: The guillotine falls silent
1981: Guernica returned to Spain
1989: Hungary allows East Germans refugees to leave
1608: SMITH TO LEAD JAMESTOWN
English adventurer John Smith is elected council president of Jamestown, Virginia--the first permanent English settlement in North America. Smith, a colorful figure, had won popularity in the colony because of his organizational abilities and effectiveness in dealing with local Native American groups.
In May 1607, about 100 English colonists settled along the James River in Virginia to found Jamestown. The settlers fared badly because of famine, disease, and Indian attacks, but were aided by the 27-year-old John Smith, who directed survival efforts and mapped the area. While exploring the Chickahominy River in December 1607, Smith and two colonists were captured by Powhatan warriors. At the time, the Powhatan Indian confederacy consisted of around 30 Tidewater-area tribes led by Chief Wahunsonacock, known as Chief Powhatan to the English. Smith's companions were killed, but he was spared and released (according to a 1624 account by Smith) because of the dramatic intercession of Pocahontas, Chief Powhatan's 13-year-old daughter.
In 1608, Smith became president of the Jamestown colony, but the settlement continued to suffer. An accidental fire destroyed much of the town, and hunger, disease, and Indian attacks continued. During this time, Pocahontas often came to Jamestown as an emissary of her father, sometimes bearing gifts of food to help the hard-pressed settlers. She befriended the settlers and became acquainted with English ways. In 1609, Smith was injured from a fire in his gunpowder bag and was forced to return to England.
John Smith returned to the New World in 1614 to explore the New England coast, carefully mapping the coast from Penobscot Bay to Cape Cod. That April, Pocahontas married the English planter John Rolfe in Jamestown. On another voyage of exploration, in 1615, Smith was captured by pirates but escaped after three months of captivity. He then returned to England, where he died in 1631.
1897: FIRST DRUNK DRIVING ARREST
On this day in 1897, a 25-year-old London taxi driver named George Smith becomes the first person ever arrested for drunk driving after slamming his cab into a building. Smith later pled guilty and was fined 25 shillings.
In the United States, the first laws against operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol went into effect in New York in 1910. In 1936, Dr. Rolla Harger, a professor of biochemistry and toxicology, patented the Drunkometer, a balloon-like device into which people would breathe to determine whether they were inebriated. In 1953, Robert Borkenstein, a former Indiana state police captain and university professor who had collaborated with Harger on the Drunkometer, invented the Breathalyzer. Easier-to-use and more accurate than the Drunkometer, the Breathalyzer was the first practical device and scientific test available to police officers to establish whether someone had too much to drink. A person would blow into the Breathalyzer and it would gauge the proportion of alcohol vapors in the exhaled breath, which reflected the level of alcohol in the blood.
Despite the invention of the Breathalyzer and other developments, it was not until the late 1970s and early 1980s that public awareness about the dangers of drinking and driving increased and lawmakers and police officers began to get tougher on offenders. In 1980, a Californian named Candy Lightner founded Mothers Against Drunk Driving, or MADD, after her 13-year-old daughter Cari was killed by a drunk driver while walking home from a school carnival. The driver had three previous drunk-driving convictions and was out on bail from a hit-and-run arrest two days earlier. Lightner and MADD were instrumental in helping to change attitudes about drunk driving and pushed for legislation that increased the penalties for driving under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs. MADD also helped get the minimum drinking age raised in many states. Today, the legal drinking age is 21 everywhere in the United States and convicted drunk drivers face everything from jail time and fines to the loss of their driver's licenses and increased car insurance rates. Some drunk drivers are ordered to have ignition interlock devices installed in their vehicles. These devices require a driver to breath into a sensor attached to the dashboard; the car won't start if the driver's blood alcohol concentration is above a certain limit.
Despite the stiff penalties and public awareness campaigns, drunk driving remains a serious problem in the United States. In 2005, 16,885 people died in alcohol-related crashes and almost 1.4 million people were arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
1977: THE GUILLOTINE FALLS SILENT
At Baumetes Prison in Marseille, France, Hamida Djandoubi, a Tunisian immigrant convicted of murder, becomes the last person executed by guillotine.
The guillotine first gained fame during the French Revolution when physician and revolutionary Joseph-Ignace Guillotin won passage of a law requiring all death sentences to be carried out by "means of a machine." Decapitating machines had been used earlier in Ireland and England, and Guillotin and his supporters viewed these devices as more humane than other execution techniques, such as hanging or firing squad. A French decapitating machine was built and tested on cadavers, and on April 25, 1792, a highwayman became the first person in Revolutionary France to be executed by this method.
The device soon became known as the "guillotine" after its advocate, and more than 10,000 people lost their heads by guillotine during the Revolution, including Louis XVI and Mary Antoinette, the former king and queen of France.
Use of the guillotine continued in France in the 19th and 20th centuries, and the last execution by guillotine occurred in 1977. In September 1981, France outlawed capital punishment altogether, thus abandoning the guillotine forever. There is a museum dedicated to the guillotine in Liden, Sweden.
1981: GUERNICA RETURNED TO SPAIN
On September 10, 1981, Spanish artist Pablo Picasso's monumental anti-war mural Guernica is received by Spain after four decades of refugee existence. One of Picasso's most important works, the painting was inspired by the destruction of the Basque town of Guernica by the Nazi air force during the Spanish Civil War. In 1939, Picasso gave the painting to New York's Museum of Modern Art on an extended loan and decreed that it not be returned to Spain until democratic liberties were restored in the country. Its eventual return to Spain in 1981--eight years after Picasso's death--was celebrated as a moral endorsement of Spain's young democracy.
Early in the Spanish civil war, Spain's leftist Republican government commissioned Picasso to paint a mural for the 1937 Paris International Exposition. Working in Paris, Picasso read in horror of the April 1937 German bombing of Guernica, a Basque town that had sided with the Republicans against General Francisco Franco's right-wing Nationalist forces. Guernica was well behind the battle lines, but Franco authorized the attack as a means of intimidating his foes in the region. The attack was later admitted to be an experiment by the German Luftwaffe in carpet bombing--air raids that targeted civilians and civilian infrastructure. More than 1,000 residents of Guernica were killed in the three-hour attack.
Outraged by the brutality of the act, Picasso seized on the bombing as the subject of his mural, which he completed in just three weeks. The enormous painting, which measures 11.5 feet by 25.5 feet, is a savage indictment of man's inhumanity to man. Painted in desolate tones of black, white, and gray, the painting shows a gored horse, a screaming mother holding a dead child, a bewildered bull, and other nightmarish images that effectively evoke the horror of war.
Guernica was exhibited in the Spanish Pavilion at the Paris International Exposition and in 1939 was sent to New York on a tour for the benefit of the Spanish Refugee Committee. When World War II broke out later that year, Picasso requested that Guernica and a number of his other works be held at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) on extended loan. After the war, most of these works were returned to Europe, but Picasso asked that Guernica and its preliminary studies be kept by MoMA until the "reestablishment of public liberties" in Spain. The painting was occasionally lent to European museums at the request of Picasso.
Francisco Franco ruled over Spain as dictator for the rest of Picasso's life, and the artist never returned to his native country. In 1967, Franco restored some liberties, and in 1968 his government made an effort to recover Guernica. Picasso refused, clarifying that the painting would not be returned until democracy was reestablished. In 1973, Picasso died in France at the age of 91. Two years later, Franco died and was succeeded as Spanish leader by King Juan Carlos I, who immediately began a transfer to democracy. Spain then called for the return of Guernica, but opposition by Picasso heirs who questioned Spain's democratic credentials delayed its transfer until 1981. Finally, Picasso's former lawyer gave his ascent to the transfer.
On September 10, 1981, Guernica arrived in Madrid under heavy guard. The painting was to be housed in a new annex of the Prado Museum, only two blocks from the Spanish parliament, which had been the scene of an abortive military coup in February 1981. King Juan Carlos defused the revolt by convincing military commanders to remain loyal to Spain's democratic constitution.
On October 25--the 100th anniversary of Picasso's birth--Guernica went on exhibit to the public behind a thick layer of bullet-proof glass. Picasso's preparatory sketches for the painting, likewise protected behind thick glass, were housed in adjacent rooms. The threat of terrorism against the highly politicized work required high security, and visitors passed through a metal detector to view the paintings. Because the painting had been damaged in its years of travel, curators at the Prado said it was unlikely that Guernica would ever go on tour again.
A number of groups in Spain, particularly Basque nationalists, objected strongly to Guernica's permanent exhibition in Madrid. Complaints escalated after the painting was relocated to the new Centro de Arte Reina Sofía in Madrid in 1992. Since the 1997 opening of the Guggenheim Bilbao Museo, Basque nationalists have been calling for its transfer there.
1989: HUNGARY ALLOWS EAST GERMANS REFUGEES TO LEAVE
In a dramatic break with the eastern European communist bloc, Hungary gives permission for thousands of East German refugees to leave Hungary for West Germany. It was the first time one of the Warsaw Pact nations-who were joined in the defensive alliance between Russia and its eastern Europe satellites-- broke from the practice of blocking citizens of the communist nations from going to the West.
By 1989, the Soviet Union was entering a period of accelerating collapse. Economic problems were foremost in the factors causing this collapse, but political turmoil in the Soviet Union, the various Soviet Socialist Republics, and the satellite nations in eastern Europe were also responsible for the decay of what President Ronald Reagan once termed the "evil empire." In Hungary, a movement for greater democracy and economic freedom was gaining strength. Such forces were also alive in East Germany, but the communist government of that nation proved inflexible in dealing with the demands for change. In response, thousands of East Germans--traveling as "tourists"--began pouring into Hungary. As soon as they arrived, they declared that they would not return home.
The East German refugees hoped to cross from Hungary into Austria and then into West Germany where, by law, they would be granted nearly instant citizenship. In the past, Hungary had refused to allow East Germans to proceed to Austria. Hungarian leaders now saw a danger, however. As Hungary moved toward a more democratic political system and free market economics, more and more refugees from other communist nations--not just East Germany--might pour into the country seeking refuge. Foreign Minister Gyula Horn declared, "We cannot become a country of refugee camps." He announced that Hungary would allow the nearly 8,000 East Germans in Hungary to leave for West Germany.
The East German government responded angrily, but there was little it could do to stop the flow of its people into neighboring communist nations and hence into Hungary en route to West Germany. Tens of thousands of East Germans raced across their nation's borders into Poland and Czechoslovakia, seeking asylum and permission to travel to West Germany. Pro-democracy forces in East Germany took heart from these actions, and the communist government began to crumble. In November 1989, the East German government announced that the Berlin Wall separating East and West Berlin would be torn down and the country would soon be united under a democratic government.