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This Day in History: October 12


1492 – Christopher Columbus's expedition makes landfall in the Caribbean, specifically in The Bahamas. The explorer believes he has reached the Indies.

1692 – The Salem witch trials are ended by a letter from Massachusetts Governor William Phips.

1748 – British and Spanish naval forces engage at the Battle of Havana during the War of Jenkins' Ear.

1773 – America's first insane asylum opens for 'Persons of Insane and Disordered Minds' in Virginia.

1792 – First celebration of Columbus Day in the USA held in New York City.

1793 – The cornerstone of Old East, the oldest state university building in the United States, is laid on the campus of the University of North Carolina.

1892 – The Pledge of Allegiance is first recited by students in many US public schools, as part of a celebration marking the 400th anniversary of Columbus's voyage.

1901 – President Theodore Roosevelt officially renames the "Executive Mansion" to the White House.

1918 – A massive forest fire kills 453 people in Minnesota.

1928 – An iron lung respirator is used for the first time at Children's Hospital, Boston.

1933 – The military Alcatraz Citadel becomes the civilian Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary.

1942 – World War II: Japanese ships retreat after their defeat in the Battle of Cape Esperance with the Japanese commander, Aritomo Gotō dying from wounds suffered in the battle and two Japanese destroyers sunk by Allied air attack.

1944 – World War II: The Axis occupation of Athens comes to an end.

1945 – World War II: Desmond Doss is the first conscientious objector to receive the U.S. Medal of Honor.

1953 – The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial opens at Plymouth Theatre, New York City

1960 – Cold War: Nikita Khrushchev pounds his shoe on a desk at United Nations General Assembly meeting to protest a Philippine assertion of Soviet Union colonial policy being conducted in Eastern Europe

1962 – Infamous Columbus Day Storm strikes the U.S. Pacific Northwest with record wind velocities; 46 dead and at least U.S. $230 million in damages

1967 – Vietnam War: US Secretary of State Dean Rusk states during a news conference that proposals by the U.S. Congress for peace initiatives are futile because of North Vietnam's opposition

1970 – Vietnam War: US President Richard Nixon announces that the United States will withdraw 40,000 more troops before Christmas

1979 – The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, the first of five books in the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy comedy science fiction series by Douglas Adams is published.

1994 – The Magellan spacecraft burns up in the atmosphere of Venus.

1998 – Matthew Shepard, a gay student at University of Wyoming, died five days after he was beaten, robbed and left tied to a wooden fence post outside of Laramie, Wyoming.

2000 – The USS Cole is badly damaged in Aden, Yemen, by two suicide bombers, killing 17 crew members and wounding at least 39.


1860 – Elmer Ambrose Sperry, American engineer and businessman, co-invented the gyrocompass (d. 1930)

1893 – Velvalee Dickinson, American spy (d. 1980)

1910 – Robert Fitzgerald, American poet, critic, and translator (d. 1985)

1910 – Malcolm Renfrew, American chemist and academic (d. 2013)

1921 – Art Clokey, American animator, producer, screenwriter, and voice actor, created Gumby (d. 2010)

1923 – Jean Nidetch, American businesswoman, co-founded Weight Watchers (d. 2015)

1925 – Essie Mae Washington-Williams, American author and educator (d. 2013)

1928 – Al Held, American painter and academic (d. 2005)

1932 – Dick Gregory, American comedian, actor, and author

1947 – Chris Wallace, American journalist

1970 – Kirk Cameron, American actor, screenwriter, and Christian evangelical activist

1975 – Marion Jones, American basketball player and runner

1977 – Bode Miller, American skier


1565 – Jean Ribault, French-American lieutenant and navigator (b. 1520)

1870 – Robert E. Lee, American general (b. 1807)

1914 – Margaret E. Knight, American inventor (b. 1838)

1940 – Tom Mix, American actor, director, producer, and screenwriter (b. 1880)

1985 – Johnny Olson, American radio host and game show announcer (b. 1910)

1987 – Alf Landon, American lieutenant and politician, 26th Governor of Kansas (b. 1887)

1989 – Jay Ward, American animator, producer, and screenwriter, founded Jay Ward Productions (b. 1920)

1997 – John Denver, American singer-songwriter, guitarist, and actor

1998 – Matthew Shepard, American murder victim (b. 1976)

1999 – Wilt Chamberlain, American basketball player and coach (b. 1936)

2003 – Joan Kroc, American philanthropist (b. 1928)

2003 – Bill Shoemaker, American jockey (b. 1931)

2011 – Dennis Ritchie, American computer scientist, created the C programming language (b. 1941)

2014 – Louise Daniel Hutchinson, American historian and academic (b. 1928)