This Week in History – April 25th to May 1st

This Week in History UPPER

Many members of the Steampunk, Dieselpunk, and other retro-futuristic communities like to play with history and ask “what if?” The past is a playground for the imagination to twist the “facts” and ponder what might have been. So what can you make of this week’s saunter back through time to the events that were happening this week in the past?


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The ill-fated Donner Party

On April 25th, 1847, the survivors of the Donner Party emerged out of the wilderness. The Donner Party (sometimes called the Donner-Reed Party) was a group of American pioneers led by George Donner and James F. Reed who set out for California in a wagon train in May 1846. Delayed by a series of mishaps and mistakes, they spent the winter of 1846–47 snowbound in the Sierra Nevada. Some of the pioneers resorted to cannibalism to survive. 



The autopsy of John Wilkes Booth

April 26th, 1865 saw Union cavalry troopers corner and shoot dead John Wilkes Booth, assassin of President Lincoln, in VirginiaBooth, an stage actor by trade, was part of a plot to kidnap Lincoln. Later, however, the plan changed to killing him, Vice President Andrew Johnson, and Secretary of State William H. Seward in a bid to help the Confederacy’s cause. Although Robert E. Lee‘s Army of Northern Virginia had surrendered four days earlier, Booth believed the American Civil War was not yet over because Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston‘s army was still fighting the Union Army.


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The steamboat Sultana readies to leave dock.

The very next day, on April 27th, 1865, the steamboat Sultana, carrying 2,400 passengers, explodes and sinks in the Mississippi River, killing 1,800, most of whom are Union survivors of the Andersonville and Cahaba Prisons. The boat was destroyed when its four boilers exploded and she burned to the waterline and sank near Memphis, Tennessee. This disaster has long been overshadowed in the press by other contemporary events; John Wilkes Booth, President Lincoln’s assassin, was killed the day before.


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The infamous outlaw Billy the Kid

On April 28th, 1881Billy the Kid (also known as William H. Bonney) escaped from the Lincoln County jail in Mesilla, New Mexico. That evening Bonney was under the watch of Deputy James Bell when he requested to be taken outside to use the outhouse located behind the courthouse. On the way back to the jail, Bonney, who was walking ahead of Bell up the stairs to his cell, hid around a blind corner, slipped out of his handcuffs, and surprised Bell, beating him with the loose end of the cuffs. During the ensuing scuffle, Bonney was able to get Bell’s revolver. He fatally shot Bell in the back as the deputy made for the stairs to get away.



The elektromote, a pioneer of the electric motor.

April 28th, 1882 saw the testing of the “Elektromote,” forerunner of the trolleybus, by Ernst Werner von Siemens in Berlin. The Elektromote operated from April 29th to June 13th, 1882, on a 540 m (591 yard) trail-track starting at Halensee railway station. The Electromote built by the Siemens & Halske company was a converted four-wheel landau carriage, equipped with two 2.2 kW electric motors transmitting the power using a chain drive to the rear wheels. The voltage used was 550 V DC. The electric power transmission to the coach was by a flexible cable pulling a small eight-wheeled “contact car” (Kontaktwagen) that ran along the overhead power lines. In English language use, the Kontaktwagen was later named the “trolley”, giving the trolley car and trolley bus their names.


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The aftemath of the Battle of Camarón

April 30th, 1863 witnessed a 65-man French Foreign Legion infantry patrol fight a force of more than 2,000 Mexican soldiers to nearly the last man in Hacienda Camarón, Mexico. The Battle of Camarón occurred over ten hours between the French Foreign Legion and the Mexican army, and is regarded as a defining moment in the Foreign Legion’s history. A small infantry patrol, led by Captain Jean Danjou and Lieutenants Clément Maudet and Jean Vilain, numbering just 65 men was attacked and besieged by a force that may have eventually reached 3,000 Mexican infantry and cavalry, and was forced to make a defensive stand at the nearby Hacienda Camarón, in Camarón de Tejeda, Veracruz, Mexico. The conduct of the Legion, who refused to surrender, led to a certain mystique — and the battle of Camarón became synonymous with bravery and a fight-to-the-death attitude.


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The Crystal Palace that housed the Great Exhibition

On May 1st, 1851Queen Victoria opened The Great Exhibition in London. The Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of all Nations or The Great Exhibition, sometimes referred to as the Crystal Palace Exhibition in reference to the temporary structure in which it was held, was an international exhibition that took place in Hyde Park, London, from May 1st to October 11th, 1851. It was the first in a series of World’s Fair exhibitions of culture and industry that became popular in the 19th century and was a much anticipated event. The Great Exhibition was organized by Henry Cole and Prince Albert, husband of the reigning monarch, Queen Victoria. It was attended by numerous notable figures of the time, including Charles Darwin, Samuel Colt, members of the Orléanist Royal Family and the writers Charlotte Brontë, Charles Dickens, Lewis Carroll, George Eliot and Alfred Tennyson. Music for the opening was under the direction of Sir George Thomas Smart and the continuous music from the exhibited organs for the Queen’s procession was “under the superintendence of William Sterndale Bennett“.



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