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• On May 22, 1455, the battle of England’s War of the Roses begins in St. Albans, 20 miles northwest of London. The forces of House of York, whose badge was a white rose, defeated the red-rose House of Lancaster. Both families claimed the throne and the war would stretch on for 30 years.
• On May 4, 1776, Rhode Island becomes the first American colony to renounce its allegiance to King George III. Ironically, Rhode Island would be the last state to ratify the new Constitution more than 14 years later.
• On May 8, 1792, Congress passes the second portion of the Militia Act, requiring that able-bodied males between the ages of 18 and 45 be enrolled in the militia. The act was quickly tested when farmers in Pennsylvania, angered by a tax on whiskey, attacked the home of a tax collector. President George Washington responded with 15,000 militia members.
• On May 10, 1869, the presidents of the Union Pacific and Central Pacific railroads meet in Promontory, Utah, and drive a ceremonial last spike into a rail line that connects their railroads. This made transcontinental railroad travel possible for the first time in U.S. history.
• On May 7, 1915, the British ocean liner Lusitania is torpedoed by a German submarine off the coast of Ireland, sinking within 20 minutes. Of the 1,959 passengers and crew, 1,198 people were drowned. The British Admiralty had warned the ship to avoid the area, but the Lusitania’s captain ignored the recommendations.
• On May 16, 1929, the first-ever Academy Awards ceremony is held, with some 270 people in attendance. Movies were just making the transition from silent films to “talkies,” but all the nominated films were without sound.
• On May 11, 1934, a massive dust storm sends millions of tons of topsoil flying across the parched Great Plains to the East Coast and as far away as ships 300 miles offshore. Farmers had pushed their fields to the limit, plowing under more and more grassland.
• On May 23, 1934, famed fugitives Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker are killed in a police ambush near Sailes, Louisiana. They died in a two-minute fusillade of over 150 bullets. The Barrow Gang was believed responsible for the deaths of 13 people, including nine police officers.
• On May 2, 1939, New York Yankees first baseman Lou Gehrig benches himself for poor play and ends his streak of consecutive games played at 2,130. The left-handed slugger led the American League in RBIs five times.
• On May 1, 1941, “Citizen Kane” makes its debut at the RKO Palace Theater in New York City. The film about a publishing tycoon’s dying words consistently ranks at the top of film critics’ lists of America’s greatest films.
• On May 15, 1942, Lt. Ronald Reagan, a cavalry officer, applies for reassignment to the Army Air Force. As a public relations officer, the actor and future president produced military training, morale and propaganda films.
• On May 3, 1946, in Tokyo, the International Military Tribunals begins hearing the case against 28 Japanese military and government officials accused of committing war crimes during World War II. All but three of the defendants were eventually found guilty.
• On May 9, 1950, Ron Hubbard publishes “Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health.” The book introduced a self-help psychology called Dianetics, which morphed into a belief system called Scientology, popular due to its high profile in Hollywood.
• On May 21, 1955, then-unknown singer Chuck Berry pays his first visit to a recording studio and cuts “Maybellene.” The song became a No. 1 R&B hit and a top 5 pop hit. It helped that DJ Alan Freed played the record for two hours straight during his WINS radio show in New York City.
• On May 5, 1961, Navy Commander Alan Shepard Jr. is launched into space aboard the Freedom 7 capsule, becoming the first American astronaut to travel into space. The flight lasted 15 minutes.
• On May 17, 1965, after a two-year investigation, the FBI declares the supposedly pornographic lyrics of “Louie Louie” to be officially unintelligible.
• On May 12, 1975, the American freighter Mayaguez is captured by communist government forces gunboats in Cambodia. Two days later President Ford ordered the bombing of the Cambodian port where the gunboats had come from. Forty-one Americans died, many in an accidental explosion during the attack.
• On May 18, 1980, Mount St. Helens, a volcanic peak in southwestern Washington, violently erupts. The massive blast killed 57 people and leveled nearly all vegetation as far as 12 miles away.
• On May 13, 1985, in Philadelphia, police begin evacuating people from their homes in order to prepare for an operation against MOVE, a radical cult group. MOVE had begun assembling a large arsenal and building bunkers in their row house. The government gave $1.5 million to three survivors of the raid.
• On May 6, 1994, a rail tunnel under the English Channel officially opens, connecting Britain and the European mainland for the first time since the Ice Age. The “Chunnel” runs under water for 23 miles, with an average depth of 150 feet below the seabed.
• On May 19, 1997, a 3-year-old boy dies of avian influenza in Hong Kong. Before the outbreak was controlled, six people were dead and 1.6 million domestic fowl were destroyed. The virus mutated and caused 62 more human deaths in Asia by 2005.
• On May 14, 1999, President Bill Clinton apologizes directly to Chinese President Jiang Zemin on the phone for the accidental NATO bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade, Yugoslavia. China refused Clinton’s calls for four days and banned American films and music in protest.
• On May 20, 2007, Fox’s long-running animated series “The Simpsons” airs its 400th episode. “The Simpsons” debuted in December 1989 with a special Christmas show, “Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire.” Its success paved the way for other adult-oriented animated series, notably “King of the Hill,” “The Family Guy” and “South Park.”
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