This Day in History

1. 1440: The first serial killer: Gilles de Rais was taken into custody on Sept. 15, 1440, after an accusation by the Bishop of Nantes. He had fought in the Hundred Years War with England and gained initial recognition as a war hero. But rumors began to fly of his involvement in the occult, and after being taken into custody, he admitted to the killings. His victims were children, mostly young boys, and were killed in a particularly horrific manner. Rais was hung and his ashes burned on Oct. 26. Some have raised doubts about his guilt, but if we accept the charges as true, then he would have been one of the most prolific serial killers of all time, setting a high bar for murderers to succeed him.

2. 1835: HMS Beagle lands at the Galapagos Islands: This event is the only positive, or at least neutral, one on this list. Charles Darwin arrived at the Galapagos Islands on this day in 1835. Darwin, a young naturalist, was on board this vessel’s second voyage. Captain Robert FitzRoy had been seeking a companion who would be able to self-finance a trip abroad and keep him company. Upon reaching the islands, Darwin noticed the wide variation of different species such as finches and tortoises. These observations made by Darwin in the Galapagos led to his theory of evolution and his groundbreaking work, “The Origin of Species.”

3. 1935: Nuremberg Laws: The Nazi Party had come to power two years prior, and these laws were the first major step towards the Holocaust. Introduced at the annual Nuremberg Rally, these laws deprived Jews of German Citizenship and forbade marriage between ethnic Germans and Jews. Hitler had earlier declared a boycott of all Jewish businesses and, combined with these laws, made life extremely difficult for German Jews. The laws later expanded to include the Romani, or gypsies, as well as black Germans. Several years later, antisemitism in Nazi Germany reached a tipping point, culminating in one of the largest and most infamous genocides in history, of which there are an estimated six million victims.

4. 1963: Church Bombing: Birmingham, AL in the 1960s was one of the most segregated cities in America and one of the most racially tense. The 16th Street Baptist Church was the first black church to organize in the city and was one of the centers of the civil rights movement. Even the most modest efforts at integration were met with violent resistance. The previous eight years had seen a spike in racist terror, but no previous bombings had been fatal. This time was different. Four girls, Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson and Carol Denise McNair, none older than 14, were killed when the blast erupted that morning. Four klansmen, Thomas Edwin Blanton, Jr., Herman Frank Cash, Robert Edward Chambliss and Bobby Frank Cherry, committed the bombing by placing at least 15 sticks of dynamite under the church steps. The bombing marked a turning point during the Civil Rights movement, swaying public opinion against segregation and for Civil Rights.

5. 2008: Largest Bankruptcy in History: 2008 marked the largest recession in the United States since the Great Depression. Our largest companies relied on government bailouts to remain viable. Lehman Brothers, a financial services firm, was the fourth largest investment bank in the U.S. On this day eight years ago, it filed for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy, the largest in U.S. History. With plummeting stocks, clients fleeing, and heavy scrutiny for their involvement in the mortgage crisis, Lehman Brothers became the posterchild for banks that were “Too big to fail” and a symbol of the failure of the American banking system.

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