[The Galápagos Islands are a unique ecosystem of unparalleled beauty - only be careful not to tell anyone or they'll soon have it covered it in condos, golf courses, and mini-malls!]
668 CE - Constans II - ruler of the Eastern Roman Empire - was assassinated in his bath at the Italian town of Syracuse; he was succeeded by the usurper Mezezius (who may have been implicit in the killing), who was in turn dealt with by the rightful heir, Constans' son, who became Constantine IV.
921 CE - Saint Ludmila was murdered at the command of her daughter-in-law Drahomíra in the Czech town of Tetin. Among St Ludmila's more illustrious offspring is King Wenceslas - the 'Good King' of that famous Christmas carol - who was her grandson.
1440 - Gilles de Rais - the man often cited as the principal inspiration for Charles Perrault's 1697 fairy tale Bluebeard - was finally taken into custody upon an accusation brought against him by the Bishop of Nantes. No one knows how many children de Rais may have molested and killed in the last eight years of his life, but it could have been hundreds... He would be burned at the stake on October 26th along with two of his servants who acted as accomplices.
1500 - John Morton, Archbishop of Canterbury since January 1479, died; he was succeeded by Thomas Langton, who was consecrated in January 1501.
1762 - An English victory by Lieutenant Colonel William Amherst at the Battle of Signal Hill forced French commander Guillaume de Bellecombe to surrender the Newfoundland capital of St. John's during the French and Indian War.
1789 - The US Department of State was re-named, and given greater powers; although approved by Congress and the Senate on July 21st and signed into law by President George Washington on July 27th, it was originally called the Department of Foreign Affairs. The first Secretary of State was John Jay.
1830 - The world's first intercity passenger railway line, the Liverpool and Manchester Railway, opened; on the same day William Huskisson, MP, became the first person to ever die in a railway accident when he was struck by George Stephenson's Rocket and suffered a crushed leg near Newton-le-Willows. He later succumbed to his injuries at the vicarage in Eccles. There is a monument to Huskisson at the place where he was struck.
1835 - The HMS Beagle - with Charles Darwin aboard - arrived at the Galápagos Islands.
1883 - The Bombay Natural History Society was founded in the Indian city of Bombay (now Mumbai.)
1885 - Jumbo, circus impresario P. T. Barnum's famed elephant, was struck by a train and killed in a classification yard in St. Thomas, Ontario; while Jumbo's skeleton was sold to the American Museum of Natural History in Manhattan, his hide was stuffed and continued touring with Barnum until 1889, during which time he made more money for Barnum than he had before - on account of needing neither a trainer nor feeding. Jumbo remained on display at Tufts University until he was destroyed by a fire in 1975.
1917 - The first issue of Forbes magazine was published.
1928 - Sir Alexander Fleming accidentally discovered penicillin.
1935 - The Nazi Party's banner - the swastika flag - was adopted as the flag of Germany.
1955 - Vladimir Nabokov's novel Lolita was published in Paris by Olympia Press; it would finally be published in the United States in 1958 and the United Kingdom in 1959.
1959 - Nikita Khrushchev arrived in the United States, the first time a Soviet official had ever come to the US on an official visit; he stayed for 13 days, during which time he was famously refused entrance to Disneyland. Khrushchev's visit humanized his capitalist enemies, and this change in his attitude may have been as much to blame for the subsequent Sino-Soviet split as Mao's diplomatic arrogance.
1968 - The Soviet Union's Zond 5 spaceship was launched, becoming the first spacecraft to fly around the Moon and safely re-enter the Earth's atmosphere; the Zond 5 was later retrieved from the Indian Ocean, where it splashed down on September 21st. Its 'biological payload', including several turtles, were unharmed.
1973 - Sweden's King Gustaf VI Adolf died; he was succeeded by his grandson, who has reigned as Carl XVI Gustaf ever since.
1981 - The John Bull became the oldest operable steam locomotive in the world when the Smithsonian Institution operated it under its own power on the 150th anniversary of its first run; it remains on display at the National Museum of American History while a replica is on display at the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania in Strasburg.
1982 - The first issue of USA Today went on sale.
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