Hoosier History: On this day, January 21


Indianapolis Journal illustration of the hospital fire in 1892. (Photo: public domain)

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Today is Monday, Jan. 21, the 21st day of 2019. It is Martin Luther King Jr. Day, an annual federal holiday marking the birthday of the slain civil rights leader.

Today’s Highlights in Hoosier History:

On Jan. 21, 1892, one of Indianapolis’ most tragic fires occurs downtown on a cold, snowy night. A newspaper headline told the heartbreaking story of the fire at the National Surgical Institute’s two four-story hospital buildings: “Helpless cripples perish in the flames or jump to their death on the street.” In all, 19 patients died and 30 were injured; but more than 250 were saved, largely due to the heroics of the firefighters.

Zerelda Wallace. (Photo: Indiana Historical Bureau)

On Jan. 21, 1875, Zerelda Wallace, widow of Governor David Wallace, addresses the Indiana General Assembly and presents 21,050 signatures on temperance (prohibition of alcoholic beverages) petitions. Five years later, she testified before the United States Senate in favor of women’s suffrage, also known as women’s right to vote. Wallace, who had a longstanding interest in social reform, earned a reputation as capable and inspirational speaker. (Source: Hoosier History Highlights from the Indiana Department of Administration)

Secretary of Agriculture Earl Butz in 1972. (Photo By John G. White/Getty Images)

On Jan. 21, 1971, Earl “Rusty” Butz, who was raised on dairy farm in Noble County, takes office as U.S. Secretary of Agriculture. During his time as head of the USDA under presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford, the Purdue University alumnus brought an end to many New Deal programs and favored large-scale corporate farming. But he is best remembered for a racial gaffe that cost him his job. Butz would also later plead guilty to federal tax evasion and briefly serve time behind bars.

The running of the Nearly Naked Mile at Purdue. (Photo courtesy: Purdue archives)

On Jan. 21, 1986, the Nude Olympics takes place at Purdue University for the last time. The tradition began sometime in the early 80’s and featured students running naked around campus as they were drilled with snowballs by spectators, in the late hours of a night in January each year. The university banned the event because it said letting students run naked on a winter’s night is a health hazard and presented an improper image of the Big Ten school. The Nude Olympics was replaced by the ‘Nearly Naked Mile.’

Louis Armstrong. (Photo by Central Press/Getty Images)

On Jan. 21, 1968, music legend Louis Armstrong and his Allstars perform on stage at Butler University’s Clowes Hall. It marked the second time the great jazz trumpeter and vocalist performed at Clowes. The Indianapolis News reported that he “treated the capacity crowd with his golden trumpet jazz.” In an interview, Armstrong, known as “Satchmo,” (‘Satchelmouth’) said he started his career by playing on riverboats up and down the Mississippi River. (Source: Hoosier History Highlights from the Indiana Department of Administration)

On this date elsewhere:

In 1793, during the French Revolution, King Louis XVI, condemned for treason, was executed on the guillotine.

In 1861, Jefferson Davis of Mississippi and four other Southerners whose states had seceded from the Union resigned from the U.S. Senate.

In 1908, New York City’s Board of Aldermen passed an ordinance prohibiting women from smoking in public establishments (the measure was vetoed by Mayor George B. McClellan Jr., but not before one woman, Katie Mulcahey, was jailed overnight for refusing to pay a fine).

In 1924, Russian revolutionary Vladimir Lenin died at age 53.

In 1950, former State Department official Alger Hiss, accused of being part of a Communist spy ring, was found guilty in New York of lying to a grand jury. (Hiss, who proclaimed his innocence, served less than four years in prison.)

In 1954, the first atomic submarine, the USS Nautilus, was launched at Groton (GRAH’-tuhn), Connecticut (however, the Nautilus did not make its first nuclear-powered run until nearly a year later).

In 1958, Charles Starkweather, 19, killed three relatives of his 14-year-old girlfriend, Caril Ann Fugate, at her family’s home inLincoln, Nebraska. (Starkweather and Fugate went on a road trip which resulted in seven more slayings; Starkweather was eventually executed while Fugate spent 17 years in prison despite maintaining she was a hostage, not an accomplice.)

In 1968, the North Vietnamese Army launched a full-scale assault against the U.S. combat base in Khe Sanh, South Vietnam, in a siege lasting 11 weeks; although the Americans were able to hold back the communists, they ended up dismantling and abandoning the base.

In 1977, on his first full day in office, President Jimmy Carter pardoned almost all Vietnam War draft evaders.

In 1982, convict-turned-author Jack Henry Abbott was found guilty in New York of first-degree manslaughter in the stabbing death of waiter Richard Adan in 1981. (Abbott was later sentenced to 15 years to life in prison; he committed suicide in 2002.)

In 1997, Speaker Newt Gingrich was reprimanded and fined as the House voted for the first time in history to discipline its leader for ethical misconduct.

In 1998, Pope John Paul II began a historic pilgrimage to Cuba. Actor Jack Lord of “Hawaii Five-O” fame died in Honolulu at age 77.

In 2003, The Census Bureau announced that Hispanics had surpassed blacks as America’s largest minority group.

Ten years ago: In a whirlwind first full day in office, President Barack Obama showcased efforts to revive the economy, summoned top military officials to chart a new course in Iraq and eased into the daunting thicket of Middle East diplomacy. The Senate confirmed Hillary Rodham Clinton as secretary of state.

Five years ago: Former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, once viewed as a rising star in the GOP, and his wife, Maureen, were indicted on federal corruption charges; the couple denied wrongdoing. (A jury in Sept. 2014 convicted the McDonnells of doing favors for former Star Scientific CEO Jonnie Williams in exchange for more than $165,000 in low-interest loans and gifts. Their convictions were later overturned as the U.S. Supreme Court narrowed the definition of public corruption)

One year ago: Security forces in Afghanistan brought an end to an overnight siege by Taliban militants at the Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul; four American citizens were among 22 people killed in the 13-hour attack. “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” swept the Screen Actors Guild Awards with wins for best ensemble, best actress for Frances McDormand, and best supporting actor for Sam Rockwell. The Philadelphia Eagles stunned the Minnesota Vikings, 38-7, in the NFC title game to advance to the Super Bowl against the New England Patriots, who had scored a 24-20 comeback win over the Jacksonville Jaguars in the AFC title game. (The Eagles would go on to win their first Super Bowl.)

Today’s Birthdays: World Golf Hall of Famer Jack Nicklaus is 79. Opera singer-conductor Placido Domingo is 78. Singer Mac Davis is 77. Actress Jill Eikenberry is 72. Country musician Jim Ibbotson is 72. Singer-songwriter Billy Ocean is 69. Former U.S. Ambassador to China Gary Locke is 69. Former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder is 68. Actor-director Robby Benson is 63. Actress Geena Davis is 63. Basketball Hall of Famer Hakeem Olajuwon is 56. Actress Charlotte Ross is 51. Actor John Ducey is 50. Actress Karina Lombard is 50. Actor Ken Leung is 49. Rapper Levirt (B-Rock and the Bizz) is 49. Rock musician Mark Trojanowski (Sister Hazel) is 49. Rock singer-songwriter Cat Power is 47. Rock DJ Chris Kilmore (Incubus) is 46. Actor Vincent Laresca is 45. Singer Emma Bunton (Spice Girls) is 43. Actor Jerry Trainor is 42. Country singer Phil Stacey is 41. Rhythm-and-blues singer Nokio (Dru Hill) is 40. Actress Izabella Miko (MEE’-koh) is 38. Actor Luke Grimes is 35. Actress Feliz Ramirez is 27.

(The Indiana State Museum, the Associated Press and our news-sharing partners at the Indy Star contributed to this report.)

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