1949 – The Prohibition of Mixed Marriages Act comes into force in South Africa

The first of the pieces of legislation that would collectively form Apartheid to be created by the National Party after they took power in 1948. It was a self-evidently a pointless piece of law in its own right – only 0.23% of all marriages in South Africa from 1946-1948 were mixed – but it was the thin end of the Apartheid wedge, the beginning of that oh so slippery slope.

The law was repealed in 1995, after the fall of the Apartheid regime.

Referenced in:
Sun City — Artists United Against Apartheid

1822 – Percy Bysse Shelley dies

One of the greatest of the Romantic Poets, Shelley was the husband of Mary Shelley (author of Frankenstein) and a close friend of both Lord Byron and John Keats, his fellow Romantics. His best known works as poet and playwright respectively were Ozymandias and Prometheus Unbound.

His death was foretold by omens, at least according to Shelley himself, who believed he had met his doppelganger shortly before his death. In the event, he died in a storm on the Adriatic Sea, along with the two others aboard his boat. He was less than a month short of his thirtieth birthday at the time, and some have suggested that his death was no accident, although this seems unlikely. Shelley did seem depressed in the days before his death, but even he had been suicidal, it is unlikely that so staunch a pacifist would have countenanced the deaths of others in seeking his own demise.

Referenced in:

These Words — Natasha Bedingfield

1898 – Con man and gangster Soapy Smith is shot dead

Jefferson Randolph Smith II – known as Soapy for reasons explained in more detail below, was one of the most famous confidence men of the American West. He was also a notorious gangster who at various times played important roles in organized crime in Denver, Creede (both in Colorado) and later, in the mining town of Skagway (Alaska).

At some point in the late 1870’s (or possible the early 1880’s), Smith began what the papers called “The Prize Package Soap Sell Swindle” – hence the nickname. The swindle was fairly simple: Soapy would set up to sell cakes of soap on the street, and as he spoke to the growing crowd, he would pull out his wallet and begin wrapping paper money ranging from one dollar up to one hundred dollars, around a select few of the bars. He then finished each bar by wrapping plain paper around it to hide the money. He mixed the money-wrapped packages in with wrapped bars containing no money. He then sold the soap to the crowd for one dollar a cake. A shill planted in the crowd would buy a bar, tear it open, and loudly proclaim that he had won some money, waving it around for all to see. This performance had the desired effect of enticing the sale of the packages. More often than not, victims bought several bars before the sale was completed. Midway through the sale, Smith would announce that the hundred-dollar bill yet remained in the pile, unpurchased. He then would auction off the remaining soap bars to the highest bidders. Through manipulation and sleight-of-hand, the cakes of soap wrapped with money were hidden and replaced with packages holding no cash. It was assured that the only money “won” went to members of what became known as the “Soap Gang.” This swindle continued to work for twenty years or more.

In 1897, Soapy moved to Skagway, to capitalise on the Klondike Gold Rush. He to run all manner of confidence games and illegal gambling. The last was to prove his undoing – a disgruntled ‘customer’ of one of Soapy’s Three Card Monte games raised a small vigilante group, and summary justice was dealt out on Soapy. He remains a popular figure, and on this day each year festivals are held in his honour in Skagway, Hollywood and other places.

Referenced in:

The Ballad of Soapy Smith – Al Oster