1877 – Ten members of the Molly Maguires are hung in Pennsylvania

In 1877, Franklin B. Gowen was the wealthiest coal mine owner in the world. He was the President of the Philadelphia and Reading Coal and Iron Company, a mining concern, and also of the related Philadelphia and Reading Railroad. But it wasn’t enough.

Why, in some of his coal mine, the men who worked there had the unmitigated gall to complain about his safety standards (after 110 men died in a mine fire in 1869) and even to unionise (as if Gowen’s hired thugs hadn’t killed 10 people while busting a strike on his railroad that same year).

Nevertheless, Gowen’s business ineptitude (he managed to bring the railroad the brink of bankruptcy twice in the 16 years he ran it) and corruption (he was the prime mover behind one of the great price-fixing deals of the 18th century, which helped to maintain his coal fortune) knew virtually no bounds. In 1877, he hired the Pinkertons to infiltrate a supposed secret society called the Molly Maguires, which he claimed existed inside the union at his mines and committed assorted crimes at the behest of its members.

Evidence of a sort was produced, and men were accused, tried and convicted – in the newspapers. The actual legal proceedings were mere formalities. Ten men were hung on June 21, 1877 for assorted crimes, some of which may even have existed (let alone been committed by the men in question). Another ten would be executed by the state – and several more killed by vigilantes – before Gowen’s bloodlust was sated.

Today, some historians question whether the Molly Maguires even existed, while others insist that they did, but were mischaracterised. The is a general consensus that Gowen was a murderous buffoon, however.

Referenced in:

Molly — Molly Maguire
Molly Maguires — The Dubliners
The Sons of Molly — The Irish Balladeers
Lament for the Molly Maguires — The Irish Rovers

1963 — Giovani Montini becomes Pope Paul VI

Cardinal Montini of Milan has been considered by some as a potential papal candidate in 1958, but as a non-member of the College of Cardinals was not eligible for selection. Pope John XXIII was chosen instead, seen as something of a non-entity and a safe choice by those who voted for him. He turned out to be the greatest reformer the Papacy had seen in centuries, calling the epochal Vatican Council II that changed the dogma and practices of the Catholic Church more than any single event since the Council of Nicea 1600 years earlier.

John died in office, and Giovani Montini became Pope Paul VI, inheriting the still going on Vatican Council II, which he saw completed and its reforms implemented over the course of his 15 year reign. Paul’s particular focus was restoring relations with the Orthodox churches of Eastern Europe who had split from the Catholic Church centuries earlier, but he excluded no one in his reaching out to all Christians, other faiths and even atheists. He was also the first Pope to visit six continents.

Referenced in:
We Didn’t Start the Fire — Billy Joel

1964 – Andrew Goodman, James Chaney and Mickey Schwerner are murdered by the Ku Klux Klan

James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner became martyrs to the Civil Rights Movement when they were lynched in Philedelphia, Mississippi. The three had travelled to the town to investigate the burning of a church which had hosted civil rights events, a few days earlier.

Upon their arrival, they were arrested on trumped-up charges by Neshoba County deputee, Cecil Price. Price was himself a member of the Ku Klux Klan, and detained the three young men – Schwerner was 24, Chaney 21 and Goodman 20 – in the county police station for several hours, during which time they were not given their legally entitled phone calls, and callers to the station in search of them were told they were not there.

Once the Klan’s ambush was in place, Price freed the three men, then led them into it. All three were shot repeatedly, and Chaney, who was also black, was beaten severely. Their bodies were buried and their car hidden and burned.

The disappearance of the three led to a national outcry, and public sentiment swung dramatically towards favouring civil rights, allowing President Lyndon Johnson to push through landmark bills like the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (signed into law less than a month later on July 2), and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Referenced in:
He Was My Brother – Simon & Garfunkel
Those Three are On My Mind – Pete Seeger

1982 – Prince William of England is born

The eldest child of Prince Charles (himself the eldest child and heir of the current Queen of England), Prince William Arthur Phillip Louis Windsor is second in line to the British throne, and quite likely to be King of England someday. In fact, it is widely assumed that his father will stand aside for him in the event that the apparently indestructible cyborg that is Elizabeth Windsor ever malfunctions permanently, in which event, the current His Royal Highness Prince William of Wales will become His Majesty King William V of the United Kingdom.

William’s mother was the now-deceased Diana Spencer, whom his father separated from some years previously. Despite the personal tragey of his mother’s death and the pressure-cooker of media attention that flourishes around the Royal Family in England (and to a lesser extent, throughout the British Commonwealth, Europe and the United States), William appears to be a reasonably well-edjusted young man who appears to have absorbed the media and people skills of his father, grandmother and great-grandmother, and the sense of humour of the former.

Referenced in:

Heartland – Nenah Cherry