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This Week in History: Organized baseball and hungry birds

This etching depicts the attempted assassination of Andrew Jackson. (Source: Wikipedia) This etching depicts the attempted assassination of Andrew Jackson. (Source: Wikipedia)
Space Shuttle Challenger explodes shortly after take-off. (Source: NASA/Wikipedia) Space Shuttle Challenger explodes shortly after take-off. (Source: NASA/Wikipedia)
Debris from the Space Shuttle Columbia is collected and analyzed. (Source: NASA/Wikipedia) Debris from the Space Shuttle Columbia is collected and analyzed. (Source: NASA/Wikipedia)

(RNN) – Tuesday marks the end of the greatest acting career of all time, but the actor himself didn't die.

In John Wayne's last movie, The Shootist, his character, J.B. Books, stages a gunfight on his birthday, Jan. 29, in which he is killed. After appearing in more than 170 movies, the Duke's final scene is him being shot up in a saloon – one of only a handful of times Wayne dies on screen.

His character in the movie has cancer, leading to his decision to go out in a flurry of gunfire. It was widely believed at the time that it was Wayne's way of saying farewell to his fans, but at the time the movie was made he did not have cancer. He had surgery to remove a lung a few years earlier and the cancer returned – eventually taking his life – three years after the movie was made. He had plans to make at least one more movie, but it never materialized.

Since John Wayne is the greatest American to ever live, all anniversaries of his – both real and fictional – are of note, except anything related to The Conqueror, because it is considered one of the worst movies ever made, and it might have killed him, though his smoking habit probably helped that along.

Here are some of the real events of note that have happened between Jan. 28 and Feb. 3.

Life and Death

Jackson Pollock and his dynamite-in-a-paint-can "abstract" art were born Jan. 28, 1912. I understand slinging paint around like a mental patient, but what I don't understand is why people buy it. I've always thought abstract art is just an excuse for not having any ideas.

If you've never seen anything Pollock painted, go here. Pollock struggled with alcoholism for much of his life, and judging by some of those paintings, he imbibed while he worked. He didn't even name them, just used numbers. How is it possible to become famous doing this? Maybe a better question is why have I not done it?

Titanic's oldest survivor, Millvina Dean, was born Feb. 2, 1912 – about two months before getting on the ship. She died May 31, 2009.

This week marks several notable deaths, including both the Challenger and Columbia space shuttle disasters. Challenger exploded shortly after takeoff Jan. 28, 1986, and Columbia disintegrated shortly after re-entry Feb. 1, 2003. All astronauts on both missions were killed.

Coretta Scott King, the widow of Martin Luther King Jr, died Jan. 30, 2006 – the 50th anniversary of their house being bombed following the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated Jan. 30, 1948, and Kentucky Gov. William Goebel was assassinated Feb. 3, 1900, four days after taking office. He is still the only sitting governor to be assassinated.

Music died Feb. 3, 1959, when Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson died in a plane crash in Iowa. Before he became famous in his own right, Waylon Jennings played bass for Holly and was originally scheduled to be on the flight. Jennings gave up his spot to Richardson, who had the flu. Valens won his spot on the plane in a coin toss with Tommy Allsup, who went on to future fame and even opened a bar named after the event.

Elsewhere, Henry VIII died Jan. 28, 1547, installing Edward VI as the first protestant King of England. Today, only protestants can become the monarch. Lynyrd Skynyrd keyboard player Billy Powell died Jan. 28, 2009, Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro was euthanized Jan. 29, 2007, after breaking his leg in the Preakness, Guy Fawkes was executed Jan. 31, 1606, and Oliver Cromwell was posthumously executed Jan, 30, 1661 – the anniversary of the death of Charles I, who he helped overthrow.

Overlooked Anniversaries

This Week in History presents Great Moments in Law Enforcement: Jan. 28, 1896, saw the first motorist stopped for speeding. It happened to Walter Arnold in East Peckham, England. Arnold was driving 8 mph, four times the speed limit (that's 280 mph on a present-day interstate), and was pulled over by a policeman on a bicycle, but only after a 5-mile chase. He was fined a shilling, which was the British equivalent of the nickel (the equivalent to 8 cents in today's money).

Scotch tape was first marketed Jan., 31, 1930, and Canada adopted its flag Jan, 28, 1965, replacing the Union Jack. Fifty years earlier, the U.S. Coast Guard was formed and the Supreme Court convened for the first time Feb. 1, 1790. New York City was incorporated as New Amsterdam on Feb. 2, 1653, and given that large soft drinks can no longer be sold there, it has a much different reputation than its original namesake.

The first attempted assassination of a U.S. president took place Jan. 30, 1835, when Richard Lawrence attempted to shoot Andrew Jackson. Jackson was a terrible target for assassination because he already had a bullet lodged in his chest for 30 years at the time. Nevertheless, Lawrence tried to shoot him, but his pistol misfired. He drew another pistol and it misfired, too. Jackson then did exactly what you think he did: He starting beating Lawrence with his walking cane. Lawrence was subdued by bystanders, including Davy Crockett.

Feb. 3 saw two amendments ratified – one good and one bad. The 15th Amendment was ratified in 1870 allowing former slaves the right to vote, and the 16th Amendment was ratified in 1913 giving the government the ability to take your money. Alabama – where I live – was the first state to ratify the 16th Amendment, allowing Congress to levy income tax. I'm debating if that's reason enough to move. Of the 48 states at the time, only Connecticut, Rhode Island, Utah, Virginia, Florida and Pennsylvania have yet to ratify it.

Janet Jackson ruined TV forever Feb. 1, 2004, with her infamous Super Bowl halftime show. Everything now has to be delayed so in case someone flips off the camera during the Super Bowl halftime show they can NOT blur it out. The group of people I was with in a friend's college dorm room were all eating pizza, and none of us even saw the "wardrobe malfunction," which upon review looks completely planned.

Jan. 31, 1958, the U.S. launched its first satellite into orbit and three years later launched a chimpanzee. And finally, in Great Moments in the History of Blue People, Avatar became the first movie to gross more than $2 billion Jan. 31, 2010.

Something About Sports

Both the American League and National League were formed this week. The NL came to be Feb. 2, 1876, followed by the American League on Jan. 29, 1900. Two original NL teams appear to still exist, but don't. The Boston Red Stockings are now the Atlanta Braves and the Chicago White Stockings are now the Chicago Cubs. The Cincinnati Red Stockings were members until 1880, but there is some dispute over whether this team is the original Cincinnati Reds.

Similarly, the American League was founded with the Baltimore Orioles, who are currently the New York Yankees, and the original Milwaukee Brewers, who are now the Baltimore Orioles. The Chicago White Stockings became the Chicago White Sox and the Philadelphia Athletics – which was also a charter NL team – are now the Oakland Athletics.

The Baseball Hall of Fame announced its first members Jan. 29, 1936, and the Pro Football Hall of Fame followed suit on the same day in 1963. Baseball's original members were Ty Cobb, Walter Johnson, Christy Mathewson, Babe Ruth and Honus Wagner. Football's original members included George Halas, who was born Feb. 2, 1895, Red Grange, who died Jan. 28, 1991, Mel Hein, who died Jan. 31, 1992, Don Hutson, who was born Jan. 31, 1913 and Jim Thorpe, who is perhaps the greatest athlete to ever live.

Feb. 2, 1925 also marked the day dog sleds with diphtheria serum arrived in Nome, AK, saving the town from a disease epidemic and inspiring the Iditarod dog sled race.

The Week in Warfare

Today, we don't really consider blimps to be much of a threat. They fly over sporting events all the time rarely causing any destruction, but Jan. 29, 1916, Paris was bombed by them in World War I. The excruciatingly slow speed at which blimps fly at should make them easy to avoid/shoot down, which is why we've moved on to bigger things, like the F-16, which made its first flight Feb. 2, 1974.

Texas seceded from the Union on Feb. 1, 1861 and a day shy of a year later, the Union launched the USS Monitor. The Monitor sank in a storm about 10 months later off the coast of North Carolina and was turned into the first marine sanctuary in 1975.

Last week featured the greatest battle ever fought, but this week marks one of the worst blunders in military history. Germany tried to use poison gas in the Battle of Bolimow on Jan. 31, 1915, but didn't calculate two things. First, if you're down wind – as the Germans were – the gas will be blown back at you, and secondly, when it's really cold – as it tends to be in Poland in January – the gas can freeze, making it useless.

The U.S. launched its first offensive in the Pacific in World War II, targeting the Marshall and Gilbert islands Feb. 1, 1942.

Feb 2, 1848, the Mexican-American War ended with the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, giving the U.S. land that was later turned into 10 states, some of which we'd probably be better off without. Texas has Chuck Norris, so it can stay.

Holiday You Should Celebrate

Friday starts National Bird Feeding Month. February earned this delightful distinction in 1994 when former Illinois Rep. John Porter declared it as such on the floor of the House of Representatives, because the cold weather makes February a tough month for birds to find food. Each year has a different theme and this year's is Bringing Song and Color to Your Backyard.

Preview of next week

The birth of Facebook.

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