Today in History: May 31, the Johnstown Flood

Today in History

In 1790, President George Washington signed into law the first U.S. copyright act.

In 1859, the Big Ben clock tower in London went into operation, chiming for the first time.

In 1889, some 2,200 people in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, perished when the South Fork Dam collapsed, sending 20 million tons of water rushing through the town.

In 1921, a race riot erupted in Tulsa, Oklahoma, as white mobs began looting and leveling the affluent Black district of Greenwood over reports a Black man had assaulted a white woman in an elevator; hundreds are believed to have died.

In 1949, former State Department official and accused spy Alger Hiss went on trial in New York, charged with perjury (the jury deadlocked, but Hiss was convicted in a second trial).

In 1962, former Nazi official Adolf Eichmann was hanged in Israel a few minutes before midnight for his role in the Holocaust.

In 1970, a magnitude 7.9 earthquake in Peru claimed an estimated 67,000 lives.

In 1977, the Trans-Alaska oil pipeline, three years in the making despite objections from environmentalists and Alaska Natives, was completed. (The first oil began flowing through the pipeline 20 days later.)

In 1989, House Speaker Jim Wright, dogged by questions about his ethics, announced he would resign. (Tom Foley later succeeded him.)

In 2009, Dr. George Tiller, a rare provider of late-term abortions, was shot and killed in a Wichita, Kansas, church. (Gunman Scott Roeder was later convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison with no possibility of parole for 50 years.) Millvina Dean, the last survivor of the 1912 sinking of the RMS Titanic, died in Southampton, England at 97.

In 2014, Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the only American soldier held prisoner in Afghanistan, was freed by the Taliban in exchange for five Afghan detainees from the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. (Bergdahl, who’d gone missing in June 2009, later pleaded guilty to endangering his comrades by walking away from his post in Afghanistan; his sentence included a dishonorable discharge, a reduction in rank and a fine, but no prison time.)

In 2019, a longtime city employee opened fire in a municipal building in Virginia Beach, Virginia, killing 12 people on three floors before police shot and killed him; officials said DeWayne Craddock had resigned by email hours before the shooting.

In 2020, tens of thousands of protesters again took to the streets across America, with peaceful demonstrations against police killings overshadowed by unrest; officials deployed thousands of National Guard soldiers and enacted strict curfews in major cities.

Ten years ago: A tornado in the Oklahoma City metro area claimed eight lives, including those of storm chasers Tim Samaras, his son, Paul, and Carl Young; 13 people died in flash flooding. Four firefighters searching for people in a blazing Houston motel and restaurant were killed when part of the structure collapsed. Actor Jean Stapleton, who played Archie Bunker’s far better half, the sweetly naive Edith, in TV’s groundbreaking 1970s comedy “All in the Family,” died in New York at age 90.

Five years ago: The Trump administration imposed tariffs on steel and aluminum from Europe, Mexico and Canada in a move that drew immediate vows of retaliation. Western Europe got its first populist government as Italy’s anti-establishment 5-Star Movement and the right-wing League formed a governing coalition. Comedian Samantha Bee apologized to Ivanka Trump and to her viewers for using an expletive to describe the president’s daughter on Bee’s TBS show “Full Frontal.” President Donald Trump pardoned conservative commentator Dinesh D’Souza, who had pleaded guilty to campaign finance fraud; Trump said D’Souza had been “treated very unfairly by our government.” The Golden State Warriors won Game 1 of the NBA finals over the Cleveland Cavaliers in overtime; Cleveland’s J.R. Smith inexplicably failed to take a go-ahead shot after a missed free-throw as time ran out in regulation.

One year ago: A week after a gunman ran into an Uvalde, Texas grade school and started shooting, the first of 21 funerals was held. Hundreds of mourners turned out for an afternoon Mass to remember Amerie Jo Garza, with six pallbearers carrying her small casket into Sacred Heart Catholic Church. She was one of 19 students killed, along with two teachers. The European Union agreed to ban the overwhelming majority of Russian oil imports after tense negotiations. The move was the most significant effort to that point to punish Russia for its war in Ukraine. K-Pop sensation BTS visited the White House to discuss combating the rise in hate crimes targeting Asian Americans with President Biden.

Today’s Birthdays

Actor-director Clint Eastwood is 93.

Singer Peter Yarrow is 85.

Humanitarian and author Terry Waite is 84.

Singer-musician Augie Meyers is 83.

Actor Sharon Gless is 80.

Football Hall of Famer Joe Namath is 80.

Broadcast journalist/commentator Bernard Goldberg is 78.

Actor Tom Berenger is 73.

Actor Gregory Harrison is 73.

Actor Kyle Secor is 66.

Actor Roma Maffia is 65.

Actor/comedian Chris Elliott is 63.

Actor Lea Thompson is 62.

Singer Corey Hart is 61.

Actor Hugh Dillon is 60.

Rapper Darryl “DMC” McDaniels is 59.

Actor Brooke Shields is 58.

TV host Phil Keoghan is 56.

Jazz musician Christian McBride is 51.

Actor Archie Panjabi is 51.

Actor Merle Dandridge (TV: “Greenleaf”) is 48.

Actor Colin Farrell is 47.

Rock musician Scott Klopfenstein (Reel Big Fish) is 46.

Actor Eric Christian Olsen is 46.

Rock musician Andy Hurley (Fall Out Boy) is 43.

Country singer Casey James (TV: “American Idol”) is 41.

Actor Jonathan Tucker is 41.

Rapper Waka Flocka Flame is 37.

Pop singer Normani Hamilton (Fifth Harmony) is 27.