September Anniversaries | History | Smithsonian

September Anniversaries

Momentous or Merely Memorable

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20 Years Ago
Of Ice and Mmen

While hiking in the Alps on the border of Austria and Italy on September 19, 1991, German tourists Erika and Helmut Simon discover a man’s body half buried in the snow. Archaeologists determine he is Europe’s oldest natural mummy, preserved in the ice for some 5,000 years. Nicknamed the Iceman, or Ötzi (for the nearby Ötz Valley), he wears clothes sewn from animal hides and carries tools including an ax and bow and arrows. Ötzi’s preserved state gives researchers an unrivaled look at Copper Age life—and death: he was killed by an arrowhead found in his shoulder. Ötzi’s DNA genome is decoded in 2010.

70 Years Ago
If You Build It

In Arlington, Virginia, construction begins on the Pentagon on September 11, 1941, to house the rapidly expanding War Department. “I like it,” President Franklin Roosevelt says of its five-sided plan of concentric “rings”—designed to fit an earlier, rejected site. “Nothing like it has ever been done that way before.” When completed at a cost of $85 million in 1943, the Pentagon accommodates some 20,000 workers along 17.5 miles of hallways. In 2001, 60 years to the day after the groundbreaking, the building is attacked on 9/11.

70 years ago
Cold Days in Hell

Three months after invading Russia in June, German troops set siege to Leningrad—Russia’s former capital and a key objective in Hitler’s advance toward Moscow—on September 8, 1941. By November, largely surrounded by Germans and their Finnish allies, the city’s more than two million residents are cut off from food, coal and oil supply lines. Trucks ferry some provisions on a “Road of Life” across frozen Lake Ladoga, but “we lived through Hell right enough,” recalls a survivor of the famine, cold and shelling that kill an estimated million people. The siege ends with the Soviet Army advance in January 1944.

90 Years Ago
American Idol

To attract postseason tourists to Atlantic City, New Jersey, boosters stage a contest for the “Most Beautiful Bathing Girl in America” in September 1921. The winner, Margaret Gorman, 16, of Washington, D.C., returns in 1922 to defend her title, shortened to “Miss America.” Today held in Las Vegas, the annual pageant draws praise for its scholarships and pans for objectifying women. Gorman dies in 1995, age 90.

110 Years Ago
Killer Handshake

A revolver hidden under his handkerchief, Leon Czolgosz, a self-avowed anarchist from Detroit, approaches President William McKinley in a receiving line at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York, on September 6, 1901, and fires two shots into his chest. “I didn’t believe one man should have so much service and another should have none,” he confesses. Tried within days of McKinley’s death on the 14th, Czolgosz is convicted, and electrocuted on October 29. The assassination—the third of an American president—prompts Congress to request full-time Secret Service protection for McKinley’s successor, Theodore Roosevelt.

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