August Anniversaries

Momentous or Merely Memorable

Buck's Row, site of the murder of Mary Ann Nichols
Buck's Row, site of the murder of Mary Ann Nichols Wikimedia Commons

60 Years Ago
Spy vs. Spy

When journalist Whittaker Chambers accuses former State Department official Alger Hiss of being a Communist, in August 1948, Hiss denies it before the House Un-American Activities Committee. Chambers' further accusations of espionage lead to Hiss' indictment. Two sensational trials—featuring microfilm hidden in a pumpkin and questions about Chambers' sanity—end in Hiss' conviction for perjury in 1950 and increased anti-Communist fervor. Hiss dies in 1996 at age 92, still maintaining his innocence.

120 Years Ago
Ripped from the Headlines

Mary Ann Nichols, 43, is found murdered August 31, 1888, in London's poor Whitechapel district, her throat cut. In a frenzy fueled by the growth of cheap, mass-produced newspapers, her death, and those of at least four other women killed and mutilated nearby that year, make "Jack the Ripper," as the killer is known, Britain's most notorious criminal. More than 100 books—fingering suspects from immigrant lunatics to the Prince of Wales—will be written about the case, which remains unsolved.

125 Years Ago
"There is Only One Chanel"

Gabrielle "Coco" Chanel is born August 19, 1883, in Saumur, France. Orphaned as a child, she opens a hat shop in 1913. Her elegant and comfortable clothing designs—she introduces the "little black dress" in 1926—and signature perfume, Chanel No. 5, reflect her belief that "fashion fades... style remains." Chanel dies in 1971, at age 87.

150 Years Ago
Debatable Proposition

Republican Abraham Lincoln takes on Democrat Stephen Douglas in Ottawa, Illinois, August 21, 1858, in the first of seven debates in the Illinois race for U.S. Senate. At issue is slavery, a "monstrous injustice" in Lincoln's view, and in Douglas' a matter for states—and new territories—to settle for themselves. Douglas is elected, but history rewards Lincoln, who is propelled by the debates to the national stage; in 1860, Lincoln wins the presidency, defeating Douglas.

170 Years Ago

The six ships of the U.S. Exploring Expedition, led by Lt. Charles Wilkes, set sail from Virginia, August 18, 1838, to explore the Pacific. In four years the small fleet will chart 1,500 miles of Antarctic coast as well as some 280 Pacific islands, 800 miles of Oregon country coast and the Columbia River. The 40 tons of plant and animal specimens, artifacts and fossils they return with form, in 1858, a core collection of the national museum at the Smithsonian Institution.