May Anniversaries

Momentous or Merely Memorable

30 YEARS AGO: Mon Dieu!
A dramatic blind wine tasting on May 24, 1976, in Paris is attended by  France’s elite wine experts. Much to France’s horror and America’s delight, two California wines score top honors (the winning red, a 1973 Stag’s Leap Cabernet Sauvignon, left). The shocking result transforms the wine industry worldwide.

25 YEARS AGO: Holy Terror 
In Rome on May 13, 1981, Mehmet Ali Agca, a Turkish national, shoots Pope John Paul II four times. Italy pardons the imprisoned Agca in 2000 and extradites him to Turkey, where he continues to serve a sentence for killing a journalist. In 2006, an Italian parliamentary commission concludes that the former Soviet Union was behind the attempted assassination of the pope, an ardent anti-Communist and the spiritual force behind Poland’s Solidarity movement.

100 YEARS AGO: Flying High
Three years after their historic 12-second propeller-driven flight at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, Orville and Wilbur Wright receive a patent for their “flying machine” on May 22, 1906. As one curator notes, “They had the ability to visualize machines that hadn’t been built yet.”

120 YEARS AGO: Slow Start
On May 8, 1886, Atlanta pharmacist Dr. John Pemberton combines a caramel-colored syrup with coca leaf extract and carbonated water to make a fizzy drink his partner dubs Coca-Cola. Beyond Atlanta, it’s a tough sell. “It has been introduced in other towns but never grew in popular favor,” says a soda fountain operator in 1889. Today, Coke is distributed in some 200 nations.

75 YEARS AGO: Scaling the Heights
Rising at a rate of four and a half floors per week, the Empire State Building is completed in 410 days. On May 1, 1931, the New York City skyscraper officially opens and, at 1,454 feet, steals the title of tallest building in the world from the neighboring Chrysler Building, some 400 feet shorter. In 1945, an Army bomber crashes into the Empire State’s 79th floor in dense fog, killing 13 people.

380 YEARS AGO: Let’s Make a Deal
In an attempt to legitimize a Dutch settlement on the island known as Manhattan in May 1626, Peter Minuit, director of the colony New Netherland, negotiates with local Indians to buy it for 60 Dutch guilders’—about $24—worth of trinkets. In 2005, the average price per square foot of Manhattan real estate is $1,002.

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