Today in History: April 7

A B-52 Stratofortress collided with a tanker that was re-fueling it 31,000 feet above the Spanish coast on January 27, 1966. The tanker, which was full of fuel, exploded and its crew was instantly killed. The B-52 broke apart and four of the seven crew managed to parachute to safety. The B-52’s cargo fell onto the coast and into the Mediterranean Sea, however: four hydrogen bombs. Three crunched onto the beach and one splashed down and disappeared beneath the waves.

Fifty years ago today, the hydrogen bomb that landed in the Mediterranean, near Palomares, Spain, was finally retrieved. The three that had hit the ground had each partly detonated, but they did not set off the nuclear explosives inside. A four-mile area was contaminated by the plutonium. All that was known about the fourth bomb was that it too had not detonated, and that it was missing.

Twenty-nine ships, one aircraft carrier, and several submersibles were used over the subsequent six weeks in the search for the missing bomb. In March, it was located and an attempt was made to pull it to the surface, but it was dropped and lost again. Finally, on April 7, it was retrieved. The Spanish fisherman who saw it splash into the sea filed a claim for salvage rights, which the U.S. Air Force did not honor. At the top is a photo of the bomb after it was found.

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Even now, no one is certain why she did it, but 90 years ago today, Violet Gibson, a disturbed middle-aged Irish woman, daughter of Baron Ashbourne, attempted to kill the leader of Italy, Benito Mussolini.

Gibson seems to have spent her life in search of a religious epiphany that kept passing her by. Friends wrote that back home in Kensington, she would venture around the neighborhood with a large knife in her hand and her copy of the Bible propped open to the story of Abraham and Isaac. She attempted to kill herself with a gunshot to the chest. This was her first failure with a gun. She decided to move to Rome and lived in a convent.

When the chance to change history presented itself, she shot point-blank at Mussolini three times as he walked past her while shaking hands and greeting a crowd of admirers. One shot hit him in the nose, but the gun misfired and the shots failed to kill or even wound him seriously. “Don’t be afraid. This is a mere trifle,” he was heard to say. His nose required a bandage. A crowd beat her, police rescued her, she spent the remaining years of her life in an asylum in England. When, 20 years later, history decided that it agreed with Gibson’s negative opinion of Il Duce, she and her friends requested that she be released from the sanitarium. She was not. She died in 1956 and there were no mourners at her funeral.

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A “request for comments” was published by Steve Crocker, a graduate student at UCLA, on this date in 1969. It was a part of the ARPANET project, and it was a network request sent out over a network to begin compiling standards and protocols for what would become the Internet. The Internet is 47 today, sort of.

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William Wordsworth was born on this date in 1770. Billie Holiday was born on this date in 1915. Ravi Shankar was born on this date in 1920. Donald Barthelme was born 85 years ago today. The late Wayne Rogers was born on this date in 1933. Sir David Frost was born on this date in 1939.

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The oldest living member of baseball’s Hall of Fame, Bobby Doerr of the Boston Red Sox, is 98 today. He is the last living baseball player who played in the major leagues in the 1930s.

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Andrew Sachs (Manuel in Fawlty Towers) is 86 today. Daniel Ellsberg is 85 today. California Governor Jerry Brown is 78. Francis Ford Coppola is 77. John Oates of Hall & Oates is 67. Janis Ian is 65 today. Jackie Chan is 62. Tony Dorsett is 62. Russell Crowe is 52.

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