Today in History: July 16

I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.”—J. Robert Oppenheimer, paraphrasing the Bhagavad Gita after witnessing the Trinity test.

The U.S. Army detonated “The Gadget,” its first nuclear weapon, at White Sands, New Mexico, on this date in 1945. (Photo above.) The director of Los Alamos Laboratory, J. Robert Oppenheimer, gave the project the code name “Trinity,” in what he thought an appropriate literary reference to a line from John Donne: “Batter my heart, three person’d God.”

Years later, Oppenheimer gave his recollections of the moment the 20 kiloton bomb was detonated: he remembered a line from the Bhagavad Gita, “If the radiance of a thousand suns were to burst at once into the sky, that would be like the splendor of the mighty one,” and wrote, “We knew the world would not be the same. A few people laughed, a few people cried. Most people were silent. I remembered the line from the Hindu scripture, the Bhagavad Gita; Vishnu is trying to persuade the Prince that he should do his duty and, to impress him, takes on his multi-armed form and says, ‘Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.’ I suppose we all thought that, one way or another.”

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Joe DiMaggio went 3 for 4 on this date in 1941. It was game number 56 of his hitting streak, which the Cleveland Indians ended the next day.

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J. D. Salinger’s novel The Catcher In The Rye was published on this date in 1951.

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Apollo 11 was launched on the first mission to the Moon on this date 47 years ago.

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John F. Kennedy, Jr. died with his wife and sister-in-law 17 years ago today.

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Barbara Stanwyck was born on this date in 1907. Orville Redenbacher was born on this date in 1907. Ginger Rogers was born in 1911 on this date. Barnard Hughes, a beloved bookstore customer and great actor, was born on this date in 1916. Bess Myerson would be 92 today. The late Anita Brookner was born on this date in 1928. (She died in March.) Lady Caroline Blackwood was born in 1931 on this date.

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Margaret Court is 74. Jimmy Johnson is 73. Pinchas Zukerman is 68. Rubén Blades is 68. Stewart Copeland is 64. Tony Kushner is 60. Michael Flatley is 58. Will Ferrell is 49. Barry Sanders is 48.

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