December 30, 1977: Ted Bundy Escapes From Jail

On this day in 1977, serial killer Ted Bundy escaped from the Glenwood Springs Jail in Colorado. It was his second escape from jail and led to more murders.

Ted Bundy's FBI 10 Most Wanted List PhotoOn this day in 1977, serial killer Ted Bundy escaped from the Glenwood Springs Jail in Colorado.  It was his second escape from jail and led to more murders.

Bundy was awaiting trial for the murder of Caryn Campbell in 1975 and had already escaped once in June of 1977 but was caught six days later.  In December, Bundy began plotting his second escape by sawing a hole in his cell’s ceiling. On December 30, he put books in his bed to appear that he was sleeping and went in through the ceiling to the apartment of the chief jailer, who was out that evening. Bundy then slipped past the jail’s skeleton crew and walked out the front door.

He ended up in Florida and on January 15, killed two women and brutally assaulted three more in the Chi Omega sorority house at Florida State University in Tallahassee. On February 9, Bundy abducted 12-year-old Kimberly Leach from her school in Lake City.  Her skeletal remains were found seven weeks later.

On February 12, Bundy was pulled over by Pensacola police officer David Lee. After an intense fight, he was arrested. Bundy was convicted of the three murders and sentenced to death. Shortly before his execution in 1989, he confessed to committing more than 30 murders between 1974 and 1978.

December 23, 1923: James Stockdale Born

On this day in 1923, James Stockdale was born in Abingdon, Illinois. He became one of the most decorated naval officers in U.S. history, but is sadly remembered for his time as Ross Perot’s vice-presidential running mate in 1992.

Informal Portrait VIce Admiral James B. Stockdale, USNOn this day in 1923, James Stockdale was born in Abingdon, Illinois. He became one of the most decorated naval officers in U.S. history, but is sadly remembered for his time as Ross Perot’s vice-presidential running mate in 1992.

As a navy pilot, Stockdale was shot down over North Vietnam and was a prisoner of war for seven and half years. He was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor in 1976, promoted to vice admiral and retired as President of the Naval War College in 1979. Stockdale then served as president of The Citadel, a fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University and a board member of the Rockford Institute.

The man was a badass and had sacrificed more for his country than any American politician this side of John McCain. It was a true shame that he linked himself to Perot’s disjointed 1992 campaign. Stockdale was informed a week before the vice-presidential debate that he would be included (remember, third party candidates rarely are allowed to participate) and Perot did not discuss any issues with him beforehand. Against Al Gore and Dan Quayle, neither of whom is considered to be strong debaters, Stockdale came across as elderly and confused.

Stockdale passed away in 2005. Among many honors, the U.S. Navy has since named a destroyer after him and erected a statue of him at Naval Academy in Annapolis.

December 20, 1803: The Louisiana Purchase is Completed

On this day in 1803, France turned control of New Orleans over to the United States. The transfer of power completed the Louisiana Purchase.

Transfer of Louisiana by Ford P. KaiserOn this day in 1803, France turned control of New Orleans over to the United States. The transfer of power completed the Louisiana Purchase.

Negotiations to acquire the Louisiana territory, which stretched from New Orleans to Montana’s Canadian border, went back and forth for three years. Finally, an agreement was reached to purchase the territory and the U.S. and France signed the treaty on April 30, 1803. The U.S. Senate ratified it in October.

The actual transfer took place in The Cabildo, then the colonial government building and now a museum along Jackson Square. A formal ceremony changing in land ownership was held in St. Louis in March of 1804.

December 17, 1862: General Grant Issues Order No. 11

On this day in 1862, Union Major General Ulysses Grant issued General Order No. 11. The document expelled all Jews from his military district, which consisted of parts of Tennessee, Mississippi and Kentucky.

General U.S. GrantOn this day in 1862, Union Major General Ulysses Grant issued General Order No. 11.  The document expelled all Jews from his military district, which consisted of parts of Tennessee, Mississippi and Kentucky.

Grant had issued the order to prevent cotton sales from unlicensed traders through the black market, which he wrote was run “mostly by Jews and other unprincipled traders.” Outcry from the American Jewish community and members of Congress prompted President Abraham Lincoln to rescind the order a few weeks later.

In running for president in 1868, Grant explained that he impulsively issued the order without any thought on the long-term repercussions. In 1874, he became the first American president to attend a synagogue service.

December 16, 1985: Paul Castellano Murdered

On this day in 1985, Gambino Crime Family boss Costantino Paul Castellano and underboss Thomas Bilotti were gunned down outside of Sparks Steakhouse in Midtown Manhattan. Castellano’s murder is the most high-profile mob hit of the last 30 years.

Castellano Murder Crime SceneOn this day in 1985, Gambino Crime Family boss Costantino Paul Castellano and underboss Thomas Bilotti were gunned down outside of Sparks Steakhouse in Midtown Manhattan. Castellano’s murder is the most high-profile mob hit of the last 30 years.

The Gambino Family is the largest of New York’s “Five Families,” with operations extending from New York to California. When boss Carlo Gambino died of natural causes in 1976, he named Castellano his successor.  His reign as boss was full of controversy and strife (What mob boss’ isn’t?) and by December of 1985, he was openly feuding with Gambino Family capo (captain) John Gotti.

The two scheduled a dinner meeting at Sparks Steakhouse. When Castellano and Bilotti arrived, numerous gunmen approached their car and shot them. Gotti and Sammy “The Bull” Gravano watched from a nearby car.

Gotti became boss of the Gambino Family a month later and led until he was convicted in 1992 of numerous charges, including conspiracy to murder Castellano. Ironically, Gravano was the key witness in the case.

December 11, 1934: Bill Wilson Takes Last Drink

On this day in 1934, Bill Wilson took his last drink. The next year he cofounded Alcoholics Anonymous (AA).

Bill WilsonOn this day in 1934, Bill Wilson took his last drink. The next year he cofounded Alcoholics Anonymous (AA).

Wilson began drinking in his early 20s and by his late 30s, was in and out of drug and alcohol treatment facilities. He finally found permanent sobriety after experiencing a spiritual conversion.

In 1935, Wilson teamed up with Dr. Bob Smith to help other alcoholics achieve sobriety and stay sober. After helping more than 100 individuals become sober, they published AA’s Twelve Steps in 1939.

Today, AA has helped countless recovering alcoholics.

December 10, 1864: Sherman Reaches Savannah

On this day in 1864, Union Major General William Tecumseh Sherman’s army reached the outskirts of Savannah. Thanks to certain circumstances, Savannah is one of the few cities along the “March to the Sea” that was not irrevocably damaged.

Sherman Entering SavannahOn this day in 1864, Union Major General William Tecumseh Sherman’s army reached the outskirts of Savannah. Thanks to certain circumstances, Savannah is one of the few cities along the “March to the Sea” that was not irrevocably damaged.

Following the capturing and burning of Atlanta in mid-November, Sherman’s troops headed southeast to Savannah, a crucial port for the Confederacy. Along the way, they burned crops and buildings, destroyed railroads and destroyed key military and industry targets, effectively breaking the economic and military backbone of the South.

When Sherman reached Savannah in December, there was a high likelihood that Georgia’s oldest city would burn. However, Confederate General William Hardee effectively blocked the Union Army’s entrance into the city for 10 days before escaping across the Savannah River with his men. On December 21, Savannah Mayor R. D. Arnold formally surrendered the city in exchange for the Union Army protecting the city and its property.

Sherman then telegraphed President Abraham Lincoln with the words, “I beg to present you as a Christmas gift the City of Savannah, with one hundred and fifty guns and plenty of ammunition, also about twenty-five thousand bales of cotton.” In January of 1865, he then moved into South Carolina and applied the same methods he used in southeast Georgia.

December 9, 1994: Joycelyn Elders Fired as U.S. Surgeon General

On this day in 1994, U.S. President Bill Clinton fired U.S. Surgeon General Jocelyn Elders for controversial comments she made regarding human sexuality. Her tenure was the shortest of any Surgeon General, other than those serving in an acting capacity.

Joycelyn EldersOn this day in 1994, U.S. President Bill Clinton fired U.S. Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders for controversial comments she made regarding human sexuality. Her tenure was the shortest of any Surgeon General, other than those serving in an acting capacity.

Elders was effective. As Director of the Arkansas Department of Health, she led a substantial increase in the number of annual early childhood screenings and almost doubled the immunization rate for two-year-olds. However, she was also controversial, advocating for contraceptives to be distributed in schools and the possibility of legalizing drugs.

After being confirmed as Surgeon General in September of 1993, Elders got into hot water by suggesting that drug legalization could possibly reduce crime and should be studied. In January of 1994, she said, “We really need to get over this love affair with the fetus and start worrying about children.” The final straw came when she spoke at the United Nations on AIDS and was asked if promoting masturbation would prevent teens from engaging in riskier sexual activity. Elders replied, “I think that it is part of human sexuality, and perhaps it should be taught.” She was fired and served through the end of 1994.

Elders is currently professor emeritus at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. She still continues to speak out on the issues that brought her under fire as Surgeon General.

December 8, 1927: The Brookings Institution Formed

On this day in 1927, The Brookings Institution was formed in Washington, DC. It is one of the nation’s capitol’s oldest think tanks and arguably the most influential in the world.

Brookings InstitutionOn this day in 1927, the Brookings Institution was formed in Washington, DC. It is one of the nation’s capitol’s oldest think tanks and arguably the most influential in the world.

Businessman and philanthropist Robert Brookings had originally founded three organizations, the Institute for Government Research, the Institute of Economics, and the Robert Brookings Graduate School affiliated with Washington University in St. Louis. He merged the three in 1927 to form the Brookings Institution.

Since then, the Institution has been involved in every almost policy issue facing the U.S. today. It has been credited with contributing to the creation of the United Nations, the Marshall Plan, and the Congressional Budget Office. The University of Pennsylvania’s 2012 Global Go To Think Tanks Report, ranks Brookings as the most influential think tank in the world.

December 6, 1947: Everglades National Park Dedicated

On this day in 1947, U.S. President Harry Truman dedicated Everglades National Park in south Florida. The park preserves the largest subtropical wilderness in the United States.

Everglades National ParkOn this day in 1947, U.S. President Harry Truman dedicated Everglades National Park in south Florida. The park preserves the largest subtropical wilderness in the United States.

Prior to being drained in areas, this unique swampland covered 4,000 square miles along the southeast coast of Florida. Realizing the area was quickly diminishing, Congress passed legislation n 1934 establishing the park. President Truman then dedicated the park 13 years later.

Today, Everglades National Park protects about 20 percent of the original Everglades and receives about a million visitors. The one time I visited, I saw 5 alligators in a span of 30 minutes. If you’re in south Florida, it should be on your “must” list.