The crowd outside 254 West 54th Street in New York City on this day in 1927 would have been waiting for the curtain of a Puccini opera. On this day in 1957 or ’67, they would have been waiting for a filming of an episode of Password or maybe Captain Kangaroo. On April 26 in 1977, however, the crowd gathered outside that Midtown address was waiting and hoping for a chance to enter what would soon become the global epicenter of the disco craze and the most famous nightclub in the world: Studio 54, which opened its doors for the very first time.
The impresarios behind Studio 54 were Steve Rubell and Ian Schrager, college roommates at Syracuse University who got into the nightclub business after their first venture, a chain of steak restaurants, failed to flourish. But before taking Manhattan by storm and becoming famous for openly and shamelessly excluding all but the most chic, famous or beautiful patrons from their establishment, Rubell and Schrager were running a far less pretentious operation called the Enchanted Garden in the far reaches of Queens.
The woman who deserves the lion’s share of the credit for making 54 into the celebrity playground that it became was Carmen D’Alessio, a public-relations entrepreneur in the fashion industry, whose Rolodex included names like Bianca Jagger, Liza Minnelli, Andy Warhol and Truman Capote. Her buzz-building turned the grand opening into a major item in the New York gossip columns, and her later efforts—like having Bianca Jagger pose atop a white horse at her 30th birthday party—stoked the public’s fascination with Studio 54 even further. Not just the usual celebrity suspects—actors, models, musicians and athletes—but also political figures like Margaret Trudeau, Jackie Onassis and, infamously, White House Chief of Staff Hamilton Jordan came out to be seen during the club’s brief heyday.
From a musical standpoint, Studio 54 did not seek to break new ground, but rather to feed its patrons a familiar diet of dance hits. Artists like Grace Jones, Donna Summer and Gloria Gaynor all made live appearances there, but Studio 54 belonged to the DJs and to the free entertainment provided by the club’s flamboyant staff and clientele. While disco reigned supreme on the pop charts, Studio 54 reigned supreme among discotheques, enjoying a golden era that lasted from its opening on this day in 1977 to its closing-night party on February 4, 1980—a party called, appropriately enough, “The End of Modern-day Gomorrah.”
Earth Day, an event to increase public awareness of the world’s environmental problems, is celebrated in the United States for the first time on April 22, 1970. Millions of Americans, including students from thousands of colleges and universities, participated in rallies, marches and educational programs across the country.
Earth Day was the brainchild of Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin, a staunch environmentalist who hoped to provide unity to the grassroots environmental movement and increase ecological awareness. “The objective was to get a nationwide demonstration of concern for the environment so large that it would shake the political establishment out of its lethargy,” Senator Nelson said, “and, finally, force this issue permanently onto the national political agenda.”
The 1962 publication of Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring—about the effects of pesticides—is often cited as the beginning of the modern environmental movement in the U.S. Sustainability, organic eating and the “back-to-the-land” movement continued to gain steam throughout the 1960s.
The first Earth Day indeed increased environmental awareness in America, and in July of 1970 the Environmental Protection Agency was established by special executive order to regulate and enforce national pollution legislation. Earth Day also led to the the passage of the Clean Water and Endangered Species Acts.
On April 22, 1990, the 20th anniversary of Earth Day, more than 200 million people in 141 countries participated in Earth Day celebrations. Senator Nelson was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Clinton. (He died in 2005.)
Earth Day has been celebrated on different days by different groups internationally. The United Nations officially celebrates it on the vernal equinox, which usually occurs about March 21. Earth Day 2021—the 51st anniversary—is celebrated on April 22.
April 22, 1945:
Hitler admits defeat.
On April 22, 1945, Adolf Hitler, learning from one of his generals that no German defense was offered to the Russian assault at Eberswalde, admits to all in his underground bunker that the war is lost and that suicide is his only recourse.
Almost as confirmation of Hitler’s assessment, a Soviet mechanized corps reaches Treuenbrietzen, 40 miles southwest of Berlin, liberates a POW camp and releases, among others, Norwegian Commander in Chief Otto Ruge.
April 22, 1957:
John Irving Kennedy plays for Phillies, fully integrating the National League.
On April 22, 1957, John Irvin Kennedy becomes the first African-American player on the Philadelphia Phillies, fully integrating the National League 10 years after Jackie Robinson broke Major League Baseball’s color barrier. In the eighth inning of a 5-1 loss to the Brooklyn Dodgers at Roosevelt Stadium in Jersey City, N.J., Kennedy enters the game as a pinch-runner.
In 1959, Elijah “Pumpsie” Green was the first Black player on the Boston Red Sox, the last Major League Baseball team to integrate.
After playing in the declining Negro Leagues, Kennedy signed with the Phillies in October 1956 and was invited to spring training in 1957. He received an endorsement from Phillies scout Bill Yancey, who compared Kennedy’s swing to future Hall of Famer Ernie Banks’s and predicted he would become one of baseball’s better hitters.
In spring training, Kennedy sparkled, hitting .333 (second on the team) and making only one error at shortstop. But 10 days before the opener, the Phillies spent $75,000 to acquire Cuban shortstop Chico Fernandez from the Brooklyn Dodgers. In 1957, Fernandez played in 149 games for the Phillies. Kennedy, 30, played in only five, getting two at-bats and no hits.
“I would not say they made a huge commitment to the development of John Kennedy,” Chris Threston, author of The Integration of Baseball in Philadelphia, told BillyPenn.Com in 2017. “They just wanted to get it over with.”
Kennedy never made it back to the majors after 1957. “I was up for a few weeks. Some… Negro League players never even got that,” he told the Philadelphia Daily News in 1997.
Kennedy died on April 27, 1998.
April 22, 2004:
Pat Tillman killed by friendly fir in Afghanistan.
Pat Tillman, who gave up his pro football career to enlist in the U.S. Army after the terrorist attacks of September 11, is killed by friendly fire while serving in Afghanistan on April 22, 2004. The news that Tillman, age 27, was mistakenly gunned down by his fellow Rangers, rather than enemy forces, was initially covered up by the U.S. military.
Patrick Daniel Tillman was born the oldest of three brothers on November 6, 1976, in San Jose, California. He played linebacker for Arizona State University, where during his senior year he was named Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year. In 1998, Tillman was drafted by the Arizona Cardinals. He became the team’s starting safety as well as one of its most popular players. In 2000, he broke the team record for tackles with 224. In May 2002, Tillman turned down a three-year, multi-million-dollar deal with the Cardinals and instead, prompted by the events of 9/11, joined the Army along with his brother Kevin, a minor-league baseball player. The Tillman brothers were assigned to the 75th Ranger Regiment in Fort Lewis, Washington, and did tours in Iraq in 2003, followed by Afghanistan the next year.
On April 22, 2004, Pat Tillman was killed by gunfire while on patrol in a rugged area of eastern Afghanistan. The Army initially maintained that Tillman and his unit were ambushed by enemy forces. Tillman was praised as a national hero, awarded the Silver Star and Purple Heart medals and posthumously promoted to corporal. Weeks later, Tillman’s family learned his death had been accidental. His parents publicly criticized the Army, saying they had been intentionally deceived by military officials who wanted to use their son as a patriotic poster boy. They believed their son’s death was initially covered up by military officials because it could’ve undermined support for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
A criminal investigation was eventually launched into the case and in 2007 the Army censured retired three-star general Philip Kensinger, who was in charge of special operations at the time of Tillman’s death, for lying to investigators and making other mistakes. “Memorandums of concern” were also sent to several brigadier generals and lower-ranking officers who the Army believed acted improperly in the case.
President Abraham Lincoln is shot in the head at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C. on April 14, 1865. The assassin, actor John Wilkes Booth, shouted, “Sic semper tyrannis! (Ever thus to tyrants!) The South is avenged,” as he jumped onto the stage and fled on horseback. Lincoln died the next morning.
Booth, who remained in the North during the war despite his Confederate sympathies, initially plotted to capture President Lincoln and take him to Richmond, the Confederate capital. However, on March 20, 1865, the day of the planned kidnapping, the president failed to appear at the spot where Booth and his six fellow conspirators lay in wait. Two weeks later, Richmond fell to Union forces. In April, with Confederate armies near collapse across the South, Booth hatched a desperate plan to save the Confederacy.
Learning that Lincoln was to attend Laura Keene’s acclaimed performance in Our American Cousin at Ford’s Theater on April 14, Booth plotted the simultaneous assassination of Lincoln, Vice President Andrew Johnson, and Secretary of State William H. Seward. By murdering the president and two of his possible successors, Booth and his conspirators hoped to throw the U.S. government into a paralyzing disarray.
On the evening of April 14, conspirator Lewis T. Powell burst into Secretary of State Seward’s home, seriously wounding him and three others, while George A. Atzerodt, assigned to Vice President Johnson, lost his nerve and fled.
Meanwhile, just after 10 p.m., Booth entered Lincoln’s private theater box unnoticed, and shot the president with a single bullet in the back of his head. Although Booth had broken his left leg jumping from Lincoln’s box, he succeeded in escaping Washington.
The president, mortally wounded, was carried to a cheap lodging house opposite Ford’s Theater. About 7:22 a.m. the next morning, he died—the first U.S. president to be assassinated.
Booth was a well-regarded actor who was particularly loved in the South before the Civil War. During the war, he stayed in the North and became increasingly bitter when audiences weren’t as enamored of him as they were in Dixie. Along with friends Samuel Arnold, Michael O’Laughlin and John Surratt, Booth conspired to kidnap Lincoln and deliver him to the South.
On March 17, along with George Atzerodt, David Herold and Lewis Powell, the group met in a Washington bar to plot the abduction of the president three days later. However, when the president changed his plans, the scheme was scuttled. Shortly afterward, the South surrendered to the Union and the conspirators altered their plan. They decided to kill Lincoln, Vice President Andrew Johnson and Secretary of State William Seward on the same evening.
When April 14 came around, Atzerodt backed out of his part to kill Johnson. Upset, Booth went to drink at a saloon near Ford’s Theatre. At about 10 p.m. he walked into the theater and up to the president’s box. Lincoln’s guard, John Parker, was not there because he had gotten bored with the play and left his post to get a beer. Booth easily slipped in and shot the president in the back of the head. The president’s friend, Major Rathbone, attempted to grab Booth but was slashed by Booth’s knife. Booth injured his leg badly when he jumped to the stage to escape, but he managed to hobble outside to his horse.
Meanwhile, Lewis Powell forced his way into William Seward’s house and stabbed the secretary of state several times before fleeing. Booth rode to Virginia with David Herold and stopped at the home of Dr. Samuel Mudd, who placed splints on Booth’s legs. They hid in a barn on Richard Garrett’s farm as thousands of Union troops combed the area looking for them. The other conspirators were captured, except for John Surratt, who fled to Canada.
When the troops finally caught up with Booth and Herold on April 26, they gave them the option of surrendering before the barn was burned down. Herold decided to surrender, but Booth remained in the barn as it went up in flames. Booth was then shot and killed in the burning barn by Corporal Boston Corbett. On July 7, George Atzerodt, Lewis Powell, David Herold, and John Surratt’s mother, Mary, were hanged in Washington. The execution of Mary Surratt is believed by some to have been a miscarriage of justice. Although there was proof of Surratt’s involvement in the original abduction conspiracy, it is clear that her deeds were minor compared to those of the others who were executed.
Her son John was eventually tracked down in Egypt and brought back to trial, but he managed, with the help of clever lawyers, to win an acquittal.
First non-stop flight from Europe to North America.
German pilot Hermann Köhl, Irish aviator James Fitzmaurice and Baron Ehrenfried Günther Freiherr von Hünefeld, the expedition’s financier, complete the first Europe to North America transatlantic flight, taking off from Ireland and landing safely on a small Canadian island.
The prevailing winds in the North Atlantic blow from North America towards Europe, hastening Eastbound airplanes on their way but making headwinds a major problem for those flying West. Köhl, who had flown in the German Army Air Service in World War I, and von Hünefeld, who had been turned away from the Air Service due to his health, attempted the crossing in 1927 but turned back due to poor weather. With the addition of Fitzmaurice, who had served in the British Royal Air Force before resigning to join the Irish Air Corps, they staged a second attempt the following April, using one of von Hünefeld’s two Junkers W33 aircraft, the Bremen.
The trio gathered in Dublin in late March, but foul weather delayed takeoff for 17 days. Finally, on April 12, they took off from Baldonnel Aerodrome, intending to fly to New York. Things went smoothly at first, but a combination of storm clouds and a faulty compass put them roughly 40 degrees off course as they approached Canada. Their problems didn’t end there; the aviators soon realized they had an oil leak, at which point they abandoned the plan to land in New York and looked for the nearest place to set the plane down, which turned out to be Greenly Island.
Köhl and Fitzmaurice put the Bremen down in a frozen pond, damaging it in the process, but they walked away unharmed and having made the first-ever East-West crossing of the Atlantic.
When they later arrived in New York (having left the Bremen behind for repairs) the “Three Musketeers of the Air” received a parade and a hero’s welcome. They spent the next several months traveling the United States and Europe, meeting with dignitaries and enjoying similar celebrity status to what Charles Lindbergh (who completed the first solo North America-Europe transatlantic flight) had experienced the previous year. Though today their accomplishment is overshadowed by his in the popular imagination, their semi-planned landing in Canada on April 13, 1928 represents an equally important moment in aviation history, the first successful nonstop flight from Europe to North America.
American Civil War begins as Confederate forces fire on Fort Sumter.
he bloodiest four years in American history begin when Confederate shore batteries under General P.G.T. Beauregard open fire on Union-held Fort Sumter in South Carolina’s Charleston Harbor on April 12, 1861. During the next 34 hours, 50 Confederate guns and mortars launched more than 4,000 rounds at the poorly supplied fort. On April 13, U.S. Major Robert Anderson surrendered the fort. Two days later, U.S. President Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation calling for 75,000 volunteer soldiers to quell the Southern “insurrection.”
As early as 1858, the ongoing conflict between North and South over the issue of slavery had led Southern leadership to discuss a unified separation from the United States. By 1860, the majority of the slave states were publicly threatening secession if the Republicans, the anti-slavery party, won the presidency. Following Republican Abraham Lincoln’s victory over the divided Democratic Party in November 1860, South Carolina immediately initiated secession proceedings. On December 20, the South Carolina legislature passed the “Ordinance of Secession,” which declared that “the Union now subsisting between South Carolina and other states, under the name of the United States of America, is hereby dissolved.” After the declaration, South Carolina set about seizing forts, arsenals, and other strategic locations within the state. Within six weeks, five more Southern states–Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia and Louisiana–had followed South Carolina’s lead.
In February 1861, delegates from those states convened to establish a unified government. Jefferson Davis of Mississippi was subsequently elected the first president of the Confederate States of America. When Abraham Lincoln was inaugurated on March 4, 1861, a total of seven states (Texas had joined the pack) had seceded from the Union, and federal troops held only Fort Sumter in South Carolina, Fort Pickens off the Florida coast, and a handful of minor outposts in the South. Four years after the Confederate attack on Fort Sumter, the Confederacy was defeated at the total cost of 620,000 Union and Confederate soldiers dead.
On April 11, 1970, Apollo 13, the third lunar landing mission, is successfully launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida, carrying astronauts James A. Lovell, John L. Swigert and Fred W. Haise. The spacecraft’s destination was the Fra Mauro highlands of the moon, where the astronauts were to explore the Imbrium Basin and conduct geological experiments. After an oxygen tank exploded on the evening of April 13, however, the new mission objective became to get the Apollo 13 crew home alive.
At 9:00 p.m. EST on April 13, Apollo 13 was just over 200,000 miles from Earth. The crew had just completed a television broadcast and was inspecting Aquarius, the Landing Module (LM). The next day, Apollo 13 was to enter the moon’s orbit, and soon after, Lovell and Haise would become the fifth and sixth men to walk on the moon. At 9:08 p.m., these plans were shattered when an explosion rocked the spacecraft. Oxygen tank No. 2 had blown up, disabling the normal supply of oxygen, electricity, light, and water. Lovell reported to mission control: “Houston, we’ve had a problem here,” and the crew scrambled to find out what had happened. Several minutes later, Lovell looked out of the left-hand window and saw that the spacecraft was venting a gas, which turned out to be the Command Module’s (CM) oxygen. The landing mission was aborted.
As the CM lost pressure, its fuel cells also died, and one hour after the explosion mission control instructed the crew to move to the LM, which had sufficient oxygen, and use it as a lifeboat. The CM was shut down but would have to be brought back on-line for Earth reentry. The LM was designed to ferry astronauts from the orbiting CM to the moon’s surface and back again; its power supply was meant to support two people for 45 hours. If the crew of Apollo 13 were to make it back to Earth alive, the LM would have to support three men for at least 90 hours and successfully navigate more than 200,000 miles of space. The crew and mission control faced a formidable task.
To complete its long journey, the LM needed energy and cooling water. Both were to be conserved at the cost of the crew, who went on one-fifth water rations and would later endure cabin temperatures that hovered a few degrees above freezing. Removal of carbon dioxide was also a problem, because the square lithium hydroxide canisters from the CM were not compatible with the round openings in the LM environmental system. Mission control built an impromptu adapter out of materials known to be onboard, and the crew successfully copied their model.
Navigation was also a major problem. The LM lacked a sophisticated navigational system, and the astronauts and mission control had to work out by hand the changes in propulsion and direction needed to take the spacecraft home. On April 14, Apollo 13 swung around the moon. Swigert and Haise took pictures, and Lovell talked with mission control about the most difficult maneuver, a five-minute engine burn that would give the LM enough speed to return home before its energy ran out. Two hours after rounding the far side of the moon, the crew, using the sun as an alignment point, fired the LM’s small descent engine. The procedure was a success; Apollo 13 was on its way home.
For the next three days, Lovell, Haise and Swigert huddled in the freezing lunar module. Haise developed a case of the flu. Mission control spent this time frantically trying to develop a procedure that would allow the astronauts to restart the CM for reentry. On April 17, a last-minute navigational correction was made, this time using Earth as an alignment guide. Then the re-pressurized CM was successfully powered up after its long, cold sleep. The heavily damaged service module was shed, and one hour before re-entry the LM was disengaged from the CM. Just before 1 p.m., the spacecraft reentered Earth’s atmosphere. Mission control feared that the CM’s heat shields were damaged in the accident, but after four minutes of radio silence Apollo 13‘s parachutes were spotted, and the astronauts splashed down safely into the Pacific Ocean.
Japanese battleship Yamato is sunk by Allied forces.
On April 7, 1945, the Japanese battleship Yamato, one of the greatest battleships of its time, is sunk in Japan’s first major counteroffensive in the struggle for Okinawa.
Weighing 72,800 tons and outfitted with nine 18.1-inch guns, the battleship Yamato was Japan’s only hope of destroying the Allied fleet off the coast of Okinawa. But insufficient air cover and fuel cursed the endeavor as a suicide mission. Struck by 19 American aerial torpedoes, it was sunk, drowning 2,498 of its crew.
When World War I erupted in 1914, President Woodrow Wilson pledged neutrality for the United States, a position that the vast majority of Americans favored. Britain, however, was one of America’s closest trading partners, and tension soon arose between the United States and Germany over the latter’s attempted quarantine of the British Isles.
Several U.S. ships traveling to Britain were damaged or sunk by German mines, and in February 1915 Germany announced unrestricted warfare against all ships, neutral or otherwise, that entered the war zone around Britain. One month later, Germany announced that a German cruiser had sunk the William P. Frye, a private American vessel. President Wilson was outraged, but the German government apologized and called the attack an unfortunate mistake.
On May 7, the British-owned Lusitania ocean liner was torpedoed without warning just off the coast of Ireland. Of the 1,959 passengers, 1,198 were killed, including 128 Americans. The German government maintained that the Lusitania was carrying munitions, but the U.S. demanded reparations and an end to German attacks on unarmed passenger and merchant ships. In August, Germany pledged to see to the safety of passengers before sinking unarmed vessels, but in November sunk an Italian liner without warning, killing 272 people, including 27 Americans. With these attacks, public opinion in the United States began to turn irrevocably against Germany.
In 1917, Germany, determined to win its war of attrition against the Allies, announced the resumption of unrestricted warfare in war-zone waters. Three days later, the United States broke diplomatic relations with Germany, and just hours after that the American liner Housatonic was sunk by a German U-boat. On February 22, Congress passed a $250 million arms appropriations bill intended to make the United States ready for war. In late March, Germany sunk four more U.S. merchant ships, and on April 2 President Wilson appeared before Congress and called for a declaration of war against Germany. Four days later, his request was granted.
On June 26, the first 14,000 U.S. infantry troops landed in France to begin training for combat. After four years of bloody stalemate along the western front, the entrance of America’s well-supplied forces into the conflict marked a major turning point in the war and helped the Allies to victory. When the war finally ended, on November 11, 1918, more than two million American soldiers had served on the battlefields of Western Europe, and some 50,000 of them had lost their lives.
“Shells are exploding everywhere, and not far away, with short moments of calm; we take advantage to run… we return with hearts pounding to burrow into the trench. Each time a shell hisses by too low, I cling to the back of the cook’s helper, it makes me feel a little secure, and he turns around with a smile. The fact is that we’re all afraid.”
Modern rock icon Kurt Cobain dies by suicide on April 5, 1994. His body was discovered inside his home in Seattle, Washington, three days later by Gary Smith, an electrician, who was installing a security system in the house. Despite indications that Cobain, the lead singer of Nirvana, killed himself, some skeptics questioned the circumstances of his death and pinned responsibility on his wife, Courtney Love.
Cobain’s downward spiral began taking shape in Italy the previous month. He went into a coma and nearly died after mixing champagne and the drug Rohypnol. The public was led to believe that the coma was induced by an accidental heroin overdose, since Cobain had a well-known problem with the drug.
Back at home in Seattle’s Denny-Blaine neighborhood, the police were called to Cobain and Love’s home when he again threatened to kill himself. Although Cobain stated in a 1991 interview that he didn’t believe in guns, the officers confiscated four from his possession. As his wife and friends watched him spin out of control, they attempted to intervene. Cobain mostly ignored their concerns but reluctantly checked into a rehabilitation clinic in Los Angeles at the end of March.
On March 30, Cobain walked away from the clinic without informing his family or friends. For the next few days, Love could not locate him and decided to hire a private detective on April 3. The detective made contact with Cobain the following day in Seattle, but Cobain refused to return to Los Angeles.
In the meantime, Cobain had convinced a friend to buy him a gun, claiming he needed it for protection. On April 5, Cobain returned home. He had ingested enough Valium and heroin to reach near-fatal levels. In the apartment above the garage was Cobain’s suicide note, quoting Neil Young’s lyric that it is “better to burn out than to fade away.”