This Day in History – April 22nd

1876 – Philadelphia hosts Boston in the first ever National League baseball game – Some baseball fans out there have probably heard the National League referred to as the “Senior Circuit,” as it predates the American League and the official founding of Major League Baseball by over 20 years. The first ever National League game was held on this date 140 years ago at the Jefferson Street Grounds in Philadelphia, then home to the Philadelphia Athletics, with a seating capacity of around 5,000. Other games were scheduled for this date, a Saturday, which was to be the start of the season, however they were all rained out. As such, The Boston Red Caps’ 6-5 victory over Philadelphia holds the distinction of being the first and only NL game played that day. A report of the game indicates that Red Caps catcher Tim McGinley was struck in the eye by a foul ball in the seventh inning, but “pluckily played through.” Both pitchers, Boston’s Joe Borden and Philly’s Lon Knight, threw complete games. In 1912, that victorious Boston franchise changed its name to the Braves, eventually moving to Milwaukee in 1953 and then, in 1966, Atlanta, where it lives on to this day. No such long historical lineage exists for the losing Philadelphia Athletics team. They were kicked out of the league the following year. The last major league game played at the Jefferson Street Grounds was October 11, 1890. It would still be over a decade before the American League was founded, in January 1901. Since that day in 1876, over 200,000 more MLB games have been played.

1915 – In the First World War, Germany unleashes chlorine gas at the Second Battle of Ypres – On this date in 1915, the Second Battle of Ypres began, as the German Empire attempted to wrest control of the strategic Western Belgian town of Ypres from troops from France, Belgium and across the British Empire (including Canada). At around 5:00 pm on April 22, the German Army, to the east, released about 170 tons of chlorine gas over a 6.5 km line of French troops. It was the first large scale use of such a lethal weapon. Chlorine gas is a powerful irritant that can inflict damage to the eyes, nose, throat and lungs. At high concentrations, prolonged exposure can cause death by asphyxiation. There were around 6,000 French casualties as a result of the attack, with many dying within 10 minutes, while many others were left blind. Fleeing the gas clouds left many Allied troops vulnerable to enemy fire. The gas was carried in cylinders that were opened by hand, and depended on prevailing winds to disperse the chlorine. As a result, many German soldiers died carrying out the attack. The Germans hadn’t expected the gas attack to be so effective, so did not have enough reserves available to secure an advance. Canadian troops stationed next to the French held their ground by urinating into cloths and holding them to their faces, to counter the effects of the gas. That night, after 11:00 pm, Canadian soldiers of the 10th and 16th Battalions charged through the gap created by the gas attack and, at Kitcheners’ Wood, wiped out many German forces. There and two days later, at St. Julien, mark the first times a former colonial force, such as the 1st Canadian Division, defeated a European power on European soil. Still, by early May the Canadians had also suffered nearly 6,000 casualites, with about 1,000 killed. One of whom was Frederick Fisher, of St. Catharines, who died April 23 and became the first Canadian-born man to receive the Victoria Cross while serving in the Canadian Army.

1971 – The death of Haitian dictator Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier is announced – The world learned on this date in 1971 that, after 14 years with a peculiar and brutal grip on power, Haitian dictator Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier had died at his presidential palace in Port-au-Prince at the age of 64. Duvalier had declared himself “president for life” of the impoverished Caribbean nation in 1964. Originally a doctor, Duvalier was elected president in 1956. He then forcefully consolidated his power, eradicating the presence of the Roman Catholic Church in the nation. He expelled the Haitian archbishop in 1969 and encouraged Haitians to practice voodoo instead. Over the years, he survived at least six assassination attempts, receiving protection from his personal militia, the “Tontons Macoutes” (Haitian slang for “bogeymen”). He ensured his guards vastly outnumbered the Haitian army to reduce the likelihood of a successful coup. A superstitious man, for many years he only dared to leave his presidential palace on the 22nd of each month, believing the number to be lucky. He was reportedly pleased when US president John F. Kennedy was assassinated on Nov. 22, 1963, and attributed it to the fact that he had placed a voodoo curse on JFK. By 1971, he was in poor health, suffering from ailments including prostate cancer, diabetes, and a weak heart. It was later learned that Duvalier died on April 21, but had ordered the news to be kept secret until the following “lucky” day. He was succeeded by his 19-year-old son “Baby Doc” Jean-Claude Duvalier. His son promised economic reforms, but never followed through. He fled Haiti for France in 1986 as his popularity waned. “Baby Doc” returned to Haiti in early 2011 during a presidential election campaign claiming to want to help in the country’s reconstruction after the 2010 earthquake. He was arrested within days for charges of corruption and human rights abuses, and had several court appearances but was never convicted. He died of a heart attack at age 63 in October 2014.

Thisdayinhistory2000 – Six-year-old Elian Gonzalez is seized by a SWAT team in Miami – On this date in 2000, a media firestorm was kicked off when US federal agents seized six-year-old Cuban shipwreck survivor Elian Gonzalez in an early morning raid of a home belonging to his relatives in Miami. About 25 officers broke down the door of the house, re-emerging minutes later with Elian wrapped in a blanket. He was driven away, with a crowd outside the house shouting in protest. Police proceeded to quell the crowd using pepper spray. Little Elian was then put on a plane and flown to Andrews Air force base outside Washington, D.C. where he was reunited with his father for the first time in five months. The boy had been at the centre of a bitter custody battle between his Miami relatives and his father in Cuba since he was shipwrecked off the Florida coast in November 1999. Eleven people including Elian’s mother drowned attempting to illegally enter the US. The raid had been ordered by Attorney-General Janet Reno after negotiations with Elian’s relatives to release the boy had broken down. She defended the use of armed officers, saying they had believed there could have been guns in the house. Then President Bill Clinton called it “the right thing to do.” US/Cuban relations, which are only now beginning to improve, were strained as a result of the incident, with Cuban authorities claiming the delay in returning the boy to Cuba was politically motivated. Elian was finally allowed to return to Cuba with his father in June 2000. Cuban leader Fidel Castro attended Elian’s seventh birthday party. In an interview with ABC News last year, Elian, now 21, said he’d like to return to the US as a tourist, to watch a baseball game and visit museums in Washington.

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