This Day in History – July 29th

1836 – French King Louis-Philippe inaugurates the Arc de Triomphe in Paris – At the west end of Paris’s grand Avenue des Champs-Élysées, in the centre the Place Charles de Gaulle where 11 other avenues converge, stands the famous Arc de Triomphe de l’Étoile. The 50 metre high monument was commissioned by Napoleon in 1806 after his victory at Austerlitz and designed by Jean Chalgrin, though neither man would live to see it completed. Chalgrin’s design was inspired by the Arch of Titus in Rome, although that structure is only 50 feet high. The Arc de Triomphe is so massive that during a parade in Paris in 1919 to celebrate victory in the First World War, French pilot Charles Godefroy flew a biplane through it. Newsreel footage exists of the daring feat. Chalgrin died in 1811 and other architects took up his role, with construction of the Arc finally finishing in 1833, during the July Monarchy of King Louis-Philippe. Louis-Philippe, who held an inauguration ceremony for the monument on this date in 1836, was later forced to abdicate his throne during the French Revolution in 1848, and lived out his life in exile in Great Britain. Today, the Arc de Triomphe, and its many sculptures and inscriptions, honour those who fought and died for France in the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. Beneath its vault is France’s Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. It was while attending a ceremony here in 1961 that First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy first witnessed the Tomb’s eternal flame. She later requested that a similar flame be placed next to her husband’s grave in Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia, which she lit at his funeral.

1921 – Adolf Hitler becomes leader of the National Socialist German Workers Party – Over a decade before he was appointed Chancellor of Germany in 1933, and long before the formation of the totalitarian Third Reich, and the genocide of millions upon millions in the Holocaust, and the loss of 29 million lives in the European Theatre of World War II, on this date in 1921, Adolf Hitler was elected leader of the National Socialist German Workers Party (NSDAP). Born in what is now Austria in 1889, Hitler grew up poor in Vienna, which was then a hotbed of racism and bigotry due to the fact that its residents feared being overrun by Catholic, Slavic and Jewish immigrants from the East. During the First World War, he volunteered to join the Bavarian Army in Austria, serving as a dispatch runner. He was decorated for bravery before being wounded at the Battle of The Somme. He was in hospital when he heard of Germany’s defeat, and returned home embittered. In July 1919, Hitler was actually appointed a covert agent tasked with infiltrating the German Workers’ Party, but upon getting to know the party’s leaders, he found he was attracted to their anti-Semitic, anti-Marxist, German nationalist ideas. He joined the party in 1919, and later designed the party logo, with a black swastika on a white circle over a red background. He gradually became a leading figure in the party, which changed its name to include “National Socialist” to broaden its appeal. Hitler began giving speeches to huge crowds during which he would rail against rival politicians, and especially against Marxists and Jews. At a special party congress on July 29, 1921, after an ultimatum by Hitler that he would either become chairman or leave the party, he was elected leader by a vote of 533 to 1.

1948 – In London, after a 12-year hiatus caused by World War II, the opening ceremony for the Summer Olympics is held for the first time since the 1936 Summer Games in Berlin – During the 1940s, just like today, plans were in place well in advance for which city would host the Olympic Games. The 1940 Summer Games were originally scheduled to be held in Tokyo, but after the outbreak of war between Japan and China in 1937, those games were cancelled. Helsinki, which had been runner up in the 1940 vote, was briefly considered as a replacement, but the outbreak of World War II put an end to all that. Four years later, London, England had been scheduled to host the 1944 Summer Games. However, the war raged on in Europe and Asia, so, again, nothing. The Summer Olympics did not resume once more until this date in 1948, with the opening ceremonies for the Games of the XIV Olympiad in London. The 1948 Olympics were nicknamed the “Austerity Games” as the post-war economic climate and rationing meant that no new venues were built for the games, and athletes were housed in existing accommodations instead of an Olympic Village. Still, a then-record of 59 nations took part (not including Germany or Japan, which were denied permission to participate, or the USSR, which decided not to send any athletes). The United States’ team topped the medal count with 84 total medals, including the most gold medals, 38. Canada placed 25th, with two silvers and a bronze. Capturing silver were the women’s racing team of Viola Myers, Nancy MacKay, Diane Foster and Patricia Jones in the 4×100 m relay, as well as canoer Douglar Bennett in the Men’s single 1,000 m. Canoer Norman Lane won bronze in the men’s single 10,000 m.

1981 – Charles, Prince of Wales marries Lady Diana Spencer – In 1977, a nearly 30-year-old Charles, Prince of Wales, travelled to Northampton with his friend, Lady Sarah Spencer to visit Althorp, a massive estate that has been owned by the Spencer family for over 500 years. It was here that he first met Sarah’s younger sister Diana, who would have then been about 16. Three years later, Diana began accompanying Charles on trips around England, attracting intense press and paparazzi attention. Charles was advised by his father, Prince Philip, that he risked injuring Diana’s reputation if he did not make a decision about marrying her soon so, in February 1981, he proposed to Diana. She accepted, despite reportedly suspecting that he was not actually in love with her. They were married on this date in 1981 at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, while hundreds of thousands lined the city streets outside. The United Kingdom had a national holiday to mark the occasion, and an estimated 750 million people tuned in to watch the so-called “Wedding of the Century” on TV. Royal guests hailing from all over the world attended the wedding, including members of royal families in India, Bulgaria, Denmark, Belgium, Japan, Jordan, Nepal, Norway, Sweden, Tonga, and Thailand. Prince William was born less than a year later, on June 21, 1982, with his younger brother Prince Henry (or, Harry), born on Sept. 15, 1984. It was revealed that the two were having marital problems and had separated in the early 1990s, and they were divorced in 1996. Diana was killed in a car crash the following year. Prince Charles and Camilla Parker-Bowles married on April 9, 2005.

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