1885 – The Statue of Liberty arrives in New York Harbor – Legend has it that, sometime after the conclusion of the American Civil War in the years leading up to the Centenary of the United States, French politician Édouard René de Laboulaye said “any monument raised to American independence would properly be a joint project of the French and American peoples.” These words are said to have inspired French sculptor Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi, who began designing and building some sections of what he envisioned as a massive statue of the Roman goddess “Libertas” (or “Liberty”), an embodiment of freedom once worshipped by slaves and who already appeared on some American coins at the time. In 1875, Laboulaye proposed that the French finance the statue as a gift, so long as the Americans provided the site and built the pedestal. Some Americans were excited about the statue and formed fundraising committees; a notable member of the New York committee was a teenage Theodore Roosevelt. However, others thought it would be a waste of the nation’s money; another future president, governor of New York Grover Cleveland blocked a bill to provide $50,000 to the statue project. It was journalist Joseph Pulitzer, publisher of the New York World, who announced a drive to raise $100,000 by agreeing to print the name of every donor, no matter how small their gift. In the end, he raised $102,000 from 120,000 donors. The French steamer Isère arrived safely in New York Harbor, carrying the Statue of Liberty, on this date in 1885. On Oct. 28, 1886, the statue was dedicated on Liberty Island, off Manhattan, by President Cleveland – the same man who had blocked its funding. The statue stands just over 151 feet high, but combined with the pedestal it is about 305 feet from the ground to its torch. The Statue of Liberty welcomed roughly 3.2 million visitors in 2009 alone.
1944 – Iceland declares independence from Denmark, becoming a republic – Dating all the way back to the 1300s, Iceland was under the control of the Crown of Denmark. Throughout the 19th Century, however, there was a movement to bring Home Rule to Iceland. One of the leaders of this movement was Jón Sigurðsson, a native Icelander who was educated in Denmark and became leader of the “Althing,” or Icelandic Parliament. The Althing dates back to the year 930 CE, but under Danish rule it was more of an advisory council to Denmark. Sigurðsson resisted adopting Denmark’s reformed constitution in 1849 and, in 1874 the Danes granted Iceland some autonomy with a limited constitution of its own. Sigurðsson died in 1879. In the World Wars that followed in the early 20th Century, Iceland twice became cut off from the Danes, as Denmark was occupied by Germany. The tiny country (modern population: 332,500) showed it could handle itself in diplomatic matters, and held a referendum between May 20-23 in 1944, asking voters two questions: 1) Should the union with Denmark should be abolished? And 2) Should they adopt a new republican constitution? Both measures were approved with more than 98 percent in favour. Voter turnout was 98.4 percent and, in two constituencies there was 100 percent turnout. Danish King Christian X sent the Althing a letter on this date in 1944 congratulating Icelanders on forming a Republic. Today, which also happens to be Sigurðsson’s 205th birthday, is Icelandic National Day – a celebration not unlike Canada Day, that involves parades by horses and brass bands throughout the country. At these events, a figure called the Fjallkonan (or, woman of the mountain) – a sort of Icelandic Lady Liberty — often recites poetry connected to Iceland’s long quest for independence.
1972 – Five White House operatives are arrested for breaking into the offices of the Democratic National Committee at the Watergate Hotel in Washington, D.C. – The year was 1972. Republican President Richard Nixon was facing an election year, and he was nervous. So, officials on his Committee for the Re-Election of the President (or CREEP – actually), began thinking up illegal activities they could get up to spying on the Democratic Party. Some very high-up government officials eventually agreed to a plan that included breaking into the Democratic National Committee’s headquarters at the Watergate Hotel complex in Washington, D.C. so they could photograph campaign documents and place wire taps on the telephones. On May 28, 1972, they launched their first covert mission, tapping some Democratic Party leader telephones. But this wasn’t enough for them. They went back for a second crack at burglary and, just after midnight on this date in 1972, a Watergate security guard found some locks had been tampered with and called police. Five men were found in the DNC headquarters and arrested. On Sept. 15, they were indicted by a grand jury, along with CIA officer E. Howard Hunt and Nixon aide G. Gordon Liddy. The five burglars were convicted Jan. 30, 1973, but for Nixon, who was re-elected in a landslide in the interim, the trouble was only just beginning. The media – in particular Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein – began making connections between the break-in and not only Nixon’s re-election committee, but also the Justice Department, FBI, CIA, and the White House. An ensuing investigation revealed that Nixon had a tape-recording system in his offices and that he had recorded many conversations. He was forced to turn over the tapes, which revealed that he had attempted to cover up facts and obstruct investigators. Facing impeachment, Nixon resigned the presidency on Aug. 9, 1974.
1994 – O.J. Simpson surrenders to police after a highly-televised highway chase in a white Ford Bronco – The context of the date when movie star, Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee and Heisman Trophy-winning running back Orenthal James (O.J.) Simpson got into his infamous Bronco chase is well known to viewers of the 30 For 30 ESPN documentary “June 17, 1994”. However, for everyone else, here’s a brief recap of the important sports events that also took place on this date in 1994: the New York Rangers were celebrating their Stanley Cup win with a ticket-tape parade along Broadway; later that evening, the New York Knicks hosted the Houston Rockets for Game Five of the NBA Finals; The 1994 FIFA World Cup began, with games in Dallas and Chicago; 64-year-old Arnold Palmer played his final round at the U.S. Open, while Jack Nicklaus, then 54, makes a spirited run, finishing the day tied for fifth; and Ken Griffey, Jr. hits his 30th home run of the season, tying a record for homers hit before June 30 set by Babe Ruth. As exciting as these many events were, most were dropped by major television networks when producers learned that, meanwhile, in Brentwood, Los Angeles, California, O.J. Simpson was on the run from police. Five days earlier, Simpson’s ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ron Goldman had been murdered. Simpson was a person of interest in their murders, but resisted police until surrendering to police outside his mansion following a low-speed highway chase on this date. On Oct. 3, 1995, the “Trial of the Century” culminated in a “not guilty” verdict that shocked the nation, as an estimated 100 million people tuned in to watch. In a subsequent wrongful death civil trial, Simpson was found guilty and ordered to pay $33.5 million in damages. Simpson was arrested in 2007 after he and a group of men broke into a Las Vegas hotel room and took sports memorabilia at gunpoint which he later claimed had been stolen from him. He was later charged with multiple felony counts including assault, robbery and using a deadly weapon. He was found guilty Oct. 3, 2008 and is currently serving his sentence in a correctional centre in Nevada.