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What Happened on May 18?

  • The Earth passed through the tail of Halley's Comet. (1910) The public panicked after a one astronomer predicted that the gas from the comet's tail would be deadly, and there was a mass rush on "anti-comet" pills, gas masks, and even umbrellas. When the Earth actually did pass through the comet, no ill effects were reported.

  • The "separate but equal" doctrine was put in place. (1896) The Supreme Court endorsed the doctrine in Plessy v. Ferguson on this day, which stated that whites and black public facilities should be kept separate but equal. The separate but equal doctrine was heavily influential in US legislation, even after it was officially overturned in the 1950s.

  • Aimee Semple McPherson disappeared. (1926) McPherson was a hugely popular evangelist, and even baptized Marilyn Monroe, so when she disappeared, police pulled out all stops to try to find her. She reappeared a month later, claiming to have been kidnapped, but it quickly came out that she had been with a friend, Kenneth Ormiston, the whole time. The scandal rocked her ministry, and she faded out of the public eye.

  • The Mount St. Helens volcano exploded. (1980) The eruption killed almost 60 people, and ash could be seen several states over.

  • The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) was created. (1933) The TVA brought electricity and running water into many areas of Appalachia for the first time, and is credited with reviving the region. Not everyone was a fan of the organization though — over 15,000 families were displaced to make TVA dams.

  • A massive protest took place in Beijing. (1989) Over a million protesters marched through Beijing, calling for democratic reforms. The protests lasted for several weeks until the Tiananmen Square massacre.

  • Dracula was published. (1897) Bram Stoker's novel heavily influenced the way people view vampires — in fact, many vampire tropes, including the pale skin and elegant dress, come from Stoker's novel.

  • Abraham Lincoln was nominated for the presidency. (1860) Lincoln was practicing as a lawyer and also served as a representative for Illinois. He won over 40 percent of the popular vote, but by the time he was inaugurated, seven states had already seceded.

  • Jackie Cochran became the first woman to break the sound barrier. (1953) Cochran was a long-time aviation fan and a close friend of pilot Chuck Yeager. She was also the first woman to fly a bomber plane across the Atlantic, and the first pilot in general to make a blind landing, one which relies only on instruments.

  • Les Miserables closed on Broadway. (2003) The phenomenally popular show was the third-longest running show on Broadway and ran for over 16 years.

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