This day in history

Today is Thursday, March 19, the 79th day of 2020. There are 287 days left in the year. Spring arrives at 11:50 p.m. EDT, the earliest the vernal equinox has occurred in 124 years.

Birthdays: Former White House national security adviser Brent Scowcroft is 95. Actress Renee Taylor is 87. Actress Ursula Andress is 84. Singer Ruth Pointer (The Pointer Sisters) is 74. Actress Glenn Close is 73. Disgraced movie mogul Harvey Weinstein is 68. Actor Bruce Willis is 65. Actress-comedian Mary Scheer is 57. Playwright Neil LaBute is 57. MLB pitcher Clayton Kershaw is 32.

In 1687, French explorer Rene-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle, the first European to navigate the length of the Mississippi River, was murdered by mutineers in present-day Texas.


In 1850, the John Webster murder trial, one of the most sensational cases in 19th century Boston, began. A professor at Harvard Medical School, Webster was charged with killing and dismembering Dr. George Parkman, whose remains were found in a cellar at the school. (After being convicted, Webster confessed that when Parkman badgered him for payment of a debt, he “forgot everything” and in his fury “seized whatever thing was handiest and dealt him an instantaneous blow with all the force that passion could give it.” He was hanged five months later.)

In 1931, Nevada Gov. Fred B. Balzar signed a measure legalizing casino gambling.

In 1945, during World War II, 724 people were killed when a Japanese dive bomber attacked the carrier USS Franklin off Japan (the ship was saved). Adolf Hitler ordered the destruction of German facilities that could fall into Allied hands in his so-called ‘‘Nero Decree,’’ which was largely disregarded.

In 1977, the series finale of ‘‘Mary Tyler Moore’’ aired on CBS-TV, ending the situation comedy’s seven-season run.

In 1987, televangelist Jim Bakker resigned as chairman of his PTL ministry organization amid a sex and money scandal involving Jessica Hahn, a former church secretary.


In 1993, Supreme Court Justice Byron R. White announced plans to retire. (White’s departure paved the way for Ruth Bader Ginsburg to become the court’s second female justice.)

In 2003, President George W. Bush ordered the start of war against Iraq.

In 2013, Pope Francis officially began his ministry as the 266th popen.

In 2010, the White House released an online video of President Barack Obama making a fresh appeal directly to the people of Iran, saying a U.S. offer of diplomatic dialogue still stood, but that the Tehran government had chosen isolation.

In 2015, President Barack Obama ordered the federal government to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by nearly half over the next decade, driving his climate change agenda forward despite percolating challenges from Republican-led states. Days after winning reelection, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu backtracked from hardline campaign statements against the establishment of a Palestinian state in the face of a diplomatic backlash.

Last year, President Donald Trump escalated his attacks on the late Senator John McCain, who had died in 2018 of brain cancer; Trump told reporters, “I was never a fan of John McCain and I never will be.” In a major advance against the Islamic State group, US-backed Syrian forces seized control of an encampment held by the group in eastern Syria.