This day in history

Today is Friday, Aug. 21, the 234th day of 2020. There are 132 days left in the year.

Birthdays: Actor-director Melvin Van Peebles is 88. Actor Clarence Williams III is 81. Football Hall of Fame linebacker Willie Lanier is 75. Actor Loretta Devine is 71. NBC newsman Harry Smith is 69. Actor Kim Cattrall is 64. Actor Cleo King is 58. Actor Carrie-Anne Moss is 50. Olympic gold medal sprinter Usain Bolt is 34. Actor-comedian Brooks Wheelan is 34. Red Sox slugger J.D. Martinez is 33. Country singer Kacey Musgraves is 32. Actor Hayden Panettiere is 31.

In 1609, Galileo Galilei demonstrated his new telescope to a group of officials atop the Campanile in Venice.


In 1831, Nat Turner launched a violent slave rebellion in Virginia resulting in the deaths of at least 55 whites. (Turner was later executed.)

In 1909, the final stones were placed on the Pilgrim Monument in Provincetown. At 252 feet, it is still the tallest all-granite structure in the United States, according to Mass Humanities.

In 1911, Leonardo da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa” was stolen from the Louvre Museum in Paris. (The painting was recovered two years later in Italy.)

In 1961, country singer Patsy Cline recorded the Willie Nelson song “Crazy” in Nashville for Decca Records. (The recording was released in October 1961.)

In 1963, martial law was declared in South Vietnam as police and army troops began a violent crackdown on Buddhist anti-government protesters.

In 1983, Philippine opposition leader Benigno S. Aquino Jr., ending a self-imposed exile in the Boston area, was shot dead moments after stepping off a plane at Manila International Airport.

In 1991, the hard-line coup against Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev collapsed in the face of a popular uprising led by Russian Federation President Boris N. Yeltsin.

In 1992, an 11-day siege began at the cabin of white separatist Randy Weaver in Ruby Ridge, Idaho, as government agents tried to arrest Weaver for failing to appear in court on charges of selling two illegal sawed-off shotguns; on the first day of the siege, Weaver’s teenage son, Samuel, and Deputy US Marshal William Degan, a Quincy native, were killed.


In 1993, in a serious setback for NASA, engineers lost contact with the Mars Observer spacecraft as it was about to reach the red planet on a $980 million mission.

In 2000, rescue efforts to reach the sunken Russian nuclear submarine Kursk ended with divers announcing none of the 118 sailors had survived.

In 2010, Iranian and Russian engineers began loading fuel into Iran’s first nuclear power plant, which Moscow promised to safeguard to prevent material at the site from being used in any potential weapons production. A Vincent van Gogh painting, “Poppy Flowers,” was stolen in daylight from Cairo’s Mahmoud Khalil Museum. (Although Egyptian authorities initially said they’d recovered the painting the same day at the Cairo airport, that report turned out to be erroneous; the painting remains missing.)

In 2015, a trio of Americans, Air Force Staff Sergeant Spencer Stone, National Guardsman Alek Skarlatos, and college student Anthony Sadler, and a British businessman, Chris Norman, tackled and disarmed a Moroccan gunman on a high-speed train between Amsterdam and Paris.

Last year, escalating an international spat, President Trump said he had scrapped his trip to Denmark because the country’s prime minister had made a “nasty” statement when she rejected his idea of buying Greenland as absurd. Trump signed an order erasing the hundreds of millions of dollars in federal student loan debt owed by tens of thousands of disabled military veterans.