Some people remember September 21st as a day of tragedy, but for others, it’s an occasion of whimsy. From a terrorist attack on a shopping mall in Kenya to the auctioning of a prehistoric monument called Stonehenge, let’s travel through time to discover what historical events happened on this day.
1780: Benedict Arnold Betrays His Country
During the American Revolution, General Benedict Arnold changed allegiances and became the United States’ most famous traitor. He promised to hand over West Point, a fort on the Hudson River, to the British for £10,000. After the pact was discovered, Arnold fought the war on the side of the British and eventually left America for London.
1897: Yes, Virginia There is a Santa Claus
When an 8-year-old girl wrote to the New York Sun wondering if there was a Santa Claus, the newspaper published a now famous editorial to assure her that Santa “exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion.” Francis Pharcellus Church’s response is reprinted every Christmas and has been made into books, an animated TV show, a movie and a musical. Laura Virginia O’Hanlon Douglas, the girl who wrote the letter, died in New York at the age of 81.
1915: Stonehenge is Auctioned
On September 21, 1915, a British lawyer came home from an auction in Salisbury, Wiltshire with an unusual acquisition. Cecil Chubb paid £6,000 for Stonehenge, the famous prehistoric monument built in 2,500 BC. The monument had been privately owned since the reign of Henry VIII. Three years after buying Stonehenge, Chubb gave the monument to the British government. It became a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1986 and draws a million visitors a year.
1937: J.R.R. Tolkien Publishes The Hobbit
J.R.R. Tolkien’s first novel, The Hobbit, was published on September 21, 1937. His classic tale gave readers the first peek at his richly-drawn fantasy world of Middle-earth and the creatures that inhabit it. The story tells of a hobbit named Bilbo Baggins, who helps a group of dwarves retrieve their treasure from a dragon. This influential work is the prologue for the trilogy The Lord of the Rings.
1949: People’s Republic of China Founded
A decades-long civil war in China came to an end when the Chinese Communist Party declared victory over Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalist Kuomintang Party. The two sides had been battling for control of China since 1927. Chairman Mao Zedong announced the creation of the People’s Republic of China and remained in power until his death in 1976.
2013: Terrorists Attack Nairobi Shopping Mall
Unsuspecting shoppers at Westgate Mall in Nairobi were caught in a horrific attack as a group of terrorists lay siege, throwing grenades and firing into crowds. The extreme militants were part of a group allied with al-Qaeda and planned the attack in retaliation for the presence of Kenyan troops in Somalia. The seige lasted 80 hours, killing 68 people and injuring more than 200.
1866: H.G. Wells
Known as the father of science fiction, English author H.G. Wells wrote futuristic novels such as The Time Machine (1895), The Island of Doctor Moreau (1896), The Invisible Man (1897) and The War of the Worlds (1898). The acclaimed writer penned fiction, non-fiction, short stories and articles during a 60-year career.
19 BCE: Virgil
Publius Vergilius Maro, known as Virgil, was a great Roman poet. His epic work, Aenid, tells of the founding of Italy by an exiled Trojan prince named Aeneas. The 10,000-line poem comprised 12 volumes and was written between 30 and 19 BCE. It was not yet finished at his death.