On September 23, 1944, during a campaign dinner with the International Brotherhood of Teamsters union, President Franklin D. Roosevelt makes a reference to his small dog, Fala, who had recently been the subject of a Republican political attack. The offense prompted Roosevelt to defend his dog’s honor and his own reputation.
After addressing pertinent labor issues and America’s status in World War II, Roosevelt explained that Republican critics had circulated a story claiming that Roosevelt had accidentally left Fala behind while visiting the Aleutian Islands earlier that year. They went on to accuse the president of sending a Navy destroyer, at a taxpayer expense of up to $20 million, to go back and pick up the dog. Roosevelt said that though he and his family had “suffered malicious falsehoods” in the past, he claimed the right to “object to libelous statements about my dog.” Roosevelt went on to say that the desperate Republican opposition knew it could not win the upcoming presidential election and used Fala as an excuse to attack the president. He half-jokingly declared that his critics sullied the reputation of a defenseless dog just to distract Americans from more pressing issues facing the country.
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Roosevelt was indeed attached to his dog. Fala, a small, black Scottish terrier, accompanied Roosevelt almost everywhere: to the Oval Office, on official state visits and on long, overseas trips including one to Newfoundland in 1941 during which Fala met British Prime Minister Winston Churchill. Roosevelt’s cousin, Margaret Suckley, had given Fala to the president in 1940 when Fala was still a puppy. Although Eleanor Roosevelt disapproved of having a dog in the White House, Roosevelt adamantly kept the dog by his side. Fala slept at the foot of his master’s bed and only the president had the authority to feed him; the White House kitchen staff sent up a bone for Fala every morning with Roosevelt’s breakfast tray.
After FDR’s death, Fala lived with Eleanor and, when the dog died in 1952 at the age of 12, he was buried near the president at his family home in Hyde Park, New York.
Jack Henry Abbott is captured in the oil fields of Louisiana after a two-month long manhunt that began when he killed Richard Adan at the Binibon restaurant in New York City on July 18. At the time of the murder, Abbott had been out on parole largely through the efforts of author Norman Mailer, who convinced officials that he had a great writing talent.
Abbott spent virtually his entire life in prison. At the age of nine, he was sent to reform school in Utah. Soon after his release nine years later, he was arrested and convicted of forgery. While serving his time at the Utah state penitentiary, Abbott killed a fellow inmate in 1966. Although he claimed to have been defending himself from a homosexual assault, he received another 14-year sentence.
In 1971, Abbott escaped from jail and robbed a bank in Denver before being captured. Back in prison, he heard that Norman Mailer was writing a book about Gary Gilmore, who was on Utah’s death row, and began writing long letters to Mailer, detailing his supposed mistreatment in prison.
Mailer, who thought Abbott was a talented writer, got the New York Review of Books to publish some of the letters. Random House then published Abbott’s book, In the Belly of the Beast. Telling prison officials that Abbott had a promising career as a writer, Mailer offered to employ him as a researcher. On June 5, 1981, Abbott was released to a halfway house in New York City.
Although the New York literary crowd adopted Abbott, he found himself more comfortable among the small time crooks living in the city’s Lower East Side. Only six weeks after his parole, Abbott picked a fight with waiter Richard Adan at the Bonibon restaurant, stabbing him in the chest and killing him instantly. Abbott fled to a small Mexican village, but since he did not speak Spanish, he traveled to Louisiana, where detectives caught up with him.
Back in New York, Abbott managed to get the minimum sentence for murdering Adan—15 years-to-life—in part because Mailer urged the court to be lenient. According to Mailer, “culture is worth a little risk.” Subsequently, Abbott’s notoriety grew even more, and his book became a bestseller. He died by suicide in prison on February 10, 2002.
In a surprisingly low-key and carefully worded statement, President Harry S. Truman informs the American people that the Soviets have exploded a nuclear bomb. The Soviet accomplishment, years ahead of what was thought possible by most U.S. officials, caused a panic in the American government.
The United States developed the atomic bomb during the latter stages of World War II and dropped two bombs on Japan in August 1945. By the time of the bombings in Japan, relations between the United States and the Soviet Union were already crumbling. Many U.S. officials, including President Truman, came to see America’s atomic monopoly as a valuable asset in the developing Cold War with Russia. Most American officials, and even the majority of scientists in the United States, believed that it would be many years before the Soviets could develop an atomic bomb of their own, and by that time the United States would have achieved a vast numeric superiority. On September 3, 1949, however, U.S. scientists recorded seismic activity from inside the Soviet Union that was unmistakably the result of an underground nuclear test.
Truman, informed of this development, at first refused to believe it. He ordered his scientific and military advisers to recheck their data. Once they confirmed the results, however, Truman had to face the fact that America’s nuclear monopoly was gone. He also had to face the task of informing the American people, for the news was sure to leak. On September 23, he issued a brief statement to the media. “We have evidence,” the statement read, “within recent weeks an atomic explosion occurred in the USSR.” The president attempted to downplay the seriousness of the event by noting that “The eventual development of this new force by other nations was to be expected. This probability has always been taken into account by us.”
What had not been taken into account by the U.S. government was the fact that the Soviets, like the Americans, had captured many German scientists after World War II who had been working on nuclear development. In addition, the United States was unaware of the scope of Soviet spy efforts to gain valuable information. Years ahead of what Americans thought possible, the Soviets had exploded a nuclear device. Truman reacted by requesting an intensive re-evaluation of America’s Cold War policies by the National Security Council. The report, issued to the president in early 1950, called for massive increases in military spending and a dramatic acceleration in the program to develop the next stage of nuclear weaponry—the hydrogen bomb.
READ MORE: Atomic Bomb History
On September 23, 1875, Billy the Kid is arrested for the first time after stealing a basket of laundry. He later broke out of jail and roamed the American West, eventually earning a reputation as an outlaw and murderer and a rap sheet that allegedly included 21 murders.
The exact details of Billy the Kid’s birth are unknown, other than his name, William Henry McCarty. He was probably born sometime between 1859 and 1861, in Indiana or New York. As a child, he had no relationship with his father and moved around with his family, living in Indiana, Kansas, Colorado and Silver City, New Mexico. His mother died in 1874 and Billy the Kid—who went by a variety of names throughout his life, including Kid Antrim and William Bonney—turned to crime soon afterward.
WATCH: The Real Billy the Kid on HISTORY Vault
McCarty did a stint as a horse thief in Arizona before returning to New Mexico, where he hooked up with a gang of gunslingers and cattle rustlers involved in the notorious Lincoln County War between rival rancher and merchant factions in Lincoln County in 1878. Afterward, Billy the Kid, who had a slender build, prominent crooked front teeth and a love of singing, went on the lam and continued his outlaw’s life, stealing cattle and horses, gambling and killing people. His crimes earned him a bounty on his head and he was eventually captured and indicted for killing a sheriff during the Lincoln County War. Billy the Kid was sentenced to hang for his crime; however, a short time later, he managed another jail break, murdering two deputies in the process. Billy the Kid’s freedom was brief, as Sheriff Pat Garrett caught up with the desperado at Fort Sumner, New Mexico, on July 14, 1881, and fatally shot him.
Although his life was short, Billy the Kid’s legend grew following his death. Today he is a famous symbol of the Old West, along with such men as Kit Carson, Jesse James, Wild Bill Hickok, Doc Holliday and Wyatt Earp, and his story has been mythologized and romanticized in numerous films, books, TV shows and songs. Each year, tourists visit the town of Fort Sumner, located about 160 miles southeast of Albuquerque, to see the Billy the Kid Museum and gravesite.
READ MORE: How Did Billy the Kid Die?
On September 23, 1908, a game between the New York Giants and Chicago Cubs ends in 1-1 tie after a controversial call at second base. The officials ruled that Giants first baseman Fred Merkle was out because he failed to touch second base, a call that has been disputed ever since.
On September 21, 1908, the Chicago Cubs headed to the Polo Grounds in upper Manhattan to play the New York Giants, who held a slim lead over the Windy City team for the National League pennant. The Cubs, however, were able to prevail in the first two games of the series due in large part to the fine play of pitching ace Mordecai “Three Finger” Brown. On September 23, the Giants sent their own pitching star, Christy Matthewson, to the mound. Matthewson held the powerful Cubs lineup in check all day, but the Giants were unable to score. Finally, in the fifth inning, Giants outfielder “Turkey” Mike Donlin misplayed a double by Cub star Joe Tinker to give the Cubs their lone run. However, Donlin redeemed himself in the sixth by hitting a home run to tie the game at 1-1.
The score remained tied into the ninth, and with Giant Moose McCormick on first base after a fielder’s choice and two outs, Fred Merkle hit a single that sent McCormick to third. With men on first and third and afternoon turning to evening, shortstop Al Bridwell hit a single to center, scoring McCormick. Unfortunately for John McGraw’s Giants, Merkle never ran and touched second, he instead ran off the field after watching McCormick score. Cub manager Frank Chance instructed his team to throw the ball to second base and touch the bag. Giant pitcher Joe McGinnity had noticed Merkle’s blunder as well, however, and, with fans crowding the field in celebration, he threw the ball into the stands. Chance somehow obtained a ball, apparently not the game ball, and when he threw the ball to second base, Merkle was called out. Umpire Hank O’Day then called the game a tie due to impending darkness.
Because the game could not end in a tie, it was replayed on October 8, 1908. In the makeup game the Cubs beat their rivals to secure the National League pennant and went on to beat the Detroit Tigers for their second consecutive World Series. Merkle stayed with the Giants until 1916, and although he went on to have a solid 19-year career in the majors, he continued to blame himself—both privately and publicly—for the Giants’ failure to win the 1908 National League pennant.
In 1912, Merkle was involved in another unfortunate incident when he, Matthewson and Giant catcher Chief Myers let a pop fly in foul territory fall between them during the World Series. The batter, Red Sox outfielder Tris Speaker, then singled, and the Red Sox rallied to beat the Giants 3-2 for their second World Series championship.
On September 23, 1933, a party of American geologists lands at the Persian Gulf port of Jubail in Saudi Arabia and begins its journey into the desert. That July, with the discovery of a massive oil field at Ghawar, Saudi King Abdel Aziz had granted the Standard Oil Company of California a concession to “explore and search for and drill and extract and manufacture and transport” petroleum and “kindred bituminous matter” in the country’s vast Eastern Province; in turn, Standard Oil immediately dispatched the team of scientists to locate the most profitable spot for the company to begin its drilling.
As automobiles and other internal-combustion machines proliferated, both in the United States and around the globe, Standard Oil was eager to control as much of the market for gasoline as it could. As a result, it would do almost anything to have first dibs on Saudi oil. The partnership between Abdel Aziz’s government and Standard Oil became known as the Arabian American Oil Company (Aramco). (Texaco soon joined the partnership; about a decade later, so did Standard Oil of New Jersey and Socony-Vacuum Oil.) The company promised to provide the Saudi government with a steady income, along with an outright payment of 50,0000 British pounds; in return, Aramco got exclusive rights to all the oil underneath the eastern desert. In 1938, the company’s gamble (after all, while Aramco engineers knew there was oil in the region, no one knew exactly where or how much) paid off: its geologists and drillers discovered oil in “commercial quantities” at the Dammam Dome, near Dhahran. The next year, Aramco exported its first tanker-load of petroleum.
In 1950, once it had become clear how very much oil there was under that desert, Aramco agreed to split its profits with the Saudi government. In 1980, after several years of squabbling over the price and availability of the country’s petroleum (Saudi Arabia was a founding member of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, or OPEC, whose 1973 embargo precipitated a massive fuel crisis in the United States and other parts of the industrial world), Saudis won total control of the company: It’s now known as Saudi Aramco. The next year, the kingdom’s oil revenues reached $118 billion.