This Day In History, May 31st

What happened on this day in history: American poet Walt Whitman is born in 1819, Adolf Eichmann is executed in 1962, and more important events from May 31st.

1819: Walt Whitman Is Born

Walt Whitman is born in West Hills, New York. A poet, essayist, and journalist, Whitman’s “free verse” poetry revolutionized the art form. He’s perhaps best known for his collection Leaves of Grass and for the poem, O Captain! My Captain!, inspired by the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.

1859: Big Ben Rings For The First Time

Big Ben rings for the first time in London. The clock, perched atop the 320-foot Elizabeth Tower, was first proposed in 1834 after a fire destroyed much of the Palace of Westminster. The clock has stood proudly over London ever since, surviving the bombing of London during World War II, but has been largely silent since 2017 for much-needed renovations.

1889: The Johnstown Flood Kills 2,000 People

Today In History May 31st

Bettmann/Getty ImagesThe remains of a house on Main and Union Streets that had a tree sent straight through it by the Johnstown Flood.

A flood strikes the town of Johnstown, Pennsylvania. The catastrophe, triggered by heavy rainfall and the failure of the South Fork Dam, killed some 2,200 people. In the end, the Johnstown Flood was considered the worst loss of life due to a single event in American history until the 1900 Galveston hurricane and the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

1911: The RMS Titanic Leaves Its Dry Dock

Roughly a year before its catastrophic sinking, the RMS Titanic leaves its dry dock at the Harland and Wolff shipyard in Belfast, Ireland.

1921: The Tulsa Race Massacre Begins

Black Wall Street

Wikimedia CommonsSmoke rises over “Black Wall Street” during the Tulsa Race Massacre.

The Tulsa Race Massacre begins in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Incited by a disputed incident in an elevator between a Black man and a white woman, the massacre saw hundreds of Black people killed or injured by white mobs over the next two days, as well the destruction of most of the prosperous Black district of Greenwood. Despite such horrors, the Tulsa Race Massacre remained largely unknown outside of Oklahoma until recent years.

1962: Adolf Eichmann Is Hanged

Adolf Eichmann

Public DomainAdolf Eichmann in 1942.

Adolf Eichmann is hanged in Ramla, Israel, at the age of 56. A Nazi organizer of the so-called “Final Solution” to exterminate European Jews, Eichmann was in charge of identifying, assembling, and transporting Jews to concentration camps. He escaped capture after World War II ended but was apprehended in 1960 and brought to Israel to stand trial.

1996: Benjamin Netanyahu Is Elected Prime Minister Of Israel

Benjamin Netanyahu is elected prime minister of Israel. The country’s longest-serving prime minister, Netanyahu lost his seat in 1999 but returned to the prime ministership in 2009. He remained in power until 2021, when the COVID-19 pandemic, Israel’s economic woes, and criminal charges against him led to the ascension of his successor, Naftali Bennett.

2009: Millvina Dean, The Last Survivor Of The Titanic, Dies

Millvina Dean, the last living survivor of the Titanic disaster dies at 97 years old. Dean was only two months old when her family boarded the ill-fated ship.

2014: The “Slender Man” Stabbing Nearly Kills Payton Leutner

Two 12-year-old girls, Anissa Weier and Morgan Geyser, lure their friend Payton Leutner into the woods in Waukesha, Wisconsin, and stab her 19 times. Allegedly inspired by the online “Slender Man” myth, Weier and Geyser hoped that their actions would prove their dedication to the fictional character. However, Leutner survived the so-called Slender Man stabbing, while Weier and Geyser were both committed to mental health institutions.