This Day In History, October 31st

What happened on this day in history: The protestant Reformation begins when Martin Luther posts his 95 Theses, Harry Houdini dies of a ruptured appendix, and more pivotal moments from history.

1517: Martin Luther Posts His 95 Theses

Martin Luther allegedly posts his 95 Theses on the door of a castle church in Wittenberg, Germany. A monk, Luther criticized the Catholic Church for a number of its practices, including allowing the purchase of “indulgences” to forgive sins. Though the veracity of Luther’s dramatic door posting is up to debate, his 95 Theses helped trigger the Protestant Reformation.

Although Luther presented the theses as matters up for debate, he was tried for heresy and excommunicated from the Catholic Church. He later expressed violently antisemitic views, and most historians believe this eventually led to widespread antisemitism in Germany.

1905: Ellsworth Raymond “Bumpy” Johnson, The “Harlem Godfather,” Is Born

Bumpy Johnson, the “Harlem Godfather,” is born in Charleston, South Carolina. At 10 years old, Johnson’s family moved to Harlem. There, he made a name for himself as a tough street fighter and bodyguard. Johnson would eventually dip his toes in the mafia world, making peace with other gangs.

Johnson went on to control Harlem for years in between his prison sentences. He was known for his iron grip on Harlem as well as his generosity. Unlike other crime bosses, Bumpy Johnson eventually died of natural causes in 1968.

1926: Harry Houdini Dies

Today In History

Library of Congress/Getty ImagesFamed escape artist Harry Houdini poses for a portrait while bound with chains. Circa 1899.

Harry Houdini dies in Detroit, Michigan, at the age of 52 from peritonitis. The famous escape artist’s ruptured appendix was apparently caused by one of his students, Jocelyn Gordon Whitehead.

As Houdini explained how one could strengthen their abdominal muscles in order to withstand a blow, Whitehead suddenly punched an utterly unprepared Houdini. He died 12 days later, though today some believe that the events may not have been linked.

1936: NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory Is Founded

Thanks to the early rocket experiments carried out by the “Suicide Squad” comprised of Frank Malina, Qian Xuesen, Weld Arnold, Apollo M. O. Smith, Edward S. Forman, and Jack Parsons, NASA establishes its Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena, California in partnership with the California Institute of Technology.

1993: River Phoenix Dies

River Jude Phoenix dies in West Hollywood, California, at the age of 23 from a drug overdose. An up-and-coming actor, Phoenix had already starred in a number of films including Stand By Me and Running on Empty, for which he earned an Acadamy Award nomination for Best Support Actor.

River Phoenix And Keanu Reeves

TwitterKeanu Reeves and River Phoenix in 1990.

On the night of his death, Phoneix went to a Hollywood club called the Viper Room with his brother Joaquin Phoenix and his sister Rain. Just before he died on the sidewalk outside the club, he’d turned to a friend to tell him that he thought he was overdosing before walking outside to get some air.

2003: Bethany Hamilton Loses Her Arm To A Shark

Bethany Hamilton

Matt Dunbar/WSL via Getty ImagesSurfer Bethany Hamilton lost her arm to a shark attack in 2003, but later returned to surfing. Here she is at the Sydney Surf Pro in March 2020.

Surfer Bethany Hamilton loses her arm to a shark attack in Kauai, Hawaii. The 13-year-old surfer later said that she didn’t even see the shark until it bit her arm, and she used her free hand to hang onto her surfboard to keep from being pulled under.

Although she also lost two-thirds of her blood in the attack, Hamilton was determined to surf again. Less than a month later, she went back into the water with her surfboard and soon became a national champion.