326 – The original St. Peter's Basilica is consecrated. The one that currently stands in its place was dedicated on this day in 1626, exactly 1,300 years later.
1307 – Arrested for not bowing to an oppressive Austrian overlord, a Swiss man named William Tell is offered to be freed if he successfully shoots an apple from atop his son's head.
The Vogt, as the overlord was also known, noticed that Tell had removed two bolts from his holder before the shot instead of one. Asked why, Tell replied that if he had killed his son, he would have used the additional bolt on the bailiff himself. In the end, Tell's defiance sparked a rebellion that eventually led to the formation of a Swiss Confederation that lasted nearly 500 years. Always the hero, Tell died in 1354 while trying to save a child from drowning in the Schächenbach river in Uri, Switzerland.
1493 – Christopher Columbus becomes the first explorer to spot the island known today as Puerto Rico. He landed the next day.
1928 – Steamboat Willie, the first fully synchronized sound cartoon, is released by Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks. Consequently, today is also considered Mickey's birthday by the Walt Disney Company.
1978 – Jim Jones, a practitioner of "apostolic socialism," led his Peoples Temple cult to a mass murder-suicide by drinking Kool Aid poisoned with cyanide, among other things, in the South American nation of Guyana that claimed 918 lives, including more than 270 children. Hours earlier, Congressman Leo J. Ryan (D-CA, 11th district) was murdered by members of the cult.
1988 – President Ronald Reagan signs a bill into law allowing the death penalty for drug traffickers. Ronnie didn't f--- around.
1999 – A 59-foot structure intended for use in the Aggie Bonfire at Texas A&M, so large that it normally required four weeks to complete, collapses at 2:42 a.m. Traditionally built in each of the previous 90 years prior to the annual game against their chief rival, the University of Texas, 12 people were killed and 27 were injured. As a result, bonfire festivities would not resume for three years.
Picture above © The Long Now Foundation