Hank Aaron breaks Babe Ruth’s all-time home run record On this day in 1974, Hank Aaron of the Atlanta Braves hits his 715th career home run, breaking Babe Ruth’s legendary record of 714 homers. A crowd of 53,775 people, the largest in the history of Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, was with Aaron that night to cheer when he hit a 4th inning pitch off the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Al Downing. However, as Aaron was an African American who had received death threats and racist hate mail during his pursuit of one of baseball’s most distinguished records, the achievement was bittersweet. Henry Louis Aaron Jr., born in Mobile, Alabama, on February 5, 1934, made his Major League debut in 1954 with the Milwaukee Braves, just eight years after Jackie Robinson broke baseball’s color barrier and became the first African American to play in the majors. Aaron, known as hard working and quiet, was the last Negro league player to also compete in the Major Leagues. In 1957, with characteristically little fanfare, Aaron, who primarily played right field, was named the National League’s Most Valuable Player as the Milwaukee Braves won the pennant. A few weeks later, his three home runs in the World Series helped his team triumph over the heavily favored New York Yankees. Although “Hammerin’ Hank” specialized in home runs, he was also an extremely dependable batter, and by the end of his career he held baseball’s career record for most runs batted in: 2,297. Aaron’s playing career spanned three teams and 23 years. He was with the Milwaukee Braves from 1954 to 1965, the Atlanta Braves from 1966 to 1974 and the Milwaukee Brewers from 1975 to 1976. He hung up his cleats in 1976 with 755 career home runs and went on to become one of baseball’s first African-American executives, with the Atlanta Braves, and a leading spokesperson for minority hiring. Hank Aaron was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1982. 563 Buddhists celebrate birth of Gautama Buddha On this day, Buddhists celebrate the commemoration of the birth of Gautama Buddha, the founder of Buddhism, thought to have lived in India from 563 B.C. to 483 B.C. Actually, the Buddhist tradition that celebrates his birthday on April 8 originally placed his birth in the 11th century B.C., and it was not until the modern era that scholars determined that he was more likely born in the sixth century B.C., and possibly in May rather than April. According to the Tripitaka, which is recognized by scholars as the earliest existing record of the Buddha’s life and discourses, Gautama Buddha was born as Prince Siddhartha, the son of the king of the Sakya people. The kingdom of the Sakyas was situated on the borders of present-day Nepal and India. Siddhartha’s family was of the Gautama clan. His mother, Queen Mahamaya, gave birth to him in the park of Lumbini, in what is now southern Nepal. A pillar placed there in commemoration of the event by an Indian emperor in the third century B.C. still stands. At his birth, it was predicted that the prince would either become a great world monarch or a Buddha–a supremely enlightened teacher. The Brahmans told his father, King Suddhodana, that Siddhartha would become a ruler if he were kept isolated from the outside world. The king took pains to shelter his son from misery and anything else that might influence him toward the religious life. Siddhartha was brought up in great luxury, and he married and fathered a son. At age 29, he decided to see more of the world and began excursions off the palace grounds in his chariot. In successive trips, he saw an old man, a sick man, and a corpse, and since he had been protected from the miseries of aging, sickness, and death, his charioteer had to explain what they were. Finally, Siddhartha saw a monk, and, impressed with the man’s peaceful demeanor, he decided to go into the world to discover how the man could be so serene in the midst of such suffering. Siddhartha secretly left the palace and became a wandering ascetic. He traveled south, where the centers of learning were, and studied meditation under the teachers Alara Kalama and Udraka Ramaputra. He soon mastered their systems, reaching high states of mystical realization, but was unsatisfied and went out again in search of nirvana, the highest level of enlightenment. For nearly six years, he undertook fasting and other austerities, but these techniques proved ineffectual and he abandoned them. After regaining his strength, he seated himself under a pipal tree at what is now Bodh Gaya in west-central India and promised not to rise until he had attained the supreme enlightenment. After fighting off Mara, an evil spirit who tempted him with worldly comforts and desires, Siddhartha reached enlightenment, becoming a Buddha at the age of 35. The Gautama Buddha then traveled to the deer park near Benares, India, where he gave his first sermon and outlined the basic doctrines of Buddhism. According to Buddhism, there are “four noble truths”: (1) existence is suffering; (2) this suffering is caused by human craving; (3) there is a cessation of the suffering, which is nirvana; and (4) nirvana can be achieved, in this or future lives, though the “eightfold path” of right views, right resolve, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration. For the rest of his life, the Buddha taught and gathered disciples to his sangha,or community of monks. He died at age 80, telling his monks to continue working for their spiritual liberation by following his teachings. Buddhism eventually spread from India to Central and Southeast Asia, China, Korea, Japan, and, in the 20th century, to the West. Today, there are an estimated 350 million people in 100 nations who adhere to Buddhist beliefs and practices. 1842 Elizabeth Bacon Custer is born in Michigan Elizabeth Bacon Custer, a significant chronicler of the West and the wife of George Custer, is born in Monroe, Michigan. Elizabeth Custer is best known today for her decades-long effort to celebrate her husband’s life and exonerate him for the massacre of the Seventh Cavalry at Little Bighorn in 1876. She was more than her husband’s apologist, however, and today her writings provide a rare female perspective on military life in the West of the mid-19th century. Talented, intelligent, and beautiful, Elizabeth Custer graduated as valedictorian from the Young Ladies’ Seminary and Collegiate Institute in Monroe, Michigan. Not long after, she met Captain George Custer. After Custer’s bravery in several Civil War battles made him a national hero, Elizabeth’s father accepted Custer as a fit suitor for his daughter’s hand, and the couple married in 1864. After the war, George Custer remained in the military, taking his young wife along on his many assignments around the nation. Long interested in writing, Elizabeth found that her life as an army wife provided her with excellent material. In the summer of 1865, she accompanied Custer and his troops to Hempstead, Texas. Her diaries, recording the often harsh living conditions, later became the basis for her 1887 book, Tenting on the Plains. The book provides a sharp portrait of life on the Texas frontier, and Elizabeth writes with dismay of the violent and often trigger-happy Texans she and her husband encountered. Welcomed into the growing elite planter society of the state, Elizabeth was appalled to discover that some Texans were still trading slaves late in 1865-well after the end of the Civil War. Following her husband’s death at Little Bighorn in 1876, Elizabeth learned that President Ulysses Grant and several other senior officers blamed Custer for the Indian massacre of his battalion of 220 men. Determined to defend Custer from what she believed were malicious attacks, Elizabeth wrote several books recounting the couple’s life on the Plains. In Boots and Saddles (1885) and Following the Guidon (1890), Elizabeth provided a biased portrait of her husband as an exemplary son, a loving husband and father, and a conscientious commanding officer. The books also offered a rare view of the Plains Indian wars from the perspective of a Victorian Era woman. Applying her own cultural standards to Native Americans, Elizabeth believed that Indian braves were exploitative of their wives and deserved to be conquered and removed to reservations. Sadly, Elizabeth’s opinions of Native Americans reflected and encouraged those of most Americans. Many people who had known her husband, however, did not share her admiring view of him. Reluctant to challenge a devoted widow, many critics remained silent during her lifetime. A year after she died in 1933 at the age of 90, however, the first critical reappraisal of Custer’s career appeared with Frederic Van de Water’s book The Glory Hunter.