English Channel tunnel opens In a ceremony presided over by England’s Queen Elizabeth II and French President Francois Mitterrand, a rail tunnel under the English Channel was officially opened, connecting Britain and the European mainland for the first time since the Ice Age. The channel tunnel, or “Chunnel,” connects Folkstone, England, with Sangatte, France, 31 miles away. The Chunnel cut travel time between England and France to a swift 35 minutes and eventually between London and Paris to two-and-a-half hours. As the world’s longest undersea tunnel, the Chunnel runs under water for 23 miles, with an average depth of 150 feet below the seabed. Each day, about 30,000 people, 6,000 cars and 3,500 trucks journey through the Chunnel on passenger, shuttle and freight trains. Millions of tons of earth were moved to build the two rail tunnels—one for northbound and one for southbound traffic—and one service tunnel. Fifteen thousand people were employed at the peak of construction. Ten people were killed during construction. Napoleon’s engineer, Albert Mathieu, planned the first tunnel under the English Channel in 1802, envisioning an underground passage with ventilation chimneys that would stretch above the waves. In 1880, the first real attempt was made by Colonel Beaumont, who bore a tunnel more than a mile long before abandoning the project. Other efforts followed in the 20th century, but none on the scale of the tunnels begun in June 1988. The Chunnel’s $16 billion cost was roughly twice the original estimate, and completion was a year behind schedule. One year into service, Eurotunnel announced a huge loss, one of the biggest in United Kingdom corporate history at the time. A scheme in which banks agreed to swap billions of pounds worth of loans for shares saved the tunnel from going under and it showed its first net profit in 1999. Freight traffic was suspended for six months after a fire broke out on a lorry in the tunnel in November 1996. Nobody was seriously hurt in the incident. In 1996, the American Society of Civil Engineers identified the tunnel as one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World. 1937 The Hindenburg disaster The airship Hindenburg, the largest dirigible ever built and the pride of Nazi Germany, bursts into flames upon touching its mooring mast in Lakehurst, New Jersey, killing 36 passengers and crewmembers. Frenchman Henri Giffard constructed the first successful airship in 1852. His hydrogen-filled blimp carried a three-horsepower steam engine that turned a large propeller and flew at a speed of six miles per hour. The rigid airship, often known as the “zeppelin” after the last name of its innovator, Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin, was developed by the Germans in the late 19th century. Unlike French airships, the German ships had a light framework of metal girders that protected a gas-filled interior. However, like Giffard’s airship, they were lifted by highly flammable hydrogen gas and vulnerable to explosion. Large enough to carry substantial numbers of passengers, one of the most famous rigid airships was the Graf Zeppelin, a dirigible that traveled around the world in 1929. In the 1930s, the Graf Zeppelin pioneered the first transatlantic air service, leading to the construction of the Hindenburg, a larger passenger airship. On May 3, 1937, the Hindenburg left Frankfurt, Germany, for a journey across the Atlantic to Lakehurst’s Navy Air Base. Stretching 804 feet from stern to bow, it carried 36 passengers and crew of 61. While attempting to moor at Lakehurst, the airship suddenly burst into flames, probably after a spark ignited its hydrogen core. Rapidly falling 200 feet to the ground, the hull of the airship incinerated within seconds. Thirteen passengers, 21 crewmen, and 1 civilian member of the ground crew lost their lives, and most of the survivors suffered substantial injuries. Radio announcer Herb Morrison, who came to Lakehurst to record a routine voice-over for an NBC newsreel, immortalized the Hindenberg disaster in a famous on-the-scene description in which he emotionally declared, “Oh, the humanity!” The recording of Morrison’s commentary was immediately flown to New York, where it was aired as part of America’s first coast-to-coast radio news broadcast. Lighter-than-air passenger travel rapidly fell out of favor after the Hindenberg disaster, and no rigid airships survived World War II. 1911 Hangman George Maledon dies George Maledon, the man who executed at least 60 men for “Hanging Judge” Isaac Parker, dies from natural causes in Tennessee. Few men actively seek out the job of hangman and Maledon was no exception. Raised by German immigrants in Detroit, Michigan, Maledon moved to Fort Smith, Arkansas, in his late teens and joined the city police force. He joined the Union Army during the Civil War, and he then returned to Fort Smith where he was appointed a U.S. deputy marshal. The town also had occasional need of an executioner, and Maledon agreed to take on the grisly task in addition to his regular duties as a marshal. Maledon wound up with more business than he expected. In 1875, President Ulysses S. Grant appointed a young prosecuting attorney named Isaac Parker to be the federal judge of the Western District of Arkansas. Headquartered at Fort Smith, the Western District was one of the most notoriously corrupt in the country, and it included the crime-ridden Indian Territory to the west (in present-day Oklahoma). Indian Territory had become a refuge for rustlers, murderers, thieves, and fugitives, and Parker’s predecessor often accepted bribes to look the other way. Assigned an unprecedented force of 200 U.S. marshals to restore order, Parker began a massive dragnet that led to the arrest of many criminals. A friend of the Indians and more sympathetic to the victims of crimes than the criminals, Parker doled out swift justice in his court. In his first months in session he tried 91 defendants and sentenced eight of them to hang. It was Maledon’s job to carry out Judge Parker’s death sentences. Paid $100 for each hanging, Maledon willingly accepted the work. He tried to be a conscientious hangman who minimized suffering with a quick death. Maledon said he considered the job “honorable and respectable work and I mean to do it well.” In all, Maledon is believed to have hanged about 60 men and to have shot five more who tried to escape. Subsequent sensational accounts of the Fort Smith “Hanging Judge” unfairly painted Parker as a cruel sadist with Maledon as his willing henchman. Yet, it is well to keep in mind that 65 marshals were also killed in the line of duty attempting to bring law and order to Indian Territory during Parker’s term. After Parker died from diabetes in 1896, Maledon met a publicity-seeking attorney named J. Warren Reed, who had written a lurid account of the Fort Smith court entitled Hell on the Border. Attracted by the promise of fame and money, Maledon joined Reed in a promotional tour for the book. He willingly played the role of the ghoulish hangman, displaying ropes he had preserved and telling which were used to execute various outlaws. After a year of touring, Maledon tired of the limelight and used his earnings to purchase a farm. A small man with a weak constitution, he did not have the strength to work the farm profitably, and soon after entered a soldier’s home at Johnson City, Tennessee, where he remained until his death in 1911.