Around noon on this day nearly 2,000 years ago — Aug. 24, 79 — the Roman citizens living in the cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum probably heard and saw the first explosions coming from Mount Vesuvius.
The volcano had been dormant for several centuries, and the Romans did not suspect that the rich, fertile soil in this area was the result of previous volcanic events. This Vesuvius eruption lasted around 18 hours, according to a letter written by a young man known as Pliny the Younger, who lived in Pompeii and was 17 at the time. He and most of the 20,000 who lived there evacuated, escaping the toxic gas and lava that would claim the roughly 2,000 who tried to wait out the eruption.
Researchers and scientists have been excavating the remains of these ancient Roman cities for several centuries now. Those efforts have yielded the shocking and now iconic plaster molds of bodies as they appeared just before being consumed by volcanic ash.
On Aug. 25, 1835, the first article in a series of six was published by the New York Sun to announce the discovery of life on the moon. ”The Great Moon Hoax” was just that — a hoax — but many readers were unaware, and the paper’s circulation boomed.
The newspaper alleged that the stories were reprinted from the Edinburgh Journal of Science, by Dr. Andrew Grant, who was a colleague of Sir John Herschel, a famous astronomer living at the time. Herschel had discovered, the fictional Grant argued, evidence of unicorns and winged humanoids resembling bats on the surface of the moon.
In September, the newspaper admitted that the stories were fake, and its circulation remained surprisingly unchanged.
On a hot August day in 1963 — the 28th to be exact — Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., gave a speech that’s now one of the best- known ever delivered by an American (probably second to Abraham Lincoln’s “Gettysburg Address,” given 100 years earlier).
King’s “I Have a Dream” speech reached the ears of about 250,000 people at the March on Washington that day, and it outlined a future for the country that included genuine acceptance and inclusion regardless of racial differences. As evidenced by racial tumult affecting cities across the United States over the past few years, that future has not yet been achieved. King continues to be revered as a model of excellence and as a sort of quality bar for racial leaders in the 2010s.
“I have a dream,” King said in his famous speech, “that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slaveowners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.”
Were he still alive, pop legend Michael Jackson would have celebrated his 58th birthday on Aug. 29.
Before he was the king of pop, Jackson was a member of the highly successful Jackson 5, which consisted of him and his four older brothers. The pop group was one of the first all-black collectives to achieve crossover popularity in the music industry. Jackson’s musical legacy was solidified by his later solo releases, especially with the albums released in the peak of his musical career: “Off the Wall” (1979), “Thriller” (1982) and “Bad” (1987).
His public image came under controversy in the 1990s and 2000s, however, after he was accused of child molestation. He was never convicted of the crimes, and though parts of that negative reputation trailed him for the rest of his life, the public’s overwhelmingly positive response to his death (an estimated 31 million Americans watched his funeral at the Staples Center live on television) made his cultural impact clear.