FYI February 19, 2018


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On This Day

1859 – Daniel E. Sickles, a New York Congressman, is acquitted of murder on grounds of temporary insanity. This is the first time this defense is successfully used in the United States.
Daniel Edgar Sickles (October 20, 1819 – May 3, 1914) was an American politician, soldier, and diplomat.

Born to a wealthy family in New York City, Sickles was involved in a number of public scandals, most notably the killing of his wife’s lover, Philip Barton Key II, son of Francis Scott Key.[2] He was acquitted after using temporary insanity as a legal defense for the first time in United States history. This became a defense associated with ‘crimes of passion’ (crime passionnel in French).

Upon the outbreak of the American Civil War in 1861, Sickles became one of the war’s most prominent political generals, recruiting the New York regiments that became known as the Excelsior Brigade in the Army of the Potomac. Despite his lack of military experience, he served as a brigade, division, and corps commander in some of the early Eastern campaigns. His military career ended at the Battle of Gettysburg in July 1863, after he moved his III Corps (without orders) to an untenable position where it was virtually destroyed. He was wounded by cannon fire and had to have his leg amputated. He was eventually awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions.[3]

Sickles devoted considerable effort to trying to gain credit for helping achieve the Union victory at Gettysburg, writing articles and testifying before Congress in a manner that denigrated the intentions and actions of his superior officer, the army commander, Maj. Gen. George G. Meade. After the war, Sickles was appointed as a commander for military districts in the South during Reconstruction. He also served as U.S. Minister to Spain. Later he was re-elected to Congress, where he helped pass legislation to preserve the Gettysburg Battlefield.[4]

Early life and politics
In 1819, Sickles was born in New York City to Susan Marsh Sickles and George Garrett Sickles, a patent lawyer and politician.[5] (His year of birth is sometimes given as 1825, and Sickles was known to have claimed as such. Historians speculate that Sickles chose to appear younger when he married a woman half his age.) He learned the printer’s trade and studied at the University of the City of New York (now New York University).[6] He studied law in the office of Benjamin Butler, was admitted to the bar in 1846, and was elected as a member of the New York State Assembly (New York Co.) in 1847.[5]

On September 27, 1852, Sickles married Teresa Bagioli against the wishes of both families—he was 33, she about 15 or 16.[7] She was reported as sophisticated for her age, speaking five languages.

In 1853 Sickles became corporation counsel of New York City, but resigned soon afterward when appointed as secretary of the U.S. legation in London, under James Buchanan,[6] by appointment of President Franklin Pierce. He returned to the United States in 1855, when he was elected as a member of the New York State Senate (3rd D.) in 1856. He was re-elected to the seat 1857. In 1856 he was elected as a Democrat to the 35th Congress, and held office from March 4, 1857, to March 3, 1861, a total of two terms.[citation needed]

Murder of Key
Sickles was censured by the New York State Assembly for escorting a known prostitute, Fanny White, into its chambers. He also reportedly took her to England, while leaving his pregnant wife at home. He presented White to Queen Victoria, using as her alias the surname of a New York political opponent.[5]

In 1859, in Lafayette Square, across the street from the White House, Sickles shot and killed Philip Barton Key II, the district attorney of the District of Columbia;[8] he was the son of Francis Scott Key. Sickles had discovered that Philip Key was having an affair with his young wife.[2][9]

Sickles surrendered at Attorney General Jeremiah Black’s house, a few blocks away on Franklin Square, and confessed to the murder. After a visit to his home, accompanied by a constable, Sickles was taken to jail. He received numerous perquisites, including being allowed to retain his personal weapon, and receive numerous visitors. So many visitors came that he was granted the use of the head jailer’s apartment to receive them.[11] They included many congressmen, senators, and other leading members of Washington society. President James Buchanan sent Sickles a personal note.[citation needed]

Harper’s Magazine reported that the visits of his wife’s mother and her clergyman were painful for Sickles. Both told him that Teresa was distracted with grief, shame, and sorrow, and that the loss of her wedding ring (which Sickles had taken on visiting his home) was more than Teresa could bear.[citation needed]

Sickles was charged with murder. He secured several leading politicians as defense attorneys, among them Edwin M. Stanton, later to become Secretary of War, and Chief Counsel James T. Brady who, like Sickles, was associated with Tammany Hall. Sickles pleaded temporary insanity—the first use of this defense in the United States.[12] Before the jury, Stanton argued that Sickles had been driven insane by his wife’s infidelity, and thus was out of his mind when he shot Key. The papers soon trumpeted that Sickles was a hero for “saving all the ladies of Washington from this rogue named Key”.[13]

Sickles had obtained a graphic confession from Teresa; it was ruled inadmissible in court, but, was leaked by him to the press and printed in the newspapers in full. The defense strategy ensured that the trial was the main topic of conversations in Washington for weeks, and the extensive coverage of national papers was sympathetic to Sickles.[14] In the courtroom, the strategy brought drama, controversy, and, ultimately, an acquittal for Sickles.[citation needed]

Sickles publicly forgave Teresa, and “withdrew” briefly from public life, although he did not resign from Congress. The public was apparently more outraged by Sickles’s forgiveness and reconciliation with his wife, than by the murder and his unorthodox acquittal.[15]



Born On This Day

1943 – Homer Hickam, American author and engineer
Homer Hadley Hickam Jr. (born February 19, 1943) is an American author, Vietnam veteran, and a former NASA engineer. His memoir October Sky was a New York Times Best Seller and was the basis for the 1999 film of the same name. Hickam has also written a number of best-selling memoirs and novels including the “Josh Thurlow” historical fiction novels. His books have been translated into many languages.

Early life and education
Homer H. Hickam Jr. is the second son of Homer Sr. and Elsie Gardener Hickam (née Lavender).[1][2] He was born and raised in Coalwood, West Virginia, and graduated from Big Creek High School in 1960. While there, he and a group of boys (Roy Lee Cooke, Sherman Siers, O’Dell Carroll, Billy Rose, and Quentin Wilson) started building rockets, calling themselves “The Big Creek Missile Agency” (BCMA). After working on finding the best way to build rockets, they took their designs to the 1960 National Science Fair, where the BCMA won a gold and silver medal in the area of propulsion.

Following high school, Hickam attended and graduated from Virginia Tech in 1964 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Industrial Engineering.[3] At Virginia Tech, Homer and a few classmates designed a cannon to be fired at football games and during the school’s cadet corps functions. The cannon was cast out of brass that had been collected from cadet belt buckles and caps, and scrap he got from his father. The group named the cannon, “Skipper” in honor of President John F. Kennedy. It has become an icon for Hokies sports, the Corps, and Virginia Tech. “Skipper” was retired and replaced by “Skipper II” in 1981 and is on display at the Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets museum.


Military Service (1964–70)
Hickam served as a First Lieutenant in the Fourth Infantry Division of the U.S. Army from 1967 to 1968 during the Vietnam War. He was awarded the Army Commendation Medal and a Bronze Star Medal. In total, Hickam served six years of active duty and was honorably discharged at the rank of Captain in 1970.

USAAMC and NASA (1971–98)
Following his separation from the service, Hickam worked as an engineer for the United States Army Aviation and Missile Command from 1971 to 1978, assigned to Huntsville. Between 1978 and 1981, he was an engineer for the 7th Army Training Command in Germany. In 1981, Hickam was hired as an aerospace engineer by NASA – (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) at Marshall Space Flight Center, which is located on the Redstone Arsenal near Huntsville, Alabama. During his NASA career, Hickam worked in spacecraft design and crew training. His specialties at NASA included training astronauts in regard to science payloads and extra-vehicular activities (EVA). Additionally, Hickam trained astronaut crews for numerous Spacelab and Space Shuttle missions, including the Hubble Space Telescope deployment mission, the first two Hubble repair missions, Spacelab-J (with the first Japanese astronauts), and the Solar Max repair mission. Prior to his retirement from NASA in 1998, Hickam was the Payload Training Manager for the International Space Station Program.

Literary career
Homer Hickam began writing in 1969 after returning from serving in the Vietnam War.[4] His first writings were magazine stories about scuba diving and his time as a scuba instructor. Then, having dived in many of the wrecks involved, he wrote about the battle against the U-boats along the American east coast during World War II. This resulted in his first book, Torpedo Junction (1989), a military history best-seller published in 1989 by the Naval Institute Press.

In 1998, Delacorte Press published Hickam’s second book, Rocket Boys, the story of his life as the son of a coal miner in Coalwood, West Virginia. Rocket Boys has since been translated into numerous languages and released as an audiobook and electronic book. Among its many honors, it was selected by The New York Times as one of its “Great Books of 1998” and was an alternate “Book-of-the-Month” selection for both the Literary Guild and the Book of the Month Club. Rocket Boys was also nominated by the National Book Critics Circle as Best Biography of 1998. In February 1999, Universal Studios released its critically acclaimed film October Sky, based on Rocket Boys (The title “October Sky” is an anagram of “Rocket Boys”). In an interview, Hickam has said of the movie that it was “fine for what it is, a low-budget feel-good movie, but sadly missed the best parts of my memoir. Still, the world needs feel-good movies and it has done a good job of encouraging young people to go after their dreams.” He has since co-written a musical play titled Rocket Boys the Musical which, according to press reports, tells a story closer to the one in his book.

Hickam’s first fiction novel was Back to the Moon (1999) which was simultaneously released as a hardcover, audiobook, and eBook. It has also been translated into Chinese. To date, Back to the Moon is Hickam’s only novel specifically about space. It is a techno-thriller and a romantic novel, telling the story of a team of “spacejackers” who commandeer a shuttle.

The Coalwood Way, a memoir of Hickam’s hometown, was published a year later by Delacorte Press, and is referred to by Hickam as “not a sequel but an equal”. His third Coalwood memoir, a true sequel, was published in October 2001. It is titled Sky of Stone. His final book about Coalwood was published in 2002, a self-help/inspirational tome titled We Are Not Afraid: Strength and Courage from the Town That Inspired the #1 Bestseller and Award-Winning Movie October Sky.

After his memoir series, Hickam began his popular “Josh Thurlow” series set during World War II. The first of the series was The Keeper’s Son (2003) set on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. The series continued with The Ambassador’s Son (2005) and The Far Reaches (2007). both set in the South Pacific. His next novel was Red Helmet (2008), a love story set in the present day’s Appalachian coalfields and dedicated to “Mine Rescue Teams Everywhere.” In 2010, he co-authored My Dream of Stars (2010) with Anousheh Ansari, a multi-millionaire Iranian-American who became the world’s first female commercial astronaut. Hickam, an avid amateur paleontologist, also wrote The Dinosaur Hunter, a novel set in Montana published by St. Martin’s in November 2010.

He also published a Young Adult Science Fiction thriller trilogy set on the moon which is known as the Helium-3 series. It included the titles Crater, Crescent, and The Lunar Rescue Company.

In 2015, Wm Morrow/HarperCollins published his best-selling Carrying Albert Home: A somewhat true story of a man, his wife, and her alligator. “Albert” has been published in 17 languages and has won many awards.

In 2016, Hickam sued Universal Studios for fraud and breach of contract over Hickam’s rights to his “Rocket Boys” sequels which included The Coalwood Way, Sky of Stone, We Are Not Afraid, and Carrying Albert Home. [1] The lawsuit was settled in 2017 to Hickam’s satisfaction. A lawsuit in Federal Court was initiated in 2017 for the copyright infringement by the Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire, IL and its writers and composers of [2] Hickam’s musical play based on his memoir Rocket Boys [3].

In 1984, Hickam was presented with Alabama’s Distinguished Service Award for heroism shown during a rescue effort of the crew and passengers of a sunken paddleboat in the Tennessee River. Because of this award, Hickam was honored in 1996 by the United States Olympic Committee to carry the Olympic Torch through Huntsville, Alabama, on its way to Atlanta.

In 1999, the governor of West Virginia issued a proclamation in honor of Hickam for his support of his home state and his distinguished career as both an engineer and author and declared an annual “Rocket Boys Day”.

In 2000, the Virginia Tech junior class selected Hickam as the namesake for the Virginia Tech class of 2002 ring collection, the Homer Hickam Collection.[5]

In 2007, Hickam was awarded an honorary doctorate in Literature from Marshall University. That same year, he received the Distinguished Alumni Award from Virginia Tech.

In 2013, Hickam won the Clarence Cason Award from the University of Alabama for his non-fiction writing.

In 2014, Hickam won the Appalachian Heritage Writer’s Award at Shepherd University [4]. A critique of his work was written at that time [5].


Official Website



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