A Week in April That Represents the Best and Worst in Our History

April 18th, 2013

As we deal with the terrorism in Boston and today’s explosion in West, Texas, we are reminded of all that’s happened this week in April throughout American history. From an historian’s perspective, this week in April represents some of the best and worst events we’ve experienced.

The Boston Marathon is run on Patriot’s Day. It’s a statewide holiday which commemorates the courage of our Founding Fathers with the battles of Lexington and Concord fought on April 19, 1775. For Americans, it marks the opening shots fired in a war leading to our independence from British rule and the beginning of the great American experience.  This is an occasion for celebration.

Sadly, the next event of note is the assassination and death of Abraham Lincoln who was shot at Ford’s Theater by the actor, John Wilkes Booth, on April 14, 1865, and died the next day.  Lincoln’s assassination marks the first of four presidential assassinations in our history.

On April 10, 1912, primarily British and American passengers set sail from Great Britain to New York City on the maiden voyage of the luxury ship, Titanic.  Pronounced unsinkable prior to its departure, a fateful design flaw resulted in its sinking after striking an iceberg in the Atlantic Ocean on the early morning of April 15th.  Among the American passengers killed were businessmen John Jacob Astor and Benjamin Guggenheim.  The founder of Macy’s Department Store, Isidor Straus and his wife, Ida, also perished in the disaster.

Several more recent terrorist attacks and mass shootings also occurred during this week in history—Waco, the Oklahoma City bombing, Columbine, and Virginia Tech.  The week also includes federal income tax day.  A few news outlets today are analyzing these events in an attempt to somehow gain clues into what may have prompted the Boston Marathon attack.

I’m certainly not qualified to make that connection, and I think any attempt to do that amounts to wild speculation at this point.  What I do hope we can do as Americans is somehow bring this week full circle in the future so that it can mean what it did when it was first declared Patriot’s Day.  I hope that we can use this week going forward as we experience all the Aprils to come as something hopeful and inspiring and not as a dark week we dread for fear of living through the next tragedy.

I think the thing that connects many of these events is the bravery of ordinary Americans even in the face of truly horrendous odds and events.  This morning, knowing that volunteer fireman in West risked and likely lost their lives to save others is an example of that.  Days earlier, seeing all the ordinary citizens and first responders running towards the dying and injured in Boston,  not knowing if another bomb awaited them, is an example of that spirit—that courage.

Next year, and for all the years that follow, I hope we can use this week as a way to honor all these people and those like them.  These are true patriots and stand as an example that what began at Lexington and Concord continues to be a great cause.

It’s also the best way for us to come full circle in the true spirit of Patriot’s Day.