Today is Thursday, Dec. 24, the 358th day of 2009. There are seven days left in the year. This is Christmas Eve.Today's Highlight in History:
On Dec. 24, 1809, legendary American frontiersman Christopher "Kit" Carson was born in Madison County, Ky.
On this date:
In 1524, Portuguese navigator Vasco da Gama, who had discovered a sea route around Africa to India, died in Cochin, India.
In 1814, the War of 1812 officially ended as the United States and Britain signed the Treaty of Ghent in Belgium.
In 1851, fire devastated the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., destroying about 35,000 volumes.
In 1865, several veterans of the Confederate Army formed a private social club in Pulaski, Tenn., called the Ku Klux Klan.
In 1906, Canadian physicist Reginald A. Fessenden became the first person to broadcast a music program over radio, from Brant Rock, Mass.
In 1943, President Franklin D. Roosevelt appointed Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower supreme commander of Allied forces as part of Operation Overlord.
In 1968, the Apollo 8 astronauts, orbiting the moon, read passages from the Old Testament Book of Genesis during a Christmas Eve telecast.
Astronaut Frank Borman
In 1989, ousted Panamanian ruler Manuel Noriega, who had succeeded in eluding U.S. forces, took refuge at the Vatican's diplomatic mission in Panama City.
In 1992, President George H.W. Bush pardoned former Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger and five others in the Iran-Contra scandal.
In 1993, the Rev. Norman Vincent Peale, who blended Christian and psychiatric principles into a message of "positive thinking," died in Pawling, N.Y., at age 95.
In 1994, militants hijacked an Air France Airbus A-300 at the Algiers airport; three passengers were slain during the siege before all four hijackers were killed by French commandos in Marseille two days later.
In 1997, Ilich Ramirez Sanchez, the aging revolutionary known as Carlos the Jackal, was sentenced by a French court to life in prison for the 1975 murders of two French investigators and a Lebanese national.
In 1998, ignoring NATO warnings, Serb tanks and troops struck an ethnic Albanian stronghold in Kosovo. Most of California's citrus crop was considered ruined after three straight nights of freezing cold.
In 1999, five hijackers seized an Indian Airlines jet, forcing the aircraft on a journey across South Asia and into the Middle East. (The eight-day ordeal resulted in the death of one passenger and India's release of three jailed pro-Kashmir militants in exchange for the rest of the hostages.)
In 2002, Laci Peterson was reported missing from her Modesto, Calif., home, by her husband, Scott, who was later convicted of murdering her and their unborn son. Saddam Hussein said in an address read on television that Iraqis were ready to fight a holy war against the United States. Chinese pro-democracy activist Xu Wenli was released from a prison in Beijing and flown to the United States.
In 2003, a roadside bomb exploded north of Baghdad, killing three U.S. soldiers in the deadliest attack on Americans to that time following Saddam Hussein's capture. Talk show host David Letterman visited U.S. troops in Baghdad. Air France canceled several flights to the United States after U.S. officials passed on what were termed "credible" security threats.
In 2004, bearing gifts of praise and encouragement, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld paid a surprise Christmas Eve visit to U.S. troops in some of the most dangerous areas of Iraq. Afghan President Hamid Karzai swore in a new cabinet. The international Cassini spacecraft launched a probe on a three-week free-fall toward Saturn's mysterious moon Titan.
In 2006, Ethiopia sent fighter jets into Somalia and bombed several towns in a dramatic attack on Somalia's powerful Islamic movement; Ethiopia's prime minister said his country had been "forced to enter a war."
In 2007, President Bush made Christmas Eve calls to 10 U.S. troops serving in Iraq, Afghanistan and other spots around the world, thanking them for their sacrifice and wishing them a happy holiday. French news cameraman Gwen Le Gouil, abducted by Somali gunmen Dec. 16 outside the town of Bossaso, was released.
In 2008, a man dressed in a Santa Claus suit shot his way into the Covina, Calif., home of his former in-laws and set it on fire, killing nine people (the attacker, identified as Bruce Jeffrey Pardo, committed suicide the next day). The Federal Reserve granted a request by the financing arm of General Motors Corp. to tap the government's $700 billion rescue fund, bolstering the automaker's ability to survive. Army Capt. Moussa Camara, the leader of a coup in Guinea, entered the country's capital, hours after saying his group would hold power until elections in two years. Nobel Prize-winning playwright Harold Pinter died in London at age 78.
Today's Birthdays: Songwriter-bandleader Dave Bartholomew is 89. Author Mary Higgins Clark is 82. Federal health administrator Anthony S. Fauci is 69. Recording company executive Mike Curb is 65. Rock singer-musician Lemmy (Motorhead) is 64. Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., is 63. Actor Grand L. Bush is 54. Actor Clarence Gilyard is 54. Actress Stephanie Hodge is 53. Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai is 52. Rock musician Ian Burden (The Human League) is 52. Actor Anil Kapoor is 50. Actor Wade Williams is 48. Designer Kate Spade is 47. Rock singer Mary Ramsey (10,000 Maniacs) is 46. Actor Mark Valley is 45. Actor Diedrich Bader is 43. Actor Amaury Nolasco is 39. Singer Ricky Martin is 38. Author Stephenie Meyer ("Twilight") is 36. "American Idol" host Ryan Seacrest is 35.
Dead People Who Came to Life on This Date: James Prescott Joule, physicist (1818); Juan Ramón Jiménez, lyric poet (1881); Howard Hughes, business executive (1905); Ava Gardner, actress (1922).
Today In Entertainment History December 24
In 1871, Giuseppe Verdi's opera "Aida" had its world premiere in Cairo, Egypt, to celebrate the opening of the Suez Canal.
In 1908, citing morality concerns, New York Mayor George B. McClellan Jr. temporarily closed the city's movie theaters. (The action gave rise to creation of a motion picture censorship board.)
In 1920, Enrico Caruso gave his last public performance, at the Metropolitan Opera in New York.
In 1951, Gian Carlo Menotti's "Amahl and the Night Visitors," the first opera written specifically for television, was first broadcast by NBC.
In 1954, singer Johnny Ace shot himself and died while playing Russian roulette backstage at a show in Houston. His song "Pledging My Love" became a hit the next year.
In 1961, "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" by The Tokens became the first African song to reach No. 1 on the American pop charts.
In 1965, The Beatles earned a gold record for the album "Rubber Soul," just two-and-a-half weeks after it was released.
In 1972, police in Miami cut short a concert by Manfred Mann and his Earth Band. Fans rioted for about two hours while the band members hid in a dressing room.
In 1973, Tom Johnston of the Doobie Brothers was arrested in Visalia, California, for marijuana possession.
In 1978, Bjorn Ulvaeus and Agnetha Faltskog of ABBA separated after seven years of marriage.
In 1984, actor Peter Lawford died. He was 61.
In 1990, actors Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman got married in Colorado. They had met while filming "Days of Thunder." They've since divorced.
In 1992, former Doobie Brothers percussionist Bobby LaKind died after a long battle with cancer. He was 47.
In 1997, the Gin Blossoms announced their breakup. Japanese actor Toshiro Mifune died in suburban Tokyo at age 77.
In 2006, broadcasting pioneer Frank Stanton, CBS president for 26 years, died in Boston at age 98.
In 2008, Nobel Prize-winning playwright Harold Pinter died in London at age 78.
Thought for Today: "Christmas is the day that holds all time together." — Alexander Smith, Scottish poet and essayist (1830-1867).