> Tragedy: Attack on Pearl Harbor
> Date: December 7, 1941
> Total fatalities: 2,400+
> Other event considered: 1946 Earthquake / tsunami
Referred to as “A day which will live in infamy” by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the attack on Pearl Harbor was a stunning surprise assault. After years of long simmering tensions between Japan and the U.S., Japanese fighter planes caught the Pearl Harbor naval base off guard, killing more than 2,400 Americans, injuring about 1,000 more, and destroying hundreds of U.S. planes and ships. After years of staying neutral, the attack pulled the United States into World War II. Roosevelt asked congress to declare war on Japan the day after the attack.
> Tragedy: The Big Burn of 1910
> Date: August 20-21, 1910
> Total fatalities: 85-87
> Other event considered: Dam Collapse
The Big Burn of 1910 may have been the largest forest fire in American history. The fire consumed 3 million acres in northern Idaho and neighboring states. Coming on the heels of an extremely dry summer, the fire was all the more difficult to fight due to 70 miles per hour winds that further stoked the fire. Describing the fire in Coeur d’Alene National Forest, a forester wrote that the wind and the flames formed a “truly a veritable red demon from hell.” More than 80 people were killed by the blaze. The lessons learned from the fire helped define the mission of the U.S. Forest Service and refine its firefighting techniques.
> Tragedy: Great Chicago Fire
> Date: October 8-10, 1871
> Total fatalities: 300
> Other event considered: Chicago Heat Wave
By 1871, Chicago was one of the fastest-growing cities in the world, a midwestern colossus eventually immortalized in a poem by Carl Sandburg. But it was growing too fast with little planning. On Oct. 8, a fire started in the O’Leary barn — and it spread quickly. The conflagration killed 300 people and left over 100,000 homeless. Although one-third of the city was consumed by fire, much of the transportation infrastructure remained intact. In the aftermath, laws were passed requiring new buildings be constructed with fireproof materials. The world’s first skyscrapers would rise in Chicago before the century was up.
> Tragedy: 1963 Coliseum Explosion
> Date: October 31, 1963
> Total fatalities: 74
> Other event considered: 1913 Flood
Halloween night, 1963, was supposed to be a night of fun for the many who went to the “Holiday On Ice” skating exhibition at the Indiana State Fairgrounds Coliseum in Indianapolis. The festive event, however, turned into a disaster when an explosion ripped through the stands, killing 74 and injuring hundreds more. It was later determined that a faulty propane tank filled the room with gas that ignited when it came into contact with an electric popcorn machine. Among the dead were many children. Several people were indicted in connection with the incident, but the only conviction was eventually overturned by Indiana Supreme Court.
> Tragedy: The Day the Music Died
> Date: February 3, 1959
> Total fatalities: 4
> Other event considered: Armistice Day Blizzard
Early rock and roll icons Buddy Holly, the Big Bopper, and Ritchie Valens, along with a pilot, were killed in a plane crash on Feb. 3, 1959, shortly after takeoff from Clear Lake, Iowa. Holly had grown tired of riding a tour bus to shows and hired the plane. The three musicians were traveling to Fargo, North Dakota for their next show when the crash occurred. The tragedy would be immortalized in the song “American Pie” by Don McLean, and the incident would be referred to as “The Day the Music Died.”