This Week In History: Oct. 23 – Oct. 29 

Annie Edson Taylor poses with a barrel. Taylor was the first person to survive traveling down Niagara Falls in a barrel. Photo courtesy of: The New York Times

Hello history buffs and welcome to another installment of This Week in History! This week is full of interesting events, all of which shape the world we know today. So let’s jump right in! 

The first major event of the week occurred on Oct. 24, 1648, with the onset of the Peace of Westphalia.  

Following the chaos of the Thirty Years War, Europe was a divided and decimated continent, and even the great warring powers understood that the level of destruction was only leading to decline.  

As a consequence, the Peace of Westphalia marks the signing of two peace treaties, the Treaty of Münster and the Treaty of Osnabrück, both of which ended conflicts and caused major territorial and diplomatic changes. 

Many of the effects were immediate, such as changes to imperial borders in northern German city-states and the restructure of the French border with the Holy Roman Empire. However, the most vital change was the introduction of international peace cooperation. 

Considered the beginning of international peace standards, the cooperation of delegates involved in the treaty helped bring freedom of religion and national sovereignty to the forefront of international relations, which some now call the principles of “Westphalian Sovereignty.” 

Next, moving across the Atlantic to New York, Oct. 24, 1901, would mark the first successful descent of Niagara Falls in a barrel. 

While a relatively unknown or forgotten achievement, the trip made by the 63-year-old school teacher, Annie Edson Taylor, sheds light on the situations of regular people at the start of the 20th century.  

Taylor’s motivations for taking the plunge were largely financial, having desired a lavish lifestyle that she could not afford – all the while getting older and being unable to find well-paying jobs due to her age. In fact, she attempted to change her date of birth to appear younger than she was and tried to appear as youthful as she could, both of which proved fruitless.  

Interestingly, Taylor was not the only one to attempt the descent down the falls in a barrel. Due to the concerns of onlookers who viewed the jump as ‘suicide,’ two days prior, on Oct. 22, 1901, the first successful descent of Niagara Falls in a barrel was achieved by a cat; simply to prove that the drop could be done safely. 

As fortune would have it, Taylor made the descent and survived, proving to nervous spectators that her stunt was a success. Despite the achievement, she would not earn enough money to support her lifestyle, but her reputation led to public donations for her funeral years later. 

In the years following Taylor’s stunt, many movies, books and other pop-culture formats have referenced her journey, often depicting her as a reckless, but groundbreaking individual.  

The last event for this week could possibly have been the last event ever recorded on the planet; off the coast of Cuba on Oct. 27, 1962, one fateful decision nearly plunged the world into nuclear war. 

Occurring during the Cuban Missile Crisis, the world was focused on what may happen off the coasts of Cuba, with rival Soviet and U.S. naval forces armed with nuclear warheads capable of causing unimaginable damage should a confrontation begin. 

It was on Oct. 27 that one Soviet submarine had to deal with a serious dilemma: the ship had been sailing off the coast of Cuba and had lost communication back to Moscow, causing crew leaders to worry.  

Once U.S. anti-submarine bombs had been placed around the submarine, the Soviets began to worry that war had broken out and deliberated whether to launch their nuclear missile. Of course, no such conflict had started, but for the unknowing crew, it was all too real a possibility.  

Consequently, the three top officers of the submarine voted to decide if the missile should be fired and it came down to one man’s vote to stop the launch. Vasily Arkhipov is now credited with “saving the world” as his sole objection to haphazardly firing the bomb caused the crew to refrain from firing the missile and helped de-escalate the situation.  

And that concludes This Week in History. Let’s be thankful that the actions of some noble individuals kept the world in relative peace and hope that the world can change for the better in the modern day! See you next week! 

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