The Almanac, Celebrity Birthdays, Today in History, December 20 –

eartharcToday is Thursday, Dec. 20, the 355th day of 2012 with 11 to follow.

The moon is waxing. The morning stars are Mercury, Venus and Saturn. Evening stars include Jupiter, Neptune, Uranus and Mars.

Those born on this date are under the sign of Sagittarius. They include author and decorator Elsie de Wolfe (Lady Mendl) in 1865; industrialist Harvey Firestone in 1868; baseball Hall of Fame member Branch Rickey in 1881; philosopher Susanne K. Langer in 1895; actor Irene Dunne in 1898; nuclear physicist Robert Van de Graaff in 1901; movie director George Roy Hill (“Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” “The Sting”) in 1921; actor John Hillerman in 1932 (age 80); psychic Uri Geller and TV series creator Dick Wolf, both in 1946 (age 66); musician Alan Parsons in 1948 (age 64); actor Jenny Agutter in 1952 (age 60); “American Idol” winner David Cook in 1982 (age 30); and actor Jonah Hill in 1983 (age 29).

On this date in history:

In 1803, the United States formally took over territory acquired from France in the Louisiana Purchase.

In 1812, Sacagawea, the Indian woman who guided the Lewis and Clark Expedition, died.

In 1864, Union Gen. William T. Sherman completed his Civil War “march to the sea” across the South and arrived in Savannah, Ga.

In 1946 the first Indochina war began with Vietnamese troops under Ho Chi Minh clashing with the French at Hanoi.

In 1956, the Montgomery, Ala., public bus boycott officially ended but not until it had given a major boost to the civil rights struggle in the South. The boycott had been called in reaction to the Dec. 1, 1955, arrest of Rosa Parks, an African-American woman, for refusing to give up her bus seat to a white man.

In 1987, nearly 1,600 people died in the Philippines when a passenger ferry was struck by an oil tanker and sank. It was the century’s worst peacetime maritime disaster.

In 1989, the United States invaded Panama to oust Manuel Noriega and install the duly elected civilian government. Twenty-three U.S. troops were killed.

In 1990, Eduard Shevardnadze abruptly resigned as Soviet foreign minister, warning against a dictatorship of hard-liners.

In 1991, Philippines prosecutors filed nine counts of graft against former first lady Imelda Marcos, charging she used bogus front companies to bilk millions of dollars from the nation.

In 1995, 160 people were killed when an American Airlines 757 crashed into a mountain shortly before it was scheduled to land in Cali, Colombia.

Also in 1995, Buckingham Palace confirmed that Queen Elizabeth II had sent letters to her son, Prince Charles, and his estranged wife, Princess Diana, urging them to seek a divorce as quickly as possible.

In 1996, guerrillas in Peru took an estimated 380 hostages at the Japanese ambassador’s residence.

In 1998, Iraqi President Saddam Hussein declared that the four-night U.S.-British bombing campaign of his country was a victory for Iraq over the “enemies of God and humanity.”

Also in 1998, a Houston woman gave birth to seven more babies after delivering the first infant 12 days earlier. They were the only known set of octuplets to be born alive in the United States. The smallest baby died a week later.

In 1999, Macau reverted to Chinese rule.

In 2001, Argentine President Fernando de la Rua resigned amid mass protest demonstrations but chaos continued in his troubled country.

In 2009, a nor’easter stretching from Maine to Maryland broke snow records in Philadelphia and Washington and paralyzed the mid-Atlantic. December snowfall records fell in Philadelphia, which got 22.9 inches of snow, and in Washington, with 15 inches.

In 2010, a boat loaded with 90 people from Christmas Island seeking asylum in Australia slammed into rocks along the island. Authorities said there were 42 survivors.

In 2011, 10 people were killed in confrontations between protesters and security forces in Egypt.

Also in 2011 the Kepler, NASA’s orbiting space observatory, reported discovering the first two Earth-size planets outside the solar system but both orbit too closely to a sun-like star to have water on the surface.

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