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Today in History - Feb. 17

Celebrity birthdays, highlights in history, plus more facts about this day
/ Source: The Associated Press

Today is Saturday, Feb. 17, the 48th day of 2007. There are 317 days left in the year.

Today’s Highlight in History:
On Feb. 17, 1801, the House of Representatives broke an electoral tie between Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr, electing Jefferson president; Burr became vice president.

On this date:

In 1864, during the Civil War, the Union ship U.S.S. Housatonic was rammed and sunk in Charleston Harbor, S.C., by the Confederate hand-cranked submarine H.L. Hunley, which also sank.

In 1865, Columbia, S.C., burned as the Confederates evacuated and Union forces moved in. (It’s not clear which side set the blaze.)

In 1897, the forerunner of the National P.T.A, the National Congress of Mothers, convened its first meeting, in Washington.

In 1904, the original two-act version of Giacomo Puccini’s opera “Madama Butterfly” was poorly received at its premiere at La Scala in Milan, Italy.

In 1933, Newsweek was first published by Thomas J.C. Martyn under the title “News-Week.”

In 1947, the Voice of America began broadcasting to the Soviet Union.

In 1964, the Supreme Court, in Wesberry v. Sanders, ruled that congressional districts within each state had to be roughly equal in population.

In 1972, President Nixon departed on his historic trip to China.

In 1992, serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer was sentenced in Milwaukee to life in prison (he was beaten to death in prison in November 1994).

In 1995, Colin Ferguson was convicted of six counts of murder in the December 1993 Long Island Rail Road shootings (he was later sentenced to a minimum of 200 years in prison).

Ten years ago: In a surprising development, Pepperdine University said that Whitewater prosecutor Kenneth Starr would step down from the probe to take a full-time job at the school. (Starr reversed himself four days later.)

Five years ago: President Bush opened a three-nation Asian tour in recession-wracked Japan, where he urged Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi to follow through on long-promised economic reforms. The new Transportation Security Administration took over supervision of aviation security from the airline industry and the Federal Aviation Administration. Ward Burton took advantage of Sterling Marlin’s blunder for his first victory in the Daytona 500. (Marlin, who appeared in control of the race, was penalized for getting out of his car and pulling briefly on a damaged fender during the stoppage.)

One year ago: Ten U.S. service members died when a pair of Marine Corps helicopters crashed off the coast of Africa. Harry Whittington, the lawyer shot by Vice President Dick Cheney while quail hunting, left a Corpus Christi, Texas, hospital, saying “accidents do and will happen.” A federal jury in New Orleans cleared Merck and Co. in the death of a 53-year-old Florida man who had taken the painkiller Vioxx. A mudslide in the Philippines killed more than 1,000 people. William Cowsill, lead singer of the family band The Cowsills, died in Calgary, Alberta, at age 58.

Today’s Birthdays: Bandleader Orrin Tucker is 96. Author Margaret Truman Daniel is 83. Actor Hal Holbrook is 82. Mystery writer Ruth Rendell is 77. Singer Bobby Lewis is 74. Comedian Dame Edna (AKA Barry Humphries) is 73. Country singer-songwriter Johnny Bush is 72. Football Hall-of-Famer Jim Brown is 71. Actress Mary Ann Mobley is 68. Actress Brenda Fricker is 62. Actress Rene Russo is 53. Actor Richard Karn is 51. Actor Lou Diamond Phillips is 45. Basketball player Michael Jordan is 44. Actor-comedian Larry, the Cable Guy is 44. TV personality Rene Syler is 44. Movie director Michael Bay is 43. Singer Chante Moore is 40. Rock musician Timothy J. Mahoney (311) is 37. Actor Dominic Purcell is 37. Actress Denise Richards is 36. Rock singer-musician Billie Joe Armstrong (Green Day) is 35. Actor Jerry O’Connell is 33. Country singer Bryan White is 33. Actor Jason Ritter is 27. TV personality Paris Hilton is 26. Actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt is 26.

Thought for Today: “One does evil enough when one does nothing good.” — German proverb.