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Today in history: December 21

Quote of the day: "Many human beings say that they enjoy the winter, but what they really enjoy is feeling proof against it." — Richard Adams, English author.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Today is Tuesday, Dec. 21, the 356th day of 2004. There are 10 days left in the year.

Today's highlight in history:
On Dec. 21, 1620, Pilgrims aboard the “Mayflower” went ashore for the first time at present-day Plymouth, Mass.

On this date:
In 1804, 200 years ago, British statesman Benjamin Disraeli was born in London.

In 1898, scientists Pierre and Marie Curie discovered the radioactive element radium.

In 1914, the first feature-length silent film comedy, “Tillie’s Punctured Romance,” was released.

In 1945, Gen. George S. Patton died in Heidelberg, Germany, of injuries from a car accident.

In 1948, the state of Eire (formerly the Irish Free State) declared its independence.

In 1954, Dr. Samuel H. Sheppard, an osteopathic surgeon, was convicted of murdering his pregnant wife, Marilyn, and was sentenced to life in prison. (Sheppard spent 10 years in prison before the Supreme Court overturned the verdict; he was acquitted at retrial in 1966 and died four years later.)

In 1968, Apollo 8 was launched on a mission to orbit the moon.

In 1971, the U.N. Security Council chose Kurt Waldheim to succeed U Thant as Secretary-General.

In 1978, police in Des Plaines, Ill., arrested John W. Gacy Jr. and began unearthing the remains of 33 men and boys that Gacy was later convicted of murdering.

In 1988, 270 people were killed when a terrorist bomb exploded aboard a Pam Am Boeing 747 over Lockerbie, Scotland, sending wreckage crashing to the ground.

Ten years ago: A firebomb exploded on a crowded New York City subway train, injuring 48 people. (Unemployed computer programmer Edward Leary was later convicted of attempted murder and sentenced to 94 years in prison.)

Five years ago: Amid heightened concerns about the possibility of a holiday terrorist attack, security was ordered tightened at American airports and the Pentagon said it was taking “appropriate action” to protect U.S. forces overseas.

One year ago: The government raised the national threat level to orange, indicating a high risk of terrorist attack (it was lowered back to yellow the following Jan. 9). More than 150 people were killed in mudslides in the Philippines. Soviet diplomat Oleg Troyanovsky died at age 84.

Today’s birthdays: Former Austrian president and former U.N. Secretary-General Kurt Waldheim is 86. Ventriloquist Paul Winchell is 82. Country singer Freddie Hart is 78. Actor Ed Nelson is 76. Talk show host Phil Donahue is 69. Movie director John Avildsen is 69. Actress Jane Fonda is 67. Actor Larry Bryggman is 66. Singer Carla Thomas is 62. Musician Albert Lee is 61. Conductor Michael Tilson Thomas is 60. Actor Samuel L. Jackson is 56. Movie producer Jeffrey Katzenberg is 54. Singer Betty Wright is 51. Tennis star Chris Evert is 50. Actress Jane Kaczmarek is 49. Country singer Lee Roy Parnell is 48. Entertainer Jim Rose is 48. Actor-comedian Ray Romano is 47. Country singer Christy Forester (The Forester Sisters) is 42. Actor-comedian Andy Dick is 39. Rock musician Gabrielle Glaser is 39. Actor Kiefer Sutherland is 38. Actress Karri Turner (“JAG”) is 38. Actress Khrystyne Haje is 36. Country singer Brad Warren (The Warren Brothers) is 36. Actress Julie Delpy is 35. Singer-musician Brett Scallions (Fuel) is 33.