[Editor’s Note: We are re-sharing this post as it seems to be getting some attention today in light of the passing of Prince.]
Does April Go Hand in Hand With Tragedy?
Over the weekend, the thought crossed my mind, well, it’s almost mid-April, time for a tragedy to happen. And I’m not a pessimist by nature. It’s just started to feel the last few years like mid-April is circled on the calendar with “Tragedy!” written across it in big red letters. But surely it’s not really that way–it just feels like it. Right?
The Definition of Tragedy
That means it’s time to count. To compare how April events stack up next to the rest of the year. The hard part is criteria. History is vast. For my sanity, with some other GeekMoms’ help, I narrowed it down to this. Events must:
- Have happened between the 15th and the 20th of the month.
- Caused fatalities.
- Be in the US.
We made an exception for “in the US” on the Titanic but counted only American deaths. (Not entirely consistent, but compromise.) I also excluded war deaths, which is largely excluded by the “in the US” part, but this notably cuts out the Battle of Antietam, the bloodiest one-day battle in US history, killing 23,000 on September 17. In fact, these criteria exclude quite a few notable historic events in those date ranges, including:
- My Lai massacre
- Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum art heist
- Hillsborough Stadium disaster
- Battle of Culloden
- Good Friday Massacre, which, despite its name, involved no deaths
- Black Monday
- The return of Apollo 13
And of course, I almost certainly missed some things that are similar to others here, but I think it’s safe to assume I would miss them equally across the calendar, so we’ll call it a wash. (This is hardly deep scientific inquiry.)
The Hard Facts on Tragedy in April, According To Our Criteria
Here’s a comparison of that date range in each month with the number of fatal, tragic events in blue and the number of deaths in red:
As it turns out… April does stand out a bit. I also learned I’m not sure I want to travel on July 17 again (see table below). That leaves the question of why.
There is at least one April event due to connection–the Oklahoma City bombing was in part a reaction to what happened at Waco two years earlier.
The August events are clearly seasonal, weather-related. But other than that, there’s not a lot of pattern here, which makes it that much more interesting. Of course, the proximity of anniversaries on the calendar is not really a sign of anything, and I truly expected my counting to show more evenness across the year.
I’m not at all suggesting there are deep, mystical forces at work or some connection like a blue box always showing up for Christmas in London. It’s just interesting to see.
For reference, here’s the list of events I used:
|January 15||Boston Molasses Flood||15|
|January 16||TWA flight 3 crash||22|
|January 17||Cleveland Elementary (Stockton) massacre||6|
|January 17||Northridge earthquake||57|
|January 18||United flight 266||38|
|February 20||Great White nightclub fire||100|
|March 18||Tri-State Tornado, (deadliest in US history)||747|
|April 15||Abraham Lincoln died||1|
|April 15||Titanic sank||119|
|April 15||Great Mississippi Flood (1927, worst flood in US history)||250|
|April 15||Boston Marathon bombing||3|
|April 16||Virginia Tech shooting||32|
|April 18||1906 earthquake in San Francisco||3,425|
|April 19||End of the Branch Davidian siege||86|
|April 19||Oklahoma City bombing||168|
|April 20||Columbine school shooting||15|
|April 20||Deepwater Horizon explosion||11|
|May 15||Cleveland Clinic fire||123|
|May 18||Mount St. Helens 1980 eruption||57|
|June 15||General Slocum fire||1,021|
|June 17||Union Station Massacre||60|
|July 17||Great Train Wreck of 1856||60|
|July 17||USMC R4Q NROTC crash||43|
|July 17||Kansas City Hyatt walkway collapse||114|
|July 17||TWA flight 800||230|
|July 18||San Ysidro McDonald’s massacre||21|
|July 20||Aurora, CO movie theater shooting||12|
|August 17||Hurricane Camille||248|
|August 17||Yellowstone earthquake||28|
|August 18||Hurricane Alicia||22|
|August 19||Salem witch trials||5|
|August 19||Hurricane Diane||184|
|September 16||1920 Wall Street bombing||38|
|September 18||Okeechobee hurricane||~2,500|
|October 15||Staten Island Ferry crash||11|
|October 17||Loma Prieta earthquake||63|
|October 20||Oakland Hills firestorm||25|
|November 18||Aggie bonfire collapse||12|
|December 15||Silver Bridge collapse||46|