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15 December: On this day in history

What events happened on 15 December in history? Dominic Sandbrook rounds up the events, births and deaths…

Published: December 15, 2021 at 6:06 am
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15 December 1939: Premiere of Gone with the Wind

Atlanta, Georgia goes gaga for the film and its stars – although some are more welcome than others


For Atlanta, Friday 15 December 1939 was a day like no other. All week the city had been buzzing with excitement. Georgia’s governor, Eurith D Rivers, had proclaimed a public holiday and hundreds of thousands of visitors had piled into Atlanta’s hotels and guest houses.

Everywhere you looked, the Confederate flag fluttered from balconies and flagposts. It was, the future president Jimmy Carter later remarked, “the biggest event to happen in the South in my lifetime”. He was talking, of course, about the premiere of Gone with the Wind.

MGM’s star-studded adaptation of Margaret Mitchell’s bestselling US Civil War novel had begun shooting in January and for months excitement had been building. In secret, the film had already been screened to test audiences in California, who gave it an ecstatic reception. But in choosing Atlanta for the official premiere, the producers knew what they were doing. For, as the self-proclaimed capital of the American South, the city was virtually obliged to give the film a rousing send-off.


The weather that evening was freezing, but nonetheless an estimated 300,000 people lined the streets to watch the stars arrive at Loew’s Grand Theater. Among the guests of honour was a group of Confederate veterans, whose appearance drew great roars of approval from the crowds. But although most of the Hollywood names turned up, one was missing. This was Hattie McDaniel, who later won an Academy Award for her performance as Mammy. Since McDaniel was black, state law prevented her from sitting alongside her white counterparts. Amid all the Civil War nostalgia, here was a reminder of the enduring injustice at the heart of the old South.

Julian Humphrys rounds up smaller anniversaries

15 December 1683
Izaak Walton, author of The Compleat Angler, dies in Winchester aged 90. He is buried in the 'Fishermen's Chapel' in the South Transept of Winchester Cathedral and commemorated in a stained-glass window.
15 December 1832 
The engineer and tower designer Gustave Eiffel is born in Dijon.
15 December 1859
Birth in Bialystok, a Polish town then part of the Russian empire, of LL Zamenhof, the inventor of the international language, Esperanto.
15 December 1862
End of the five-day battle of Fredericksburg, in which General Robert E Lee’s Confederate Army of Northern Virginia inflicted a heavy defeat on General Ambrose Burnside’s Union Army of the Potomac.
15 December 1890
Hunkpapa Sioux leader Sitting Bull was shot dead by Native American police during an attempt to remove him from the Standing Rock Indian Reservation.
15 December 1961
After being found guilty by a Jerusalem court on a range of charges, Adolf Eichmann was sentenced to death by hanging. Eichmann had masterminded the mass transportation of Jews to the death camps of eastern Europe.

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Dominic SandbrookHistorian and presenter

Dominic Sandbrook is historian and presenter, and a regular contributor to BBC History Magazine


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