This Weekend in History: the Treaties over the use of the Panama Canal Zone signed, Aggie Bonfire collapse and other events of the dates
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This Weekend in History: the Treaties over the use of the Panama Canal Zone signed, Aggie Bonfire collapse and other events of the dates


A number of interesting events have taken place on November 17th and 18th in U.S. history. Here is our take on the most interesting and valuable of them.

November 17, 1911 - Omega Psi Phi Fraternity is founded at Howard University

America is a country of different student fraternities, and this is something that makes the social life there really special, thus – we can’t ignore the fact that 107 years ago the first predominantly African-American Fraternity (Omega Psi Phi) was founded at the traditional Black college of Howard University.

“Friendship is Essential to the Soul” states the motto of this brotherhood. Throughout the world, many notable members of this fraternity have been recognized as leaders in the arts, academics, athletics, entertainment, business, civil rights, education, government, and science fields. Individuals such as: Bill Cosby, Samuel M. Nabrit, Walter E. Massey, Earl Graves, Michael Jordan, Shaquille O'Neal and Roger Kingdom – were the members of Omega Psi Phi.

November 18, 1901 and 1903 - Hay–Pauncefote and Hay–Bunau-Varilla Treaties are signed respectively

A quite interesting historical coincidence, as two key treaties that decided the future fate of Panama Isthmus were signed on the same date, November 18th, with the difference in two years.

The Hay-Pauncefote Treaty of 1901 was an agreement signed between the United States and Great Britain and served as a legal preliminary to the U.S. building the Panama Canal. Hay-Pauncefote Treaty nullified the previously applied to the situation in the region Clayton–Bulwer Treaty of 1850 (since the U.S. gave up the plans to build the canal through Nicaragua) and gave the United States the exclusive rights to create and control a canal across the Central American isthmus, so as to connect the Pacific and the Atlantic Oceans through the territory of Panama.

After the U.S. and the U.K. (the leading colonial power in the world at the beginning of the 20th Century) solved all the issues they had, in just two years and on the same date - the U.S. signed a similar agreement with the state of Panama itself, and that agreement received the title of the Hay–Bunau-Varilla Treaty.

Since at that time Panama didn’t have its own independent diplomatic school, as it had only seceded from the Republic of Colombia two weeks before, the state was represented by Philippe-Jean Bunau-Varilla, who was a French engineer involved in the future construction of the Canal. Of course, he was heavily influenced by the Americans and signed all the needed documents without any problem. Secretary of State John Hay represented the U.S. at these “negotiations.”

Yet, no matter how corrupt and, to some extent, unjust both these treaties were, the global goal of building the Panama Canal was achieved, and the whole of humanity benefited from that.

November 18, 1999 – The Aggie Bonfire collapse

As we’ve already stated at the beginning of today’s chapter of “This Day in History,” student life plays a very important role in American society, and Aggie Bonfire, which was a long-standing annual tradition at Texas A&M University as part of the college rivalry with the University of Texas at Austin, had also been a part of it. For about 90 years, Texas A&M students – also known as Aggies - built and burned a bonfire on campus each fall, which symbolized Aggie students’ desperate and “burning desire” to beat their rivals from the University of Texas. The bonfire used to be lit annually, right before Thanksgiving.

The tradition was declared officially over back in 1999, when the construction of the bonfire (a 59-foot high stack, consisting of about 5000 logs!) collapsed during construction, killing 12 and injuring 27 people. And even despite numerous attempts to continue this strange tradition after the tragedy, Aggie Bonfire – officially - is now just a part of U.S. Student Life history, now burnt just by a small group of enthusiasts and re-enactors. 

These are the most notable events in U.S. history that occurred this weekend, at least in our view.

Author: USA Really