December 20 in history:
You could say that the Civil War began on December 20th, 1860, when South Carolina became the first state to secede from the Union. The election of Abraham Lincoln as president has been blamed as the crucial event which led slave-holding states to break away. The first actual shots in the war were fired in South Carolina the following April.
Elvis Presley’s first movie role, in Love Me Tender, cast him as the only brother in a Southern family who did not fight in the Civil War. Soon after that movie, Elvis became a soldier in real life, when he received his draft notice to join the Army on this date in 1957.
The Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines took part in a joint invasion of Panama on December 20th, 1989. “Operation Just Cause” removed Panama’s dictator, Manuel Noriega, from power. The George H.W. Bush administration declared the invasion was justified as a way to protect the Panama Canal, and to protect U.S. citizens in the country against threats by Noriega.
December 19 in history:
Bill Clinton became the second U.S. president to be impeached, when the House approved impeachment charges against him on December 19th, 1998, halfway through his second term. Clinton was impeached for perjury and obstruction of justice, for lying about his relationship with White House intern Monica Lewinsky. The scandal threatened to sink the Clinton presidency, but Clinton was acquitted by the Senate and finished his term.
A romantic epic about a famous ocean liner that sank in 1912 opened in movie theaters on this day in 1997. The James Cameron film Titanic, starring Leonardo Di Caprio and Kate Winslet, tied the record 11 Oscars won in 1959 by Ben-Hur. Titanic also set box office records which were broken a decade later by another Cameron movie, Avatar.
Unlike the Titanic, three ships that left England for America on December 19th, 1606, did reach their destination. The ships brought more than 100 settlers to the Virginia colony, where they established the community of Jamestown.
The city of Jamestown, New York, has a museum dedicated to hometown celebrity Lucille Ball and her first husband, Desi Arnaz, who were married for 20 years. Lucy’s second marriage, to comedian Gary Morton, lasted 28 years until her death. Morton, who produced Lucy’s TV series after “I Love Lucy,” was born on this date in 1924. It’s also the birthday of actress Elaine Joyce (1945), known for many television appearances and stage shows including the musical “Sugar.” Like Morton, Joyce also is famous as the spouse of a comedy legend, playwright Neil Simon.
December 18 in history:
The President of the United States got married on December 18th, 1915. Woodrow Wilson’s first wife, Ellen, died a year after moving into the White House. Widower Wilson met widow Edith Bolling Galt in 1915, and they wed just nine months later. Edith Wilson is sometimes considered America’s first female president, for assuming some duties of the presidency after Wilson had a stroke during his second term.
The first Mrs. Wilson was buried at a family cemetery plot in Georgia in 1914. In the 1914 baseball season, Ty Cobb, the “Georgia Peach,” won the American League batting title for the eighth year in a row. Cobb, part of the first class of players voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, was born December 18th, 1886.
Two actors with baseball movies on their resumes share a birthday with Ty Cobb. Brad Pitt (born 1963) starred in Moneyball, along with Fight Club and Ocean’s Eleven, and is also known for his marriage to Jennifer Aniston and his relationship with Angelina Jolie. Ray Liotta (1954) played Shoeless Joe Jackson in Field of Dreams, but is best known for the mob drama Goodfellas.
Wrigley Field in Chicago is one of the oldest baseball stadiums in America, but it was also the home field of the Chicago Bears football team for 50 years. The Bears won the first NFL playoff game on December 18th, 1932 over the Portsmouth Spartans. The weather was too cold to play at Wrigley, so the game was moved indoors to Chicago Stadium.
December 17 in history:
The Wright Brothers earned their wings on December 17th, 1903, by successfully flying an airplane at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. That was the day Orville Wright made the first powered flight of a plane, going 120 feet in 12 seconds. Later in the day, brother Wilbur kept the plane in the air for about a minute.
Other flying objects were the focus of Project Blue Book. But the U.S. Air Force officially closed the book on UFO investigations on December 17th, 1969. In nearly two decades, the government collected nearly 13,000 reports of unidentified flying objects. Most of the reports were explained easily, but of the objects that remained “unidentified,” the Air Force said it found no proof that any of them was an alien spacecraft.
On the same day that Project Blue Book was declared to be over, there was an unusual nighttime sighting all across America, on TV screens. More than 20 million Americans watched long-haired, falsetto-voiced singer Tiny Tim become a married man on “The Tonight Show.” Host Johnny Carson had invited Tim (real name, Herbert Khaury) to wed his teenage fiancee Victoria Budinger, alias “Miss Vicki,” on the December 17th broadcast in ’69.
“If TV has taught me anything, it’s that miracles always happen to poor kids at Christmas.” That wasn’t said by Tiny Tim from “A Christmas Carol,” but by another fictional child: Bart Simpson. It’s a quote from the very first half-hour episode of “The Simpsons,” aired on December 17th, 1989: a holiday story called “Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire.” Bart, Homer, Marge, Lisa, and Maggie originated as characters in short films by cartoonist Matt Groening featured on “The Tracey Ullman Show.” “The Simpsons” is now the longest-running American sitcom and the longest-running American animated program.
December 16 in history:
America’s original “tea party” protest happened on December 16th, 1773, when dozens of colonists boarded three ships in Boston Harbor and dumped over 300 chests of tea into the water. The Boston Tea Party was a rebellion against British tax laws imposed on the American colonies.
There is disagreement about whether the tea thrown into the harbor was from China or India. Science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke wrote books about the Indian Ocean, and lived for decades on the island of Sri Lanka. Clarke, born on this date in 1917, is best known for collaborating with Stanley Kubrick on the screenplay of “2001: A Space Odyssey.”
Much of the music in “2001” was written by classical composers Richard and Johann Strauss. In Kubrick’s next film, “A Clockwork Orange,” the main character’s favorite composer is Ludwig von Beethoven, known for his nine symphonies. As fans of the “Peanuts” comic strip know, Beethoven’s birthday is celebrated on December 16th. He was born in Bonn, Germany, in 1770.
December 15 in history:
The first 10 amendments to the U.S. Constitution, known as the Bill of Rights, took effect on December 15th, 1791 when they were ratified by the Virginia legislature.
The 21st Amendment, ending 13 years of Prohibition, took effect on this date in 1933, 10 days after it was adopted. Many Americans did not wait until the 15th before openly drinking alcohol again.
Government work to enforce Prohibition inspired the TV series “The Untouchables.” You could call “Miami Vice” a similar show, about cops fighting the drug trade in the 1980s. “Miami Vice” star Don Johnson was born December 15th, 1949.
New York dairy farmer Max Yasgur said he didn’t like the drugs and “free love” associated with the hippie culture. But Yasgur, born December 15th, 1919, said young people should have the freedom to hold a music festival on his property. The Woodstock festival drew half-a-million people to Yasgur’s farm in August, 1969.
December 14 in history:
The last of the Apollo astronauts to walk on the moon blasted off from the lunar surface on December 14th, 1972. Eugene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt completed three walks outside the lunar lander during the 75 hours they spent on the moon as part of the Apollo 17 mission.
The Saturn rockets that launched men to the moon were developed at the Marshall Space Flight Center near Huntsville, Alabama. On this date in 1819, Alabama became the 22nd state to join the Union.
The Alabama state quarter issued by the U.S. Mint in 2003 features a portrait of author Helen Keller on the tail side. Actress Patty Duke, born Anna Marie Duke on December 14th, 1946, won an Oscar at age 16 for recreating her stage role as blind and deaf Helen in the movie, “The Miracle Worker.” She later starred as “identical cousins” on “The Patty Duke Show,” and as an adult has written and spoken widely about her experience with bipolar disorder.
Patty Duke played Martha Washington in the 1984 TV miniseries “George Washington.” On December 14th, 1799, George Washington died at his Virginia estate, Mount Vernon. Medical experts know that Washington had soreness and swelling in the throat, but some believe the doctors’ practice of bleeding hastened his death.
Another famous George who died on this date was Notre Dame football star George Gipp. He was 25 when he died on December 14th, 1920, apparently from a throat infection. Future U.S. president Ronald Reagan played Gipp in the 1940 movie “Knute Rockne, All American,” in which the character urged Coach Rockne to “win one for the Gipper.”