December 22 in history:
An airline passenger who became known as the “shoe bomber” tried to light an explosive in his shoe during a flight from Paris to Miami on December 22nd, 2001. Other passengers subdued suspect Richard Reid, and the flight was diverted to Boston. Reid, who claimed to belong to Al-Qaeda, was sentenced to life in prison for the bombing plot, which came three months after the September 11th attacks in the U.S. Because of this incident, airport security workers in the U.S. began requiring passengers to take off their shoes for screening before boarding a commercial plane.
A passenger on a New York subway train shot and wounded four young men who surrounded him on December 22nd, 1984. One was left paralyzed by the shooting. Bernhard Goetz admitted to firing at the men, claiming self-defense because they tried to rob him. The men claimed they were panhandling. Some have considered the shooting to be racially motivated, because Goetz was white and the men he shot were black. Goetz was acquitted of attempted murder and assault, and spent eight months behind bars for illegal gun possession. He became known in the New York media as the “subway vigilante.”
Singer Robin Gibb of the Bee Gees and his wife were two of the passengers who survived a deadly train derailment in London in 1967 which killed 49 people. Gibb and his twin brother, Maurice, were born on December 22nd, 1949. The twins and their brother Barry became a very successful recording act, best known for hits such as “Jive Talkin'” and the soundtrack to the movie Saturday Night Fever.
Barbara Billingsley’s career was revived when she played a jive-speaking passenger in the disaster-movie spoof Airplane! Before that, Billingsley was mainly known as TV mom June Cleaver on “Leave It to Beaver.” She was born December 22nd, 1915.
December 21 in history:
The New York World introduced a new type of puzzle on December 21st, 1913. Arthur Wynne of the World invented a diamond-shaped grid, and gave readers clues to words that could be written into the grid, vertically and horizontally. Or across and down, if you prefer. Wynne called his first puzzle a “word-cross,” but soon changed the name to “crossword.” (Solve the “Word-Cross” here.)
The world’s first heart-transplant patient died on this date in 1967. South African grocer Louis Washkansky survived for 18 days after the ground-breaking operation performed by Dr. Christiaan Barnard.
Paul Winchell became the first person to receive a U.S. patent for designing an artificial human heart. But Winchell was better known as an entertainer than as an inventor. Winchell, born December 21st, 1922, became famous as a ventriloquist with his dummy sidekick, Jerry Mahoney, and as the voice of Tigger in Disney’s Winnie the Pooh cartoons.
The wicked Queen demanded Snow White’s heart in a box in the Disney classic Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, which premiered on December 21st, 1937. The movie made history as the first full-length animated feature produced in the U.S.
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.