Category: Today in history

FIRE AND ICE

October 31 in history:

Real-life spooks and scares on Halloween, in history…

Seances are often held on Halloween, with the hope of contacting the spirit of Harry Houdini.  The magician and escape artist died of peritonitis on October 31st, 1926, several days after a young man punched him hard in the abdomen to see whether he really could withstand powerful blows.  Houdini said he didn’t have time to prepare his abdominal muscles for any punches before he was hit.

A “Holiday on Ice” performance came to a disastrous end on Halloween night in 1963, at the Indiana State Fairgrounds.  Near the end of the show, a fiery explosion killed dozens and injured hundreds among the four thousand people inside the Coliseum.  The blast was blamed on a propane leak at a popcorn stand.  The ice rink was turned into a temporary morgue after the explosion.

A tiger shark attacked 13-year-old surfing champion Bethany Hamilton while she was floating on her surfboard near her home in Hawaii on this date in 2003.  The shark took Hamilton’s left arm, and a chunk of her surfboard.  She recovered from the injury to resume her surfing career.  Hamilton’s ordeal inspired the 2011 movie “Soul Surfer.”

And what would Halloween be without Candy?  Comedian John Candy, known for roles on “SCTV” and in the movies “Splash” and “Planes, Trains and Automobiles,” was born October 31st, 1950.  Halloween was also the birthday of “I Was a Teenage Werewolf” star Michael Landon (born 1936), better known for his TV roles as Little Joe Cartwright on “Bonanza” and Pa Ingalls on “Little House on the Prairie.”

MY FAVORITE MARTIANS

October 30 in history:

On October 30th, 1991, a search began in the Atlantic for the missing fishing boat Andrea Gail, which had left a port in Massachusetts a few days earlier.  The boat and its six-person crew were never found, apparently lost during a severe storm.  The story of the shipwreck inspired the 2000 movie “The Perfect Storm.”

Hurricane Sandy, also called a “superstorm,” was causing death and destruction along the Atlantic Coast on October 30th, 2012.  The storm had reached land on the 29th near Atlantic City, New Jersey.  The 1980 movie “Atlantic City” was made by French director Louis Malle, born on this date in 1932.

Louis Malle married actress Candice Bergen around the time “Atlantic City” was filmed.  Candice’s father, ventriloquist Edgar Bergen, was starring on “The Chase and Sanborn Hour” on NBC on October 30th, 1938, heard by close to 70 percent of the American radio audience that night.  But a competing program on CBS grabbed headlines and panicked listeners by portraying a fictional Martian invasion of New Jersey in the form of radio news reports.  “The Mercury Theatre of the Air,” hosted by 23-year-old Orson Welles, dramatized the H.G. Wells novel “The War of the Worlds.”  The publicity over the Martian drama led New Jersey-based Campbell Soup to become the sponsor of “The Mercury Theatre,” renamed “The Campbell Playhouse.”

An alien visitor landed in Milwaukee on the 1978 episode of “Happy Days” which introduced Robin Williams as the character “Mork from Ork.”  The climactic scene of the episode pitted Mork versus Fonzie in a rumble at Arnold’s Drive-In.  Henry Winkler, alias “The Fonz,” was born October 30th, 1945.

 

CHET AND THE NET

October 29 in history:

The first version of the internet was called the ARPANET.  On October 29th, 1969, two computers were linked together to communicate with each other for the first time.  One was at UCLA, and the other was in Northern California.

One man in New York, one man in Washington.  It was a high-tech television partnership that lasted for 14 years on NBC’s “Huntley-Brinkley Report,” which began on this date in 1956.  Chet Huntley was at the New York anchor desk, with David Brinkley in D.C.

Huntley and Brinkley also anchored NBC coverage of many space flights in the ’60s.  John Glenn first flew in space in 1962.  By the time he went into orbit again, Glenn had been elected to the U.S. Senate from Ohio.  His second space mission, as part of the crew of the shuttle Discovery, began on October 29th, 1998.

Richard Dreyfuss went into space aboard an alien ship at the end of the 1977 film “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.”  He won an Oscar for another movie he made the same year, “The Goodbye Girl.”  Dreyfuss was born October 29th, 1947.

A TORCH AND AN ARCH

October 28 in history:

The Statue of Liberty was completed and dedicated in New York harbor on October 28th, 1886.  It was built in France, and then taken apart, boxed up, and the pieces were sent by ship to America.

The statue is considered a national monument, as is the Gateway Arch of St. Louis, a memorial to Thomas Jefferson.  On this date in 1965, the final piece of the 630 foot high steel arch was lifted into place.

The original concept for a riverfront memorial in St. Louis was proposed in 1933, the year that Prohibition ended.  The ban on alcohol in the U.S. took effect with passage of the Volstead Act on October 28th of 1919, followed shortly after by the 18th Amendment.

The year 1933 also was when Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt moved into the White House.  Actress Jane Alexander is famous for playing Mrs. Roosevelt in two TV mini-series, and she has served as head of the National Endowment for the Arts.  Alexander was born October 28th, 1939.

MORMONS GO HOME

October 27 in history:

Confrontations between Mormons and other citizens led the governor of Missouri, Lilburn Boggs, to order all Mormons to be expelled from the state.  The order issued on October 27th, 1838, was known as the “Extermination Order.”  It was repealed officially in 1976.

Fans of the St. Louis Cardinals might have wished for an order to keep the Boston Red Sox out of Missouri in 2004.  On October 27th, 2004, the Red Sox beat the Cardinals at Busch Stadium to win a World Series for the first time since 1918.  The final scene of the movie “Fever Pitch,” with Drew Barrymore and Jimmy Fallon, was filmed at the end of that game.

Boston has one of the oldest subway systems in America, introduced in 1912.  But it’s not as old or as famous as the New York subway, which opened on this date in 1904. 

YOU’VE COME A LONG WAY, BABY

October 26 in history:

The Erie Canal, 363 miles long, opened on October 26th, 1825.  It allowed boats to travel by water continuously between the Hudson River at Albany, N.Y. and Lake Erie.

The route for the Pony Express mail service between Missouri and California was roughly two thousand miles, which could be covered by horses and riders in about 10 days.  When telegraph lines finally extended from coast to coast, there was no more need for the Pony Express.  The service shut down for good on October 26th, 1861.

A spacecraft has to travel several days from the earth to reach the far side of the moon.  The Soviet craft Lunik 3 took the first photographs ever made of the moon’s “dark side”.  The U.S.S.R. released those photos on this date in 1959.

Two women born on October 26th in the 1940s have come a long way, taking vastly different paths to fame:

Hillary Rodham (born 1947) was a student commencement speaker at Wellesley in 1969, and was featured in Life Magazine as a result.  Married Bill Clinton, became First Lady, elected U.S. Senator, ran for president, and was appointed secretary of state.

Jaclyn Smith (born either 1945 or 1947) appeared in magazines in her twenties, as a model for Breck shampoo.  She was the only one of “Charlie’s Angels” to stay with the original series for its full five-year run.  And she also became a First Lady…playing Jackie Kennedy in a TV movie biography.

BETWEEN HEAVEN AND HELL

October 25 in history:

The United Nations traded in old China for new on October 25th, 1971…when Taiwan (Nationalist China) was expelled and Communist China was admitted as a member.  The U.S. ambassador to the U.N., George Bush, walked out in protest.  Bush later served as an unofficial ambassador to China before being elected vice-president and president of the U.S.

Another dramatic moment at the U.N. occurred on this date in 1962, during the Cuban Missile Crisis.  The U.S. ambassador in ’62, Adlai Stevenson, presented evidence to the Security Council that the Soviets had missiles in Cuba.  When the Soviet ambassador did not respond to the charge right away, Stevenson said he was prepared to wait for an answer “until hell freezes over.”

A “primrose path to Hell” is how Archbishop Francis Beckman of Dubuque described swing music in a speech to the National Council of Catholic Women on October 25th, 1938.  Beckman made that speech on his 63rd birthday.

Wonder what the archbishop would have thought of rock and roll music.  It’s the birthday of singer Katy Perry (born 1984), who became a star with the song “I Kissed a Girl.”  Perry switched to pop music after releasing a Christian rock album under her real name, Katy Hudson.  She changed her last name to avoid confusion with actress Kate Hudson.

October 25th, 1977, was the day of Lynyrd Skynyrd singer Ronnie Van Zant’s funeral.  Van Zant was one of six people killed in the crash of the band’s plane in Mississippi.  The new Lynyrd Skynyrd album “Street Survivors” was in stores at the time, and coincidentally showed band members surrounded by flames.  Released that same week:  Meat Loaf’s album “Bat Out of Hell,” which included not only the title track, but also “Heaven Can Wait” and “Paradise by the Dashboard Light.”