Category: Today in history

PRESIDENTS AND STRUCTURES

February 21st in history:

Richard Nixon became the first U.S. president to visit China on February 21st, 1972. Nixon’s historic week-long visit included a stop at the Great Wall of China.

A different kind of structure was discovered on this date in 1953. February 21st was the date James Watson and Francis Crick discovered the structure of a DNA molecule.

The Washington Monument was the world’s tallest structure when it was dedicated on February 21st, 1885, one day before George Washington’s birthday.  The monument is about 40 feet taller than the previous record-holder, the Cologne Cathedral in Germany.

George Washington was once played by Kelsey Grammer in a TV movie about Benedict Arnold. Grammer is best known as Frasier Crane on “Frasier” and “Cheers,” and Sideshow Bob on “The Simpsons.” He was born February 21st, 1955.

SPIRITS AND HIGH FLYING

February 20th in history:

Congress was ready to end Prohibition in 1933. On February 20th of that year, members of Congress proposed the 21st Amendment, to repeal the 18th Amendment that banned liquor in the U.S. and led to the rise of gangsters such as Al Capone.

Chicago lawyer Edward Joseph O’Hare helped send Capone to prison. O’Hare’s son, Edward “Butch” O’Hare, became the first American flying ace of World War II on February 20th, 1942, by shooting down Japanese bombers over the Pacific. Chicago’s O’Hare Airport is named after Butch.

Twenty years later, on February 20th, 1962, John Glenn became a different type of flying ace. That was the day Glenn became the first American to orbit the Earth in the Mercury capsule Friendship 7.

February 20th is also the birthday of some performers who have played high-flying characters:

Actress Sandy Duncan (born 1946) has played Peter Pan frequently on stage;

Comedian Joel Hodgson (1960) was stuck on a spaceship, watching bad movies with two wise-cracking robots, on the TV series “Mystery Science Theater 3000”;

And French Stewart (1964) was part of a “family” of space aliens posing as humans on the sitcom “3rd Rock from the Sun.”

SIXTEEN CANDLES, BIRTHDAYS AND PARTIES

February 18th in history:

Actress Molly Ringwald was born February 18th, 1968. On that same day, a Chicago-area high school student named John Hughes had 18 candles on his birthday cake. Hughes became a popular movie director and featured Ringwald in three hit films, including “Sixteen Candles” and “The Breakfast Club.” Most of Hughes’ movies are set in and around Chicago.

The Chicago 7 were acquitted on this day in 1970. The seven anti-war protesters had been tried for conspiring to incite riots during the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago.

On February 18th, 1856, the Know-Nothing Party nominated its first and only presidential candidate, former president Millard Fillmore. He carried only the state of Maryland in the November election.

YOU GOT TROUBLE IN THE POTOMAC RIVER CITY

February 17th in history:

Thomas Jefferson was elected president by the U.S. House on this date in 1801. The House had to break an electoral tie between Jefferson and Aaron Burr. As a result, Burr became vice president.

A helicopter buzzed the White House on February 17th, 1974, during the final months of Richard Nixon’s presidency. The chopper was stolen and flown by a disgruntled Army private named Robert Preston.

Actor Robert Preston was starring in the original Broadway production of “The Music Man” in February of 1958. For those who couldn’t go to Broadway, television was growing in popularity as an entertainment medium. On February 17th, 1958, Pope Pius XII declared St. Clare of Assisi the patron saint of television.

If there were no such thing as TV, there would be no “Larry the Cable Guy.” Larry, known in real life as Dan Whitney, celebrates his birthday on this day (1963).

DICTATORS AND KINGS

February 16th in history:

howard-carter-examining-tutankhamun-sarcophagus-king-tut_52859_600x450

On February 16th, 1959, Fidel Castro officially became the premier of Cuba. Many people mark January 1st of 1959 instead as the date Castro took power, because that was the day former dictator Fulgencia Batista was forced out of office.

A long-ago king made news on February 16th, 1923. That’s when archaeologist Howard Carter unsealed the burial chamber of Egypt’s King Tut.

And the Kings had to stop playing on this date in 2005. So did the Devils, Bruins and Canadiens, and all of the other teams in the National Hockey League. The NHL cancelled the rest of the 2004-’05 season because of a labor dispute.

IT AIN’T OVER ‘TIL IT’S “OVER”

February 15th in history:

The red-and-white Maple Leaf flag first flew over Canada on February 15th, 1965.

That same year, the last piece of the Gateway Arch was put in place, 600 feet over the city of St. Louis, Missouri. The Arch has become the most visible symbol of St. Louis, established on February 15th, 1764.

Another arch was immortalized in a tune by songwriter Harold Arlen, born on this day in 1905. He wrote the music to “Over the Rainbow” and the other songs in “The Wizard of Oz.”

If you wanted to sing “Over the Rainbow” over the Internet, you might post a video on YouTube. February 15th, 2005 was the first full day of operation for the do-it-yourself video website, but there were no videos to watch until the following April, when founder Jawed Karim posted a clip of himself visiting the San Diego Zoo.

PRESIDENTIAL IMAGE

February 14th in history:

James K. Polk posed for photographer Mathew Brady on February 14th, 1849, less than a month before leaving the White House.  It appears to be the first time that an incumbent U.S. president posed for a solo photograph.  President Polk had been photographed earlier in his term, in a group shot with members of his cabinet.

Television cameras came to the White House on Valentine’s Day, 1962, for a prime-time tour of the mansion, hosted by First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy. The tour was shown on all three major networks.

George Washington never slept in the White House, but George Washington Slept Here was the name of a popular movie starring comedian Jack Benny, born February 14th, 1894.  Benny had a weekly show on radio, and then TV, for over 30 years, built around his character of a cheapskate who played the violin badly and always claimed to be 39 years old.  Benny’s hometown of Waukegan, Illinois, named a school after him in the 1960s.  The sports teams at Benny Middle School are nicknamed the 39ers.

Jack Benny was born in Chicago, not Waukegan.  On his 35th birthday in 1929, seven men were shot to death in a Chicago garage, in what became known as the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, the most famous gangster-related murders of the 1920s.  The victims were associated with the “Bugs” Moran gang in Chicago.  Rival gang leader Al Capone was blamed for the killings.  In the 1959 comedy Some Like It Hot, Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon escape Chicago by posing as women after witnessing the Massacre.