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.
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.
February 6th in history:
Ronald Reagan served two terms in the Oval Office after successful careers as a radio announcer, an actor, and Governor of California. The 40th president was born in Tampico, Illinois, on this date in 1911.
The 20th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution took effect on February 6th, 1933. The amendment clarified the order of succession to the presidency, and moved the start of a presidential term from March 4th to January 20th.
Cardinal Achille Ratti succeeded to the position of pope on February 6th, 1922, taking the name Pius XI. It took 14 ballots for the College of Cardinals to elect Ratti.
James II succeeded his brother, Charles II, as king of England on this date in 1685.
And Princess Elizabeth, the daughter of King George VI, became Queen Elizabeth II of England on February 6th, 1952. That was the second birthday of the daughter of another “King”: singer Natalie Cole, whose father was Nat “King” Cole.
February 1st in history:
One of the songs most associated with the Civil War was the “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” which put new words to the tune “John Brown’s Body.” Julia Ward Howe’s lyrics for “Battle Hymn” first appeared in the Atlantic Monthly magazine on February 1st, 1862.
Toward the end of the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln signed the 13th Amendment, abolishing slavery, on this date in 1865. The 2012 Steven Spielberg movie Lincoln mostly deals with President Lincoln’s fight to pass the amendment.
A different freedom — freedom of speech — was under dispute after the Super Bowl halftime show on February 1st, 2004. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) fined CBS for broadcasting the brief moment where Justin Timberlake tore part of Janet Jackson’s costume, exposing her breast, in what became known as a “wardrobe malfunction.”
March 24th in history:
On March 24th, 1900, the mayor of New York City broke ground for the city’s first subway line to link Manhattan and Brooklyn. The first New York subway would open four years later.
March 24th is the birthday of American businessman George Francis Train (1829). Appropriately, Train was one founder of the Union Pacific railroad. He also campaigned for president, and for “Dictator of the United States.” Train made a trip around the world in less than three months, and reportedly inspired Jules Verne to write “Around the World in 80 Days.” Verne died on this date in 1905, at age 77.
You don’t have to be a science fiction nerd to like Jules Verne’s works, or to like two actors with March 24th birthdays who are famous for playing nerds in the movies and on TV: Robert Carradine (born 1954), Lewis Skolnick from Revenge of the Nerds, and Jim Parsons (1973), Dr. Sheldon Cooper on “The Big Bang Theory.”
March 11th in history:
A three-day standoff in Washington, D.C. ended on March 11th, 1977, when a group of armed Hanafi Muslims released dozens of hostages who had been held at three buildings. Two people died during the siege, and future Washington Mayor Marion Barry was wounded by gunfire.
The Branch Davidian standoff at Waco, Texas had being going for two weeks when Janet Reno became the first female attorney general of the U.S. on this day in 1993. Reno was blamed by many for the fiery and deadly conclusion of the Waco incident, but she remained head of the Justice Department for almost eight years.
Justice Antonin Scalia served nearly 30 years on the U.S. Supreme Court, after being appointed in 1986. Scalia was born March 11th, 1936.
Author and attorney Erle Stanley Gardner played a judge in the final episode of the “Perry Mason” TV series in 1966…which is fitting, because Gardner created the character of Mason, a defense lawyer who never loses a case. Gardner was 80 years old when he died on March 11th, 1970.
March 6th in history:
The Alamo fell to Mexican forces on this day in 1836, after a 13-day siege over whether the land would be controlled by Mexico or settlers of Texas.
“The Defense of the Alamo” was a 1953 episode of the TV series “You Are There,” hosted by Walter Cronkite of CBS News. Cronkite later went on to anchor “The CBS Evening News” and live coverage of many manned space flights. He also hosted a Saturday morning revival of “You Are There” in the 1970s, which included a story about the Alamo. Cronkite’s last night on the “Evening News” was March 6th, 1981.
March 6th is the birthday of Mercury astronaut Gordon Cooper (1927), and the first woman in space, Valentina Tereshkova (1937). It’s also the birthday of a guy who knows about “The Dark Side of the Moon” — Pink Floyd musician David Gilmour (1946).