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.”
September 29 in history:
Pope John Paul, formerly Cardinal Albino Luciani, died on September 29th, 1978, only 34 days after being elected. John Paul was immensely popular during his short reign as pope, prompting his successor, Cardinal Karol Wojtyla, to choose the name John Paul II.
Construction on the Washington National Cathedral began on September 29th, 1907.
On that same day, “Singing Cowboy” Gene Autry was born. Autry was famous for his movies and Christmas recordings, and later in life as the founder of the Los Angeles Angels baseball team.
September 29th was the last day of the regular baseball season in 1957, and two franchises played — and lost — their last games as New York teams on that day before moving to California. The Giants, headed to San Francisco, lost their last home game at the Polo Grounds to Pittsburgh, and the Brooklyn Dodgers were beaten in Philadelphia in their final game before moving to Los Angeles.
A Martian had to settle in Los Angeles after his spaceship crashed, on the sitcom “My Favorite Martian,” which debuted September 29th, 1963 on CBS. Ray Walston was billed as “The Martian,” but he was called “Martin O’Hara” and “Uncle Martin” while living with a newspaper reporter played by Bill Bixby.
Jonathan Harris of “Lost in Space” played the voice of Uncle Martin in a 1970s cartoon show based on “Martian.” On this night in 1963, the same Sunday night that “Martian” premiered, Harris appeared on NBC’s “Bonanza” as author Charles Dickens, visiting the Ponderosa. Harris was a regular cast member on another NBC series that aired that night, “The Bill Dana Show,” in which Dana’s popular character Jose Jimenez worked as a hotel bellhop.