January 15th in history:
Twenty-one people were killed and more than 100 others were injured by a flash flood in Boston on January 15th, 1919 — a flood of molasses. A 50-foot-tall holding tank owned by the Purity Distilling Company burst open, and more than two million gallons of molasses poured out in a wave that was said to be as high as 15 feet. The tank had sprung leaks before that day, and experts think the “Great Molasses Flood” might have been caused by unusually warm winter weather.
Another East Coast disaster 90 years later had a much happier ending. January 15th, 2009, was the date of the “Miracle on the Hudson,” when U.S. Airways pilot Chesley Sullenberger landed Flight 1549 from New York’s La Guardia Airport onto the Hudson River after birds flew into the engines two minutes into the flight. All of the crew members and the 150 passengers survived the water landing.
A Mississippi plane crash in 1977 killed three members of the band Lynyrd Skynyrd, including the lead singer of “Free Bird,” Ronnie Van Zant — born on this date in 1948. And it’s the birthday of actor Lloyd Bridges (1913), who had a career revival after appearing in the disaster-film spoof “Airplane!”
December 29 in history:
The former Republic of Texas became the 28th state in the Union on December 29th, 1845.
The U.S. has had two presidents named Johnson…one from Texas, and one from Tennessee. Andrew Johnson of Tennessee was born on this date in 1808. Johnson made history as the first president to be impeached, and as the vice president who rose to the Oval Office after Abraham Lincoln’s assassination.
A 1988 mini-series about Lincoln starred Sam Waterston as President Lincoln, and Mary Tyler Moore as Mary Todd Lincoln. Moore, born on December 29th, 1936, is best known for her comedy roles as Mary Richards on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” and Laura Petrie on “The Dick Van Dyke Show.” She and Waterston also worked together in the 1986 movie Just Between Friends, in which Ted Danson played her husband. Danson, born on this date in 1947, has starred on the TV series “CSI,” “Becker,” “The Good Place,” and on “Cheers” as Boston bartender Sam Malone.
Boston was the home of the first YMCA founded in America. Thomas Sullivan established that YMCA on December 29th, 1851, modeling it after a Y in England.
December 7 in history:
Delaware became the first state to ratify the U.S. Constitution on December 7th, 1787. As a result, it uses “The First State” as a nickname.
The most recent state to join the union, Hawaii, was not a state yet on December 7th, 1941, when it was attacked by Japanese war planes. The surprise attack on the naval base at Pearl Harbor, early on a Sunday morning, claimed nearly 2500 American lives, destroyed dozens of U.S. planes, and sank four battleships. Almost 1200 people died when the U.S.S. Arizona exploded. President Roosevelt declared war on Japan the next day.
Many Americans first heard the news about Pearl Harbor during a break in a CBS radio broadcast of the New York Philharmonic. On December 7th, 1930, an experimental television broadcast of a radio orchestra concert reportedly featured the first TV commercial in U.S. history. The ad, broadcast in Boston, promoted a fur company that sponsored the radio show. The commercial was illegal because the government didn’t allow advertising on television yet.
TV history was made again on December 7th, 1963…with the first instant replay during a live sports broadcast. Director Tony Verna from CBS set up videotape equipment to play back portions of the Army-Navy football game. The CBS announcers had to tell viewers that the replay was a recording of something that had happened earlier in the game.
Happy birthday! Another television first happened on December 7th, in 1969…the first broadcast of the “Frosty the Snowman” cartoon special on CBS. With characters drawn by Mad magazine artist Paul Coker Jr., the show featured the voice of comedian Jackie Vernon as Frosty, with Jimmy Durante as the narrator.
December 2 in history:
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers was born on this date in 1983. Under Coach Mike McCarthy, Rodgers led the Green Bay Packers from a wild card playoff berth to the Super Bowl championship after the 2010 season.
Another man from Wisconsin named McCarthy was one of the most powerful and feared persons in America in the 1950’s. Senator Joseph McCarthy became famous for charging that Communists had infiltrated the government, and he held Senate hearings into Communist influence in the U.S. The senator was criticized for ruining reputations with reckless accusations, and he sometimes suggested that his critics were on the side of the Communists. On December 2nd, 1954, a majority of senators voted to condemn McCarthy, and his influence declined quickly.
The Washington Senators baseball team suddenly has a great season (because of a pact with the devil) in the 1954 novel “The Year the Yankees Lost the Pennant.” The book was turned into the Broadway musical and movie “Damn Yankees,” starring Ray Walston as the devil. Walston, born on this date in 1914, is also known as Mr. Hand from “Fast Times at Ridgemont High,” Judge Bone from “Picket Fences,” and Uncle Martin, the title character from the sitcom “My Favorite Martian.”
The music video for the Britney Spears song “Oops!…I Did It Again” is supposed to be set partially on Mars. Spears, born on December 2nd, 1981, was 17 when she had her first hit album.
November 28 in history:
A newspaper story called it “the worst disaster in Boston’s history.” On November 28th, 1942, a fast-moving fire swept through the Cocoanut Grove nightclub of Boston, killing nearly 500 of the estimated 1000 people in the building. Flammable decorations apparently ignited when a busboy lit a match to find a light socket. Jammed and locked exits were blamed for some of the loss of life.
One of the most powerful men in the history of Hollywood started his career modestly in Massachusetts on this day in 1907, when Louis B. Mayer opened his first movie theater in Haverhill. Mayer started making movies before long, and in less than 20 years, became the head of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Both of his daughters married movie producers, with David O. Selznick becoming a son-in-law of Mayer.
A Hollywood family named Newman has written movie music for decades. Famous family members include Alfred Newman, Lionel Newman…and Randy Newman, born November 28th, 1943. Randy has won Oscars for songs from the animated movies “Toy Story 3” and “Monsters, Inc.,” and has written the popular hits “Mama Told Me Not to Come” and “Short People.”
November 28th is also the birthday of two-time Oscar host Jon Stewart (1962), best known as the former host/anchor of “The Daily Show.”
October 21 in history:
On October 21st, 1520, Ferdinand Magellan and his crew discovered the strait at the tip of South America which would later bear his name. The strait was the connection which took them from the Atlantic to the Pacific.
Another famous ocean explorer was remembered on this date in 1892, when the Columbian Exposition was dedicated in Chicago. The fair designed to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Columbus’s arrival in the New World actually opened in May of 1893. New products and inventions introduced at the fair included the Ferris Wheel, Cream of Wheat cereal, and Juicy Fruit gum.
October 21st was the day in 1797 that the U.S.S. Constitution, “Old Ironsides,” was launched. The ship (pictured), docked in Boston, is still maintained as an active Navy vessel.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge began writing his epic poem about the sea, “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” in 1797. Coleridge was born October 21st, 1772.
September 16 in history:
More than 100 “pilgrims” left Plymouth, England on September 16th, 1620, aboard the Mayflower. They were headed to Virginia, but landed instead at Cape Cod in Massachusetts that November.
When the sitcom “Cheers,” set in Boston, ended in 1993, a spinoff was created for supporting character Frasier Crane, who moved to Seattle and started a radio talk show. “Frasier” debuted on this date in ’93, and like “Cheers,” it lasted for 11 years.
Actress Amy Poehler, Boston College Class of ’93, shares a September 16th birthday (1971) with another veteran of “Saturday Night Live,” Molly Shannon (1964). Poehler joined “SNL” in 2001, a few months after Shannon ended a six-year run on the show.