December 31 in history:
The days of traditional street lamps were numbered after December 31st, 1879, when Thomas Edison demonstrated incandescent street lamps in Menlo Park, New Jersey.
A crystal ball with electric lights was used to count down to the new year in Manhattan’s Times Square for the first time on December 31st, 1907. Fireworks had been used for a few years before they got the idea of “dropping the ball” to mark the stroke of midnight.
England actually does “ring in” a new year by airing the midnight chimes of the bell “Big Ben” over BBC Radio. That broadcasting tradition was born on New Year’s Eve of 1923.
Another famous “Ben” from England was born on December 31st, 1943: actor Ben Kingsley, whose birth name was Krishna Bhanji. Kingsley won an Oscar for playing the title role in Gandhi, and he’s been featured in Schindler’s List and Bugsy.
Sir Ben Kingsley shares a New Year’s Eve birthday with Sir Anthony Hopkins (born 1937), best known for winning the Oscar as Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs. Hopkins also has played real people from Hitler to Hitchcock, and Nixon to John Quincy Adams. Hopkins and Kingsley were among five Oscar winners who jointly honored the Best Actor nominees at the Academy Awards in February of 2009.
The Best Actor winner from 1944, Bing Crosby, became the first singer to perform the song “Cabaret” on U.S. network television, on the New Year’s Eve 1966 broadcast of “The Hollywood Palace” on ABC. The title song from the popular Kander and Ebb musical included special lyrics written for the occasion:
“We’ll pop the cork, and toast the year
At 12 o’clock, start celebratin’
Nineteen sixty-seven’s waitin.'”
A New Year’s themed episode of the “M*A*S*H” TV series from December of 1980 condenses an entire year of the Korean War for the 4077th into a single half-hour. Two stars of the series died on New Year’s Eve in consecutive years. Wayne Rogers (born 1933), who played “Trapper John” McIntyre, died December 31st, 2015…and one year later, William Christopher (born 1932), who portrayed Father Mulcahy, passed away on New Year’s Eve.
April 8th in history:
The Venus de Milo was discovered on this day in 1820, on the island of Milos. The famous armless statue of the goddess Venus is now displayed at the Louvre in Paris.
“April in Paris” was one of the famous songs written by lyricist “Yip” Harburg, born April 8th, 1896. Harburg is best known for the lyrics of “Over the Rainbow,” introduced by Judy Garland in “The Wizard of Oz.” Garland’s daughter, Liza Minnelli, starred in the movies “Cabaret” and “New York, New York,” both with music composed by Fred Ebb (born April 8th, year disputed).
It was somewhere over the left centerfield fence at Fulton County Stadium in Atlanta, Georgia that Hank Aaron’s 715th home run landed on April 8th, 1974. The Braves slugger broke Babe Ruth’s career record during Atlanta’s home opener of the season. Aaron eventually hit 755 homers…a record that stood until August of 2007, when Barry Bonds surpassed it.
Georgia native G. Harrold Carswell struck out as a Supreme Court nominee, by a 51-45 vote of the U.S. Senate on April 8th, 1970. Federal judge Carswell was Republican President Richard Nixon’s second straight Supreme Court nominee to be turned down by the Democratic-controlled Senate. Nixon blamed an anti-Southern bias for Carswell’s defeat. Carswell blamed liberals for opposing him, and later that month, he launched a campaign for the U.S. Senate from Florida to avenge the vote against him. He lost the Republican primary.
Neither Florida nor Georgia has ever ratified the 17th Amendment to the Constitution, allowing the popular election of U.S. Senators. On this date in 1913, Connecticut became the 36th state to approve the amendment, insuring its passage.