August 21 in history:
The first Lincoln-Douglas debate took place in Ottawa, Illinois on August 21st, 1858. Abraham Lincoln was running against incumbent Senator Stephen Douglas, and their seven debates around Illinois all dealt with the issue of slavery.
The outside wall of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. lists the names of the 48 states that were in the Union when the memorial was dedicated in 1922. Two more states came along in 1959, Alaska and Hawaii. On this date in ’59, President Dwight Eisenhower signed the law making Hawaii the 50th state.
Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his famous “I have a dream” speech at the Lincoln Memorial in August of 1963. A few days earlier, on August 21st of that year, King tried out the “I have a dream” theme during a speech to an insurance association convention in Chicago.
During this week in 1963, Chicago native Allan Sherman had a top 10 hit with his novelty song “Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah! (A Letter From Camp),” in which a kid writes home about his awful experiences at “Camp Granada.” Before becoming famous by doing song parodies, Sherman produced the Goodson-Todman game show “I’ve Got a Secret.” “Hello, Muddah” was based on camp letters from Sherman’s son Robert, who followed in his dad’s footsteps by also producing shows for Goodson-Todman.
While Sherman’s letter-writing kid was suffering at Camp Granada in 1963, Johnny Castle and Baby Houseman were spending time together that summer at Kellerman’s resort in the Catskills, according to the movie “Dirty Dancing,” released on August 21st, 1987. “Dirty Dancing” premiered on the 63rd birthday of actor Jack Weston, who played resort owner Max Kellerman in the film.
May 25th in history:
The deadliest single airplane accident ever in the U.S. occurred at O’Hare Airport on May 25th, 1979, when American Airlines Flight 191 crashed shortly after takeoff. All 271 people aboard the DC-10 died after one engine fell off, and the plane tilted more than 100 degrees to the left before crashing.
On May 25th, 1961, President Kennedy announced the Apollo Project, stating his goal of landing a man on the moon and returning him to Earth before the end of the decade. This was only three weeks after America’s first manned space flight.
On the same date in 1977, the original “Star Wars” movie opened around the U.S. That was the 33rd birthday of Muppet master Frank Oz, who played Jedi master Yoda in later “Star Wars” films, and has portrayed many other Muppets characters, including Fozzie Bear and Miss Piggy.
May 25th also is the birthday of screenwriter Bob Gale (born 1951), who (with Robert Zemeckis) created a flying DeLorean time machine in the “Back to the Future” movies, and real-life helicopter developer Igor Sikorsky (1889).
May 22nd in history:
Only two volcanic eruptions occurred in the U.S. during the 20th century. One was the Mount St. Helens eruption of 1980. The other happened on May 22nd, 1915, with an explosion at Lassen Peak in northern California.
Another powerful act of nature, an earthquake, struck southern Chile on this date in 1960, killing thousands of people. Known as the Valdivia quake, it was the strongest earthquake ever recorded, measuring 9.5 on the Richter Scale. Severe tornadoes also have occurred on May 22nd, in Hallam, Nebraska (in 2004) and Joplin, Missouri (2011). The Joplin twister caused more than 150 deaths, and was the deadliest tornado in the U.S. in more than 60 years.
Wreckage from an airplane explosion fell from the sky onto Missouri and Iowa on May 22nd, 1962, when a Continental Airlines flight between Chicago and Kansas City blew up. All 45 people aboard were killed. One of the passengers, who had earlier taken out a large insurance policy, apparently planted a bomb in a restroom. The tragedy reportedly inspired part of the plot of the 1970 movie “Airport.”
In May of 1962, Iowa native Johnny Carson was preparing to take over NBC’s “Tonight Show.” He had just been hired to replace the departing Jack Paar. Carson stayed on as host of “Tonight” longer than any other person, almost 30 years, ending his run on May 22nd, 1992.
Another TV personality named “Johnny” made his debut on this day in 1910: that was the birthdate of announcer Johnny Olson, who’s most famous for shouting “Come on down!” to contestants on “The Price Is Right.” Olson also served as the announcer on “What’s My Line?,” “Match Game,” and “The Jackie Gleason Show.”
May 4th in history:
Four students died and nine others were wounded at Kent State University in Ohio on May 4th, 1970, after the Ohio National Guard began shooting to break up a demonstration against fighting in Vietnam and Cambodia.
On this date in 1886, a bomb exploded during a labor rally in Chicago. A policeman was killed by the explosion, and other officers fired into the crowd, leading to what became known as the Haymarket Square riot.
And a two-day riot at Alcatraz Prison in California ended on May 4th, 1946. Five people were killed in the uprising.
May 3rd in history:
The tallest building you can see in Chicago is the Willis Tower, formerly known as the Sears Tower. When the tower reached its maximum height on May 3rd, 1973, it was the world’s tallest building.
Visitors to Profile Lake in New Hampshire used to be able to look up into the hills and see “The Old Man of the Mountain,” a rock formation that resembled an old man’s profile – until May 3rd, 2003. That was the day most of the rocks forming the face tumbled down the mountain.
From the mountain to the “Valli”…singer Frankie Valli of the Four Seasons, known for hits like “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” and “My Eyes Adored You,” was born on May 3rd, 1934.
April 13th in history:
Firsts for African-Americans on April 13th …
Sidney Poitier became the first black man to win an Oscar for acting on April 13th, 1964. Poitier was named Best Actor for “Lilies of the Field.”
On April 13th, 1983, Harold Washington was elected the first black mayor of Chicago.
And Tiger Woods became the first black champion of the Masters golf tournament (and the youngest winner, at age 21) on this date in 1997.
April 1st in history:
A historic day for the Air Force in two countries: The Royal Canadian Air Force was founded on April 1st, 1924. Exactly 30 years later, in 1954, President Dwight Eisenhower authorized the establishment of the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado.
Clearing the “air” of smoke: Eisenhower’s vice-president, Richard Nixon, was president himself in 1970. On April 1st of that year, Nixon signed the Public Health Cigarette Smoking Act, which would take all radio and TV commercials for cigarettes off the air in early ’71.
A popular substitute for smoking – chewing gum – has made a fortune for the William Wrigley Company, founded in Chicago on April 1st, 1891. Wrigley’s didn’t start selling gum until a year after the company was in business. Free samples of gum given away with packages of baking powder became more popular than the powder.
Fictional 19th century critic Jebidiah Atkinson from “Saturday Night Live” could have been an early customer of Wrigley’s gum (but he might not admit to liking it). Atkinson is a popular SNL character performed by Taran Killam, born on April 1st, 1982. Killam played another 19th century character in “12 Years a Slave,” and in the Broadway musical “Hamilton” (as King George III).
SNL is produced at New York’s Rockefeller Center, which also houses the MSNBC cable news network. MSNBC host Rachel Maddow was born on this day in 1973.
NBC aired the sitcom “The Debbie Reynolds Show” in 1969-70. Reynolds, born April 1st, 1932, was better known for movies, including “Singin’ in the Rain” and “The Unsinkable Molly Brown.” Reynolds’s personal life also kept her in the public eye. Her first marriage, to Eddie Fisher, ended when Fisher left her to marry Elizabeth Taylor. Debbie and Eddie’s daughter, Carrie Fisher, played Princess Leia in the “Star Wars” movies. Carrie died unexpectedly in December 2016, and Debbie died the next day.