December 9 in history:
“If Illinois isn’t the most corrupt state in the United States, it’s one hell of a competitor.” That’s what an FBI special agent said on December 9th, 2008…the day Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich was arrested on a charge of trying to “sell” the U.S. Senate seat left vacant when Barack Obama was elected president. Agents arrested Blagojevich on the day before his 52nd birthday. The following month, Blagojevich was impeached for misconduct and removed from office by the Illinois legislature. He was convicted of more than a dozen crimes, and began a 14-year prison term in March of 2012.
Blagojevich represented Chicago in the legislature and Congress. A team called the Hustle represented Chicago in the Women’s Professional Basketball League, which played its first game on this date in 1978 in Milwaukee. The Hustle won that inaugural game, 92-87, against the host team, the Milwaukee Does.
A Broadway-bound production of “Death of a Salesman,” about over-the-hill hustling salesman Willy Loman, played in Chicago in 1984. It starred Dustin Hoffman as Willy, and John Malkovich of Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre as his son Biff. Malkovich was born December 9th, 1953. Also in 1984, Malkovich appeared in the movies “Places in the Heart” and “The Killing Fields,” and he later played himself in the comedy “Being John Malkovich.”
Malkovich portrayed Tom Wingfield in a 1987 movie version of the Tennessee Williams play “The Glass Menagerie.” A 1950 film of “Menagerie” featured a young Kirk Douglas as the other male character in the story, Jim O’Connor, the “Gentleman Caller.” Douglas was born Issur Danielovitch, and turns 102 today. His famous movie characters include Vincent Van Gogh in “Lust for Life,” and the title role in “Spartacus.”
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.
October 8 in history:
Famous fires broke out on the shores of Lake Michigan on October 8th, 1871. The deadliest of those fires occurred in Peshtigo, Wisconsin, along Green Bay. As many as 2500 people may have died in the forest fire that destroyed Peshtigo and other communities. The better-known fire of October 8th was the Great Chicago Fire, which claimed about 300 lives and destroyed four square miles of the city.
Minister and political activist Jesse Jackson, the founder of Operation PUSH in Chicago, was born October 8th of 1941. Jackson shares a birthday with comedian Darrell Hammond (1955), who impersonated him and dozens of other celebrities during a 14-year run on “Saturday Night Live.” Hammond occasionally imitated SNL announcer Don Pardo on the show, and in 2014, was hired to succeed the late Pardo as the program’s new announcer.
Chevy Chase played President Gerald Ford in sketches during the first two seasons of SNL. Chase, born October 8th, 1943, went on to play Clark Griswold in the “Vacation” movie series, and returned to TV as a cast member of “Community.” He co-starred in “Deal of the Century” with Sigourney Weaver, born this day in 1949. Weaver played Ripley in the “Alien” movies, and appeared in “Avatar” and “Ghostbusters.”
Live from New York, baseball fans saw and heard history being made on October 8th, 1956, when Game 5 of the World Series was broadcast from Yankee Stadium. Don Larsen of the Yankees became the first man to pitch a perfect game during a World Series, defeating the Brooklyn Dodgers 2-0.
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.