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.”
March 27th in history:
Two Easter season disasters on this date: March 27th was Good Friday in 1964, when Alaska was hit by the most powerful earthquake ever in the country’s history. It measured 9.2, and caused more than 100 deaths. In 1994, Palm Sunday fell on March 27th, and a Methodist church in Piedmont, Alabama, was struck by a tornado which killed 20 people.
March 27th of 1513 was Easter Sunday, and explorer Juan Ponce de Leon first sighted a mass of land which he later named in honor of Easter, “Pascua Florida.”
A Florida resort was the main setting for the cross-dressing comedy “Some Like It Hot”, written and directed by Billy Wilder, who died on March 27th, 2002. Actors Milton Berle and Dudley Moore also died on the same day as Wilder. Berle made a habit of dressing as women on his hit TV show “Texaco Star Theater,” and Moore wore a nun’s habit during part of the comedy film “Bedazzled.”
Another of Billy Wilder’s major hit movies was Sunset Boulevard, which represented a comeback for Gloria Swanson, playing fictional silent-film star Norma Desmond. Swanson was born on March 27th, but the year is in dispute (1897 or 1899).
January 17th in history:
The earth shook in Southern California on January 17th, 1994. The “Northridge Earthquake” caused 72 deaths and $20 billion in damage.
Eartha’s birthday is on January 17th — Eartha Kitt, that is — born in 1927. Kitt replaced Julie Newmar as Catwoman on the “Batman” TV show in 1967. Jim Carrey also is famous for playing a Batman villain, the Riddler, as well as portrayals of the Grinch and Horton the Elephant. Carrey, born in 1962, shares a January 17th birthday with Andy Kaufman (1949), whom he impersonated in the movie “Man on the Moon.”
And the man who discovered the planet Pluto, astronomer Clyde Tombaugh, died on this day in 1997. A few years after Tombaugh’s death, scientists declared that Pluto is not really a planet.
December 26 in history:
A nine-point earthquake under the Indian Ocean triggered a series of tsunamis that battered 14 countries on December 26th, 2004. More than 280,000 people died, with the largest loss of life coming in Indonesia. Ocean waves reportedly rose as high as 100 feet.
A theatre fire in Richmond, Virginia, on December 26th, 1811 was considered one of the worst disasters in U.S. history at the time. Seventy-two of the 600 people attending the Richmond Theatre that night were killed by the fire, including the governor of Virginia.
Two of America’s longest-living presidents died on December 26th, more than 30 years apart. Both were vice presidents who rose to the presidency on short notice. Harry Truman was 88 when he died on the day after Christmas of 1972. 93-year-old Gerald Ford died in 2006, just weeks after setting the record for longevity among U.S. presidents.
Future Confederate President Jefferson Davis was among 22 West Point cadets placed under House arrest on this day in 1826 for their alleged roles in the “Eggnog Riot” at the U.S. Military Academy. The uprising resulted from a Christmas party attended by the cadets, where whiskey was smuggled into the academy to make eggnog.
Jack Lemmon and Lee Remick starred as an alcoholic couple in the movie “Days of Wine and Roses,” which opened in the U.S. on December 26th, 1962. Also appearing in the film was Jack Klugman, who later became famous as Oscar Madison in the 1970’s TV version of “The Odd Couple.” Lemmon played Felix Ungar in the 1968 “Odd Couple” movie. “Days of Wine and Roses” opened the same month that Tony Randall (Felix to Klugman’s Oscar) portrayed an alcoholic ad man on a TV episode of “The Alfred Hitchcock Hour.”
October 17 in history:
One of the world’s most famous golf tournaments, the British Open, was played for the first time on October 17th, 1860, at a course in Scotland. Contestants had to shoot 36 holes of golf in a single day.
Another world-famous championship, the World Series, was disrupted by an earthquake on this date in 1989. Sixty-three people died in the Loma Prieta earthquake in the San Francisco area. Most of those deaths occurred because of the collapse of a two-level viaduct on Interstate 880. As for the World Series, the quake struck 30 minutes before the scheduled start of Game 3 between the San Francisco Giants and Oakland Athletics at Candlestick Park. The series was postponed for 10 days because of the quake.
A 12-story metal globe of the world, called the Unisphere, symbolized the 1964-65 World’s Fair in Queens, New York, which closed on this date in ’65. The Unisphere and some other displays at the fair were preserved as local landmarks.
A large globe sits atop the Daily Planet newspaper building in the “Superman” comic books. Jerry Siegel, one of the creators of the Superman character, was born on this day in 1914…on the planet Earth, not Krypton. Two people who have played staff members of the Daily Planet in movies or TV shows were born on October 17th. Margot Kidder (1948) played Lois Lane in the Christopher Reeve “Superman” films, and Michael McKean (1947), also known for “Laverne and Shirley” and “This is Spinal Tap,” appeared as Planet editor Perry White on the “Smallville” TV series.