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.”
December 16 in history:
America’s original “tea party” protest happened on December 16th, 1773, when dozens of colonists boarded three ships in Boston Harbor and dumped over 300 chests of tea into the water. The Boston Tea Party was a rebellion against British tax laws imposed on the American colonies.
There is disagreement about whether the tea thrown into the harbor was from China or India. Science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke wrote books about the Indian Ocean, and lived for decades on the island of Sri Lanka. Clarke, born on this date in 1917, is best known for collaborating with Stanley Kubrick on the screenplay of “2001: A Space Odyssey.”
Much of the music in “2001” was written by classical composers Richard and Johann Strauss. In Kubrick’s next film, “A Clockwork Orange,” the main character’s favorite composer is Ludwig von Beethoven, known for his nine symphonies. As fans of the “Peanuts” comic strip know, Beethoven’s birthday is celebrated on December 16th. He was born in Bonn, Germany, in 1770.
July 11th in history:
The Skylab space station fell to Earth on July 11th, 1979, after six years in orbit. Pieces of the craft fell on Australia and into the Indian Ocean.
Movie fans remember Thomas Mitchell falling off his horse as Scarlett’s father in “Gone With the Wind.” Actor Mitchell also played Uncle Billy in “It’s a Wonderful Life.” And late in his career, Mitchell portrayed an oddball detective named “Columbo” in a stage play, years before Peter Falk made the same character famous on TV. Mitchell was born July 11th, 1892.