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.
December 5 in history:
George Washington became America’s first two-term president in 1792. On December 5th that year, the Electoral College unanimously chose Washington to continue as president. John Adams was re-elected as vice president.
Adams and his son, John Quincy, both were one-term presidents. On December 5th, 1831, John Quincy Adams took office as a Congressman, two years after serving his single term in the White House. Adams was chosen as president by the U.S. House after the 1824 election, when he lost the popular vote to Andrew Jackson.
Al Gore won the popular vote in the 2000 presidential race, but lost in the Electoral College to George W. Bush. Gore’s father, long-time Tennessee Senator Albert Gore Sr., died on this date in 1998. George W. Bush served two terms as president, four years longer than his father, George Herbert Walker Bush…the most recent president defeated after a single term. A state funeral for the elder President Bush was held in Washington on December 5th, 2018.
The first single-term U.S. president who was not named “Adams” was Martin Van Buren, born on this day in 1782. Van Buren was the first U.S. president born after the signing of the Declaration of Independence.
James K. Polk was Speaker of the House under President Van Buren. Polk also became president for just one term, and is credited with setting off the California gold rush during his last months in office. In his State of the Union message to Congress on December 5th, 1848, Polk announced that gold had been discovered in the California territory earlier that year, and he claimed that most male residents of the territory were busy searching for gold.