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 12 in history:
The presidential election between George W. Bush and Al Gore was finally settled by the U.S. Supreme Court on December 12th, 2000…more than a month after the voting. The court decided 5-4 to accept Florida’s certification that Bush had won the state, giving him one more electoral vote over the 270 majority. That ruling came a few days after justices halted the Florida recount which showed Texas governor Bush and Vice President Gore only a few hundred votes apart.
Frank Sinatra knew a few presidents, including John Kennedy and Ronald Reagan, and in his later years, fans of the singer and actor knew Sinatra as “Chairman of the Board.” Sinatra was born in Hoboken, New Jersey on this date in 1915.
Like the Chairman of the Board, “The Boss” — singer Bruce Springsteen — also was born in New Jersey. During a concert on December 12th, 1975, Springsteen recorded a rock version of “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town,” which has become a popular holiday song on the radio. The concert was performed on the Long Island campus of C.W. Post College, named after the founder of Post Cereals.
The 1960’s TV cartoon show “Linus the Lionhearted” was based on characters from Post cereal boxes, with the title character, a lion king, voiced by actor Sheldon Leonard. The characters Sheldon and Leonard on the sitcom “The Big Bang Theory” are named after him. “Big Bang Theory” actress Mayim Bialik, who starred in the ’90s series “Blossom” and earned a PhD in neuroscience, was born December 12th, 1975.
November 13 in history:
A “March Against Death” to protest the Vietnam War began at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia on November 13th, 1969. More than 40,000 protesters marched into Washington, as a prelude to a large anti-war moratorium two days later.
On the same date 13 years later, in 1982, a monument to the thousands of Americans killed in Vietnam was dedicated near the Lincoln Memorial. The V-shaped granite wall bearing names of the war dead was not universally popular at first, but since its dedication, it has been praised for the simplicity of its design.
The Holland Tunnel linking New Jersey to Manhattan was an early example of an automotive tunnel designed to keep car exhaust from building up. The nearly two-mile tunnel, named after its chief engineer, Clifford Holland, opened on November 13th, 1927.
November 13th was opening night in 1997 for the Broadway musical version of the Disney movie “The Lion King.” Actress Whoopi Goldberg, born Caryn Johnson on this date in 1955, provided the voice of the hyena Shenzi in the original animated movie.
Since 2007, Whoopi Goldberg has been one of the hosts of the ABC daytime talk show “The View.” Jimmy Kimmel, born on November 13th, 1967, has been a late-night talk show host on ABC even longer, since 2003. Before that, Kimmel was a co-host of “The Man Show” and “Win Ben Stein’s Money.”
November 6 in history:
Abraham Lincoln was elected president of the United States on November 6th, 1860. Over the next 12 months, several Southern states would secede and form the Confederacy. Their first presidential election was exactly one year after Lincoln’s election, on this date in 1861. Former U.S. Secretary of War Jefferson Davis had already been appointed Confederate president before winning the election.
The Civil War ended and the Confederacy folded before Davis got to finish his six-year term. After a few years under the Stars and Bars, the Southern states returned to the Stars and Stripes, forever. Saaaay, that might make a good song title! Composer John Philip Sousa thought so. “The Stars and Stripes Forever” is one of the most popular marches written by the “March King,” born on November 6th, 1854.
Sousa commissioned the development of the sousaphone, and another musician who has an instrument named after him shares Sousa’s birthday. Belgian Adolphe Sax, born on this date in 1814, patented the saxophone when he was 31.
Both the sousaphone and saxophone are popular marching-band instruments played at football games. The very first official college football game in the U.S. was played in New Jersey on November 6th, 1869, at Rutgers University. In that first contest, each score was worth only one point, and they played until 10 total points had been scored. Rutgers beat Princeton, 6 to 4.
The streets of one New Jersey city inspired the names of spaces on a classic board game for which Parker Brothers obtained patents on this date in 1935. Pass “Go” and collect $200 if you knew that the landmarks on a “Monopoly” board are actual places in Atlantic City.
October 30 in history:
On October 30th, 1991, a search began in the Atlantic for the missing fishing boat Andrea Gail, which had left a port in Massachusetts a few days earlier. The boat and its six-person crew were never found, apparently lost during a severe storm. The story of the shipwreck inspired the 2000 movie “The Perfect Storm.”
Hurricane Sandy, also called a “superstorm,” was causing death and destruction along the Atlantic Coast on October 30th, 2012. The storm had reached land on the 29th near Atlantic City, New Jersey. The 1980 movie “Atlantic City” was made by French director Louis Malle, born on this date in 1932.
Louis Malle married actress Candice Bergen around the time “Atlantic City” was filmed. Candice’s father, ventriloquist Edgar Bergen, was starring on “The Chase and Sanborn Hour” on NBC on October 30th, 1938, heard by close to 70 percent of the American radio audience that night. But a competing program on CBS grabbed headlines and panicked listeners by portraying a fictional Martian invasion of New Jersey in the form of radio news reports. “The Mercury Theatre of the Air,” hosted by 23-year-old Orson Welles, dramatized the H.G. Wells novel “The War of the Worlds.” The publicity over the Martian drama led New Jersey-based Campbell Soup to become the sponsor of “The Mercury Theatre,” renamed “The Campbell Playhouse.”
An alien visitor landed in Milwaukee on the 1978 episode of “Happy Days” which introduced Robin Williams as the character “Mork from Ork.” The climactic scene of the episode pitted Mork versus Fonzie in a rumble at Arnold’s Drive-In. Henry Winkler, alias “The Fonz,” was born October 30th, 1945.
October 15 in history:
The submarine “H.L. Hunley,” the first sub to sink a ship, sank during a test run on this date in 1863. The man whose name was on the sub, Horace Hunley, was one of eight people aboard who died in the accident. The Hunley was brought back to the surface, but sank again a short time later. It stayed underwater until 2000.
The “Graf Zeppelin” airship completed its first flight across the Atlantic from Europe on October 15th, 1928, passing over several large American cities before landing in New Jersey.
The New York Municipal Airport was dedicated on this date in 1939. Years later, it was renamed for the man who was mayor of New York when it opened: Fiorello La Guardia.
A New York apartment on East 68th St. was the main setting for a TV comedy that premiered on October 15th, 1951, on CBS. Living in the apartment were a Cuban bandleader and his trouble-prone wife, played by real-life couple Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball. “I Love Lucy” was one of the top-rated shows on TV during its original six-year run, and has been popular in reruns ever since.
Another television hit about a wacky pair, set in the 1950s, was “Laverne & Shirley.” Penny Marshall, who played Laverne De Fazio, was born on this day in 1943. After the TV series ended, Marshall became a movie director, making popular films including “Big” and “A League of Their Own.”