December 17 in history:
The Wright Brothers earned their wings on December 17th, 1903, by successfully flying an airplane at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. That was the day Orville Wright made the first powered flight of a plane, going 120 feet in 12 seconds. Later in the day, brother Wilbur kept the plane in the air for about a minute.
Other flying objects were the focus of Project Blue Book. But the U.S. Air Force officially closed the book on UFO investigations on December 17th, 1969. In nearly two decades, the government collected nearly 13,000 reports of unidentified flying objects. Most of the reports were explained easily, but of the objects that remained “unidentified,” the Air Force said it found no proof that any of them was an alien spacecraft.
On the same day that Project Blue Book was declared to be over, there was an unusual nighttime sighting all across America, on TV screens. More than 20 million Americans watched long-haired, falsetto-voiced singer Tiny Tim become a married man on “The Tonight Show.” Host Johnny Carson had invited Tim (real name, Herbert Khaury) to wed his teenage fiancee Victoria Budinger, alias “Miss Vicki,” on the December 17th broadcast in ’69.
“If TV has taught me anything, it’s that miracles always happen to poor kids at Christmas.” That wasn’t said by Tiny Tim from “A Christmas Carol,” but by another fictional child: Bart Simpson. It’s a quote from the very first half-hour episode of “The Simpsons,” aired on December 17th, 1989: a holiday story called “Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire.” Bart, Homer, Marge, Lisa, and Maggie originated as characters in short films by cartoonist Matt Groening featured on “The Tracey Ullman Show.” “The Simpsons” is now the longest-running American sitcom and the longest-running American animated program.
November 14 in history:
Americans met the goal of reaching the moon before the end of the 1960’s when Apollo 11 landed in July of ’69. There would be one more manned trip to the moon before 1969 was over. Apollo 12 continued the moon exploration program when it was launched on November 14th that year.
The next lunar mission, Apollo 13, was scrubbed in mid-flight because of an accident, and made a dramatic return to the earth after orbiting the moon. Astronaut Fred Haise, born on this day in 1933, was the lunar module pilot on Apollo 13. It’s also the birthday of Ed White (1930), the first U.S. astronaut to walk in space. White died in 1967 in the launching pad fire inside the Apollo 1 spacecraft.
An airplane crash in West Virginia on November 14th, 1970, dealt a severe blow to the football program at Marshall University. A chartered plane carrying most of the Marshall team, coaches, and some fans crashed into a hill as the flight returned from a game in North Carolina. All 75 persons aboard the plane were killed. It took more than a decade for the university to rebuild the football program before Marshall had a winning season in 1984. The 2006 movie We Are Marshall tells the story of how the plane crash affected the university and the community.
An artist named Marshall was hired in 2005 to keep an enduring comic strip going. John Marshall is the latest cartoonist to draw the “Blondie” strip. He was born on this date in 1955.
Louis Mountbatten was an air vice-marshal for the British during World War II. On November 14th, 1973, Mountbatten’s grand-niece, Princess Anne, married Mark Phillips at Westminster Abbey. The wedding took place on the 25th birthday of Anne’s older brother, Prince Charles.