September 20 in history:
Explorer Ferdinand Magellan left Spain on September 20th, 1519, on a voyage to reach the Spice Islands by sailing west to reach the Pacific Ocean. Magellan’s ships were the first ones to reach the Pacific from the Atlantic, and eventually, one ship, the Victoria, became the first to travel around the world to return to Spain.
Lewis and Clark were headed back from the Pacific Ocean toward the Mississippi when they reached a white settlement in Missouri on this date in 1806. It took them another three days to reach St. Louis, ending the exploration of the Louisiana Territory which lasted more than two years.
The famous “Battle of the Sexes” tennis match between Bobby Riggs and Billie Jean King took place on September 20th, 1973 at the Houston Astrodome, before a crowd of 30,000 and a worldwide TV audience. King was the defending women’s champion at Wimbledon. Riggs won the men’s title at Wimbledon 34 years earlier. The female pro defeated the older male pro in three straight sets.
On the same night that Billie Jean and Bobby dueled in Texas, singer Jim Croce and five other people died in the crash of a small plane headed for Texas. Croce had just performed that night at a college in Natchitoches, Louisiana, and the plane crashed shortly after take-off from that city’s airport. Croce’s song “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown” was a number-one hit that summer, and his follow-up, “I Got a Name,” was released the day after he died.
Pop singer Ricky Nelson died in a Texas plane crash in 1985. His twin sons, Gunnar and Matthew Nelson, formed the rock band Nelson. They were born on September 20th, 1967. This is also the birthday of another set of rock-and-roll twins, Chuck and John Panozzo of Styx, born in 1948.
July 28 in history:
Until the September 11th attacks of 2001, perhaps the most famous case of a plane crashing into a skyscraper was the accident at the Empire State Building on July 28th, 1945. A B-25 bomber headed to Newark slammed into the building at the 79th floor level on a foggy Saturday morning. The three men on the plane died, along with 11 people inside the building.
A mining disaster in Pennsylvania was coming to a much happier end on this date in 2002. Nine coal miners were brought to the surface at the Quecreek mine, four days after they were trapped below ground by flooding. Many Americans spent Saturday night of that weekend watching live TV coverage of the efforts to rescue the miners.
Two women who became familiar faces on Saturday night TV in the 1970s have birthdays on July 28th. During the ’70s, Sally Struthers (born 1947) played Gloria on “All in the Family,” and Georgia Engel (1948) was Georgette on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.”
Georgette married Minneapolis TV anchorman Ted Baxter, whose boss was news director Lou Grant. When the Lou Grant character got his own spinoff, he became a Los Angeles newspaper editor whose staff included reporter Billie Newman, played by Minneapolis native Linda Kelsey, born July 28th, 1946.
May 25th in history:
The deadliest single airplane accident ever in the U.S. occurred at O’Hare Airport on May 25th, 1979, when American Airlines Flight 191 crashed shortly after takeoff. All 271 people aboard the DC-10 died after one engine fell off, and the plane tilted more than 100 degrees to the left before crashing.
On May 25th, 1961, President Kennedy announced the Apollo Project, stating his goal of landing a man on the moon and returning him to Earth before the end of the decade. This was only three weeks after America’s first manned space flight.
On the same date in 1977, the original “Star Wars” movie opened around the U.S. That was the 33rd birthday of Muppet master Frank Oz, who played Jedi master Yoda in later “Star Wars” films, and has portrayed many other Muppets characters, including Fozzie Bear and Miss Piggy.
May 25th also is the birthday of screenwriter Bob Gale (born 1951), who (with Robert Zemeckis) created a flying DeLorean time machine in the “Back to the Future” movies, and real-life helicopter developer Igor Sikorsky (1889).
Men landed on the moon for the third time on February 3rd, 1971. America’s first man in space, Alan Shepard, landed on the lunar surface with Edgar Mitchell during the Apollo 14 mission.
Another famous flight ended tragically on February 3rd, 1959. Singers Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper were killed when their plane crashed near Clear Lake, Iowa, shortly after their last concert at the nearby Surf Ballroom.
Iowa made history on this date in 1870 by becoming the 28th state to approve the 15th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, making it law. That amendment allowed former slaves and other non-white citizens to vote.
October 25 in history:
The United Nations traded in old China for new on October 25th, 1971…when Taiwan (Nationalist China) was expelled and Communist China was admitted as a member. The U.S. ambassador to the U.N., George Bush, walked out in protest. Bush later served as an unofficial ambassador to China before being elected vice-president and president of the U.S.
Another dramatic moment at the U.N. occurred on this date in 1962, during the Cuban Missile Crisis. The U.S. ambassador in ’62, Adlai Stevenson, presented evidence to the Security Council that the Soviets had missiles in Cuba. When the Soviet ambassador did not respond to the charge right away, Stevenson said he was prepared to wait for an answer “until hell freezes over.”
A “primrose path to Hell” is how Archbishop Francis Beckman of Dubuque described swing music in a speech to the National Council of Catholic Women on October 25th, 1938. Beckman made that speech on his 63rd birthday.
Wonder what the archbishop would have thought of rock and roll music. It’s the birthday of singer Katy Perry (born 1984), who became a star with the song “I Kissed a Girl.” Perry switched to pop music after releasing a Christian rock album under her real name, Katy Hudson. She changed her last name to avoid confusion with actress Kate Hudson.
October 25th, 1977, was the day of Lynyrd Skynyrd singer Ronnie Van Zant’s funeral. Van Zant was one of six people killed in the crash of the band’s plane in Mississippi. The new Lynyrd Skynyrd album “Street Survivors” was in stores at the time, and coincidentally showed band members surrounded by flames. Released that same week: Meat Loaf’s album “Bat Out of Hell,” which included not only the title track, but also “Heaven Can Wait” and “Paradise by the Dashboard Light.”