March 2nd in history:
Just days before President Ulysses S. Grant was scheduled to leave office in 1877, Americans still didn’t know who the next president would be. A dispute over electoral votes ended March 2nd, three days before the inauguration ceremony, when a special commission declared Rutherford B. Hayes the new president by just one electoral vote. Samuel Tilden had won the popular vote in the 1876 election.
It took just three ballots to choose a new pope on March 2nd, 1939. On his 63rd birthday, Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli became Pope Pius XII. Pacelli was assigned to Rome for most of his priesthood, and he was welcomed to the Vatican in 1901 by Pope Leo XIII, born Vincenzo Pecci on this day in 1810.
Leo was the first pope to appear in a motion picture, and to have his voice recorded. That pope shares a birthday with a “Carpenter” who was famous for recordings: singer Karen Carpenter, born March 2nd, 1950. Teamed with her brother Richard, Karen sang lead on several hit songs in the 1970s, including “Close to You,” “Superstar,” and “Top of the World.”
Wilt Chamberlain was already a basketball superstar in 1962, as the NBA’s all-time scoring king for a single game, but he was on top of the world on March 2nd of that year. On that day, Chamberlain became the first (and so far, only) player in the league to ever score 100 points in one game, leading the Philadelphia Warriors to a 169-147 win over the New York Knicks. The game played in Hershey, Pennsylvania, was broadcast on the radio, but not on TV.
The Persian Gulf War ended on February 28th, 1991 – less than two months after U.S. troops began the invasion to liberate Kuwait from Iraqi control.
The Navy ship USS Princeton was the site of a deadly explosion on this date in 1844. President John Tyler and members of his cabinet were aboard the Princeton on the Potomac River when a cannon exploded during a demonstration. Tyler was not hurt, but the blast killed Secretary of State Abel Upshur and the Secretary of the Navy, among others.
Charles Durning, born February 28th, 1923, played a president, a U.S. Senator, a governor, and many other authority figures, as well as Santa Claus, during a long acting career. He may be best known for roles in The Sting, Dog Day Afternoon, and Tootsie. Durning also fought in World War II, and took part in the D-Day invasion at Normandy.
It’s also the birthday of Gavin MacLeod (1931), who has played several military roles on-screen, in Operation Petticoat, Pork Chop Hill, and the TV series “McHale’s Navy.” MacLeod’s most famous TV characters are Murray Slaughter on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” and Capt. Merrill Stubing on “The Love Boat.”
Pork Chop Hill was a Korean War drama. The TV series “M*A*S*H” was a Korean War comedy which became more serious during its 11-year run on CBS. On February 28th, 1983, over 100 million people watched the movie-length finale of “M*A*S*H,” in which the war ended. “M*A*S*H” lasted longer than the combined total of the Korean War, the Gulf War, and the Tyler Administration.
February 27th in history:
Historians believe a speech by Abraham Lincoln on this day in 1860 gave him a major boost toward the presidency. Lincoln impressed an audience with an address at the Cooper Union hall in New York City, raising his national profile.
If Lincoln had not been shot during his second term, he could have run for as many terms as he liked. There was nothing in the Constitution to stop him — until February 27th, 1951, when the 22nd Amendment was ratified. That amendment was passed after Franklin Roosevelt was elected president four times. It says a president can be elected to no more than two terms — or just one full term, if he or she took over for another president who had served less than half a term.
February 27th is the birthday of two men who have run for president: consumer advocate Ralph Nader (1934) and former Texas Governor John Connally (1917). Also, the birthday of a recent White House resident, Chelsea Clinton (1980).
February 21st in history:
Richard Nixon became the first U.S. president to visit China on February 21st, 1972. Nixon’s historic week-long visit included a stop at the Great Wall of China.
A different kind of structure was discovered on this date in 1953. February 21st was the date James Watson and Francis Crick discovered the structure of a DNA molecule.
The Washington Monument was the world’s tallest structure when it was dedicated on February 21st, 1885, one day before George Washington’s birthday. The monument is about 40 feet taller than the previous record-holder, the Cologne Cathedral in Germany.
George Washington was once played by Kelsey Grammer in a TV movie about Benedict Arnold. Grammer is best known as Frasier Crane on “Frasier” and “Cheers,” and Sideshow Bob on “The Simpsons.” He was born February 21st, 1955.
February 18th in history:
Actress Molly Ringwald was born February 18th, 1968. On that same day, a Chicago-area high school student named John Hughes had 18 candles on his birthday cake. Hughes became a popular movie director and featured Ringwald in three hit films, including “Sixteen Candles” and “The Breakfast Club.” Most of Hughes’ movies are set in and around Chicago.
The Chicago 7 were acquitted on this day in 1970. The seven anti-war protesters had been tried for conspiring to incite riots during the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago.
On February 18th, 1856, the Know-Nothing Party nominated its first and only presidential candidate, former president Millard Fillmore. He carried only the state of Maryland in the November election.
February 17th in history:
Thomas Jefferson was elected president by the U.S. House on this date in 1801. The House had to break an electoral tie between Jefferson and Aaron Burr. As a result, Burr became vice president.
A helicopter buzzed the White House on February 17th, 1974, during the final months of Richard Nixon’s presidency. The chopper was stolen and flown by a disgruntled Army private named Robert Preston.
Actor Robert Preston was starring in the original Broadway production of “The Music Man” in February of 1958. For those who couldn’t go to Broadway, television was growing in popularity as an entertainment medium. On February 17th, 1958, Pope Pius XII declared St. Clare of Assisi the patron saint of television.
If there were no such thing as TV, there would be no “Larry the Cable Guy.” Larry, known in real life as Dan Whitney, celebrates his birthday on this day (1963).
February 14th in history:
James K. Polk posed for photographer Mathew Brady on February 14th, 1849, less than a month before leaving the White House. It appears to be the first time that an incumbent U.S. president posed for a solo photograph. President Polk had been photographed earlier in his term, in a group shot with members of his cabinet.
Television cameras came to the White House on Valentine’s Day, 1962, for a prime-time tour of the mansion, hosted by First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy. The tour was shown on all three major networks.
George Washington never slept in the White House, but George Washington Slept Here was the name of a popular movie starring comedian Jack Benny, born February 14th, 1894. Benny had a weekly show on radio, and then TV, for over 30 years, built around his character of a cheapskate who played the violin badly and always claimed to be 39 years old. Benny’s hometown of Waukegan, Illinois named a school after him in the 1960s. The sports teams at Benny Middle School are nicknamed the 39ers.
Jack Benny was born in Chicago, not Waukegan. On his 35th birthday in 1929, seven men were shot to death in a Chicago garage, in what became known as the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, the most famous gangster-related murders of the 1920s. The victims were associated with the “Bugs” Moran gang in Chicago. Rival gang leader Al Capone was blamed for the killings. In the 1959 comedy Some Like It Hot, Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon escape Chicago by posing as women after witnessing the Massacre.