October 18 in history:
The tale of a big whale was introduced on this date in 1851, when Herman Melville’s “Moby-Dick” was published in England.
The U.S. made a big purchase from Russia on October 18th, 1867: Alaska. The Alaska territory was more than half a million acres, about twice as large as Texas. The acquisition arranged by Secretary of State William Seward was derided with nicknames like “Seward’s Folly” and “Seward’s Icebox.”
Nicknamed after something else big and cold, Chicago Bears rookie William “The Refrigerator” Perry became an overnight star during a Monday Night Football game against Green Bay in October 1985. The two head coaches in that contest both celebrated their birthdays that game week, on October 18th: Mike Ditka of the Bears (1939), and Forrest Gregg of the Packers (1933).
Both Gregg and Ditka were still active players in the NFL during the 1970 season, when “Monday Night Football” made its debut. Announcer Keith Jackson, who handled the play-by-play for the Monday night games that first season, was born on this date in 1928.
May 26th in history:
On this date in 1894, Nicholas II became the czar of Russia. As it turned out, he would be the last czar.
President Andrew Johnson narrowly avoided being removed from office as his impeachment trial in the Senate ended on May 26th, 1868. Johnson would not be the last president to be impeached and tried.
Visitors to the Eiffel Tower in Paris could get to the top by elevator for the first time on this date in 1889. The tower had opened to the public less than a month earlier.
And mountain climber George Willig chose May 26th as the day in 1977 that he would climb the South Tower of New York’s World Trade Center … from the outside. Willig had designed special climbing tools to be inserted into the tracks used for window-washing scaffolds. After he reached the top, Willig was fined for his stunt: a total of a dollar and 10 cents (one cent for each of the skyscraper’s 110 stories).
March 28th in history:
On March 28th, 1854, Britain and France declared war on Russia, bringing those countries into the Crimean War. The largest numbers of troops fighting the war came from Russia, France, Britain, and Turkey.
On this day in 1930, the city of Constantinople was given the more Turkish name Istanbul. The change inspired a popular song, “Istanbul (Not Constantinople),” which was a hit for the Four Lads in 1953 and later covered by They Might Be Giants.
The 1964 heist movie Topkapi is set in Istanbul. British actor Peter Ustinov won his second Supporting Actor Oscar for Topkapi (his first Oscar was for Spartacus). Ustinov, also known as an author and playwright, was 82 when he died on this date in 2004.
Ustinov was born Peter Alexander von Ustinov (or Ustinow). The singer born Stephani Germanotta, now known as Lady Gaga, was born this day in 1986, and is known for hits such as “Poker Face” and “Born This Way.” And popular radio DJ John Records Landecker really was born that way, with the middle name “Records,” on March 28th, 1947. Landecker is best known for working at Chicago station WLS in the ’70s and ’80s.
March 15th in history:
Beware March 15th, the Ides of March — the day in 44 B.C. when emperor Julius Caesar was stabbed to death by several members of the Roman Senate.
The Russian title “Czar,” meaning an emperor, is thought to be related to the name Caesar. Czar Nicholas the 2nd of Russia abdicated on March 15th, 1917. His brother then became the czar.
Russia was part of the Soviet Union for decades after the monarchy fell. On March 15th, 1990, Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev officially took the title of “president” of the USSR. He was the last Soviet president, when the Union disbanded the following year.
A band called the Ides of March was climbing up the record charts on this day in 1970 with its biggest hit, “Vehicle.” At the same time, the song “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Again)” by Sly and the Family Stone was headed down the charts after hitting number 1 in February. The band’s leader, Sly Stone, was born on March 15th (year in dispute, 1943 or 1944).
February 19th in history:
Space travelers from Russia and other countries rode aboard the Mir Space Station during its 15 years in Earth orbit. The Mir successfully went into orbit on February 19th, 1986.
On this day in 1988, athletes were competing at the Winter Olympics in Calgary. One of the most memorable athletes at Calgary was British ski-jumper Eddie “The Eagle” Edwards. Heavier than his opponents and requiring glasses, Eddie won a cult following even though he rode his skis to last-place finishes in both his events.
Eddie Arcaro was born February 19th, 1916. Arcaro won almost 4,800 horse races in his career as a jockey, including two Triple Crowns.
Actor Lee Marvin also had success riding a horse. Marvin, born February 19th, 1924, won the Best Actor Oscar in 1965 for playing the drunken gunfighter Kid Shaleen in “Cat Ballou.”
November 7 in history:
November 7th of 1917 is marked as the official date of the Russian Revolution, when Lenin led an assault on Russia’s provisional government at the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg.
Colorado citizens did something revolutionary on this date in 1893. They passed a constitutional amendment to give the state’s women the right to vote. That made Colorado the first state to approve women’s suffrage through a popular election.
On November 7th, 1916, Jeannette Rankin of Montana became the first woman elected to Congress. That same day in 2000, First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton became the first presidential spouse in the U.S. to win public office, when she was elected a Senator from New York.
How did the Wizard of Oz become a Wizard? In the 1939 movie, he explains to Dorothy that the citizens of Oz proclaimed him “the First Wizard Deluxe” when he drifted to their land in a runaway hot-air balloon. Herman Mankiewicz was one of many screenwriters who worked on “Oz.” He also co-wrote “Citizen Kane,” whose lead character ran for public office. Mankiewicz was born on November 7th, 1897.