December 24 in history:
Millions of Americans spent part of their Christmas Eve in 1968 watching a TV broadcast from a spaceship circling the moon. That day, the astronauts of Apollo 8 became the first humans to orbit the moon. In the evening, the crew of Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, and William Anders concluded a broadcast to Earth by reading from the Book of Genesis as they photographed the lunar surface from inside the spacecraft.
The Apollo 8 mission figured into the plot of a 1988 episode of “The Wonder Years,” in which Kevin tries to work up the courage to call a girl he met at school. Although the episode clearly identifies the flight as Apollo 8, the kids in the show are watching the launch on TV at school (the launch was on a Saturday), and when the Arnold family watches the Christmas Eve broadcast, it appears to be just a regular school night.
The Apollo 8 message from the moon reached the earth very quickly in 1968. When the U.S. and Great Britain signed a treaty in Europe to end the War of 1812, word of the treaty took about two months to reach America. The Treaty of Ghent was signed on Christmas Eve of 1814. The Battle of New Orleans was fought two weeks later.
The Library of Congress had been burned earlier in 1814, when British forces set fire to the U.S. Capitol. The second major fire at the Library happened on December 24th, 1851. Many of Thomas Jefferson’s personal books donated to the Library were destroyed in that blaze.
Contrary to popular belief, the Library of Congress does not keep a copy of every book published in the U.S., but it just might have some copies of the popular Twilight books about modern-day vampires. Twilight author Stephenie Meyer was born on December 24th, 1973.
July 9th in history:
On July 9th, 1850, Zachary Taylor became the second U.S. president to die in office. Taylor became sick after eating at a 4th of July celebration – and, to this day, some historians believe he was deliberately poisoned. His body was exhumed for testing in 1991, but the coroner did not find sufficient evidence of poisoning.
Another man who wanted to be president made a famous speech on this date in 1896. William Jennings Bryan delivered what was known as the “Cross of Gold” speech at the Democratic Convention in Chicago, opposing the gold standard. Following that oration, Bryan became the youngest presidential nominee in Democratic party history at age 36, and earned the nickname the “Boy Orator.”
Tom Hanks became a first-time Oscar nominee at age 32 for “Big,” in which he played a boy suddenly stuck in a man’s body. Hanks, born on July 9th, 1956, won back-to-back Oscars for “Philadelphia” and “Forrest Gump.” He has also played astronaut Jim Lovell in “Apollo 13,” commanded G.I.s in the WWII drama “Saving Private Ryan,” and romanced Meg Ryan in “Sleepless in Seattle” and “You’ve Got Mail.”
“Big” was released in 1988, the same year that 11-year-old Fred Savage played a grown-up suddenly stuck in a boy’s body in “Vice Versa.” Savage, born on this day in 1976, also played Peter Falk’s grandson in “The Princess Bride” and starred as Kevin Arnold on the TV series “The Wonder Years.” As a grown-up, Savage has shifted from acting to directing.
April 12th in history:
A man moved around the Earth in a space capsule for the first time on April 12th, 1961, when cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin was launched into orbit.
Two accidents involving Soviet submarines have happened on April 12th. In 1970, the submarine K-8 sank while being towed in the North Atlantic after a fire. Fifty-two men died when the sub went down with nuclear torpedoes aboard. On April 12th of 1963, the nuclear sub K-33 collided with a Finnish merchant ship. The accident was kept a secret for 44 years.
“The Hunt for Red October,” partly set aboard a Soviet sub, was the first successful novel by author Tom Clancy, born on this date in 1947.
Clancy once appeared as a guest on NBC’s “Late Night” show, but not during David Letterman’s time as the show’s host. Letterman was born the same day and year as Clancy. He was the original host of “Late Night,” from 1982 until 1993, when he moved to CBS and renamed his program “The Late Show.” Letterman retired from the show in 2015, and was succeeded by Stephen Colbert.
Yet another man born on April 12th, 1947, is actor Dan Lauria, who played Jack Arnold, Kevin’s dad, on “The Wonder Years.” Letterman left NBC the same year that “The Wonder Years” ended its run on ABC.