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.
August 24 in history:
The White House and the U.S. Capitol were among the government buildings destroyed or damaged by fire by the British during a raid on Washington, D.C., late in the War of 1812. The British forces attacked on August 24th, 1814.
Many historians believe August 24th of 79 A.D. was the day that the Italian city of Pompeii was destroyed by a fiery eruption of the volcano Mount Vesuvius. The ruins of Pompeii were buried under several feet of ash for centuries. In 1599, parts of the city were briefly unearthed by an architect named Domenico Fontana.
Actor Joe Regalbuto played reporter Frank Fontana on the sitcom “Murphy Brown.” Regalbuto was born August 24th, 1949, the same day and year as actor Charles Rocket, who also played a fictional TV reporter as the “Weekend Update” anchor on “Saturday Night Live.” Two other men famous for playing “fake” newsmen were born on this date in 1962: original “Daily Show” anchor Craig Kilborn, and David Koechner, alias Champ Kind from the “Anchorman” movies. It’s also the birthday of real-life TV reporter and former “Meet the Press” host David Gregory (born 1970).