The Night America Trembled

 

 

Broadcast on September 9, 1957, The Night America Trembled recreated the reaction to the radio broadcast of the War of the Worlds on October 30, 1938.

 

How little it took to panic the country 79 years ago!  The War of the Worlds broadcast on Halloween Eve 1938 by Orson Welles and his Mercury Theater demonstrated the power of radio and how edgy the country was.  Or did it?  Recent studies have contended that the panic was not widespread and that relatively few radios in the country were tuned to the broadcast.  At any rate there was enough of an uproar that CBS called a press conference the next morning at which Welles appeared and took questions:

 

MR. WELLES: Despite my deep regret over any misapprehension that our broadcast might have created among some listeners, I am even more bewildered over this misunderstanding in the light of an analysis of the broadcast itself.

It seems to me that they’re our four factors, which should have in any event maintained the illusion of fiction in the broadcast. The first was that the broadcast was performed as if occurring in the future, and as if it were then related by a survivor of a past occurrence. The date of this fanciful invasion of this planet by Martians was clearly given as 1939 and was so announced at the outset of the broadcast.

The second element was the fact that the broadcast took place at our weekly Mercury Theatre period and had been so announced in all the papers. For seventeen consecutive weeks we have been broadcasting radio sixteen of these seventeen broadcasts have been fiction and have been presented as such. Only one in the series was a true story, the broadcast of Hell on Ice by Commander Ellsberg, and was identified as a true story in the framework of radio drama.

The third element was the fact that at the very outset of the broadcast, and twice during its enactment, listeners were told that this was a play that it was an adaptation of an old novel by H. G. Wells. Furthermore, at the conclusion, a detailed statement to this effect was made.

The fourth factor seems to me to have been the most pertinent of all. That is the familiarity of the fable, within the American idiom, of Mars and the Martians.

For many decades “The Man From Mars” has been almost a synonym for fantasy. In very old morgues of many newspapers there will be found a series of grotesque cartoons that ran daily, which gave this fantasy imaginary form. As a matter of fact, the fantasy as such has been used in radio programs many times. In these broadcasts, conflict between citizens of Mars and other planets been a familiarly accepted fairy-tale. The same make-believe is familiar to newspaper readers through a comic strip that uses the same device. (more…)

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Published in: on October 31, 2017 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on The Night America Trembled  
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October 14, 1947: Yeager Breaks the Sound Barrier

I was always afraid of dying.  Always.  It was my fear that made me learn everything I could about my airplane and my emergency equipment, and kept me flying respectful of my machine and always alert in the cockpit.

Chuck Yeager

 

Seventy years ago Captain Chuck Yeager, a double ace in World War II, flying the experimental X-1, broke the sound barrier.  Two days before the flight Yeager broke two ribs and was in such pain that he could not close the cabin door without assistance.  Needless to say he did not report his injury to anyone in authority who could scrub him from the flight.  George Welch, also a World War II ace, may have broke the sound barrier on October 1, 1947, flying in an XP-86, but his speed could not be verified.

As indicated by the video clip below from The Right Stuff, the life of a test pilot in those days often ended in sudden death, so while we salute Yeager’s skill we should also be mindful of his courage and those of his brother pilots.  George Welch died in 1954 when the test plane he was flying disintegrated.  The Right Stuff consists of more than courage, but it is an essential component.

 

General Yeager, who is still with us at age 94, wrote an account of his breaking the sound barrier for Popular Mechanics on the fortieth anniversary:

 

 

I had flown at supersonic speeds for 18 seconds. There was no buffet, no jolt, no shock. Above all, no brick wall to smash into. I was alive.

And although it was never entered in the pilot report, the casualness of invading a piece of space no man had ever visited was best reflected in the radio chatter. I had to tell somebody, anybody, that we’d busted straight through the sound barrier. But transmissions were restricted. “Hey Ridley!” I called. “Make another note. There’s something wrong with this Machmeter. It’s gone completely screwy!”

“If it is, we’ll fix it,” Ridley replied, catching my drift. “But personally, I think you’re seeing things.”

Go here to read the rest.

Published in: on October 30, 2017 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on October 14, 1947: Yeager Breaks the Sound Barrier  
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October 29, 1901: Leon Czolgosz Executed

 

 

The late 19th century witnessed a wave of anarchist assassinations and attempted assassinations as the turbulent 19th century waned into an even more turbulent 20th century.

Among the victims of these actions were a Prime Minister of Spain on August 8, 1897, the Empress of Austria-Hungary on September 18, 1898 and the King of Italy on July 29, 1900. The terrifying aspect of these murders were that they were the actions of loan wolf assassins, inspired by anarchist writings, but not members of organized conspiracies. Security services around the globe were puzzled as to how to combat a group that eschewed organized plotting and celebrated individual violent acts.

If William McKinley was concerned about the prospect of assassination he left no hint of it. Of course he left virtually no personal correspondence in which he expressed his views on any public matters. One of the more enigmatic men to ever be president, McKinley was largely a mystery even to men he had known for decades. Close mouthed, McKinley rarely expressed himself on any issue unless he had to, and always after a period of careful consideration.

Rising from Private to Brevet Major during the Civil War, McKinley began his rise in politics by defending, pro bono, striking workers accused of rioting, obtaining acquittals for all but one of his clients. McKinley served a long political apprenticeship before becoming President: prosecuting attorney, Congress, Governor of Ohio, sometimes meeting with defeat in the politically divided Ohio. When he ran for President in 1896, he won one of the great political victories in American history, establishing Republican political dominance that would endure until 1932. His victory in 1900 was even greater, the GOP winning all but four states outside of the solid South.

His personal life was marked by tragedy. He and his wife had two daughters, one who died in infancy and the other before her fourth birthday. McKinley’s wife, suffering from epilepsy and deep depression, became a semi-invalid, McKinley devoting himself to her care for the rest of his life.

Theodore Roosevelt, the reluctant Vice-President of McKinley, assumed that he would have so little to occupy his time, that he planned on attending law school during his term in office.
Another man who did not have enough to do was Leon Frank Czolgosz. Born to immigrants from Belarus in Detroit in 1873, he worked at the Cleveland Rolling Mill until the Panic of 1893. With economic hard times, Czolgosz became interested in socialism and anarchism. In 1898 he went to live with his father on a 55 acre farm near Warrensville, Ohio that his father had purchased. He came into conflict with his father due to his loafing and his rejection of the fervent Catholicism of his father. Inspired by the assassination of King Umberto on July 29, 1901, he decided, in the cause of anarchism, to assassinate President McKinley. (more…)

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That Old Black Magic

Something for the weekend.  The incomparable Ella Fitzgerald singing That Old Black Magic, which was written in 1942 by Johnny Mercer, with music by Harold Arlen, and which seems appropriate on this pre-Halloween weekend.

 

 

 

 

 

It was initially performed by Glenn Miller:

Published in: on October 28, 2017 at 3:30 am  Comments Off on That Old Black Magic  
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October 27, 1962: Black Saturday

 

 

October 27, 1962 has gone down in history as Black Saturday.  Three events pushed the world to the very brink of nuclear war.

Major Rudolph Anderson was shot down and killed during a U-2 flight over Cuba.  He was posthumously decorated with the Air Force Cross, the second highest decoration for valor in the United States Air Force.  Soviet Premier Khrushchev was furious when he heard about the shoot down and ordered that no further US planes were to be downed except on personal orders from him.  Here is the citation for Major Anderson.

 

 

The President of the United States of America, authorized by Title 10, Section 8742, United States Code, takes pride in presenting the Air Force Cross (Posthumously) to Major Rudolf Anderson Jr., United States Air Force, for extraordinary heroism in connection with military operations against an armed enemy while serving as Pilot of a U-2 airplane with the 4080th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing, Strategic Air Command (SAC), from 15 October 1962 to 27 October 1962. During this period of great national crisis, Major Anderson, flying an unescorted, unarmed aircraft, lost his life while participating in one of several aerial reconnaissance missions over Cuba. While executing these aerial missions, Major Anderson made photographs which provided the United States government with conclusive evidence of the introduction of long-range offensive missiles into Cuba and which materially assisted our leaders in charting the nation’s military and diplomatic course. Through his extraordinary heroism, superb airmanship, and aggressiveness in the face of the enemy, Major Anderson reflected the highest credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.

The second event occurred when the US destroyer the USS Beale, enforcing the Cuban blockade, dropped warning non-explosive depth charges on nuclear armed Soviet Sub B-59.  The commander of the sub, thinking his ship was doomed, wanted to launch a nuclear torpedo at a nearby US carrier.  The launch required the concurrence of three officers. Captain  Vasili Alexandrovich Arkhipov, who would eventually rise to Vice Admiral in the Soviet Navy, refused to agree and probably saved the world from nuclear annihilation.

The third event involved another U-2 flight became lost and flew into Soviet air space.  Chased by Soviet fighters he flew to Alaska, with the US scrambling nuclear armed fighters.  Ironically, the events of the day probably helped ensure a peaceful resolution of the crisis, convincing both Kennedy and Khrushchev that the situation was careening out of control and that the standoff had to end if nuclear war were to be averted.

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October 26, 1861: Pony Express Ceases Operation

 

 

An American legend, the Pony Express ceased operations on October 26, 1861.  Operating for only 18 months, the Pony Express delivered mail over 1900 rugged miles from San Francisco to Saint Joseph, Missouri in an astonishing 10 days.  Most of the riders were teenage boys, including a 14 year old boy, William Cody, future Medal of Honor recipient,   better known to history as Buffalo Bill.  These young men and boys quickly found themselves national heroes due to their iron determination to deliver the mail swiftly in spite of inclement weather, hostile indians and vast distances.  Each Pony Express rider received a Bible upon being hired and swore this oath: (more…)

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October 24, 1977: Last Veterans Day in October

 

Due to the Uniform Monday Holiday Act Veterans Day was celebrated on the fourth Monday in October in 1971-1977.  Veterans’ groups were appalled and the date was shifted back to the traditional November 11 in 1978 where it has remained.

On September 20, 1975, President Gerald Ford, a Navy combat veteran of World War II, signed the law returning Veterans Day to November 11:

I HAVE signed into law today S. 331, a bill which will return the annual observance of Veterans Day from the Fourth Monday in October to its original date of November 11, beginning in 1978. This action supports the expressed will of the overwhelming majority of our State legislatures, all major veterans service organizations, and many individuals.

Under a law enacted in 1968, the fourth Monday in October was designated for the observance of Veterans Day. Since that law took effect, it has become apparent that the commemoration of this day on November 11 is a matter of historic and patriotic significance to a great number of our citizens. It is a practice deeply and firmly rooted in our customs and traditions. Americans have appreciated and wish to retain the historic significance of November 11 as the day set aside each year by a grateful nation to remember and honor those, living and dead, who fought to win and preserve our freedom.

I believe restoration of the observance of Veterans Day to November 11 will help preserve in the hearts and lives of all Americans the spirit of patriotism, the love of country, and the willingness to serve and sacrifice for the common good symbolized by this very special day.

 

Published in: on October 24, 2017 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on October 24, 1977: Last Veterans Day in October  
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October 22, 1962: Cuban Missile Crisis Speech

 

The world came very close to nuclear war just over half a century back.  The above video is of the speech that President Kennedy gave fifty-five years ago on October 22, 1962.  Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev in placing nuclear missiles in Cuba brought the world to the brink.  The crisis was ultimately resolved with the removal of the Soviet missiles in exchange for two  agreements between the US and the Soviet Union:  1.  No invasion of Cuba by the US and 2.  The removal of obsolete American Jupiter nuclear missiles from Turkey and Southern Italy.  Unsurprisingly the US kept secret the removal of the Jupiter missiles.  Surprisingly the Soviets also kept mum about the removal of the Jupiter missiles which led to the perception abroad and within the Soviet Union that Khrushchev had lost his confrontation with Kennedy, and paved the way for the Central Committee coup led by Leonid Brezhnev which toppled  Khrushchev from power in October 1964.  Here is the text of the speech: (more…)

Published in: on October 22, 2017 at 11:59 pm  Comments (2)  
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October 21, 1879: Thomas Edison Invents the Incandescent Light Bulb

“We will make electricity so cheap that only the rich will burn candles.”

                                                                                                                                                                    Thomas Edison, 1879

 

Ah, Thomas Edison, that paragon of hard work and genius.  Electric lights had been experimented with since 1802.  Making a commercially viable light bulb however, eluded the numerous scientists working on the problem until Edison succeeded.  This was the type of problem that Edison excelled at:  one that required a bit of inspiration and a large amount of perspiration.
Beginning in 1878 Edison began work on a commercially viable incandescent electric lamp.  He decided that for indoor home use the light source had to operate on low voltage.  The idea of running current through a vacuum tube to produce light had been around for decades.  With improved pumping equipment Edison was able to make a better vacuum tube, and then his research centered on a long lasting filament.  Edison spoke about the process in 1890:
I speak without exaggeration when I say that I have constructed 3,000 different theories in connection with the electric light, each one of them reasonable and apparently likely to be true. Yet only in two cases did my experiments prove the truth of my theory. My chief difficulty was in constructing the carbon filament. . . . Every quarter of the globe was ransacked by my agents, and all sorts of the queerest materials used, until finally the shred of bamboo, now utilized by us, was settled upon.
Carbonized bamboo filaments would burn for 1200 hours.  A new age of light commenced.
Patent battles were inevitable with so many other inventors working on the light bulb.  Edison, ever the shrewd businessman, prevailed with a mixture of legal fights, purchasing patents, going into joint ventures with competitors, and buying other competitors out.  Edison’s business skills were as brilliant as his light bulb.

 

Published in: on October 21, 2017 at 11:59 pm  Comments Off on October 21, 1879: Thomas Edison Invents the Incandescent Light Bulb  
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The Surrender of Cornwallis

 

Something for the weekend.  The Surrender of Cornwallis to the tune of The British Grenadiers sung by Bobby Horton.  Bonus: World Turned Upside Down song from Hamilton:

 

Published in: on October 21, 2017 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on The Surrender of Cornwallis  
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