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 83 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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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 day before Halloween.

 

 

 

 

 

It was initially performed by Glenn Miller:

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Father Thomas Ewing Sherman

Abraham Lincoln said that “A House divided against itself cannot stand”.  Thomas Ewing Sherman was born into a House divided by religion on  October 12, 1856.  He was the son of William Tecumseh Sherman, at the time an obscure former officer, and Ellen Ewing Sherman.  Ellen Sherman was a devout Catholic, and, I think, a saint.  She constantly did good works and was a champion of the Church her entire life.  Among her many activities was the foundation of the Catholic Indian Missionary Association, and a prominent role in the Golden Jubilee celebrations in the US of the reign of Pio Nono in 1877 for which she received the personal thanks of the Pope.

William Tecumseh Sherman attended mass with his family when he was at home prior to the Civil War, but ceased doing so during the war.  He and Ellen had been raised together, Ellen’s father, Thomas Ewing, a Senator from Ohio, taking the orphan “Cump” Sherman into his home after the death of Sherman’s father, an Ohio Supreme Court justice, in 1829.  The Ewings were devout Catholics, although Thomas would not be baptized into the Faith until just before his death after decades of attending mass, and “Cump” was baptized a Catholic while living with them.  Sherman’s religious views are often described as agnostic but that is an oversimplification.  I think he basically believed in God, but he was skeptical of organized religion and especially the Catholic Church.  However he had no objection to Ellen raising all of their children as Catholics, but over the years the religious tension between Sherman and his wife grew.  (more…)

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October 28, 1886: Dedication of the Statue of Liberty

We are not here today to bow before the representation of a fierce warlike god, filled with wrath and vengeance, but we joyously contemplate instead our own deity keeping watch and ward before the open gates of America and greater than all that have been celebrated in ancient song. Instead of grasping in her hand thunderbolts of terror and of death, she holds aloft the light which illumines the way to man’s enfranchisement. We will not forget that Liberty has here made her home, nor shall her chosen altar be neglected. Willing votaries will constantly keep alive its fires and these shall gleam upon the shores of our sister Republic thence, and joined with answering rays a stream of light shall pierce the darkness of ignorance and man’s oppression, until Liberty enlightens the world.

President Grover Cleveland, October 28, 1886

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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, 1864: Bloody Bill Anderson Killed

LeBoeuf: The force of law! This man is a notorious thumper! He rode by the light of the moon with Quantrill and Bloody Bill Anderson!
Rooster Cogburn: That men was patriots, Texas trash!
LeBoeuf: They murdered women and children in Lawrence, Kansas.
Rooster Cogburn: That’s a G-d d—-d lie! What army was you in, mister?
LeBoeuf: I was at Shreveport first with Kirby-Smith, then…
Rooster Cogburn: Yeah? What side was you on?
LeBoeuf: I was in the army of Northern Virginia, Cogburn, and I don’t have to hang my head when I say it!
Rooster Cogburn: If you had served with Captain Quantrill…
LeBoeuf: Captain? Captain Quantrill indeed!
Rooster Cogburn: Best let this go, LeBoeuf!
LeBoeuf: Captain of what?
Rooster Cogburn: Good, then! There are not sufficient dollars in the state of Texas to make it worth my while to listen to your opinions. Our agreement is nullified.
LeBoeuf: That suits me!

Charles Portis, True Grit

 

 

Our Civil War was a relatively clean war in that the mass murder  of civilian populations that are often a feature of civil wars was mercifully absent from that conflict.  However, some atrocities did occur, and many of them were in the ferocious fighting that raged in Kansas and along the Kansas-Missouri border.  There the Civil War had begun in 1854, with a brief truce in 1859-60.

Anderson, born in 1839, came from a family of horse thieves.  Residing in Agnes, Kansas in March 1862, his father was shot by a local Judge in regard to a stolen horse.  Bloody Bill and his brother Jim took revenge by shooting to death the Judge and his brother-in-law.   Bloody Bill left Agnes, Kansas with his family and moved to Western Missouri.

By the spring of 1863 Bloody Bill and Jim had joined up with William Quantrill and his Confederate guerillas.

Union General Thomas Ewing, Jr., the commander of the military district which comprised Kansas and Western Missouri, ordered the arrest of relatives of the members of Quantrill’s band.  12 women among those arrested were housed in a three story house in Kansas City, Missouri.  The house collapsed on August 14, 1863, killing four of the women.  Anderson’s sister Josephine was killed in the collapse and his sister Mary was rendered a permanent cripple.

Anderson went crazy with grief and rage when he heard the news.   In retaliation, Quantrill raided Lawrence, Kansas on August 21.  200 men and boys were murdered by Quantrill’s men, with Bloody Bill living up to the nickname by which he is known to history. (more…)

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October 25, 1971: Murder and Redemption on Gunsmoke

Trafton

 (I originally posted this at The American Catholic and I thought the popular culture mavens of Almost Chosen People might enjoy it.)

 

When I was a kid I watched way too much TV.  How little of those hours I can recall now!  However there is one television show that I watched that has always stayed with me.  On October 25, 1971, when I was a freshman in high school, a Gunsmoke episode aired entitled Trafton.  The guest star of the episode was character actor Victor French, who would make twenty-three appearances on Gunsmoke, usually portraying a villain.  The Trafton episode was no exception.  He portrayed a gunman known simply as Trafton.  A murderer, Trafton had learned the gunman’s trade while riding with Confederate raider “Bloody Bill” Anderson during the War.  The episode opens with Trafton and his gang shooting up a town in New Mexico.  They attempt to rob the bank, only to find that the vault contains no money.  Frustrated, on his way out of town Trafton sees a Catholic Church.  He enters the Church and goes up to the altar, and takes a gold cross, a gold communion chalice and a gold paten.  The priest appears and tries to stop him,  Trafton unhesitatingly gunning down the priest.  Seeing a gold cross about the neck of the dying priest, Trafton stoops down to remove the cross.  As he does so the priest with his last strength, to the utter astonishment of Trafton, says, “I forgive you.” and with his bloody right hand traces a cross on the forehead of Trafton just before he dies.  Trafton uneasily touches his forehead, and then leaves the Church and rides off. (more…)

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October 24, 1864: Moses of the Colored Man Speech

On the evening October 24, 1864, addressing a torchlight crowd of blacks in Nashville, Andrew Johnson, military governor of the state of Tennessee and the nominee for Vice President on the National Union ticket headed by Lincoln, freed the slaves of Tennessee.  No doubt it was done for the campaign, but it also was a remarkable event, especially due to the fact that although Johnson had fought throughout his political career in Tennessee prior to the war against the political influence of the large plantation owners, he had never breathed a word against slavery.  However, although still not in favor of Negro equality, the war had radicalized him into an opponent of slavery.  Here is his speech:

Colored men of Nashville: You have all heard of the President’s Proclamation, by which he announces to the world that the slaves in a large portion of the seceded States were thenceforth and forever free. For certain reasons, which seemed wise to the President, the benefits of that Proclamation did not extend to you or to your native State. Many of you consequently were left in bondage. The task-master’s scourge was not yet broken, and the fetters still galled your limbs. Gradually this iniquity has been passing away, but the hour has come when the last vestiges of it must be removed. Consequently, I, too, without reference to the President or any other person, have a proclamation to make; and, standing here upon the steps of the Capitol, with the past history of the State to witness, the present condition to guide, and its future to encourage me, I, Andrew Johnson, do hereby proclaim freedom to every man in Tennessee!

I invoke the colored people to be orderly and law-abiding, but at the same time let them assert their rights, and if traitors and ruffians attack them, while in the discharge of their duties, let them defend themselves as all men have a right to do.

I am no agrarian. I respect the rights of property acquired by honest labor. But I say, nevertheless, that if the great farm of Mark Cockrill, who gave $25,000 to Jeff. Davis’s Confederacy, were divided into small farms and sold to fifteen or twenty honest farmers, society would be improved, Nashville mechanics and tradesmen would be enriched, the State would have more good citizens, and our city would have a much better market than it now has.

I am no agrarian, but if the princely plantation of Wm. G. Harding, who boasted that he had disbursed over $5,000,000 for the rebel Confederacy, were parcelled out among fifty loyal, industrious farmers, it would be a blessing to our noble Commonwealth. I speak to-night as a citizen of Tennessee. I am here on my own soil, and mean to remain here and fight this great battle of freedom through to the end. Loyal men, from this day forward, are to be the controllers of Tennessee’s grand and sublime destiny, and Rebels must be dumb. We will not listen to their consels. Nashville is no longer the place for them to hold their meetings. Let them gather their treasonable conclaves elsewhere; among their friends in the Confederacy. They shall not hold their conspiracies in Nashville.

The representatives of the corrupt (and if you will permit me almost to swear a little) this damnable aristocracy, taunt us with our desire to see justice done, and charge us with favoring negro equality. Of all living men they should be the last to mouth that phrase; and even when uttered in their hearing, it should cause their cheeks to tinge and burn with shame. Negro equality, indeed! Why pass, any day, along the sidewalks of High street where these aristocrats more particularly dwell – these aristrocrats, whose sons are now in the bands of guerillas and cut-throats who prowl and rob and murder around our city – pass by their dwellings, I say, and you will see as many mulatto as negro children, the former bearing an unmistakable resemblance to their aristrocrat neighbors! (more…)

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The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down

Something for the weekend.  The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.  Not period music of course, but few songs better evoke the despair of Confederates in the aftermath of defeat.  The above version is the original one sung by The Band.  Here is the version that became the signature song of Joan Baez.

 

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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-nine 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…)

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