Friday, October 30, 2009

Aliens Invade!! (Your Radio) – Orson Welles and the “War of the Worlds”

On October 30, 1938, Orson Welles and fellow members of The Mercury Theater troupe performed a production of H.G. Wells’ “War of the Worlds,” a fictional story about a Martian invasion in Grovers Mill, New Jersey. At the beginning of the program, Welles introduced the program indicating that the story was fictional. However, a majority of the listeners didn’t join the story until it was already in progress due to another show that aired around the same time. As a result, most listeners tuned in and believed that the “news bulletins” they were hearing during the broadcast were true. Its estimated that of the six million people who listened to the production, around 1.7 million reportedly believed the story to be true. So today as we approach Halloween, give Welles’ original broadcast a listen for yourself and see if their “reporting” of a Martian invasion seems realistic. Orson Welles had to later reassure the audience that it was, in fact, just a story.

As you listen to the original broadcast, imagine living in New Jersey on the night of October 30, 1938, and hearing about an alien invasion coming to your state. Now imagine living in a neighborhood where countless others are listening to this same program. As the show progresses, and news of the invasion in New Jersey is “confirmed” you hear your neighbors throw their sleepy eyed kids in the car and attempt to outrun the aliens. You might think this sounds outlandish in an era of a 24/7 news cycle where such incredible rumors are easily disputed, but don’t worry, its only American history. Happy almost Halloween!

[Images via Enelbackstage and folensblogs]

Happy Halloween!

Still haven’t made Jack o Lanterns yet? Here are some cool American history related carving patterns from the History Channel. Happy Halloween!

[Image via colourlover]

Sunday, October 25, 2009

He Liked It So He Put a Ring On It – John Adams Marries Abigail Smith

On October 25, 1764, future President John Adams married Abigail Smith. Abigail was the daughter of a parson who had nurtured an active mind through reading. John Adams was taken with her intellect and her willingness to debate him on any issue. The two entered into one of the most famous marriages in American history, made famous by the publication of their letters to one another in the 1840s.

Their marriage coincided with the increased hostilities between England and the colonies, the ensuing revolution and the beginning of the United States. One can imagine how tough it was on both John and Abigail to be separated at such trying times when no one’s safety was guaranteed. It was during one of these separations in 1774 that Abigail wrote one of her most famous letters to John exhorting him to “remember the ladies” when he and the other members of the Continental Congress got around to writing the laws of the new nation.

Abigail remained one of John’s closest political allies, particularly after the founding of the new nation. John Adams was our nation’s first Vice-President, which left him without much recourse to influence policy. Upon being elected to the Vice-Presidency he reflected, “My country has in its wisdom contrived for me the most insignificant office that ever the invention of man contrived or his imagination conceived.” After serving two terms as Vice-President, John Adams was elected to the presidency in 1797. Their union must have been a special comfort to John Adams after suffering defeat in his bid for re-election in 1800 at the hands of his former friend turned political rival, Thomas Jefferson. Adams retired to private life with Abigail at their home, Peacefield. Abigail passed away in 1818 due to typhoid fever. Abigail and John had been married for 54 years, and her passing at the age of 73 devastated John Adams. After her passing, he wrote about his grief to his son John Quincy Adams:

The bitterness of Death is past. The grim Specter so terrible to human Nature has no sting left for me.

My consolations are more than I can number. The Separation cannot be so long as twenty Separations heretofore. The Pangs and the Anguish have not been so great as when you and I embarked for France in 1778.

John Adams died famously on the July 4, 1826, the fiftieth anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence.

To read transcripts of letters written by John and Abigail Adams throughout their marriage, visit the Massachusetts Historical Society Collection here.

[Image via Vassar]

Friday, October 23, 2009

“I Am Not A Crook” – Richard Nixon – Nixon turns over the Watergate Tapes

On October 23, 1973 President Richard Nixon agreed to turn over White House tape recordings requested by the Watergate special prosecutor to Judge John J. Sirica. Excerpts of these tapes were played in open court in U.S. v. Mitchell and U.S. v. Connally. Many of the conversations on these tapes indicate Nixon’s knowledge of the Watergate break in and the following cover-up. For this reason, they are often referred to as the “Smoking Gun” tapes. To read transcripts of different recorded conversations and to listen to the tapes themselves, visit the Nixon Library site here.

[Image via Suzieqq]

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Life You Save May Be Your Own – President Kennedy announces an air and naval blockade of Cuba

On October 22, 1962, President Kennedy announced an air and naval blockade of Cuba, following the discovery of Soviet missile bases on the island. On the 22nd, President Kennedy updated the country on what was later termed the Cuban Missile Crisis. Listen to his address to the American people here courtesy of the Miller Center of Public Affairs.

Here is a newsreel of the address:

Notice he doesn’t pull any punches in letting the American people know the extent of the danger of the situation. The Cuban Missile Crisis stemmed from September of 1962 when the Soviet Union and Cuba placed nuclear missiles in Cuba. When American surveillance became aware of the arms build up in Cuba, it did everything it could to insure their removal. The crisis was one of the tensest moments in the Cold War which almost led from a war of unveiled threats to nuclear war. On October 28th, the crisis finally came to a close when President Kennedy and the United Nations Secretary-General reached an agreement with the Soviets to dismantle the missiles in exchange for a no-invasion agreement.

What’s fascinating about this crisis is how close the United States came to being the target of nuclear weapons. Less than two decades after the United States commissioned the Manhattan Project to build nuclear bombs for use in the Second World War, the United States almost became a victim of its own technology. According to Robert McNamara in the Fog of War documentary, it was only “luck” which prevented the Cuban Missile Crisis from escalating into war. Watch a clip of Fog of War in which McNamara discusses the dangers of combining nuclear weapons controlled by human beings with human infallibility. It’s also interesting to note the McNamara says when he encountered Castro in 1992, Castro revealed that he urged Khrushchev to use nuclear weapons against the United States during the crisis even if it decimated Cuba in the process.

[Image via Wikimedia]

Monday, October 19, 2009

Game Over: General Cornwallis surrenders to General Washington

On October 19, 1781, British General Cornwallis surrendered to General George Washington at Yorktown, Va., bringing an end to the last major battle of the American Revolution. The American and French forces led by Washington and General Rochambeau respectively were able to wear the British down after days of artillery fire and full on attacks. Washington and Rochambeau ordered their men to dig trenches each night that were increasingly close to the British fortifications. The British were unaware of the new positions until artillery had been moved to the trenches and artillery fire started again. French vessels also helped eliminate British ships which could have been used by Cornwallis and his men to escape. The Articles of Capitulation were signed on October 19, 1781. The 8,000 troops taken prisoner were promised good treatment in American camps, while the officers were allowed to go home after taking their parole. Cornwallis refused to attend the surrender ceremony in which he would have to hand his sword over to Washington or Rochambeau claiming illness. Instead, Brigadier General Charles O’Hara did the honors. Interestingly, O’Hara offered his sword first to Rochambeau who refused it and motioned to Washington. O’Hara offered it to Washington who refused it and motioned to his second in command, Benjamin Lincoln who finally accepted the sword. Benjamin Lincoln had been humiliated by the British in Charleston, so maybe Washington thought this was a just end. Either way, it spelled the end of any major fighting and the British moved to work out a peace with the Americans soon after.

[Image via]

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

You Can Shoot Him, But You Can’t Kill Him – Teddy Roosevelt Shot on the Campaign Trail – October 14, 1912

In 1912, Teddy Roosevelt was engaged in the political fight of his life, and on October 14th it briefly turned into a fight for his life itself. While campaigning in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, as the presidential candidate for the Progressive “Bull Moose” Party, Teddy Roosevelt was shot at close range by saloonkeeper John Schrank. Roosevelt was greeting a crowd in front of the Gilpatrick Hotel before a speech when Schrank aimed his gun at Roosevelt’s heart and fired a .32-caliber bullet. What kept the bullet from killing Roosevelt were the contents of his breast pocket; a glasses case and a folded speech that he planned to deliver that evening. As a result of the obstructions, Roosevelt received only a flesh wound rather than a mortal wound. In true “Rough Rider” spirit, Teddy Roosevelt insisted on giving his speech as planned saying “You see, it takes more than one bullet to kill a Bull Moose.” After finishing the speech, Roosevelt was rushed to the hospital. One can only hope that Roosevelt said “Bully” at some point.
Nothing says devotion on the campaign trail like being willing to deliver a speech even after being shot. This makes it all the more tragic that Roosevelt did not go on to win the election. Even though he served as president from 1901 to 1909, Roosevelt lost the election to Democrat Woodrow Wilson. Shrank, meanwhile, was ruled insane and spent the rest of his life in a mental hospital.

[Image via
Wikipedia and answers]

Monday, October 12, 2009

Happy Columbus Day….Teaching Columbus Day in 2009

Here is an article from Yahoo news about the different ways Columbus is being taught in American classrooms. Not to give anything away, but its not as a hero. Columbus is no longer praised for his “discovery” of the “new world” which we all know by now was quite dubious seeing as people were living there when he arrived. Instead, Columbus is taught as a case study of the perils of the age of exploration. In making his journey, Columbus and his crew exemplified the best the technology of the age had to offer, including, the ability to sail half way around the world (even if they were completely lost). However, once Columbus sailed the ocean blue, he quickly had some ‘splaining to do (at least to those of us looking back at the voyage through history). Namely, it’s hard to appreciate the “discovery” of lands heretofore unknown to Europeans in light of how the Europeans reacted to their discovery.

Columbus discovered natural riches upon his arrival in the modern day Bahamas, including an indigenous population. Once in the Americas, Columbus and those who followed inaugurated a practice of taking resources that did not belong to them, while leaving disease and destruction in their wake. I guess this is the kind of behavior that prompted school children to describe Columbus as “very, very mean, very bossy.” (See Yahoo).

[Image via]

Friday, October 9, 2009

Get On Your Boots! Roger Williams Banished from the Massachusetts Bay Colony

This post is dedicated to Rhode Islanders wherever you may be (including my mom, now a begrudging Connecticut resident). On October 9, 1635, Roger Williams was banished from the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Williams was a man who was uncompromising in his beliefs. His devotion to conscience led to the founding of one of the most historically rich, if smallest, states. (read on to see that there is no need for an inferiority complex).

Roger Williams emigrated to the colony in 1630, and brought with him ideas which proved controversial to some other members. One such idea was what is now known as the separation between church and state. Members of the Bay Colony believed that religious infractions (ie betraying any of the ten commandments etc) were to be punished by civil authority. Williams disagreed with this idea, and went on to state that people should have religious freedom to believe what they wanted and to not be punished for it by law. These ideas and others proved too dangerous for the colony, and Williams was expelled in 1635. Williams and a dozen followers settled on lands that were secured from Native Americans, to whom Williams was sympathetic. He founded Providence Plantation on the principle of equality, especially the idea of religious freedom. His settlement attracted a wide variety of groups looking to live in peace without fear of prosecution. Further emphasizing this devotion to equality, what came to be known as the colony of Rhode Island passed the first law in North American to make slavery illegal on May 18, 1652. So take pride Rhode Islanders, today marks an important day in the history of your fair state.

[Image via electricscotland]

And the Award Goes to…President Obama Wins the Nobel Peace Prize

Today the Nobel Committee announced that they would award this year’s Nobel Peace Prize to President Barack Obama “for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples.” His selection has been called controversial by some as he was in office for only two weeks before the February 1 nomination deadline. Here is President Obama’s response to today’s announcement in which he says that he was both “surprised and deeply humbled,” by the award.

I think it’s important to also note that President Barack Obama is not the first sitting president to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Teddy Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson both received the award as sitting presidents, and their selection as recipients of the prize was also deemed controversial at the time. In 1906, Teddy Roosevelt won the Peace Prize for drawing up the 1905 peace treaty between Russia and Japan. Woodrow Wilson won in 1919 as the founder of the League of Nations.

Interestingly, Jimmy Carter is the only president to win the Peace Prize for his efforts after leaving office. He was recognized by the Nobel Committee for “his decades of untiring effort to find peaceful solutions to international conflicts, to advance democracy and human rights, and to promote economic and social development.” Al Gore, a former vice president and presidential candidate, also won in recognition of his efforts once he left political life. He shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change for their join efforts to “disseminate greater knowledge about man-made climate change.”

Find a complete list of Nobel Peace Prize recipients here.

Find worldwide reaction to Obama’s selection here.

For an interesting account of the circumstances surrounding Teddy Roosevelt’s Nobel Peace Prize, including what he did with the award money, visit the Theodore Roosevelt Association.

[Image via Independent and Sameulatgilgal]

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

"Darkness There and Nothing More" - The Death of Edgar Allan Poe

Edgar Allan Poe died on October 7, 1849 at the age of forty. Poe’s life was wrought with tragedy and little success. Poe had a failed military career and encountered difficulty when he attempted to live by his writing. In 1836, Poe married his first cousin Virginia Eliza Clemm Poe. She was 13 at the time, he was 27. In 1847, she died of tuberculosis. Her illness and death had a profound impact on Poe’s writing. Poe himself died under mysterious circumstances. At times, his death has been attributed to “alcohol, brain congestion, cholera, drugs, heart disease, rabies, suicide, tuberculosis, and other agents.” Supposedly, Joseph W. Walker found Poe on the streets of Baltimore wearing someone else’s clothes while acting incoherent and delirious. He was taken to Washington College Hospital where he died on October 7, 1849.

Check out Edgar Allan Poe’s poetry here.

[Image via BC]

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The Great Train Robbery – October 6, 1866

As the Library of Congress site makes note, today marks the anniversary of what some consider to be the first train robbery in the United States. On October 6, 1866, masked thieves boarded a train near Seymour, Indiana, and entered an Adams Express Company car. They pointed guns at an employee named Elem Miller and demanded the keys to the safes on board. He only had keys to a local safe, so they thieves emptied the contents of that safe and threw the other locked safe overboard intending to open it later.

Some believe this train robbery to be the first, but it was preceded by a similar incident nine months before. However costly these robberies were, these crimes did not go unpunished as agents from the Pinkerton National Detective Agency quickly identified the bandits. Train robberies increased in frequency from the 1870s to the 1890s and Pinkerton Security agents were frequently called upon to find those responsible. Famous train robbers from this period included the Reno brothers, the Farringtons, and the Jesse James gang.

With this bit of history in mind, it can come as no surprise that a train robbery served as the plot for one of the earliest motion pictures. Here is the Edison Manufacturing Company’s The Great Train Robbery from 1903. Enjoy!

[Images via Metro-Cincinnati and Silent-Volume]

Sunday, October 4, 2009

“I always wanted to be an artist, whatever that was, like other chicks want to be stewardesses. I read. I painted. I thought.” –Janis Joplin (1943-197

On October 4, 1970, Janis Joplin was found dead, the result of an accidental heroin overdose. Joplin was born in Texas and later moved to San Francisco where she joined Big Brother and the Holding Company. After their hit “Piece of My Heart,” the band toured until Janis announced that she would be leaving the band. As a solo artist, Janis was recording an album that was later called Pearl at the time of her death. When she failed to show up at a recording session, her manager found her in her apartment after she died of an apparent drug overdose. Like Jimi Hendrix and Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin’s career and contributions to rock and roll are considered as legendary as the excess of her personal life. Since her death, Janis Joplin’s voice and flamboyant fashion sense have inspired countless other artists. In honor of Janis Joplin, here is a video of Janis performing “Piece of My Heart.” I’ve also included a clip of an interview Janis recorded on the Dick Cavett Show shortly before her death. She talks about songwriting, being unpopular in high school and the thrill of performing.

[Image via RocknRollPimp]

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Save the Date – Thanksgiving Day

Today in 1863, President Abraham Lincoln declared the last Thursday in November as Thanksgiving Day. Prior to the federal appointment of a day of thanksgiving, the holiday was celebrated by different states on different days. It is believed that Secretary of State William Seward actually composed the proclamation designating an official Thanksgiving Day. The manuscript of the proclamation was later sold to benefit Union troops. To read the proclamation in its entirety, click here.

[Image via UAkron]

Thursday, October 1, 2009

It All Started With a Mouse - Opening Day at Disney World – 1971

After seven years of planning, Walt Disney World opened on October 1, 1971. The park planners wanted to open in October with the hope of keeping crowds low so that any kinks at the park could be worked out. Admission was only $4.95 ($26.31 in today’s money). About 10,000 visitors entered the Magic Kingdom (the only park open on the Disney property at that time) on opening day. The park’s official dedication did not take place until October 25, but the park that continues to capture the imagination of kids everywhere thrived from the start. Below are some promotional videos for Disney’s World’s opening in 1971. The first has a somewhat creepy Alice in Wonderland theme and the second features a cheesetastic dance troupe performing all over the Magic Kingdom.

To read more about the opening of Disney World, click

[Image via squidoo]

But What Will Happen to the Newsies? The Death of American Newspapers

Recently, I have read numerous articles and editorials on the fate of American newspapers. The most recent issue of Vanity Fair explores the challenges facing the Washington Post’s survival (see link to article below). The paper is faring better then others economically, but only because its owners made the wise decision to acquire Kaplan years ago. So in fact, the paper is not surviving because of any profits from the newspaper, but only because of its resident cash cow, Kaplan.
Newsweek’s Daniel Lyons recently issued a scathing attack on American newspapers in general. His article was entitled, “Don’t Bail Out Newspapers- Let Them Die and Get Out of the Way.” (Read his article here) The editorial stemmed from calls for a newspaper bail-out by owners and President Obama’s potential agreement to issue aid to insure the survival of American newspapers. For Lyons, print newspapers are passé, not only for their hard copy format, but because of their lame content. He argues that online news outlets deliver the news more efficiently while offering much higher quality content. Lyons acknowledges that some call for the survival of newspapers because of its ties to democracy. Indeed, newspapers have long been an outlet for political debate and cultural literacy in our country. However, most people my age now get their news from the Daily Show and the Colbert Report or by reading news online. As technology evolves exponentially, and we can now read the newspaper on our iphones or watch it on our ipods or computers, should we let newspapers die out? Or are they worth saving? Even it requires a government bail-out? Are newspapers an essential part of our history?

October 2009: Michael Wolff on iThe Washington Post/i Business:

[Image via Farm1]

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