Category Archives: History

Roger, Twan

Via kottke.org, awesome annotated transcript of the last half hour of audio communications between Houston and the Eagle LM during its descent and landing on the Moon. I didn’t realize that an important part of the astronauts’ navigation was watching how fast objects moved past scribed marks on the craft’s window, as means of computing velocity. Sort of like watching tell-tales.

I remember staying up to watch the first walk, my Instamatic in hand to take a snapshot off the TV screen.

A couple of years later, when Apollo 15 landed at Hadley Rille, I thought it would be a fine idea for the city of Oakwood to rename its Hadley Avenue for the lunar feature.

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On behalf of H.M. Government

Noël Coward acted covertly on behalf of the British government in the early years of World War II. Coward kept mum about his involvement, but the recent publication of his letters, with commentary by Barry Day, has “pulled a fair amount of the covert nitty-gritty out of the archival murk,” as Stephen Koch writes.

Being Noël Coward, he also partied—notably with the recently abdicated pro-Nazi Duke of Windsor and his more intelligent and even more pro-Nazi wife. The Windsors may have looked like Coward’s type, but Coward had always privately despised the former king. In 1936, he wrote, “I’ve known for years that he had a common mind and liked second-rate people, and I am sure it is a good thing for England that he abdicated.”

By 1940, the Windsors had graduated from mediocrity into real menace. One factor in the abdication had been that the prime minister had been told, reliably, that the woman inflaming the king’s already fascistic sentiments was a friend of Ribbentrop and the next thing to a Nazi agent. After the abdication, the Windsors were married in the residence of a Nazi collaborator. As the Battle of Britain approached, British intelligence believed—correctly—that Hitler, assisted by Ribbentrop, planned to restore the duke to the throne as a quisling monarch. Worst of all, intelligence suspected that the couple may have been complicit in this treachery….

We can only speculate whether Coward was keeping unofficial tabs on the couple.

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Fallout

Via Ward-O-Matic, Conelrad is “devoted to ATOMIC CULTURE past and present but without all the distracting and pedantic polemics.” A featured multi-page article provides the production history of “the Citizen Kane of of Civil Defense,” Duck and Cover.

A few years ago, I noticed some apartment blocks on 15th Street that still carried the black and yellow CD signs indicating the presence of a fallout shelter. The last time I was in that neighborhood, I couldn’t relocate the signs. I’ll keep a lookout.

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A leitmotiv

So I’m working my way through Don DeLillo’s Underworld, and the Fred F. French Building keeps making recurring appearances along with the atomic bombs and piles of garbage and various movies and Bobby Thomson’s home run. And I asked, “Who was Fred F. French?” in much the same way that the character Rochelle does. Well, James Morrison answers the question.

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It Happened in 1956

  • Frederick Reines and Clyde L. Cowan, Jr., of the Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory discover the first evidence of the neutrino in a chamber 12 m under the Savannah River nuclear reactor (called, in the August 1956 Scientific American article that reported the story, an “atomic pile”). The ghostly particle, electrically neutral, was thought at the time of its discovery to have no mass as well, which explained why it hardly interacted with its surroundings and was so difficult to detect. Reines shared the 1995 Nobel Prize in Physics for this work.
  • 11 February: Ed Norton teaches Ralph Kramden how to dance the Hucklebuck in the “Young at Heart” episode of The Honeymooners.
  • 2 August: Albert Woolson, of Companies C&D, 1st Minnesota Heavy Artillery, born 11 February 1847 in Watertown, N.Y. and the last surviving Union veteran of the Civil War, passes away.
  • Chess prodigy Bobby Fischer meets Donald Byrne in the Rosenwald Memorial Tournament in New York. Their game, won by Fischer playing black, is called by many annotators the “Game of the Century.”
  • 19 April: A nuptial mass celebrates the marriage of Grace Kelly to Prince Rainier III. Kelly exchanges her film career for life as Her Serene Highness Princess Grace of Monaco.
  • 15 December: The phrase “Elvis has left the building” is first uttered. Elvis Presley’s hits that year include “Hound Dog,” “Heartbreak Hotel,” “Don’t Be Cruel,” and “Love Me Tender.”
  • IBM Almaden4 September: The IBM RAMAC 305 is introduced, the first commercial computer to use magnetic disk storage, and one of IBM’s last systems to use vacuum tubes. The RAMAC systems (Random Access Method of Accounting and Control) used the IBM 350 disk subsystem, which stored 5 million 7-bit characters on 50 disks 24 inches in diameter and mounted vertically in a refrigerator-sized cabinet. (IBM Almaden, originally uploaded by jurvetson)
  • More passings: crusty journalist and satirist H.L. Mencken; A.A. Milne, author of the Winnie-the-Pooh books; baseball Hall of Famer Cornelius Alexander McGillicuddy (a/k/a Connie Mack); Adolf Hitler’s half-brother Alois; Alben Barkley, vice president for Harry Truman; virtuosic bebop trumpeter Clifford Brown; and, in one deadly week in August, painter Jackson Pollack, actor Bela Lugosi, and playwright Bertolt Brecht.
  • 15 October: the first blasts begin construction of the dam across Glen Canyon on the Colorado River, the controversial Bureau of Reclamation project that ultimately formed Lake Powell.
  • Grace Metalious publishes the potboiler Peyton Place; Allen Ginsberg releases a “Howl.”
  • 23 October: Tens of thousands of people take to the streets in Hungary, seeking an end to Soviet domination. Russian tanks roll into the country in November, crushing the uprising.
  • 30 September: The Dodgers win their last pennant in Brooklyn, one game ahead of the Milwaukee Braves. World Series champions the year before, this year the Dodgers lose to the Yankees (again) and Don Larsen’s perfect game.
  • 2 August: The first construction contracts are let under the new legislation enabling the 42,000-mile interstate highway system. Meanwhile, in Edina, in the suburbs of Minneapolis, Victor Gruen opens Southdale, the archetype of the indoor shopping mall.
  • 13 November: the Supreme Court upholds a ruling declaring segregation on buses unconstitutional, effectively ending the boycott that was begun in Montgomery, Ala. the year before when Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat.
  • 3 January: Alan Schneider directs Bert Lahr and Tom Ewell at the Coconut Grove Playhouse in Florida in the first United States production of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot.
  • 6 August: Chris Schenkel wraps “Boxing from St. Nicholas Arena,” the last program broadcast on the DuMont Television Network, America’s first fourth TV network. So long, Captain Video.
  • 26 July: After a collision in the fog off Nantucket the previous evening, the ocean liner Andrea Doria slips beneath the waves. Fortunately, improved communications and rapid response avert major loss of life.
  • John Ford releases the noir Western The Searchers, inspiring living room movie theorists for years to come.
  • The first group of “Hiroshima Maidens,” survivors of the 1945 bombing, return to Japan from New York. The Maidens, disfigured with keloid scars from burns sustained in the attack, underwent plastic surgery treatments at Mt. Sinai Hospital. A contemporary CBC broadcast fills in some of the details of the story. In 1999, survivor Miyoko Matsubara reflected on her experiences.
  • 13 August: Doris and Don Gorsline welcome their brand-new son David into the world.
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Internet history

Via kottke.org, Robert H. Zakon’s Hobbes’ Internet Timeline 1957-2004, and the gopher archive of the 1994 version. From the entries for 1993:

Mosaic takes the Internet by storm; WWW proliferates at a 341,634%
annual growth rate of service traffic. Gopher’s growth is 997%.

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Don’t call them Amish

Via Arts & Letters Daily, Stacey Chase visits Sabbathday Lake village in southern Maine, home to the last four surviving members of the United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing, otherwise known as the Shakers.

“I don’t know the mind of God,” [Brother Arnold] Hadd says. “However, I do believe that if we live in faith—as we do—that, as we have been called and chosen, there will always be others who will also be called and chosen to this life.”

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Nathan and Richard and Bobby

An archive of material on the 1924 Leopold and Loeb case, part of the compendious store of records at Northwestern University’s Chicago Historical Homicide Project. The project began with

…the discovery of the availability of a rich log of more than 11,000 homicides maintained consistently and without interruption by the Chicago Police Department over the course of 60 years, from 1870 to 1930.

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Still working out a few issues

Xeni Jardin points to an AP wire service story by Sonja Barisic about the exoneration of Grace Sherwood. Sherwood, a midwife, was convicted 300 years ago of being a witch, the only one found so in the Commonwealth of Virginia.

She was “tried by water:” bound hand to foot and dumped in the Lynnhaven River. She floated, and hence was found guilty.
The so-called “Witch of Pungo” was not executed, however, but she was jailed for perhaps eight years. Gov. Timothy Kaine offered the pardon.

“With 300 years of hindsight, we all certainly can agree that trial by water is an injustice,” Kaine wrote. “We also can celebrate the fact that a woman’s equality is constitutionally protected today, and women have the freedom to pursue their hopes and dreams.”

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