Sunday, March 31, 2013

March 31: "Oklahoma!"

On this date in History ..... 1943:

A Broadway show opened that many felt was a flop from the start and wouldn’t make it. In fact, a newspaper columnist saw a preview and sent the to his paper, a message about the show of “No girls.  No legs.  No chance.”

But on March 31, 1943, the show that had been originally titled “Away We Go” opened on Broadway under the new title of “Oklahoma!” and began a run that would last 15 years and set a Broadway record of 2212 performances.

Why was the show considered risky?  To start with, there were no big name stars in the show.  It was also the first time that Rogers teamed up with Hammerstein. It also chanced combining “music and dance in service with storytelling rather than spectacle.”  At the time, most Broadway shows opened with a huge musical number but this show opened with a lone cowboy singing about the weather and corn with the song "Oh What a Beautiful Morning". 

The title song “Oklahoma!” had been changed from a solo number to a “full cast show stopper” just weeks before the opening.   At the end of the show, the applause was so deafening and it just kept on and on.  The cast returned for two encores. Members of the cast didn’t think they would ever stop applauding.

It was the first Broadway musical in which every single song had a direct relation to the plot, and in which there were none that were simply musical interludes.  The 1955 movie was Shirley Jones’s film debut. The film’s soundtrack album became one of the most successful movie musical albums ever released and continues to be a popular seller today.


Saturday, March 30, 2013

March 30: Seward's Folly

On this date in History .... 1867:

William Seward, U.S. Secretary of State, signs a treaty with Russia to purchase the vast landmass of Alaska, adding over half a million square miles to the U.S.
He had trouble convincing Congress of the value of the deal, even with a purchase price of about two cents an acre.  The Senate finally ratified the deal by just one vote. Congress and the press called it “Seward’s Folly” and President Andrew Jacksons “polar bear garden.” 
The territory was slow to become populated by the U.S. citizenry (only about 2000 people lived there in 1867), but when gold was discovered about 30 years later, there became a huge influx of people to the new territory. Between 1890 and 1900, the population doubled from around 30,000 to 63,000.  Less than 1% of those who ventured to Alaska came away rich with gold.

Friday, March 29, 2013

March 29: The National Road

On this date in History .... 1806:
Congress authorizes a survey to begin constructing the Cumberland Road, which began in Cumberland Maryland and stretched west.
The Army Corp of Engineers did the survey and also did the construction which started in 1811. It took seven years to complete the road through the Appalachians to Wheeling, W. Virginia. 
Stagecoaches and other traffic filled the road and by 1850 the road, which had earned the name “The National Road”, had extended all the way west to Indianapolis. The road today is known as U.S. 40 and stretches to California. 
As a footnote to this story, you may recall my October 28th posting/blog about the Madonna of the Trail statues that were placed along The National Road.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

March 28: Three Mile Island

On this date in History ..... 1979:

The worst nuclear accident in U.S. commercial nuclear history occurred at Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania.

The failure was a mechanical failure compounded by “design oversight” which caused plant operators’ failure to recognize the “loss of coolant” accident.  It was a hidden indicator light that caused the operator to just override the cooling system. The loss of nuclear release was so small that not even one case of cancer was attributed to this accident, even tho’ the accident was rated 5 on a scale of 7 on the Nuclear Accident Scale.

The clean-up took 14 years and over $1 billion. Ironically, the accident occurred just 12 days after the release of the movie “The China Syndrome” about a nuclear reactor incident.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

March 26: Gary Heidnik's Torture Chamber

On this date in History ..... 1987:

Philadelphia police respond to a 9-1-1 call and find a torture chamber in the basement of a former mental patient where three naked women were chained to pipes. 

Gary Heidnik was a mental patient and sex offender who had become a wealthy investor, driving a Rolls Royce and amassing over half a million dollars from his investments.  He had avoided paying any taxes by becoming a self-appointed bishop of his own church. A sign hung outside the torture chamber home identifying it as a church. 

He papered some of his walls in the house with one and five dollar bills, and had glued pennies over about half of the kitchen walls.

In 1986 he began kidnapping women for his "harem". He told his first victim of his intent to get ten women and have each of them bear him a child.  He wanted to have a large family of ten children.

The women barely survived on the food he gave them which ranged from bread and water to stale hot dogs and peanut butter sandwiches, He finally just solved the food problem by feeding them canned dog food, beating the women until they ate it.

He killed one woman by putting her in a pit of water with a live electrical wire; another by starving her to death while remained chained to the wall; another by dismembering her, cooking and feeding body parts to the other captives.

He was convincted in 1988, received the death sentence and was executed in 1999.

Monday, March 25, 2013

March 25: Elvis & the USS Arizona

On this date in History ..... 1961:

Elvis Presley performs a charity concert to raise money for the building of the USS Arizona Memorial in Hawaii. 
The fundraising for the memorial had slowed down tremendously. Elvis’s concert raised over $50,000 but more important than that, it lit a second fire under the fundraising efforts and the donations again began pouring in, reaching the $500,000 that was needed.  One year later, on Memorial Day in 1962, the memorial was dedicated. Two days after the concert, Elvis began filming the movie “Blue Hawaii”. 
In 1973, Elvis’s 1973 pre-broadcast rehearsal show for the “Aloha from Hawaii” concert was free but asked that attendees pay what they could. The money went to the Kui Lee Cancer Fund in Hawaii.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

March 24: "The Godfather"

On this date in History .... 1972:

The movie “The Godfather” is released.  Coming in way over its $2M budget at an estimated $6M, it grossed almost $250M (as of 1997), becoming the highest grossing movie, a record that had been held by “Gone With the Wind” since 1939. (“Jaws” displaced Godfather in 1975). While previous Mafia movies had looked at the gangs from the perspective of an outraged outsider, this movie presents the gangster's perspective of the Mafia as a response to corrupt society. Some interesting trivia includes:

· The studio thought more violence would help the “dark, boring” movie, so the scene where Connie smashed dishes was added just for this reason. 

· The quote “I’m gonna make him an offer he can’t refuse” was ranked the #2 movie quote, following Rhett Butler’s “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn.”  ( click here to see the clip.) 

· The studio also wanted Robert Redford or Ryan O’Neal for the part of Michael, but director Francis Ford Coppola held out for Pacino, who looked more Italian-American. (seriously? Some studio head honestly said, “Let’s get some blonde, California-beach type of guy to play the Italian part!”?)

· The cat that Brando holds in the opening scene was just some cat that had been hanging out the set. It was dropped in Brando’s lap at the last minute.

· The horse head, which drew great criticism from animal rights groups, was sent to the studio from a dog food company.  A horse was not specifically killed for this scene.

· Real life crime-family members altered their actions to that in the movie, i.e. one who would swear and use poor grammar began to copy Corleone by speaking properly and philosophizing more.


Wednesday, March 20, 2013

March 20: "A Few Good Men"

On this date in History ... 1779:

In Boston, Capt. William Jones, USMC, advertised for "a few good men" to enlist in the Corps for naval duty. The term seemed ideally suited for Marines, mainly because of the implication that "a few" good men would be enough.
This term has survived for over 200 years and has been synonymous with U.S. Marines ever since.  

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

March 19: Confederate Defeated at Bentonville

On this date in History .... 1865:

The Confederate Army tries and fails to stop Sherman’s March in Bentonville, North Carolina. 

As Sherman swung north out of Savannah, he assume the rebels troops in the Carolinas were too dispersed to be of any real problem, but Confederate General Joseph Johnston rounded up 17,000 troops and surprised the Union Army, driving them back a bit before additional Union troops arrived, giving Sherman a 3-1 edge.  

Both sides had significant losses:  Respectively, the Union/Confederate numbers for those killed were 194/240; for those wounded were 1112/1700.  But the largest difference was in the number of men “missing”.  The Union reported only 221 missing (deserters?) to the Confederates 1500 missing.

Monday, March 18, 2013

March 18: Art Museum Robbery

On this date in History ... 1990:

The largest Art robbery in history took place at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston where 12 paintings valued at $100 million are stolen. Posing as police, two men convinced the part time security guard, a 23 yr old college student, to bypass protocol and let them in. The guards were handcuffed to pipes in the basement. The two robbers spent 81 minutes taking valuable paintings and artwork, including Rembrandt’s only seascape.

Even though the statute of limitations has passed, It remains unsolved and the art still missing.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

March 16: First Black-Owned Newspaper

On this date in History .... 1827:

Freedom’s Journal” became the first black-owned and operated newspaper in the United States, established the same year that slavery was abolished in New York state.  The paper’s primary purpose was to counter the other pro-slavery and racist papers already in publication. The editors began their first publication with the words, “We wish to plead our own cause. Too long have others spoken for us. Too long has the publick (sic) been deceived by misrepresentations, in things which concern us dearly."

It not only provided local and national news but also published weddings, birth and death announcements, job postings for African Americans and profiled successful African-Americans such as Phyllis Wheatley (first published black poet). Its two-year existence helped over forty black-owned newspapers become established by the Civil War.

All issues of the paper can be found at the Wisconsin Historical Society (this link):
click here to read "Freedom's Journal"

Friday, March 15, 2013

March 15: First Blood Bank

On this date in History ... 1937:
The first blood bank was opened at Cook County Hospital in Chicago. Before the technology that preserved blood came along, transfusions had to be done vein-to-vein.  Russians had worked with using cadaveric blood (blood from cadavers) to store and re-use.  Inspired by this work by the Russians, Bernard Fantus at Cook County established the first U.S. blood storage, and thus the term “blood bank” was born.

Some facts about blood donation and blood needs:

·         O-negative blood can be received by anyone of any blood type.  This makes O-negative donors the most valuable blood donor.  Because it has such a high demand, there is frequently a shortage of the O-negative supply.

·         O-negative people can only receive O-negative blood.  This makes O-negative people a very high risk group as, unlike other blood types, they cannot receive any other type of blood except their own type.

·         7% of blood donors are O-negative.

·         There are about 10 million donors in a year to service a population of over 300 million.

·         A single car-accident-victim can use as much as 100 pints of blood.

·         Blood cannot be manufactured … it can only be donated.

·         The American Red Cross supplies about 40% of the nation’s blood supply.

Monday, March 11, 2013

On a short break...

Due to the death of my father-in-law, I will be taking a short break from this blog for just a few days.  He was the dearest man I know and will be missed by many.


Saturday, March 9, 2013

March 9: Barbie

On this date in History .... 1959:

Barbie is displayed for the first time at the American Toy Fair in New York.  She was the first mass-produced doll in the U.S. with adult features.

The co-founder of Mattel, Ruth Handler, realized there was a niche to be filled in the toy market when she observed her daughter throwing aside baby dolls to play with adult-women-paper-dolls instead.

Mattel became a sponsor of “The Mickey Mouse Club” show on TV, Mattel became the first toy company to target and create commercials for children.

By 1961, the high demand for Barbie practically forced Mattel to create a boyfriend for her. Handler named him “Ken” after her own son.

Barbie endured a lot of pro and con controversy.  On the one hand, she was the first material girl with her Dream House, Dream Car and extensive wardrobe.  On the other hand, she was a role model that broke the stereotype of the 1950s woman with her multitude of jobs that even broke gender barriers, such as astronaut and doctor. 

Since the first Barbie hit the market, over 800 million Barbie family members have been sold around the world.

Friday, March 8, 2013

March 8: Volkswagen Bus

On this date in History .... 1950:

Volkswagen begins production on the VW Microbus and gives the American “counterculture generation” a mode of transportation that becomes an iconic symbol of hippies and free love.
The bus was only the second product offered by the Volkswagen company, the first being the VW “Bug”.  The bus had a number of nicknames including “hippie van”, so named for its popular use of transporting hippies to their concerts and camping events. The VW logo on the front of the bus was often changed to a peace sign.  
The bus was used in the movie "Back to the Future" as the vehicle of choice for the Libyan terrorists.
It was also featured in the sitcom "That 70's Show" (seen here at marker 2:40) and ended its role in the show when it fell off of Mount Hump.
Kids will remember it in the movie "Cars" when the animated vehicle named Filmore was played by George Carlin.

And who can forget the fun ride Hurley had in the Dharma van in this episode of "Lost"!

Production of this vehicle will stop on December 31, 2013.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

March 6: Sara Gilbert

On this date in History ..... 1984:
Sara Gilbert makes her movie debut in “Calamity Jane”, which is released on this date. 
Gilbert is best known for her role as Darlene on the show “Roseanne”, a middle child in a blue collar family, the sarcastic tomboy turned vegetarian, from 1988-1997.  She also made guest appearances on shows such as as The Simpsons, 24, Will & Grace, Law and Order: Special Victims Unit and Private Practice.

In 2007, she began a semi-regular appearance on "The Big Bang Theory" with Johnny Galecki, who also played on the "Roseanne" show as Darlene Conner's boyfriend, David.

Gilbert, who comes from an acting family, started out doing commercials. At six years old, she told her producer-and-talent-manager-mother that she wanted to be an actress when she saw her older half-sister, Melissa Gilbert (“Little House” fame) get a star on the Hollywood walk of fame. Her grandfather, Harry Crane, was a writer for “The Honeymooners”, and grandmother Julia Crane was a dancer.
While working the Roseanne show, she attended Yale University, where she majored in art and photography, and graduated with honors.  She created and is the executive producer for the show, “The Talk”. 


Tuesday, March 5, 2013

March 5: Boston Massacre

On this date in History ..... 1770:

The Boston Massacre takes place. Colonists were angry about the British troops that had been sent to Boston to enforce the various tax laws & Townshend laws. British troops, being tormented by the angry crowds, fired into the crowd and killed 5 people. It was labeled a ‘massacre’ because the 5 killed were civilians, and it became a profound effect leading to the Revolution. The funerals of those killed were turned into a great patriotic demonstration.

The British captain and his troops were tried for murder, with John Quincy serving as one of the defense lawyers. The captain and 6 men were acquitted; 2 were convicted of manslaughter. Roughly 30 days later, the laws were repealed on April 12.


Monday, March 4, 2013

March 4: Robert Smalls

On this date in History .... 1875:

Robert Smalls joins the House of Representatives from South Carolina’s 5th District. A former slave, he was the last Republican to represent the district until 2010.
As a politician, Smalls authored state legislation providing for South Carolina to have the first free and compulsory public school system in the United States, and founded the Republican Party of South Carolina. He is notable as the last Republican to represent South Carolina's 5th congressional district until 2010.”

The first ten years of his life were relatively easy.  It is rumored that his master, Henry McKee, was his father. Smalls was taken around town by McKee and he was permitted to play with other children, black and white.  This bothered his slave-mother who made sure he saw and understood the horrors of the life of slavery.  She made him sleep on the earthen floor, not on a cot. She made him work in the fields, pick cotton, and wear tattered clothes like other slaves. She even took him to watch the activities at the whipping post so he could truly understand what it was like to be a slave.

As a 12-year old slave, his master sent him to Charleston to be hired out on ships where he gained a high level of knowledge about ships and the Charleston harbor.  While on the USS Planter, he planned and executed a daring escape, disguising himself as the ship’s captain and even stopping to pick up his family. He used the correct Confederate signals to get past the Confederate ships.  He then raised a white sheet as a flag and headed straight for the Union fleet.  He turned the ship and its contents, which included a copy of the Confederate code book and locations of mines in the harbor, over to the Union Army.

Congress passed a bill, signed by Lincoln, enabling Smalls and his other “Negro crew members” to receive the prize money for turning over the Confederate ship (about $1500).  He met Lincoln himself just a couple of weeks later.  Because of the debate on allowing African Americans to join the military, Smalls served in the Union Army as a civilian.

"In December 1863, Smalls became the first black captain of a vessel in the service of the United States. On December 1, 1863, the Planter had been caught in a crossfire between Union and Confederate forces. The ship's commander, Captain Nickerson, decided to surrender. Smalls refused, fearing that the black crewmen would not be treated as prisoners of war and might be summarily killed. Taking command, Smalls piloted the ship out of range of the Confederate guns. For his bravery, Smalls was named to replace Nickerson as the Planter's captain. Smalls returned with the Planter to Charleston harbor in April 1865 for the ceremonial raising of the American flag upon Ft. Sumter."  (Quote Source: Wikipedia)

After the war, he returned to the South and purchased his former master’s house.  His mother lived with him for the rest of her life and he even permitted his previous master’s wife to live with them in the house prior to  her death.  The home as been designated as a National Historic Landmark.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

March 3: The Civil War Draft is Passed

On this date in History .... 1863:

Congress passes the Civil War conscription act, the country’s first military draft of U.S. citizens.

Exemptions from the draft could be bought for $300, allowing the buyers to hire a substitute to go into the military in their place, which led to riots in New York City since only the wealthy could afford to pay for an exemption and those who couldn’t afford it had to be drafted and go to battle.

The Confederacy had a similar law and included a clause that exempted overseers or plantations owners, something that was antagonistic to those who were fighting in the Confederate Army, laying way to Confederate soldiers referring to the Civil War as a “rich man’s war and a poor man’s fight.”



Saturday, March 2, 2013

March 2: Dr. Seuss

On this date in History ..... 1904:

Theodor Seuss Geisel is born in Mass. Twenty years later, after being removed from his editor-in-chief position of a college humor magazine with Dartmouth College for drinking in his dorm on campus, which was in violation not only of school policy but of Prohibition Law, he was forced to invent his pen name of “Dr. Seuss” (his middle name which was also his mother's maiden name) so he could be published. He published 44 books and only 4 of them were not written in rhyme. 

His father, a brewmaster, wanting his son to be a professor, so after graduating from Dartmouth, Geisel went to Oxford University in England where he met his wife. The year they were married, he dropped out of school and came back to America where he began earning a living as a cartoonist and eventually drawing cartoon-like advertisements for Standard Oil, a job he held for fifteen years.

Viking Press gave him his introduction to illustrating children’s books. Geisel’s first book “And to Think I Saw it on Mulberry Street” was rejected 27 times before it was published, becoming the first of 44 books to be published by the author.  (Only four of those books were not written in rhyme.)

He also drew propaganda posters and made animated training films for the War Department during WWII, featured a character named “Private Snafu”.

In 1954, Life Magazine published an article criticizing children’s reading levels. Two publishing houses challenged him to write a children’s book using only 200 vocabulary words. The challenge was met with the Seuss icon book of “Cat in the Hat.”

At the time of his death on September 24, 1991, Ted had written and illustrated 44 children's books, including such all-time favorites as Green Eggs and Ham, Oh, the Places You'll Go, Fox in Socks, and How the Grinch Stole Christmas. His books had been translated into more than 15 languages. Over 200 million copies had found their way into homes and hearts around the world.

Besides the books, his works have provided the source for eleven children's television specials, a Broadway musical and a feature-length motion picture. Other major motion pictures are on the way.

His honors included two Academy awards, two Emmy awards, a Peabody award and the Pulitzer Prize.”    (Quote Source: )


Friday, March 1, 2013

March 1: Green Feather Movement

On this date in History .... 1954:

The Green Feather movement started in the campus of Indiana University when five “Merry Men” students covered the campus in green chicken feathers, tacking one to every bulletin board on campus, as a protest to McCarthyism and in response to an Indiana Textbook commissioner, Mrs. Thomas White, calling Robin Hood a communist.

In the Cold War era, the Indiana State Textbook Commission had recently raised arms against the Robin Hood legend appearing in schools for its communist undertones in the "rob-the-rich-give-to-the-poor" theme. The students saw the Robin Hood fuss as the epitome of McCarthyism pushed too far. They found their symbol and were ready to run with it. They would call it the "Green Feather Movement" with the five involved standing as "Robin Hood's Merry Men."  

Only two days pass before the entire state is involved in the controversy. Word spreads through the Midwest, and news organizations from Louisville to Indianapolis start taking sides. One Bloomington newspaper goes so far to say that the students are acting on behalf of the adults on campus who lack "courage of their conviction."

The Green Feather movement consequently spread to the Universities of Michigan, Illinois, and to Purdue and other universities across the country. Even Harvard University announced in May 1954 that a chapter would be formed on their campus. The movement was discontinued after McCarthy’s censure in December 1954.

(Sources for this article include and