October 13, 1917: God to Earth: Shape Up

It was an “aeroplane of light, an immense globe flying westward at moderate speed,” according to one of the many witnesses who were assembled that cloudy October 13. Many were certain they had seen amiracle-of-the-sun_cosmo-code figure within the globe — not some strange looking extraterrestrial creature, but rather a human form, a woman. Had this been the 1950s, this occurrence may have been commonplace; people were seeing flying saucers, flying doughnuts and other strange alien craft everywhere. But this was 1917, and UFOs were the stuff of speculative science fiction. Therefore, witnesses did not attribute this to an invasion from Mars or some far-off galaxy; they said it was a miracle.

The number of witnesses was rather phenomenal for a UFO sighting — some 30,000 or more descended on the little Portuguese village of Fatima. Nor had an alien invasion ever been scheduled in advance. It was three children who announced the visit of the lady. The kids had seen apparitions off and on for several months leading up to this day, apparitions bringing the message that folks upstairs were annoyed at all the war mongering that was going on and that if things didn’t change for the better, annihilation was next on the agenda. (This was not unlike the message Klaatu — as in “Klaatu barada nikto” — delivered to earthlings several decades later. It’s a message that never seems to get through to us, however.)

Although the accounts of the appearance were wildly contradictory, leading some naysayers to suggest people saw what they wanted to see, the consensus was that it was raining when the clouds suddenly parted and the sun appeared. It was duller than usual and resembled a spinning globe as it careened toward the earth. Its lady passenger appeared appeared to some but not all in the assembly and shot an admonishing glance before her chariot zigzagged away.

Many remained skeptical, having not seen anything themselves and suggesting that some of the others may have stared at the sun a bit too long. Nevertheless, some 13 years later the Roman Catholic Church declared that maybe it was a miracle after all. It’s official designation is now the Miracle of the Sun.


October 12, 1960: Diplomacy 101

On the last day of the 1960 meeting of the United Nations General Assembly, Lorenzo Sumulong head of the Philippine delegation had the floor. During his remarks he took the Soviet Union to task, at one point referring to “the peoples of Eastern Europe and elsewhere which have been deprived of the free exercise of their civil and political rights and which have been swallowed up . . . by the Soviet Union.”

Nikita Khrushchev must have taken umbrage at the statement for he hied himself to the rostrum, where he begged to differ with Sumulong, suggesting that he was “a jerk, a stooge, a lackey and a toady of American imperialism.” Before returning to his seat, Khrushchev demanded that Assembly President Frederick Boland of Ireland call Sumulong to order.

When Sumulong continued to speak, Khrushchev began pounding his fist on his desk, and when that didn’t seem forceful enough, he took off a shoe (a loafer or sandal because he hated tying laces, according to Khrushchev’s son) and waved it in the air. He then proceeded to bang it on the desk, louder and louder until everyone in the hall was abuzz with shouts and jeers.

The chaos finally ended when a red-faced Boland declared the meeting adjourned and banged his gavel so hard it broke, sending the head flying through the air.

Afterward Khrushchev was said to have remarked: “It was such fun!”


Berlin is the testicle of the West. When I want the West to scream, I squeeze on Berlin. — Nikita Khrushchev


October 11, 1983: Don’t Yank the Crank

No, the title doesn’t refer to Steve Bannon or one of his playmates. It refers to a movement that took place in Maine back in 1981. Movement is probably a pretty strong word for laid-back Maine where crankdemonstrators tend not to get worked up into a chanting frenzy over things. And even less so in a sleepy little town like Woodstock whose population squeaked by 1,200 a couple of years ago.

Bryant Pond is Woodstock’s largest settlement and as much of an urban center as you’re likely to find. It captured its fifteen minutes of national fame and media attention during the mid1970s when its family-owned Bryant Pond Telephone Company became the last telephone exchange in the United States to used hand-cranked phones Then in 1981, the two-position magneto switchboard in the living room of the owners was purchased by the Oxford County Telephone & Telegraph Company, a larger company in the Maine neighborhood. The Bryant Pond Telephone Company was swallowed like so many krill off the shores of Maine.

Two Bryant Pond residents started the “Don’t Yank The Crank” movement to save their crank telephones, financed by the sale of tee shirts – a valiant effort but nonetheless futile. At a meeting in the local school gymnasium warmed by a wood stove, townsfolk spoke out. “We have the oldest pay station in the United States,” said one resident, either complaining or bragging. “You put in a nickel and wind it up.” “You are a person instead of a number.” And did they mention no robocalls?

Alas, to no avail. The last “crank calls” took place on October 11, 1983, and the beloved telephones slipped into history like so much Americana.

October 10, 1967: Old Devil Moon

The Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies (commonly  known as TPGASEUOSMOCB?) is an agreement among nations that forms the basis of international space law. It entered into force on October 10, 1967, and remains in force today (although our current President wants to pull out of it – “worst treaty ever negotiated, the Moon is taking advantage of us.”).

The treaty expresses the Pollyanna notion that space  is the common

Nations are responsible for any damage done by their own space objects.
Nations are responsible for any damage done by their own space objects.

heritage of mankind and that the exploration of it shall be done for the benefit of the entire world and the nations therein.  Extra-terrestrial spokesbeings have not as yet weighed in on this declaration; it could prove amusing.

All parties to the treaty have agreed not to place nuclear weapons or any other weapons of mass destruction  in Earth orbit. Nor will they place such forbidden items on the Moon or any other celestial body (including but not limited to planets, asteroids and supermodels) or otherwise station them in outer space.  In a nod to that merry band of second amendment groupies, the NRA, AK47s, Saturday Night Specials and other weapons of not-quite-mass destruction are not forbidden.

The treaty exclusively limits the use of the Moon and other celestial bodies to peaceful purposes such as church socials,  group sing-alongs, and the jumping of cows.

Our Gang’s All Here

Billie Thomas was just a toddler when his mother took him to an audition at the Hal Roach Studios on October 10, 1934. The audition was a success and he appeared that year as an unnamed background player in three Our Gang shorts. The role he would assume the following year, Buckwheat, was portrayed at the time as a pig-tailed little girl.

When Thomas assumed the role of Buckwheat, he kept the pigtails, buckwheatbulky sweater and boots, continuing to play a little girl. Then, as he morphed into a five-year-old, his character morphed into a boy. Thomas continued to play Buckwheat as the series moved to MGM studios, uttering his characteristic “O-tay!” in another 52 Our Gang comedies.

The Buckwheat character became controversial through the years as a racial stereotype, but Thomas defended the role, pointing out that throughout the Our Gang series black and white characters were treated as equals. Thomas died on October 10, 1980.


October 9, 1900: Soda Sipping Ingenuity

Joseph Friedman born on this day in 1900 was one of those inventors who might more correctly be called dabblers, thinking up ideas here and there that usually don’t amount to much (a lighted pencil, for example) although his nephew, a British MP, referred to one particular invention as “arguably the most significant technological achievement of the twentieth century.”

It came about one day in 1937 while Friedman was sitting in his younger brother Albert’s fountain parlor, the Varsity Sweet Shop in San Francisco. Friedman watched his young daughter sitting at the counter as she struggled to drink her soda through a straw that seemed to stay just beyond her reach. He took another paper straw and pushed a screw into it. Then, using dental floss, he wrapped the paper into the screw threads, creating corrugations in the straw. After he removed the screw, the straw would bend easily over the edge of the glass, allowing his daughter to conveniently sip her soda – a  eureka! moment by any standard, the creation of the bendy straw. Friedman hastened to the Patent Office and secured patent #2,094,268 for his invention under the title Drinking Tube. He later filed for two additional U.S. patents and three foreign patents.

His attempts to interest straw manufacturers in his invention were unsuccessful so he eventually produced the straw himself. The Flexible Straw Corporation was incorporated on April 24, 1939, in California. However, war intervened and he didn’t make his first sale until 1947 – to a hospital rather than kids sipping sodas.


Columbus Was No Viking

October 9 has been designated as the day to celebrate the true discoverer of America Leif Erikson, son of Erik the Red, son of Thorvald the Blue, son of Knut the Orange, son of Sven the Green and so on.  It is a day to reflect on Scandinavian heritage and, of course, Viking humor.

October 8, 1361: Doggie Justice

A French gentleman traveling through the forest north of Paris was murdered, as French gentlemen traveling through the forest north of Paris were apt to be in 1361. His body was buried dogfightat the foot of a tree. His dog, who was traveling with him, remained beside his grave for several days until hunger caused him to quit his vigil.

The faithful dog made for Paris and presented himself at the house of a good friend of his master’s, where after being fed he carried on so much that the friend was obliged to follow him back to the scene of the crime. There, he tore at the ground until the body of the murdered man was exposed to view.

No trace of the assassin was discovered for some time, but then one day the dog was confronted with a man named Chevalier Macaire. Well, that dog immediately lost his good-natured demeanor and lunged for the man’s throat and had to be restrained at some difficulty.  It happened again on other occasions. The dog spotted Macaire in a crowd and attacked.

Since the dog was normally a gentle soul, suspicions began to be aroused. These suspicions found their way to the king of France who ordered the dog brought before him. The dog remained perfectly behaved until Macaire was brought forward and again the dog attacked. “Hmmm,” thought the king.

During this particular time of history, judicial combat was often used to settle doubtful cases, on the assumption that God would provide victory to the person who was in the right.  Amusing jurisprudence perhaps, but who was to argue with the king when he ruled that a duel between Macaire and the dog would settle the matter.

The confrontation took place on October 8.  Macaire came armed with a large stick; the dog was given a cask into which he could retreat. On being let loose, the dog immediately attacked Macaire from one side then another, warding off the man’s blows. The murderer was quickly seized by the throat and thrown to the ground, where he hastily confessed before the king and the entire court — and was hanged, of course.

It’s Always the Cow

Late one night, when we were all in bed,
Mrs. O’Leary lit a lantern in the shed.
Her cow kicked it over,
Then winked her eye and said,
“There’ll be a hot time in the old town tonight!”

Who is this Mrs. O’Leary, whose cow is supposedly responsible for the Great Chicago Fire of 1871? Her legend has been kept alive for 145 years now and her name is synonymous with big fires. She was one Catherine O’Leary, an Irish immigrant, who actually had five cows. The cow named Daisy got the blame for kicking the lantern over, but since no one was in the barn to witness the event, all five cows could have had a hoof in it.

Conspiracy theorists have over the years suggested other scenarios: Naughty boys were sneaking a smoke in the barn. Spontaneous combustion. A meteor broke into pieces as it fell to earth October 8, setting off fires in Michigan and Wisconsin as well as in Chicago. Daisy had an accomplice; Daisy acted alone. A drunken neighbor started the fire. Obama may not have started it, but he should have stopped it.

October 7, 1916: What It Was Was Football

Back in the days when football was still known as that game with the pointy ball, the son of German immigrants became the coach at the Georgia Institute of Technology (known to its friends as Georgia Tech). John Heisman became the first coach in college football to be paid for his services. They got their money’s worth. He led the school to its first national championship and had a career winning percentage of .779 which remains the best in Tech history.

The most memorable — or perhaps infamous — game in Heisman’s Georgia Tech career was played on October 7, 1916, with Tech playing host to Tennessee’s Cumberland University. Talk about a nail biter! The plucky Cumberland Bulldogs got off to a bad start, losing the coin toss.  Georgia Tech returned the Bulldogs’ first punt for a touchdown. Score 7-0 in less than a minute played. Cumberland fumbled on its first play after the following kickoff. 14-0, with just seconds off the clock.   On their next possession, the Bulldogs fumbled once again on their first play.  21-0. It went pretty much the same until the game mercifully ended with a score of 222-0.  A record, of course, that still stands.

In Cumberland’s defense, it should be pointed out that the college, on the verge of bankruptcy, had eliminated its football program at the beginning of the season. The school was forced to field a team (fraternity brothers of the team’ student manager) to avoid a $3,000 forfeit fee.

Heisman, who went on to be elected to the Football Hall of Fame and give his name to the trophy for the outstanding college football player of the year, up by 18 touchdowns at the half, told his players not to relent. “We’re ahead, but you just can’t tell what those Cumberland players have up their sleeves.”

October 6, 1961: How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love the Bomb

fallout-shelterCold war and nuclear fears had been ramping up for years, when President John F. Kennedy took to the tube on October 6, 1961, to suggest that American families build bomb shelters to protect them from atomic fallout when those pesky Communists of the Soviet Union attacked the Homeland with their nuclear missiles. Just a year later, the Cuban Missile Crisis raised the stakes even higher.

While folks like Nelson Rockefeller and Edward Teller were outlining grandiose plans for an enormous network of concrete lined underground fallout shelters to shelter millions of people, civil defense authorities were talking up concrete block basement shelters that could be constructed by home handifolk for a couple of hundred bucks. Exactly how much protection they might actually provide was an open question.

Most people calmed down during the mid-1960s,  and fallout shelters pretty much went the way of duck and cover.  They were converted into wine cellars, recreation rooms or mushroom gardens. For others, the fallout shelter notion has been kept alive by internet sites devoted to nuclear hysteria. You can survive a nuclear or dirty bomb attack, shouts one such site.  It will not be the end of the world. But, you must be prepared!

Being prepared naturally involves purchasing a fallout shelter from one of the many firms that still market them — Acme Survival Shelters, Hardened Structures Inc., Safecastle.  Taking it over the top is a company called Zombie Gear whose motto is Be prepared for anything.

This Train Don’t Carry No Robbers

The Ohio & Mississippi train was chugging along through Indiana on October 6, 1866, when it was boarded by a nefarious outlaw gang known as the Reno brothers. The gang wasn’t just hitching a ride, it was robbing the train. This was unheard of. Never before had a moving train been robbed; holdups had always taken place on trains sitting at stations or freight yards. This daring first netted the gang $10,000, and there would be more to follow.

The concept quickly caught on. There were vast isolated areas, plenty of places to hide, and little law enforcement in the U.S. West. Pretty soon everyone was robbing trains. Eventually, railroad owners got wise, using fortified boxcars and deploying armed guards, but the bad guys had a few very good years. The Reno gang which consisted of four Reno brothers and some of their pals had two good years before they were caught and came to an untimely end at the hands of a vigilante mob, another fun part of the Old West.

Gentlemen, you can’t fight in here! This is the War Room. — President Merkin Muffley (Peter Sellers) in Dr. Stranglove

October 5, 1983: Burping in Polite Company

Noted American businessman and inventor, Earl Silas Tupper died on October 5, 1983. He was buried in a 100-gallon Tupperware container whose lid was “burped”to get an airtight seal before being lowered into the ground. Thousands paid their respect at a memorial Tupperware Party held earlier.

For indeed this was the man who invented and gave his name to Tupperware, a line of plastic containers in an almost infinite array of shapes and sizes that changed the way Americans stored their food. Tupper invented the plasticware back in the late 30s, but it didn’t really start worming its way into every household until the 50s when Tupper introduced his ingenious and infamous marketing strategy, the Tupperware Party. This clever gambit gave women the opportunity to earn an income without leaving their homes and to simultaneously annoy their friends and relatives.


Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow

The rock musical Hair has played pretty much continuously since its Broadway debut at the Biltmore Theatre in the late 60s, its mix of sex, drugs and rock and roll more or less guaranteeing hairan avid following. It’s been translated into many languages and produced throughout the world. But back on October 5, 1967, it looked a lot like a colossal failure.

After rejections by producer after producer, the musical was accepted by Joseph Papp, who ran the New York Shakespeare Festival, to open the new Public Theater in New York City’s East Village for a six-week engagement.

Hair depicts a group of hippies living the bohemian life in New York City, rebelling against the Vietnam War, conservative parents and other societal ills while diving into the sexual revolution and the drug culture. Its protagonist Claude must decide whether to resist the draft or give in to conservative pressures and risk his principles (and his life) by serving in Vietnam.

Production did not go well. Perhaps the theater staff was too close to conservative America; the material seemed incomprehensible, rehearsals were chaotic, casting confusing. The director quit during the final week of rehearsals and the choreographer took charge. The final dress rehearsal was a disaster.

But the show did go on. Critics were not particularly kind, but it found an audience. During the six-week engagement, a man from Chicago was attracted to the show by its poster with a picture of five American Indians on it. He thought Hair was all about Native Americans, a favorite subject of his. He was surprised to discover it was actually about hippies, but he nevertheless liked it so much that, he bankrolled its move to a discotheque in midtown Manhattan. The show had to start at 7:30 pm instead of the normal curtain time of 8:30 and play without intermission so dancing could begin at 10 pm. But Hair was getting closer to Broadway.

In 1968, the play’s creators reworked it into the musical that everyone knows, adding additional songs, the infamous nude scene, and an upbeat ending — it was the dawning of the Age of Aquarius.


I found it all about as arousing as a Tupperware party.  — Stephen Fry


October 4, 1582: Tempus Fugit, Really Fugit

In 1582, the Gregorian Calendar was adopted for the first time with Poland, Portugal and Spain leading the way. The calendar was implemented by and named after Pope Gregory XIII . He didn’t like the Julian Calendar in use at the time because Easter kept creeping back to an earlier time of the year so that eventually it would fall in the middle of winter, even on Christmas Day (which wasn’t creeping) and really confuse Christians.

Jews didn’t care a whole lot because they were already up to year 5303. Muslims were back at 1001. The Chinese were celebrating 4278 (Year of the Horse). Certain scientists were way ahead of everyone else at 11582, having added 10,000 years to the current year to make the starting point the beginning of the human era (like they knew what day that was) instead of the birth of Jesus who they say wasn’t born in 1 BC but in 4 BC (lied about his age) and wasn’t born on his birthday (Christmas).

But back to the Christians for whom it was October 4, 1582, and also for whom tomorrow would be October 15, because Pope Gregory took ten days right out of the calendar to put Easter back where it had been when he was a boy.  calendarWell, you can just imagine how upset folks who had birthdays or special anniversaries or doctors’ appointments between October 5 and 14 were.

Some people just refused to use the new calendar. Many European countries fell into line later in the year. But many Protestant countries thought the new calendar was part of a Catholic plot . Britain (and its colonies) didn’t come along until 1752. The Greeks didn’t start using it until 1923. And a few malcontent members of the U.S. Congress refuse to adopt it until Obamacare is repealed.

Calling All Crimestoppers

An all-American, tough but smart, police detective arrived on the crime scene on October 4, 1931. Chester Gould’s Dick Tracy comic strip first appeared in the Detroit Mirror. The strip continues to run to this day, although drawn by others since Gould departed for that precinct in the sky back in 1985.

Along with police procedure and gadgets such as the two-way wrist radio, the strip featured a bevy of colorful characters. There’s Tess Trueheart, Tracy’s lady friend and eventual wife, his adopted son Junior and his wife Moon Maid (an alien), their daughter Honey Moon, Junior’s second wife Sparkle Plenty and her parents B. O. and Gravel Gertie. An almost endless list of villains: Abner Kadaver, Art Dekko, Breathless Mahoney, Cueball, Flattop, Gruesome, Junky Doolb (blood backwards), Littleface Finny, the Mole, Mrs. Chin Chillar, Mumbles and Pruneface.  You’ll find an exhausting list here.