June 24, 1947: Bad Dream at 9,000 Feet

At about three in the afternoon on June 24, 1947, Kenneth Arnold, a recreational private pilot, was heading toward Yakima, Washington. Flying at 9,000 feet, Arnold saw nine objects flying in formation out of the side window of his airplane. He watched them bob, weave, and dart about – showing off at an incredible speed. These strange craft were not your traditional flying machine shape; they had no nose or tail, but rather were perfectly round, metallic and highly polished.  Arnold radioed in his sighting. It must have been a slow news day for when he landed at the Pendleton field in Oregon, he found a full news conference waiting for him. It was there that Arnold used the words that found legs with scary space phenomena enthusiasts everywhere. He said that these strange flying objects looked like saucers skipping across water.

In addition to being the first use of the term ‘flying saucers,’ it is generally considered to be the ShatnerTZ_5046first widely reported UFO sighting in the United States (even though our friend Harold Dahl saw his flying doughnut a few days earlier). Perhaps because there was a corroborative sighting ten days later (although people were now beginning to see UFOs more often than pigeons).  A United Airlines crew also spotted five to nine disk-like objects over Idaho that paced their plane for 10 to 15 minutes before suddenly disappearing. (This may have been the very flight on which William Shatner saw one of the actual aliens chewing on the wing – but that’s an allusion for another day.)

The United States Air Force officially classified Arnold’s sighting as a mirage.

And some ufologists (yes, ufologists) began to express doubts about the psychology of the man when he reported several other UFO sightings in the years that followed, particularly his report of two living transparent UFOs that he characterized as space animals with the ability to change their density.  And a fondness for chewing on the wings of airplanes.

 

Somebody told me it was frightening how much topsoil we are losing each year, but I told that story around the campfire and nobody got scared. ~ Jack Handey

June 15, 1937: Reefer Madness

In 1937, Congress passed the Marihuana Tax Act which levied a tax of one dollar on anyone who dealt commercially in marijuana. The bill had been written using the slang term “marihuana” throughout, obscuring the fact that it covered the plant’s legitimate uses in medicine, where it was broadly known as cannabis and in the fiber industry as hemp. The Act did not itself criminalize their possession, but regulations and restrictions on the sale of cannabis as a drug had been around since the previous century. In effect, the bill made it impossible for anyone to deal with call it what you will in any form.

     Conspiracy theorists maintained that business tycoons Andrew Mellon, Randolph Hearst, and the Du Pont family were behind passage of the Act as a way to reduce the size of the hemp industry. Hemp had became a very cheap substitute for the paper marijuana-propagandapulp that was used in the newspaper industry and as such was a threat to Hearst’s extensive timber holdings. Mellon had invested heavily in the Du Pont family’s new synthetic fiber nylon that was competing with hemp.The campaign that Hearst’s newspapers had been staging against the dangers of the recreational use of the”powerful narcotic in which lurks MURDER! INSANITY! DEATH!” was therefore disingenuous. (‘Beware the evils of hemp’ didn’t quite cut it.   “Reading newspapers printed on hemp will lead to degradation and reading the New York Post.”)

     The legislation effectively killed the hemp industry and the medical use of cannabis, and the ensuing years of “reefer madness” completed its evolution to the abominable recreational drug it has become (although it has begun to make a bit of a comeback).

 

June 10, 2000: All Together Now, Step to the Right

An air of excitement certainly gripped London on June 10, 2000, as 90,000 people queued up to cross the first new bridge to span the Thames River in over a hundred years, a bridge for pedestrians only, stretching from the Globe Theatre to St. Paul’s Cathedral, aptly named the London Millennium Footbridge. It didn’t take long for the bridge to become more known by its nickname, the Wobbly Bridge.
     Seems the designers had not given enough attention to a phenomenon with the catchy title, synchronous lateral excitation. Even if you’ve never heard of it, it doesn’t sound like anything you’d want to be on a bridge with.
     People, according to engineers, sway when they walk. People walking and swaying cause sideways oscillations in lightweight bridges. These, in turn, cause the people (some two thousand on the bridge at any given time) to sway even more to keep from falling over. And they all sway at the same time. It’s as if two thousand Londoners were doing the tango above the Thames. Result? Wobbly.
     Access to the bridge was limited later in the day, and on June 12 the bridge closed for modifications It reopened in 2002 (with tango forbidden). It was again closed in 2007 because of strong winds and a worry that pedestrians foolish enough to cross might be blown off the bridge.
     The footbridge was not the only British millennial faux pas: a little number called the Millennium Dome elicited this derision from MP Bob Marshall-Andrews: “At worst it is a millennial metaphor for the twentieth century. An age in which all things, like the Dome itself, became disposable. A century in which forest and cities, marriages, animal species, races, religions and even the Earth itself, became ephemeral. What more cynical monument can there be for this totalitarian cocksure fragile age than a vast temporary plastic bowl, erected from the aggregate contribution of the poor through the National Lottery. Despite the spin, it remains a massive pantheon to the human ego . . .”

 

 

 

June 9, 1909: Driving Ms. Ramsey

In 1909, a diminutive 22-year-old housewife from Hackensack, New Jersey, hopped into her dark green, four-cylinder, 30-horsepower Maxwell touring car and headed west. Alice Huyler Ramsey and her companions, two older sisters-in-law and a 16-year-old friend, were beginning a 59-day, 3,600-mile transcontinental odyssey that would end on August 9 in San Francisco, California.

It was an easy journey. After all, 152 miles of the roads were paved. The trip required only 11 tire changes, some new spark plugs and a brake pedal replacement. Most nights they were able to sleep in beds, although on one occasion in Wyoming they shared them with bedbugs.

And they had maps covering part of the journey, although for a good portion of the route they relied on printed guides giving directions using local landmarks that weren’t always that up-to-date.  In one case, they were supposed to make a turn at a yellow house and barn, but it seems the owner, not an automobile enthusiast, had repainted them green.

In Ohio, they reached the breakneck speed of 42 miles per hour.  But in Iowa, they encountered mud and flooded out roads. In Nebraska, a manhunt for a killer. And in Nevada a group of heavily armed Indians, who fortunately were not on the warpath but hunting.

But in the end, Ramsey and her friends arrived to cheering crowds in San Francisco and drove into history, the first woman to drive coast to coast. She was named the “Woman Motorist of the Century” by AAA in 1960.  She repeated the trip another 30 times — in shorter periods of time — before her death on September 10, 1983 at the age of 96.

The buffalo isn’t as dangerous as everyone makes him out to be. Statistics prove that in the United States more Americans are killed in automobile accidents than are killed by buffalo.
Art Buchwald

June 7, 1827: Bees in Their Bonnets

640239 Insect Bumble BeeLocal newspapers reported an amazing altercation in the village of Cargo in Cumberland, England, in 1827, a battle really (or a battle royal), between two opposing hordes – of bees. The home bees, it seems, were happily hived in the village, going about their bee business when, on June 7, a swarm from a neighboring village flew over the garden in which the first hive was situated. Without warning or so much as a by-your-leave, the interlopers darted down upon the hive and completely covered it, then began to enter the hive, pouring into it in such numbers that it soon became as crowded as happy hour at the local pub.

     Then the terrible struggle began. With ear-splitting humming, two armies of combatants rushed forth, besiegers and besieged alike spilling out of the beleaguered hive into the open air. The bee-on-bee battle raged with such fury that the ground below was soon strewn with corpses. Not until the visiting swarm was vanquished and driven away did the battle end. The victors resumed possession of the hive.

The local chronicle did not attempt to explain the motivations involved, but naturalists, adding a scientific perspective, suggested that sometimes bees fight.

 

I pressed down the mental accelerator. The old lemon throbbed fiercely. I got an idea. ― P.G. Wodehouse

June 6, 1971: The Shew Must Go On

Ed Sullivan was to the golden age of television what Google is to searching.  He ruled Sunday night TV for 23 years – from 1948 to his very last broadcast on this day in 1971. Sullivan presented acts from the era’s biggest stars to acrobats, dancing bears, puppets, contortionists, you name it.  Ten thousand in all – if they were entertainers, an appearance on the Sullivan show was their holy grail.

Musical performances from rock to opera were a staple of the program. Even its first broadcast, when it was known as Toast of the Town, made music history as Broadway composers Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II previewed the score of their upcoming musical, South Pacific. And after that, West Side Story, Cabaret, Man of La Mancha – if it was on Broadway, it was on Sullivan. One of those Broadway musicals, Bye Bye Birdie, was all about making it on the Sullivan show.

Sullivan also chronicled the history of rock and roll from Elvis Presley’s appearance in 1956 through the Supremes, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Doors, the Mamas and the Papas, and on June 6, 1971, the last program, Gladys Knight and the Pips.

When CBS canceled the show, the network let it end with a whimper.  But in the 33 years since cancellation, numerous tribute shows and DVDs have kept Sullivan in the public eye.

dday-620x488Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Force! You are about to embark upon a great crusade, toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you. The hopes and prayers of liberty loving people everywhere march with you. In company with our brave Allies and brothers in arms on other fronts, you will bring about the destruction of the German war machine, the elimination of Nazi tyranny over the oppressed peoples of Europe, and security for ourselves in a free world. — General Dwight D. Eisenhower, June 6, 1944

June 4, 1411: The Cheese Stands Alone

Even in 1411, the people of Roquefort-sur-Soulzon had been making cheese as long as anyone could remember.  And all because a young man was lured away from his lunch by a fair young maiden. Or so the story goes.

The cheese-making folks of Roquefort-sur-Soulzon were probably the only ones making the tangy, crumbly sheep’s milk cheese with its distinctive veins of green mold. Nevertheless on June 4, 1411, French King Charles VI granted them a monopoly for the ripening of the Roquefort cheese.

What makes Roquefort Roquefort is its aging in the Combalou caves of Roquefort-sur-Soulzon. Popular legend suggests that the cheese was discovered when a young man eating his lunch of bread and ewe’s milk cheese spied a hot young woman in the distance. Naturally, he ran off to pursue her, leaving his lunch in the cave. Legend leaves the results of his amorous pursuit to our imaginations, but his appetite must have been somehow satisfied since he didn’t return to the cave for several months. When he did, the mold present in the cave – Penicillium roqueforti to be exact – had done an ugly duckling number on his lump of cheese transforming it into a cheese of beauty. The bread, however, was another story.

The French take their wine and their cheese seriously. A ruling in 1961 decreed that although the Roquefort-sur-Soulzon method for the manufacture of the cheese could be followed across the south of France, only those cheeses ripened in the natural caves of Mont Combalou could bear the name Roquefort. Today, its production involves some 4,500 people who herd special ewes on 2,100 farms in a carefully defined grazing area. In 2008, 19,000 tons were produced, with 80% of it consumed in France.  It’s a laborious process — 4,500 folk dropping their 4,500 lumps of ewe’s milk cheese and running off in hot amorous pursuit of 4,500 other folk.

 

To me, clowns aren’t funny. In fact, they’re kinda scary. I’ve wondered where this started, and I think it goes back to the time I went to the circus and a clown killed my dad. ~ Jack Handey

 

June 3, 1956: I Know Suggestive, Stimulating and Tantalizing Motions When I See Them

A dance party in the beach town of Santa Cruz, California, a quiet oasis 70 miles south of San Francisco, back in 1956 (years before it became a counterculture capital),  led to a bit of overreaction by the town’s conservative adult authorities. Two hundred teenagers had taken over the Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium on a Saturday night to dance to the music of a group called Chuck Higgins and his Orchestra, regional favorites with a few hit rock recordings. Shortly after midnight, Santa Cruz police entered the auditorium to check on the event, and didn’t like what they saw: a crowd “engaged in suggestive, stimulating and tantalizing motions induced by the provocative rhythms of an all-negro band.” Although that sounds like a pretty good endorsement for the affair, the police did not view it as a positive. Without so much as a “save the last dance for me,” they shut the place down and sent everyone home to bed.

And they didn’t stop there. On the following day, June 3, city fathers further endeared themselves to city teenagers and captured national attention when they announced a total ban on the playing of rock and roll and other forms of “frenzied music” at public gatherings (the other forms probably meant to pull Wayne Newton into the loop).  Such music was, they said, “detrimental to both the health and morals of our youth and community.”

Not everyone saw this as an absurdity, it’s concern with “undesirable elements” not so subtly racial, and an effort that was bound to fail. Within two weeks, similar bans were enacted in Asbury Park, New Jersey, and in San Antonio, Texas.  But in spite of such valiant efforts, rock and roll would soon dominate the Billboard Hot 100, and teenagers everywhere would be singing “It’s got to be rock-roll music, if you want to dance with me.”

 

June 2, 1855: Give Me a Martini or Give Me Death

In the early 1850s, the city of Portland, Maine, with a population of 21,000 might be called a sleepy little burg. But that was about to change thanks to a Maine law enacted in 1851 outlawing the manufacture and sale of alcohol anywhere in the state, except for medicinal and mechanical purposes.

Portland Mayor Neal S. Dow was an outspoken prohibitionist who fully supported the law, so much so that he was dubbed the “Napoleon of Temperance. ” However, Dow had authorized a large shipment of “medicinal and mechanical alcohol” that was being stored in the city vaults for distribution to pharmacists and doctors (authorized under the law). The good citizens of Portland got wind of this cache of alcohol and suspected the worst, that Dow was a hypocrite and a secret sot.

The Maine law had an interesting little clause allowing any three voters to apply for a search warrant if they suspected someone was selling liquor illegally. Three men did just that, appearing before a judge who issued a search warrant.

On the afternoon of June 2, a crowd of several hundred people, already irate over the law coming between them and their Harvey Wallbangers, gathered outside the building where the alcohol was being held. The crowd grew larger and surlier as it became obvious that the police were not going to seize the booze. As the crowd swelled, jostling became shoving, and the hurling of angry words became the hurling of rocks. The infamous Portland Rum Riot of 1855 was in full swing.

Police were unable to control the mob, and Mayor Dow called out the militia. When the protesters ignored the order to disperse, the militia, on Dow’s orders, fired into the crowd killing one man and wounding several others.

Dow was widely criticized for his strong-arm tactics during the incident and was later prosecuted for improperly acquiring the alcohol but was acquitted. The Maine Law was repealed the following year.

 

Sometimes when I reflect back on all the beer I drink I feel ashamed.  Then I look into the glass and think about the workers in the brewery and all of their hopes and dreams.  If I didn’t drink this beer, they might be out of work and their dreams would be shattered.  Then I say to myself, it is better that I drink this beer and let their dreams come true than be selfish and worry about my liver.  ~ Jack Handey

 

 

May 29, 1913: Ill-Mannered Factions? In Paris?

On the evening of May 29, 1913, the Theatre des Champs-Elysees, the newest venue in Paris, open for just over a month, was packed.  According to a newspaper report: “Never. . . has the hall been so full, or so resplendent; the stairways and the corridors were crowded with spectators eager to see and to hear.” What they were eager to see and to hear was a ballet program celebrating the works of many of the leading composers of the day. Ticket sales were priced accordingly.

Parisian ballet audiences of the time fell into two distinct groups: the wealthy and fashionable set, who would be expecting to see a traditional performance with beautiful music, and a “Bohemian” group favoring anything new and nontraditional because it would annoy the snobs in the boxes.

The evening began tranquilly with Les Sylphides, in which Vaslav Nijinsky and Tamara Karsavina danced the main roles, followed by the premiere of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring (Pictures of Pagan Russia in Two Parts) in which, after various primitive rituals celebrating the advent of spring, a young girl is chosen as a sacrificial victim and dances herself to death.

There is a consensus among eyewitnesses and commentators that the disturbances in the audience began during the Introduction, which was greeted by derisive laughter, and grew into a crescendo when the curtain rose on the “Augurs of Spring” with its pipers piping and dancers stomping. The terrific uproar, along with the on-stage noises, pretty much drowned out the performers.  The two factions in the audience began attacking each other, but their anger was soon diverted toward the orchestra, and anything not tied down was quickly thrown in its direction. The plucky orchestra played on. Forty or so of the most energetic offenders were forcefully ejected by the police who had arrived somewhere toward the end of Part I. Throughout all this the performance continued without interruption.

Things grew somewhat quieter during Part II, and by some accounts the final “Sacrificial Dance” was watched in reasonable silence, albeit with a certain amount of muttering.  At the end there were several curtain calls (as opposed to catcalls) for the dancers, the orchestra, and Stravinsky before the evening’s program continued.

Press reviews called the work “a laborious and puerile barbarity” on one hand and “superb, with the disturbances, being merely a rowdy debate between two ill-mannered factions” on the other.

Paris survived.  The Rite of Spring became a classic.  And puerile barbarity is alive and well.