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Category archive: 1960s

Record Smashed

1968: The men’s world long jump record was broken on 13 occasions between 1901 and 1967. During that time, athletes extended the record from 7.61 metres to 8.35 metres, an average increment of about 6 centimetres. On 18 October, at the Olympic Games in Mexico City, the American athlete Bob Beamon jumped 8.90 metres, smashing the previous record by 55 centimetres.

Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Long_
jump_world_record_progression

Natural Causes

1967: Grigori Rasputin was murdered in Petrograd on the night of 29 December 1916. Prince Felix Yusupov and his fellow conspirators poisoned Rasputin with cyanide, shot him four times, clubbed him, kicked him, tied him up and finally pushed him through a hole in the ice on the River Neva.

After the Russian Revolution, Yusupov fled abroad and lived most of the rest of his life in Paris. He died on 27 September 1967 at the age of 80 – unlike Rasputin, from natural causes.

Prince Felix Yusupov, photographed in 1914

Source: Andrew Cook, To Kill Rasputin: The Life and Death of Grigori Rasputin (2005), p. 226

Sniper On Campus

Charles Whitman, university student and sniper in the tower

1966: Charles Whitman, a student at the University of Texas at Austin and a former Marine, confided to the university psychiatrist that he often thought of shooting people from a tower that dominated the campus. Whitman “seemed to be oozing with hostility”, but other students came to the psychiatrist with fantasies about the tower, so he wasn’t unduly concerned.

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Cold War Nadir

1961: From an American perspective, the middle of April was one of the lowest points of the Cold War. Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human to travel into space on 12 April, and this Soviet technological and propaganda triumph was followed, five days later, by the military fiasco of the American-backed invasion at the Bay of Pigs in Cuba.

Source: Jamie Doran and Piers Bizony, Starman: The Truth Behind the Legend of Yuri Gagarin (1998), p. 142

Appease The Serpent

1960: The Mapuche people of Chile blamed earthquakes on a monster serpent that lived in the ocean and came out from time to time to shake its tail. On the afternoon of 22 May, the serpent violently shook its tail; the most powerful earthquake of the 20th century struck southern Chile.

The inhabitants of the coastal community of Lago Budi feared that it was literally the end of the world. They rushed frantically to a nearby hill, but even there they weren’t safe, as a series of tsunami swept in from the Pacific and threatened to wash them away.

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Long-Haul Flight

1969: Perhaps anticipating the tedium of a long-haul flight, astronaut Neil Armstrong took along as his soundtrack for the trip to the moon Antonín Dvořák’s Symphony No. 9, “From the New World”, and Harry Revel’s album Music Out of the Moon.

Source: Andrew Smith, Moondust: In Search of the Men Who Fell to Earth (2005), p. 304

Man Of Few Words

1968: In contrast to the effusive manner of other winners at the Oscar ceremony, the director Alfred Hitchcock ambled into view, took his award, leaned towards the microphone, and simply said:
“Thank you.”

Source: Donald Spoto, The Life of Alfred Hitchcock: The Dark Side of Genius (1983), p. 499

Chinese Gooseberries

1966: In the middle of the Cold War, New Zealand fruit exporters got round the political touchiness of the name “Chinese gooseberry” by devising a new name: the “kiwi fruit”.

Source: John Ayto, Twentieth Century Words (1999), p. 416

Chinese gooseberries, also known as kiwi fruit, photographed by André Karwath

Nuclear Proliferation For Beginners

Mushroom cloud from the atom bomb dropped on Nagasaki on 9 August 1945, photographed by Charles Levy

1964: The Pentagon, worried about nuclear proliferation, set up a small-scale experiment to find out how easy it would be for a country starting with no relevant expertise to build a nuclear bomb. The Nth Country Project chose two scientists to represent the attempts of the fictitious country to produce such a device. The scientists held doctorates in physics, but, crucially, their knowledge of nuclear physics was limited and they had no access to classified information. After 2½ years, they came up with a feasible design. Their bomb was powerful enough that it would have produced an explosion similar in size to the one dropped on Hiroshima, yet simple enough that it “could have been made by Joe’s Machine Shop downtown”.

Source: The Guardian, 24 June 2003

Black Dog Barbot

1963: They were once close comrades, but by 1963, François “Papa Doc” Duvalier, Haiti’s dictatorial president, and Clément Barbot, his thuggish henchman, had become deadly enemies.

Duvalier went gunning for Barbot, and Barbot for Duvalier. Tontons Macoutes combed the shantytowns of Port-au-Prince and the surrounding countryside for Barbot, who responded with bombings and ambushes.

Duvalier’s gunmen thought on one occasion they had trapped Barbot in a hideout. They riddled the house with bullets, but when they kicked down the front door, a black dog ran out. Perhaps Barbot possessed the voodoo power to turn himself into a black dog, Haitians thought, and it was rumoured that Duvalier ordered all black dogs to be shot on sight.

Source: Bernard Diederich and Al Burt, Papa Doc: Haiti and Its Dictator (1970), p. 222

Biology Boffin

1962: Elizabeth II formally opened the Laboratory of Molecular Biology at Cambridge. The scientists had constructed models to illustrate the complexities of biological structures. The queen was very attentive. One of her accompanying ladies remarked: “I had no idea that we had all these little coloured balls inside us.”

Source: New Scientist, 31 January 1980

Big Bang

1961: The most powerful nuclear weapon ever detonated was the Soviet Union’s Tsar Bomba hydrogen bomb. The device was tested on 30 October, producing an estimated yield of 50 megatons, roughly 3,000 times the size of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima at the end of the Second World War.

Source: http://nuclearweaponarchive.org/
Russia/TsarBomba.html

“Wind Of Change”

1960: “The wind of change is blowing through this continent,” British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan told South Africa’s white lawmakers. Belgium relinquished control of the Belgian Congo; in West Africa, a swathe of French colonies gained independence; Britain pulled out of Nigeria. In a single year, Macmillan’s “wind of change” gusted through 17 African nations.

Source: www.france24.com/en/
20100214-1960-year-independence

Unearthly Footsteps

Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin, the second man on the moon

1969: American astronaut Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin, the second man to set foot on the moon, remarked: “When I would take a step, a little semicircle of dust would spray out before me. It was odd, because the dust didn’t behave at all the way it behaves here on Earth. On Earth, you’re sometimes dealing with puffy dust, sometimes with sand. On the moon, what you’re dealing with is this powdery dust traveling through no air at all, so the dust is kicked up, and then it all falls at the same time in a perfect semicircle.”

Source: What It Feels Like . . . , ed. A.J. Jacobs (2003), p. 41

Six O’Clock Swill Comes To An End

1967: South Australia became the last Australian state to abolish 6 o’clock closing at hotel bars. That put an end to the hour of frantic drinking after men finished work, characterised by “a flurry of shirt-sleeves, spilt froth, slapped-down change, and swished dish-cloths,” when “glasses of beer were slid two or three at a time along the wet counter-tops as fast as they could be pulled.” Then came the spectacle, after closing time, of drunken men tumbling out into the streets, lurching and vomiting their way home. No wonder it was called “the 6 o’clock swill”.

Source: J.M. Freeland, The Australian Pub (1966), p. 176

A barmaid at work in Petty’s Hotel in Sydney in 1941, photographed by Max Dupain

Showing Off

1966: On 16 July, Mao Zedong swam several kilometres down the Yangtze at Wuhan to demonstrate that, at 72, he retained his vigour. Mao was a keen swimmer, unlike his wife Jiang Qing, who never learned to swim. At the seaside, Jiang wore rubber shoes even when she paddled in the shallows, to conceal a sixth toe on her right foot.

Source: Li Zhisui, The Private Life of Chairman Mao: The Inside Story of the Man Who Made Modern China (1994), pp. 175, 463

Rhubarb Thrives In Dirty Air

1965: Businessmen in Leeds deplored the city’s atmospheric pollution: petrol and diesel fumes from cars and lorries, smoke and soot from domestic chimneys and power stations. The only seeming beneficiary of west Yorkshire’s dirty air, The Guardian reported, was rhubarb: “While radishes are stunted, evergreens wilt, and half the population over 50 has bronchitis, rhubarb apparently remains in robust health.”

Source: The Guardian, 8 May 1965

Sensory Deprivation

1963: After a cerebral haemorrhage at the age of 49, cookery writer Elizabeth David could no longer properly taste salt (nor bear the smell of fried onions.)

Source: Artemis Cooper, Writing at the Kitchen Table: The Authorized Biography of Elizabeth David (1999), p. 231

Classroom Chaos

1962: Adolescent girls at a boarding school in the Bukoba district of Tanganyika suddenly began to laugh and cry. No apparent reason; they just started. At first, only three girls were affected; soon, 95 of the 159 pupils had succumbed, forcing the school to close. Back in their home villages, the girls’ abnormal behaviour spread to other children and to adults. Before the epidemic subsided, hundreds were affected.

Source: The Central African Journal of Medicine, May 1963

Noddy And Chatterley

1960: Penguin Books’ decision to tweak a few legal noses by publishing an unexpurgated, inexpensive edition of Lady Chatterley’s Lover produced the expected result: prosecution under the 1959 Obscene Publications Act.

Penguin’s lawyers contacted an array of writers and academics to bolster the defence case. Aldous Huxley offered to appear as a witness. Graham Greene backed the publisher, but admitted that he found parts of the book “rather absurd”. T.S. Eliot, Bertrand Russell, Kingsley Amis and John Betjeman sent letters of support. Enid Blyton declined: “My husband said NO at once”.

Source: Jeremy Lewis, Penguin Special: The Life and Times of Allen Lane (2005), pp. 323–4