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.
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.
Source: Andrew Cook, To Kill Rasputin: The Life and Death of Grigori Rasputin (2005), p. 226
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.
“I don’t think there is anything particularly wrong about hitting a woman . . . . If a woman is a bitch, or hysterical, or bloody-minded continually, then I’d do it.”SEAN CONNERY REVEALS HIS LOVEY-DOVEY SIDE IN A 1965 PLAYBOY INTERVIEW
1964: During their last performance of Tchaikovsky’s ballet Swan Lake at the Vienna State Opera House, Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev received 89 curtain calls.
Source: Diane Solway, Nureyev: His Life (1998), p. 314
1963: The world’s armed forces kept busy all year overthrowing their governments – there were 12 coups d’état in 1963.
Source: Foreign Policy, May/June 2009
1962: In his final year at Cheam prep school, Prince Charles was made captain of the football first XI. The team lost all its matches, scored just four goals and conceded 82.
Source: Anthony Holden, Charles, Prince of Wales (1979), p. 107
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
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.
1959: Repealed in 1959: the Barbed Wire Act 1893 (a law “to prevent the use of Barbed Wire for Fences in Roads, Streets, Lanes, and other Thoroughfares”) and the Lunacy (Vacating of Seats) Act 1886 (legislation “for vacating seat of member of House of Commons received, &c. as a lunatic into an asylum, &c.”).
Source: The Statutes Revised (1950), vol. XI, pp. 147–8 and vol. XII, pp. 428–9
1958: “Ecce Eduardus Ursus” (“Here is Edward Bear”) coming down the stairs “tump-tump-tump” (“bump, bump, bump”) behind “Christophorum Robinum” (“Christopher Robin”).
The Latin translator of A.A. Milne’s children’s classic was a Hungarian-born scholar who lived on a farm in southern Brazil. Winnie ille Pu was an unexpected publishing success, spending many weeks on the fiction best-seller list of The New York Times in MCMLXI.
Source: The New York Times, 18 November 1984
1957: Majority Leader Lyndon Johnson pleaded and cajoled to get the civil rights bill through the U.S. Senate. The tall Texas senator was very intense, very physical: up-close, fast-talking, his heavy arm draped around a shoulder, his “big meaty hands” grasping his quarry, “his long forefinger through the hole in the senator’s lapel”, buttonholing him “to prevent him from moving away”.
Source: Robert A. Cato, The Years of Lyndon Johnson: Master of the Senate (2003), pp. 587–90, 959–60
1956: Geologist M. King Hubbert’s prediction that American crude oil production would peak in the next 10 to 15 years was met with scepticism, but in 1970, on cue, output reached a record high of 9.6 million barrels per day, and then went into decline.
Source: David Strahan, The Last Oil Shock: A Survival Guide to the Imminent Extinction of Petroleum Man (2007), chap. 2
1955: Leonard Marraffino of New York State applied to patent a device capable of “dispensing two or more paste-like materials of different character, for example, different color, in the form of a striped stream”. A striping dispenser, he called it. That led, a few years later, to the appearance of striped toothpaste.
1954: Did the Eisenhower administration really offer to drop atomic bombs on the Vietminh troops besieging the French at Dien Bien Phu? Nine years after Hiroshima and Nagasaki, did the Americans contemplate once again using their nuclear arsenal in combat? Howard Simpson thought so. “The relevant documents remain classified,” he wrote in Dien Bien Phu: The Epic Battle America Forgot, “but enough has seeped out through personal comments and written memoirs to suggest that such a proposal was seriously considered.” Fortunately for the men on the ground, the idea was abandoned; any attack would have wiped out attackers and defenders indiscriminately.
Source: Martin Windrow, The Last Valley: Dien Bien Phu and the French Defeat in Vietnam (2004), pp. 568–9
1952: Foreigners living in Saudi Arabia had previously been allowed alcohol, but in September, King Ibn Saud imposed a total ban on its import and consumption.
Source: David Holden and Richard Johns, The House of Saud (1981), pp. 170–1
1951: Numerology loomed large in the life and musical compositions of Arnold Schoenberg. He was convinced that certain numbers and combinations of numbers were either benign or malign. “It is not superstition, it is belief,” he explained.
The number 13, in particular, filled Schoenberg with apprehension. He was born on 13 September 1874. In 1950 he reached the age of 76 (numerologically significant because 7 + 6 = 13). Since he was born on the 13th of the month, he feared he would die on the 13th of the month.
As it happened, he was spot on. He died on Friday, 13 July 1951, at a quarter to midnight – another 15 minutes and he would have been out of immediate danger.
Source: Willi Reich, Schoenberg: A Critical Biography (1971), p. 235
1950: Charles Schulz’s cartoon strip Peanuts started with four characters: Charlie Brown, his friends Shermy and Patty, and the dog Sniffy, whose name was changed, just before the strip first appeared, to Snoopy.
Source: Charles M. Schulz, Peanuts Jubilee: My Life and Art with Charlie Brown and Others (1975), pp. 18–19
1949: Costa Rica avoided the military coups that plagued Latin America during the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s by the expedient of disbanding its armed forces. The country’s 1949 constitution decreed: “The Army as a permanent institution is abolished.” (“Se proscribe el ejército como institución permanente.”)
1948: Balding head, wire-rimmed spectacles, moustache, shawl draped over one shoulder – Mohandas Gandhi was much photographed in his later years, which makes it difficult to visualize him as a perky youngster roaming the streets of Porbandar, in western India. His elder sister Raliat remembered him being as “restless as mercury”, unable to “sit still even for a little while”. When she took him for walks, he would approach animals and try to make friends with them. “One of his favourite pastimes was twisting dogs’ ears.”
Source: Pyarelal, Mahatma Gandhi: The Early Phase (1965), p. 194
1947: When Harvard University’s Mark II Aiken Relay Calculator started playing up on 9 September, operators discovered a moth trapped between the points of a relay. “Bugs” had bothered machines before; this was the first recorded instance of a “computer bug”.
1946: J. Spencer Trimingham’s Sudan Colloquial Arabic catered to the “needs of the government official or missionary in learning and speaking the language”. One imagines classrooms of clerics primly reciting Trimingham’s dialogues:
“Father: What’s the matter with Ahmad sitting alone and sulking (lit. stretching his mouth)?
1945: When investigators visited the site of the Treblinka extermination camp, they found the entire area pitted with deep holes, where local people had come with shovels and spades to dig for the remains of inmates, hoping to unearth gold teeth or other valuables missed by the camp guards and Sonderkommando.
Source: Yitzhak Arad, Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka: The Operation Reinhard Death Camps (1987), p. 379
1944: In a brief dispatch to London on 26 January, the British minister to the Vatican, Sir D’Arcy Osborne, reported a conversation he had had earlier in the day with Cardinal Luigi Maglione, Pope Pius XII’s secretary of state. Maglione had expressed the pope’s desire that “no Allied coloured troops would be among the small number that might be garrisoned at Rome after the occupation.” Not that the Holy See drew the colour line, the cardinal had hastened to explain, but “it was hoped that it would be found possible to meet this request.”
Source: The Historian, Winter 2002
1943: The wartime activities of the Colorado beetle have gone largely unnoticed, though they were allegedly used in a crude form of biological warfare. German planes dropped beetles on the Isle of Wight to destroy the potato crop, only to be foiled by the secret deployment of schoolchildren to round up the pests. (Though how the Third Reich hoped to alter the course of the war by targeting a pint-sized island off the south coast of Britain, and why the kids didn’t immediately blab the whole story, is beyond me.)
Source: Jennifer Davies, The Wartime
Kitchen and Garden (1993), p. 129,
but see also www.sussex.ac.uk/Units/
1942: Field Marshal Erich von Manstein’s well-drilled dachshund, Knirps, would respond to shouts of “Heil Hitler!” by raising its paw in salute.
Source: Antony Beevor, Stalingrad (2007), p. 273
1941: William Marston claimed that, while still a psychology student at Harvard, he had been the first person to measure blood pressure as a means of lie detection. Throughout the 1920s and ’30s he lobbied unsuccessfully for the use of the polygraph in court cases. In 1941 he created the comic-book heroine Wonder Woman, who used a magic lasso to ensnare criminals and to extract confessions.
1940: The American broadcaster William Shirer found it difficult to read the minds of Berliners thronging the Unter den Linden on Easter Sunday afternoon. “Their faces looked blank. Obviously they do not like the war, but they will do what they’re told. Die, for instance.”
Source: William L. Shirer, Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934–1941 (1941), p. 241