Monthly Archives: September 2020

James Dean dies in car accident

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/james-dean-dies-in-car-accident

At 5:45 PM on September 30, 1955, 24-year-old actor James Dean is killed in Cholame, California, when the Porsche he is driving hits a Ford Tudor sedan at an intersection. The driver of the other car, 23-year-old California Polytechnic State University student Donald Turnupseed, was dazed but mostly uninjured; Dean’s passenger, German Porsche mechanic Rolf Wütherich was badly injured but survived. Only one of Dean’s movies, “East of Eden,” had been released at the time of his death (“Rebel Without a Cause” and “Giant” opened shortly afterward), but he was already on his way to superstardom–and the crash made him a legend.

James Dean loved racing cars, and in fact he and his brand-new, $7000 Porsche Spyder convertible were on their way to a race in Salinas, 90 miles south of San Francisco. Witnesses maintained that Dean hadn’t been speeding at the time of the accident–in fact, Turnupseed had made a left turn right into the Spyder’s path–but some people point out that he must have been driving awfully fast: He’d gotten a speeding ticket in Bakersfield, 84 miles from the crash site, at 3:30 p.m. and then had stopped at a diner for a Coke, which meant that he’d covered quite a distance in a relatively short period of time. Still, the gathering twilight and the glare from the setting sun would have made it impossible for Turnupseed to see the Porsche coming no matter how fast it was going.

Rumor has it that Dean’s car, which he’d nicknamed the Little Bastard, was cursed. After the accident, the car rolled off the back of a truck and crushed the legs of a mechanic standing nearby. Later, after a used-car dealer sold its parts to buyers all over the country, the strange incidents multiplied: The car’s engine, transmission and tires were all transplanted into cars that were subsequently involved in deadly crashes, and a truck carrying the Spyder’s chassis to a highway-safety exhibition skidded off the road, killing its driver. The remains of the car vanished from the scene of that accident and haven’t been seen since.

Wütherich, whose feelings of guilt after the car accident never abated, tried to commit suicide twice during the 1960s—and in 1967, he stabbed his wife 14 times with a kitchen knife in a failed murder/suicide—and he died in a drunk-driving accident in 1981. Turnupseed died of lung cancer in 1995.

READ MORE: 7 Little-Known Facts About James Dean

Berlin Airlift ends

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/berlin-airlift-ends

After 15 months and more than 250,000 flights, the Berlin Airlift officially comes to an end. The airlift was one of the greatest logistical feats in modern history and was one of the crucial events of the early Cold War.

In June 1948, the Soviet Union suddenly blocked all ground traffic into West Berlin, which was located entirely within the Russian zone of occupation in Germany. It was an obvious effort to force the United States, Great Britain and France (the other occupying powers in Germany) to accept Soviet demands concerning the postwar fate of Germany. As a result of the Soviet blockade, the people of West Berlin were left without food, clothing, or medical supplies. 

Some U.S. officials pushed for an aggressive response to the Soviet provocation, but cooler heads prevailed and a plan for an airlift of supplies to West Berlin was developed. It was a daunting task: supplying the daily wants and needs of so many civilians would require tons of food and other goods each and every day. On June 26, 1948, the Berlin Airlift began with U.S. pilots and planes carrying the lion’s share of the burden. During the next 15 months, 277,264 aircraft landed in West Berlin bringing over 2 million tons of supplies. On September 30, 1949, the last plane–an American C-54–landed in Berlin and unloaded over two tons of coal. Even though the Soviet blockade officially ended in May 1949, it took several more months for the West Berlin economy to recover and the necessary stockpiles of food, medicine, and fuel to be replenished.

The Berlin Airlift was a tremendous Cold War victory for the United States. Without firing a shot, the Americans foiled the Soviet plan to hold West Berlin hostage, while simultaneously demonstrating to the world the “Yankee ingenuity” for which their nation was famous. For the Soviets, the Berlin crisis was an unmitigated disaster. The United States, France and Great Britain merely hardened their resolve on issues related to Germany, and the world came to see the Russians as international bullies, trying to starve innocent citizens.

Michael Eisner resigns as Disney CEO

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/eisner-resigns-as-disney-ceo

On September 30, 2005, Michael Eisner resigns as the chief executive officer of the Walt Disney Company. During Eisner’s 21-year tenure with Disney, he helped transform it into an entertainment industry giant whose properties included films, theme parks and a cruise line, television networks and sports teams. Eisner also presided over a “golden age” of animation, during which Disney produced such blockbuster films as Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King and became a merchandising powerhouse.

Michael Eisner was born on March 7, 1942, in New York. After graduating from Denison University in 1964, he worked his way up through the programming ranks in network television. In 1976, the chairman of the board of Paramount Pictures, Barry Diller, hired Eisner as the company’s president and CEO. During Eisner’s time at Paramount in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the studio produced such hit films as Raiders of the Lost Ark, Flashdance, Saturday Night Fever, Grease, Footloose, Ordinary People, Trading Places, Beverly Hills Cop, Terms of Endearment and An Officer and a Gentleman.

Amidst all his success, Eisner became involved with a lawsuit concerning the former Disney movie studio head Jeffrey Katzenberg and a multi-million dollar severance package given to Michael Ovitz, who briefly served as Disney president under Eisner. In 2004, Roy Disney, nephew of the company’s founder, resigned his board seat to protest what he reportedly perceived as Eisner’s mismanagement. At the time, Disney’s stock was down and its ABC TV network was doing poorly in the ratings. At a March 2004 meeting, 43 percent of the voting shareholders expressed their lack of confidence in Eisner, and a new chairman of the board was appointed. Eisner stayed on as the company’s CEO for the next year and a half, until formally stepping down on September 30, 2005. His former second-in-command, Robert Iger, succeeded him. Iger stepped down in 2020 and was replaced by Bob Chapek. 

First volume of “Little Women” is published

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/first-volume-of-little-women-is-published

The first volume of Louisa May Alcott’s beloved children’s book Little Women is published on September 30, 1868. The novel will become Alcott’s first bestseller and a beloved children’s classic.

Like the fictional Jo March, Alcott was the second of four daughters. She was born in Pennsylvania but spent most of her life in Concord, Massachusetts, where her father, Bronson, associated with Transcendentalist thinkers Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. The liberal attitudes of the Transcendentalists left a strong mark on Louisa May Alcott. Her father started a school based on Transcendentalist teachings, but after six years it failed, and he was left unable to support the family. Louisa dedicated most of her life and writing to supporting her family. In 1852, her first story, the Rival Painters: A Tale of Rome, was published in a periodical, and she made a living off sentimental and melodramatic stories over the next two decades. In 1862, she worked as a nurse for Union troops in the Civil War until typhoid fever broke her health. She turned her experiences into Hospital Sketches (1863), which earned her a reputation as a serious literary writer.

Looking for a bestseller, a publisher asked Alcott to write a book for girls. Although reluctant at first, she poured her best talent into the work, and the first volume of the serialized novel Little Women became an instant success. She wrote a chapter a day for the second half of the book. Her subsequent children’s fiction, including Little Men (1871), An Old-Fashioned Girl (1870), Eight Cousins (1875) and Jo’s Boys (1886), were not as popular as Little Women. She also wrote many short stories for adults. She became a strong supporter of women’s issues and spent most of her life caring for her family’s financial, emotional, and physical needs. Her father died in March 1888, and she followed him just two days later at the age of 55.

READ MORE: How Louisa May Alcott’s Real-Life Family Inspired ‘Little Women’

Wyoming legislators write the first state constitution to grant women the vote

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/wyoming-legislators-write-the-first-state-constitution-to-grant-women-the-vote

On September 30, 1889, the Wyoming state convention approves a constitution that includes a provision granting women the right to vote. Formally admitted into the union the following year, Wyoming thus became the first state in the history of the nation to allow its female citizens to vote.

That the isolated western state of Wyoming should be the first to accept women’s suffrage was a surprise. Leading suffragists like Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton were Easterners, and they assumed that their own more progressive home states would be among the first to respond to the campaign for women’s suffrage. Yet the people and politicians of the growing number of new Western states proved far more supportive than those in the East.

READ MORE: The State Where Women Voted Long Before the 19th Amendment

In 1848, the legislature in Washington Territory became the first to introduce a women’s suffrage bill. Though the Washington bill was narrowly defeated, similar legislation succeeded elsewhere, and Wyoming Territory was the first to give women the vote in 1869, quickly followed by Utah Territory (1870) and Washington Territory (1883). As with Wyoming, when these territories became states they preserved women’s suffrage.

By 1914, the contrast between East and West had become striking. All of the states west of the Rockies had women’s suffrage, while no state did east of the Rockies, except Kansas. Why the regional distinction? Some historians suggest western men may have been rewarding pioneer women for their critical role in settling the West. Others argue the West had a more egalitarian spirit, or that the scarcity of women in some western regions made men more appreciative of the women who were there while hoping the vote might attract more.

Whatever the reasons, while the Old West is usually thought of as a man’s world, a wild land that was “no place for a woman,” Westerners proved far more willing than other Americans to create states where women were welcomed as full and equal citizens.

READ MORE: 19th Amendment: A Timeline of the Fight for Women’s Right to Vote

President Woodrow Wilson speaks in favor of female suffrage

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/president-woodrow-wilson-speaks-in-favor-of-female-suffrage

On September 30, 1918, President Woodrow Wilson gives a speech before Congress in support of guaranteeing women the right to vote. Although the House of Representatives had approved a 19th constitutional amendment giving women suffrage, the Senate had yet to vote on the measure.

Wilson had actually maintained a somewhat lukewarm attitude toward women’s suffrage throughout his first term (1913-1917). In 1917, he had been picketed by suffragists outside the White House who berated him for paying mere lip service to their cause. The protests reached a crescendo when several women were arrested, jailed and went on a hunger strike. 

READ MORE: ‘Night of Terror’: When Suffragists Were Imprisoned and Tortured

Wilson was appalled to learn that the jailed suffragists were being force-fed and he finally stepped in to champion their cause. Suffragists and their supporters agreed that Wilson had a debt to pay to the country’s women, who at the time were asked to support their sons and husbands fighting overseas in the First World War and who were contributing to the war effort on the home front. In his September 30 speech to Congress, Wilson acknowledged this debt, saying “we have made partners of the women in this war…Shall we admit them only to a partnership of suffering and sacrifice and toil and not to a partnership of privilege and right?”

Wilson’s stirring words on that day failed to drum up the necessary votes to pass the amendment. The bill died in the Senate and it would be another year before Congress finally passed the 19th amendment giving women the right to vote.

READ MORE: Women’s Suffrage: A Timeline

New York Times article claims Russians want the “American dream”

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/russians-want-the-american-dream

An article in the New York Times claims that Russian citizens want the “American dream”: private property and a home of their own. The article was one of many that appeared during the 1950s and 1960s, as the American media attempted to portray the average Russian as someone not much different from the average American.

Despite the fact that the vast majority of Americans supported the anti-Soviet Union policies of their government, most had a more difficult time trying to dislike the average Russian. During World War II, after all, the U.S. government had launched a propaganda campaign to convince the American people that the Russians–though they lived in a communist nation–were good allies in the war against Hitler’s Germany. Even Hollywood got into the act, releasing movies portraying the stoically heroic Russians and their battle against the Nazi hordes. When World War II ended and the rupture between the United States and the Soviet Union began to develop into the Cold War, many Americans were confused about the new portrayal of Russia as a threat to the United States.

The U.S. government and a cooperative media soon developed an answer to this confusion. The message they spread was clear and direct: the Soviet government was a communist dictatorship bent on world domination; the Russian people, on the other hand, were not much different from their American counterparts. They just craved freedom, liberty, and material comfort. A story in the September 29, 1953, edition of the New York Times was a perfect example of this approach. It began by explaining that a “fortunate Russian” might eventually receive a “small plot of land on which to build a home.” The piece asked, “What is the first thing he does then?” According to the article, he “erects a fine, big fence all the way around the lot.” Decades of communist rule had “succeeded only in sharpening the instinct of the Russian people to hold private property.” The Times reporter opined that the “Soviet Government, if it wants to have a contented population, will have to go a long way in making concessions to satisfy it.”

The article was also evidence of the idea that some of the best American propaganda directed toward the Russian citizenry relied on describing the immense material wealth and comfort available in the United States. In 1959, the first American exhibition to be held in the Soviet Union consisted largely of automobiles, kitchen appliances, fashions, and vast amounts of other consumer goods. Nearly 3 million Russians crowded in to get a look and snatch away the catalogs.

READ MORE: Red Scare

Cyanide-laced Tylenol kills six

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/cyanide-laced-tylenol-kills-six

Flight attendant Paula Prince buys a bottle of cyanide-laced Tylenol. Prince was found dead on October 1, becoming the final victim of a mysterious ailment in Chicago, Illinois. Over the previous 24 hours, six other people had suddenly died of unknown causes in northwest Chicago. After Prince’s death, Richard Keyworth and Philip Cappitelli, firefighters in the Windy City, realized that all seven victims had ingested Extra-Strength Tylenol prior to becoming ill. Further investigation revealed that several bottles of the Tylenol capsules had been poisoned with cyanide.

Mary Ann Kellerman, a seventh grader, was the first to die after ingesting the over-the-counter pain reliever. The next victim, Adam Janus, ended up in the emergency room in critical condition. After visiting his older brother in the hospital, Stanley Janus went back to Adam’s house with his wife, Theresa. To alleviate their stress-induced headaches, they both took capsules from the open Tylenol bottle that was sitting on the counter. They too were poisoned—Stanley died and Theresa lapsed into a coma. That same day, Mary Reiner, who had a headache after giving birth, took the tainted pills. A woman named Mary McFarland was also poisoned.

While bottles of Extra-Strength Tylenol were recalled nationwide, the only contaminated capsules were found in the Chicago area. The culprit was never caught, but the mass murder led to new tamper-proof medicine containers. It also led to a string of copycat crimes, as others sought to blackmail companies with alleged poisoning schemes, most of which proved to be false alarms.

READ MORE: How Americans Became Convinced Their Halloween Candy was Poisoned

School principal murdered by student in Wisconsin

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/school-principal-murdered-by-student-in-wisconsin

John Klang, the principal of Weston High School in Cazenovia, Wisconsin, is shot and killed by 15-year-old student Eric Hainstock on September 29, 2006. The incident takes place amidst a spate of school violence across North America, including a shooting rampage at a Canadian college on September 13 and a hostage situation at a Colorado high school on September 27.

Hainstock, who had recently had been given a disciplinary warning by his principal for bringing tobacco to school, took guns from his parents’ home in the small Wisconsin farming community of Cazenovia and brought the weapons to school. Before classes began on the morning of September 29, Hainstock pointed a gun at a teacher, but the weapon was grabbed away by a janitor. The student then ran into the hallway where he encountered the principal and shot him several times. Klang, who managed to wrestle Hainstock to the floor and move the gun away, died a few hours later. Hainstock was detained by other students and school personnel. He was apparently upset by a disciplinary warning he’d received from Klang the day before the shooting for bringing tobacco to school and also angered that teachers hadn’t stopped other students from bullying him. In August 2007, Hainstock was found guilty of first-degree intentional homicide and sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole after 30 years.

On September 13, two weeks before the violence in Cazenovia, Kimveer Gill, 25, went on a shooting rampage at Dawson College in Quebec, Canada. One female student was killed and 19 others were injured before Gill turned the gun on himself after being shot by police. Then, on September 27, drifter Duane Morrison, 53, took six female students hostage at Platte Canyon High School in Bailey, Colorado. Morrison sexually assaulted some of the students and later shot and killed 16-year-old Emily Keyes when a SWAT team burst into the room where he was holding her and another student. Morrison then shot himself in the head and died at the scene. School violence continued when less than a week later, on October 2, milk-truck driver Charles Roberts, 32, killed five girls at a one-room Amish schoolhouse in Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania. Roberts turned his gun on himself and died by suicide when police arrived.

The great singing cowboy, Gene Autry, is born in Texas

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/the-great-singing-cowboy-gene-autry-is-born-in-texas

Gene Autry, perhaps the greatest singing cowboy of all time, is born on September 29, 1907, in Tioga, Texas.

While still a boy, Autry moved with his family to a ranch in Oklahoma where he learned to play the guitar and sing. The young Autry was quickly attracted to a new style of music that was becoming popular at the time, which combined the traditional cowboy music popular in Texas and Oklahoma and the folk songs, ballads, and hymns of southern-style country music. Known as country-western, the new sound was popularized by musicians from the East Coast and the South who had never been near a horse and couldn’t tell a stirrup from a lariat. Donning cowboy hats and boots and affecting what they thought were western drawls, hundreds of these newly minted “cowboys” were soon crooning popular western ballads like “Tumbling Tumble Weeds” all around the nation.

While Autry was also no cowboy, he was, at least, a genuine westerner who had lived on a ranch. After a chance encounter with cowboy-humorist Will Rogers, who encouraged his dream of singing professionally, Autry made his first recording in 1929, and for several years performed as “Oklahoma’s Yodeling Cowboy” on a Tulsa radio program. Following a stint as the star of the Chicago-based National Barn Dance radio show, he signed a recording contract with the Sears label, which also marketed a Gene Autry guitar through its famous catalog.

Autry’s lasting fame, though, came from his career as the film industry’s favorite singing cowboy. His first movie, In Old Santa Fe, was eventually followed by nearly 100 other films that made him one of the most popular stars in America and vastly expanded the audience for country-western music around the world.

He died in October 1998 at the age of 91.