Humor

This Day in History – February 8 – Hijinx, Humor and Insight

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NewsWhistle is pleased to present Gary Jenneke’s “This Day In History” column.

You can read the original on Gary’s THIS DAY IN HISTORY blog – or scroll down to enjoy Gary’s unique look at the comings and goings of life.

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THIS DAY IN HISTORY… FEBRUARY 8

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1690 – Schenectady Massacre.

200 French and Native Americans attacked the village of Schenectady in the New York Colony. It was in retaliation for the Lachine massacre, an attack by the Iroquois on a French village. The struggle for control of the fur trade in North America resulted in what was called the Beaver Wars. Some Indian tribes aligned themselves with the French, others with the British. Sixty men, women and children were killed, including eleven slaves. The assailants, wanting to let the villagers know that the English were the target, spared the lives of twenty Mohawk Indians. The struggle between the French and the English in North America would continue until the end of the French and Indian War in 1763.

Violence accompanied the European presence in North America from the start. A culture spawned by violence, and centuries later, given gun mania, we can’t seem to shake it.

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1915 – “Birth of a Nation” Prime Ministers.

DW Griffith’s epic three-hour film opened at Clune’s Auditorium in Los Angeles. The film, racist in tone and glorifying the Ku Klux Klan, caused riots in some northern cities and was banned in others. Nonetheless, it was a box office success in addition to being credited with revitalizing the KKK. Besides its controversial theme, which was based solely on film, it was artistically innovative and helped create the film industry. Griffith has been credited with creating or improving filmmaking techniques such as close-ups, long shots, and fade-in and fade-out. In addition, he rehearsed his actors, thus raising the standards of cinema. Griffith also honed the art of editing. Before him films were short and poorly produced, Griffith changed all that forever. The film remains controversial to this day.

I saw excerpts from it, but never the entire film. I suspect I wouldn’t be able to sit through the whole affair.

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1923 – Dawson Coal Mine disaster, New Mexico.

The support beams collapsed due to the derailment of the mine wagons and the cables of the electric trolley propelling the wagons ignited the coal dust. The subsequent explosion killed 123 miners. This was the second mining disaster in Dawson. Ten years earlier, an explosion had killed 286 men. Some of those killed in the second disaster were the sons of those killed in the first. Coincidentally, that same day in Fushun, Manchuria, a coal mine disaster claimed the lives of more than 3,000 miners.

Not a good day for coal miners. Despite more safety rules now, it’s still a dangerous profession. I did some research, but couldn’t find any data on the number of lives lost in solar panel disasters.

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Birthdays:

1894 – Billy Bishop.

World War I flying ace. Bishop of Canada was the Allies’ top ace, having shot down 72 enemy aircraft. A good athlete, Bishop avoided team sports and preferred swimming and shooting. He was also known to stand up to bullies and fight them off. He did less well academically and quickly dropped out of subjects he did not master. He enrolled at the Royal Military College of Canada, failed one year and got caught cheating in another. Then war broke out and Bishop found his calling. Commissioned as an officer, he was sent to France with the 7th Canadian Mounted Rifles. Trench warfare did not suit him and he managed to secure a transfer to the Royal Flying Corp. He received his wings and was transferred to an area where the average life expectancy of a pilot was eleven days. The Germans were shooting down British aircraft at the rate of 5 to 1. Bishop’s flying career got off to a rocky start. He got lost on one of his first missions and then crash-landed his plane during a training flight. Sent back to flight school, he had one last mission. During it he shot down a German aircraft, had engine trouble, landed between the trenches in no man’s land, and dodged bullets, returning to the safety of British lines. The notoriety he gained from it kept him in the squadron. Soon he was shooting down planes at a rapid pace. He even had an encounter with Manfred von Richthofen, the famous Red Baron, and both escaped unscathed. His total at the end of the war was 72 enemy aircraft destroyed, although there have been suggestions that this number may have been inflated.

During the Second World War he was a recruiter for the Canadian Air Force, but his health forced him to retire in 1944. At the time he was fifty years old, but his son said he was l look to be seventy years old. Bishop died in his sleep at age 62 in Palm Beach, Florida in 1956.

The kind of swashbuckling character that might prevail in a less regulated and less structured time period. As noted, there have been doubts about the number of aircraft he shot down, that it may have been less than 30, rather than the claimed 72. But too bad, for me it’s still a good story.

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1922 – Audrey Meadows.

Actress. Meadows will forever be known for playing Alice Kramden, Jackie Gleason’s wife, on “The Honeymooners.” His calm, deadpan and sarcastic portrayal of Gleason’s frenzied hysteria endeared him to audiences. Her father was a missionary and she was born in China, returning to the United States when she was five years old. She began her career as a singer, performing at Carnegie Hall at the age of sixteen. Her older sister, Jayne Meadows, who was to marry comedian Steve Allen, brought her into acting. Meadows performed with USO shows during World War II and joined the “Bob and Ray Show” on television. Jackie Gleason was a hot name on television at the time and she tried to audition for the role of Alice. Her appearance caused Gleason to immediately dismiss her as too young and pretty. She went home, took her makeup off, put on a frumpy dress, had her picture taken, and sent it to Gleason. He then hired her without ever hearing her read a line. After Gleason’s show ended, she struggled to get roles, having been cast as a lackluster housewife. Meadows retired in 1961 after marrying the chairman of the board of a major airline. For the rest of her life however, fans approached “Alice Kramden”, wanting autographs. Meadows died in 1996 of lung cancer.

Meadows played this role brilliantly. Without her, and her counterpart, Trixie, played by Joyce Randolph, the wild antics of Gleason and Art Carney wouldn’t have worked. While researching this piece, I discovered that Hollywood leading man Cary Grant loved the show and desperately wanted to do a guest appearance, but it never worked out.

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1953 – Mary Steenburg.

Inasmuch as

Actress. Steenburgen burst onto the scene (at least for me) winning an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role in “Melvin and Howard.” She had a long career in television and film. One of his last roles was playing a villain in the TV series “Justified”. Steenburgen is married to actor Ted Danson of “Cheers” fame.

“Melvin and Howard”, one of my favorite movies. “Justified” wasn’t too shabby either.

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ABOUT GARY JENNEKE

At various times in his life, Gary has been an indifferent elementary school student, a poor high school student, a good Navy radioman, a former hippie, a passable student, an inveterate traveler, a devoted writer, an erroneous accountant (at the except for an interesting stint at a communist cafe), part-time screenwriting teacher, semi-proud veteran, failed retiree, and new blogger.

You can reach him at [email protected]

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CREDITS

The above information comes from the following sites and newspapers:

OnThisDay.com

Wikipedia.org

History.com

NYTimes.com

We would also like to thank the following photographers and videographers for the use of their images:

* Intro image (theater curtains) – Photo by Joshua Hoehne on Unsplash

* Billy Bishop (video) – The Great War / YouTube.com

* Audrey Meadows (video) – Don Giller / YouTube.com

* Mary Steenburgen (interview) – IMDb / YouTube.com

* Outro (Man-In-Museum cartoon) – SkyPics Studio / Shutterstock.com

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