The First Spacemen

By | Feb 20, 2017

Freedom 7
Launched May 8, 1961 with Alan Shepard aboard. The flight put the first man in space. It lasted 15 minutes 28 seconds. The flight did not orbit the earth.

Liberty Bell 7
Launched July 21, 1961 with Virgil (Gus) Grissom aboard. Second flight into space, but it too was a non-orbital flight lasting 15 minutes 37 seconds. The capsule sunk when the hatch flew off before the rescue helicopter attached onto it. Grissom along with Edward White and Roger Chaffee was killed in the capsule fire of Apollo 1 on January 27, 1967. These were first lives lost in the American Space program.

Friendship 7
Launched February 20, 1962 with John Glenn aboard. The flight lasted 4 hours 55 minutes 23 seconds and was the first time an American orbited the earth in outer space. It lasted 3 of the scheduled 7 orbits. There was concerns about the heat shield.

Aurora 7
Launched May 24, 1962 with Scott Carpenter aboard. The flight lasted for 4 hours 56 minutes 23 seconds lasting 3 orbits. This was originally was to be Deke Slayton’s flight, however he developed an irregular heartbeat and was the only one of the Mercury Seven, not to go into space in a Mercury spacecraft. Slayton was later reinstated and flew in space in 1975.

Sigma 7
Launched October 3, 1962 with Wally Schirra aboard. The flight lasted 9 hours 13 minutes 11 seconds for 6 orbits. Schirra was the only person to go into space in the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs.

Faith 7
Launched May 15, 1963 with Gordon Cooper aboard. The flight lasted for 1 day 10 hours 19 minutes 49 seconds. Gordon was the first American to be in space for over a day and was the last American to fly into space and orbit solo. This turned out to be the last Mercury flight. Alan Shepard had been scheduled to take the Freedom 7-II to space in October 1963 when the Mercury program was canceled.

Ghost Riders in The Sky

By | Feb 16, 2017

The song Ghost Riders in The Sky was written in 1948 by Stan Jones (1914-1963) while he was working in Death Valley for the National Park Service. During that summer he was assigned to the movie crew that was filming The Walking Hills as a technical adviser. He would play his songs for them while on breaks and they encouraged him to sell the songs and went to music publishers to try to sell the songs.

Shortly after the beginning of 1949, Burl Ives heard the song and decided to record it on February 16, 1949 reaching the charts on April 22 peaking at number 21. Also in 1949 the song was recorded by Bing Crosby on March 22, 1949 reaching the charts on May 6 with it peaking at number 16.

But it was Vaughn Monroe’s version recorded on March 14 reaching the charts on April 15 that reached the number 1 position. In fact it was the biggest record of 1949. When it was recorded in 1949 it was called Riders in the Sky (A Cowboy Legend)

Gene Autry thought so much of the song that he crafted a movie based on it. He also recorded the version that was used in the movie.

In 1949 alone at least six performers recorded the song and since that time it has been recorded numerous times in each of the succeeding decades. Johnny Cash recorded a version in 1979. On 1988 he performed a duet of the song with Willie Nelson on VH1 Storytellers. On that version Willie Nelson did the 4th verse instead of the third.

The song appeared in the movie Ghost Rider with Nicholas Cage. The song was incorporated into the soundtrack. A few times during the movie you could hear the guitar riff and it featured perfectly when the ‘Ghost Riders’ made their 500 mile journey through the desert. A nearly 5 minute version of the song done by the group Spiderbait ran during the closing credits.

Bell’s Telephone

By | Feb 14, 2017

The telegraph was invented by Samuel Morse in 1835 and it was Alexander Graham Bell’s intention to improve on the telegraph that lead to his invention of the telephone. It was on March 10, 1876 when Bell in one room and his assistant Thomas Watson in another when he shouted the words, ‘Mr. Watson – come here – I want to see you’ into the transmitter. Watson was able to hear what was said and reported back to Bell the exact words. With this the first working telephone was born.

Bell’s experiments with the telegraph was an attempt to transmit multiple messages over the same wire at the same time. He felt that this could be done if each signal would have it’s own different pitch.

On the same day, February 14, 1876, Bell and Elisha Gray with his Western Electric Manufacturing Company, submitted their patients to the United States Patient Office in Washington DC. Bell’s paperwork with application fee was completed first, Gray’s caveat was entered first, but his filing fee was entered after Bell’s. On March 7, 1876, three days before the successful experiment, Bell received Patent Number 174,465.

Gray would file lawsuits challenging Bell’s patent. He would lose them all, mainly because it was determined that he failed to take actions to complete his caveat until others had demonstrated a working unit. Gray still wasn’t left in the dark since he did receive a patent for the telautograph, a way to transmit handwriting through telegraph systems. It can be called the first fax machine

The Bell Telephone Company was created in 1877 and by 1886, 10 years after the first voice transmission, over 150,000 people in the United States owned telephones.

There really isn’t a sole inventor of the telephone. Bell’s ideas closely resembled Gray’s. The telephone’s transmitter was greatly improved when Edison’s carbon microphone was introduced. Not to mention that the entire idea of the telephone is really just an improvement and enhancement of Morse’s telegraph.

Birth of Modern American Theatre

By | Feb 12, 2017

100 years ago American Theatre was much different than it is today. It was still in the throngs of the late 19th century which saw very few original plays but instead produced long runs of a single, popular plays that popular performers took on tour.

In the summer 1916 Eugene O’Neill found himself in Provincetown with a trunk full of plays. Ironically O’Neill’s father James O’Neill was one of those tour performers.

It was the second season for the group of amateurs who became the Provincetown Players.

A couple of O’Neill’s sea plays, most notable Bound East for Cardiff was produced by the players that summer.

In the Fall the Proviincetown Players came to New York and presented nine “bills” between November and March, including plays by O’Neill.

With O’Neill being called the Father of Modern American Theatre, it’s easy to say that it was born 100 years ago.

Barbara Gelb, who, with her husband, Arthur Gelb, produced the first full-scale biography of the playwright Eugene O’Neill, then followed it decades later with two volumes that reconsidered his life, died on February 9, 2017. She was 91. Her husband died on May 20, 2014.

The Schnozzola

By | Feb 10, 2017

Nearly everyone knows him as the voice of the narrator of the classic Christmas cartoon Frosty the Snowman. Jimmy Durante was the voice and at the time he was near the end of a career that lasted for nearly 70 years.

James Francis Durante was born on February 10, 1893 in Brooklyn, New York. Durante had one unique feature. That being a huge nose. During his career he made jokes about it calling it a “Schnozzola”.

Durante began his show business career as a Ragtime piano player. When appearing in Coney Island around 1911 he was billed as “Ragtime Jimmy”. He would adopt the new New Orleans Jazz style and worked as a performer and promoter of Jazz into the 1920s.

In the late 1920s he would turn to the Vaudeville Theater as part of the comic team Clayton, Jackson and Durante. He and the team became quite popular in New York. So popular that he was asked to do the play Jumbo. This role was the one that pushed him into stardom.

From here he would expand into movies, radio and when the new medium was expanding, Television. He became one of the most popular performers of his generation. He would die on January 29, 1980

Jimmy Durante is associated with two phrases. Those are: “Inka Dinka Doo” and “Good night, Mrs. Calabash, wherever you are.” “Inka Dinka Doo” was the 1934 novelty he recorded and it became his theme song.

“Good night, Mrs. Calabash, wherever you are.” was the line that he closed his radio and later his television program. For a while he kept the reason for it a secret until he finally told that it referred to his first wife, Jeanne Olsen, whom he married on June 19, 1921 and who died on Valentine’s Day in 1943. Calabash was a small town near Chicago that they had stayed in while on a tour. A town which she fell in love.

The Tramp’s First Appearance

By | Feb 7, 2017

Whenever anyone speaks of Charlie Chaplin, the image that will come to mind is his signature character, the Little Tramp. Chaplin himself called him The Little Fellow. The character rarely was referred to by any name onscreen.

The Little Tramp was first seen by the public when Keystone released the comedy short Kid Auto Races at Venice on February 7, 1914. This was actually the second time Chaplin played the character. The first filmed production was Mabel’s Strange Predicament, which was released two days later on February 9th.

It’s not hard to picture the character. He wore a pair of baggy pants, tight coat, a derby hat, large shoes and had a small mustache. Chaplin said in his autobiography, “… on the way to the wardrobe I thought I would dress in baggy pants, big shoes, a cane and a derby hat. I wanted everything to be a contradiction: the pants baggy, the coat tight, the hat small and the shoes large. I was undecided whether to look old or young, but remembering Sennett had expected me to be a much older man, I added a small moustache, which I reasoned, would add age without hiding my expression.”

The Little Tramp soon became a very popular character. Chaplin made 34 short films in 1914 with Keystone, before moving to Essanay Studio in 1915 and Mutual in 1916. Chaplin would assume control of his productions in 1918. There were only a few productions during the Silent Era that Chaplin played characters other than the Little Tramp.

Perhaps the best film to feature the Little Tramp was the 1925 film The Gold Rush. It was in that film that the classic scene of the starving man, during the Yukon Gold Rush, carved and ate an old boot.

In 1981, IBM acquired the rights for the Little Tramp from the Chaplin family to used the character in a series of ads for their new personal computer. The idea was that even Charlie the common man could use a computer.

He Played Golf Where?

By | Feb 6, 2017

It took three swings before astronaut Alan B. Shepard finally hit the golf ball on February 6, 1971. What was amazing is when the swing was made he was suited in his space gear standing on the moon as part of Apollo 14. Shepard after a solid hit with a second ball stated that it traveled, “Miles and miles and miles”. This was the first any only time that golf was played on the moon.

The balls didn’t actually go for miles. Shepard later gave his estimate to be about 200 to 400 yards. Considering that he swung with one hand in a suit that restricted movement, with a rigged six iron, it wasn’t a bad shot. The golf shot was unplanned and unauthorized. Shepard smuggled the golf club head inside his uniform.

The Apollo 14 mission was the first mission after the failed Apollo 13 mission. Alan Shepard along with Edgar Mitchell became the 5th and 6th man to walk on the moon. Stuart Roosa orbited the moon in the Command Module.

The mission lasted from January 31 to February 9, 1971. Shepard and Mitchell spent 33 1/2 hours on the moon. Nine hours and 23 minutes was spent outside of the Lunar Capsule.

This was Shepard’s second and final time in space. Ten years earlier on May 5, 1961, he became the first American to travel into space when he piloted Freedom 7. That flight was a sub-orbital flight which carried him to an altitude of 116 statute miles. With the Apollo 14 mission he became the only astronaut from Project Mercury to reach the moon. At 47, he also was the oldest to walk on the moon.

For Shepard the mission was a personal triumph. He had been grounded from 1964 to 1968 from Ménière’s disease, a condition in which fluid pressure builds up in the inner ear. An operation performed in 1968 was able to remedy the problem and he was allowed to fly again. Even though Alan B. Shepard never intended to be a hero, he was one.

The Day the Music Died?

By | Feb 3, 2017

It really wasn’t the day that the music died, although it may have been the end of an era. On that day three of Rock and Roll’s young stars (Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. Richardson, the Big Bopper) were involved in an early morning plane crash. The day was February 3, 1959 and happened in Clear Lake, Iowa. All on the plane were killed.

Holly, Valens, Richardson (the Big Bopper) along with Dion and the Belmonts were on a road tour called Winter Dance Party. The groups were touring in unheated buses in freezing temperatures when Buddy Holly decided to charter a small plane to their next stop. The small plane could hold four people including the pilot, the cost was $36 person. He chartered it for himself and his two band mates, Waylon Jennings and Tommy Allsup.

During the tour J.P. Richardson, the Big Bopper, had developed the flu and asked Jennings if he could go instead of him. Jennings agreed.

Jennings was until his death haunted over the crash in part over an exchange of words between him and Buddy Holly. Holly had said to Jennings, “”Well, I hope your ol’ bus freezes up.” Jennings responded, “Well, I hope your ol’ plane crashes.”

Ritchie Valens had never flown in a small plane and asked Tommy Allsup if he could have his seat. With a coin flip, tossed by the DJ at ballroom where they played that night, Valens had the last seat.

Dion DiMucci of Dion and the Belmonts was approached, but declined. He couldn’t see paying the price of 36 dollars, a sum which he had seen his parent argue over this price for apartment rent.

Remembering the Andrews Sisters

By | Jan 30, 2017

With the death of Patty Andrews on January 30, 2013, an era of music is gone too. Patty Andrews, along with her sisters LaVerne and Maxene, sang the Boogie-Woogie music of the late 1930s and the 1940s.

Patricia Marie (Patty) Andrews was the lead singer and the youngest of the sisters. She was born on February 16, 1918 and was only 7 when the sisters began singing together.

LaVerne Sophia Andrews was born on July 6, 1911 and died from cancer on May 8, 1967. After her death the two remaining sisters continued to perform together with for another year until Maxene became the Dean of Women at Tahoe Paradise College.

Maxene Angelyn Andrews was January 3, 1916 and died on October 21, 1995.

The sisters first came to national attention with their recordings and radio broadcasts in 1937. One of their early hits was Bei Mir Bist Du Schön originally a Yiddish tune. They followed this success with a string of best-selling records over the next two years and they became a household name by 1940.

Even though they recorded in the decades of the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s they can be considered the best-selling female vocal group in the history of popular music. They recorded a little over 600 songs of which 113 charted on Billboard charts. 46 of these reached Top 10 status (more than Elvis Presley or The Beatles). They appeared in 17 movies.

A Fire in Space Exploration

By | Jan 27, 2017

President John F. Kennedy’s goal of landing a man on the moon by the end of the 1960s was well on scheduled until January 27, 1967. 50 years ago the Moon project was put on hold. A fire in the command module sitting atop a Saturn IB rocket, just weeks before the first manned Apollo mission was set to blast-off, killed three astronauts.

Command Pilot Virgil I. “Gus” Grissom, Senior Pilot Edward Higgins White, II and Pilot Roger B. Chaffee.

Gus Grissom, born on April 3, 1926 in Mitchell, Indiana, was one of the first astronauts selected in 1959 for the Mercury Program. He was the second person to fly in space on Liberty Bell 7, launched on on July 21, 1961. He also flew in the Gemini program as the Command Pilot on Gemini 3, launched on March 23, 1965.

Ed White, born November 14, 1930 in San Antonio, Texas, was chosen as one of the second group of astronauts in 1962. He was the pilot of Gemini 4 launched on June 3, 1965 and during that mission 4 hours after lift-off he performed the first Spacewalk by an American. He was outside of the capsule for 15 minutes 40 seconds.

Roger Chaffee, born February 15, 1935 in Grand Rapids, Michigan, had been chosen as one of the third group of astronauts in 1963. This would have been his first mission into space.

Chaffee and Grissom are both buried in Section 3 of Arlington National Cemetery. White is buried at West Point Cemetery. These three fallen men were heroes in every sense of the word and even in death helped the United States become the only nation on earth to sent men to the moon.

750px-apollo1-crew_01 From left to right; Grissom, White and Chaffee

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