According to Mick


Day in History - "The Streak"

On May 15, 1941 “Joltin” Joe DiMaggio, also known as the “Yankee Clipper, beganhis 56 game hitting streak. Most baseball experts view this record as being unbreakable. From that date through July 17, DiMaggio hit .408 with 15 home runs and 55 RBIs. The whole nation was transfixed each day the streak kept getting extended. Songs were written about it. It was daily conversation even if people weren’t baseball fans. The streak went for an amazing 56 games. The Heinz Company was eager for the streak to go to 57. They were going to pay DiMaggio $10,000 for his service promoting their catchup if the streak could have gone on one more game.
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Day in History - Empire State Building

From the White House with a push of a button on this day 85 years ago, HerbertHoover turned on the lights for the newly completed Empire State Building. Built in the midst of the Great Depression for about $40 million dollars, it became a symbol of optimism, and what money, power and skilled workers were capable of doing when working together. Like the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge and other projects that make you proud to be human, the Empire State Building was built mostly with immigrant labor. Augmenting the immigrants were hundreds of Mohawk Ironworkers. For more than a century these Native Americans have built much of Manhattan, including the World Trade Center.

Despite their optimism, the owners didn’t turn a profit on it until 1950. It was knick-named the “Empty State Building”. In fact, the two million dollars in ticket sales to the observation deck exceeded the rent received for the entire building for the first year.

The site was the original estate of John Jacob Astor Jr. His mansion on this site which was eventually razed to make room for the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, which in turn was razed to make room for the Empire State Building. Amazingly, the architectural drawings for the Empire State Building were completed in just 2 weeks, since most of the design came from existing drawings for the Reynolds Building in North Carolina. With the help of 3,400 workers, the building itself was completed in just over one year. Sometimes the steel structure grew by as many as 4 ½ floors per week. For nearly 40 years it was the tallest building in the world until replaced by the original World Trade Center.


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Day in History - Abe Lincoln's Last Photo

This iconic photo of Abraham Lincoln by Alexander Gardner was long thought to have been photographed on this day in 1865, four days prior to his assassination and one day after Appomattox. It was long thought to be the last photograph of the President while still alive. The fact that the glass plate negative cracked before printing was thought to be an omen for the soon to be martyred president. The close proximity to his death gave the photo much greater value and standing. The studio of Gardner never denied the April 10, 1865 date of its being shot, possibly so as not to diminish its value.

However, a recently discovered diary of portrait painter, Henry J Warren, proves otherwise. Warren was to paint a portrait of the President, but Lincoln was too busy to sit still. So Warren had to settle with basing his painting upon the Gardner photo. His diary details the process at the Gardner studio and date of the photo as being February 5th, 1865. Other photos now contend to be considered Lincoln’s last.

Alexander Gardner was a Civil War photographer for Mathew Brady, who later went on to start his own studio. Photography was just catching on with the public. Like television is credited with making John Kennedy President, Lincoln credited his photographs taken by Mathew Brady as being decisive in his election. He stated “Make no mistake, Brady made me President.” Photography let people get a more intimate look at Lincoln and have a more personal connection with him that had not been possible before.

Regardless of the exact date of the Gardner photo, it is still a powerful portrait, showing president looking much older than his age would indicate. The war was winding down. He could now look forward to reconstruction and reconciliation. There was reason for hope. Though it was the convention of the time not to smile for photographs, there was a hint of a smile on the President’s face.

  • Mick

Day in History - Wake Up!

How do you wake up in the morning? Ideally, most people would like to be gently woken by a gradual increase of light accompanied by the increasing volume of chirping birds. That may sound peaceful, however as we stay up later and have lives not based on the sun's rise, waking up can be challenge. An early method was to merely drink a lot of water before you went to bed. You would naturally wake up early to use the bathroom. The next method also involved water. An Egyptian inventor attached a bobber to a water clock in 245 BC. The water clock was a vessel filled with water which would gradually drain its contents at a controlled rate. When the water level reached a designated level, an alarm would sound. A Syrian inventor drilled holes in the face of a clock and would insert pegs which would be struck by the hands of the clock to set off an alarm in 1555. A Levi Hutchins of New Hampshire invented a mechanical alarm clock in 1787. It was only for his own use and was not adjustable. It always went off a 4:00 am, so he could get to work on time. A humorous story of dubious truthfulness is that Levi was murdered by his wife one morning at 4:05. Records show that Levi lived until he was 94, so that story seems to be false. With the rise of the industrial revolution, factory whistles would wake residents near the factory to get to work on time in the 1850's. By 1876, Seth Thomas invents adjustable mechanical clock which we are familiar with. On this date in 1882 a Samuel Applegate was getting his idea patented for a wood block alarm clock. He argued that you would become accustomed to the sound of a regular alarm clock and be able to sleep through it. His improvement on the idea was to attach an alarm clock to a net filled with wooden blocks (preferably of cork) dangling above your head (see illustration).  At the selected time a hook would release the wood blocks to tumble down on your head. Sales were disappointing. Radio alarm clocks were invented by a James Reynolds in the 1940's. It took nearly two more decades for the snooze button to be invented. We now have all sorts of digital devices to wake us up, including lights which gradually and gently go to full brightness and music which does the same at the appointed hour. Even with centuries of inventions, many of us still have a hard time getting to work on time.
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Day in History - Mary Pickford & Douglas Fairbanks

The average human face has around 42 muscles. Some are for basic things like chewing, but most are for expressing feelings and emotions. A slight uplifted eyebrow can express much without a spoken word. In the 1950 film Sunset Boulevard, Norma Desmond is an aging silent movie star dreaming of a comeback. She is played by Gloria Swanson, herself a silent film star. She tells William Holden her disdain for the current films when she says “We didn’t need dialog. We had faces!”

Reportedly the first close-up in cinema came in 1912 at the end of a D. W. Griffith film, Friends. Prior to this film the camera took long shots or medium shots. The lenses had some difficulty focusing so close on a human face. This first close-up was of actress Mary Pickford. The close-up proved to be an effective tool to express the state of mind of an actor.

Prior to the close-up, movie actors were not stars. They were easily replaceable and couldn’t command high salaries. The close-up changed that. Once you saw a close-up of an actor who could use their 42 muscles effectively, you became familiar with them. You formed a connection. If you liked them, you wanted that connection to continue. Audiences began demanding to see more movies starring that un-billed actor they had seen in a previous film. As a result, the close-up created the Hollywood star system. Mary Pickford became famous, rich and powerful as a result. She became known as “America’s Sweetheart” and the “girl with the curls”. She went on to parlay her fame to write, direct and produce movies as well. She became one of the most powerful people in the film business. The role in Sunset Boulevard was loosely based on Pickford’s life and other actresses. She was considered for the role but when they pitched the idea to her, she was horrified.

Douglas Fairbanks dreamed of becoming an actor while growing up in Colorado. As soon as he was old enough, he took off to New York for Broadway. After a brief stint, it was off to California for the movies. He was good looking, athletic and certainly had good use of all his muscles, not just the 42 in his face. Like Pickford, he worked with D. W. Griffith. He met Mary Pickford, who was married, and Charlie Chaplin on a war bonds tour. From that stemmed a romance resulting in their marriage on this day in 1920. It was the height of their careers. The marriage was big news. Everyone was interested. It was beyond Beatlemania or current fascination with celebrity. She was the highest paid actor, he the third highest paid actor after Charlie Chaplin. They were the power couple. They went on to form United Artist Studio along with Chaplin and D. W. Griffith.

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Day in History - Ned Buntline, American Huckster

Our collective national self-image is largely formed by an evolving popular culture. The lore of the American West that says we are a gun-toting, independent, self-reliant people is largely the creation Ned Buntline--King of the dime novel. Born Edward Zane Carroll Judson Sr. on March 20, 1821, Buntline penned more than 400 adventure novels, only slightly based on fact, and countless short stories. He made lots of money churning these out. He reportedly wrote a 600-page novel in less than 36 hours. He was prolific to say the least.

Forget about Walt Whitman and Mark Twain in terms of successful contemporary writers. Ned made far more money. He didn't bother to let quality get in the way. He stated, "I found that to make a living I must write ‘trash’ for the masses, for he who endeavors to write for the critical few, and do his genius justice, will go hungry if he has no other means of support.”

While touring the country on a temperance lecture circuit in Nebraska, Buntline met the army scout, William F. Cody. He wrote several stories and plays about Buffalo Bill, creating a sensation. Cody would star in the play in Chicago and from that experience learn how to create the Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show, which toured America and Europe. The subsequent novels and movies, which have formed our image of the American West were all shaped by Buntline and his creation of Buffalo Bill. 

Buntline was fairly disreputable, a drunkard who was kicked out of the army for drunkenness, a traveling temperance speaker, frequently speaking to his audience drunk. He was a womanizer who was married seven times. He murdered the husband of one of his mistresses, supposedly in self-defense. At his trial he was shot and hung by friends of the murdered man. However, he was cut down by supporters from the awning post before strangling. He became involved in the nativist Know-Nothing Party. He helped instigate the Astor Place Riot of 1849 which pitted nativist against immigrants, resulting in the deaths of 25 people. He was reportedly being paid more than $20,000 per year writing stories which stirred up the less educated whom he had little respect for, but made him rich. He preached America was for Americans. 

Buntline was a great American huckster. He told so many tall tales, he frequently believed them. Regardless of his ability to write and create an image the strong American West built on self-reliance and independence, Buntline's fiction was not self-realized. For all of his wealth, bravado and seeming "success" - he died in debt at age 63 in 1886.   The fanfare faded, his fame diminished and his legacy, which was built on "trash" did not survive the test of time.  Though he changed America, few know his name today.

  • Mick