Pop Culture & The Meaning of Life

World Series At Work

A lot of us have history right under our feet. Some of it changed the world while other events are just fun to talk about.

My hometown of Pittsburgh is loaded with historical landmarks and significance. A short walk through Oakland reveals markers and statues and great, old buildings where important things took place.

Today’s short video is timely as the World Series is currently going on between the Texas Rangers and St. Louis Cardinals. I thought I’d show a little glimpse of one of my workplaces where one of the biggest moments in the history of sports occurred.

If you’d like to see the short clip of this historic blast click here. You’ll see what Forbes Field and Pittsburgh looked like a half century ago as the camera follows the flight of the ball through the air and over Yogi Berra’s head.

Do you have any cool landmarks near you?

October 27, 2011 Posted by | Education, History, Life, Sports | 17 Comments

Smoke Snakes & The Noose Dance

There’s a scene in the movie Tombstone where Wyatt Earp (Kurt Russell) reflects on his charge into sure death against Curly Bill and some other killer cowboys. He’s now been challenged by Johnny Ringo, the deadliest of all cowboys and shares uncertainty with his best friend “Doc” Holiday (Val Kilmer).

“It all happened so fast with Curly Bill… I didn’t really have time to think about it, but I’ve had plenty of time to think about this. I can’t beat him can I?”

Watching someone rush into what appears to be certain death shocks and humbles me. Someone who takes time to think about the sacrifice they are making amazes me even more.

I think Ben Franklin came up with this logo after lighting black smoke snakes.

The men who signed the Declaration of Independence were in the latter category. Putting ink to paper on that document was the equivalent of signing a death warrant. Those guys knew what there were doing and had plenty of time to think about what the British would do to them when the opposition showed up.

At the time of the American Revolution the English law codes considered the founders traitors, and treason was punishable by a death worse than the watered down version shown in Braveheart. Ben Franklin exuded optimism when he told the Second Continental Congress:

“We must, indeed, all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately.”

Benjamin Harrison of Virginia managed to quip about impending death as he made his way to the front of the hall where he penned his name on the declaration written by Thomas Jefferson. Harrison turned to Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts and said:

“From the size and weight of my body I shall die in a few minutes, but from the lightness of your body you will dance in the air for an hour or two before you are dead.”

Like I say, rushing into death is already unbelievable. Doing so with so much time to calculate the cost is nearly unimaginable. Continue reading

July 4, 2011 Posted by | History | 29 Comments

5 Must See Sites In Pittsburgh

Hey my friends, it’s time to put on your tour guide hat! Wait, do tour guides wear hats? Well, put on your tour guide pants because you’re about to take us sightseeing. (Admit it, you’re totally thinking about the last tour guide you had and focusing on his pants. I don’t really think that’s appropriate).

I received a pleasant email from Zechariah Brewer a little while back telling me that he would be in Pittsburgh on business (he’s a hitman) in a few days and could I recommend any attractions. Fearing this might be bait and the contract might actually be on my head I immediately left town.

I laid low for a few days, about 16 inches off the ground to be exact, and waited for the coast to be clear. Eventually I realized we don’t have any coasts in Pittsburgh which should’ve occurred to me earlier because I know so much about this city. It’s the town that I love.

Your humble tour guide

So here are a few things you just must check out when you come to visit me. Bring money. Or at least food. Continue reading

May 4, 2011 Posted by | History, Life | 52 Comments

My Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Features

Two of the best pieces I’ve had published appeared as full page features in Sunday editions of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

The first article highlights how Harry Houdini became the 1st international superstar and specifically details some of his appearances in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Amazing to imagine him leaping into one of the Three Rivers or hanging from skyscrapers in a straight jacket.

The more recent feature is all about using pop culture in education to better connect with students of all levels and disciplines.

Click on the links to check them out. I hope you enjoy reading them.

March 28, 2011 Posted by | Education, History, Writing | 25 Comments

Groundhog Week!

Hey ya’ll, no heavy reading here this time. I’ve got all the info you need on video. Time for a special edition of Wiki Wednesday! I’m getting a real Cash Cab vibe here.

So the connections to Pittsburgh and Pennsylvania are many this week. Gene Kelly was the man, a Steel City star unlike anyone in entertainment history. Hope you enjoyed.

In Groundhog Day, Phil gets stuck living the same day over and over again.

If you had to repeat the same day over like that, what would your dream day look like? Where would you go and what would you do? With whom?

 Find me on Twitter @eduClaytion.

February 2, 2011 Posted by | History, Pop Culture | 31 Comments

Lessons For Today From M.L.K.

“I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be, and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be.” ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

We so often think of Martin Luther King as a leader and speaker that we often forget he was a preacher and writer. His wife Coretta said that Strength To Love (1963) was the book “…that people consistently tell me has changed their lives.” The messages in that work are just as relevant today as they were a half century ago.

His breadth of knowledge is remarkable. One chapter he’s quoting Shakespeare and Keats, the next he’s demonstrating a historical understanding of the great civilizations. One sermon breaks down psychological responses to disappointment, the next features lessons of science and the universe. Logic and philosophy are also woven throughout. King was a Renaissance Man.


As with any work saturated in truth, Strength To Love contains vulnerability as well. He recalls the early days of the movement when he was new to leadership, when the threats could no longer be sloughed off, when fear and doubt crept in. After another threatening call late at night he reached his midnight garden.

“I tried to think of a way to move out of the picture without appearing to be a coward.” He then began to pray aloud over his kitchen table.

“I am here taking a stand for what I believe is right. But now I am afraid. The people are looking to me for leadership, and if I stand before them without strength and courage, they too will falter. I am at the end of my powers. I have nothing left. I’ve come to the point where I can’t face it alone.”

He emerged from that night with a renewed inner calm “ready to face anything.” Three nights later the home he provided for his family was bombed. His faith got him through.

King challenged those around him to become nonconformists with words just as meaningful today.

“In these days of worldwide confusion, there is a dire need for men and women who will courageously do battle for truth…We must make a choice.” 

Traveling that road was never supposed to be easy. Imagine your six-year-old daughter asking, “Daddy, why do you have to go to jail so much?” King reminds us that the cross we bear always precedes the crown we wear. He understood the costs of his cause. Following the strategy of Gandhi and living for Jesus made a tragic fate something to be reckoned with.


Our world is still divided although race is no longer the major line of demarcation. Hatred spews in conversations as beliefs and ideas collide. The civility King spoke of is missing. Everyone believes they are right and uses that feeling as a weapon to pummel anyone who disagrees. Continue reading

January 17, 2011 Posted by | History, Life | 12 Comments

Considering The Heavens

I know I’m not the only one who was bummed when Pluto was demoted to a dwarf planet in 2007.  That’s just insulting.  Pluto was always there for me.  No matter how much I botched the order of those other planets I knew Pluto was 9th.

Pictures taken by the Hubble Space Telescope: Clockwise from the upper left, the "Tadpole" galaxy, the "Cone Nebula," two colliding spiral galaxies dubbed "The Mice," and stellar birth in the Omega Nebula. (Images from NASA)

You know who was happy about Pluto getting the galactic smackdown?  Neptune which became the new planetary caboose.  Now everyone will remember the swirly blue body named for the Roman god of water and sea.  But Neptune comes with controversy all its own, and that brings us to December 28, 1612 and this week’s Wikipedia Wednesday.  On that day, Galileo discovered the 8th planet whether he knew it or not.  That’s the disputed part.

Fast forward a few centuries to December 30, 1924.  That’s when Edwin Hubble announced the existence of other galaxies and forever changed our understanding of the universe.  Named in his honor, the Hubble Telescope has been capturing the greatest images in history for the past couple of decades.

Speaking of space traveling objects, Maurice “The Rocket” Richard made history on December 28, 1944 when he became the first player in National Hockey League history to score 8 points in one game.  The Montreal Canadian legend was also the first player to score 50 goals in 50 games, unheard of and mostly unreachable unless you’re one of the all-time greats.  By the way, Sidney Crosby is flirting with that very milestone right now.

While we’re mentioning athletes, now’s a great time to say happy birthday (tomorrow) to one of my favorite baseball players of forever.  Sandy Koufax–greatest left-handed pitcher of all-time–was born with a cannon on his arm in 1935.

Bill Shatner's passionate about Wiki Wednesday

I suppose we could also recognize the birth of Woodrow Wilson, who managed to overcome the name Woodrow to become president of the U.S., in 1856.  I’d rather talk about a man who died at this time in 1999.  I know very little about Clayton Moore other than the fact that he was The Lone Ranger and I was named after him.  Guess mom was a big fan.

Mostly though, today is about frontiers which makes this a great time to mention how Iowa was admitted as the 29th state in 1846.  Over time our expanding frontier revealed fruited plains and purple mountain majesty that would galvanize environmentalists into the 20th century.  The Endangered Species Act was eventually passed by the U.S. Congress in 1973 under President Nixon.  That statute helped out many beautiful creatures and even protected some slithering reptiles.  Oh, that reminds me, Saddam Hussein was executed on December 30, 2006.

Part of that fruited plain is in Illinois, a great state to bring us home.  I mentioned earlier that others were unhappy with Pluto’s demotion.  Some of those folks were from Illinois, birthplace of Clyde Tombaugh, discoverer of Pluto who got robbed.  The state government passed a law pooh-poohing the scientific community.  New Mexico reps (where Tombaugh lived much of his life) did the same and even declared a Pluto Planet Day once a year!  They said Pluto will always be considered a planet when it appears over the New Mexico sky.

Stan Lee w/ Kevin Smith and more

Also coming out of Illinois is Nichelle Nichols, born on December 28 in 1932.  She played Uhura in the original Star Trek cast which I know way more about than you would ever believe.  Yes, I like the new movie too.

For a brief time after the late 1970s, Marvel Comics held the license for Star Trek.  All of you should now that the godfather of Marvel is Mr. Stan Lee who turned 88 yesterday.  What a legend.  All he did was create (along with Jack Kirby) such characters as Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four, Daredevil (my fave as a kid), the Incredible Hulk, Ironman, and so many others.

Another creation of Stan “The Man” Lee is the Silver Surfer, an intergalactic traveler who certainly breezed past Pluto and Neptune more than once, and whose conceptual journeys wouldn’t have been possible had the infinity of the universe not been discovered by folks like Tombaugh, Hubble, and Galileo.


On Wikipedia Wednesday I take the Wiki’s word for it about what happened on this date in history (give or take a day) and vamp up the rest to connect the events.  It’s okay.  I’m a trained historian. You won’t get history like this anywhere else.

Did you learn somethin’? Connect with me on Twitter @eduClaytion.

December 29, 2010 Posted by | History, Pop Culture, Sports | 12 Comments

The Myth of Christmas

Did you know that the nativity scene is a lie? The wise men weren’t there. When they did show up there were probably more than 3 of them, Jesus wasn’t a newborn, and the king ordered one of the most horrific massacres in all of recorded history, a Christmas bloodbath that would make Stephen King cringe.

The actual manger scene found in nativities is taken from Luke 2, the chapter so famously read by Linus when Charlie Brown was all confused about Christmas. That’s where you hear about Joseph, Mary, and Jesus being visited by shepherds who had been visited by angels. No mention there of wise guys with gifts.

Who said there were 3 kings?

The story of the Magi is only recorded in the book of Matthew. The second chapter says they showed up looking for the king of the Jews. This search didn’t go over well with Herod who considered himself the king of the Jews, a title he had brown-nosed plenty of Romans to get. Herod valued his power and didn’t like the idea of some other king arriving on the scene. Who were these strange visitors and why did they think a king had been born?


All we really know about the Biblical Magi is that they were distinguished foreigners from the East. They were astrologers. The mystic nature of their work later led to the English term magic. They’ve been traditionally called Melchior, Caspar, and Balthasar. Those names come from a Greek manuscript probably written in Alexandria in the early 6th century. At some point during the centuries they were even called kings and we ended up with a slow song to sing during grade school plays with children who can’t keep those hats from falling over their eyes.

So what in the world brought these guys to Judea when Jesus was born? If you know your nativity scenes you may have answered a star. Ding ding winner.

The arrival had been awaited for centuries. The magi knew the fourth oracle of Balaam from Numbers 24 in the Torah (Old Testament). Written about 1,500 years earlier, the passage says in part:

“I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near. A star will come out of Jacob; a scepter will rise out of Israel.”

If you know your ancient stuff like these scholars, that passage comes with a handy address but they also used these words from the prophet Micah:

“But you Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.”

That’s the modern equivalent of saying that in a few hundred years a savior will be born in Twin Peaks. Not exactly the biggest town, so when you see a rare light in the sky there you should probably check it out.  Continue reading

December 22, 2010 Posted by | History, Religion | 15 Comments

The 12 Days of Christmas Movies Creature Feature!

There may have been no creatures stirring in my house last night, but a few folks were stirred to vote for A Christmas Story whilst I slept and Scrooged has been knocked out of this here tournament. 

Speaking of creatures, today I bring you a faceoff filled with them.  We have the all-time gift gone wrong plot and a character who wants all the presents for himself.  We’re going with Gremlins vs. How The Grinch Stole Christmas.

Click to enlarge

I could just throw that matchup on the floor and walk away, but this is eduClaytion and I haven’t blown your minds with knowledge much this week so let’s try some of that, a little Wiki Wednesday omage if you will.

One of the top all-time grossing creature features (behind the Jurassic Parks), Gremlins did it on half as many screens.  Imagine how much money that flick would grab today.  Gremlins set the standard for film merchandising and franchising and also led (along with Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom) the MPAA to create the PG-13 rating.  The film was also pioneering in the newer combination of horror and comedy (which I love).  On top of all that we have an early Corey Feldman appearance.

But the man I really want to talk about is Frank Welker.  Who’s that you ask?  Well, he may be the richest actor in history.  You won’t recognize his face but billions of people know his voice, or should I say voices?  No, he was not the voice of the Mogwai Gizmo, that was Howie Mandel.  Welker was the voice of the villainous Spike. 

Let’s see, who else has Welker voiced?  Oh yeah, how about Scooby-Doo, Scooby’s pal Fred (since 1969), Garfield, and most of the Transformers in the 1980s.  Don’t forget Slimer from Ghostbusters and a couple of the Smurfs.  You can also add the monkey Abu from Aladdin, Dr. Claw from Inspector Gadget, and Darkseid from Super Friends.  And those are only some of his roles.  Are you kidding me?  Frank Welker spent more time in my childhood than all my teachers combined!

I’ve gone out of my way to avoid campaigning for any particular film here, and I don’t want to break that trend now.  Anyone who knows me can tell you how I feel about Jim Carrey.  When the announcement was made that he would play the Grinch I immediately received phone calls.  I have never enjoyed Dr. Seuss more than during the 2000 film How The Grinch Stole Christmas.  The movie smashed the box office and made me laugh.

Believe me, if I was confused about how yesterday’s matchup would go I am downright clueless as to what might happen here.  Dispute my choices if you will, but I feel pretty confident placing these two picks into an elite field, especially when you consider cultural impact.  Maybe I’m just not a Miracle on 34th Street type guy (a problematic film since there are two versions).  Maybe you’ll see that pick tomorrow during for the final go of these quarter finals.  I guess my life is just a lot more Frank Welker than Bing Crosby.

So there’s your “bet you didn’t know” portion of the week.  One thing you can be sure of though is how you will vote.  And you click right now.

December 15, 2010 Posted by | History, Movies, Pop Culture | 14 Comments

John Milton, Paradise Lost & My Two Dads

Humankind has spent eons searching for paradise.  Famed English poet John Milton, who would’ve turned 402 tomorrow, wrote of Paradise Lost in 1667, he said, to justify the ways of God to man.  Maybe he should’ve written in English we could understand.  Just kidding (no I’m not).  We are questioning creatures so often searching for answers and meaning.

Two anti-establishment Johns: Milton & Lennon

This week has historically been a week when Americans have sought to understand tragic events, none more so than the attacks on Pearl Harbor on this date in 1941.  That’s the day 2,400 Americans were killed in a surprise attack on the Hawaiian naval base by Japan.  The next day President Franklin Roosevelt made his famous speech to Congress in which he declared that the 7th of December was “…a date which will live in infamy.”  America immediately declared war on Japan.

More questioning took place on this date in 1980 when John Lennon was murdered.  Fans of the famous musician were devastated at the senseless shooting.  December 8th is also the birthday of another tragic musician, Jim Morrison, frontman for The Doors who never found paradise himself but rather overdosed in a bathtub in France years before Lennon was killed in New York.

New York was also the hometown of Sammy Davis, Jr. who was also born on December 8th.  So was Sam Kinison, another performer to die young.  A lot of people remember Kinison as the screaming professor in Back To School with Rodney Dangerfield who also appeared in Caddyshack as a nemesis to Judge Elihu Smails played by Mary Tyler Moore alum Ted Knight.  Knight, whose birthday would’ve been yesterday, actually dropped out of high school to enlist for military service in World War II following the Pearl Harbor attack.

In between fighting Nazis and battling gophers, Knight made various television appearances in the 1980s as did Mr. Dick Butkus who celebrates his 68th birthday tomorrow.  After a Hall of Fame career in the NFL, Butkus moved into acting.  Sure he appeared on shows like Growing Pains, MacGyver, and Magnum P.I. but real die hards of the 1980s remember his role as Ed Klawicki in that epic show My Two Dads.  Yes, I had a crush on the show’s young star Staci Keanan when I was a kid, and yes I was relieved that Step By Step kept her on TV through the 90s, but I feel we’ve drifted away from the legendary prose of Milton here.

Well, it made sense at the time.

Milton went blind during his life and so shared a special interest in the ancient hero Samson, the Old Testament strongman who was betrayed by his woman Delilah and captured by the Philistines who gouged out his eyes and held him prisoner.  In Samson Agonistes, Milton recounts the betrayal.

“I yielded, and unlocked her all my heart, Who with a grain of manhood well resolved Might easily have shook off all her snares: But foul effeminancy held me yoked Her bond-slave.”

Now, I don’t know if that kind of talk would’ve worked on Staci Keanan when I was 13 but Dick Butkus could really appreciate a tough guy like Samson.  By the way, Butkus was from Illinois, the same state from which Barack Obama was a senator until winning the White House in 2008.  On December 9th of that same year, Governor Rob Blagojevich was arrested for attempting to sell the president’s vacated senate seat.  Classy move.  Reminds me of the “obdurate pride” that Milton once wrote about.

Photo of Jack Schmitt by Gene Cernan w/ Earth in background

Well, onto happier times for Illinois as we come to Mr. Gene Cernan, native of “The Prairie State.”  He captained the final Apollo mission, number 17, which departed earth on December 7, 1972.  A few days later he became the last human to step foot on the surface of the moon.  As the crew departed our planet, they snapped the famous “Blue Marble” picture.

Maybe man will one day achieve those lofty heights again and regain what those who went there have called paradise.  The images are amazing and make sense of Milton’s words: “The broad circumference Hung on his shoulders like the moon…”  You just don’t find writing like that in 1980s television, but I bet John Lennon would have approved.


On Wikipedia Wednesday I take the Wiki’s word for it about what happened on this date in history (give or take a day) and vamp up the rest to connect the events.  It’s okay.  I’m a trained historian. You won’t get history like this anywhere else.

Did you learn somethin’? Follow me on Twitter @eduClaytion.

December 8, 2010 Posted by | History, Humor, Pop Culture | 7 Comments

A Punk Rock Terminator?

On Wikipedia Wednesday I take the Wiki’s word for it about what happened on this date in history (give or take a day) and vamp up the rest to connect the events.  It’s okay.  I’m a trained historian. You won’t get history like this anywhere else.


“Hello.  My name is Inigo Montoya.  You killed my father.  Prepare to die.”  Few movie lines are as memorable to my generation as that one, uttered by Mandy Patinkin in The Princess Bride.  I’m surprised at how many people have not seen this movie.  There are films that people say you’ve gotta see, and then there is The Princess Bride.  If you haven’t seen it yet, go.  Right now.  We‘ll wait.

Now then, where were we?  (That’s a reference to Peter Falk who played grandpa in TPB but I digress).  The Wiki has led us this Wednesday to a more people driven look through time.  For example, Patinkin’s birthday was yesterday, November 30th, and he has plenty of company.  Winston Churchill (1874) and Mark Twain (1835) shared that birthday.

But let us come to the real link of the day, director Ridley Scott who shares the same birthday.  Scott is known for many films.  Alien, Gladiator, and this year’s Robin Hood come to mind.  In order to make a film about Robin Hood, Scott had to really know his stuff including legendary British monarchs like Henry I who just happened to die on this date in 1135.

I’m not sure how much Henry I had in common with Henry Ford besides a first name, but they were both mighty powerful.  Ford solidified his empire forever on December 1, 1913 when his motor company introduced the first moving assembly line.  The world would literally never be the same.

Automobiles helped make America great but have also spelled tragedy for some.  As a matter of fact, another one of the November 30 birthday boys nearly lost a leg in a 1990 car wreck.  His name is William Michael Albert Broad but you know him better as Billy Idol.   Most people don’t think of Idol as an actor.  Sure he was in The Wedding Singer with Adam Sandler and you may even remember his appearance alongside Jim Morrison (Val Kilmer) in The Doors.  But did you know he was supposed to be the T-1000 in Terminator 2: Judgment Day?  Director James Cameron even had storyboards with Billy Idol as the liquid metal machine.  How different our perception would be of Idol had he not been in that accident.  The effects of that time are still around today.  The man who eventually replaced Idol as T-1000, Robert Patrick, was tapped again by Cameron last year for one of the all-time mega (and horribly overrated) movies, Avatar.

My hero weighs the options: Archaeologist or professor?

So instead of acting fame, we remember Idol for songs like Rebel Yell.  The most notorious Rebels I can think of fought for the South during the Civil War.  Perhaps no man despised those Rebels more than John Brown, a vigilante willing to kill in order to stop slavery.  My students and I still aren’t sure if he was a heroic martyr or psychopathic madman, but he played a big part in bringing the country to a decision point after his raid on Harper’s Ferry in West Virginia.  For that failed slave revolt, he was captured and executed by hanging on December 2, 1859.  Now you’ll understand why the United Nations has designated tomorrow as the International Day for the Abolition of Slavery.

John Brown is also known for murdering a couple of slave-supporting settlers in “Bleeding Kansas,” named for a border war in Missouri and surrounding territories.  Some years later, in 1884, a man named Harrison Ford was born in that state.  Despite becoming an actor on the silent screen and stage this man actually holds no relation to the actor of the same name that we all know today.  Here’s where it really gets wild.  The original Harrison (not Henry) Ford died on December 2, 1957.  Sure, that’s the anniversary of John Brown’s death but this Ford died from injuries sustained in a (wait for iittt) car accident. 

Oh, what a tangled web we weave.  Well, we at least got us some crazy connections, so here’s a final one for ya.  Of the two Harrison Fords in Hollyweird history, you know I was majorly influenced by the latter for his role as Indiana Jones.  I wanted to be him, but the archaeologist thing didn’t work out, so I ended up being a professor instead.  One out of two ain’t bad.  But that’s not the final piece because many people remember Ford for his role in a Sci-Fi cult classic called Bladerunner, the 1982 movie directed by?  You guessed it–Ridley Scott.

Did you learn somethin’? Follow me on Twitter @eduClaytion.

December 1, 2010 Posted by | History, Movies, Pop Culture | 16 Comments

The Assassin’s Jukebox

Lee Harvey Oswald being shot by Jack Ruby as O...

Ruby shoots Oswald (Image via Wikipedia)

On Wikipedia Wednesday I take the Wiki’s word for it about what happened on this date in history (give or take a day) and vamp up the rest to connect the events.  It’s okay.  I’m a trained historian.


Putting another dime in the jukebox won’t get you too far anymore baby, but these days you can get a song download credit for a buck all because someone got the first jukebox into operation on November 23, 1889.  Music would never be the same once the world figured out how to spin the black circle.  That first music machine appeared at the Palais Royale Saloon in San Francisco, the town where Joltin’ Joe DiMaggio grew up.

Joey D. was born in 1914 on the 25th of November.  Also born that day was JFK Jr. (1960) who spent a sad third birthday watching his assassinated father get buried in Arlington Cemetery in 1963.  You don’t have to be an English major to pick up on the ironic connections between DiMaggio and JFK.  Start with Marilyn Monroe, Joe’s wife before she became Kennedy’s whatever.  If you want another spooky connection, consider the fact that DiMaggio and John Jr. both died in 1999.  

On that same day in November 1963, Lee Harvey Oswald–suspected assassin of the president–was shot and killed at the Dallas police headquarters by Jack Ruby.  The shooting was broadcast on live television.  Life magazine famously ran a controversial issue featuring Oswald with a rifle on the cover.  (By the way, the NRA first organized in New York City on Nov. 24, 1871).  The first issue of that mag came out this week in 1936.

A couple years after the assassination, in 1966, Life produced great pictures of the smoggiest day in New York City history.  The killer smog took out hundreds who died as a result of respiratory failure and heart attack.  All the city’s great landmarks, places like Carnegie Hall, were buried beneath that polluted haze. 

Speaking of Carnegie, that kind of smog would not have phased the building’s benefactor, industrialist Andrew Carnegie who was born on this date in 1835.  Probably more than anyone else, Carnegie helped make Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania what it became.  By the way, the city of Pittsburgh really got it’s start on November 25, 1758 when British forces defeated the French at Fort Duquesne and rebuilt Fort Pitt from which my beloved hometown grew.    

Carnegie Hall was built in 1891.  A century later (1991), on this very date, Freddy Mercury of Queen and Eric Carr of KISS both died.  Not exactly the day the music died but fans of 1970s and 80s rock sure noticed.

From the 1980s we can head back to the 1880s when two legends–Boris Karloff (1887) and Harpo Marx (1888)–were born one year apart on November 23.  The original Hollywood Frankenstein, Karloff would’ve made a killing during our modern era of vampire and zombie obsession.  Harpo was part of the greatest comedy team in history, and if you don’t get the Marx Brothers you’ll probably never get me.

One last fella who shared that birthday was Billy the Kid (1859).  He was shot and killed in 1881, however, and never got to see one of those new-fangled jukeboxes in the saloons he so often frequented.  And to think he had just turned 21.

This stuff helps keep you young.  Thanks to WitherRiding.

Yes, I know it was also Miley Cyrus’ birthday. No, I don’t care. Thrill me with your comments! Follow me on Twitter @eduClaytion.

November 24, 2010 Posted by | History, Life | 5 Comments

A Tall LSD Tale

On Wikipedia Wednesday I take the Wiki’s word for it about what happened on this date in history (give or take a day) and vamp up the rest to connect the events.  It’s okay.  I’m a trained historian.


The first Ukrainian girl I ever had a crush on was figure skater Oksana Baiul.  I’m sure she would’ve enjoyed yesterday’s birthday a little more knowing that.  Im not sure how old I was at the time, maybe the same age as William Tell’s son when his dad shot an apple off of his noggin with a bow and arrow, a feat accomplished on November 18th way back in 1307.

Now before you go all CYS on him, remember that he was forced to shoot that fruit off his son’s head as a punishment by the Austrian authorities.  A miss meant execution for he and his son.  Tell–the legend of Switzerland–made the shot, became a symbol of resistance to tyranny, and got an overature written about him.  I’m sure William Wallace would’ve appreciated such daring had he not been executed a couple years earlier.  Wallace got his due when Braveheart was made featuring Sophie Marceau who also celebrates a birthday today. 

Keeping with this European theme, the mighty Wiki says that the U.S. recognized the Soviet Union on this date in 1933.  Interesting choice of words that.  It’s as if the two had hung out in the 1920s but hadn’t seen each other in a while.  Fast forward to the same day in 1989 and it was the Soviet Union doing the recognizing, specifically a realization that the communist reign was over as Czechoslovakia launched its famous Velvet Revolution which any 20th century student of mine well knows.

That velvety movement was smoother than Richard Nixon who spent this day in ’73 telling the world “I am not a crook.”  Speaking of horrible movements in the history of government, the Federal Reserve officially opened on November 16, 1914, an innovation that successfully allowed America to go from periodic cycles of economic downturn to periodic cycles of the worst economic meltdowns in history.

At least Milton Friedman wasn’t around to see this latest financial meltdown.  The good economist left us on this date in 2006.  Of all the great things Friedman said in his 94 years, one of the best statements must’ve been, “I don’t really care very much what I’m called [concerning his political persuasion]. I’m much more interested in having people thinking about the ideas, rather than the person.”

And while we’re talking about great ideas, how about buttons on phones?  That little chestnut came our way 47 years ago today.  I find it hard to believe that push-button phones were around in 1963 since we still had a rotary phone in my house until the 21st century.  For you younger folks, rotary phones required a circular crank to dial.  I practically had to stretch before calling someone.  When they made us start dialing area codes I almost tore my rotator cuff.  Calling radio contests was a nightmare.  “Be caller #5 right now!”  Yeah right.  Not even a Mister Miyagi pencil dial could get that big wheel around in time.

Technology isn’t the only thing with ancient roots to this week in history.  Go way back to 42 B.C. and you’ll find the birthday of Roman Emperor Tiberius.  He may have been born B.C. but he died A.D. and in the middle ruled Rome during the crucifixion of the history-breaking Jesus of Nazareth who put that C in B.C.  Tiberius was succeeded by Caligula who was widely regarded as a crazy person. 

Maybe Caligula acted that way because he got into some kind of ancient hallucinogens.  If he did, we know they weren’t of the synthetic variety like LSD which was first synthesized on November 16, 1938 by Dr. Albert Hoffman.  And in case you didn’t know, Hoffman was a Swiss doctor who did his work in Switzerland, a country that might not have existed had William not made that fateful shot and lived to tell a tall Tell tale.

Any questions before your test?  Follow me on Twitter @eduClaytion.

November 17, 2010 Posted by | History, Humor, Pop Culture | 7 Comments

Jack The Ripper and Sesame Street

On Wikipedia Wednesday I take the Wiki’s word for it about what happened on this date in history (give or take a day) and vamp up the rest to connect the events.  It’s okay.  I’m a trained historian.


I wonder if Jack the Ripper was in a fraternity.  We’ll never know because he was never caught, even after taking the life of his last victim Mary Kelly–a.k.a. Black Mary–on November 9, 1888.  Black Mary shouldn’t be confused with Typhoid Mary who died on November 11, 1938 after a rough career as a cook who infected people with a potentially fatal disease.

I mention college fraternities because the first American one began at William & Mary (no relation to Typhoid or Black Mary) way back in November 1750.  The F.H.C. Society came complete with a secret handshake and famous alum like President Thomas Jefferson.  Originally a latin phrase, FHC came to stand for the Flat Hat Club.  The organization enjoyed a rebirth in 1916 while America prepared to enter World War I.

Speaking of The Great War, November 11th is Armistice Day, the anniversary of the official end of the war in 1918.  Three years later, President Warren Harding dedicated the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery.  Armistice Day is ironically called Remembrance day, ironic because few people remember it anymore.

Most people may have also forgotten (or never known) that yesterday was World Freedom Day, a day to commemorate the fall of The Berlin Wall in 1989, the official end to communism’s brutal 20th century reign as millions celebrated the defeat of some pretty evil business.  President Obama created controversy last year by refusing to attend the 20th anniversary celebration. 

Obama is traveling this week, however, to Asia.  Most folks don’t blink over our top executive traveling abroad, but Teddy Roosevelt made headlines in 1906 when he became the first sitting president to leave the country.  He visited Panama to check up on construction of his famous canal which begins in the Atlantic Ocean, the same body of water reached by Civil War General Sherman’s famous March to the Sea.  The most famous event of that march was the burning of Atlanta which happened on November 11, 1864.  Another great blaze broke out a few years later during the Great Boston Fire of November 9, 1872.

From the 1870s to the 1970s looks like Leo DiCaprio has a birthday tomorrow.  Born in 1974, you know Leo watched some Sesame Street which first aired on this date in 1969.  Little Leo would grow up to appear on multiple covers of Rolling Stone, first published on November 9, 1967.

Rolling Stone has covered some major shakers during its run, perhaps none as big as Nirvana who led the alternative charge of the Grunge scene in 1991.  The magazine featured the band on its cover in 1992 with frontman Kurt Cobain famously wearing a “Corporate Magazines Still Suck” t-shirt.  The Gen X trio wound up on the cover once again in 1993, this time sporting pinstripe suits against the banner headline “Success Doesn’t Suck.”  Unfortunately for Cobain, success wasn’t fulfilling and he made a third appearance on the mag’s cover again in 1994, this time in memoriam after his death.

On that first Nirvana cover of Rolling Stone, the magazine declared Seattle as “The New Liverpool.”  And to think there would never have been a Seattle had the state of Washington not been founded on November 11th, 1889, around the exact same time Jack the Ripper was slinking back into the shadows of history.  Well, there you go but this is all getting a little too depressing for me, so I’m gonna go read up on Cookie Monster.  You know that guy was in a fraternity. 

Who says history is boring?  Follow me on Twitter @eduClaytion.

November 10, 2010 Posted by | History, Humor | 13 Comments

President Obama & The Karate Kid

On Wikipedia Wednesday I take the Wiki’s word for it about what happened on this date in history (give or take a day) and vamp up the rest to connect the events. It’s okay. I’m a trained historian. People expect us to make stuff up.


Let me take you back to November 4, 2008.  Barack Obama routed a weak challenger in a historic presidential victory.  Students rocked, Democrats rolled, and Juan Williams cried.  (He cried because a black man won not because he was afraid of muslims).  That’s as good a place to start as any on this Wikipedia Wednesday, one day after a historic election beatdown here in the states.  I imagine Republicans are today feeling like Democrats have after the past couple elections.

As a matter of fact, I bet President Obama is feeling a bit like Jimmy Carter did in 1979.  Carter had been elected in 1976 in a big way.  Students partied that night too, and pundits talked of a historic change.  By ’79, Carter became practically unelectable thanks to disastrous policies but also after 55 Americans were taken hostage in Iran on November 4.

I’m not sure how the future will work out for Obama but Carter lost to Ronald Reagan who, according to the Wiki, spent November 2, 1983 signing Martin Luther King Jr. Day into law.

Seventy years earlier, in 1913, the government smacked us with one of its nastiest moves ever when the income tax, that blasted creation, was introduced on this date.  To learn more about how I feel about taxes you should read my comparison between the IRS and tooth decay.

Speaking of painful experiences, World War I ground to a halt in 1918 as Germany’s pals in Austria-Hungary spent these couple days surrendering to everybody.  But happier days were on their way after November 4, 1918 because that’s when Art Carney was born. 

If you don’t know who that is just find yourself some reruns of The Honeymooners and one Mr. Ed Norton.  Carney was genius and you see his legacy everytime you watch the Flintstones Barney Rubble or Jim Carrey do a crazy leg dance or every whacky neighbor in sitcom history like Kramer from Seinfeld.

Carney kept Americans laughing during those scary days of the Cold War when the spooky Russians frightened everybody by launching their satellite Sputnik 2 into space in 1957.  On board was the first animal to enter orbit, a dog named Laika.  Yes, the first creature in space from planet Earth was a communist.  I’m sure Laika loved having all his hero doggy bones distributed to all his commie canine comrades.  America got the last laugh, however, when they successfully put Muppets in space some years later. 

It’s a little known fact (because it’s false) that Laika is actually the Russian word for “sweep the leg.”  What a coincidence because Ralph Macchio was born on November 4, 1961.

Yes, the Karate Kid will turn 50 and join AARP next year where he can wax on and wax nostalgic about how he was apparently already old when he played a high school kid.  He once took on social awkwardness and an evil sensai; now he must face arthritis and overactive bladder.  I’m sure Miyagi would’ve been able to help with that.

By the way, know who else turns 50 next year?  That’s right, President Obama.  His honeymoon with the American people seems to have come to an end and instead of a fun wacky neighbor he’s stuck with Joe Biden.  And while he doesn’t have to worry about communist animals in space, he should reconsider jacking up those taxes that have been so unpopular since 1913 or not even Mr. Miyagi will be able to save him in 2012.

Make your own witty connections below. Follow me on Twitter @eduClaytion.

November 3, 2010 Posted by | History, Humor | 3 Comments