Monday, 21 April 2014

Elizabeth Eckford Enters Central High

"Blood will run in the streets if any Negro tries to defy me!" (Arkansas Governor)

Elizabeth Eckford called it "the longest block I ever walked".  One of the Little Rock Nine who planned to integrate Central High School in 1957, Elizabeth was well prepared for school on that sunny September day, or so she thought.  Her parents didn't own a telephone so she was not aware that the Little Rock Nine had changed their meeting place the night before.  She dressed in a pretty white dress, tucked her books under her arm, and set out for school.  As she approached the building, she was surrounded by an angry mob of white parents screaming "Lynch her!"  Elizabeth spotted a group of soldiers and sped up, thinking that they would escort her the rest of the way.  But at the school, they just blocked her entrance.  With the crowd continuing to shout insults, Elizabeth spotted a bench and sat down.  Suddenly, a white woman guided her by the hand to a nearby bus station.  Elizabeth could not stop crying as she waited for the bus.  A reporter, with a daughter the same age as Elizabeth, tried to comfort her.  Finally, the bus arrived.  Elizabeth climbed aboard, relieved to escape the angry mob.

Days later, Elizabeth returned to Central High School.  This time, she was accompanied by the rest of the Little Rock Nine, along with members of the National Guard.  It would be a rocky start to a rocky year.  But Elizabeth Eckford would persevere.

Note:  For more information, visit my post "Little Rock Nine" at

Sunday, 20 April 2014

Hindenburg Disaster

"Oh, the humanity!  It's just laying there, a mass of smoking wreckage."
(Herbert Morrison, Chicago broadcaster)

It was May 6, 1937.  The dirigible Hindenburg had just arrived from Frankfurt, Germany.  Due to bad weather, however, the airship killed time by sailing over Manhattan and touring the New Jersey seashore. Finally, the airport was ready for the Hindenburg to land as it hovered over Lakehurst, New Jersey.  The rain seemed to have subsided, but the headwinds were still strong.  The airship got into position for docking. Radio reporters had their microphones in hand.  Cameramen had their cameras ready to shoot film footage. Family members of the passengers waited on the runway.  

Then, the unthinkable happened:  the dirigible ignited, turning into a ball of fire.  A fuel tank burst.  Its tail collided with the ground.  In 34 seconds, the airship turned into a giant metal skeleton. Reporters were stunned.  Cameramen were reeling.  And family members wept in horror.  

When the death toll was confirmed, 35 passengers and crew were dead; miraculously, 62 survived the accident.  Questions remained about the tragedy.  Was it Nazi sabotage?  Was the airship hit by lightning? Or was it a physical problem like a static spark, engine trouble, incendiary paint, a puncture, structural faults or a fuel leak?  No one would every have all the answers.  The Hindenburg disaster marked the end of the airship era.

Saturday, 19 April 2014

Adlai Stevenson Presents Cuban Missile Photos

"Well, let me say something to you, Mr. Ambassador -- we do have the evidence.  We have it, and it is clear and it is incontrovertible.  And let me say something else -- those weapons must be taken out of Cuba." (Adlai Stevenson, October 25, 1962.)

One of the most memorable moments to ever take place at the United Nations happened on October 25, 1962, when the world was on the brink of nuclear war.  Adlai Stevenson, American ambassador to the U.N., had been kept out of the loop when the Americans invaded the Bay of Pigs in Cuba.  Now it was time to question the Soviets about possible missiles in Cuba.  This time, Stevenson was front and centre.  After asking Soviet representative Valerian Zorin if such missiles did exist, he got nothing more than a blank stare. The American's response was:  "I'm prepared to wait until Hell freezes over [for an answer]."  In the meantime, he pulled out enlarged photographs taken by a U-2 spy plane which showed incontrovertible evidence that these missiles did exist.  A hush went over the leaders sitting at the giant circular table. Ambassador Stevenson offered the Soviets a deal:  if the U.S.S.R. would withdraw all missiles from Cuba, the Americans would withdraw their missiles from Turkey.  The Soviets agreed and the world breathed a sigh of relief.  Stevenson got his footnote in history.

Friday, 18 April 2014

Workers Atop Woolworth Building

"[Its cruciform lobby was] one of the most spectacular of the early 20th Century in New York City."

New York City, 1926.  Two men dressed in overalls and caps, hanging casually over the side of the Woolworth Building, painted its exterior, while an onlooker stood on top of a nearby spire.  

The Woolworth Building, at 792 feet high, was one of New York City's first skyscrapers.  Located at 233 Broadway Street, the building cost 13.5 million to build.  Cass Gilbert's design included 60 stories and 5000 windows.  The cruciform lobby included mosaics, stained glass and bronze.  President Woodrow Wilson turned on the building's lights from his office in Washington D.C. on April 24, 1913.  Not until the Chrysler Building was erected in 1930 did any structure stand taller than the Woolworth Building.  In 1966, it was declared a National Historic Monument.  On 9/11, the skyscraper suffered some structural damage, but remained intact.  Today, the building is home to New York University, among other tenants.

Thursday, 17 April 2014

Lyndon Johnson Watches Apollo 11 Lift Off

"Lift off.  We have lift off.  32 minutes past the hour, lift off on Apollo 11." (NASA commentator)

They came on busses and trains.  They came in trailers and campers.  They came in station wagons and sedans.  They came on motorcycles and bicycles.  They staked their claims in the sand under the Florida palm trees.  Campers popped their tents.  Station wagon owners popped their tailgates.  Motorcyclists parked their bikes.  They unpacked groceries and built bonfires.  They set up their telescopes and opened up their binoculars.  They put on their sunglasses and focussed their cameras.  And then they waited.

At dawn, the launch pad lights came on at Cape Canaveral.  Television camera crews worked to set up for the launch.  The ground crew prepared the spaceship.  And the trio of astronauts prepared their bodies, eating their last breakfast on Earth.  With a "common sense of purpose" the crowd of 1 million gathered around the launch pad at Cape Kennedy.  At its centre was former President Lyndon B. Johnson, who proclaimed the rocket launch to be "a new era of civilization".  

"Ten, nine, eight..."  At 9:32 am, the Saturn V rocket ignited, sending a sheet of flames over the launch pad and over 20 acres of marshland surrounding Cape Kennedy.  As the rocket rose into the azure sky, the spectators craned their necks, then erupted into a chorus of applause.  

Within minutes, Apollo 11 was nothing but a puff of smoke.  Slowly, the crowd dispersed.  The television crews dismantled their equipment.  The campers flattened their tents.  The station wagons closed up their tailgates.  And the motorcyclists revved their engines.  With the Florida marshland in their rearview mirrors, the visitors returned to their hometowns, witnesses to history.  

Note:  For more information, visit my post "One Small Step for Man, One Giant Leap for Mankind" at