This Week In American History: October 1st - October 7th

This Week In American History: October 1st - October 7th

October 1

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An act of Congress created Yosemite National Park. Environmental trailblazer John Muir (1838-1914) and his colleagues campaigned for the congressional action, which was signed into law by President Benjamin Harrison and paved the way for generations of nature lovers, along with countless “Don’t Feed the Bears” signs. Yosemite’s natural beauty was immortalized in the black-and-white landscape photographs of Ansel Adams, who at one point lived in the park and spent years photographing it. Today, over 3 million people visit Yosemite annually and check out such stunning landmarks as the 2,425-foot-high Yosemite Falls, one of the world’s tallest waterfalls; rock formations Half Dome and El Capitan, the largest granite monolith in the U.S.; and the three groves of giant sequoias, the world’s biggest trees.

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New York Yankee Roger Maris became the first-ever major-league baseball player to hit more than 60 home runs in a single season. The great Babe Ruth set the record in 1927; Maris and his teammate Mickey Mantle spent 1961 trying to break it. After hitting 54 homers, Mantle injured his hip in September, leaving Maris to chase the record by himself. Finally, in the last game of the regular season, Maris hit his 61st home run against the Boston Red Sox. In 1998, Mark McGwire (70) of the St. Louis Cardinals and Sammy Sosa (66) of the Chicago Cubs topped Maris’ 61. Barry Bonds of the San Francisco Giants topped McGwire's season mark with 73 home run in 2001. Each was dogged by allegations of performance-enhancing drug use.

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Johnny Carson took over from Jack Paar as host of the late-night talk program The Tonight Show. Carson went on to host The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson for three decades, becoming one of the biggest figures in entertainment in the 20th century. After three decades with the hugely successful Tonight Show, Carson decided to retire. He hosted his final show on May 22, 1992. Comedian Jay Leno took over hosting duties the following day. Carson, who was married four times, stayed largely out of the public spotlight after retiring. On January 23, 2005, the late-night TV legend died at the age of 79 of complications from emphysema.



October 2

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Alfred Hitchcock Presents, an anthology show of stories based in suspense and mystery, premiered. The 30 minute episodes are introduced and concluded by Hitchcock himself, frequently in a light humorous vein showing his dead-pan fun side. Lasting 10 seasons, Time magazine named Alfred Hitchcock Presents as one of "The 100 Best TV Shows of All Time."

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Gatorade was invented in a University of Florida lab after assistant football coach Dewayne Douglas met with a group of scientists on campus to determine why many of Florida's players were so negatively affected by heat. To replace bodily fluids lost during physical exertion, Dr. Robert Cade and his team created the now-ubiquitous sports drink. The name "Gatorade" is derived from the nickname of the university's sports teams. Eventually, the drink became a phenomenon and made its inventors very wealthy.

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Actor Rock Hudson, 59, became the first major U.S. celebrity to die of complications from AIDS. Hudson’s death raised public awareness of the epidemic, which until that time had been ignored by many in the mainstream as a “gay plague.” Hudson was a Hollywood heartthrob whose career in movies and TV spanned nearly three decades. To protect his macho image, Hudson’s off-screen life as a gay man was kept secret from the public. Rock Hudson was a friend of President Reagan’s and his death was said to have changed the president’s view of the disease. However, Reagan was criticized for not addressing the issue of AIDS in a major public speech until 1987; by that time, more than 20,000 Americans had already died of the disease and it had spread to over 100 countries.

October 3

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Expressing gratitude for a pivotal Union Army victory at Gettysburg, President Abraham Lincoln announces that the nation will celebrate an official Thanksgiving holiday on November 26, 1863. The speech declared that the fourth Thursday of every November thereafter would be considered an official U.S. holiday of Thanksgiving. This announcement harkened back to when George Washington was in his first term as the first president in 1789 and the young American nation had only a few years earlier emerged from the American Revolution. At that time, George Washington called for an official celebratory “day of public thanksgiving and prayer.” While Congress overwhelmingly agreed to Washington’s suggestion, the holiday did not yet become an annual event.

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"Shot Heard 'Round the World" occurred when third baseman Bobby Thomson hit a one-out, three-run home run in the bottom of the ninth inning to win the National League pennant for the New York Giants. Thomson’s homer wrapped up an amazing come-from-behind run for the Giants and knocked the Brooklyn Dodgers, the Giants’ hated inter-borough rivals, out of their spot in the World Series. The Giants went on to lose the Series to the Yankees, but Thomson’s miraculous homer remains one of the most memorable moments in sports history. In 1954 the underdog Giants swept the World Series in four straight games, thanks in part to Willie Mays’ stupendous first-game over-the-shoulder catch in center field. But by the end of the 1950s, both the Giants and the Dodgers had moved to California, and an incredible era in New York baseball history was over.

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At the end of a sensational trial, former football star O.J. Simpson, a Heisman Trophy winner, star running back with the Buffalo Bills and a popular television personality, was acquitted of the brutal 1994 double murder of his estranged wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend, Ronald Goldman. In the epic 252-day trial, Simpson’s “dream team” of lawyers employed creative and controversial methods to convince jurors that Simpson’s guilt had not been proven “beyond a reasonable doubt,” thus surmounting what the prosecution called a “mountain of evidence” implicating him as the murderer. The key moment in the trial came when the gloves found at the scene seemed to fit Simpson awkwardly, leading to Johnnie Cochran’s oft-quoted refrain: “If it doesn’t fit, you must acquit.”

October 4

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Men's magazine Esquire was first published. It began production as an oversized magazine for men that featured a slick, sophisticated style and drawings of scantily clad young women. Esquire was a pioneer in the use of unconventional topics and feature stories. As it began to publish the work of Thomas Wolfe, Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner, John Steinbeck, Truman Capote and Norman Mailer, the magazine’s risqué image and its once racy air gradually receded. It later abandoned its titillating role but continued to cultivate the image of affluence and refined taste.

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Janis Joplin died of an accidental heroin overdose at 27 years old. Just three years prior in 1967, she’d gone from a complete unknown to a generational icon on the strength of a single, blistering performance at the Monterey International Pop Festival. She followed that up with three years of touring and recording that cemented her status as, in the words of one critic, “second only to Bob Dylan in importance as a creator/recorder/embodiment of her generation’s history and mythology.” She did not live to see the release of her greatest album, Pearl.

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Beverly Hills, 90210, a TV drama about a group of teenagers living in upscale Beverly Hills, California, debuted on Fox. It would eventually become one of the top-rated shows on the new “fourth network." Created by Darren Star and produced by Aaron Spelling, the show turned its relatively unknown cast of actors, including Shannen Doherty, Luke Perry, Jason Priestley and Tori Spelling, into household names. It also tackled a number of topical issues ranging from domestic abuse to teen pregnancy to AIDS and paved the way for other popular teen dramas.

October 5

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President Harry Truman made the first-ever televised presidential address from the White House, asking Americans to cut back on their use of grain in order to help starving Europeans. In 1947, television was still in its infancy and the number of TV sets in U.S. homes only numbered in the thousands (by the early 1950s, millions of Americans owned TVs); most people listened to the radio for news and entertainment. However, although the majority of Americans missed Truman’s TV debut, his speech signaled the start of a powerful and complex relationship between the White House and a medium that would have an enormous impact on the American presidency, from how candidates campaigned for the office to how presidents communicated with their constituents (or even how they got elected).

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American Dave Kunst completed the first round-the-world journey on foot. He left his hometown of Waseca, Minnesota, on June 20, 1970. During the long journey, he took on sponsors and helped raise money for UNICEF. Over the course of four years, three months, and sixteen days, Kunst travelled across thirteen countries by foot, including the U.S., Portugal, India, Afghanistan, and Australia. But he didn’t walk the 14,450 miles alone. During different segments of his journey, he had the help of his two brothers, John and Pete, two dogs, four mules, and an Australian schoolteacher named Jenni Samuel who he later married. While Kunst joined a small list of pedestrian circumnavigators before him who claimed to walk around the land mass of the world, his walk is the first with proof on record.

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Steve Jobs, the visionary co-founder of Apple Inc., which revolutionized the computer, music and mobile communications industries with such devices as the Macintosh, iPod, iPhone and iPad, dies at age 56 of complications from pancreatic cancer. Jobs had no formal technical training nor real business experience. What he had instead was an appreciation of technology’s elegance and a notion that computers could be more than a hobbyist’s toy or a corporation’s workhorse. These machines could be indispensable tools. At the time of his death, Jobs, a father of four, had a net worth estimated at more than $7 billion. According to biographer Walter Isaacson, Jobs “was the greatest business executive of our era, the one most certain to be remembered a century from now. History will place him in the pantheon right next to Thomas Edison and Henry Ford.”

October 6

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Brothers John and Simeon Reno staged the first train robbery in American history, making off with $13,000 from an Ohio and Mississippi railroad train in Jackson County, IndianaThe Reno brothers’ contribution to criminal history was to stop a moving train in a sparsely populated region where they could carry out their crime without risking interference from the law or curious bystanders. This new method of robbing trains quickly became very popular in the West.

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President John F Kennedy advised American families to build bomb shelters to protect them from atomic fallout in the event of a nuclear exchange with the Soviet Union. Only one year later, true to Kennedy’s fears, the world hovered on the brink of full-scale nuclear war when the Cuban Missile Crisis erupted over the USSR’s placement of nuclear missiles in Cuba. During the tense 13-day crisis, some Americans prepared for nuclear war by buying up canned goods and completing last-minute work on their backyard bomb shelters.

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After nine seasons and three Championships with the Chicago Bulls, Michael Jordan announced his retirement from the NBA at only 30 years old. Jordan cited the loss of his desire to play basketball and the murder of his father as his reasons. After a short stint as a professional baseball player, he returned on March 18, 1995 to lead the bulls to another 3 NBA titles. 

October 7

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Musical "Cats" opened at Winter Garden Theater on Broadway in NYC. Composed by Andrew Lloyd Webber and based on the 1939 poetry collection Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats by T.S. Eliot, the musical ushered in the era of mega-musicals and helped create a global market for musical theatre. It ran for nearly 18 years before closing on September 10, 2000. It won numerous awards including Best Musical at both the Laurence Olivier and Tony Awards. Despite its unusual premise that deterred investors initially, the musical turned out to be an unprecedented commercial success, with a worldwide gross of US$3.5 billion by 2012. As of 2022, it remained the fourth longest running Broadway show.

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Actor Arnold Schwarzenegger was elected governor of California, the most populous state in the nation with the world’s fifth-largest economy. A staunch supporter of the Republican party who had long been thought to harbor political aspirations, he announced his candidacy for governor of California during an appearance on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. Despite his inexperience, Schwarzenegger came out on top in the 11-week campaign to replace Gray Davis, who had earlier become the first United States governor to be recalled by the people since 1921. Schwarzenegger was one of 135 candidates on the ballot, which included career politicians, other actors and one adult-film star. Schwarzenegger served two full terms as governor, and returned to acting in 2011.

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New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees broke Johnny Unitas' NFL record for consecutive games with a TD pass (48) when he connected with Devery Henderson in Saints 31-24 win over San Diego at the Superdome. Brees eventually went on to set the record at 54 games and is the only player in NFL history to toss a touchdown pass in 45 consecutive games -- twice.

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