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This Week In American History: October 2nd - October 8th

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.

October 8

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The Great Chicago Fire began when flames sparked in the Chicago barn of Patrick and Catherine O’Leary, igniting a two-day blaze that killed between 200 and 300 people, destroyed 17,450 buildings, left 100,000 homeless and caused an estimated $200 million (roughly $4 billion in 2020 dollars) in damages. Legend has it that a cow kicked over a lantern in the O’Leary barn and started the fire, but other theories hold that humans or even a comet may have been responsible for the event that left four square miles of the Windy City, including its business district, in ruins. Reconstruction efforts began quickly and spurred great economic development and population growth, as architects laid the foundation for a modern city featuring the world’s first skyscrapers.

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United States Corporal Alvin C. York reportedly killed over 20 German soldiers and captured an additional 132 at the head of a small detachment in the Argonne Forest near the Meuse River in France. The exploits later earned York the Medal of Honor. York went on to found a school for underprivileged children in rural Tennessee and his heroism became the basis for a movie, Sergeant York. Upon York’s death in 1964, U.S. President Lyndon Johnson called him “a symbol of American courage and sacrifice” who epitomized “the gallantry of American fighting men and their sacrifices on behalf of freedom.”

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The Office of Homeland Security was founded less than one month after the September 11 terrorist attacks. Now a cabinet department, Homeland Security is one of the largest organs of the federal government, charged with preventing terror attacks, border security, immigrations and customs, disaster relief and prevention and other related tasks. The Department of Homeland Security eventually absorbed no fewer than 22 agencies into its fold. Entities absorbed by DHS included the Secret Service, Customs and Border Protection and even the Coast Guard.


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