A Blast From The Past

By PENNY NELSON BARTHOLOMEW, United Press International  |  Dec. 25, 2001 at 9:15 AM
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Today is Dec. 31.

With the expiration of the Panama Canal Treaty of 1979, the Republic of Panama assumed full control of the Panama Canal on this date in 1999. The U.S. Panama Canal Commission ceased to exist.

Three years after a federal judge ruled it a monopoly, the court-ordered breakup of the American Telephone and Telegraph Co. took effect at midnight on this date in 1983. AT&T was divided up into seven regional "Baby Bells," which were responsible for local telephone service. Americans would soon be able to choose which company they wanted to provide their long-distance phone service.

It was on this date in 1984 that the first mandatory seat belt law in the United States went into effect in the state of New York at midnight.

Let there be light! Inventor Thomas Edison gave the first public demonstration of his incandescent electric lamp to a New Year's crowd in Menlo Park, N.J., on this date in 1879

And it was on this date in 1985 that rock singer Rick Nelson, his fiancé, and five members of his band were killed in the New Year's Eve crash of their chartered DC-3 in northeast Texas. A fire caused by a faulty cabin heater was blamed for the accident, although there was speculation --- later proven to be unfounded --- that the musicians were free-basing cocaine aboard the plane, triggering a blaze.

We now return you to the present, already in progress.

Today is Jan. 1.

The Emancipation Proclamation took effect on this date in 1863, a few months after Abraham Lincoln announced it (on Sept. 22, 1862). The Emancipation Proclamation did NOT free ALL the slaves -- it applied ONLY to those states that'd joined the Confederacy. And they weren't exactly listening to Lincoln at that particular time.

Slaves in the four slave states that had not seceded from the Union --- Delaware, Maryland, Kentucky and Missouri --- had to wait until passage of the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution for their freedom.

It was guilty, guilty, guilty, on this date in 1975 when a jury convicted Richard Nixon's three top advisers on ALL counts in the Watergate cover-up. The three were for former Attorney General John Mitchell and White House aides H.R. "Bob" Haldeman and John Ehrlichman. "Watergate" is shorthand for the June 1972 burglary of the Democratic Party offices in Washington's Watergate office complex. The burglars were caught, and were found to have White House connections.

It was on this date in 1959 that Fidel Castro declared victory in the three-year Cuban revolution, as right-wing dictator Fulgencio Batista fled the Caribbean island.

A thaw in the Cold War took place on this date in 1986, when President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev exchanged friendly televised New Year's greetings to the Soviet and American peoples. The five-minute greetings were the first such between the superpowers.

The 74-year-old state of Czechoslovakia dissolved with the New Year on this date in 1993, replaced by separate Czech and Slovak republics. Czechoslovakia split despite polls showing that most Slovaks and Czechs would've preferred it survive.

Ellis Island opened in New York Harbor on this date in 1892. Over the years, it served as an arrival point for more than 20 million immigrants. It closed in 1954 and, after years of disuse, was reopened in 1990 as a museum.

The first Rose Bowl game was played on this date in 1902 in Pasadena, Calif. The University of Michigan beat Stanford, 49-0.

And America's most eligible bachelor, billionaire Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, married Melinda French, a marketing executive at Microsoft. The wedding was held under tight security in Hawaii.

We now return you to the present, already in progress.

Today is Jan. 2.

It was on this date in 1974 that President Nixon signed a bill requiring all 50 U.S. states to limit highway speeds to 55 miles per hour or lose their federal highway funds. Officially the reason for slowing down was to reduce traffic fatalities. But energy conservation was a BIG factor. The early 1970s saw an Arab oil embargo that created long lines at gas stations across America.

The United States suffered one of its most bitter defeats of World War II on this date in 1942. Japanese forces occupied Manila -- forcing American and Philippine forces under U.S. Gen. Douglas MacArthur to withdraw to the Bataan peninsula. This was when MacArthur made his famous quote: "We shall return." We did.

Elite Soviet interior ministry troops seized buildings in the Baltic republics of Latvia and Lithuania on this date in 1991. The action may have been ordered by Kremlin hardliners without bothering to clear it with reform-minded Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. Latvia, Lithuania and the third Baltic republic of Estonia wound up getting their freedom anyway.

Today is the anniversary of a space milestone. It was on this date in 1959 that the Soviet Union launched Lunik-1, the first unmanned spacecraft to travel to the moon. In those days, the Soviet space program was way ahead of America's.

We now return you to the present, already in progress.

Today is Jan. 3.

It was on this date in 1990 that deposed Panamanian dictator Gen. Manuel Noriega surrendered to U.S. troops. The United States had invaded Panama just before Christmas 1989 after Noriega refused to turn over power to the duly elected government. The Panamanian leader eluded American soldiers and eventually found his way to the Vatican Embassy in Panama City. To drive him out, American forces surrounded the compound and blasted it with loud rock music.

After his arrest, Noriega was whisked to Miami to face narcotics trafficking charges. He's currently in a federal prison in south Florida.

The United States severed diplomatic relations with Cuba on this date in 1961 after Fidel Castro announced he was a communist. Castro became such a staunch ally of the Soviet Union that Cuba was heavily subsidized by Moscow until the last months of Mikhail Gorbachev's tenure as Soviet leader. Cuban soldiers, using Soviet hardware, were an active destabilizing force in Africa during the 1960s and '70s.

The Continental Army commanded by Gen. George Washington defeated the British at Princeton, N.J., on this date in 1777.

The first March of Dimes campaign to fight polio was organized on this date in 1938.

Alaska became the 49th state on this date in 1959. The United States had bought Alaska from Russia in 1867. Secretary of State William Seward, who negotiated the deal, was a laughing stock for pushing the purchase. "Seward's Folly," it was called -- until gold was discovered. Alaska also turned out to be rich in oil and gas.

This is the anniversary of the first female congressional page. Gene Cox, 13, served on the House floor for one day on this date in 1939. She was an aide to her father, Rep. Eugene Cox, D-Ga., and there were no objections to her service. However, more than 30 years later, there was much debate when Sen. Jacob Javits, R-N.Y., nominated a female to be a Senate page.

Jack Ruby, who shot and killed JFK presidential assassin Lee Harvey Oswald, died of cancer in a Dallas jail cell on this day in 1967. While some conspiracy theorists think both Oswald and Ruby were part of a larger plot, historians mostly think Oswald acted alone and Ruby did, too -- thinking he'd be a hero for killing the man who killed the president.

And it was on this date in 1969 that police at Newark, N.J., confiscated a shipment of the John Lennon-Yoko Ono albums "Two Virgins" because the cover photo, featuring full frontal nudity, violated pornography statues.

We now return you to the present, already in progress.

Today is Jan. 4.

Chinese and North Korean forces captured the South Korean capital of Seoul on this date in 1951. Their invasion of Seoul was so quick that to this day the residents of Seoul fear invasion from the north. If you look at a map you'll notice that Seoul is VERY close to the border.

President Nixon refused on this date in 1974 to release any more of the 500 tapes and documents subpoenaed by the Senate Watergate Committee. This intensified the crisis between the White House and Congress over the Watergate burglary and the cover-up of its White House origin. Nixon would later resign rather than be impeached.

It was on this date in 1893 that President Benjamin Harrison granted amnesty to all persons who since Nov. 1, 1890, had abstained from practicing polygamy. The pardon was aimed at a specific group of Morman elders who continued to contract serial marriages. The practice of polygamy was a factor interfering with statehood for Utah.

Dr. William Grant of Davenport, Iowa, performed the first appendectomy on this date in 1885. His patient recovered.

The 104th Congress convened on this date in 1995 with Republicans in control in both chambers for the first time since 1953. Sen. Bob Dole, R-Kan, became Senate Majority Leader, while Rep. Newt Gingrich, R-Ga, was elected Speaker of the House.

The same day, CBS quoted Gingrich's mother calling first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton a "bitch."

A Boston man who said he and his pregnant wife had been shot after leaving a birthing class in October 1989 committed suicide on this date in 1990. Charles Stuart's claim that they'd been the victims of a black robber fanned the flames of racial animosity in Boston. But in fact, Stuart had faked the attack --- fatally shooting his wife and then wounding himself. He killed himself as police closed in to arrest him for the deaths of his wife and child.

And Billboard magazine published the first pop music chart on this date in 1936. The list of the best-selling pop records of the week ending Dec. 30, 1935, included recordings by Tommy Dorsey and the Ozzie Nelson orchestras.

We now return you to the present, already in progress.

Today is Jan. 5.

It was on this date in 2000 that the Clinton administration decided that Elian Gonzalez, a 6-year-old Cuban refugee whose mother drown while trying to enter the United States, should be returned to his father in Cuba.

Elian, then 5, had been found Thanksgiving Day 1999 floating off the coast of southern Florida. He was one of only three survivors of a boatload of Cubans that had capsized two days earlier.

The boy was paroled into the custody of a great-uncle in Miami. But when his Cuban father declared that he wanted his son back (the mother and father were divorced), the Miami branch of the Gonzaleses went to court to try to keep Elian.

One day after Washington announced that Elian belonged with his father, hundreds of Cuban-Americans marched in protest in Miami.

The National Socialist Party was formed in Germany on this date in 1919. Its members soon came to be called "Nazis."

The first woman governor in the United States was sworn in on this date in 1925. Nellie Tayloe Ross served as governor of the state of Wyoming.

Pope Paul VI and Greek Orthodox Patriarch Athenagoras met in Jerusalem on this date in 1964. It was the first meeting of a pope and a patriarch in more than five centuries.

It was on this date in 1914 that Henry Ford announced that all worthy Ford Motor Co. employees would get a pay raise from $2.34 for a nine-hour day to $5.00 for eight hours of work. To obtain this salary increase, a worker had to be of "good personal habits." To determine which individuals fit the criteria, Ford created a new office -- the Sociological Department.

And it was on this date in 1998 that Rep. Sonny Bono, R-Calif., was killed when he hit a tree while skiing at South Lake Tahoe, Calif. Bono had been one-half of the pop duo Sonny and Cher back in the 1960s and early '70s. He divorced Cher and later went into politics -- serving as mayor of Palm Springs, Calif., before running for Congress.

We now return you to the present, already in progress.

Today is Jan. 6.

It was on this date in 1994 that U.S. figure skater Nancy Kerrigan was clubbed on the right knee as she finished up practice for the upcoming U.S. Figure Skating Championships. Her attacker fled, leaving the injured Kerrigan to withdraw from the competition. It was won by her leading rival, Tonya Harding.

Despite Kerrigan's non-participation, U.S. Figure Skating officials named her AND Harding to the U.S. Olympic team. Kerrigan would win a silver medal at the Winter Olympics in Norway, while Harding could finish no better than 8th place.

In the meantime, the attack on Kerrigan was traced to four men with links to Harding, including her ex-husband. Harding denied having anything to do with the attack, but admitted she knew about it. She was later banned for life from competitive skating.

Hong Kong's days as a British colony were numbered from this date in 1950, when Britain extended formal diplomatic recognition to the Communist government of what people then called "Red China" -- the People's Republic of China, founded by Mao Tse-tung.

An agreement on this date in 1999 ended the six-month player lockout by owners of National Basketball Association teams. The labor dispute had threatened to wipe out the entire 1998-99 season.

Samuel F.B. Morse and his partner, Alfred Vail, publicly demonstrated their new invention, the telegraph, for the first time on this date in 1838 in Morristown, N.J. In less than a generation, telegraph lines were stretching from coast to coast.

The first test-tube quadruplets, all boys, were born in Melbourne, Australia, on this date in 1984. Doctors don't like to call them "test-tube" babies, preferring to describe the method of their conception as "in-vitro fertilization" -- as if people believed the infants were grown in test tubes!

A Pan American Airways plane arrived in New York on this date in 1942 to complete the first around-the-world flight by a commercial airliner.

And it was on this date in 1759 that George Washington married widow Martha Dandridge Custis. Washington may be known as the "father of our country," but he sired no children of his own -- possibly owing to a bout of smallpox as a child that may've rendered him sterile. Martha, by the way, had two children from her previous marriage.

We now return you to the present, already in progress.

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