Archive for the “Historic Dates” Category
The assassination of President John F. Kennedy on Nov. 22, 1963 still haunts our collective imagination, and rightly so. It was the moment when the entire nation was forced to confront the violence endemic to American life, when people sitting in their own homes watched murder happen. Stephen King’s novel 11/22/63 was one of the popular books of 2011. Twenty-five years after nomination for the National Book Award, Don DeLillo’s Libra still provokes reflection.
References both serious and comic to the murder abound in popular culture. One of the most talked-about episodes of Mad Men tried to recapture the horrified bewilderment of Nov. 22 and its aftermath. The assassination crops up everywhere, from lyrics by They Might Be Giants (“I remember the book depository where they crowned the king of Cuba”) to The Seinfeld episode “The Boyfriend,” to The X-Files’ “Musings of a Cigarette-Smoking Man.”
There are myriad retellings, explorations and evocations of that day. I recommend the books Six Seconds in Dallas, Case Closed, Mrs. Paine’s Garage and the Murder of John F. Kennedy and the American Experience documentary Oswald’s Ghost.
People are still trying to make sense of what happened on Nov. 22, 1963. One way they do that is to believe in conspiracy theories: It was the CIA, or Castro, or LBJ. Author Fred Kaplan explains why all of those theories are nonsense.
Two years ago, Errol Morris presented the solution to one of the most persistent mysteries surrounding the grassy knoll, who was umbrella man?
The John F. Kennedy Library and Museum will hold a tribute to JFK this afternoon. Details are here.
If you’re more interested in Kennedy’s life and career than in how it ended, take advantage of the library’s pass to the museum and visit in the near future.
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You can see footage of today’s ceremony marking the 12th anniversary of the terrorist attacks here.
If you want to participate in tonight’s vigil, it starts at 6 pm at the Cedar Street entrance to the Community Path.
Middle East expert Juan Cole notes that the FBI still hasn’t released documents that could demonstrate how “un-Islamic” the 9-11 hijackers are.
You can examine three very different perspectives on the attacks here, here and here.
And over at the Washington Monthly, they’ve provided some music about the day:
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One of the transformative moments in American history occurred on August 28, 1963. Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and spoke to roughly 250,000 people, calling for full civil rights for African-Americans. The “I Have a Dream Speech” is one of the pinnacles of American oratory, and as a statement of American ideals is second only to the Declaration of Independence.
If you would like to know more about King and the Civil Rights Movement, we’ve got a number of books here at SPL. One of my personal favorites is The Struggle for Black Equality by Harvard Sitkoff. You can find other books about the Civil Rights Movement under the call number 332.1196. You can find biographies of Rev. King in our biography section (books are arranged alphabetically by subject).
Below is a video clip of this stirring day and of Rev. King giving the speech (or at least part of it):
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The Gift Outright
BY ROBERT FROST
The land was ours before we were the land’s.
She was our land more than a hundred years
Before we were her people. She was ours
In Massachusetts, in Virginia,
But we were England’s, still colonials,
Possessing what we still were unpossessed by,
Possessed by what we now no more possessed.
Something we were withholding made us weak
Until we found out that it was ourselves
We were withholding from our land of living,
And forthwith found salvation in surrender.
Such as we were we gave ourselves outright
(The deed of gift was many deeds of war)
To the land vaguely realizing westward,
But still unstoried, artless, unenhanced,
Such as she was, such as she would become.
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The library will be closed Monday, June 17, in honor of Bunker Hill Day.
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Our mother has given away our meal
to an elderly woman three houses down,
her husband passing some time in the night.
With the woman’s children already
en route, my mother swaddled our turkey
in aluminum foil, stacked the tins
of buttered rolls, and sealed casseroles
beneath glass-top lids. As the assailable son,
I was enlisted at once, carrying over dish
upon dish, my brother and his bride allowed
to sleep in. I expected to see the postures
of loss: the widow weeping alone at her sink,
perhaps wiping a singular wineglass dry,
a slant of light through the kitchen’s box pane.
But she took each dish without inviting me in,
and as I stood in the yard, she latched
the door. I imagined his body recumbent
in bed, arms folded across the chest, each heavy
palm a lifeless bird. Beside him, she sweeps
closed his eyes, lifts the slightly lagging jaw,
seals his parted lips. In our dining room, the table
is cleared, the abalone china returned to the shelves,
each silver tine slid into its case. My mother nooses
a velvet bag (the candlestick her father brought
from the war) then unhinges the table’s leaves,
drawing out each piece like a galleon’s plank.
My father’s been sent for burgers and fries
while my brother continues his vigil of sleep,
young wife dozing off and on at his side.
Who’s to say when they will rise from their den
as she runs a finger along the ridge of his nose,
lifts an eyelash, come to rest on his cheek?
– Jonathan Fink
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Today is the sixty-fifth anniversary of the atomic bombing of Nagasaki. Paired with the bombing of Hiroshima, these two events hastened the end of World War II and demonstrated the horrible power of nuclear weapons. It’s also arguable that fear of a nuclear holocaust helped prevent a third world war between the United States and the Soviet Union.
The first (and so far, only) use of nuclear weapons has been the subject of narrative, analysis and reflection by some of our finest writers. The classic account of the first use of the atomic bomb is John Hershey’s Hiroshima. Based on the author’s interviews with six survivors, Hiroshima tells what it was like to be on the ground at the site of a nuclear detonation and has been judged one of the finest works of journalism of the twentieth century.
After the Japanese surrender, George Weller became one of the first U.S. Journalists to enter Nagasaki and see the effects of the bombing. He talked to survivors and to their doctors. He also interviewed Allied prisoners who had seen the blast. His dispatches were censored. Every word. After Weller’s death his son found copies of his reports–and the first eyewitness accounts of Nagasaki were finally published after sixty years.
Another route to learning more about Hiroshima and Nagasaki is to read about the atomic bomb’s conflicted creator, Robert Oppenheimer, a man at his happiest dealing with equations in a classroom who was horrified by the reality his brilliance made. Jeremy Bernstein is both a physicist and a staff writer at the New Yorker known for his profiles of scientists. He modestly describes his Oppenheimer: Portrait of an Enigma as the magazine profile he never wrote. Yet most reviewers agree that Bernstein’s work is an exceptionally perceptive and nuanced account of one of the commanding figures of twentieth-century physics as well as a compelling guide to the intertwining of politics and science.
And speaking of politics, the decision to use atomic bombs against Japan has never stopped being the subject of heated debate with both sides fervently taking the moral high ground. In The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb and the Architecture of an American Myth, Gar Alperovitz argues that the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki wasn’t about winning the war at all, but about intimidating the Soviet Union. However, in Weapons for Victory: The Hiroshima Decision Fifty Years Later, historian Robert James Maddox lays out the case for military necessity, arguing that the use of atomic bombs was absolutely necessary to prevent a long and bloody land war in Japan.
There’s some interesting material online about Hiroshima and Nagasaki as well. Life has a collection of never-before seen photos. Gizmodo has interviews with survivors of Hiroshima who recount what they experienced and then there’s this utterly bizarre clip of This Is Your Life, in which a survivor of Hiroshima meets a crew member of the Enola Gay (the plane that dropped the bomb.)
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July 8, 1932: Here’s some perspective for all the pundits bemoaning recent poor stock performance: on this date the Dow closed at 41.
July 10, 1866: Edson P. Clark patents the indelible pencil, which he soon regrets inventing when his five-year-old gets hold of it and tackles the walls of the parlor.
July 12, 1982: In an announcement that completely relieves all anxiety about the U.S.-Soviet arms race, the Post Office assures U.S. citizens that they will continue to receive mail after a nuclear war.
July 18, 1975: The jury in Boston Bruins player David Forbes’ trial for aggravated assault can’t reach a verdict, probably because most of them don’t understand what’s wrong with a hockey player being violent.
July 22, 1975: Apparently desperate for something to do that’s completely unrelated to Watergate or Vietnam, the House of Representatives restores U.S. citizenship to Robert E. Lee.
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…the 225th anniversary of one of the early battles of the War of Independence. Technically, the British won, but the reason we celebrate the battle is because it proved once and for all that Americans could fight, and that the war wasn’t going to be a cakewalk for the royal army. The British captured Bunker Hill, which was their objective, but at horrific cost: out of 2,300 British troops, 828 were wounded and 226 killed.
Actually at SPL we’re only about two and a half miles from the site of the battle, which has a monument that provides a great view of Boston. It’s free so go check it on a day when the weather’s nice.
The American Revolution is the subject of some fascinating books, many of which we have here at SPL. Let’s start with two of my personal favorites. Stacy Schiff’s A Great Improvisation: Franklin, France and the Birth of America, is a masterful account of the diplomacy and intrigues that secured French aid for the United States and made American victory possible. Schiff’s book provides an evocative picture of eighteenth-century Parisian society, a riveting account of the espionage and double-crosses undertaken by French, British and American spies, and a revealing portrait of the 70-year-old Benjamin Franklin, elder statesmen, internationally renowned scientist, and (lucky for us) a born diplomat.
Very different but equally compelling is Christopher Hibbert’s Redcoats and Rebels: The American Revolution Through British Eyes. For an American, it’s an eye-opening account of the other side of the story, if you’ll forgive the cliche. You’ll find out what British intellectuals such as Samuel Johnson (who wrote a pamphlet entitled “Taxation No Tyranny”) thought about the American revolt, get a revealing look at the infighting of the British political establishment, and learn about the plight of Americans whose only crime was to remain loyal to the only government they had ever known.
I haven’t read it myself, but I have friends who would lynch me if I didn’t recommend David McCullough’s John Adams. McCullough always felt Adams has been under appreciated, seen as “that little fat fellow between the two Virginians, Washington and Jefferson,” as he told the New York Times. To McCullough, Adams was a lively, passionate man of outstanding moral courage, without whom American independence would not have happened. People I know say this biography is compulsively readable. If you’re in the mood for TV instead of reading, we also have the HBO series based on the book in AV.
If none of those titles sound appealing come by and browse our section on the Revolution, the call numbers that begin 973.3
If you’re interested in learning more about local events during the War of Independence, come by and sign in to use our Local History Room. We’ve got a file of articles on events that happened in Somerville in 1775, and also some titles that might be of interest. The 1811 Memoir of His Own Life by R. Lamb is a British sergeant’s autobiography that includes an account of his military service in America. The rather elaborately entitled Official Letters to the Honorable American Congress: written during the war between the United Colonies and Great Britain by His Excellency, George Washington is exactly that, and The History of the Rise and Progress of the war in North-America from the time of General Gage’s arrival at Boston in May 1774 is a 1780 history of the Revolution by a British M.P. sympathetic to the Americans. None of the books in Local History can leave the library and they will require careful handling, but don’t hesitate to come by and peruse them here.
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June 4, 1919: Finding themselves with time on their hands now that World War I is over, the U.S. Marines invade Costa Rica. As President Wilson said, “It keeps them off the streets.”
June 6, 1844: The Young Men’s Christian Association is formed in London. Founder George Williams is heard lamenting, “If only we could think of a catchy song.”
June 9, 1790: The Philadelphia Spelling Book is the first book copyrighted under the new U.S. Constitution. Even less entertaining volumes soon followed.
June 18, 1959: Louisiana Governor Earl Long is committed to the state mental hospital. But since he’s still governor, he fires the hospital’s director and appoints a new one who promptly releases him. Public office has its perks.
June 19, 1865: Two years after the Emancipation Proclamation, slaves in Texas are finally told they’re free. Hey, no sense in rushing things.
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