Today in History: April 11

Bob Dylan made his New York City debut opening for John Lee Hooker at Gerde’s Folk City 55 years ago today. He sang about it in “Talkin’ New York”:

After weeks and weeks of hanging around
I finally got a job in New York town
In a bigger place, bigger money too
Even joined the Union and paid my dues.

“Talkin’ New York” (below the fold):

 
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Frank Sinatra recorded “Strangers in the Night” by Bert Kaempfert, Charles Singleton, and Eddie Snyder 50 years ago today. Sinatra was not a fan of the song, considered it maudlin, and sometimes poked fun of it in concert, but it gave him his first number one hit in over a decade and won him a Grammy Award for Record of the Year:

 
* * * *
“That is the last speech he will make,” said John Wilkes Booth to his companion, Lewis Powell, on this date in 1865. They were outside the White House listening to Abraham Lincoln deliver what indeed became his last speech—because of Booth’s action days later.

A crowd had assembled outside the White House as news had spread of Robert E. Lee’s surrender to Ulysses Grant days before. They anticipated some comments from the president of the about-to-be re-united United States of America. Lincoln came out as night fell and spoke from a second-floor window over the main north door. Because of Lee’s complete surrender, the crowd expected a crowing, triumphalist speech but instead heard a Lincoln considering in public what it means to re-embrace brothers who never stopping being brothers.

A newspaper reporter described the scene: “Outside was a vast sea of faces, illuminated by the lights that burned in the festal array of the White House, and stretching far out into the misty darkness. It was a silent, intent, and perhaps surprised, multitude. Within stood the tall, gaunt figure of the President, deeply thoughtful, intent upon the elucidation of the generous policy which should be pursued toward the South. That this was not the sort of speech which the multitude had expected is tolerably certain.”

He began: “We meet this evening, not in sorrow, but in gladness of heart. The evacuation of Petersburg and Richmond, and the surrender of the principal insurgent army, give hope of a righteous and speedy peace whose joyous expression can not be restrained. In the midst of this, however, He from whom all blessings flow, must not be forgotten. A call for a national thanksgiving is being prepared, and will be duly promulgated. Nor must those whose harder part gives us the cause of rejoicing, be overlooked. Their honors must not be parcelled out with others. I myself was near the front, and had the high pleasure of transmitting much of the good news to you; but no part of the honor, for plan or execution, is mine. To Gen. Grant, his skilful officers, and brave men, all belongs.

He also gave support to black suffrage and equal schools for all citizens, which was the statement that so angered Booth that he made good on his promise to end Lincoln’s career three days later.

* * * *
On April 11, 1912, RMS Titanic weighed anchor one last time and departed Cork Harbour in Ireland for her several-day journey across the Atlantic. The last photos of the ship afloat were taken that day.

* * * *
Part of the U.S. Third Army arrived at Buchenwald concentration camp, the first of Nazi Germany’s forced labor prisons to be liberated, on this date in 1945. “Jedem das Seine” (“to each what he deserves”) read the cruel sign over its main gate. Of the 240,000 people who had been incarcerated there between 1937 and 1945, 56,000 died of illness or were killed.

* * * *
June Pointer died 10 years ago today. Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. died on this date in 2007.

* * * *
Mark Strand was born on this date in 1934.

* * * *
Ethel Kennedy is 88 today. Joel Grey is 84 today. Louise Lasser is 77. Ellen Goodman is 75. Peter Riegert is 69. Bill Irwin is 66. Vincent Gallo is 55. Lisa Stansfield is 50. Joss Stone is 29.

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