Today in History: April 13

Alfred Mosher Butts of Poughkeepsie, NY, was born on this date in 1899. An architect who could not find work during the Great Depression, he decided to design a new type of game. His first game was called “Lexiko,” which he then renamed “Criss Cross Words,” and then, simply, “It.” Finally he sold the rights to a businessman who gave the game the name it still carries: “Scrabble.”

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The finals of the first-ever International Tchaikovsky Competition was held in Moscow on this date on 1958. When the unexpected happened and a young pianist who was neither a Soviet national nor a citizen of an Eastern bloc nation but was an American won over the audience—which gave him an eight-minute long standing ovation—the judges were flummoxed. “Can we award first prize to the American?” they telegraphed the Soviet leader, Nikita Khrushchev. Khrushchev wrote back: “Is he the best? Then give him the prize!” Van Cliburn was awarded first prize and remains perhaps the best-known winner, although Vladimir Ashkenazy and Mikhail Pletnev won it in future years.

Cliburn performed Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3 to win (video of the performance below the fold):

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“Houston, we’ve had a problem here.” On this date in 1970, the Apollo 13 lunar mission experienced a near-catastrophic explosion on board: one of its oxygen tanks blew up while the crew was traveling to the moon. Quick thinking by the crew on board and by the crew on the ground led to a mission abort and a return home with depleted oxygen and electricity; the crew orbited the moon once to swing the injured vessel back towards earth. Commander Jim Lovell is the only man to have traveled to the moon twice without landing on it.

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Günter Grass died on this date last year.

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Guy Fawkes was born on this date in 1570.

Thomas Jefferson was born on this date in 1743.

Related to that, the $2 was re-introduced into American currency on this date in 1976. The denomination had been discontinued in 1966, as it had not been popular for many years—not many transactions resulted in the need of a two-dollar bill. But 1976 was the country’s Bicentennial year celebrating the date on the Declaration of Independence, and the bill traditionally featured Thomas Jefferson on it, so, as the author of the Declaration, it was felt worth reintroducing the bill on his birthday of the Bicentennial year. The bill remains unpopular, perhaps because it looks like a keepsake more than spending money.

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Jacques Lacan was born on this date in 1901.

Samuel Beckett was born on this date in 1906. A documentary by Ross Lipman, “NOTFILM,” was released this year about Beckett’s one film, “Film,” which starred Buster Keaton:

Harold Stassen, a two-term Governor of Minnesota who ran for President officially 10 times between 1940 and 2000, was born on this date in 1907. Eudora Welty was born on this date in 1909. Don Adams was born on this date in 1923. Seamus Heaney would be 77 today. Lowell George was born 71 years ago today. Christopher Hitchens would be 67 today, and he is remembered fondly every day by me.

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Stanley Donen is 92 today. Lyle Waggoner is 81. Paul Sorvino is 77. Bill Conti is 74. Tony Dow is 71. The Reverend Al Green is 70 today.

Philippe Petit is 67. Ron Perlman is 66. Max Weinberg is 65. Peabo Bryson is 65. Amy Goodman is 59 today. Rick Schroder is 46.

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