John Glenn (above) is 95 today. The last member of the Mercury Seven, America’s first astronaut corps, he is also the oldest living former U.S. Senator, and—with his October 1998 mission as a payload specialist on Discovery mission STS-95 at age 77—he remains the oldest person to have traveled in space.
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Douglas Corrigan was supposed to fly from Brooklyn, New York, to California on July 17, 1938. However, he probably always intended to fly in the opposite direction, to Europe, taking his self-built plane on a solo transatlantic flight. (His plane had been rejected for a cross-ocean flight because it was deemed not flight-worthy for such a long trip with no place to land in case of emergency.)
Twenty-eight hours later, on this date in 1938, he landed in Ireland, and he claimed ever after that he was surprised to have arrived there (he was supposed to fly to California, after all).
A reporter wrote: “You may say that Corrigan’s flight could not be compared to Lindbergh’s in its sensational appeal as the first solo flight across the ocean. Yes, but in another way the obscure little Irishman’s flight was the more audacious of the two. Lindbergh had a plane specially constructed, the finest money could buy. He had lavish financial backing, friends to help him at every turn. Corrigan had nothing but his own ambition, courage, and ability. His plane, a nine-year-old Curtiss Robin, was the most wretched-looking jalopy.”
The next day, the New York Post ran his name backwards as its headline: “!NAGIRROC YAW GNORW OT LIAH” or “Hail to Wrong Way Corrigan!”
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The first volume of Mein Kampf by Adolph Hitler was published on this date in 1925 in Germany. His original title was going to be Four and a Half Years (of Struggle) Against Lies, Stupidity and Cowardice. His publisher suggested the shorter title.
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On this date in 1999, Paul Lawrie won The Open Championship at Carnoustie, Scotland, in a playoff. The playoff became necessary when Jean Van de Velde, the leader by three strokes going into the 72nd hole, triple-bogeyed the final regulation hole in one of the more notorious collapses in modern sports. Some may remember the scene of him removing his shoes and socks to stand in a creek, the Barry Burn, while he debated an attempt at hitting the ball in a foot of water instead of taking a penalty drop.
One of the broadcasters noted that Van de Velde might possibly have won outright (scored a double-bogey 6 instead of the triple-bogey disaster) if he had simply putted his way across the 18th hole, tee to green.
Later that year, a golf club manufacturer hired him to participate in an experiment, and to his credit, Van de Velde shot the tongue-in-cheek ad in which he successfully putted the ball in six strokes across the 18th hole at Carnoustie:
It took him three attempts.
Van de Velde recently turned 50, and even though he retired from golf several years ago, he has joined the Champions Tour.
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Clifford Odets was born on this date in 1906. Hume Cronyn was born on this date in 1911. Red Skelton was born 103 years ago today. Nelson Mandela was born on this date in 1918. Screamin’ Jay Hawkins was born 87 years ago today.
One night in the early 1990s, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins was performing at the Bearsville Theater in Woodstock, NY. It is an intimate theater, a beautiful, wood-lined recording studio with enough space to fit an audience of 100 or more. My friends and I attended, because in the early 1990s Screamin’ Jay Hawkins had become not merely cool but indie cool. Nick Cave had him as an opening act, for example. Hawkins had a couple hits with covers of Tom Waits songs. Hawkins songs popped up in independent films. My friends and I spent those days and nights in a perpetual search for moments in which we could be seen forever seeking all things cool, especially all things indie cool. Thanks to that search, I have fond memories of things I saw and people I met, and I have no clue how uncool I appeared anyway.
Screamin’ Jay Hawkins announced to the crowd at the start of the program, at around the usual start time of 8:00 p.m., that he intended to play every song he knew. (I think he even mock confessed that his band did not know about this plan.) Many songs and several hours passed. He may in fact have played every song he knew. My memory tells me that at 1:00 a.m., with an hour drive back to Poughkeepsie yet ahead of us, my friends and I decided to leave, even though he was still performing, still lighting fresh cigarettes for that skull doll (“Henry”) that somehow consumed cigarettes, still tossing phantom party popper firecrackers above the stage, still starting each new song as if he was going to play “I Put A Spell On You” only to change it.
As we walked towards our cars into the night, we could hear him start another new number, and then another. (Also in the audience that night was David Johansen, not looking at all like Buster Poindexter.) I wish we had stayed. Whatever it was we returned home to, I no longer remember (jobs, relationships), but I still remember the night I saw Screamin’ Jay Hawkins.
Burt Kwouk was born on this date in 1930. (He died in May.) Hunter S. Thompson was born on this date in 1937. The late Calvin Peete would be 73 today.
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Dick Button is 87 today. Yevgeniy Yevtushenko is 84. Dion DiMucci is 77. James Brolin is 76. Joe Torre is 76. Sir Richard Branson is 66. Ricky Skaggs is 62. Razor Shines is 60. Vin Diesel is 49. Kristen Bell is 36.
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