Boom! and Boo! …
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From 100 miles away, the crew of the Tu-95V plane found themselves looking up at the bottom of the mushroom cloud created by the bomb they had dropped several minutes before. After the crew dropped the bomb, the pilot flew the plane as fast as possible from the impending explosion: when the plane was twenty-eight miles away, the device detonated, and the shock wave traversed that distance almost instantaneously and knocked the plane a mile-and-a-half down and away. The crew safely landed the plane, but not before they took photos of Tsar Bomba’s mushroom cloud (above), the largest thermonuclear weapon—thus, the largest weapon—yet detonated on the planet.
The Soviet Union exploded Tsar Bomba 55 years ago on this date.
The bomb was more a declaration of technical expertise than intent: it weighed thirty tons, was twenty-six feet long, and the plane needed to be modified by removing its bomb bay doors just to carry it. Tsar Bomba was never a weapon to be deployed during hostilities. It was built anyway.
It was exploded north of the Arctic Circle, safely far from potential human exposure to the shock wave, fireball, destruction, and fallout. Severny, an unoccupied village thirty-five miles from the explosion, was completely destroyed, though. Every building was leveled. No one was killed, but wooden buildings in Siberia were flattened by the blast, which was simultaneously bigger and smaller than anticipated by the physicists who designed it, including Andrei Sakharov.
The bomb’s design was expected to result in a 100 megaton yield, but it was understood that any airplane carrying such a device would not be able to fly away quickly enough to escape the fireball; the crew would be killed. The bomb was constructed in such a way to deaden some of the thermonuclear reactions that would take place inside the device as the explosion started. Thus, the explosion was expected to result in a fifty megaton yield. The actual explosion was larger: fifty-five to sixty megatons.
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Grover’s Mill, New Jersey, was not invaded by “men from Mars” on this date in 1938, but a CBS Radio production of an adaptation of H. G. Wells’ novel The War of the Worlds created by Orson Welles and his theater company for their show The Mercury Theatre on the Air was aired on this date that year and frightened many.
Radio broadcasting was not in its infancy in 1938, but audiences were not yet accustomed to shows utilizing formats of other types of radio shows for effect. So when Welles’ broadcast offered fake newscasts interrupting a music program, even though a music program was not what was on the schedule, and even after an announcer (Orson Welles, already a familiar voice on radio) introduced the program with an essay about American complacency:
In the 39th year of the 20th century came the great disillusionment. It was near the end of October. Business was better. The war scare was over. More men were back at work. Sales were picking up. On this particular evening, October 30th, the Crossley service estimated that 32 million people were listening in on radios …
Part-way through the show, a commercial interruption broke through the “realism” of news reports and sound effects of space lasers and an announcer intoned: “You are listening to a CBS presentation of Orson Welles and the Mercury Theatre of the Air, in an original dramatization of The War of the Worlds by H. G. Wells. The performance will continue after a brief intermission.”
It did not matter. Before the theater company was finished with the broadcast, New York City police were attempting to break into the studio and stop the show. Complaints and reports of a nationwide panic over the invasion from Mars swamped CBS’ phone banks. Welles left the studio to see this sentence on the lighted headline sign circling the New York Times building: “ORSON WELLES CAUSES PANIC.”
Two years later, in a Texas radio station, Wells met Welles (Wells calls him “my little namesake, Orson”), and this joint interview ensued:
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Appalachian Spring by Aaron Copland was premiered on this date in 1944 at the Library of Congress. A recording of Appalachian Spring performed by teh New York Philharmonic conducted by Leonard Bernstein:
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St. Paul’s Chapel, the oldest public building still in continuous use in Manhattan, was consecrated 250 years ago today. The church was the tallest building in Manhattan for a time, survived the Great Fire of 1776, served as George Washington’s church for the first years of his presidency when New York was the nation’s capital, and was undamaged by the destruction of the World Trade Center buildings on September 11, 2001, even though the church is across Church Street from where the towers once stood. A sycamore tree on the property took the brunt of the damage and protected the church and even its windows that day.
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Steve Allen died on this date in 2000. Clifford Geertz died 10 years ago today. Robert Goulet died in 2007 on this date. Claude Lévi-Strauss died in 2009 on this date.
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President John Adams was born on this date in 1735. Ezra Pound was born on this date in 1885. Ruth Gordon was born on this date in 1896. Fred W. Friendly, who co-created See It Now with Edward R. Murrow and spearheaded the creation of public television in America, was born on this date in 1915. George Clooney portrayed him in his film, Good Night, and Good Luck. He was commencement speaker at my Marist College graduation in 1990.
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Joan Ganz Cooney is 87. Dick Gautier is 85. Ken Berry is 83. Robert A. Caro is 81 today. Grace Slick is 77. Henry Winkler is 71 today. Andrea Mitchell is 70 today. Timothy B. Schmit is 69. (He released a new album, Leap of Faith, last month.)Harry Hamlin is 65. Kevin Pollak is 59. Diego Maradona is 56.
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