February 5 in History

A movie reviewer for the Los Angeles Times wrote that the new film “drags terribly with a long and tiresome chase of one [train] engine by another.” The film under review was Buster Keaton’s The General, which debuted in the Capitol Theater in New York City 90 years ago today.

The film flopped. Up to this point, Keaton possessed complete creative control over his film comedies, and Metro and United Artists gave him a $750,000 budget to make the Civil War-era film, which tells a true story in a mode that Hollywood―and its audiences―was not yet accustomed to: action-adventure-comedy. The film earned back less than $500,000 at the box office. Keaton’s next contract with MGM restricted him to comedies and did not allow him to direct. He descended into alcoholism.
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February 4 in History

A web site, Thefacebook.com, was launched on this date in 2004 on the campus of Harvard University by Mark Zuckerberg and others. It was a successor site to one called “Facemash” that had been created just months before. Within hours of its launch, thousands of Harvard students had registered, and within its first week, the first lawsuits were filed.
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February 3 in History

Today is my mother’s birthday. Rena taught me to read, to write, and was my first audience … and she still is my first audience. Happy birthday, Mom!

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Unrelated to the above, today is “the Day the Music Died,” Don McLean’s memorable phrase for the day that Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and J. P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson died with pilot Roger Peterson in a plane crash near Clear Lake, Iowa. Today is the 58th anniversary of an event that introduced an absence into the iconography of rock.
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February 2 in History

Today is Candlemas, the day that commemorates the presentation of the infant Jesus at the Temple, 40 days after the birth of Jesus. It corresponds in date to many mid-winter celebrations including Lupercalia and Imbolc, many of which mark the middle of the season and look forward to the arrival of spring.

Above is a portion of a painting from around 1535 titled The Presentation of Christ and the Purification of the Virgin Mary in the Temple, which was painted by an anonymous follower of the Renaissance master Juan de Borgoña.
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February 1 in History

“Two people died in that photograph: the recipient of the bullet and General Nguyễn Ngọc Loan. The general killed the Viet Cong; I killed the general with my camera.”—Associated Press photographer Eddie Adams

An Associated Press photographer and an NBC News television team were in Saigon, Vietnam, covering street fighting during the second day of the Tet Offensive on this date in 1968 when a prisoner was brought before South Vietnam’s police chief, Nguyễn Ngọc Loan. Loan pulled out his .38 revolver and fired a single shot into the head of the prisoner, who died instantly. Loan continued his tour of the street after firing the pistol, was already steps away from the prisoner before the young man’s head hit the ground.
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January 31 in History

“Love is our true destiny. We do not find the meaning of life by ourselves alone—we find it with another.”—Fr. Thomas Merton

Thomas Merton was born on this date in 1915.

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Franz Schubert (at top) was born on this date in 1797. Only 31 when he died, he left behind almost 1000 works—several hundred songs, some individual and some in song cycles; seven officially complete symphonies and five other partial symphonies (one of which, Symphony No. 8 in B minor, the Unfinished, is one of the most performed works in most orchestra’s repertoires); and many chamber works.
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January 29 in History

“Men are not bad. Men are degraded largely by circumstances …. It is the duty of every man … to help them up and let them feel that there is some hope for them in life.”—Louis Brandeis

President Woodrow Wilson nominated Louis Brandeis to the Supreme Court of the United States on this date in 1916.

At the time, most presidential nominations were accepted and voted on by the United States Senate in an up-or-down vote, often on the same day that the president submitted the name; the nomination of Brandeis was so controversial that the Senate held public hearings about it.
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January 28 in History

“We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them, this morning, as they prepared for their journey and waved goodbye and ‘slipped the surly bonds of Earth’ to ‘touch the face of God.'”—U.S. President Ronald Reagan

Despite warnings from flight engineers that cold weather and ice should have led to a delay in the launch, a decision was made by NASA executives to launch the Space Shuttle Challenger thirty one years ago today.

Seventy-three seconds after lift-off, Challenger broke apart after its right-side solid rocket booster (SRB) sprung a fuel leak (caused in part by the cold weather and ice) which melted a steel brace that held it in place, which allowed the SRB to swing wildly and slam into the large central fuel tank which was still mostly full of fuel.
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