CHARLOTTE, N.C., Feb. 24, 2016 – Today’s trivia recalls some well-known historical names both past and present.
1 – The curse of Robert Todd Lincoln: Perhaps the name Robert Todd Lincoln is unfamiliar to many; he was the first son of President Abraham Lincoln and the only one of the president’s four sons who lived to adulthood.
Abraham Lincoln was the first of four American presidents who were assassinated in office. Robert, who was 22 years old at the time of his father’s death, was not present at Ford’s Theater when Abraham Lincoln was shot, but he rushed to Petersen House following the shooting to be at the deathbed. Robert Lincoln was a lawyer, businessman and politician who was serving as President James A. Garfield’s secretary of war in 1881 when he was an eyewitness to Garfield’s shooting at the Sixth Street Train Station in Washington, D.C.
Two decades later, in July 1901, Lincoln was at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York, at the invitation of President William McKinley when he was shot. Though not an eyewitness, Lincoln was a member of the president’s guest list.
Thus, Robert Todd Lincoln was either at or near the assassinations of three of the four presidents who died during their administrations.
Lincoln was keenly aware of the circumstances and refused any further presidential invitations saying, “No, I’m not going, and they’d better not ask me, because there is a certain fatality about presidential functions when I am present.”
One another note, Robert Lincoln was counsel to the Pullman Palace Car Co., which was famous for its Pullman railway cars for overnight train travel, before succeeding George Pullman as company president in 1897. Lincoln remained with the Pullman Co. either as president or chairman of the board until his death in 1926.
2 – When the “fat lady” sang: During the “Golden Age of Radio” a singer named Kate Smith had a huge listening audience for her twice-a-week broadcast. In fact Smith’s following was so large that she became known as “The First Lady of Radio.”
With the rise of Adolf Hitler in Germany, songwriter Irving Berlin, a Russian Jew, decided to revive a song he wrote in 1918 while serving in the U.S. Army.
On Armistice Day in 1938, Kate Smith introduced Berlin’s “God Bless America” as a “peace song” on her radio show. The song ultimately became Smith’s signature song.
Oddly enough, when folk singer Woody Guthrie criticized the song as being “unrealistic and complacent”, he wrote “This Land is Your Land” in 1940 under the title of “God Bless America For Me” in protest of the Jewish authorship of the original song.
Berlin later donated the royalties of his song to the God Bless America fund for redistribution to the Boy Scouts and Girls Scouts in New York City.
Though “God Bless America” is today frequently sung at sporting events and during the seventh-inning stretch at many major league baseball stadiums, it was the Philadelphia Flyers of the National Hockey League that brought it to prominence when it was the team’s “good luck charm” in 1969 through the early 1970s. The Flyers even had Smith perform live before game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals in 1974 before they took home ice hockey’s most cherished prize.
So important has “God Bless America” become to the fabric of American life that members of Congress spontaneously sang it during a live television broadcast on the night of Sept. 11, 2001, following the terrorist attacks on the United States.
In 2011, the final wake-up call for the space shuttle Atlantis was the playing of Kate Smith’s version of the song at NASA.
3 – An odd trio: This item seems shocking at first, but what makes it interesting is the gaps of time between the people. What do Anne Frank, Martin Luther King Jr. and Barbara Walters have in common?
If you said they were all born in the same year, you get the blue ribbon.
It was 1929, the same year as the famous crash on Wall Street.
African American civil rights leader Martin Luther King, who was best known for the advancement of civil rights using nonviolent civil disobedience, was born on Jan. 15, 1929.
In 1963 he organized the famous March on Washington, where he delivered the “I Have a Dream” speech, which elevated him to the status of one of America’s greatest orators.
King died on April 4, 1968, after being shot in Memphis by James Earl Ray.
Anne Frank had the shortest life of the three but was certainly no less significant. As one of the best-known Jewish victims of the Holocaust, Frank and her family lived behind a bookcase in Amsterdam during the German occupation of the Netherlands in the 1940s.
Born on June 12, 1929, in Frankfurt, Germany, Frank eventually went to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, where she reportedly died of typhus in 1945, just a few weeks before the camp was liberated.
Her book, “The Diary of a Young Girl,” now known as “The Diary of Anne Frank,” details the life of her family during their hiding.
The only surviving member of the group, Barbara Walters, was born on Sept. 25, 1929. At 86, Walters is a pioneer in broadcasting as a journalist, author and television personality, thanks to her work promoting stories of interest to women.
Working with Harry Reasoner, she became the first female co-anchor on a network evening news telecast, and she has established an international reputation for her interviewing skills.
That’s the trivia for today. Have fun around the water cooler.
Bob Taylor has been traveling the world for more than 30 years as a writer and award-winning television producer focusing on international events, people and cultures around the globe.
Taylor is founder of the Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com)
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