Clocks mark the passage of time in seconds, minutes, and hours. After a certain quantity of time passes, the hours become days. Most days are forgotten, but some days become “dates” that will “live in infamy” (FDR December 8, 1947 in response to the bombing of Pearl Harbor December 7, 1947). While “days” are forgotten, “dates” are remembered. People sit around and discuss dates. They talk about specific dates with a distant reverence in their voices and a 100 yard stare in their eyes. People will remember where they were on special dates. They easily recall how they felt and who spoke. The difference between a “day” and a “date” is history.
What type of events are of large enough historic proportions to transform a “day” into a famous historical “date”?
In 3500BC, Ugh and Bugh (the names have been changed to protect their privacy) cavemen crafted the wheel and the plough in Mesopotamia. In 3200BC, Tugh (pseudonym) said, “Hey! We should write this stuff down so that people will know when we do stuff. They’ll be able to sit around their coffee tables later and talk about it.” He dismissed the inquiries about what a coffee table was and created writing. By that time, people had forgotten when Ugh and Bugh had invented the wheel and the plough. Sadly, that particular date was never recorded. Plenty of other famous dates have been recorded, though.
In the 1900s, there were several dates that caused people to have “where were you when…” type of discussions. We hope this trip into the land of Nostalgia sparks some memories for you.
For those who came of age in the Depression Era, many remember exactly where they were when they heard about the Lindberg Baby Kidnapping (March 1, 1932). Even more remember where they were when they heard that Charles Lindberg’s little boy’s body had been found (March 12, 1932). For twelve days, the nation held a collective breath and hoped that the little boy would be found safe and alive. It’s a sad fact, but children are kidnapped every day. What makes cases like the Lindberg baby and JonBenet Ramsey (December 25, 1996) stand out? Charles Lindberg was a famous and powerful man. It’s understandable why that case would make huge headlines, but it doesn’t explain the fascination with the JonBenet case. These specific cases made headlines while many others never got discussed. Why? We don’t know the answer, but it’s certainly food for thought.
The Depression Era generation will also collectively remember a panic that occurred when the world was invaded by Martians. Orson Welles made his infamous War of the Worlds broadcast on October 30, 1938. The panic that occurred during the broadcast is why our fiction must be clearly marked as fiction now. People really did think we were under an alien invasion.
The cry “oh the humanity” stands out in people’s memories not because of an alien invasion, but because of the Hindenburg disaster (May 6, 1937). In less than a minute, the airship was completely engulfed in flames as it attempted to land. Some people jumped to their deaths trying to flee the fire. Onlookers and reporters were forced to watch the disaster from the sidelines, helpless to alleviate any of the suffering.
It wasn’t all kidnapped babies, burning blimps, and aliens coming to kill us that are fixed in the minds of the Depression Era generation. They also had war including two world wars. War provided six specific dates that have “[lived] in infamy” for this generation. The bombing of Pearl Harbor and FDR’s famous speech are noted in the first paragraph of this blog post. That was 1941. In 1944, the world learned of “D-Day”. This was also called “Operation Neptune”. The Allied forces stormed the beaches of Normandy on June 6, 1944. In 1945, a bomb named “Little Boy” hit Hiroshima on August 6th and three days later a bomb named “Fat Man” hit Nagasaki. V-J Day (victory over Japan) is remembered as August 15, 1945. V-E Day (the defeat of Nazi Germany) is celebrated worldwide in early May. The surrender was ratified in Berlin on May 8, 1945. When these soldiers finally came home, the world experienced a boom of births. The children are collectively called “Baby Boomers”.
Berlin has been the location of several days of infamy that Baby Boomers will remember very clearly. What is it about those crazy Germans with their delicious beverages made from hops, lederhosen, and rich and proud history that makes them a hotspot for world events? For those in the “Digital Generation”, Germany wasn’t always a unified country. At one time, there was a place called “East Germany” and a place called “West Germany”. A wall in Berlin marked the line. “The Berlin Wall” (great name for a wall in Berlin, don’t you agree?) divided a country, families, and political ideologies. Many people died in the “death strip” of the wall when they tried to flee communist controlled “East Germany”. Berlin became the focal point of the cold war. President John F. Kennedy made a famous speech in Berlin on June 26, 1963. This speech has become known as the “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech. He spoke about America’s unity with the West Germans as they dealt with their divided country. Later, Ronald Reagan made one of his most famous speeches in Berlin near the Brandenburg Gate of the Berlin Wall. One of the researchers here cries whenever she hears these words, “Mister Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” Reagan made that resonating speech on June 12, 1987 and the Berlin Wall fell on November 9, 1989.
The researcher I mentioned earlier had this to say about the fall of the Berlin Wall. “I was only in the ninth grade, but I knew the significance. The next day, it was all we spoke about in school. Class after class, the students didn’t want the subjects. We wanted to talk about Germany. The teachers gave up trying to stay on task and all day we spoke about the implications of a unified Germany.” I saw tears well up in her eyes and she swallowed presumably trying to get rid of the lump in her throat. “Families were reunited after decades. No more “death strip”. They were free. I got all of that, but for me it meant the end of the Cold War. That was the last night I ever woke up in a panic from a nightmare of nuclear war. We didn’t have the “duck and cover” hope of the previous generations. We knew we’d just be dead in a horrific way. We were cleansed of that fear when that wall fell.”
Those are the moments we all remember. Those are the times when life takes our breath and grabs our collective attention. American presidents have been a part of these events in their speeches and their deaths. JFK was assassinated in Dallas on November 22, 1963 just a few months after his speech in Germany. To this day, Baby Boomers can tell you exactly where they were when they heard the broadcast or the announcement that the president had been shot. Television and radio stations carried the news across the airways. Schools announced it on the public address systems. On March 30, 1981 when Ronald Reagan was shot, Baby Boomers found themselves flooded with JFK memories and a whole host of rejuvenated fears. Luckily, President Reagan survived.
Political figures aren’t the only ones who are assassinated. John Lennon was shot on December 8, 1990. Grieving fans of the Beatles took to the streets and memorialized Lennon as best they could. Sometimes it’s not murder that silences an artist. Sometimes it’s suicide. Kurt Cobain died on April 8, 1994 and his fans will never forget that day.
There are other days that the world will never forget and some that Mother Nature is still trying to forgive. On March 28, 1979 there was an accident at the nuclear power plant in Pennsylvania. The “Three Mile Island” disaster was the result of a partial core meltdown. History views it as a minor disaster in comparison to what happened on April 26, 1986. The accident at Chernobyl has created eerie ghost towns and a crater that is still terribly toxic.
Accidents are not always Earth-bound. Sometimes they happen when we reach for the stars. On January 28, 1986 the phrase “go with throttle up” gave the world chills. The space shuttle Challenger exploded on live television. On February 1, 2003 the space shuttle Columbia felt a similar fate. Neil Aldren Armstrong knew the risks when he became an astronaut. On July 21, 1969 he became the first man to step on the moon. His words, “That’s one small step for [a] man; one giant leap for mankind,” fueled America with patriotic pride, but even he knows exactly where he was when the Challenger and Columbia accidents happened.
All too often these “special dates” are noteworthy because of tragedy or disaster. One date that is bathed in blood, but painted in hope and the power of the human spirit is June 5, 1989. That’s one of the dates of the protests in Tiananmen Square. If you’ve ever seen the picture of the single man facing down a line of tanks, that’s the day that picture was taken. One special date joins the ranks beside the fall of the Berlin Wall and marks a new era of hope and peace. That date is April 10, 1989. The Good Friday Peace Accords marked the political end of the bloodshed in Ireland. Forces have put down their guns and are fighting for a unified Ireland through political channels. Any date that marks the end of bloodshed, should forever be burned in our memories.
Do you remember any of these famous dates in history?
Do you get chills and goose bumps when you remember some of these important historical events?
Goodness knows: we do.
Events like these make us think about what clocks and time tools should really measure.
They shouldn’t just measure the passage of time.
They should mark history.
(Postscript: Did we leave out some famous dates that you think are important? Let us know via the comments form below.)