March 15, 44BC  The Ides of March

The Roman calendar tracked the phases of the moon (or tried to), and didn’t count the days from first to last. Instead, Romans counted backward from three fixed points: the Nones (5th or 7th, depending on the length of the month), the Ides (13th or 15th), and the Kalends (1st of the following month).

The history of Rome may be drawn into two parts, the Republic and the Imperium. Since the overthrow of the Monarchy in 509BC, the Republic operated based on a separation of powers, checks and balances, and a strong aversion to the concentration of power. Except in times of national emergency, no single individual could wield absolute power over his fellow citizens.

A series of civil wars and other events changed that in the 1st century, BC.  The Republic was dead by the 30s BC, leaving Imperial Rome in its wake, a period best remembered for its long line of Emperors.

Proscriptions of Sulla

Gaius Julius Caesar was born into this chaos, a son of the prestigious Julian Clan. In 82BC, the 18-year-old Caesar survived the “proscriptions” of the Dictator Sulla, in which the names of as many as 4,700 “enemies of the state” were nailed to the wall of the Roman Forum. Any proscribed man was immediately stripped of citizenship and all its protections. Anyone killing a proscribed man was entitled to keep part of his estate, the rest going to the government.  Rewards were paid for information leading to the death of anyone thus proscribed.

At the age of 25, Caesar was kidnapped and held for ransom by Cilician pirates, a group which may be described as the Isis of its time. Caesar laughed on learning that his ransom was set at only 20 talents of silver, and demanded his kidnappers hold out for 50.  He would yell at this band of killers for talking too loud while he was trying to sleep. He’d write poetry and read it to them, calling them “savages” if they were insufficiently appreciative of his work.


For 38 days, Caesar joined in their games and exercises.  As if he were their leader, instead of their prisoner.  Caesar promised these pirates that he would come back and crucify them all, and he said it with a smile.


The pirates thought it uproariously funny, but Caesar was as good as his word. The fifty talents were raised, and the captive was released.  He made good on his promise, raising a force sufficient to enforce his will and bringing his former captors to Rome.  There he had them all crucified, but not without a moment of kindness.  Caesar style.  He slit their throats, ending the ordeal of crucifixion by hours, if not days.

Caesar lost his hair at an early age, about which he seems to have been self-conscious. It’s probably why we see him depicted with the wreath on his head, but baldness didn’t seem to bother the women in his life.


Caesar seems to have been quite the ladies’ man, having a son with none other than Queen Cleopatra of Egypt. One story has him being handed a note while speaking at the Senate. Caesar’s arch rival Cato (the younger) demanded to know the contents of the letter, loudly accusing him of complicity in the “Catiline Conspiracy” to overthrow the government. At last Caesar relented, reading out loud what turned out to be a love letter – a graphic one – written to him by Cato’s own half-sister Servilia Caepionis.

agrippinaCaesar rose through the ranks, organizing a coalition of three to rule the Republic. It was the first such “Triumvirate”, combining the popular general Pompey “The Great”, Crassus, the wealthiest man in all of Rome, and the rising young general and politician, Julius Caesar himself.

The partnership was doomed to fail, given the egos and animosities of the three. Crassus was killed on campaign in 52BC as Pompey became increasingly hostile to his co-ruler, then on campaign in Gaul.  A string of military successes against Celtic and native Germanic tribes caused Caesar’s popularity to soar, posing a threat to the power of the Senate and to Pompey himself.

The Senate ordered Caesar to resign his command and disband the army, or become an enemy of the state.  Everyone knew what it meant when Caesar crossed the Rubicon River at the head of that army, in 49BC. It meant Civil War. To this day, to “Cross the Rubicon” means to take a step which cannot be reversed.


Shortly before his assassination in BC 44, Caesar was named dictator perpetuo rei publicae constituendae, the first time such a title had ever been made permanent. Nothing was more repugnant to traditional Roman sensibilities, than the idea of a dictator for life.   Caesar’s days were numbered.

“Lupercalia Incident”, February, BC 44.

In BC 44, Marcus Antonius (Mark Antony) was elected co-consul with Caesar, the highest elected political office of the Roman Republic.  During the festival of Lupercalia, Antony twice attempted to place the laurel wreath on Caesar’s head, twice to be rejected.  “The people give this to you though me” Antony said, as the stunned crowd stood silent.  Twice, Caesar removed the crown, saying “Jupiter alone of the Romans is King.”

Many believed the episode to have been a “trial balloon”, engineered to assess the public’s reaction.

A month earlier, the soothsayer Spurinna had “predicted the future by examining the internal organs of sacrificial animals.” Spurinna said that Caesar’s life “might come to a bad end,” warning that “his life would be in danger for the next 30 days.”

The Roman calendar tracked the phases of the moon (or tried to), and didn’t count the days from first to last. Instead, Romans counted backward from three fixed points: the Nones (5th or 7th, depending on the length of the month), the Ides (13th or 15th), and the Kalends (1st of the following month).

According to Plutarch, Julius Caesar arrived at the Senate on March 15, 44BC. Tillius Cimber presented him with a petition, as Senators crowded around. Cimber grabbed the Emperor’s shoulders and pulled down his tunic. “Ista quidem vis est!” said the Dictator for Life, “Why, this is violence!” Casca pulled a dagger and stabbed at Caesar’s neck. Caesar turned and caught him by the arm. “Casca, you villain, what are you doing?” Frightened, the Senator shouted “Help, brother!” in Greek “adelphe, boethei!” In seconds the entire group was striking at the dictator. Caesar attempted to get away but, blinded by his own blood, he tripped and fell. The men continued stabbing at him as he lay defenseless on the steps of the portico. According to Eutropius, 60 men participated in the assassination. Caesar was stabbed 23 times, though only one wound would prove fatal.


Here’s where the story becomes Really interesting. Like the warning to “Beware the Ides of March”, Caesar’s last words, “Et tu Brute” were first introduced by William Shakespeare, 1,643 years after the fact. No eyewitness account of the assassination survives today, though a more contemporary source recorded the Greek words “Kai su, teknon?” as Brutus plunged the dagger in. “And you, my child?”

Marcus Junius Brutus (the younger) was the son of the same Servilia Caepionis, above. Brutus was 41 at the time of the assassination, Caesar 56. It is unlikely though not impossible, that Brutus killed his father that day. The affair between Brutus’ mother and Caesar, had carried on for years.

Military campaigns of the General Caesar
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March 12, 1901 A Two-Team Town

1901 saw no series at all, as the startup American League fought the National League for control of the business. The following year, the top two major league baseball teams switched sports, opting instead to compete in a football championship.

The first all-professional team in baseball history was established in 1869:  ten salaried  teammates, playing to a perfect 65-0 record as the Cincinnati Red Stockings.  To date, it’s the only perfect season in major league baseball history.  The club voted to dissolve after the 1870 season, when player-manager Harry Wright went to Boston, at the invitation of Ashburnham businessman and Boston Red Stockings founder, Ivers Whitney Adams.

Boston Beaneater Pitcher Charles Gardner “Old Hoss” Radbourn, standing, far left, giving the cameraman “the finger” in 1886, the earliest known photograph of the gesture.

Eight previously amateur clubs went pro for the 1871 season, including the Cubs organization, playing at that time as the “Chicago White stockings”, and not to be confused with the later American League franchise, Chicago White Sox.  Today, these are the only two left of the original nine, though the Red Stockings and successor organizations are the oldest continuously playing professional team in American sports, since the Cubbies missed two years, following the great Chicago fire of 1871.

Club names were more fluid in the 19th century than today, and teams were likely to be known by nicknames.  When the new Cincinnati Red Stockings formed in 1876, the Boston club was sometimes called the “Red Caps” and later, the “Beaneaters”.

“Squad: A team photo of the now defunct Boston Reds. In its one and only year in the Players’ National League of Professional Base Ball Clubs the Reds won the 1890 title after accruing 81 wins fending off competition from the New York Giants. The Reds didn’t join the newly formed National League at the end of the season after the Boston Braves, soon to become the famous Atlanta Braves, were ushered into the new league and officials didn’t want the two Boston teams to face each other” H/T

In those days, the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players and its National League successor represented the pinnacle of professional baseball.  There was no post-season, championships were awarded based on the best record at the end of regular season.

Precursors to the modern World Series began with the formation of a second league in 1882, the American Association, but the series themselves were haphazard.  Terms of post-season play were negotiated between club owners, with as few as three games in 1884 when the Providence Grays defeated the New York Metropolitans 3-0, and as many as fifteen, when the Detroit Wolverines defeated the St. Louis Browns, 10 to 5.

Boston Americans, 1902

With the collapse of the American Association in 1891, major league baseball entered an eight-year single-league “monopoly”, where half-season winners squared off in a championship series called the Temple Cup.

1901 saw no series at all, as the startup American League fought the National League for business supremacy.  The two top teams in baseball changed sports in 1902, opting instead to compete in a football championship.

Boston Americans logo, 1901-1907

The Red Caps/Beaneaters roster was decimated in 1901, with the formation of Boston’s American League franchise, the “Americans”.  Many stars jumped ship to the new AL club, which was offering contracts that it’s NL competitor couldn’t hope to match.

On this day in 1901, ground was broken for Boston’s 1st American League ballpark, the Huntington Avenue Grounds.  The stadium was the site of the first modern World Series in 1903, when the Boston Americans defeated the Pittsburgh Pirates in a best-of-nine series, five to three. The stadium saw the first perfect game of the modern era, thrown by Cy Young on May 5, 1904.

The playing field was built on what used to be a circus lot and was large by current standards: 530′ to center field, later expanded to 635′ in 1908. It had many quirks not seen in modern baseball stadia, including patches of sand in the outfield where grass wouldn’t grow, and a tool shed in play in deep center field.

1903 World Series photograph, believed to be taken from the roof of a nearby warehouse

During the 1907 season, manager Fred Tenney removed the last bit of red from Red Caps/Beaneaters uniforms, believing that red dyes could cause injuries to become infected.  The all-white uniforms gave rise to the unfortunate sobriquet – “Doves”, while Americans’ owner John Taylor was quick to cash in with a name change of his own, a reference to the uniform hose worn by his franchise, since the beginning.  The Boston Red Sox, were born.

Fred-snodgrassIn 1912, the Doves adopted an official name of their own. National League franchise owner James Gaffney was a member of Tammany Hall, the political machine that ruled New York, between 1789 and 1967.  Tammany Hall’s symbol was an Indian chief, its headquarters called a “wigwam”. So it was that, the oldest franchise in major league baseball, came to be called “the Braves”.

The Boston Red Sox moved to their new stadium home that same year, ending the season in a dramatic victory over the New York Giants, four games to three.  Frederick “Snow” Snodgrass, one of the best outfielders of his day, dropped a routine fly ball in the 10th inning of the deciding game, allowing the winning run to stay on base, much to the dismay of generations of Giants fans.

Fred Snodgrass went on to become a successful banker, elected city councilman, and a popular mayor and rancher in Oxnard CA, but “Snodgrass’s Muff” would follow him, for the rest of his days. When the man died in April, 1974, the New York Times obituary was headlined “Fred Snodgrass, 86, Dead; Ball Player Muffed 1912 Fly.” Move over, Billy Buckner.


A Boston team won five out of six consecutive World Series championships between 1912-’18, with the NL franchise advancing from dead last to World Champions in 1914, and the Red Sox winning in 1912, ,15, ’16 and ’18.

It was the Golden Era of Boston baseball, and it all came to a halt in 1919.  On December 26, theater enthusiast and Red Sox franchise owner Harry Frazee sold Babe Ruth to the arch-rival New York Yankees, to open a play called My Lady Friends, opening on Broadway that same month. Years later, My Lady Friends would become a musical, called No, No, Nanette.  The musical wouldn’t open until five years after Frazee’s infamous trade, but indeed, the forerunner was financed by the Ruth sale, to the Yankees.

1914 Miracle Braves

There ensued one of the longest championship droughts in baseball history, an 86-year period called the “Curse of the Bambino” before the Red Sox’ sixth Championship, in 2004.

With Braves Field under construction in 1914, the Miracle Braves played in the Red Sox’ home field at Fenway Park.  The Braves returned the favor the next two years, as Braves Field was the larger of the two.

il_340x270.893955742_3w451915 ushered in a 20-year losing streak for the Braves.  Ironically, it was Babe Ruth who was expected to pull it all together, when Braves President Emil Fuchs brought the Bambino back to Boston in 1935.

Things were looking up that opening day, with a 4-2 win over the Giants, and Ruth had something to do with all four runs.  Later that month, Ruth hit three home runs in a single game but, no one could know those were the last of his career.   Years of high living had done their work.  The Bambino’s best years were behind him.  The man couldn’t run, and his fielding was so bad that three Braves pitchers threatened to strike, if he remained in the lineup.  Babe Ruth retired on June 1, a short six days after one of the finest performances, of his career.

1948 almost saw an all-Boston World Series, but for a single game playoff loss to the Indians.

Boston remained a two-team town until March 13, 1953, when the Braves left, for good. The longest-running franchise in MLB history went to Milwaukee for a time before moving to Atlanta.  Brave’s Field was sold to Boston University.

The old Huntington Grounds were demolished in 1912, later replaced with the Cabot Center, an indoor athletic venue belonging to Northeastern University. A plaque and a statue of Cy Young were erected on the campus in 1993, where the pitchers mound and home plate used to be. A plaque on the side of the Cabot building marks the former location of the left field foul pole, about ¼ mile from Matthews Arena, the oldest multi-purpose athletic building still in use in the world, and the original home to the Boston Bruins.  But that must be a story, for another day.

Feature image, top of page: Fenway Park, October 12, 1914, third game of the 1914 World Series

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March 7, AD321 The Unconquered Sun

On March 7, AD321, Constantine I “The Great” decreed Dies Solis – Day of the Sun or “Sun-day”:  “On the venerable day of the Sun let the magistrates and people residing in cities rest, and let all workshops be closed”.

The cithara or kithara (Greek: κιθάρα, kithāra, Latin: cithara) was an ancient Greek musical instrument in the lyra family of instruments

For two thousand years, a popular story has told the tale of Emperor Nero, playing the fiddle while Rome burned. Far be it for me to leap to the defense of a man who ordered the murder of his own wife and mother, except in the name of historical accuracy. The viol class of musical instruments, to which the fiddle belongs, didn’t come along until the 11th century. If Nero played anything it was probably a Cithara, a heavy wooden instrument with four to seven strings.

At least five versions come down to us about the Great Fire of 64AD, and the Emperor’s role in it. The Roman historian Tacitus tells us that Nero sang about the fall of Troy while the city burned, but admits there were no witnesses.

Cassius Dio and Suetonius ask us to believe, in their turn, that Nero a) secretly sent guys out to burn the city, b) openly did so and watched from the tower of Maecenas while singing and playing the lyre, c) the fire was started by an obscure religious sect called “Christians”, d) Nero sent his guys out after all, but sang and played his lyre from a private stage and e) the fire started by accident while Nero was thirty-five miles away at Antium, and the emperor rushed back to help the now-homeless people of Rome.

images (26)Be that as it may, three things are certain. First, The fire burned for six days, utterly destroying three of the 14 districts of Rome, and severely damaging seven others.  Next, Nero used the excuse of the fire to go after the Christians, having many of them arrested and executed. Last, the Domus Aurea (“Golden Palace”) and surrounding “Pleasure Gardens” which the emperor built on the ruins, would be the death of Emperor Nero.

Between AD65 and 68, Emperor Nero built a vast palace complex over an area of more than 200 acres, linking existing buildings on the Palatine Hill with the Gardens of Maecenas and other imperial properties on the Esquiline hills, and adding a grand colonnaded approach and vestibule surrounding an artificial lake.

Reconstruction of the Domus Aurea, of Nero

One of the Great Wonders of antiquity, Nero’s “Golden house” was ruinously expensive, 300 rooms of dazzling white marble with pools in the floors and fountains splashing in corridors. There were jewel-encrusted walls and ivory clad columns.  An enormous vaulted ceiling lay underneath the dome of the main dining room, with an ingenious mechanism cranked by slaves, making the ceiling revolve like the heavens, as  rose petals dropped and perfume was sprayed on assembled diners.

Suetonius described the complex as “ruinously prodigal”. Nero himself would say nothing further on the palace’ dedication, save to say that he “had at last begun to live like a human being”.

Artist’s rendering of the Colossus of Nero holds a rudder on the globe, symbolizing his dominion over land and sea.

At the center of it all, Nero built his Colossus Neronis, a giant gilded bronze statue – of himself.  Sources place the thing at 98′ to 121′ tall, roughly equal to the statue of liberty, from her feet to her crown.

With all of Italy “thoroughly exhausted by contributions of money” and “the provinces ruined”, the Emperor himself was roundly hated.  In June AD68, Nero learned that he’d been tried in absentia, and condemned to death as an enemy of the Roman people. Preparing himself for suicide, Nero muttered “Qualis artifex pereo” (“What an artist dies in me”).

Nero’s profligacy was a severe embarrassment to his successors.  Within a decade, the palace and its complex was stripped of its marble, jewels, and ivory embellishments.

Within forty years, most of the grounds were filled with earth and built over, replaced by the Baths of Titus, and the Temple of Venus and Rome. Vespasian drained the lake and built the Flavian Amphitheatre, but Nero’s Colossus, lived on.

In 69, Emperor Vespasian added a sun-ray crown and renamed the thing Colossus Solis, a dedication to the Roman sun god Sol Invictus (“Unconquered Sun”), patron of the legions and official Sun God of the later Roman Empire.

Around 128, Emperor Hadrian moved the statue from the Domus Aurea to just outside of the Colosseum, with a little help from the architect Decrianus, and 24 elephants. Emperor Commodus removed the head and replaced it with a likeness of his own, but the head was restored after Commodus’ death, and so it remained.


The Arch of Constantine, the last and largest of the Triumphal Arches of Rome and dedicated in AD315, was carefully positioned to align with Sol Invictus, so that the Colossus formed the dominant backdrop when approaching the Colosseum via the main arch.

Six years later, March 7, AD321, Constantine I “The Great” decreed Dies Solis – Day of the Sun or “Sun-day” – as the Roman day of rest (Codex Justinianus 3.12.2):  “On the venerable day of the Sun let the magistrates and people residing in cities rest, and let all workshops be closed. In the country however persons engaged in agriculture may freely and lawfully continue their pursuits because it often happens that another day is not suitable for grain-sowing or vine planting; lest by neglecting the proper moment for such operations the bounty of heaven should be lost”.\

2000 years later Constantine’s day of rest remains, but the colossus of the Unconquered Sun is gone. The last known reference in antiquity dates back to the Calendar of 354, the earliest illuminated manuscript containing full page illustrations.

Saint Bede of northumbria

It may have been destroyed during the Sack of Rome in 410, or perhaps it toppled in one of a series of 5th century earthquakes, its metal scavenged. There is evidence that Sol Invictus outlived the western Roman Empire and survived into the early middle ages. Bede the Venerable, an English monk from the monastery of St. Peter in Northumbria, wrote sometime circa 672–735: “As long as the Colossus stands, Rome will stand, when the Colossus falls, Rome will also fall, when Rome falls, so falls the world“.

Today, nothing remains of the Colossus of Nero, save for the foundations of its pedestal at the second location, near the ruins of the Colosseum.


March 3, 1634 Watering Hole

In early colonial America, tavern keepers would put out an “Ale Stick” or “Ale Stake”, a wooden pole with a bush of barley tied to the top, informing thirsty travelers that sustenance could be found, inside.  Sometimes a hoop of woven barley hanging outside, would tell you that you had arrived.

Despite seemingly inexhaustible supplies of pristine drinking water, colonists to the New World were first and foremost Englishmen, every one of whom understood that drinking water could make you deathly ill. The connection between sanitation and the boiling to make beer was ill understood, but everyone knew. Those who drank beer and ale didn’t get sick.  The brewhouse was an indispensable priority in every new settlement.

The earliest settlers to Jamestown, Virginia neglected the brewer’s art. Their first pleas for relief from England, included advertisements seeking “two brewers’ to join them.

When Pilgrims fetched up on the shores of Cape Cod and the later Plimoth colony in 1620, it was not in search of a beach vacation, but because of dwindling beer supplies.

Today, much of the bay has been filled in and developed, forming the core of downtown Boston. This is the Shawmut Peninsula, as it looked during Cole’s time.

Little brother Benjamin Franklin describes his earliest experience working in his brother’s print shop, with frequent reference to fetching ale for the journeyman printers.

Beer and ale were dietary staples in the era, a source of nourishment as well as refreshment. Infants drank beer and it was especially recommended for nursing mothers. Many households added a small brewing room to the outside of the building, so that the heat and risk of fire associated with brewing and cooking could be kept outside of living quarters. To this day, the lower rooflines of these “brew rooms” can be found, jutting out from the sides of the oldest American homes.

In early colonial America, tavern keepers would put out an “Ale Stick” or “Ale Stake”, a wooden pole with a bush of barley tied to the top, informing thirsty travelers that sustenance could be found, inside.  Sometimes a hoop of woven barley hanging outside, would tell you that you had arrived.

Samuel Cole was an early settler in the Massachusetts Bay colony, arriving with the Winthrop fleet in 1630 and establishing himself on the Shawmut peninsula.  Four years later, he opened the first house of entertainment in Boston, calling his place “Cole’s Inn”, established March 3, 1634.

Taverns were common in England from as early as the 1200s, where women called “Ale Wives” would fetch beer, wine, mead and ale for the guests. Though lodgings were a common feature of the ale houses of the time, it would not be until the early 1700s that Colonial taverns commonly offered such amenities.


Later taverns posted elaborate signs, carved from wood, stone, or even terra cotta, and hanged from wooden posts mounted to the building or to a nearby tree. Barley, the universal symbol for beer, remained a common feature of such signs, and continues in use on the labels of many brands sold to this day.

download (17)The signs of the time frequently included horses, indicating that lodgings and stables were available. Many such establishments came to be called after such signs, and names such as “Chestnut Mare” and “White Stallion” were common.

Today, a Google search of the term “Black Horse Tavern” yields some 1,090,000 hits.  Cheers.

“Filled with mingled cream and amber
I will drain that glass again.
Such hilarious visions clamber
Through the chambers of my brain –
Quaintest thoughts — queerest fancies
Come to life and fade away;
Who cares how time advances?
I am drinking ale today.” – Edgar Allen Poe


If you enjoyed this “Today in History”, please feel free to re-blog, “like” & share on social media, so that others may find and enjoy it as well. Please click the “follow” button on the right, to receive email updates on new articles.  Thank you for your interest, in the history we all share.

March 2, 1977 Heeere’s Johnny

The world’s longest running talk show began in 1954, when Steve Allen sat down at his piano on September 27.  This show is gonna go on… forever”, Allen quipped.  So far, he seems to have gotten that right.

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Johnny Carson, Navy portrait

With Jack Parr about to sign off the “Tonight Show” for the last time, NBC executives were anxious to find a replacement.  Bob Newhart, Jackie Gleason, Groucho Marx, and Joey Bishop all declined the opportunity, when a United States Navy veteran, amateur magician and amateur boxer with a 10/0 record agreed to take the job.

Back when late-night comedians were expected to be funny, Johnny Carson had misgivings, believing himself unequal to the task of producing 90 minutes of fresh content, every day.

A series of guest hosts followed including Merv Griffin, Art Linkletter, Joey Bishop, Jerry Lewis and Groucho Marx, as Carson finished out the last six months of a contract with ABC.  Despite his apprehensions, Carson started the new gig on October 1, 1962.

No sooner had NBC announced that Johnny Carson would be joining “The Tonight Show,” than the national press gaggle came after him, looking for interviews. Paradoxically, the future “King of late night comedy” was averse to publicity.  Carson resisted at first, but finally relented, providing a list of answers to which journalists could apply any question they pleased:

  • “Yes, I did”.
  • “Not a bit of truth in that rumor”.
  • “Only twice in my life, both times on Saturday”.
  • “I can do either, but prefer the first”.
  • “NO”.
  • “Kumquats”.
  • “I can’t answer that question”.
  • “Toads and tarantulas”.
  • “Turkestan, Denmark, Chile, and the Komandorskie Islands”.
  • “As often as possible, but I’m not very good at it yet”.
  • “I need much more practice”.
  • “It happened to some old friends of mine, and it’s a story I’ll never forget”.
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Ed McMahon

A Marine Corps aviator and flight instructor from Lowell, Massachusetts joined Carson from that first show, back in 1962.   The Marine earned his carrier landing qualifications around the time the atomic bomb ended the war in the Pacific, and went on to fly 85 combat missions in Korea, earning six air medals and retiring with the rank of Colonel in 1966.   His name was Ed McMahon.

In those days, the Tonight Show was a whopping 105 minutes long.  Groucho Marx delivered a fifteen-minute monologue before introducing the host for that first program.  After that and for years afterward, the monologue segment fell to McMahon himself.

introducing-the-new-host-of-the-tonight-show-johnny-carson (1)
Groucho Marx introducing the new host of the Tonight Show, October 1, 1962

When the Tonight Show first aired, everyone on the set including Carson himself, smoked.  The “Public Health Cigarette Smoking Act” was introduced in Congress in 1969.  Ironically, it was President Richard Nixon, an avid pipe smoker who lit up as many as eight bowls a day, who signed the measure into law on April 1, 1970.   The measure included a permanent ban on television cigarette advertising, scheduled to take effect ac1dd1ea41e71a3d44fe61af45173ba5--johnny-carson-tonight-showJanuary 2, the following year.  The last cigarette ad in the history of American television was a Virginia Slims ad, broadcast at 11:59p.m., January 1, 1971, on the Tonight Show, Starring Johnny Carson.  Smoking on-air became a thing of the past sometime in the mid-80s, but that cigarette box remained on Carson’s desk until his final episode, in 1992.  You’ve come a long way, baby.

For NBC, the Tonight Show was a cash cow.  Many years the program grossed over $100 million, accounting for 15-20% of the profits earned by the entire network.  Carson threatened to walk in 1980, ending up with a deal unprecedented in the history of American broadcasting: $5 million a year and series commitments estimated at $50 million.  Just as important, show content would no longer belong to the network, but to Carson himself.

hqdefault (1)Carson began taking Mondays off in 1972, when the show moved from New York to California.  There followed a period of rotating guest hosts, including George Carlin and Joan Rivers, who became permanent guest host between 1983 and 1986.

The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson was a late-night fixture through seven US Presidents: John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, and George HW Bush.  Nearly every American over the age of 30 and some younger will remember the opening, “Heeeeeeeeeeere’s Johnny!”.  There was the opening monologue, and the imaginary golf swing.  “Carnac the Magnificent”, holding the envelope to his head, reciting the punchline to the joke sealed inside.  “Saucepan… Who was Peter Pan’s wino brother?”  When a joke bombed, there was the comedic curse.  “May a bloated yak change the temperature of your jacuzzi!”

download (16)Jay Leno appeared on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson for the first time on March 2, 1977.  He would frequently guest, and served as permanent host from May 1992 to May 2009.

Five years after Carson’s final show, 10,000 taped episodes were moved to a salt mine in Kansas, to protect them from deterioration. There they remain, 54 stories underground, where the average temperature is 68° Fahrenheit, with a uniform 40% humidity.

Excepting Conan O’Brien’s eight months in 2010, Leno remained permanent host of the Tonight Show until February 2014, recording more episodes (4,610) than even Carson himself, with 4,531. Saturday Night live veteran Jimmy Fallon took over the reins in February 2014, where he remains to this day.

The world’s longest running talk show began in 1954, when Steve Allen sat down at his piano on September 27.  This show is gonna go on… forever”, Allen quipped.  So far, he seems to have gotten that right.


If you enjoyed this “Today in History”, please feel free to re-blog, “like” & share on social media, so that others may find and enjoy it as well. Please click the “follow” button on the right, to receive email updates on new articles.  Thank you for your interest, in the history we all share.

February 27, 1992 The Founding Father & Son, of Golf

Young Tom Morris followed that first Open Championship in 1868 with three more, in 1869, 1870 and 1872. His record stands to this day, the only player ever to win four consecutive Open Golf Championships.   (There was no championship in 1871).

On this day in 1992, 16-year-old Tiger Woods became the youngest PGA golfer in 35 years, going on to become the first $100 million man on the Professional Tour.

“Young” Tom Morris

The youngest in thirty-five years, but not the youngest.  Andy Zhang made the US Open in 2012, at the ripe old age of fourteen years, six months, but even he wasn’t the youngest.

The youngest golfer ever to play in one of the majors (the Masters, US & British Opens and the PGA Championship), was the appropriately named “Young” Tom Morris  Jr., a Scot who played in the 1865 British Open at 14 years and four months.

Morris withdrew from that year’s tournament, at about the time General Robert E. Lee was meeting General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox.  Young Tom went on to win the British Open three years later, winning the equivalent of $12 for the feat. Ironically, the victory came at the expense of his father “Old” Tom Morris, Greenkeeper and club pro at the famous ‘Old Course’ at St. Andrews.

Young Tom followed that first Open Championship in 1868 with three more, in 1869, 1870 and 1872. His record stands to this day, the only player ever to win four consecutive Open Golf Championships.   (There was no championship in 1871).

The 18th Green of the Old Course at St. Andrews looks much the same today, as it did in 1891.

Young Tom went on to win three more Open tournaments, the first of only two teenagers in history to win any of the majors.  In 1864, Young Tom attended a tournament with his father at the King James VI Golf Club.  With days to go before his 13th birthday, he was too young to compete in either the professional or amateur sections.  Local organizers set up a two-man tournament between himself and a local youth champion.  A large gallery followed the two young golf stars throughout their match.  Those who did so were rewarded by seeing young Tom win the match, by a score sufficient to have won the professional tournament.

a-golf-match-involving-willie-park-old-tom-morris-and-young-tom-morris-g3b8fhThe Father/Son team tee’d off in match against the brothers Willie and Mungo Park on September 11, 1875. With two holes to go, Young Tom received a telegram with upsetting news. His wife Margaret had gone into a difficult labor. The Morrises finished those last two holes winning the match, and hurried home by ship across the Firth of Forth and up the coast. Too late. Tom Morris Jr. got home to find that his young wife and newborn baby, had died in childbirth.

Weeks later, Young Tom played a marathon tournament in wretched weather, leaving him in a weakened state and bleeding from his lungs. He died at St. Andrews, the “Home of Golf” and place of his birth, twenty-four years earlier. It was Christmas day.

In 2016, the historical drama “Tommy’s Honour” opened the 2016 Edinburgh International Film Festival, based on “Tommy’s Honor:  The Story of Old Tom Morris and Young Tom Morris, Golf’s Founding Father and Son” by Kevin Cook, one of five books voted 2007 “Book of the Year”, by Sports Illustrated.  Journalist and film critic Ross Miller wrote in The National newspaper of Scotland, calling the film “emotional, inspiring and deeply heartfelt.  You don’t have to be a golf fan” Miller wrote, ” to be taken in by this engrossing, quietly passionate film that not only brings something new to the sports biopic table but also serves as a poignant, often heartbreaking portrait of paternal love and pursuing your passion with everything you have.

The feature image at the top of the page depicting Old and Young Tom was shot at St. Mary’s Studio, and recently sold for $19,850.

February 23, 1836  The Lexington of Texas

“If my countrymen do not rally to my relief, I am determined to perish in the defense of this place, and my bones shall reproach my country for her neglect.”

Following the Mexican War of Independence with Spain, (1810 – 1821), Texas became a part of Mexico.  In 1831, Mexican authorities gave the settlers of Gonzales a small swivel cannon, a defense against the raids of the Comanche.  The political situation deteriorated in the following years.  By 1835, several Mexican states were in open revolt.  That September, commander of “Centralist” (Mexican) troops in Texas Colonel Domingo de Ugartechea, came to take it back.

Dissatisfied with the increasingly dictatorial policies of President and General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, the colonists had no intention of handing over that cannon.  One excuse was given after another to keep the Mexican dragoons out of Gonzalez, while secret pleas for help went out to surrounding communities.  Within two days, 140 “Texians” had gathered in Gonzalez, fashioning a flag that echoed some 2,315 years through history, King Leonidas’ defiant response to the Persian tyrant, Xerxes:   “Come and Take it.”


Militarily, the skirmish of October 2 had little significance, much the same as the early battles in the Massachusetts colony, some sixty years earlier.  Politically, the “Lexington of Texas” marked a break between Texian settlers, and the Mexican government.

Settlers continued to gather, electing the well-respected local and former legislator of the Missouri territory Stephen F. Austin, as their leader.  Santa Anna sent his brother-in-law, General Martin Perfecto de Cos to reinforce the settlement of San Antonio de Béxar, near the modern city of San Antonio.  On the 13th, Austin led his Federalist army of Texians and their Tejano allies to Béxar, to confront the garrison.  Austin’s forces captured the town that December, following a prolonged siege. It was only a matter of time before Santa Anna himself came to take it back.

Two forts – more like lonely outposts – blocked the only approaches from the Mexican interior into Texas: Presidio La Bahía (Nuestra Señora de Loreto Presidio) at Goliad and the Alamo at San Antonio de Béxar.  That December, a group of volunteers led by George Collinsworth and Benjamin Milam overwhelmed the Mexican garrison at the Alamo, and captured the fort  The Mexican President arrived on February 23 at the head of an army of 3,000, demanding its surrender.  Lieutenant Colonel William Barret “Buck” Travis, responded with a cannon ball.

Knowing that his small force couldn’t hold for long against such an army, Travis sent out a series of pleas for help and reinforcement, writing “If my countrymen do not rally to my relief, I am determined to perish in the defense of this place, and my bones shall reproach my country for her neglect.” 32 troops attached to Lt. George Kimbell’s Gonzales ranging company made their way through the enemy cordon and into the Alamo on March 1. There would be no more.

Alamo-Weight-Loss-Motivation-2Estimates of the Alamo garrison have ranged between 189 and 257 at this stage, but current sources indicate that defenders never numbered more than 200.

On March 2, 1836, the interim government of Texas signed the Texas Declaration of Independence.  The final assault on the Alamo began at 5:00am, four days later. 1,800 troops attacked from four directions.  600 to 1,600 were killed from concentrated artillery fire and close combat, but the numbers were overwhelming. Hand to hand fighting moved to the barracks after the walls were breached, and ended in the chapel.


As many as seven defenders still lived when it was over, many believe that former Congressman Davy Crockett was among them. Santa Anna ordered them summarily executed. By 8:00am there were no survivors, except for a handful of noncombatant women, children, and slaves, slowly emerging from the smoking ruins. These were provided with blankets and two dollars apiece, and given safe passage through Mexican lines with the warning:  a similar fate awaited any Texan who continued in their revolt.

Three weeks later following the Battle of Coleto, 350 Texian prisoners were murdered by the Mexican army under direct orders from Santa Anna, an event remembered as the Goliad massacre.

Measuring 570′, the San Jacinto Monument is the world’s longest masonry column

The ranks of Sam Houston’s unit swelled with volunteers, as Houston’s army retreated eastward, along with the provisional government and hordes of civilians.  Houston’s green and inexperienced force of 1,400, were now all that stood on the side of Texan independence.

On April 21, a force of some 900 Texans shouting “Remember the Alamo!” & “Remember Goliad!” and led by Sam Houston defeated Santa Anna’s force of some 1,300 at San Jacinto, near modern day Houston.  In “one of the most one-sided victories in history” 650 Mexican soldiers were killed in eighteen minutes and another 300 captured, compared with 11 Texians dead and another 30 wounded, including Houston itself.    Mexican troops occupying San Antonio were ordered to withdraw, by May.

Intermittent conflicts continued into the 1840s between Texas and Mexico, but the outcome was never again placed in doubt.  Texas became the 28th state of the United States on December 29, 1845.

As for Santa Anna, he went on to lose a leg to a cannon ball two years later, fighting the French at the Battle of Veracruz. Following amputation, the leg spent four years buried at Santa Anna’s hacienda, Manga de Clavo. When Santa Anna resumed the presidency in late 1841, he had the leg dug up and placed in a crystal vase, brought amidst a full military dress parade to Mexico City and escorted by the Presidential bodyguard, the army, and cadets from the military academy. This guy was nothing if not a self-promoter.

The leg was reburied in an elaborate ceremony in 1842, including cannon salvos, speeches, and poetry read in the General’s honor. The state funeral for Santa Anna’s leg was attended by his entire cabinet, the diplomatic corps, and the Congress.


Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna served 11 non-consecutive terms as Mexican President, spending most of his later years in exile in Jamaica, Cuba, the United States, Colombia, and St. Thomas. In 1869, the 74-year-old former President was living in Staten Island, trying to raise money for an army to return and take over Mexico City. Santa Anna is credited with bringing the first shipments of chicle to America, a gum-like substance made from the tree species, Manilkara chicle, and trying to use the stuff as rubber on carriage tires.

Thomas Adams, the American assigned to aid Santa Anna while he was in the US, also experimented with chicle as a substitute for rubber. He bought a ton of the stuff from the General, but his experiments would likewise prove unsuccessful. Instead, Adams helped to found the American chewing gum industry with a product called “Chiclets”.

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