Milestones: Friday, June 30, 2023
HIS SOVIET SWAN SONG — One of the most famous Soviet defectors was ballet virtuoso Mikhail Baryshnikov who, on June 30, 1974, choreographed his own escape following a performance at the Leningrad-based Kirov Ballet in Toronto. At the time, while on a Canadian tour, he eluded the KGB security forces in charge of him, and hid out until the Canadian government granted him political asylum. The United States, perhaps seeing an opportunity to boost itself in the arts, also granted political asylum to Baryshnikov, who became principal dancer with the American Ballet Theatre and the New York City Ballet.
Baryshnikov attained U.S. citizenship on July 3, 1986, and later, citizenship in his homeland of Latvia, after that nation gained independence from Russia in 1991. Along the way, he won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in The Turning Point.
ANOTHER DEFECTION FROM RUSSIA — CZESLAW MILOSZ, born on June 30, 1911 in Lithuania, another Baltic state that was at the time part of Russia, became the great Polish American poet, author and teacher. During World War II, he lived in Warsaw, taking part in the Polish Resistance. Following the war, he served as a diplomat, but later defected to France where he was productive.
Initially denied entry to the United States during the height of McCarthyism, Milosz did receive an offer from the University of California at Berkeley to be a visiting lecturer. His talent for teaching proved so great that he was offered tenure during the first couple of months, and taught Slavic languages and literature there for 18 years. He later won the Nobel Prize in Literature.
ROUTED IN BATTLE — It was on June 30, 1876 that 54 wounded U.S. soldiers from the Battle of the Little Big Horn reached the steamboat Far West, after having been routed by the Lakota Sioux and Northern Cheyenne nations in the Northern Plains. The Far West was perfectly suited for the shallow waters in the Upper Missouri River, and was able to deliver the injured soldiers in a way that offered them comfort and speed to Fort Abraham Lincoln in Bismarck, North Carolina, most probably saving their lives.
However, there was bad news delivered on that day also: word traveled via telegraph that General Custer and more than 200 men had been killed along the Little Big Horn River.
OVER THE FALLS ON A TIGHTROPE — CHARLES BLONDIN had a rare talent for staying balanced. It was on June 30, 1859 that the French acrobat and daredevil Charles Blondin wowed a crowd of more than five thousand when he made the first of what would be many such stunts, walking across Niagara Falls on a tightrope. Blondin (the professional name for Jean François Gravelet), who was clad in pink tights and a yellow tunic, took just five minutes to complete the walk, from 160 feet above the Niagara gorge just down river from the Falls. Using just a balancing pole to protect him from plunging into the rapids, Blondin crossed a cable two inches in diameter and 1,100 inches long. Blondin, whose name became synonymous with tightrope walking, did more Niagara walks using different handicaps: being blindfolded, wearing stilts, pushing a wheelbarrow, and carrying another man piggyback.
The man who conquered Niagara Falls on so many occasions died of natural causes (attributed to diabetes) in London, England, in 1897. Before that, he also managed to marry three times and sire seven children.
EPIC NOVEL — Margaret Mead’s epic novel “GONE WITH THE WIND” was published June 30, 1936. A journalist who had to leave her job at the Atlanta Journal because of physical injuries, she grew restless and began typing the novel on a Remington typewriter. The book covered the life of a Pansy O’Hara (whose name was changed at the insistence of MacMillan & Sons editor Harold Latham) from the antebellum period through the reconstruction, and was based on stories she had heard growing up. But “Gone with the Wind”, rather than exposing the horrors of slavery, instead romanticized the South, and the Civil War, nonetheless winning the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award.
Later, movie producer David O. Selznick paid Mitchell $50,000 for the rights to “Gone with the Wind,” and the film, produced in 1939, wound up winning several Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director (to Victor Fleming), Best Actress (Vivien Leigh) and Best Supporting Actress (Hattie McDaniel).
LARGEST EXPLOSION IN HISTORY — A blinding light and huge early-morning explosion rocked Siberia near the Tunghuska River, at 7 a.m. local time June 30, 1908. The explosion caused a seismic shock, firestorm, “black rain” and it flattened forests for hundreds of miles. Experts speculated that a meteorite may have caused the explosion, which was considered the largest in recorded history, and had the force of 5-10 megatons of TNT, far more than the man-made atom bomb would produce decades later.
Mysteries remained after the incident: there was no crater, and nobody was killed. However, the explosion impacted much of the world, activating seismic devices in England, and brightening the night skies over Asia.
FOUNDING OF WOMEN’S RIGHTS GROUP — The National Organization for Women was founded at Washington, D.C., on June 30, 1966, as part of the Third National Conference on the Commission on the Status of Women. The group, with urgent acronym of NOW, had as its original mission statement, “Take action to bring women into full participation in the mainstream of American society now, exercising all the privileges and responsibilities thereof in truly equal partnership with men,” according to the organization’s website. NOW’S current Statement of Purpose reads “NOW’s purpose is to take action through intersectional grassroots activism to promote feminist ideals, lead societal change, eliminate discrimination, and achieve and protect the equal rights of all women and girls in all aspects of social, political, and economic life.”
Today, NOW advocates six core issues: reproductive rights for women, ending violence against women, economic justice, LGBT rights, racial justice, and the Constitutional Equality Amendment.
A DAY TO PROTECT DEMOCRACY — The UNITED NATIONS’ INTERNATIONAL DAY OF PARLIAMENTARISM, observed on June 30, offers a critical time for society to reflect on the role of parliamentary democracies in protecting people against nationalist and even fascist movements. The observance calls for parliaments to be strong, transparent, accountable and representative. The observance has its origins on June 30, 1889 when the Inter-Parliamentary Union was founded.
Currently, the International Day of Parliamentarism is recognizing the legislative work being done for the environment, in recognizing new technologies and in encouraging more women and young people to become members of their respective nations’ parliaments. Parliamentary democracies are often also part of constitutional monarchies, including Great Britain, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and The Netherlands.
LEAP SECOND — While much of the world observes a Leap Year every four years, Leap Seconds – next observed on June 30 – are established about every 21 months, with the addition or subtraction of a second to synchronize atomic and astronomical time, to maintain the UTC, or Coordinated Universal Time). The next Leap Second Adjustment takes place on June 30, 2023. The determination of when to adjust the time comes from the International Earth Rotation Service of the International Bureau of Weights and Measures in Paris. The need for Leap Seconds is not a regularly-spaced determination but rather, calculated according to the irregularities of the earth’s rotation, relative to the equator and poles.
Observed since 1972, the Leap Second is scheduled to be abandoned around 2035, being that it has been disruptive to precise time calibration in computers and other devices.
LEGENDARY SINGER FROM BROOKLYN — LENA HORNE, born in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn on June 30, 1917, began singing at age 16 with the chorus line at the Cotton Club in Harlem, and became the icon for African American actors and singers trying to break the color barrier. Although she personally faced racial prejudice throughout her life, she was beloved of Black and white audiences alike. Horne, who died in 2010, is best remembered for her nightclub and Broadway performances of torch songs, jazz standards and classics, like “Stormy Weather.”
The Prospect Park Bandshell was named in Horne’s honor in 2021. The Brooks Atkinson Theatre was also renamed in her honor, making Horne the first Black woman with a Broadway theater namesake.
See previous milestones, here.
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