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Milestones: Monday, July 17, 2023

July 17, 2023 Brooklyn Eagle Staff
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TOOK OFF FROM BROOKLYN AIRFIELD — “WRONG WAY” CORRIGAN DAY marks the 85th anniversary of Douglas Groce Corrigan’s famous transatlantic flight from Brooklyn’s Floyd Bennett Field to Ireland. Corrigan, an unemployed airplane mechanic who was either stubbornly lucky or a hapless success, set out for Los Angeles in a 1929 Curtiss Robin monoplane. He had just arrived in New York from LA and immediately filed and planned to cross the Atlantic solo; however, authorities ruled this to be a suicide mission and instructed him to return to California. He took off to the west, but then made a 180-degree turn and disappeared into the clouds. Corrigan landed 28 hours, 13 minutes later at Dublin’s Baldonnel Airport after a 3,150-mile nonstop flight. His plane lacked radio and navigation equipment and his trip violated both U.S. and Irish flight regulations.

Although the authorities didn’t believe Corrigan’s claim that his compass had malfunctioned, or that he had “read the wrong end of the needle,” he received a hero’s welcome from regular folk for his pure dumb luck. Or was it?


FASCISM RISES IN SPAIN: THE SPANISH CIVIL WAR began on July 17, 1936, when General Francisco Franco led an uprising of army troops against the elected Republican government. Spain was divided into Republican and Nationalist zones, the latter of whom drew support from Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany. The fight was on many levels, including fascism versus communism and liberal or socialist versus conservative. The Nationalists got another major victory in 1939 and Franco, its leader, stayed in power as Spain’s dictator until 1975.

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Democratization in Spain after 1975 was gradual, and the nation is now a constitutional (parliamentary) monarchy, as are many European nations, including Great Britain, the Netherlands, and the Scandinavian countries of Denmark, Norway and Sweden. The prime minister, rather than the monarch, has the day-to-day authority in governing.


GERMANY’S POST-WAR FATE — Germany’s partitioning and future after World War II was the subject of the Potsdam Conference, held in the German city of Potsdam from July 17 to Aug. 2, 1945. The three major Allied nations — the United States, the Soviet Union and Great Britain — convened and on August 1 released a 6,000-word document that itemized the strategy for disarming Germany, abolishing the Nazi party, and dividing the country into four sectors; France would administer one of these zones. The Soviet Union, which had suffered the greatest under the Nazis and Axis power, received the most significant share of the reparations and also benefited from territorial claims.

The Potsdom Conference also set the war crimes trials for the Nazi leaders.


AMERICA’S FIRST THEME PARK — DISNEYLAND opened on July 17, 1955, in Anaheim California, the fruit of Walt Disney, a film animator who created many movies for children of all ages (including grownups) based on fairy tale themes. During the early 1950s, Disney embarked on the design of a large amusement park (selecting the Los Angeles area), which would have educational as well as entertainment value. Construction began in 1954 and by the summer of 1955, Disneyland was ready for its grand opening. However, someone counterfeited the opening day invitations, resulting in crowds of thousands crashing the event, depleting concessions and nearly capsizing the Mark Twain Steamboat from being over the occupancy limit.

The park did recover, and in 1971, an even larger Disney theme park and resort community opened near Orlando in central Florida, with Magic Kingdom as the first major attraction. One of the original features at Florida’s Disney World was the Hall of Presidents, which today includes Joe Biden. Epcot Center, Disney-MGM Studios, and Animal Kingdom were later additions.


SCIENTIFIC PHOTOGRAPHER — BERENICE ABBOTT, born 125 years ago on July 17, 1898, was a pioneer of American photography, best known for her black-and-white (sometimes called silver gelatinous for the process used) prints. She also studied sculpture in Paris and possessed an innate sense of form. Upon her return to New York in 1929, and discovering how the city’s landscape had changed, she set out to photograph the buildings, still keeping a keen eye on form. Her documentary project of the city on the eve of the Great Depression was supported by the Works Progress Administration (WPA) Federal Art Project during the mid-1930s, and debuted in 1939 as a traveling exhibition and publication “Changing New York,” according to the Museum of Modern Art’s (MoMA) website.

Abbott’s following project involved photographic scientific experiments involving the laws and processes of physics.


BORN POOR BUT BUILT A DYNASTY — JOHN JACOB ASTOR, born July 17, 1763, was the founder of what is now considered the first American business monopoly. He established the American Fur Company in the first decade of the 19th century — 1808), having entered the fur trade when he opened a fur goods store in New York City. He then expanded his business dealings to the Great Lakes area and to Canada. He was also able to expand to China.

Astor later turned to real estate and purchased land, leasing it to others to build, thus helping New York grow into a major city. At the time of his death, he was worth some $20 million.


VERVE AND BALLS — PHYLLIS DILLER, born July 17, 1917, was a pioneer woman and comedian for over six decades. She made her stand-up comedy debut as a 30ish housewife, and later appeared on “The Tonight Show” and “The Ed Sullivan Show” as her popularity expanded. She acted in films alongside her mentor and friend, Bob Hope, and was a TV regular.

Diller was an author as well, with many lighthearted books, including “The Joys of Ageing, and How to Avoid Them.”


ROOT OF THE WORD GERRYMANDER — Name: ELBRIDGE GERRY, born July 17, 1744, in Massachusetts, was the fifth vice president of the United States (1813-14) under the administration of James Madison. He died in office in November 1814, but not before fulfilling his role as a founding father, having helped organize the early colonial resistance that led up to the Revolutionary War, and later as a signer of the Declaration of Independence; however, initially he refused to sign the Constitution on the ground that it lacked a Bill of Rights. Gerry was known as an impartial statesman who disdained political parties and believed that legislatures should work in solidarity.

Yet Gerry’s name was given to the decidedly partisan practice of gerrymandering, the drawing of voting district maps to favor one party over the other.

See previous milestones, here.

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