Milestones: Wednesday, August 9, 2023
UNPRECEDENTED SUCCESSION — Vice President Gerald R. Ford was sworn in as the 38th president of the United States on Aug. 9, 1974, taking his oath of office in the East Room of the White House. He then addressed the nation on television, declaring. “My fellow Americans, our long national nightmare is over.” Ford thus became both the first president and vice president to rise to these offices without having been elected to either. Ford, who had served in Congress for 25 years as a well-respected Representative from Michigan, was appointed Vice President after the resignation of Spiro T. Agnew, who faced corruption and tax evasion charges unrelated to the Watergate scandal. Nixon drew on his power under the 25th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution to appoint Ford as his new vice president who, already familiar to and well-liked in Congress, was readily confirmed and took office on December 6, 1973. Eight months and three days later, after Nixon resigned, Ford became President.
Related to Ford’s becoming President, a new commemoration was created: VEEP Day, which observes August 9 as the day when the new constitutional provisions for presidential succession took effect.
DRAMATIC EXIT — JetBlue flight attendant Steven Slater slid off the job — and the airplane where he worked — on Aug. 9, 2010. Angered over what he claimed was an abusive passenger who argued with him over luggage after the flight landed at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport, Slater activated the emergency escape chute and slid partway down — but had to scramble back up to the plane to collect his own forgotten luggage. Slater, who was the son of a pilot and a flight attendant, became a media sensation, folk hero and icon of overworked flight stewards.
He was, however, penalized: He had to post $2,500 bail, pleaded guilty to criminal mischief and reckless endangerment, and was ordered to compensate the airline $10,000 for the damaged emergency and submit to ongoing psychiatric evaluations. Perhaps the income from commercial product endorsement income and reality TV offers helped pay off these penalties.
LEGENDARY GUITARIST — Rock icon Jerry Garcia (born as Jerome John Garcia on Aug. 1, 1942) died just eight days after his 53rd birthday. Garcia had formed the band Grateful Dead (renamed from the original “Warlocks”) and became a legendary guitarist and pop icon. Garcia in 1965 joined forces with bassist Phil Lesh, rhythm guitarist Bob Weir, organist Ron “Pigpen” McKernan and drummer Bill Kreutzman. The band was still together and going strong three decades later and Garcia was prolific up until his death from a heart attack, while at a residential drug-treatment facility in California.
Among the Grateful Dead’s most enduring songs were “Sugar Magnolia” (from the album ‘American Beauty’/1970), “Sugar Magnolia” (also from American Beauty and “Scarlet Begonias.” Ben & Jerry, founders of a favorite social-justice oriented ice cream company, named a popular flavor in tribute to the Grateful Dead guitarist: “Cherry Garcia.”)
LIVING SIMPLY — Henry David Thoreau’s classic “Walden,” or, “A Life in the Woods,” which is required reading in many classrooms today, was published on Aug. 9, 1854, But at first it sold only about 300 copies a year. The initial print run was 2,000 copies, with each book priced at $1. Walden/A Life in the Woods is a first-person account of American transcendentalist Thoreau’s experiment in simple living at Walden Pond in Concord, Massachusetts, where he farmed, ate and sold his crops, including beans, potatoes, corn, peas and turnips. His only income was from the labor of his hands.
Walden was one of two full-length books that Thoreau published, in addition to his famous essay, “Civil Disobedience.” Thoreau’s first book, “A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers,” released in 1849, was also written during his time at Walden, and was a memorial to his late brother John.
CONQUERED ROME AND GRANTED RIGHTS TO WOMEN — The Visigoths, a semi-barbarian group of warriors, defeated the large Roman Army on Aug. 9, 378 (fourth century, Common Era) in one of the most decisive battles in history, the Battle of Adrianople (also spelled Hadrianopolis, in modern-day Turkey). Valens, the Roman emperor of the East, had earlier defeated the Germanic Visigoths who, under their leader Fritigern, were given permission to settle south of the Danube. However, Roman officials began oppressing the Visigoths, who then rose in revolt, routing and slaughtering two thirds of the Roman army, including Emperor Valens.
The Visigoths became the predominant power in western Europe from the 5th through 8th centuries Common Era, and they ruled Spain for a long time. The Visigoth code of law actually granted several rights to women and families, including family law and the property rights of married women. Spain continued the code of law which evolved into the present-day community property system in much of Western Europe.
MURDERED FILM DIRECTOR’S WIFE — Five people, including actress and wife of film director Roman Polanski were murdered when members of Charles Manson’s cult broke into his California home on Aug. 9, 1969. Polanski, the director of Rosemary’s Baby, which was released in 1968, the same year he married Sharon Tate, was not home at the time. Within 48 hours, Manson’s disciples also murdered supermarket executive Leno LaBianca and his wife Rosemary, ironically named Rosemary, in their home.
Manson had attracted a group of hippies, established a commune that indulged in drugs and orgies, and called themselves “The Family.” He taught his disciples an unconventional blend of religious teachings, which apparently did not include the 6th Commandment.
BELOVED ICON — American singer and actress WHITNEY HOUSTON, whose accidental 2012 drowning death in a bathtub shocked the musical world, would have turned 60 on Aug. 9. Born on this date in 1963, she was 48 when she drowned. Houston, who grew up singing in church choirs, made her acting debut in 1992 with the romantic thriller, “The Bodyguard” (1992), whose soundtrack recording won the Grammy Award for Album of the Year. Still a bestseller, the album had several hit singles. The Grammy Awards were held the day after her death, and paid tribute to her.
Whitney Houston was the cousin of another famed pop singer, Dionne Warwick, and was related also to legendary operatic soprano Leontyne Price.
A LONG WAY FROM BOSTON — American Merchant Sea Captain ROBERT GRAY became the first American to circumnavigate earth, on Aug. 9, 1790. Three years earlier, he set sail from Boston, MA, in September 1787 to trade with the indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest. He then sailed further west, across the Pacific Ocean to China — and kept sailing. Gray’s journey of 42,000 miles succeeded in opening trade between New England and the Pacific Northwest. It also helped the United States establish claims to the Oregon Territory.
Gray died at sea at age 51, reportedly of yellow fever and was at the time situated near South Carolina. He left behind a wife and four daughters.
See previous milestones, here.
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