Milestones: Tuesday, August 15, 2023
WOODSTOCK FESTIVAL ALMOST DIDN’T HAPPEN — The famous Woodstock music festival opened on Friday, Aug. 15, 1969, on a patch of farmland in upstate New York. The location was a last-minute save for the festival, which was almost cancelled after the towns of Woodstock — for which the festival was named — and Walkill denied permission for the event to be held within their jurisdictions. Then, a dairy farmer, Max Yasgur, came to the rescue, offering to hold the event on his land. The festival, whose mission was to underwrite the construction of a recording studio and rock-and-roll retreat, attracted some top names, including Jefferson Airplane (later called Jefferson Starship), the Who, the Grateful Dead, Sly and the Family Stone, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, and Creedence Clearwater Revival.
Tickets to the three-day event ranged from $18-$24, a fraction of the cost of attending rock concerts. However, admission eventually became free as people without tickets still managed to climb fences to gain access. Rock concerts nowadays top $80 per tickets, largely to pay promoters.
THE HISTORICAL MACBETH — During the Battle of Lumphanan, King Macbeth of Scotland was slain on Aug. 15, 1057 by Malcolm Canmore, the son of King Duncan I, whom Macbeth had murdered almost exactly 17 years earlier — on Aug.14, 1040. King Macbeth suffered a major military defeat three years prior at the Battle of Dunsinane against Siward, the earl of Northumbria. Malcolm then gained control of the southern part of Scotland and spent the next three years pursuing Macbeth, who fled to the north. Macbeth again faced Malcolm who killed him and then was crowned Malcolm III in 1058.
Shakespeare’s tragedy, titled Macbeth, made its premiere 5 ½ centuries later, in 1606. Although also about the Scottish king of the same name, the story line diverts from the historical account, and brings in a ruthlessly ambitious queen, Lady Macbeth. The historical Macbeth’s wife was named Gruoch ingen Boite, the widow of Gille Coemgáin mac Maíl Brigti, Mormaer of Moray, who had died — possibly murdered by MacBeth, his cousin. Gruoch then married Macbeth.
‘SEVENTH WONDER OF THE MODERN WORLD’ — The Panama Canal, considered one of the seven wonders of the modern world, was opened to traffic on Aug. 15, 1914, after five years of construction and even more time in evaluation, as American engineers decided on a lock canal to connect the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans to avoid the circuitous route of sailing around the southern tip of South America. The need for such a passageway dated back to the early 16th century Spanish explorers, and over the next four centuries, several attempted to build a canal, including France, whose Count Ferdinand de Lesseps, had built the Suez Canal, which opened in 1869. The United States purchased the French infrastructure in the canal zone in 1902, during Theodore Roosevelt’s Presidency; and after the Colombian government rejected a treaty to build on what was then their land, helped instigate an independence movement for Panama.
The U.S. then drew up the Hay-Bunau-Varilla Treaty, which was signed with the new nation of Panama, granting America exclusive and permanent possession of the Panama Canal Zone, and paying the host country an annuity of $250,000, which did not sit well with the citizenry. Ultimately, the canal was given back to Panama’s control in 1999, as part of a treaty during the Carter administration.
INDEPENDENCE LED TO STRIFE — The Indian Independence Bill took effect at the stroke of midnight on Aug. 15, 1947, creating from the former Mogul Empire the separate nations of India and Pakistan. This long-awaited agreement, which Indian independence leader Mohandas Gandhi acclaimed as the “noblest act of the British nation,” ended 200 years of British rule. However, the independence also ushered in a period of religious strife – and some say racist violence – between India’s Hindu majority and Pakistan, which was Muslim-dominated. During the first few days after independence began, hundreds of people were killed during an uprising in Indian’s northern Punjab province.
Gandhi himself became a casualty of the religious strife; just five months afterward, in January 1948, when a Hindu fanatic assassinated him during a prayer meeting convened to end Muslim-Hindu violence.
AMERICAN TROOPS LEAVE AFGHANISTAN — Pakistan’s neighbor to the northwest, Afghanistan, which had been embroiled in a 20-year war with the United States since the 9/11 terror attacks to oust the Taliban and hunt down Osama bin Laden, again fell to the Taliban on Aug. 15, 2021. President Joe Biden, who coined the conflict as “America’s Longest War,” had ordered the withdrawal of troops from the region. Just two weeks before the official withdrawal, Taliban leaders enter the capital city of Kabul with scant resistance, and the Afghan government collapsed. Consequentially, its president Ashraf Ghani fled. Even amid harsh criticism, President Biden defended the withdrawal, whose terms his predecessor, President Donald Trump, had negotiated, with a May 1, 2021 deadline. Biden, who won the next presidential election, also wanted to see a withdrawal from Afghanistan, but delayed the deadline to Aug. 31. In June 2021, Officials had warnedthat Kabul would capitulate within six to 12 months. The collapse instead took place within hours.
The Afghanistan operation claimed the lives of 2,448 American military members, 3,846 U.S. contractors, and more than 100,000 Afghans.
APOCALYPSE NOW! — “Apocalypse Now,” the acclaimed Vietnam War film directed by Francis Ford Coppola, opened in U.S. theaters on Aug. 15, 1979. The film’s inspiration had in part been Joseph Conrad’s 1899 novella “Heart of Darkness.” The storyline in “Apocalypse Now” follows an Army captain (Martin Sheen) and his crew who are deployed into the Cambodian jungle to kill a U.S. Special Forces colonel (Marlon Brando) who has gone AWOL and is believed insane. “Apocalypse Now,” which co-starred Robert Duvall and Dennis Hopper, became notorious for its long, difficult production, including major health issues for Martin Sheen and director Coppola.
However, “Apocalypse Now” was a commercial and critical success, winning two Academy Awards, for Best Cinematography and Best Sound, and nominations for six other Oscars, including Best Director, Best Picture and Best Supporting Actor (Duvall).
RECORD-BREAKING CROWD — THE BEATLES PLAYED NEW YORK’S SHEA STADIUM on Aug. 15, 1965, marking the first time a venue of its size hosted a rock concert. The Beatles attracted a record-breaking crowd of 55,600. The Fab Four opened with “Twist and Shout.” This concert grossed $304,000.
A documentary entitled “The Beatles at Shea Stadium” was later produced about the event.
MENTIONED IN CASABLANCA — CONGO (BRAZZAVILLE) NATIONAL DAY is observed on Aug. 15, as the occasion on which the People’s Republic of the Congo got their independence. During World War II, Brazzaville and the rest of French Equatorial Africa remained beyond the control of Vichy France, which served the Nazi occupation.
Capt. Louis Renault (Claude Rains) mentions Brazzaville, when he suggests to Rick (Humphrey Bogart) that they join the free French community there, in the closing scene of the Oscar-winning movie Casablanca (1942).
See previous milestones, here.
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