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Milestones: Friday, September 15, 2023

September 15, 2023 Brooklyn Eagle Staff
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ALABAMA CHURCH BOMBED — FOUR YOUNG GIRLS WERE KILLED IN A BOMBING OF 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, on Sept. 15, 1963. This marked the third bombing in 11 days following the federal court order to integrate Alabama’s school system. Alabama Governor George Wallace, whose administration prioritized continued racial segregation, resisted the mandate. The bomb, consisting of 15 sticks of dynamite, detonated at 10:19 a.m. that morning underneath the girls’ restroom, killing three 14-year-olds: Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson and Addie Mae Collins; and Denise McNair, who was 11. Governor Wallace punished the Black community for protesting at the crime scene, deploying hundreds of police and state troopers to disperse the crowd. Notwithstanding the increased public outrage, FBI director J. Edgar Hoover blocked the prosecution and shut down any investigation — five years later, in 1968, a landmark year for civil rights unrest.

Alabama Attorney General Bill Baxley later reopened the case against the four bombers, but the first conviction wasn’t handed down until 1977, and two of the others were tried and convicted in 2000; a fourth had already died.


POIROT GETS AN OBIT — FAMOUS DETECTIVE NOVELIST AGATHA CHRISTIE WAS BORN as Mary Clarissa Agatha Miller on Sept. 15, 1890 in Devon, England. A creative child, he made up stories, a trait that became contagious to her mother and older sister, Madge. She married a colonel named Archibald Christie in 1914 before the start of World War I; even though they later divorced, she retained his name. Christie penned her first story on a dare — the mystery novel, “The Mysterious Affair at Styles” (1920), which introduced the Belgian detective named Hercule Poirot. Later, Agatha Christie would create one of the most beloved detectives in literature: “Miss Marple.” By the end of her life, Christie had written 80 novels, 30 short story collections, and 15 plays. Under a nom de plume, she also wrote romance novels.

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After Christie killed off Poirot in “Curtain, Hercule Poirot’s Last Case,” the New York Times paid tribute to the fictional detective with a front-page obituary.


GREENPEACE — TRYING TO PREVENT A NUCLEAR BOMB FROM BEING TESTED, a group of activists repurposed a fishing vessel, christened it the Greenpeace, and set sail from Vancouver on Sept. 15, 1971. The United States had planned to test a nuclear bomb beneath the Alaskan island of Amchitka. Residents of the Pacific coastline were deeply fearful that the bomb to be tested, which was near a geological fault line, could spell disaster. The group, named Don’t Make a Wave, had drawn its inspiration from a 1958 attempt to disrupt nuclear testing, decided to risk the lives of people in Greenpeace so that the government would be compelled to abort the plan. The Nixon administration simply delayed the test until Nov. 1, 1971. The environmental warnings came true in the form of a giant shock wave and contamination of the body of water from radioactive particles.

Although Greenpeace was powerless to stop that test, the pressure and negative publicity they waged led the U.S. to abandon the testing program at Amchitka.


PREFERRED LAW TO POLITICS — WILLIAM HOWARD TAFT, born into a politically prominent Ohio family on Sept. 15, 1857, was the only person to become both U.S. President and Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court (the latter from 1921-30). He earned degrees at Yale and Cincinnati Law School, returning to Yale as a faculty member teaching law. A progressive Republican and close with President Theodore Roosevelt, whom he succeeded During his own Presidency, Taft inconspicuously continued Roosevelt’s policies of breaking up corporate monopolies and he established the federal Department of Labor. But it wasn’t until he left the White House (losing graciously — and happily) in a split vote to Woodrow Wilson that Taft truly entered his element. Early in his career, he had aspired to the Supreme Court and finally realized this goal when President Warren G. Harding appointed him Chief Justice, a role that Taft relished for his love of constitutional law. 

The Taft family has remained active in Ohio Republican politics for several generations and can trace their presence here to the mid-17th century. The most recent Taft descendant to serve is Robert Alphonso Taft III, who was governor from 1999-2007, and Ohio Secretary of State and Congressman before that.


TENACITY PAID OFF — FRANKIE VALLI AND THE FOUR SEASONS GOT THEIR FIRST #1 HIT on Sept. 15, 1962 with “Sherry.” Valli was this lead singer’s stage name; he was born as Francesco Stephen Castelluccio in Newark, New Jersey. The band’s original name had been the Four Lovers, which in 1961 was changed to The Four Seasons, the name of the bowling alley where they had failed an audition. But that flop led them to a more fruitful path and got them three consecutive #1 hits. Keyboard player Bob Gaudio wrote the song that would launch the group’s career. “Sherry” was released as a single in August 1962 and shot up to the top of the pop charts just four weeks later, on Sept. 15.

Another of The Four Seasons’ #1 hits, “Oh, What A Night,” which originally topped the charts in  (titled “December 1963”)  was reprised in March 1976, for the Disco Purrfection version.


UNFORGETTABLE IMAGE — THE FAMOUS PICTURE OF MARILYN MONROE, laughing as her skirt is blown up by the blast from a subway vent, was shot on Sept. 15, 1954 during the filming of “The Seven Year Itch.” The actress had come a long way, completely reinvented after her very unhappy childhood.  Her soft-spoken voice and girlish mannerisms enhanced her sex appeal; she once sang “Happy Birthday,” to President John F. Kennedy. However, the scene from “The Seven Year Itch,” angered Monroe’s husband, former Yankees center fielder Joe DiMaggio; and it factored in the couple’s divorce shortly afterward, after only a year of marriage. Monroe, only 36 at the time, died of an apparent drug overdose in 1962; but some conspiracy theorists believe that, after her rumored affairs with both President John and Bobby Kennedy, the two had her killed because she knew too much about them.

The divorce from Joe DiMaggio notwithstanding, he obviously still loved her, sending flowers to her grave every week for the rest of his life.

See previous milestones, here.

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