Milestones: Monday, October 30, 2023
ORSON WELLES SCARED THE PEOPLE — “THE WAR OF THE WORLDS” WAS BROACAST ON OCT. 30, 1938, THE NIGHT BEFORE HALLOWEEN, alarming listeners who were tuned into the radio program more than kids dressed up as witches, ghosts or monsters could have done. A very young Orson Welles (he was 23 at the time) and his Mercury Theater Company adapted H.G. Welles’ 19th century sci-fi novel for national radio, at a time just before World War II when radio was in its heyday. Welles already had a name for himself as the voice of “The Shadow,” in the eponymous program. Although the radio announcer on the CBS network had at the start announced the program as “The War of the Worlds,” many listeners tuned in late because of another popular show on NBC with ventriloquist Edgar Bergen and his puppet, Charlie McCarthy. The program began with typical news and weather announcements, and an orchestra playing music, before Welles broke in with a realistic-sounding scare — a metallic cylinder crashing in a New Jersey field, and the creatures emerging from it overpowering seven thousand National Guard troops, spraying poisonous gas and creating a national panic as the Martians landed in other cities like Chicago. The Federal Communications Commission investigated the program but decided no laws had been violated.
The legendary program did lead to networks being more careful in their broadcast selections. And it also gave Welles his big break as a screenwriter, actor and director; Hollywood studio RKO Pictures signed him and gave him great latitude. Welles wrote, produced, directed and starred in “Citizen Kane,” one of the greatest, critically successful films of all time.
UNDERSTOOD GOVERNMENT — FOUNDING FATHER AND SECOND U.S. PRESIDENT JOHN ADAMS WAS BORN ON OCT. 30, 1735. The descendant of a Plymouth Rock pilgrim and born into a farming family, young Adams enrolled at Harvard University at age 16 and was a schoolteacher before reading law and joining the Second Continental Congress. The anonymously-published pamphlet, “Thoughts on Government,” is attributed to him and proposed the three branches of government as tiers, with the bicameral legislature, executive and judiciary. Adams also helped broker the 1783 treaty that ended the Revolutionary War.
While Adams and Thomas Jefferson, who authored the Declaration of Independence, became close friends and served in President Washington’s cabinet, there was some rivalry between them.
OTTOMAN EMPIRE QUITS WWI — GREAT BRITAIN AND THE OTTOMAN EMPIRE SIGNED AN ARMISTICE TREATY on Oct. 30, 1918, just 12 days before the Armistice between the Allies and Germany that ended World War I. The Oct. 30 treaty with the Ottoman Empire, though, ended its participation in that war. Having entered the First World War in 1914 alongside the Central Powers, and with Turks being victorious over the Allies during the Allied invasion of Gallipoli, the Ottoman Empire later suffered defeat when British and Russian troops invaded; add to that an Arab revolt. With its economy destroyed, the Ottoman Empire representatives signed the armistice with their counterparts from Great Britain aboard the British ship Agamemnon.
The battleship Agamemnon was named for a warrior who, according to Greek mythology, was a Mycenaean king who commanded the Greeks during the Trojan Wara.
HIGH SOCIETY — CAROLINE WEBSTER “LINA” SCHERMERHORN ASTOR, who was born Sept. 22, 1830, and died on Oct. 30, 1908, was a prominent New York socialite and leader of The Four Hundred, a phrase coined to describe the 19th century “Knickerbocracy,” or the view that New York City had only 400 people who “really mattered,” in terms of power or influence, regardless of their vast wealth. After her marriage to William Backhouse Astor Jr., she became known as simply “the Mrs. Astor.” She was also the mother of Colonel John Jacob Astor IV, one of the RMS Titanic victims, and the matriarch of the male Astor line. But she was born into prominence: Abraham Schermerhorn, part of a long genealogy of Dutch shipping magnates and vessel owners, was her father. Abraham Astor was the fourth generation of ship owners who traded between New York and South Carolina during the Revolutionary War.
Abraham Schermerhorn inherited land in Brooklyn’s Gowanus section onto which he built the Green-Wood Cemetery, and was buried there. Schermerhorn Street was named for this family. However, Carolina Astor was buried at Trinity Church Cemetery in upper Manhattan.
CLANDESTINE NOVELIST — “SENSE AND SENSIBILITY” was published anonymously on Oct. 30, 1811, although a small circle of people learned that its author was Jane Austen. The daughter of a clergyman, Jane was a voracious reader who, like most writers, was also a keen observer, and received education from her father after completing five years of formal schooling. At one point, while her family lived in Bath, England, she observed and wrote about ridiculous society manners. Jane’s sister Cassandra, with whom Jane was close, became her editor and critic; but Jane continued to write clandestinely, and Britons knew only that “Sense and Sensibility” had been written “by a lady.” Jane Austen’s later novels, “Pride and Prejudice” (1813), “Mansfield Park” (1814), and “Emma” (1815) are now classic literature and required reading for most prep school and college students.
She died at age 42, having rejected many marriage proposals. Jane was a keen observer of love and romance, as her novels dealt with those themes. However, she understood also that marriage was primarily a contractual, economical arrangement between families more than it was “true love.”
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