Milestones: Tuesday, October 31, 2023
FOREMOST RELIGIOUS REFORMER — THE PROTESTANT REFORMATION TOOK FORM WHEN MARTIN LUTHER POSTED HIS 95 THESES to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany on Oct. 31. 1517, at least according to legend. What is historical is that Luther, a scholarly Augustinian monk, did write the 95 Theses as a rebuke against the Roman Catholic Church. The church was corrupt at the time, particularly against its selling of indulgences for the remission of sin and for the growing popularity of the idea that repentance was no longer necessary. Luther became a religious reformer against the Roman Church’s excesses. Because he refused to recant beliefs that he believed to be scriptural, and because the indulgences were a source of revenue for the church, Luther was excommunicated with a price placed on his head.
But Martin Luther also had allies among some of Europe’s princes, and he escaped assassination. He died of natural causes on Feb. 18, 1546.
FATAL BOAST — HARRY HOUDINI, THE 20TH CENTURY’S MOST CELEBRATED MAGICIAN AND ESCAPE ARTIST, died on Oct. 31, 1926, of peritonitis in a Detroit hospital, after being punched in the stomach 12 days earlier. At the time of the incident, a group of students were talking with Houdini in Montreal, during which time he boasted of the strength of his stomach muscles and that they could withstand hard blows. However, before he had a chance to prepare himself, one of the students tested this boast and the punch he dealt ruptured Houdini’s appendix. He managed to give one more performance before being hospitalized. Doctors were not able to save the magician and he died on Halloween.
Houdini was not his original name. Born Erik Weisz in Budapest in 1874, the son of a rabbi whose family emigrated from Poland, he showed an early talent as an acrobat, contortionist and lock-picker.
RIGHT PLACE, RIGHT TIME— AS FOUR TRAVELERS NAMED JOHN, PAUL, GEORGE AND RINGO maneuvered their way through Heathrow Airport on Oct. 31, 1963, an American talent show host by the name of Ed Sullivan was also at this London hub. The rock band named the Beatles were returning from a wildly successful tour of Sweden, and Sullivan was returning stateside. He witnessed “Beatlemania” firsthand — the frenzy, usually led by girls and young women who were enamored by the four Brits. Sullivan is said to have invited “the British Invasion”; and five months later, in February 1964, the Beatles played their first tour in America, appearing on the Ed Sullivan Show, after some shrewd negotiations with Beatles manager Brian Epstein.
John Lennon and Paul McCartney wrote a song explicitly tailored to the American market and recorded it just two weeks before their first U.S. trip. That song, “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” was worked into Brian Epstein’s agreement with Capitol Records and the contract with The Ed Sullivan Show.
BASKETBALL FIRSTS: A 21-YEAR-OLD STAR PLAYER NAMED EARL LLOYD BECAME THE FIRST AFRICAN AMERICAN TO PLAY IN AN NBA GAME when, on Oct. 31, 1950 he took the court in the season opener for the Washington Capitols. Coming from Jim Crow Virginia, Lloyd was the star of West Virginia State’s championship basketball team. He didn’t even learn directly from the NBA that they had drafted him, but rather from a friend who had heard a rumor that he’d be playing for a team in Washington. When Lloyd joined the Washington Capitols, his teammates were friendly and welcoming; they had played for integrated teams before. But he encountered vitriol from some of the fans.
Earl Lloyd was drafted again — this time by Uncle Sam. Serving in the U.S. Army, he was deployed to Korea. Upon his return to civilian life, he joined the Syracuse Nationals and then the Detroit Pistons. He retired in 1961 and died in 2015, at age 86.
EARNED BB LEGEND CHARLES BARKLEY’S RESPECT — ANOTHER BASKETBALL FIRST HAPPENED on Oct. 31, 1997, some 47 years after Earl Lloyd’s entry into the NBA. The first woman to officiate at an NBA game was 33-year-old Violet Palmer was announced as the officiant before the tip-off of the Dallas Mavericks-Vancouver Grizzlies’ game. Palmer had previous experience, officiating the women’s Final Four, WNBA and NBA Summer League games prior to her first NBA regular-season game. Violet Palmer earned the respect of her fellow referees, coaches and players — and a hard-earned respect from basketball star Charles Barkley, who said that NBA was a “man’s game.” Barkley later apologized to Palmer, approaching her after a game and declaring, “Charles came up to me and he said, ‘You know what? I was wrong.’”
More firsts: Palmer also was the first openly gay referee (she came out in 2014) and first woman to referee an NBA playoff game.
See previous milestones, here.
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