1958 – “White Wilderness” premieres

The legendary documentary that began the whole “lemmings commit suicide” myth, White Wilderness was 72 minutes of the Disney Corporation making nature more interesting (for a given value of ‘interesting’) in another ‘True Life Adventure’. The scene of the lemmings jumping into the ocean has been at the centre of a number of controversies over the years – it’s actually a river, not the ocean; the filmakers built an apparatus to push the lemmings along; and, of course, lemmings are no more suicidal than any other species.

To be fair, at no point does the narration state that the lemmings are deliberately committing suicide, but nonetheless, this is the starting point of that urban legend.

Referenced in:
Lemmings — Blink 182
Hey Lord, Don’t Ask Me Questions — Graham Parker
Potshot Heard ‘Round The World — Dead Kennedys

1958 — Charles Starkweather’s murder spree begins

On January 21, 1958, 19 year old Charles Starkweather went to the house of his girlfriend, 14 year old Caril Ann Fugate. She wasn’t home, but her parents and sister were. Starkweather killed the three, and when Caril arrived home, she helped him to hide their bodies. Six days later, they took to the road to evade the police.

By the time the couple were arrested on January 29, they had killed another seven people – although exactly which of the pair killed some of them was disputed (they each accused the other). Starkweather was tried and convicted for the murders. He was executed on June 25, 1950, while Fugate served 17 years in prison for her part (as a minor, she was considered to have diminished responsibility).

Referenced in:
Hate So Real — J Church
All I Want — Kenny Brown
Stark Weather — Icky Blossoms
Badlands — Bruce Springsteen
Nebraska — Bruce Springsteen
We Didn’t Start the Fire — Billy Joel
The Story Of Charles Starkweather — Tumblin’ Go Go’s
Badlands (Charles Starkweather & Caril Fugate) — Church of Misery

1958 – The discovery of Nobelium is announced

Nobelium is a trans-uranic element whose atomic number is 102. A radioactive metal, it was first created in April 1958 by a team at the University of California’s Berkeley campus. The members of the team were Albert Ghiorso, Torbjorn Sikkeland, John R. Walton and Glenn Seaborg.

They named the newly discovered element after Alfred Nobel, which may or may not have been intended as a tiny hint to the Nobel Prize Committee. There is some controversy regarding this date, with several different teams claiming to have discovered Nobelium at different times, but this one seems to be the most commonly cited.

Referenced in:
The Fez – The Dead Milkmen

1958 – Lebanon calls on U.S. for military aid

Lebanon had spent the previous few years threatened by a civil war between the Maronite Christians and the Muslims who were its two major religious divisions. As a rule, the Maronites were aligned with the West, and the Muslims with Egypt under Gamel Nasser. Relations with Egypt and Syria had grown tense, further exacerbating the situation.

Finally, the toppling of Iraq’s pro-Western government on July 14 provoked President Chamoun’s call for U.S. assistance. President Eisenhower responded with Operation Blue Bat, commencing on July 15, and ultimately lasting until October 25, 1958. In that time, US forces quelled dissent and helped to stabilise the government. At the time, it was considered a great success, but there are always unintended consequences: in historical terms, however, it can be seen as one more resentment spurring Muslim extremism against the US.

Referenced in:

We Didn’t Start The Fire – Billy Joel

1958 – The Algiers Putsch begins

Against the background of the troubled Fourth Republic of France and the ongoing Algerian War of Independence (which ran from 1954 to 1962), a group of French officers in Algiers mounted a coup with the twin goals of humiliating the current French government and creating a powerbase for the return of former French President Charles de Gaulle to power. They captured Algeria with little difficulty, and on May 24, invaded and captured the island of Corsica, another French possession.

They conspirators were very successful – De Gaulle was returned to power on May 29, little more than a fortnight later. De Gaulle immediately began a policy of sweeping reforms, including constitutional changes, and on October 5, the Fifth French Republic was proclaimed, with De Gaulle at its head. Things could have gone quite differently, though – the Gaullist faction had made plans for a military assault and seizure of Paris if their goals were not met.

Referenced in:

We Didn’t Start The Fire – Billy Joel