1912 — The RMS Titanic sets sail on its only voyage

It is probably the best known maritime tragedy in history, and certainly it is the most over-examined. But no one knew what fate awaited the Titanic as it steamed out of Southhampton. They knew only that this was the largest, most luxurious cruise ship ever built.

The Titanic included a number of innovative features, such as possessing both a turbine and two reciprocating engines – a combination that for more versatility in handling and speed. It also, as has been widely attested, possessed rather fewer lifeboats than were necessary to carry the full complement of passengers and crew if anything went wrong – as it did just five days later.

Referenced in:
Desolation Row — Bob Dylan

1963 — William Zantzinger assaults Hattie Carroll, leading to her death

William Zantzinger was, to all appearances, a mean drunk and a racist. In the early morning of February 9, 1963, he assaulted Hattie Carroll, a barmaid, for taking too long to make his drink. He had already assaulted two other staff members at the event – a Spinster’s Ball at the Emerson Hotel in Baltimore. After hitting Carroll with a toy cane, he proceeded to knock his wife to the ground, and continued to be generally abusive and profane to everyone who came near him.

Hattie Carroll was a black woman of 51 years. She was raising children as a single mother, and suffered from a variety of conditions – notably, high blood pressure, an enlarged heart and hardened arteries. When Zantzinger struck her on the neck with his cane, the injury caused a brain hemorrhage that was fatal by 9am that morning. Zantzinger was arrested and charged with murder, although in the end he was convicted only of manslaughter.

Referenced in:
The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll — Bob Dylan

1949 — Cecil B DeMille’s “Samson and Delilah” is released

Cecil B DeMille’s “Samson and Delilah” was the second film version of the tale, and the first to be in colour and sound. The marquee stars were Hedy Lamarr and Victor Mature in the title roles, along with George Sanders as the Saran, Angela Lansbury as Semadar.

The film would go on to become the highest grossing film of 1950, and win two Academy Awards (for Costume Design and Art Direction). A portion of the film’s sets and production would later be recreated in Billy Wilder’s “Sunset Boulevard”, with De Mille playing a character based on himself.

Referenced in:
Tombstone Blues — Bob Dylan

1966 – Rubin Carter is falsely accused by Alfred Bello

Alfred Bello, and his partner-in-crime, Arthur Dexter Bradley, were small-timers. Knocking over factories was their style, and the last thing they wanted to was to get involved in anything more serious.

But on June 17, 1966, they saw two men leaving the Lafayette Bar and Grill is New Jersey – two light-skinned black men, one carrying a pistol, the other a shotgun. They gave statements to the police, and tried not to incriminate themselves.

If that had been as far as it went, it might have been okay. But on October 14 of that year, Bello fingered Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter as one of the shooters. His testimony was essential to the guilty verdict that sent Carter to prison for murder.

In 1974, Bello recanted, claiming that the police had pressured him into making the statement. In 1975, he changed his story yet again, leading to the 1976 over-turning of the convictions of Carter and his alleged accomplice, John Artis. The pair were tried anew and convicted again. Their convictions were over-turned permanently in 1986.

Referenced in:
Hurricane – Bob Dylan

1955 — 14 year old Emmett Till is murdered

Emmett Louis Till, known as “Bobo” was an African American boy from Chicago, Illinois, who was murdered after reportedly whistling at a white woman named Carolyn Bryant in Money, Mississippi (a small town in the state’s Delta region).

He was 14 years old.

His assailants – white men Roy Bryant (Carolyn’s husband) and J.W. Milam – beat him and an gouged out one of his eyes, before shooting him in the head, and throwing him into the Tallahatchie River with a 70-pound cotton gin fan tied to his body with barbed wire. It was three days before his corpse was discovered and retrieved by two fishermen.

Till’s mother insisted on a public funeral service, with an open casket so as to show the world the brutality of the killing. Although the culprits were tried, they were acquitted – although years later they admitted to the murder.

Emmett Till’s murder was widely publicised, and became one of the incidents that led to the growth and importance of the American Civil Rights Movement in the Fifties and Sixties.

Referenced in:
The Death Of Emmett Till — Bob Dylan

1965 – Bob Dylan releases “Like A Rolling Stone”

Although the world is full of songs inspired by stories, few songs can claim to be the remains of one. But Like A Rolling Stone is one that can. Extracted from a short story Dylan wrote, and which he describes as “20 pages of vomit“, the song is about alienation – although whose alienation remains a matter of some debate. (The leading candidates are Edie Sedgwick, Joan Baez and Dylan himself.)

Despite being six minutes long, it was released as a single, and rose to #2 on the American charts, making it Dylan’s biggest hit to that time. (It was beaten out of the top spot by “Help”.) The song marks Dylan’s first use of electric guitar in his music, and thus represents his shift from his folk roots to a more pop sound. Not coincidentally, it also marks the point from which he became a part of the cultural mainstream, albeit remaining an iconoclastic and dissenting part of it.

The song was first performed live by Dylan at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965. Since then, it has been covered by numerous artists, including Jimi Hendrix and the Rolling Stones. In 2004, Rolling Stone magazine proclaimed the song, with its characteristic restraint, “the greatest song of all time.”

Referenced in:
That Says It All – Duncan Sheik