1968 — Apollo 8’s crew become the first humans to see the Dark Side of the Moon

Commander Frank Borman, Command Module Pilot James Lovell, and Lunar Module Pilot William Anders set a lot of records on their flight. The crew of Apollo 8 were the first to travel beyond low Earth orbit, the first to see Earth as a whole planet, the first to directly see the far side of the Moon, and then the first to witness Earthrise. The 1968 mission, the third flight of the Saturn V rocket and that rocket’s first manned launch, was also the first human spaceflight launch from the Kennedy Space Center, Florida, located adjacent to Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

Even today, nearly 50 years on, only another 21 people have ever looked upon the Dark or Far Side of the Moon with their naked eyes, and the last of them did so in 1972. Kind of makes you wonder what happened to us, that we’ve apparently lost that ambition and idealism.

Referenced in:
The Point of No Return — Immortal Technique

1801 — The “Puffing Devil” is first demonstrated

Constructed by Richard Trevithick in Camborne, Cornwall, the Puffing Devil holds the distinction of being the world’s first steam rail locomotive. On its inaugural run, on Christmas Eve 1801, it carried six passengers and a steersman, Trevithick’s cousin, Andrew Vivian. The run was considered quite successful by Trevithick, notwithstanding the accidental destruction of the engine a few days later.

In 1802, Trevithick would take out a patent on a high pressure steam engine (also the first of its kind), and in 1803, he built another steam locomotive, which was more successful than the Puffing Devil. The emblematic invention of the Industrial Revolution would transform the world over the next few decades.

Referenced in:

It’s A Man’s Man’s Man’s World — James Brown

1956 – The Grinch steals Christmas

In an audacious daylight robbery, an individual known only by the nom du crime of “The Grinch” disguised himself as Santa Claus on this day in 1956, and stole a variety of Christmas-related items – presents, food and decorations – from the sleepy hamlet of Whoville.

However, the alleged Grinch later experienced a change of heart (n.b. witness accounts make it clear that this is no metaphor) and returned all of the stolen goods. The citizens of Whoville declined to press charges.

Referenced in:

Lonely Christmas Eve — Ben Folds

1895 – “Stagger” Lee Shelton kills William Lyons

Lee Shelton (sometimes spelled Sheldon) killed William Lyons in a bar run by one Bill Curtis in St Louis, on Christmas Eve, 1895.

Shelton was a cab driver who moonlighted as a pimp – he was in fact a member of a group of fashion-conscious pimps called the Macks. Perhaps this explains his murder of Lyons, who, in the course of a lengthy argument with Shelton, grabbed the other man’s hat and refused to return it even when Shelton drew on him. So Shelton shot him.

He was convicted of the murder, and spent the rest of his life in prison, where he died of tuberculosis in 1912. He almost certainly heard at least one version of the multitude of variants that exist of the song about his crime.

Referenced in:

Stagger Lee – Lloyd Price
Stagolee – Mississippi John Hurt
Stagger Lee – Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds

The above selection includes just a few of my favoourite versions – there are literally hundreds out there.

1974 – Cyclone Tracy hits Darwin

It’s sometimes referred to as ‘The Night That Santa Never Came‘. What came instead were howlling winds of more than 200km an hour, tearing Darwin to pieces and having a similar effect on nearby towns in the Northern Territory.

In the end, the death toll would reach 71, of whom 22 were caught at sea by the storm. It destroyed 80% of all buildings in Darwin and left tens of thousands of people homeless, most of whom were evacuated to other cities.

Cyclone Tracy remains the greatest natural disaster in Australian history. Darwin today bears little resemblance to pre-Tracy Darwin, and although its population has long since surpassed the 49,000 residents at the time of the cyclone, the majority of them are new immigrants to the city or born since 1974.

Referenced in:

Tojo – Hoodoo Gurus
Santa Never Made it into Darwin – The Wayfarers