Today in 1932 thousands turn out for the opening of Radio City Music Hall, a magnificent Art Deco theater in New York City, as a palace for the people, a place of beauty where ordinary people could see high-quality entertainment.
Billionaire John D. Rockefeller, Jr. decided to make the theater the cornerstone of the Rockefeller Complex he was building in a derelict neighborhood in midtown Manhattan. The theater was built in partnership with the Radio Corporation of America (RCA) and designed by Donald Deskey. The famous Great Stage, measuring 60 feet wide and 100 feet long, has a sophisticated system of hydraulic-powered elevators allowing spectacular effects in staging, and many of its original mechanisms are still in use today.
The Radio City Music Hall Christmas Spectacular, which debuted in 1933, draws more than a million people annually. The show features the high-kicking Rockettes, a precision dance troupe that has been a staple at Radio City since the 1930s.
In 1999, the Hall underwent a seven-month, $70 million restoration. Today, Radio City Music Hall remains the largest indoor theater in the world.
More often than not, tales in songs about murder and mayhem tend to be fictional. Johnny Cash never shot a man in Reno, and events in story songs as “El Paso” and “I Shot The Sheriff” never happened. “Stagger Lee” is an exception. An actual murder took place today in 1895, at a St. Louis, Missouri, barroom argument involving two Black men.
Billy Lyons and “Stag” Lee Sheldon “had been drinking and were in exuberant spirits” when an argument over “politics” boiled over, and Lyons “snatched Sheldon’s hat from his head.” Subsequent musical renditions of this story would depict the dispute as one over gambling. This fact has been maintained in the different versions: “Sheldon drew his revolver and shot Lyons in the abdomen… When his victim fell to the floor Sheldon took his hat from the hand of the wounded man and coolly walked away.”
The real “Stag” Lee became an iconic figure in Black American folklore and the story became the subject of various musical versions. The most famous renditions were 1928′s “Stack O’ Lee Blues” by Mississippi John Hurt and 1959′s “Stagger Lee,” an unlikely #1 pop hit for Lloyd Price. Versions of the story have also appeared in songs by artists as wide-ranging as Woody Guthrie, Duke Ellington, Bob Dylan, James Brown, The Clash, the Grateful Dead and Nick Cave.
Today in 1846 the rag-tag army of volunteers known as Doniphan’s Thousand, led by Colonel Alexander W. Doniphan, won a major victory in the war with Mexico with the occupation of El Paso, Texas.
Doniphan’s troops cared little for the traditional discipline of regular troops and looked more like tramps than soldiers. Nonetheless, Doniphan’s 500 men proved to be surprisingly effective when they encountered an army of 1,200 Mexican soldiers about 30 miles north of El Paso. Although his opponents had twice the number of soldiers, Doniphan led his men to victory, and with the path to El Paso now largely undefended was able to occupy the city two days later.
Doniphan’s reassembled army of about 1,000 men proceeded to invade Chihuahua, Mexico and met the Mexican army four times the size of Doniphan’s force. Once again the grossly outnumbered Missouri troops were able to quickly break through the defensive lines and occupy Chihuahua City. By mid-summer 1847, Doniphan’s victorious army reached the Gulf Coast, where they were picked up by ships and taken to New Orleans for discharge. By then, the focus of the battle had shifted to General Winfield Scott’s campaign to take Mexico City.
Today in 1944 President Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered his secretary of war to seize properties belonging to the Montgomery Ward company because the company refused to comply with a labor agreement.
In an effort to avert strikes in critical war-support industries, Roosevelt created the National War Labor Board in 1942. The board negotiated settlements between management and workers to avoid shut-downs in production that might cripple the war effort. During the war, the well-known retailer and manufacturer Montgomery Ward had supplied the Allies with everything from tractors to auto parts to workmen’s clothing–items deemed as important to the war effort as bullets and ships.
However, Montgomery Ward Chairman Sewell Avery refused to comply with the terms of three different collective bargaining agreements with the United Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union hammered out between 1943 and 1944. In April 1944, after Sewell refused a second board order, Roosevelt called out the Army National Guard to seize the company’s main plant in Chicago and facilities in New York, Michigan, California, Illinois, Colorado and Oregon. Sewell himself had to be carried out of his office by National Guard troops. (Sewell’s favorite insult was to call someone a “New Dealer”–a direct reference to Roosevelt’s Depression-era policies.)
In his announcement that day, Roosevelt emphasized that the government would “not tolerate any interference with war production in this critical hour.” He issued a stern warning to labor unions and industry management alike: “strikes in wartime cannot be condoned, whether they are strikes by workers against their employers or strikes by employers against their Government.” Sewell took the fight to federal court, but lost.
Montgomery Ward, was one of the country’s largest department store and mail-order retail chains for most of the 20th century. Heavy competition from Wal-Mart, Target and similar discount stores forced the company to close all of its stores in 2000, though it retains a catalog and internet presence.
Today in 2004 at the Indianapolis RCA Dome before 57,330 fans in a game against the San Diego Chargers, Colts quarterback Peyton Manning’s 49th touchdown pass of the season, broke the previous National Football League (NFL) single-season record held by Dan Marino of the Miami Dolphins. Manning was later selected as the NFL’s Most Valuable Player and the Offensive Player of the Year for 2004.
Manning’s record stood until 2007, when Tom Brady of the New England Patriots threw 50 touchdowns in a single season.