by Kathy Wolfe
Tidbits opens the history books this week to discover some of the events that occurred over the years during the month of August.
• On August 8, 1974, 37th President Richard Nixon resigned from office, the first president in U.S. history to do so. Nixon was facing possible impeachment due to his involvement in the Watergate scandal, the illegal wiretapping of the Democratic National Committee headquarters in Washington, D.C.’s Watergate Hotel. Transcripts of the tapes had been released just three days earlier, tapes that revealed Nixon instructing his Chief of Staff to order the FBI to halt the investigation. Within minutes, Vice-President Gerald Ford was sworn in as 38th President. Ford was the only President who was never elected to either the office of Vice-President or President. In 1976, Ford lost his bid to continue in office to Georgia governor Jimmy Carter.
• Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his now-famous “I Have a Dream” speech on August 28, 1963 during Washington, D.C.’s civil rights rally, March on Washington. More than 250,000 people assembled in front of the Lincoln Memorial to demonstrate against the inequalities faced by African-Americans. King’s speech has been ranked as the top American speech of the 20th century. AUGUST EVENTS (continued):
• The Panama Canal opened in August, 1914, a waterway that connected the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans through a system of locks. Prior to the canal’s existence, ships travelling from the Atlantic to the Pacific had to voyage around the southern-most tip of South America, a distance of nearly 8,000 miles (12,875 km), taking about five months. The site was chosen because Panama is where the land area between the two oceans is the narrowest. Construction had begun in 1904 on the largest-to-date construction project of all time. Nearly 240 million cubic yards of earth were moved, with a price tag of close to $400 million for the 51-mile-long (82 km) canal. The lock system raises ships 85 feet (26 m) above sea level upon entering, lowering them back to sea level on the other side. The first ship to pass through the canal was the U.S. vessel Ancon, a cargo and passenger ship. During the construction, about 5,600 workers perished, either through accidents, yellow fever, or malaria.
• More than 400,000 people gathered on Max Yasgur’s 600-acre dairy farm near Bethel, New York, for four days in August, 1969 for the Woodstock Music and Art Fair. Tickets cost $18 in advance and $24 at the gate (about $130 and $180 in today’s money.) Upwards of 186,000 advance tickets were sold, although organizers originally predicted a crowd of 50,000. Thirty-two acts performed despite poor weather that resulted in muddy roads and fields. Creedence Clearwater Revival was the first group to sign a contract to perform, settling on a $10,000 fee, about $75,000 in today’s dollars. There were two deaths, two births, and 742 drug overdoses during the festival. Yasgur reportedly received $10,000 for the use of his farm, but due to the extensive damage from the crowds, he received a $50,000 settlement a year later.
• Two catastrophic volcano eruptions occurred during August, centuries apart. In 79 A.D. southern Italy’s Mt. Vesuvius erupted and destroyed the cities of Pompeii, population 20,000, and Herculaneum, a resort city of 5,000 frequented by wealthy Romans. Pompeii was buried under nearly 17 feet (5.2 m) of ash and pumice, while Herculaneum was covered with more than 60 feet (18.3 m) of mud and volcanic material. The cities were rediscovered in the 1700s and excavation began. Centuries after Vesuvius, in August, 1883, one of history’s deadliest volcano eruptions occurred on the Indonesian island of Krakatoa. Volcanic matter was blasted 50 miles (80 km) into the air. Its explosion was heard nearly 2,000 miles (3,219 km) away in Perth, Australia. More than 36,000 were killed in the eruption and its subsequent tsunamis, with tidal waves 120 feet (36.6 m) high. 70% of the island was destroyed.
• August 25, 1975 marked the release of Bruce Springsteen’s album “Born to Run.” An immediate success for the 26-year-old New Jersey native, the album peaked at #3 on the Billboard charts, and sold six million records. “Rolling Stone Magazine” has ranked it at #18 on its list of The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.
• “The King is dead” read the headlines the day after Elvis Presley died on August 16, 1977. Found dead in his home, Elvis was suffering from high blood pressure, an enlarged colon, liver damage, emphysema, and diabetes. His autopsy revealed high levels of pharmaceutical painkillers in his system. His funeral procession was led by 17 white Cadillacs along with the hearse transporting his body from Graceland to Forrest Hill Cemetery. Had Elvis lived, he would be 87 years old today!
• “American Bandstand” made its television network debut on August 5, 1957 on ABC, with 26-year-old Dick Clark as the host. Notable guests during their first month of broadcasting included Paul Anka, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Buddy Holly.
• The events of early August, 1945 brought an end to World War II. On August 6, the world’s first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, Japan, killing more than 105,000 and destroying the city. Three days later, a second bomb was dropped 264 miles (425 km) away on Nagasaki, with 70,000 fatalities. The following week, Japan’s Emperor Hirohito unconditionally surrendered to the Allied Forces.
• When Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in August, 2005, 80% of the city was flooded when the levees protecting the city catastrophically failed in more than 50 places, leaving some parts of the city under 15 feet (4.6 m) of water. More than 25,000 residents fled to the Superdome for refuge, even though two large holes had been ripped in the roof by the storm. When the leaks made the stadium unsafe, those people were evacuated to Houston. Katrina was the costliest natural disaster in U.S. history, causing more than $160 billion in damages, with estimated fatalities exceeding 1,800.
• In August, 1896, George Carmack and two companions were salmon fishing in Rabbit Creek, a tributary of Alaska’s Klondike River, when the trio spotted nuggets of gold in the creek bed. After they staked their claim the next day, it didn’t take long for the news to spread and for “Klondike Fever” to sweep the region. Within two years, more than 50,000 miners had come to seek their fortune. Carmack, who had arrived in the area in 1881, left the Yukon with $1 million worth of gold. Although there are still 200 small gold mines in the area, large-scale mining ended there in 1966 after yielding $250 million in gold.