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October Anniversaries

Momentous or Merely Memorable

70 Years Ago
Larger than Life

Fourteen years in the making, sculptor Gutzon Borglum’s Mount Rushmore National Memorial in South Dakota is finished on October 31, 1941. “This is no mere ‘colossal’ stunt,” Borglum, who died months earlier, had said of his 60-foot granite heads of presidents Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt and Lincoln, carved largely with dynamite by some 400 workers. “I am simply animating the mountain.”

80 Years Ago
Bridge of Size

As a squadron of planes flies over—and under—its deck, New York Gov. Franklin D. Roosevelt and New Jersey Gov. Morgan Larson open the George Washington Bridge on October 24, 1931, praising chief engineer Othmar Ammann and his “almost super-human” achievement. Two boys on roller skates are the first to cross the 4,760-foot span over the Hudson River, followed the next day by 56,312 vehicles. The lower deck opens to traffic in 1962, and today the bridge carries some 106 million cars and trucks annually, more than any other in the world.

100 Years Ago
Queen of Gospel

Mahalia Jackson is born October 26, 1911, in New Orleans. The gospel singer with the soulful, power-packed contralto begins recording in the 1930s and gains widespread fame with her 1948 million-selling single “Move on Up a Little Higher.” Jackson—who records some 30 albums and wins five Grammys—popularizes gospel music with audiences outside the church, and famously refuses to sing the blues: “People want music which expresses hope.” A civil rights activist, she sings at the 1963 March on Washington. Jackson dies in 1972.

110 Years Ago
Over and Out

Michigan teacher Annie Edson Taylor becomes the first person to go over Niagara Falls in a barrel, on October 24, 1901. Hoping to get rich by one-upping earlier daredevils who had ridden barrels through a whirlpool downriver, Taylor straps herself into a pillow-filled barrel and heads over Horseshoe Falls. “The feeling was one of absolute horror,” Taylor —fished out of the river with only a scalp wound 17 minutes later—recalls. Her feat brings notoriety but not wealth, and she dies in poverty in 1921. In 2011, aerialist Nik Wallenda campaigns, so far unsuccessfully, to walk a high wire across the gorge.

140 Years Ago
Hot Time in the Old Town

On October 8, 1871, a blaze breaks out behind Catherine O’Leary’s house on DeKoven Street in Chicago and quickly spreads with a southwest wind to the city center’s wooden sidewalks, bridges, homes and businesses. By the time it is put out two days later, the “Great Fire” kills 300 and leaves a third of the city’s 300,000 residents homeless. But did Mrs. O’Leary—or her cow, as legend soon has it—start it? “I was in bed,” she tells an investigating board. It finds no conclusive evidence of the conflagration’s cause, which remains an open question.

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