Momentous or Merely Memorable
70 Years Ago
Incline and Fall
Washington’s four-month-old Tacoma Narrows Bridge collapses on November 7, 1940. Known as “Galloping Gertie” for its vertical ripple in a breeze, the span begins twisting laterally in the day’s 42 mph winds. “I saw a side girder bulge out,” says a witness. “Suddenly the bridge dropped from under me.” A dog is the lone fatality. Study of the collapse—caught on film—improves bridge design.
120 Years Ago
A crowd of 500 gathers at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point as cadets face off against midshipmen from the U.S. Naval Academy, November 29, 1890, in the first Army-Navy football game. The contest is spearheaded by cadet Dennis Michie, a former high-school player who persuades West Point to field a team and challenge Navy. Navy triumphs, 24-0; Army wins a rematch in 1891. Though the teams will be eclipsed by other college rosters, the annual battle—set in 2010 for December 11—remains a fall classic.
175 Years Ago
Mark My Words
Samuel Langhorne Clemens is born in Florida, Missouri, November 30, 1835. His father dies when he is 12, and Clemens finds work as a typesetter and apprentice riverboat pilot before beginning the writing career that makes him famous as Mark Twain, a pen name he adopts in 1863. As a journalist, and in more than 10 novels, including Tom Sawyer (1876) and Huckleberry Finn (1884), Twain infuses his work with an acerbic wit and his memories of life along the Mississippi. The uncensored version of his autobiography, embargoed for 100 years after his death in 1910, is published in 2010.
390 Years Ago
Two months after leaving England, the 102 pilgrims of the Mayflower, foiled by bad weather in their attempt to reach their intended Hudson River destination, anchor at today’s Cape Cod, November 11, 1620. “The whole country, full of woods and thickets, represented a wild and savage hue,” colony leader William Bradford will later recall. To prevent dissenters from striking out on their own, the pilgrim men sign a compact creating a government in their new location. After a winter spent aboard ship, the 57 survivors head ashore to found a new English colony at Plymouth.
490 Years Ago
Sea to Shining Sea
Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan and his men become the first Europeans to sail from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific, November 28, 1520. Navigating a winding 350-mile-long strait between mainland South America and Tierra del Fuego takes Magellan 38 days; on emerging, he orders artillery fire and rejoicing. Magellan is killed before his crew finishes the first sail around the world, but his strait will remain a vital trade route until the Panama Canal opens in 1914.