40 Years Ago
Leader of the Pack
Six months after its launch, Mariner 9 reaches Mars on November 14, 1971, narrowly beating two Soviet missions to be the first spacecraft to orbit another planet. For 349 days the unmanned orbiter relays data about the composition and temperature of Mars and its atmosphere, sending back more than 7,000 images, including detailed looks at volcanoes, polar caps and moons Phobos (above: an artist’s rendering) and Deimos. A new Mars rover designed to search for conditions favorable to microbial life is slated to launch this month or next.
40 Years Ago
One Jump Ahead
A man calling himself Dan Cooper hijacks Northwest Orient Flight 305 on November 24, 1971, demanding and receiving $200,000 and four parachutes. When he jumps out of the 727 over Washington State and disappears into a dark and stormy night, the legend of D. B. Cooper is born. A child discovers some of the money by the Columbia River in 1980, but though the FBI checks out some 1,000 people—including an Oregon man whose niece claims in 2011 that he did it—Cooper has yet to be positively identified.
150 Years Ago
Glory, Glory, Hallelujah
Inspired by a foray to review Union troops near Washington, D.C. in November 1861, author and abolitionist Julia Ward Howe writes the poem that becomes known as “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” Awakened in the night by an “attack of versification,” Howe scrawls words to fit the tune of the popular “John Brown’s Body”—itself a reworking of a song attributed to William Steffe. After the poem is published by the Atlantic Monthly in 1862, earning Howe four dollars, it becomes an unofficial Union anthem and later a patriotic standard. Howe dies in 1910.
160 Years Ago
Hast Seen the White Whale?
Herman Melville, 32, publishes Moby-Dick in the United States on November 14, 1851. He grounds his tale of Captain Ahab, whose obsessed pursuit of the “accursed” white whale dooms the Pequod, in his own experiences aboard a whaling vessel and earlier accounts of disastrous cetacean encounters. Reviews range from “thrilling” to “ridiculous.” Melville’s reputation sinks before Moby-Dick is hailed in the 1920s as a great American novel.
200 Years Ago
Tall in the Saddle
In the early hours of November 7, 1811, members of a Native American confederation in Indiana Territory, united by Shawnee brothers Tecumseh and Tenskwatawa to defend against increasing white settlement, attack an army led by territory governor William Henry Harrison (right). Confronting the Indians near their village on the Tippecanoe River, Harrison’s troops cripple the confederation. Tecumseh, away during the fight, sides with the British in the War of 1812; he dies in a battle against Harrison in 1813. In 1840 Harrison rides his fame as “Old Tippecanoe” into the White House, only to die in 1841, just weeks into his presidency.