Lead Belly: “The Hindenburg Disaster”

On May 6, 1937, the German passenger airship Hindenburg caught fire while it attempted to dock at a naval station in Lakehurst, New Jersey. Thirty-five of the 97 people on board the ship died, along with one worker on the ground.

Herbert Morrison’s Report

Many people would listen to Herbert Morrison‘s recorded reports on the radio.  The horrible crash — along with Morrison’s cry of “Oh, the humanity!” — helped end public confidence in the use of airships as a means of travel.

This video puts together Morrson’s reporting with some separate color footage from the scene.

Lead Belly’s “The Hindenburg Disaster”

In the years before television, songwriter often responded quickly to write songs about a major disaster.  And Huddie Ledbetter, better known as Lead Belly, used his songwriting skills to tell the story of the Hindenburg in “The Hindenburg Disaster.”

Lead Belly recorded his song for the Library of Congress on June 22, 1937.  Check out his version of the story in “The Hindenburg Disaster.”

“The Hindenburg Disaster” appears on Lead Belly: The Smithsonian Folkways Collection.

Leave your two cents in the comments.

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    Happy Birthday Butch Cassidy

    Butch Cassidy was born on April 13, 1866 in Beaver, Utah as Robert Leroy Parker. His nickname “Butch” may have later come from working in a butcher shop.

    Cassidy was first arrested at around the age of 14 when he left an IOU after taking a pair of jeans and a pie from a store for a pair of jeans. After a jury acquitted him, he pursued various jobs throughout his youth, including work on ranches.

    Cassidy’s first bank robbery occurred on June 24, 1889 in Colorado. While he continued to do some ranch work, his illegal activities increased.

    He formed his “Wild Bunch” gang of criminals after getting out of prison in 1896. After that, it was not long before he added Harry Alonzo Longabaugh — “The Sundance Kid” — into the gang.

    Of course, it would be the association between Butch and Sundance that would inspire the classic 1969 movie directed by George Roy Hill and starring Paul Newman and Robert Redford, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

    The fate of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid remains somewhat of a mystery. Two bandits were killed in San Vicente, Bolivia as shown in the film. But many debate whether those two men were actually Butch and Sundance. Some speculate they returned to the U.S. where they lived out their days.

    Happy birthday Butch, wherever you are. And as a bonus, here are Six Things You May Not Know About Butch Cassidy.

    Photo via public domain. What is your favorite scene in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid? Leave your two cents in the comments.

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    “It’s All In the Game”: The Hit Song Co-Written By a Vice President

    Charles G. Dawes served as Vice President of the United States under Calvin Coolidge during 1925-1929. At various times, he was a banker, a military general, and the co-winner of the 1925 Nobel Peace Prize (for his work on a post-World War I plan to help Germany stabilize its economy). If all that was not enough, he also co-wrote “It’s All in the Game,” the 1958 hit song recorded by Tommy Edwards.

    Dawes’s Melody in A Major

    Dawes wrote the music for what would become “It’s All in the Game” in 1911 while he was a banker. The amateur pianist and flautist then played his composition, “Melody in A Major,” for a musician friend who then took the sheet music to a publisher.

    The tune became popular and was often played at appearances by Dawes. Below is a 1924 recording of “Melody in A Major,” featuring Carl Lamson on piano.

    “It’s All in the Game”

    Dawes, who was born in Marietta, Ohio on August 27, 1865 and passed away on April 23, 1951, just missed seeing his tune become a chart-topping pop standard. In the summer of 1951, not long after Dawes’s death, songwriter Carl Sigman took the melody that Dawes wrote and added lyrics to create “It’s All in the Game.”

    Many a tear have to fall,
    But it’s all in the game;
    All in the wonderful game,
    That we know as love.

    Tommy Edwards Versions in 1951 and 1958

    A number of artists sang “It’s All in the Game,” including Dinah Shore and Louis Armstrong. The Virginia-born R&B singer Tommy Edwards had a popular version of the song first with his 1951 recording.

    But seven years later, Edwards recorded it again in 1958 in a rock and roll version.  This recording went on to top the charts, becoming the version most people recognize today.

    First, here is Edwards’s 1951 version.

    Now, listen to the differences between that 1951 version and Edwards’s 1958 recording of “It’s All in the Game.” The later recording illustrates the influence of rock and roll in the intervening years after Elvis Presley first recorded “That’s All Right” at Sun Studios in 1954.

    Edwards also performed this version of “It’s All in the Game” on The Ed Sullivan Show on September 14, 1958 (only two years after Presley’s first appearance on the show).  Below, though, is his hit recording.

    Edwards had some other minor hit songs, but he never again matched the success of “It’s All in the Game.” Edwards died on October 22, 1969 at the age of 47.

    The Songwriters

    As for the songwriters, Sigman wrote lyrics for other popular songs, including “(Where Do I Begin?) Love Story” (the theme from the 1970 tear-jerker movie Love Story) and “Ebb Tide,” the 1965 Righteous Brothers hit.

    Sigman passed away on September 26, 2000 in Manhasset, New York.  He was 91.

    The other songwriter who wrote the melody, as noted above, went on to become the only U.S. Vice President to co-author a hit song.  On top of that, he also is the only Nobel Peace Prize winner with a hit song (so far).

    While you may not remember much from school about Dawes’s political career or his Nobel Peace Prize or his years as U.S. Ambassador to the United Kingdom, you likely recognize his important work on a great song that was made an American classic with some help by Carl Sigman and Tommy Edwards.

    “It’s All in the Game” continues to touch people, whether in the version by Edwards or by other artists like Nat King Cole, Cliff Richard, the Four Tops, Van Morrison, George Benson, Tom T. Hall, Ricky Nelson, or Michael Buble. So, while I am still waiting for that hit song from Dick Cheney or Joe Biden or Mike Pence, for now, Charles Dawes remains the only vice president to get so many greats to sing his tune.

    And that is the story behind the song.

    Photo via public domain. Leave your two cents in the comments.

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    The Scene in “The Right Stuff” That Makes You Love John Glenn

    John Glenn passed away today on December 8, 2016 at the age of 95.  The former NASA astronaut and Senator is one of the few people who could accurately be described as an American hero.

    An American Hero

    Glenn served his country well in a number of ways.  He left college to join the service after Pearl Harbor, eventually serving in the Navy and then the Marines. He served in the Korean War and later as a test pilot and as an astronaut.

    As a Marine Corps pilot, he broke the transcontinental flight speed record.  In 1962, he became the first American to orbit the Earth.  In 1998, at age 77, he became the oldest man in space as part of the crew of the shuttle Discovery.

    In politics, Glenn represented Ohio in the U.S. Senate for 25 years.  During that period, he ran for the Democratic presidential nomination and was often considered for a place on the ticket as vice president.

    The Right Stuff

    But of all his accomplishments, one scene about his life stands out for me.  In the movie The Right Stuff (1983) about the original Mercury 7 astronauts, Ed Harris plays Glenn as a somewhat moralizing goody two shoes, who still comes across as admirable.

    One scene in the film centers on events from January 27, 1962 after Glenn’s flight is postponed due to weather conditions.  Vice-President Lyndon Johnson and the press are outside Glenn’s house wanting to talk to Glenn’s wife, Annie.  Annie, upset and not wanting to meet with the press or the vice president, talks to Glenn on the phone.

    In the scene, Glenn is aware of the political and media pressure on the space program.  And he is pressured to tell his wife to talk to the vice president.  But instead, he backs his wife “100%.”  The other astronauts also come off well in the scene, putting aside any diffenences to back up Glenn.

    The incident and Glenn’s response is a true story, even if a bit stylized with a humorous take on LBJ for the big screen. Johnson and the media were pressuring Annie, and Glenn backed up his wife all the way.

    Glenn later explained, “She said she was tired, she had a headache, and she just wasn’t going to allow all those people in her house … I told her whatever she wanted to do, I would back her up 100 percent.”

    There would be a few more delays due to a fuel leak and weather problems.  But of course, Glenn did get off the ground on February 20, 1962 in Friendship 7, becoming the first American to orbit the earth. But he was already a hero to those who knew him.

    Godspeed John Glenn.

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    The Hanging of Tom Horn

    On October 22, 1903, Tom Horn was hanged in Wyoming, one day short of his forty-third birthday. Historians generally do not dispute that Horn had killed a number of men.  But most believe Horn was innocent of the killing for which he was hanged. Many are familiar with Horn’s later life through one of Steve McQueen’s final films.

    Tom Horn’s Life

    Horn was born on November 21, 1860 at a family farm in Scotland County, Missouri. Young Tom had a troubled early life, growing up in a large family with an abusive father. In one of his early fights, he was beat up by two boys who then killed his dog.

    At the age of sixteen, Horn moved West.  There, he worked a number of different jobs, including acting as a scout for the Army. Horn acted as an interpreter when Geronimo surrendered to the Army. After the Apache Wars, Horn bought his own ranch.  But cattle thieves overran his ranch, again causing him to wander.

    Horn found other work, such as as a prospector, a ranch hand, a deputy sheriff in Arizona, and an agent for the Pinkerton Detective agency. But it was his work for cattle companies that eventually led to his demise.

    During the Johnson County War in Wyoming, Horn worked for the Wyoming Stock Growers Association. Reportedly, Horn killed a number of men in this role. He then worked in Colorado for the Swan Land and Cattle Company, where he again killed more men who were suspected of rustling.

    Horn then served in the Army in Cuba during the Spanish American War. Eventually, though, he ended up back West working for cattle owners, this time working for cattle baron John C. Coble in Wyoming.

    The Murder and Trial

    On July 18, 1901, the body of a 14-year-old son of sheep ranchers was found murdered. Authorities began investigating the killing of the young Willie Nickell, soon focusing on Tom Horn.

    The government put Horn on trial in Cheyenne, Wyoming.  The trial featured as a key piece of evidence a statement Horn made.  He had claimed, apparently while still drunk, that if he did the killing, it was the “best shot that I ever made and the dirtiest trick that I ever done.”

    On October 24, 1902, the jury found Horn guilty of the murder. A few days later, the court sentenced him to death by hanging.

    During the appeal, Horn wrote his autobiography while in jail, focusing on his early life: Life of Tom Horn, Government Scout and Interpreter. Eventually, the Wyoming Supreme Court turned down the appeal.

    The governor refused to stop the hanging. And Horn was hanged in Cheyenne by means of a “Julian Gallows” that used water as a means of releasing the trap door.

    Many historians believe Horn was innocent of the killing of Willie Nickell, while noting that he did do a number of other killings. Still, his case is a reminder of how innocent people may be convicted of capital crimes. Still today, we discover innocent people on death rows across America.

    Tom Horn on TV and Film

    Tom Horn’s story has resonated in popular culture. The 1954 television series Stories of the Century, took an unflattering look at Tom Horn and his crimes.

    The episode portrays Horn as someone who worked for the law but “then for some reason turned criminal.” In the episode, actor Louis Jean Heydt portays Horn.

    Steve McQueen provided the most famous portrayal of Horn in the 1980 movie Tom Horn. The film was based on Horn’s writings, and McQueen gives a largely sympathetic portrayal of Horn, while not shying away from his violence.

    McQueen was notorious for clashing with his directors, and Tom Horn went through several directors before TV director William Wiard came on board to finish the film. McQueen also requested several rewrites of the script, which included work by the great Western writer Thomas McGuane.

    Tom Horn
    — which was released on March 28, 1980 — was the next-to-last film released that starred McQueen. During the filming of the movie, McQueen had trouble breathing, and he was later diagnosed with a form of lung cancer, malignant mesothelioma. On August 1 of that year, his final film, The Hunter, was released. McQueen died on November 1, 1980 at the age of 50.

    The movie Tom Horn received mixed reviews and did a disappointing $12 million at the box office. At the time, Variety claimed that McQueen appeared to be walking through the lead role. But actor James Coburn claimed Tom Horn was McQueen’s best film. Currently, it has a 68% audience rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

    The movie seems to have aged well over time, as has Michael Cimino’s Heaven’s Gate, which was released the same year.  Empire calls Tom Horn an “underrated, gloomy Western.”

    In subsequent years, viewers were more tolerant of Westerns that focused on something besides action.  In 2014, True West explained that the movie and McQueen’s acting in the film were ahead of their time: “Audiences were used to action-packed Westerns with gunfights and brawls. McQueen offered them something different—a meditation of the West and a character study of one of America’s best-known figures of the era.”

    Below is the trailer for Tom Horn. Check it out.

    Photo via public domain. What did you think of the movie “Tom Horn”? Leave your two cents in the comments.

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