Journalism, it’s often said, is the first-draft of history. That draft sometimes is found under a big headline on the front page. Other times it’s less conspicuous, perhaps on Page 6. Almanacs are full of lists of global and national historic events. But our “This Day in History” feature invites you to not just peruse a list, but to take a trip back in time to see how a significant event originally was reported in the Chicago Tribune.
Check back each day for what’s new … and old.
US drops atomic bomb on Hiroshima — Aug. 6, 1945
“Atomic Bomb Story!”
There is a clear historic line for mankind before and after Aug. 6. 1945, and the story of the United States dropping the first atomic weapon on the Japanese city of Hiroshima that day is written in shorthand in some of the front-page headlines in the next morning’s Chicago Tribune.
“Atomic Bomb Story!”
“Japs Halt Trains to Smashed City; Truman Vows Rain of Distruction.”
“Power of Universe Tapped to Create New Missile.”
“Tense Truman Bares Secret.”
“Billowing Fire Ball Dims Sun in Desert Test.”
“5,000 Scientists at U. of C. Worked 3 Years on Bomb.”
Those are broad strokes, anyway.
Details such as the fact 80,000 civilians were instantly killed – and tens of thousands more would perish later from radiation exposure – weren’t immediately known.
Debates over the morality and long-term ramifications of President Harry Truman’s decision to introduce weapons of mass destruction would come later.
There was at the time a tortuous, dehumanizing war in the Pacific still to be won, avenging the unprovoked attack on Pearl Harbor that brought the United States into World War II almost four years earlier.
“An epochal announcement of a new secret weapon, foreshadowing an early end of the war with Japan, was made today by President Truman,” Tribune correspondent Arthur Sears Henning wrote from Washington, D.C. “The weapon is an atomic bomb, a projectile which looses the colossal energy of the atom with an explosive force 20,000 tons greater than TNT.”
This and the second bomb dropped three days later on Nagasaki were the product of years of top-secret research at the University of Chicago, in the New Mexico desert and elsewhere.
At first it was a race to beat the Nazis who had been trying to develop their own mega-bomb before Germany and the Axis powers surrendered months earlier. In the end it was to avoid the casualties of a ground war to take Tokyo and other Japanese cities.
The atom bombs did in fact bring an end to those costly conflicts.
But it ignited the Cold War, an arms race and the pervasive fear some nation or terrorist would someday avail itself of that same awful power in all-too-imaginable ways.
From that day on, the end of the world was a possibility.
The death of Marilyn Monroe — Aug. 5, 1962
“Marilyn Monroe is Dead”
“Goodbye Norma Jeane, though I never knew you at all, you had the grace to hold yourself while those around you crawled,” Elton John sang years later in “Candle in the Wind,” a bittersweet remembrance of Marilyn Monroe, who remains an alluring Hollywood archetype decades after her last film.
Monroe, whose birth name was Norma Jeane Mortenson, was found dead of a barbiturate overdose in her home in the posh Brentwood area of Los Angeles on Aug. 5, 1962.
She was just 36, leaving her forever young and tragic in the collective consciousness.
Monroe had been a top star for years in movies such as “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes,” “The Seven Year Itch,” “Bus Stop,” “The Prince and the Showgirl,” “How to Marry a Millionaire” and “Some Like It Hot.”
Sometimes overlooked by those her appeal dazzled were acting chops she honed at the Actors Studio and with other leading instructors.
Her death would be ruled a probable suicide by the L.A. County coroner. But to this day some still surmise Monroe fell victim of something sinister, pointing to relationships and secrets she may have shared with powerful men such as President John F. Kennedy.
Much of the first-day reporting of her death was awash in the sexism of the day.
“It was known that the scar of her illegitimate birth, her three broken marriages, and her inability to bear children had tortured Marilyn (through) the years,” Tribune correspondent Seymour Korman wrote, asserting Monroe battled insecurities her whole career.
Later, Korman noted, “Marilyn’s body, whose superb measurements had delighted so many filmgoers and viewers of calendar art, was covered by a pale blue blanket and strapped to a stretcher.”
Such was Monroe’s appeal that when Chicago’s Hugh Hefner was launching Playboy magazine in 1953 with $8,000 he borrowed from family, he spent $500 to publish an old calendar photo of Monroe for which she had posed nude before her film career took off. It helped ensure the first issue was a hit.
The two never met, but Hefner, who died in 2017, spent $75,000 in 1992 so he could be interred in the crypt next to the star.
For years, former Yankees outfielder Joe DiMaggio – an ex-husband of Monroe’s – paid to regularly stock Monroe’s crypt with fresh roses.
Another former spouse was Arthur Miller, playwright of “Death of a Salesman,” “All My Sons” and “The Crucible.” Just a few years after Monroe’s death, he included a self-destructive (and suicidal) Marilyn-esque character in his play, “After the Fall,” which was meant to be an exploration of his own psyche but was interpreted by some as a final betrayal of his late ex.
“In a way, we’re all guilty,” Hedda Hopper wrote in a front-page Tribune column on Monroe’s death. “We loved her and left her lonely and afraid when she needed us the most.”
Hans Christian Andersen dies — Aug. 4, 1875
“Hans Christian Andersen”
Hans Christian Andersen was as much a part of our childhoods as the princess who slept fitfully because of a pea tucked between her mattresses, the vain emperor who was conned into believing his birthday suit was high fashion and the ugly duckling who was in fact a swan.
Andersen, who lives on through the children’s stories he wrote, died in Copenhagen on Aug. 4, 1875.
While the next morning’s Tribune dutifully noted Andersen’s passing at age 70, the obituary curiously made no mention of the Danish author’s most enduring works.
Besides “The Princess and the Pea,” “The Emperor’s New Clothes” and “The Ugly Duckling,” these stories included “The Little Mermaid,” “Thumbelina,” “The Little Match Girl,” “The Red Shoes” and “The Snow Queen.”
The paper did recount Andersen’s rise from humble beginnings, early difficulties getting his career on track – it turned out tragedies for adults were not his métier – and how he ultimately triumphed.
“His charming tales,” the obit reported, had “been translated into English, German, French, Dutch and even Russian.”
Their global reach today is even greater, including adaptations in film, television, opera, the ballet and stage. His works are one of Denmark’s best known exports.
Andersen’s stories sometimes were based on folklore or riffs on the work of others. But others were inspired by events in his life.
“The Red Shoes” developed from the memory of an unsatisfied customer of his shoemaker father and Andersen is said to have intimated “The Ugly Duckling” was somewhat autobiographical in that he felt an outcast until later in life.
And in some of his tales, there remained occasional elements of tragedy, such as the mermaid reduced to sea foam and the match girl who freezes to death, though both those characters eventually found salvation in the afterlife.
Andersen’s memory today is honored in Copenhagen through a statue and H. C. Andersens Boulevard, a busy six-lane throroughfare near City Hall – no doubt perfectly suited for a parade should some egotistical leader want to show off his fanciest duds.
The NBL and BAA merge to form the NBA — Aug. 3, 1949
“Pro Basketball Leagues Merge”
For reasons that aren’t entirely clear, the NBA these days casts the blending of the two leagues under a singular new name – the culmination of a three-year effort to ensure the competing pro basketball leagues didn’t drive each other out of business – as an expansion of the BAA, just three years old when it joined forces with the then-12 NBL.
Today’s NBA doesn’t even acknowledge the stand-alone records of the NBL, preferring to claim the 1946-47 season that launched the BAA as its first.
Out of the 17 teams the NBA debuted with in 1949-50, however, only eight made it to 1954-55 and are still around today and it’s that scrappy core from which today’s pro basketball is rooted.
Five of those eight franchises began with the NBL. Only three — the Boston Celtics, New York Knicks and Philadelphia Warriors, now Golden State — originated in the BAA.
Admittedly, three of the five enduring NBL teams jumped to the BAA in 1948, a year ahead of the merger.
The Minneapolis Lakers now call Los Angeles home. The Rochester (N.Y.) Royals are now the Sacramento Kings. The Fort Wayne (Ind.) Pistons wound up in Detroit.
It took the formal combination of the rival leagues to bring into the fold the NBL’s Tri-Cities Black Hawks (from Moline, Ill.; Rock Island, Ill.; and Davenport, Iowa) that now are the Atlanta Hawks and the Syracuse (N.Y.) Nationals that morphed into the Philadelphia 76ers.
Snuffed out in the first five seasons were the Chicago Stags along with teams in Washington, D.C.; St. Louis; Baltimore, Indianapolis; Denver; Anderson Ind.; Sheboygan, Wis., and Waterloo, Iowa.
There was a mention of a potential Milwaukee team in the initial report on the merger that appeared in the Tribune. But it didn’t make it to the NBA’s opening day, vanishing like the NBL in today’s NBA record books.
Black Sox acquitted — Aug. 2, 1921
“Jury Frees Baseball Men”
It took a Chicago jury only 2 hours and 47 minutes on Aug. 2, 1921, to acquit the so-called Black Sox baseball players, who had been accused of conspiring with gamblers to throw the 1919 World Series as members of the White Sox.
Pitcher Eddie Cicotte jumped up and slapped teammate “Shoeless” Joe Jackson on the back, then made a beeline to shake the jury foreman’s hand.
“Thanks,” Cicotte told him, “I knew you’d do it.”
The verdict, read before Cook County Circuit Court Judge Hugo Friend at 11:22 p.m., cleared Cicotte, Jackson, “Buck” Weaver, “Chick” Gandil, “Swede” Risberg, “Happy Felsch,” “Lefty” Williams and Fred McMullin, overshadowing news of Italian opera great Enrico Caruso’s death at 48.
“Everybody knew I had nothing to do with the conspiracy,” said Weaver, who batted .324 in the Series vs. the Cincinnati Reds. “I believe that I should be given my old position back. I’m going to fight for it.”
Weaver’s hopes would be dashed the following day.
Kenesaw Mountain Landis, installed as all-powerful commissioner of baseball in response to the gambling scandal, banned the players anyway because they didn’t immediately report that a fix was even under discussion. The ruling holds today, long past all their deaths, despite occasional efforts to restore the good name for some of the outcasts.
Modern impressions of what transpired roughly a century ago are shaped largely by an apocryphal quote (“Say it ain’t so, Joe”) and “Eight Men Out,” a slightly fictionalized 1963 book by Eliot Asinof that was the basis for a 1988 film.
Contemporary Tribune coverage noted rumors had swirled regarding a rigged Series while the best-of-nine faceoff was underway and suggested the prospect of harsh punishment from Landis wasn’t entirely unexpected.
But the scandal-scarred ballplayers didn’t allow that possibility to eclipse the euphoria of being declared innocent.
“Never was in doubt about the verdict,” Gandil said. “I knew where I stood and knew I had done no wrong. I’m going to try to get hold of a good ball club and manage it.”
Thirty-five years later, however, Gandil would cop to his role. “I was a ringleader,” he told Sports Illustrated in 1956.
MTV debuts — Aug. 1, 1981
“New shock in rock: Stereo, video locked into TV” by Marilyn Preston
“Starting right now, you’ll never look at music the same way again,” Mark Goodman told viewers as MTV Music Television – “the world’s first 24-hour stereo music video channel” – made its debut at 12:01 a.m. ET on August 1, 1981.
The embryonic channel would within a few years broaden its ambitions – and, notably, its playlist – to become a cultural force, reshaping culture and commerce.
But at launch it only was available in 1.5 million to 2 million homes nationally. And in the Chicago area, where relatively few communities were wired for cable, only households in Elgin, Joliet and Romeoville had the channel.
Presiding over programming was Robert Pittman, who, seven years earlier as a 20-year-old radio wiz kid, famously led a revival of Chicago’s WMAQ-AM, which soared from 22nd in the market to No. 3 in three months, buoyed by country music and a heavily hyped “WMAQ is gonna make me rich!” cash contest.
The Chicago Tribune didn’t weigh in on Pittman’s MTV handiwork until 10 days after its launch.
Columnist Marilyn Preston misidentified MTV and didn’t quite anticipate the seismic impact that would stem from actually capturing its elusive target audience of viewers age 12 to 34. (She also referred to the Thompson Twins as “the Tampion Twins.)
But, to be fair, she also hadn’t actually seen the channel yet.
“I’ve only seen the 14-minute demo tape, but clearly the Music Channel is the brainless wave of the future,” Preston wrote.
The Buggles’ “Video Killed the Radio Star” immediately became a trivia answer as MTV’s first music video.
Less well-known is that Hans Zimmer, who would become famous as a composer of more than 150 film scores, can be seen briefly on keyboards.