November 16, 1957 – Sooners Streak Snapped

Fighting Irish Head Coach Terry Brennan is carried off the field after Notre Dame defeats the Oklahoma Sooners, 7-0

Fighting Irish Head Coach Terry Brennan is carried off the field after Notre Dame defeats the Oklahoma Sooners, 7-0

On November 16, 1957, on an autumn afternoon in Norman, Oklahoma, the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame defeated the University of Oklahoma Sooners, 7-0.  The gridiron squad from Indiana made history that day, already a red-letter day in Oklahoma, as the forty-sixth territory to enter the Union celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of their statehood.  The history made by Bud Wilkinson’s Sooner team wasn’t one to be celebrated, however.  An unranked Notre Dame team had come to town and tossed off tackles and Oklahoma’s impressive records left and right.

Up until today, OU had a 47-game win streak going – undefeated over four seasons and the longest winning streak in college football history.  Their last loss had been at the start of the 1953 season, against – Notre Dame! – with a score of 28-21.  Next record snapped – 123 consecutive games without getting blanked.  For Sooner coach Wilkinson, this was only the ninth defeat since becoming head coach at OU in 1947.  On this day spoiler Notre Dame also virtually doomed the Sooner’s chances for a third national championship.

Former players remember the day like it was yesterday.  Notre Dame’s offense had scored the game’s first points on a long touchdown drive late in the fourth quarter.  OU’s final possession followed, and on their way down the field in pursuit of a characteristic last quarter touchdown the Irish intercepted Sooner quarterback Dale Sherrod with less than a minute to go.  The game was over.  Notre Dame had held mighty OU to just 98 yards of offense on the ground and 47 in the air.

Oklahoma would go on to beat Nebraska – extending their conference win-streak to 65 – defeat arch-rival Oklahoma State 53-6, then Duke University in the Orange Bowl 48-21.  The Sooners finished the year with a 10-1 record and fourth-place ranking in both the AP and UPI polls.

So who or what were “Sooners”?  In 1889, President Grover Cleveland’s Indian Appropriations Act proclaimed the “unassigned lands” of what would become the State of Oklahoma officially open for settlement.  The act contained a “sooner” clause, decreeing that anyone who entered and occupied the land before March 2nd would be ineligible to claim land.  Sooners, therefore, were those who jumped the gun on the US government.  They were often land surveyors, deputy marshalls, railroad employees, or others who had already entered the territory legally before the starting date.  They could also be sneak-across-the-border-by-the-light-of-the-moon men, too – in other words, “moonshiners”.

November 14, 1957 – Apalachin Mafia Summit Bust

Home of Joseph Barbara, Apalachin, New York. Photo: Gordon Rynders, New York Daily News

Home of Joseph Barbara, Apalachin, New York. Photo: Gordon Rynders, New York Daily News

On November 14, 1957 approximately 100 key Mafia bosses, advisors, and their bodyguards converged on Apalachin, New York to meet at the 53-acre estate of Joseph “Joe the Barber” Barbara.  On the agenda: resolve conflicts among the families of La Cosa Nostra (the American version of the Sicilian Mafia) regarding gambling, casinos, local and international narcotics smuggling and dealing, garment industry rackets (manufacturing and loansharking), trucking, labor and unions, and other operational issues.  Recent hits and attempted hits on leaders of individual families also needed attention to prevent all-out war, particularly between the Genovese, Scalice, and Anastasia factions.

Edgar Croswell, a local New York trooper, had grown curious about Barbara estate activities after several suspicious encounters with previous guests.  Learning that many local motel rooms were being reserved by Barbara’s son, he started keeping a close eye on the residence.  As the luxury cars and limos flocked to Barbara’s house, state police began taking down license plate numbers.  Background checks revealed the presence of known criminals, reinforcements were called in, road blocks were set up, and eventually a lot of expensive tailoring was ruined as mob bosses and underlings tried to escape into the brush.  Guns and $100 bills were scattered across the hillside, continuing to turn up for months afterward.

Joseph Barbara

Joseph Barbara. Photo: Geocities/Organized Crime Syndicates website

Fifty-eight men were apprehended, roughly fifty escaped.  Among those consigned to the “paddy wagon”: top figures Vito Genovese, Carlo Gambino, Joseph Profaci, and Joseph Bonanno.  Their explanation that the gathering was a “get-well-soon” coffee clatch for Barbara went over like a set of cement overshoes.  Up to this point, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover had been reluctant to admit the existence of organized crime in America.  The Apalachin summit bust made the syndicate and its influence painfully clear, and Hoover responded by creating the “Top Hoodlum Program” to pursue Cosa  Nostra bosses throughout the country.

The Apalachin summit of “Who’s Who” in 1957 American, Canadian, and Italian mafiosi inspired many portrayals in books and film.  A version of the event appeared in Mario Puzo’s The Godfather Returns, and was also referred to in Hollywood’s Goodfellas and Analyze This.

November 13, 1957 – Gordon Gould Coins the Term “LASER”

Gould’s notarized journal page for November 13, 1957

On November 13, 1957, physicist and boat-rocker Gordon Gould stared at a page of his lab notebook, had a  brain wave, and ran down to a local shop to find a notary.  At the head of this workday’s page he had written, “Some rough calculations on the feasibility of a LASER: Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation”.  No one had ever used the term “LASER” before.  Gould wondered if he were to document his work carefully, whether he could patent his new, potentially revolutionary discovery.

An atheist born to Methodist parents, a graduate of Union College and Yale and Columbia Universities, a member of the Manhattan Project until he was expunged for his activities with the Communist Political Association, Gould was a brilliant scientist working in the fields of optical and microwave spectrometry.  He became an expert in the developing field of optical pumping and contacted the inventor of the “MASER” (Microwave Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation) to see if a synthesis of the technologies could produce an optical version of the focused-microwave-emitting device.

Gould’s journal entries on November 16th regarding analysis and suggested applications for the new optical maser constituted the first written prescription for making a viable laser.  He publicized his work initially in a conference presentation in 1959.  Gould’s efforts to join the private sector to construct a working model for the deemed classified invention were frustrated by his prior involvement in the Communist movement.  He fought protracted battles for patent rights to the laser against other researchers working in the field at roughly the same time, but was finally awarded several patents both in the United States and abroad.  His thirty-year patent war was one of the longest-fought efforts in history, and resulted in the registration in his name of 48 patents in the fields of optical pumping, collisional pumping, and their applications.

In 1973, Gould founded Optelecom, which became a successful fiberoptic communications manufacturer.  Ever the free spirit, he left the company in 1985 because it was “boring”.  He was elected to the National Inventor’s Hall of Fame in 1991, and passed away in 2005 at the age of 75.

November 12, 1957 – Moorpark First Town Powered by Nuclear Energy

On November 12, 1957, the small town of Moorpark, California, became the first town in the United States to be entirely powered by electricity generated from a nuclear reactor.  At 7:30 PM, the lights went out for all 1100 residents of the rural Ventura County burg; twenty seconds later, when they came on again, history had been made.  Local farmers and townspeople, shop owners and newspaper editors, all had different reactions to the new technological marvel.  Barton Miller, Moorpark’s postmaster, was “pretty excited”.  “My wife and I drove up on a hill that night so we could see the town all lighted up.”  Grocery store owner Ruben Castro experienced the event as a “mystery”.  He admitted, “I didn’t know anything about atomic power, other than it was used for a bomb.  I guess I should have been happy that we were using this warlike energy for peacetime purposes.”  Whitaker’s Hardware owner James Whitaker felt let down by the whole event.  “It was very undramatic.  We were like, ‘Oh, so what.'”  An editor of the local newspaper was downright suspicious.  He accused the power company of indulging in “hocus-pocus” in a column titled, “Interesting No Doubt, but Partially Phony”.

Credibility and wider interest came with television coverage two weeks later on Edward R. Murrow’s See it Now program.  The footage obtained by a New York reporter and three-man camera crew put Moorpark on the map.  “We were more impressed with being on national television than about the event itself,” said resident and featured homeowner Charles Sullenbarger.

The Moorpark experiment had originated from President Dwight Eisenhower’s Atoms for Peace program, which sought commercial uses for the new atom-splitting technology developed for military applications.  All through the 1950’s, the federal government encouraged the national power industry to take advantage of nuclear power as a cleaner, more efficient alternative to fossil fuels for generating electricity.  Moorpark’s “nuclear-flavored electricity” was generated from a small reactor in nearby Simi Hills, operated by Atomics International, a division of North American Aviation, which eventually became Rockwell International.  Southern California Edison transferred the 6500 kilowatts of energy generated by 20,000 kilowatts of nuclear reactor heat to the entire town for only about one hour, although the reactor continued to fill part of the town’s electricity needs for years.  “It was a very successful experiment,” A.C. Werden Jr., an Edison engineer explained, “We proved we could do it.  We could furnish electricity to a community from a nuclear reactor.”

Hardware-purveyor Whitaker’s slightly humorous, slightly ironic assessment of Moorpark’s scientific milestone illustrated the disconnect that can exist between visionaries and grass-roots folks.  “There was a feeling around town that the whole thing had been much overrated,” he explained.  “It was just a short little zip on TV.”

Atomics International reactor control room, 1959

Atomics International reactor control room, 1959. Photo: EnviroReporter website

November 11, 1957 – Eero Saarinen-Designed War Memorial Center Dedicated

War Memorial Center, Milwaukie, Wisconsin

War Memorial Center, Milwaukie, Wisconsin. Photo: Milwaukee War Memorial Center website

On November 11, 1957 – Veterans Day – the Milwaukee County War Memorial Center opened and was dedicated to the men and women who had served in the United States Armed Forces.  Designed as a floating cruciform structure by Finnish-American architect Eero Saarinen, the magnificent building features cantilevered portions and has since been named a Milwaukee Landmark.  On the west-facing facade, a 1,440,000-piece mosaic mural by Air Force veteran and Milwaukee resident Edmund Lewandowski displays Roman numerals honoring those who gave their lives in World War II, the War on Japan, and the Korean conflict (1941-1945, 1950-1953).

On this Veterans Day, on behalf of grateful Americans everywhere, 1957 Time Capsule wants to express a most heart-felt thank you to all veterans and service members of United States Military forces past and present, at home and around the world.  I am grateful for your service and your sacrifice for us and for your country.

May we never forget.

Memorial Mosaic by Edmund Lewandowski

Memorial Mosaic by Edmund Lewandowski. Photo: Milwaukee War Memorial Center website

November 10, 1957 – Elvis at the Honolulu Stadium

Elvis Presley arrives in Honolulu on November 9th, aboard the USS Matsonia. Photo: Elvis Australia website

Elvis Presley arrives in Honolulu on November 9th, aboard the USS Matsonia. Photo: Elvis Australia website

On November 10, 1957, Elvis Presley gave two concerts at the Honolulu Stadium in the American Territory of Hawaii.  Arriving by the cruise ship USS Matsonia for his first visit to the tropical paradise, Elvis promptly fell in love with the beautiful setting and friendly people.  Hawaii became his favorite vacation destination, the setting for three of his films (Blue Hawaii, Girls! Girls! Girls!, and Paradise, Hawaiian Style), and his chosen venue for several large concerts, including a March 25, 1961 fundraiser to help build the USS Arizona memorial.

On this visit, Elvis planned three concerts, the two at Honolulu Stadium, and another the following day at the U.S. Army’s Schofield Barracks.  Elvis-o-philes will want to know that The King stayed at Henry J. Kaiser’s newly opened Hawaiian Village Hotel, conceived on a “village plan”, where “various sections of the development were designed in specific types of motifs indicative of the culture of the hotel’s surroundings”.  If Room 14A still exists, it may be one of the many pilgrimage sites for enduring generations of Presley’s many fans.

The November concerts in Hawaii would be Elvis’ last concerts in the 1950’s.  One month later, after enjoying Christmas at Graceland, Presley received his long-expected draft notice.  In March of 1958 he would be inducted into the United States Army and assigned to Fort Hood, Texas for basic training.

Vintage 1957 – Discovery of the Mysterious Vinland Map

Vinland Map. Photo source: Yale University Press, Yale University.

Vinland Map. Photo source: Yale University Press, Yale University.

In the fall of 1957, rare manuscript dealer Laurence Claiborne Witten II, of New Haven, Connecticut, stumbled upon the cartographic find of the century. He was browsing in the antiquarian shop of Nicolas Rauch, a rarities dealer in Geneva, when he discovered two vellum documents bound together which appeared properly ancient and highly intriguing. One was a map and one was a text, both on old vellum, and both incorporating seemingly authentic pigments, watermarks, wormholes, and symbols. The bound volume seemed to date from 1430 to 1450. The map displayed the continents of Europe, Africa, and Asia. It also included Greenland and portions of the coastline of Canadian North America which were startlingly accurate for the time period. And beyond this – the map indicated that Vikings had in fact visited that Canadian coastline between 985 and 1001. If the map were authentic, it would topple Italian Christopher Columbus’ claim to fame as the discoverer of the new world.

That little word “if” developed into a decades-long quest, drawing in all manner of experts in the field of geography, cartography, and ancient documents. Big guns from Yale University and the British Museum and many other research facilities have weighed in over the years. The map came to be known as the Vinland Map, since the Vikings had coined that name for the farthest reaches of their explorations to North American shores.

Simon Garfield gives us a lively view into the discovery of and controversy surrounding the Vinland Map in his delicious collection of geographic tales, On the Map. He translates the highly technical and esoteric investigations of the map into an accessible whodunit, charting the course of ups and downs, excitement and disappointment, thrills and chills. Debate on the provenance and meaning of the map continues. The bottom line? it’s all in the ink, and the experts don’t agree.

Who discovered America First? Columbus? Leif/Erik/Ragnar? I know, I know – my hand’s in the air! It was the ancestors of the Inuits who crossed the (now-submerged) land bridge from Siberia millennia ago.