November 8, 1957 – Pan Am Flight 7 Disappears

Boeing 377  Stratocruiser. Image: Pan Am post card

Boeing 377 Stratocruiser. Image: Pan Am post card

On November 8, 1957, the Clipper Romance of the Skies, or Pan Am Flight 7 took off from San Francisco International Airport at its regularly scheduled time of 11:51 AM.  The Boeing 377 Stratocruiser, carrying 36 passengers and 8 crew members, was on the first leg of its westerly voyage to almost completely circumnavigate the globe, with a final destination of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  First stop for the silver transport was to be Honolulu in the Territory of Hawaii.

But Flight 7 never arrived.

Last contact with the aircraft occurred approximately half-way between the mainland and Honolulu, where a U.S. Coast Guard cutter on radar surveillance duty in the Pacific and the Pan Am pilot shared a routine radio transmission.  When it became apparent that the plane was missing, the Coast Guard dispatched a search plane and placed two cutters on alert status.  The U.S. Navy diverted its two closest vessels, submarines Cusk and Carbonaro, to also search for survivors or debris.

Ultimately, the largest peace-time search operation since the disappearance of Amelia Earhart was combing the Pacific for any sign of the Stratocruiser or its passengers and crew.  Finally, on November 14th, the U.S. Navy aircraft carrier USS Philippine Sea spotted small pieces of floating identifiable wreckage from the aircraft – and bodies.

Prototype flight data recorders, or “black boxes”, were under development in 1957, but weren’t commonly installed in civil aircraft until the 1970′s.  Pan Am Flight 7 had no such device and the definitive cause of its tragic descent into the sea has never been determined.  Bodies recovered at the scene were clothed with life jackets but had still sustained significant injuries which were horrifying to many  rescue workers involved.  Later toxicological testing also revealed carbon monoxide poisoning in some of the crash victims.

Every one of the lives lost left behind loved ones and friends.  Newspaper publisher Ken Fortenberry lost his father, second officer and navigator Bill Fortenberry.  History professor Gregg Herken lost his beloved fourth grade teacher.  Together they were haunted for years by the ghost story of Flight 7, and set out to see what they could learn.

They were intrigued by the following: the ship sent out no decipherable distress call; the wreckage debris was on a path both far off course and headed away from a Coast Guard vessel; and the presence of elevated levels of carbon monoxide found in recovered bodies could not be explained.  They went on a detective mission and wrote about what they found in the Smithsonian’s September 1, 2004 edition of Air & Space Magazine.  They conclude that we may never really know what happened, but their article makes for fascinating reading.

November 7, 1957 – Record-Setting Deadly Tornadoes in Texas and Louisana

Texas-Louisana Tornado Map

Image: National Weather Service, NOAA

On November 7, 1957, ten people were killed and hundreds more injured when fourteen separate tornadoes struck parts of southeastern Texas and southwestern Louisiana in a ten-hour period.  Additional tornadoes touched down at the same time in other parts of Louisiana and the southeastern United States, causing death, injuries and destruction on this tragic day in weather history.  Despite the relatively small path widths and lengths of the Texas and Louisiana tornadoes, they were large storms as measured on the Fujita scale: an F4 storm hit Orange County, Texas, and several others in the grouping measured F3, including two cutting through Groves, Texas and Alexandria, Louisiana.  Total damage was estimated at $5 million dollars (equivalent to about $40 million today).

Only one tornado to date had been deadlier in southeast Texas and southwest Louisiana – the Alexandria tornado of April 4, 1923, which killed 15 people and injured 150.  Making this recent tornado outbreak all the more devastating was the fact that it followed so closely on the heels of massive Hurricane Audrey, the deadliest natural disaster in the area of all time, which struck only a little more than four months earlier on June 27th.

November 6, 1957 – Happy Birthday, Lori and Greg Singer!

The Singer Family in Portland, Oregon, summer of 1962: (Left to right) Jacques, Gregory, Lori, Leslie, Marc, and Claude (standing)

The Singer Family in Portland, Oregon, summer of 1962: (Left to right) Jacques, Gregory, Lori, Leslie, Marc, and Claude (standing). Photo: The Oregonian

On November 6, 1957, older brothers Claude and Marc Singer welcomed two new members to their extraordinary family – twins Lori Jacqueline and Gregory.  Their parents, Poland-born violinist and symphony conductor Jacques Singer and pianist and tall Texas beauty Leslie Wright Singer, were soon to oversee a household of budding prodigies.  Their talented offspring eventually found success in movies, music, dance, television, and modeling.

Lori Singer at the PGA Awards, January 22, 2011

Lori’s professional talent and accomplishments have been impressive; as a cellist, she made her symphonic debut at age 13, was accepted at the Julliard Performing Arts School in New York City, and won the 1980 Bergen Philharmonic Competition following her graduation.  In addition to school and music studies, she earned spending money as a model, represented by the Elite Modeling Agency in New York.  In her spare seconds, she began studying acting and made her debut on the television series Fame in 1982.  (Older brother Marc paved the way with star turns in the movie Beastmaster and its sequels, the television mini-series V, and many other silver- and small-screen performances, including American Conservatory Theater Shakespearean productions.)  Lori is perhaps best known for her role as pastor’s daughter Ariel Moore in Footloose with Kevin Bacon.  She also appeared with Tom Hanks in The Man With One Red Shoe, and received awards for her performances in Trouble in Mind and Robert Altman’s Short Cuts.  She has appeared in several other movies, continued to perform in classical music venues, and in 2013 co-produced the award-winning documentary, Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God.

Greg Singer. Photo: Manhattan Symphonie

Greg Singer. Photo: Manhattan Symphonie

Lori has been a tough act to follow for her brother Greg, even though she only got a 3 minute head start.  A very talented violinist and conductor in his own right, Greg’s progress as an artist always required more work and determination than the almost effortless success Lori enjoyed.  He also studied at Julliard as a teen, played with the Brooklyn Philharmonic and American Symphony Orchestras, and in Broadway shows, ballets, and operas.  He has managed the Naumberg Orchestra and New York City Symphony.  He currently lives across town from Lori playing his violin, conducting the Manhattan Symphonie, and running his own W. 80th Street shop, Gregory Singer Fine Violins.

I have a remote personal connection to Lori and Greg, from their years spent in Portland, Oregon while their father conducted the Portland Symphony Orchestra from 1962 to 1972. The twins attended Ainsworth Elementary School, where they became good friends with my trumpet-playing, wonderful future husband.  My future husband greatly missed Greg and Lori after they left for New York and Julliard.  In 2010, after almost forty years, he reconnected with the twins, spending a music-filled afternoon with Greg in his violin shop and speaking with Lori by phone.  We continue to wish them much success and happiness.

November 5, 1957 – Election Day in Little Rock, Arkansas

Little Rock Mayor Woodrow Mann talks with Col. William Kuhn, commander of the 101st Airborne Division. Photo: US Army

Little Rock Mayor Woodrow Mann talks with Col. William Kuhn, commander of the 101st Airborne Division. Photo: US Army

On November 5, 1957, the first Tuesday in November, voters in integration battlefield Little Rock, Arkansas went to the polls to elect a new mayor.  The incumbent, Democrat Woodrow Wilson Mann, had decided not to run for a second term.  Mann’s election campaign in 1955 to put Little Rock’s first Republican mayor, Pratt C. Remmel, out of office, had been blessed by Arkansas’ Governor Orval Faubus, Senator James Fulbright, and Representatives Brooks Hays and Wilbur Mills, all Democrats.  But by the late fall of 1957, Mann knew he had fallen from grace with his state party machine.

The Little Rock school district had been ordered to integrate, starting with the 1957 school year, in compliance with the 1954 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Brown vs. Board of Education.  Nine African-American students had enrolled in Little Rock Central High and attempted to attend the first day of classes in September.  Gov. Faubus had responded by activating the Arkansas National Guard to prevent the teenagers from entering the school.  Even though he never supported classroom integration, Mann wrote, in one of a series of articles later published by the New York Herald Tribune in 1958, he felt bound to uphold the law in the Supreme Court’s ruling against desegregation.  He contradicted Faubus’ interpretation of the events surrounding the crisis, asserting that the Guard troops weren’t necessary to prevent violence.  A small group of organized agitators, and weak-kneed Faubus’ political pandering were to blame.  “Left to ourselves we could easily complied with the law,” he asserted.

So on a fateful day in September, Mayor Mann telegraphed President Dwight Eisenhower.  “I am pleading to you as president of the United States to provide the necessary troops within several hours”, he wrote, adding that an armed mob was growing by the minute.  Eisenhower deployed the Army’s 101st Airborne and the Little Rock Nine, as the students came to be known, entered Central High.  Roy Reed, author of a biography of Orval Faubus and reporter for the Arkansas Gazette at the time, said Mayor Mann “did what needed to be done and stood up”, adding, “It almost certainly cost him any future that he had in politics in Arkansas.”  Gov. Faubus subsequently expressed his regret over ever having supported Woodrow Mann for mayor.

With the political writing on the wall, and crosses burning on his front lawn, Mann decided not to run for reelection.  Democrat and construction company owner Werner C. Knoop was voted into office on November 5th, along with a slate of new school board members, one of which ran on a militantly anti-integration platform.  Mann, an insurance broker who as mayor had taken small but significant steps toward racial equality in Little Rock city government, relocated to Houston, where he stood a better chance of success in business.  He remained in Houston, where he retired in 1990, and passed away in 2002 at the age of 85.

November 4, 1957 – Time Magazine Reports on Jimmy Hoffa and the AFL-CIO

AFL-CIO President George Meany

On November 4, 1957, a Time magazine article reported on the recent vote by AFL-CIO union leadership to oust the International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT) from the parent organization.  AFL-CIO President George Meany, “the stocky, onetime plumber’s helper with a mind and heart as tough as cast-iron pipe”, together with his Executive Council, followed through on their promise to sever ties to the IBT if they elected James Riddle Hoffa president.  Hoffa and the Teamsters were dirty; unless they cleaned house, Meany wanted nothing to do with them.

Hoffa had risen through the IBT ranks over the past ten years.  Through strikes, boycotts, fraud, wiretaps, bribery, and perjury, the union and its leadership had become one of the most powerful labor groups in the nation.  Newly-elected President Hoffa’s predecessor, Dave Beck, had been called to testify before Sen. John McClellan’s powerful Select Committee on Improper Activities in Labor and had taken the Fifth Amendment 140 times in response to questioning before that body.  Now Hoffa was confident that the AFL-CIO Council wouldn’t have the guts to kick out the IBT - the IBT contributed over $840,000 in per capita dues annually, and too many industries depended for their livelihood on transportation by Teamster truckers.  An angry IBT could easily tie up deliveries, perform raids, and splinter the resolve of the parent group.

But Meany and the AFL-CIO Executive Council held firm, Time reported.  After ninety minutes of discussion, and ninety minutes of deliberation, the Council gave its verdict: the Teamsters were suspended on a 25 – 4 vote.  Only representatives from the Teamsters, “scandal-tinged” Bakery Workers, “powerful” Carpenters, and Letter Carriers unions had sided with the IBT.  “Under George Meany’s tough hand,” Time declared, “a powerful majority had shown that the AFL-CIO would risk its own future to protect honest unions from creeping corruption.”  If Hoffa and his cronies were removed from power, and Teamster abuses were corrected, the IBT could return.  Otherwise, the Council would recommend expulsion.

Hoffa had been cocky with reporters before the hearing, but he marched out “grim and glum”.  Soon on the heels of the AFL-CIO smack-down, a Manhattan federal court ordered Hoffa to stand trial on perjury and wiretapping charges.  Also, in Washington, rank-and-file IBT members secured a preliminary injunction preventing Hoffa and his followers from assuming union leadership, alleging election fraud.  Things weren’t looking good for Jimmy.  Were his leadership days numbered?

Teamster’s President, Jimmy Hoffa

November 3, 1957 – Sputnik 2 Sends First Living Animal into Orbit

Monument to Laika, Moscow

Monument to Laika, Moscow

On November 3, 1957, the Soviet Union successfully launched their second Sputnik earth satellite from an ICBM R-7 platform.  The 13 foot high, 2 foot diameter capsule contained compartments for radio transmitters, a telemetry system, a programming unit, regeneration and temperature control systems, scientific instruments (including photometers to measure ultraviolet and x-ray solar radiation), and in her own separate padded and pressurized cabin, a part-terrier, part-Samoyed female dog named Laika.  Other than hitchhiker microbes, no living animal had ever blasted off into space before little 13-pound Laika (which meant “Barker” in Russian) went up, fitted with a harness, electrodes to monitor her condition, and supplies of oxygen, food, and water.

With Sputnik 1 still orbiting Earth, transmitting radio signals and ICBM nightmares across the globe, Sputnik 2′s successful launch introduced an even greater level of perceived alarm and threat by Cold War antagonists to the USSR’s new space supremacy.  Sputnik 2 did not carry out its mission entirely as planned, however.  While the satellite-bearing rocket achieved earth orbit, where it successfully jettisoned its nose cone, a portion of the rocket called “Blok A” did not separate, inhibiting the thermal control system.  Vital thermal insulation was torn loose during the nose cone separation as well, and Sputnik’s internal temperatures soon reached 104°F.

Sputnik 2′s fate to burn up in earth atmosphere reentry occurred on April 14, 1958, after 162 days of circling the globe.  The original plan for Laika - painful for all animal-lovers everywhere to contemplate – was for her to provide information for a limited period of time on the effects of space flight on living beings, through monitoring her vital signs.  After ten days, she was to be euthanized by lethal medication-supplemented food.  Once sent into orbit, she could never return.  But after the early loss of her capsule’s thermal insulation, Laika was only able to survive for a few hours before succumbing to the heat and stress.  Her death was a small, but significant tragedy on the road to man’s Race to Space.

Sputnik 2 Module

Sputnik 2 Module. Photo: Raumfahrer.net

November 2, 1957 – Asian Flu Documentary Airs on ABC

Asian Flu patients in Sweden. Photo: WNYC, NYPR Archives

Asian Flu patients in Sweden. Photo: WNYC, NYPR Archives

On November 2, 1957, the ABC television show Johns Hopkins File 7 aired a documentary on the deadly influenza pandemic striking millions around the globe.  In the episode titled “Asian Flu”, host Lynn Poole and expert epidemiologist Dr. Charlotte Silverman traced the origins and spread of the H2N2 virus, first discovered in 1933.  Dr Silverman, chief of the Division of Epidemiology and Communicable Diseases for the Maryland Department of Health, advised viewers how to avoid contracting the virus.  Actors demonstrated the debilitating symptoms of the grippe, as it was called then, and animation sequences depicted the effect of vaccines and antibodies (the “good guys”) against viruses (the “bad guys”).  Dr. Silverman made reference to antibiotics, “the new miracle or wonder drugs”, but explained that they were ineffective against influenza (and all other viruses).

Johns Hopkins University created more than 700 educational television films from 1948 to 1960, which aired on the ABC, CBS, and the former Dumont television networks.  They are currently collected in the university’s Sheridan Libraries.  The Johns Hopkins Science Review, one of the programs to air the films, was the first university-based series to appear on a national network and also be broadcast overseas.

The Asian flu pandemic of 1957 was a serious public health menace.  By the time it had circled the globe, roughly 70,000 Americans had died, among over 2 million victims world-wide.