This Day in History – February 8 – Hijinx, Humor, and Insight


NewsWhistle is pleased to feature Gary Jenneke’s “This Day In History” column.

You can read the original at Gary’s substack — or scroll down to enjoy Gary’s unique look at life’s comings and goings.




1690 – Schenectady Massacre.

200 French and Native Americans attacked the village of Schenectady in the colony of New York. This was in retaliation for the Lachine Massacre, an attack by the Iroquois on a French village. The struggle over the control of the fur trade in North America resulted in what was called the Beaver Wars. Some Indian tribes aligned with the French, other with the British. Sixty men, women, and children were killed, including eleven slaves. The attackers, wanting to let the villagers know the English were the target, spared the lives of twenty Mohawk Indians. The struggle between the French and English in North America would continue until the end of the French and Indian War in 1763.

Violence accompanied European presence in North America right from the start. A culture bred of violence, and centuries later, given the mania for guns, we can’t seem to shake it. 


1915 – “The Birth of a Nation” premiers.

D.W. Griffith’s epic motion picture, three hours long, opened at Clune’s Auditorium in Los Angeles. The film, racist in tone and glorifying the Ku Klux Klan, caused riots in some Northern cities and was banned in others. Nevertheless it was a box office success in addition to being credited with revitalizing the KKK. Aside from its controversial theme, based on filmmaking alone, it was artistically innovative and helped create the movie industry. Griffith was credited with creating or improving such filmmaking techniques as close-ups, long-shots and the fade-in and fade-out. In addition he rehearsed his actors thereby raising the standards of movie acting. Griffith also refined the art of editing. Before him films were short and poorly produced, Griffith changed all that forever. The film remains controversial to this day. 

I’ve seen excerpts of it, but never the entire film. I suspect I wouldn’t be able to sit my way through the whole thing. 


1923 – Dawson, New Mexico coal mine disaster.

Supporting timbers collapsed due to mine cars derailing and the electric trolley cables propelling the cars ignited coal dust. The explosion that followed killed 123 miners. This was the second coal mining disaster in Dawson. Ten years earlier an explosion had killed 286 men. Some of those killed in the second disaster were sons of those killed in the first. Coincidentally, on this same day in Fushun, Manchuria, a coal mine disaster there took the lives of over 3,000 miners.

Not a good day for coal miners. Despite more safety regulations now, it is still a dangerous profession. I’ve researched but have been unable to come up with any data about how many lives have been lost in solar panel disasters. 



1894 – Billy Bishop.

World War One flying ace. Bishop, from Canada, was the Allies top ace, having shot down 72 enemy aircraft. A good athlete, Bishop eschewed team sports and preferred swimming and shooting. He was also known for standing up to bullies and fighting them. He did less well academically and quickly gave up on subjects he couldn’t master. He enrolled at the Royal Military College of Canada, failed one year, and got caught cheating in another. Then war broke out and Bishop found his calling. Commissioned as an officer, he was sent to France with the 7th Canadian Mounted Rifles. Trench warfare did not suit him and he managed to secure a transfer to the Royal Flying Corp. He received his wings and was transferred to a sector where the average life expectancy of a pilot was eleven days. Germans were shooting down British aircraft at a rate of 5-1. Bishop’s flying career got off to a rocky start. He got lost on one of his first missions and later crash-landed his plane on a practice flight. Ordered back to flight school, he had one last mission. During it he shot down a German plane, had engine trouble, landed between the trenches in no-man’s land, and dodged bullets, making his way back to the safety of the British lines. The notoriety he gained from this kept him in the squadron. Soon he was shooting down planes at a rapid pace. He even had an encounter with Manfred von Richthofen, the famous Red Baron, and both escaped unscathed. His total by war’s end was 72 destroyed enemy aircraft, although there have been suggestions that number might have been inflated. 

During WWII he was a recruiter for the Canadian Air Force but ill health forced him to retire in 1944. At the time he was fifty but his son said he looked like he was seventy. Bishop died in is sleep at age 62 in Palm Beach, Florida in 1956.

The swashbuckling type of character who could prevail in a less regimented, less structured period of time. As noted, there’s been doubt cast about the number of planes he shot down, that maybe it was less than 30, rather than the 72 claimed. But so what, to me it is still a good story. 


1922 – Audrey Meadows.

Actress. Meadows will forever be known for playing Alice Kramden, Jackie Gleason’s wife, in “The Honeymooners.” Her calm, deadpan, sarcastic delivery to Gleason’s frenzied hysteria endeared her to audiences. Her father was a missionary and she was born in China, returning to the USA when she was five years old. She began her career as a singer, performing at Carnegie Hall when she was sixteen. Her older sister, Jayne Meadows, who would marry comedian Steve Allen, got her into acting. Meadows performed with U.S.O. shows during WWII and the joined the “Bob and Ray Show” on television. Jackie Gleason was a hot name in TV at the time and she tried to audition for the role of Alice. Her appearance caused Gleason to immediately reject her as being too young and pretty. She went home, washed off her makeup, put on a frumpy dress, had a photograph taken and sent it to Gleason. He then hired her without ever hearing her read a line. After the Gleason show ended she had difficulty getting roles, having been typecast as a dowdy housewife. Meadows retired in 1961 after marrying the chairman of the board of a major airlines. For the rest of her life however, fans approached “Alice Kramden,” wanting autographs. Meadows died in 1996 from lung cancer.

Meadows played that role brilliantly. Without her, and her counterpart, Trixie, played by Joyce Randolph, the wild antics of Gleason and Art Carney wouldn’t have worked. In researching this piece I discovered that Hollywood leading man, Cary Grant, loved the show and desperately wanted to do a guest appearance but it never worked out.


1953 – Mary Steenburgen.

Actress. Steenburgen burst onto the scene (at least for me) winning an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role in “Melvin and Howard.” She has had a long career in TV and film. One of her latest roles was playing a bad guy on the TV series “Justified.” Steenburgen is married to actor Ted Danson of “Cheers” fame.

“Melvin and Howard,” one of my favorite movies. “Justified” wasn’t too shabby either.



At various junctures of his life, Gary has been an indifferent grade school student, poor high school student, good Navy radioman, one-time hippie, passable college student, inveterate traveler, dedicated writer, miscast accountant (except for one interesting stint at a Communist café), part-time screenwriting teacher, semi-proud veteran, unsuccessful retiree and new blogger.

You can reach him at



The above information was sourced from the following sites and newspapers:

We’d also like to thank the following photographers and videographers for the use of their images:

* Lead-In Image (Theater Curtains) – Photo by Joshua Hoehne on Unsplash

* Billy Bishop (video) – The Great War /

* Audrey Meadows (video) – Don Giller /

* Mary Steenburgen (interview) – IMDb /

* Outro (Man-In-Museum Cartoon) – SkyPics Studio /