This Day in History – January 20 – 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 THIS DAY IN HISTORY blog — or scroll down to enjoy Gary’s unique look at life’s comings and goings.




1942 – Wannsee Conference.

Wannsee, a suburb of Berlin, was the gathering place for a meeting of 15 high ranking Nazi officials. Among the more notable were Reinhard Heydrich, head of the SS, and Adolf Eichmann. Although mass murder of Jews in German-occupied areas had already taken place, it was at this conference that the plans for the “Final Solution” were coordinated. When Heydrich announced his plan, nobody present objected. Instead the focus of the meeting was how to do it. The number they were looking at was the elimination of 11 million European Jews. Included in this figure were the Jews in enemy nations yet to be conquered as well as those of neutral countries such as Switzerland, Sweden, and Portugal. It is believed the purpose of the conference was for Heydrich to assert full control over the operation of the “Final Solution.” The entire meeting took only ninety minutes.

Ninety minutes to determine the fate of 11 million people. That’s as cold as the plan itself.

Less than six months after the conference, Heydrich, main architect of the Holocaust, was killed by Czech resistance fighters in Prague.


1971 – “What’s Going On?” by Marvin Gaye released.

The song was inspired by Obie Benson of the Four Tops who had witnessed scenes of police brutality against those protesting the Vietnam War. Songwriter Al Cleveland composed the song but the rest of the Four Tops rejected it for being a protest song. Benson then brought the song to Gaye who tailored it to his own liking. The Watts Riots of 1965, Gaye talking to his brother who had returned as a soldier from Vietnam, and a cousin who had died there, were all inspirations for Gaye’s version of the song. Gaye produced the song himself and Motown founder Berry Gordy advised against releasing it, not only saying that it would destroy Gaye’s career, but that it was the worst thing he ever heard. Gaye proved him wrong, and the song became a huge hit, selling over two million copies.

What’s going on? Whatever it was in 1971, sad to say, Marvin, it still is.


Inauguration Day.

The 20th Amendment, passed in 1933, set the 20th of January at noon as the official ending date for federally elected officials, including the President and Vice President. The history of the U.S. is unique in that there has traditionally been a peaceful and dignified passing of power from one administration to another.

Until 2021 that is, when peace and dignity were replaced by violence, sedition, and insurrection.



1888 – Huddie Ledbetter. AKA Lead Belly.

Musician. There are too many versions of how he acquired his name to list, and while some refer to him as Leadbelly, he wrote it as Lead Belly. That’s how it is engraved on his gravestone as well. Folk singer Woody Guthrie said of his friend, “A hard name for a harder man.” Lead Belly did lead a hard life, including killing a man and serving a number of stints in prison. He began playing in the bars and brothels of Shreveport, Louisiana and was first recorded while in prison by folklorists John Lomax and his son Alan. Lead Belly is most noted for his work on the twelve string guitar but in addition played the accordion, piano, mandolin, harmonica, violin, and also sang. Out of prison he achieved some fame but no financial success. It was only after his music was discovered by folk musicians that he became more well known. Some of his more famous songs are “Goodnight, Irene,” “Midnight Special,” and “Boll Weevil.” He wrote a song about the Titanic and African-American boxer Jack Johnson being denied passage on the ship. In it he had the line, “Jack Johnson tried to get on board. The Captain, he says, ‘I ain’t haulin’ no coal!’ Fare thee, Titanic! Fare thee well!” He left out that line when performing before white audiences. Future artists influenced by Lead Belly include Tom Waits, Pete Seeger, Little Richard, Credence Clearwater Revival, and Bob Dylan who said in his Nobel Prize speech, “somebody – somebody I’d never seen before – handed me a Lead Belly record with the song ‘Cotton Fields’ on it. And that record changed my life right then and there. Transported me into a world I’d never known. It was like an explosion went off. Like I’d been walking in darkness and all of the sudden the darkness was illuminated. It was like somebody laid hands on me. I must have played that record a hundred times.” Lead Belly died at age 61 of ALS disease in 1949.

I find it sad when someone’s legacy far exceeds the success they had while they were alive.


1935 – Joan Weston.

The Blonde Bomber, a Roller Derby star. Born in Huntington Beach, California, the 5’10” 165 pound Weston was an excellent athlete. She once hit eight home runs in a softball game and at Mount Saint Mary’s College batted .730 for the season. She also competed in surfing and canoeing competitions. In her prime, however, there were few avenues for women to play professionally, so she turned to Roller Derby. She signed with the San Francisco Bay Bombers and became the biggest star of the Roller Derby circuit which was then reaching a televised audience. Roller Derby’s popularity was waning just as age was eroding Weston’s physical prowess. She married another Derby skater, Nick Scopas and retired to breed and show cocker spaniels. Weston died in 1996 at age 62.

In the 1950s when television was in its infancy, Roller Derby was introduced to the screen. I was a child then and TV was a new and wondrous thing, made even more wondrous by the discovery, one late Sunday afternoon, of Roller Derby. I was transfixed and it became must viewing for me. I know later iterations of Roller Derby were scripted, much like professional wrestling. I’m not so sure about the 1950s presentations. If it was fake they did it better than most movies. It was pure raucous rollicking mayhem. I remember Joan Weston and it still ranks as some of the most fun TV viewing I’ve had.


1956 – Bill Maher.

Comedian, political satirist. Maher is best known for two TV shows, “Politically Incorrect” and “Real Time with Bill Maher.” His humor is sharp, edgy, insightful, and often controversial. His comments get him into trouble and he is capable of offending those on all sides of the political spectrum. A few Bill Maher quotes:

“I think capital punishment works great. Every killer you kill never kills again.”

“Religion is dangerous because it allows human beings who don’t have all the answers to think that they do.”

“We have the Bill of Rights. What we need is a Bill of Responsibilities.”

I believe he is an important voice, even if I often disagree with him.



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 websites:


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

* Lead-In Image (“Roller Skate on Teal Background) – Photo by Luke Southern on Unsplash

* Marvin Gaye (video) – Markos Dutra /

* Lead Belly (video) – King Rose Archives /

* Joan Weston (video)  – RollerDerbyStars /

* Bill Maher (video) – Real Time with Bill Maher /

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