News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Stephanie Salter

September 23, 2010

Stephanie Salter: The way it was when the high temperature record was 93

TERRE HAUTE — The day before the autumn equinox, I checked my weather radio to hear “a special weather statement” from the NOAA Hazard Radio station in Putnamville: The Wabash Valley was in line to break the high temperature record for the day.

The record of 93, said the robot voice I have come to love, was established in 1895 and matched again in 1940 and 1955.

Immediately, I thought of the heat permeating those times. I’ll bet a lot has changed.

For example, on none of the three 93-degree Sept. 21s did ordinary people like me have nifty emergency radios in their home that provide constantly updated weather conditions and forecasts, as well as a shrieking siren alarm that warns of impending doom. No one on those previously record-hot days had an emergency radio that you can hand-crank to charge not only the battery, but your cell phone, too.

There were no cell phones, of course, on the three previous hottest Sept. 21s. Even in 1955, if you had a phone — and tens of thousands of U.S. households did not — it was connected by a short wire to a wall, which was connected by wire to an outside telephone pole. In many cities in Indiana, you still couldn’t even dial the number you wanted in 1955. You picked up a heavy receiver from a heavy black cradle and either dialed “O” or simply waited until a female voice (not a robot’s) said, “Operator. Number, plee-azzz.”

More often than not, you gave the operator a word and five numbers, like “Crawford 2—3212” or “Pennsylvania 6—5 O,O,O.” (That song by the Glenn Miller Band was a huge hit in the spring of 1940.) If you were nosy (and stealthy), you could listen in on other people’s conversations on the party line in 1940 and 1955 — just like today with cell phones in restaurants, only, back then, you actually wanted to hear what other people were saying.

In 1895, most private citizens in America didn’t have a telephone. According to Bell telephone online history, there were 353,518 phone receivers and transmitters in the whole United States by the autumn of 1886. But three years before the record-setting hot Sept. 21 of 1895, a revolutionary invention, the Strowger Switch, was implemented in LaPorte, making it possible for the first time for 100 phone subscribers to share the same exchange and connect with one another.

And college students think they invented social networking.

As the temperature climbed toward the new record of 94 on the last day of Summer 2010, I couldn’t help but wonder what else is different now from the three previous hottest Sept. 21s. Immersing myself in the cool, dark cave of the Internet, I learned:

All three previous record scorchers were Wednesdays (What are the odds?), while our hot 9/21 was a Tuesday.

n In 1895, many Americans were the beneficiaries (or victims) of newspaper wars that produced “yellow journalism,” sensational and outright fabricated “news” stories that make even the most opinionated, fact-challenged blogger look responsible.

William McKinley was president, the Cuban Revolution was on, volleyball was invented, “America The Beautiful” was published, the diesel engine was patented (in Germany), the first game of American football was played in Pennsylvania by the Latrobe YMCA and the Jeanette Athletic Club (Latrobe won, 12-0), the Nobel Prizes were established, China had to give Taiwan to Japan, the American Bowling Congress was formed, and two of the richest corporations in the United States — owned by J.P. Morgan and the Rothschilds — loaned the federal government $65 million worth of gold.

Locally, Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West Show played Terre Haute, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against Eugene V. Debs regarding a federal injunction to stop the violent Pullman union strike, and a 6.6 magnitude earthquake rocked the New Madrid Fault and south-central Indiana above  it.

n In 1940, the hottest Sept. 21 was preceded by the first FM radio signal being broadcast — and heard — the first NFL Pro Bowl being played (Green Bay defeated the NFL ALL Stars, 16-7), the following animated cartoon characters being created — Tom and Jerry, Pinocchio, Bugs Bunny — the first McDonald’s opening in San Bernardino, Calif., Mussolini joining Hitler, Winston Churchill becoming prime minister of England, the blitzkrieg of London, the appearance of the first female-created cartoon strip, Brenda Starr, the formation of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, “Gone With the Wind” earning eight Academy Awards, and the authorization by Congress (and signed by F.D.R.) of a peace time military draft.

Locally (sort of), the first betatron (a particle physics accelerator that produces electrons for X-rays) was developed in Urbana, Ill., the first pro baseball game was televised by WGN (Cubs vs. White Sox), and the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra introduced a singer named Frank Sinatra in a live show in Indianapolis.

n In 1955, hurricanes blew through the Atlantic, Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico with a vengeance: Diane, Connie, Hilda, Hazel and Janet were especially deadly and expensive.

Churchill resigned, the United States government began to send advisors and $216 million to Vietnam, Dwight D. Eisenhower conducted the first televised presidential news conference, Scrabble was invented, the Panama Canal Treaty was signed, “In God We Trust” was added to U.S. coins and paper money, the play “Peter Pan” was broadcast on TV, “The Ballad of Davy Crockett” spent 10 weeks at the top of the music chart, the U.S. Supreme Court ordered school integration in the south, Disneyland opened, Stan Musial hit his 300th homer, the Salk polio vaccine was declared safe, and the minimum wage was raised from 75 cents to $1.

Some of the biggest events of  1955 happened after the hottest Sept. 21, including the merger of the AFL and CIO, Eisenhower suffering a heart attack, the New York Stock Exchange suffering the worst price decline since 1929 (Sept. 26), Rosa Parks being arrested for staying at the front of the bus, and the bombing of United Flight 629 over Longmont, Colo., by a man named John Gilbert Graham who wanted to kill his mother, Daisie Eldora King, one of 39 passengers on the flight.

Locally, well, I went to see “Lady and the Tramp” and without air conditioning watched these new shows on TV: the Mickey Mouse Club, Captain Kangaroo, the Honeymooners, the Millionaire, the Lawrence Welk Show and Gunsmoke.

On Sept. 21, I was in the first grade, knowing only one thing: It was really hot.

Stephanie Salter can be reached at (812) 231-4229 or stephanie.salter@tribstar.com.

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