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Friday, October 17, 2008

40 Years Ago

(An occasional reminiscence on the events of 1968)
(See the posts in chronological order)

On Oct 2, US Supreme Court Justice Abe Fortas withdrew his nomination as chief justice; his nomination had been held up for months by a Senate filibuster. (Six months later, he would resign from the court, admitting he'd made a financial deal with the Louis Wolfson Foundation.)

On October 2, the disturbances in Mexico leading up to the Olympics reached a head as a student procession in La Plaza de las Tres Culturas in Tlatelolco, Mexico City, led to a bloodbath.

Supporters claimed soldiers with automatic weapons killed 300 or so students. The government claimed that only 50 students died in the five hours of gunfire. It became known as the Tlatelolco massacre.


Ten days later, the 1968 Summer Olympics opened in Mexico City. The high altitude of the venue caused problems for many athletes, but created opportunities to set records for others. American Bob Beamon jumped nearly 9 meters in the long jump. It was the first Olympics to have doping tests, resulting in expulsion of a Swedish athlete for alcohol use. the closing ceremony was broadcast around the world in color, the first time for the Olympics.

The most controversial event of the Olympics was the stand taken by two of the medalists in the 200-meter dash, Tommie Smith (gold) and John Carlos (bronze) as they raised their fists in a 'black power' salute as the national anthems were being played. (The silver medalist, an Australian, wore a human rights badge.)


Other events of October this year: the 10th anniversary of NASA, world premiere of the cult horror movie "Night of the Living Dead".

Top songs that month: "Hey Jude" and "Harper Valley PTA". Barbarella was released. Traffic released their second album, and Led Zeppelin was recording their first. The Lion in Winter came out the end of the month.

The Motion Picture Association of America adopted its film-rating system, created by Jack Valenti.
Dadaist artist Marcel Duchamp died on the 2nd.

On the 5th, police attacked demonstrators in Derry, Northern Ireland, marking the beginning of 'the troubles' there.

On the 11th, the first manned Apollo mission, Apollo 7, was launched, carrying Wally Schirra, Donn Eisele, and Walter Cunningham. They would do the first live television broadcast from orbit.

On the 14th, the Defense Department announced it would be sending 24,000 army and marines back to Vietnam on involuntary second tours.

On October 20, JFK widow Jackie Kennedy married Aristotle Onassis on Skorpios.

That month, the four American auto manufacturing companies sold 885,358 cars, a huge increase and a new record for any month. Inflation was rising prices on everything.

In the Atlantic Monthly that month: an article entitled The War Against the Young, by Richard Poirier.

Ove the last couple months, I'd gotten friendly with some people I'd been introduced to by a coworker. Mostly from the Princeton, New Jersey area, they had mostly attended, and recently graduated from, George Washington University in DC.

Some of them had an apartment near the GWU campus in Foggy Bottom, around the corner from the DAR's Constitution Hall, where I'd attend some great concerts over the coming years (The Band and Derek and the Dominos most memorable).

The apartment was also across the street from the Selective Service office so there were constant pickets and demonstrations there.

With these new friends, we got to occasionally get a car trip out of the city, towards Virginia's Blue Ridge and Skyline Drive, a welcome break especially as fall arrived.

One Sunday afternoon, probably October 20, I got to take another short road trip with them to Alexandria, Va, where there was a concert being held in the Roller Rink there. I remember that day as the first time I took some drags from a marijuana cigarette, but the concert would have been memorable anyway: the opening act was the Jeff Beck group, with Beck, Ronnie Wood, Nicky Hopkins, and (maybe?) Rod Stewart.

But the main event was the one and only Janis Joplin, with Big Brother and the Holding Company. Wow. I remember sitting on the floor to the right and very close to the acts. It was a great day.


On October 27, 50,000 people joined an anti-Vietnam war protest in London.

On October 31, President Lyndon Johnson announced his 'October surprise', designed to aid the election of his vice president, Hubert Humphrey, as president: he would end the Vietnam operation called "Rolling Thunder", basically ceasing "all air, naval, and artillery bombardment of North Vietnam". During this three year bombing campaign the U.S. had dropped the equivalent of 800 tons of bombs a day on North Vietnam. Johnson said progress in the Paris peace talks made the cease fire possible.

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