Echoes of Disasters

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There are certain events in history that echo in our memories.  Some echo for centuries, or perhaps even millennia, while others may echo for shorter spans: a century, a decade, a year or two or sometimes, maybe just for a few months.  Those who live through certain events will, of course, remember them far better than succeeding generations.  For example, in my lifetime, I can recall the Cuban missile crisis, the Kennedy assassination (both), the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., the Vietnam war, the lunar landings, Watergate, the Challenger disaster, 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, the Haitian earthquake, the Indonesian tsunami and so many, many more things that my grandchildren (and even my kids) never experienced in the same way that I did.  They may read about them in books or be taught about them in school, but they don’t have the same impact in the gut as they do for those of us who lived through them and recall them not just as history, but as mile-markers in our lives.

I had a bit of that this last Saturday afternoon.  I was in Fayetteville, NC, for a speaking engagement that morning and when I was done there was a bit of time before I needed to get to the airport.  On the way driving into town from Raleigh-Durham airport, I noticed a billboard for the Airborne and Special Forces Museum in Fayetteville.  I commented that it sounded interesting.  My host remembered that and suggested we take a quick spin through the museum.  I, of course, was thrilled.  The only problem was that I didn’t have a good camera with me, so I made do with my Microsoft Surface 2.

Today’s photo brought back to me one of those life events.  It wasn’t an event that I was personally involved with, but I recall it very well.  That was the mission into Mogadishu which spawned the movie, Blackhawk Down.  What you see in the photo above is the rotor gear and shattered rotors from the first helicopter that was shot down by the Somali warlords that threw the military plans into disarray and led to the death of American soldiers.  Apparently, some years after the 1993 raid into Mogadishu by the military, these busted parts were repatriated to the US and have found their way to this museum.

ON THIS DAY IN HISTORY:  in 1940, cowboy-movie star Tom Mix was killed when he lost control of his speeding Cord Phaeton convertible and rolled into a dry wash (now called the Tom Mix Wash) near Florence, Arizona. He was 60 years old. Today, visitors to the site of the accident can see a 2-foot–tall iron statue of a riderless horse and a somewhat awkwardly written plaque that reads: “In memory of Tom Mix whose spirit left his body on this spot and whose characterization and portrayals in life served to better fix memories of the Old West in the minds of living men.”

According to Mix’s press agent, the star was a genuine cowboy and swaggering hero of the Wild West: He was born in Texas; fought in the Spanish-American War, the Boxer Rebellion and the Boer War; and served as a sheriff in Kansas, a U.S. marshal in Oklahoma and a Texas Ranger. In fact, Mix was born in Driftwood, Pennsylvania; deserted the Army in 1902; and was a drum major in the Oklahoma Territorial Cavalry band when he went off to Hollywood in 1909.

None of these inconvenient facts prevented Mix from becoming one of the greatest silent-film stars in history, however. Along with his famous horse Tony, Mix made 370 full-length Westerns. At the peak of his fame, he was the highest-paid actor in Hollywood, earning as much as $17,500 a week (about $218,000 today).  Unfortunately, Mix and Tony had a hard time making the transition to talking pictures. Some people say that the actor’s voice was so high-pitched that it undermined his macho cowboy image, but others argue that sound films simply had too much talking for Mix’s taste: He preferred wild action sequences to heartfelt conversation.

On the day he died, Mix was driving north from Tucson in his beloved bright-yellow Cord Phaeton sports car. He was driving so fast that he didn’t notice–or failed to heed–signs warning that one of the bridges was out on the road ahead. The Phaeton swung into a gully and Mix was smacked in the back of the head by one of the heavy aluminum suitcases he was carrying in the convertible’s backseat. The impact broke the actor’s neck and he died almost instantly. Today, the dented “Suitcase of Death” is the featured attraction at the Tom Mix Museum in Dewey, Oklahoma.

TRIVIA FOR TODAY:  No spacecraft has ever visited Pluto. However, the spacecraft New Horizons, which was launched in 2006, is scheduled to fly by Pluto in 2015.

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