The Soviet Union launches the first animal into space-a dog name Laika-aboard the Sputnik 2 spacecraft. Laika, part Siberian husky, lived as a stray on the Moscow streets before being enlisted into the Soviet space program. Laika survived for several days as a passenger in the USSR’s second artificial Earth satellite, kept alive by a sophisticated life-support system. Electrodes attached to her body provided scientists on the ground with important information about the biological effects of space travel. She died after the batteries of her life-support system ran down. At least a dozen more Russian dogs were launched into space in preparation for the first manned Soviet space mission, and at least five of these dogs died in flight. On April 12, 1961, Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human to travel into space aboard the spacecraft Vostok 1. He orbited the Earth once before landing safely in the USSR.
November 7, 1885 – Canada’s transcontinental railway completed
At a remote spot called Craigellachie in the mountains of British Columbia, the last spike is driven into Canada’s first transcontinental railway. In 1880, the Canadian government contracted the Canadian Pacific Railroad to construct the first all-Canadian line to the West Coast. During the next five years, the company laid 4,600 kilometers of single track, uniting various smaller lines across Canada. Despite the logistical difficulties posed by areas such as the muskeg (bogs) region of northwestern Ontario and the high rugged mountains of British Columbia, the railway was completed six years ahead of schedule. The transcontinental railway was instrumental in populating the vast western lands of Canada, providing supplies and commerce to new settlers. Many of western Canada’s great cities and towns grew up around Canadian Pacific Railway stations.
November 7, 1944 – Soviet master spy is hanged by the Japanese
On this day in 1944, Richard Sorge, a half-Russian, half-German Soviet spy, who had used the cover of a German journalist to report on Germany and Japan for the Soviet Union, is hanged by his Japanese captors. Sorge fought in World War I in the German army, and then earned his doctorate in political science at the University of Hamburg. He joined Germany’s Communist Party in 1919, traveling to the USSR in 1924. His first major assignment for Soviet intelligence was in the late 1920s, when he was sent to China to organize a spy ring. Returning to Germany, he joined the Nazi Party in 1933 to perfect his cover as a loyal German. He proceeded to develop a reputation as a respected journalist working for the Frankfurter Zeitung, finally convincing his editors to send him to Tokyo as a foreign correspondent in the mid-1930s. Once in Japan, Sorge proceeded once again to create a spy ring, which included an adviser to the Japanese cabinet and an American communist, who was also working for Soviet intelligence as Sorge’s interpreter. Sorge had so successfully ingratiated himself with the German diplomatic community in Japan that he was allowed to work out of the German embassy, giving him access to confidential files. At the same time, he also befriended Japanese government officials, attempting to convince them not to go to war with the Soviet Union. In May 1941, Sorge reported back to Moscow that Hitler was planning an invasion of the Soviet Union, and that 170 divisions were preparing to invade on June 20, but Stalin ignored the warning. Sorge was also able to report, in August 1941, that Japan had plans to attack targets in the South Pacific, not in the Soviet Union. This enabled Stalin to remove troops from the Manchurian border, freeing them up for when the Germans finally invaded, as there would be no “eastern front.” But Sorge’s brilliant spy career came to an end on October 18, 1941, when Japanese counterintelligence exposed his operation and he was arrested, along with 34 members of his ring. He was finally hanged in 1944. Twenty years later, he was officially declared a Hero of the Soviet Union.
After 18 years as general secretary of the Soviet Communist Party, Leonid Brezhnev dies on this day. His death signaled the end of a period of Soviet history marked by both stability and stagnation.Brezhnev came to power in 1964 when, along with Alexei Kosygin, he was successful in pushing Nikita Khrushchev out of office. For the next 18 years, he brought a degree of stability to Soviet politics unknown since the Stalinist period. However, his time in office was also marked by forceful repression of political opponents and dissidents, a massive military buildup that bankrupted the Russian economy, and a foreign policy that seemed confusing at best. During Brezhnev’s reign political repression took on more and more ominous overtones. Dissidents such as Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and Andrei Sakharov were harassed and sometimes sentenced to internal exile. His program to bring the Soviet military to parity with the United States drove the Russian economy to the breaking point; by the late 1970s economic growth was almost at a standstill. His foreign policy was often confusing for U.S. officials. On the one hand, he seemed to approve of the idea of “peaceful coexistence,” pushed for control of nuclear weapons, and helped the United States in its negotiations with North Vietnam. On the other, he unleashed Soviet forces against Czechoslovakia in 1968, became involved with revolts in Ethiopia and Angola in the 1970s, reacted in a threatening manner during the Arab-Israeli conflict of 1973, and ordered the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. By the end of his rule, discussions about nuclear arms control had almost completely lapsed.Upon his death in November 1982, Yuri Andropov took control of the Soviet Union.
November 10, 1995 – Playwright and activist hanged in Nigeria
Ken Saro-Wiwa, a Nigerian playwright and environmental activist, is hanged in Nigeria along with eight other activists from the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (Mosop). Saro-Wiwa, an outspoken critic of Nigeria’s military regime, was charged by the government with the 1994 murder of four pro-military traditional leaders. He maintained his innocence, claiming that he was being unlawfully silenced for his criticism of the exploitation of the oil-rich Ogoni basin by the Nigerian ruling government and the Shell Petroleum Development Company. Most of the international community agreed, but Nigerian leader General Sani Abacha refused to grant the defendants an appeal and would not delay the executions. Before his death, Saro-Wiwa won Sweden’s prestigious Right Livelihood Award and had also been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. In reaction to the executions, U.S. President Bill Clinton recalled the U.S. ambassador from Lagos and imposed an arms ban, though trade with oil-rich Nigeria continued.
November 8, 1847 – Dracula creator Bram Stoker born
On this day in 1847, Bram Stoker, author of the horror novel “Dracula,” is born in Clontarf, Dublin, Ireland. Stoker’s villainous, blood-sucking creation, the vampire Count Dracula, became a pop-culture icon and has been featured in hundreds of movies, books, plays and other forms of entertainment. After overcoming a childhood filled with health problems that frequently left him bedridden, Stoker graduated from Trinity College in Dublin. He then worked for the Irish Civil Service while writing theater reviews for a Dublin newspaper on the side. His drama reviews brought him to the attention of Sir Henry Irving (1838-1905), a tall, dark and well-regarded actor of the Victorian era who was said to have served as an influence for Stoker’s Count Dracula. Stoker eventually became Irving’s manager and also worked as a manager for the Lyceum Theater in London. He published several horror novels in the 1890s before the debut of his most famous work, “Dracula,” in 1897. Set in Victorian England, “Dracula” is the story of a centuries-old vampire and Transylvania nobleman, Count Dracula, who roams around at night biting the throats of human victims, whose blood he needs to survive. The concept of vampires didn’t originate with Stoker: These mythical creatures, who cast no shadows, have no reflections in mirrors and can be killed with a stake through their hearts, actually first appeared in ancient folklore. English writer John William Polidori’s 1819 short story “The Vampyre” is credited with kick-starting modern literature’s vampire genre. Stoker’s novel has been adapted for the big screen several times. An unauthorized version of the book was made into a 1922 German film, “Nosferatu.” In 1931, Universal Pictures released the well-received “Dracula,” which starred Hungarian-born actor Bela Lugosi (1882-1956) in the title role. (The Library of Congress later labeled the movie culturally significant and added it to the National Film Registry.) Universal went on to release such related films as “Dracula’s Daughter” (1936), “Son of Dracula” (1943) and “House of Dracula” (1945). In the 1950s, 60s and 70s, English actor Christopher Lee (1922-) starred in a series of Dracula productions from Hammer Films, including “Horror of Dracula” (1958), “Dracula: Prince of Darkness” (1966) and “Scars of Dracula” (1970). In 1992, director Francis Ford Coppola (“The Godfather,” “Apocalypse Now”) had a blockbuster hit with “Bram Stoker’s Dracula,” which featured English actor Gary Oldman (1958-) in the lead. The Dracula oeuvre also includes such productions as the 1972 blaxploitation film “Blacula” and director Mel Brooks’ 1995 parody, “Dracula: Dead and Loving It,” starring Leslie Nielsen (1926-). The vampire genre as a whole has proved to be box-office gold in Hollywood. In 1994, Anne Rice’s 1976 novel “Interview with the Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles” was made into a hit movie starring Tom Cruise (1962-) as the vampire Lestat. In 2008, the big-screen adaptation of “Twilight,” author Stephenie Meyer’s 2005 best-selling vampire novel for young adults, scored big at the box office. Bram Stoker died at the age of 64 on April 20, 1912, in London. He published other novels after “Dracula,” but none achieved the same level of success.
Colossal tidal waves and storm surges strike the shores of the Ganges Delta, wreaking lethal damage on the people of East Pakistan. A 120-mile-per-hour cyclone spurred deadly tidal waves that washed over scores of coastal islands. An estimated total of 200,000 dead made it the century’s largest disaster by water. The Ganges Delta had suffered many furious storms, but this was the worst natural disaster in the region’s history. The failure of the West Pakistani government to respond quickly to the crisis contributed to the political turmoil that produced an independent Bangladesh in 1971.
On this day, Harper & Brothers in New York publishes Moby-Dick, by Herman Melville. The book flopped, and it was many years before the book was recognized as an American classic. Melville was born in New York City in 1819. A childhood bout of scarlet fever left him with weakened eyes. At age 19, he became a cabin boy on a ship bound for Liverpool. He later sailed to the South Seas on a whaler, the Acushnet, which anchored in Polynesia. He took part in a mutiny, was thrown in jail in Tahiti, escaped, and wandered around the South Sea islands from 1841 to 1844. In 1846, he published his first novel, Typee, based on his Polynesian adventures. His second book, Omoo (1847), also dealt with the South Seas. The two novels became popular, although his third, Mardi (1849), more experimental in nature, failed to catch on with the public. Melville bought a farm near Nathaniel Hawthorne’s house in Massachusetts, and the two became close friends, although they later drifted apart. Melville wrote for journals and continued to publish novels. Moby Dick was coolly received, but his short stories were highly acclaimed. Putnam’s Monthly published “Bartleby the Scrivener” in 1853 and “Benito Cereno” in 1855. In 1866, Melville won appointment as a customs inspector in New York, which brought him a stable income. He published several volumes of poetry. He continued to write until his death in 1891, and his last novel, Billy Budd, was not published until 1924.
November 14 , 1996– Michael Jackson marries Deborah Rowe
Pop star Michael Jackson marries his second wife, Deborah Rowe. The couple had two children before divorcing in 1999. Jackson was born in 1958 in Gary, Indiana. As a young boy, he began performing with his four brothers in the pop group the Jackson 5. The group scored its first No. 1 single in 1969, with “I Want You Back.” By age 11, Jackson was appearing on TV, and by age 14 he had released his first solo album. A Jackson 5 cartoon series appeared on television in the early 1970s, and in 1976 the Jackson family, including sister Janet Jackson, launched a TV variety show called The Jacksons, which ran for one season. Throughout the 1970s, media attention focused on Michael, who piped vocals in his high voice for “ABC,” “I’ll Be There,” and many other Top 20 hits. Jackson released several solo albums in the 1970s, but his great breakthrough came in 1979 with Off the Wall. He became the first solo artist to score four Top 10 hits from one album, including “She’s Out of My Life” and “Rock with You.” His next album, Thriller (1983), became the biggest-selling album to that time, selling some 45 million copies around the world. Thriller scored seven Top 10 singles, and the album won eight Grammies. Although his next album, Bad (1987), sold only about half as many copies as Thriller, it was still a tremendous best-seller. In 1991, Jackson signed an unprecedented $65 million record deal with Sony. That year, he released Dangerous. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Jackson developed a reputation as an eccentric recluse. He moved to a 2,700-acre ranch called Neverland, which he outfitted with wild animals and a Ferris wheel. He underwent a facelift and nose job and was rumored to have lightened his skin through chemical treatment, though he claimed his increasing pallor was due to a skin disease. In 1993, scandal broke when Jackson was publicly accused of child molestation and underwent investigation. The case settled out of court. In 1994, Jackson married Lisa Marie Presley; the couple later divorced. Jackson married Deborah Rowe in 1996, and the couple had two sons, Prince and Paris, before divorcing in 1999.
A cable car taking skiers to a glacier in Austria catches fire on this day in 2000 as it passes through a mountain tunnel; 156 people die. Only 11 people managed to survive the fire, which was caused by an illegal space heater. Kitzsteinhorn Mountain in the Austrian Alps is a popular skiing and snowboarding destination located just south of Salzburg. In order to reach the mountain’s prime skiing locations, it is necessary to take a cable car from the town of Kaprun into the mountains and through a 2.5-mile tunnel. The 90-foot-long car is pulled by a cable along train-like tracks. On the morning of November 11, the car left at 9 a.m. for its journey up the mountain; within two minutes, flames were spotted shooting from the car. The cable car had just entered the concrete shaft tunnel when a disruption indicator, part of the car’s safety system, automatically stopped it. Quickly, the tunnel filled with toxic smoke, but the doors wouldn’t open. In the back of the car, a man smashed the rear window Plexiglas and 11 people were able to crawl out the back to a stairway that led several hundred yards down to the entrance. The other passengers were not so fortunate. Although some passengers were able to make it out of the front of the car and attempted to climb to the top of the tunnel, the tunnel acted as a chimney sending flames and smoke straight up. In fact, the driver of the corresponding car coming down the tunnel was burned near the exit at the top. Three other people who were near the top of the tunnel also burned to death. The fire burned all day, as it was not until that evening that workers could get to the train. Once there, they encountered bodies that were burned and charred beyond recognition. One worker later said “I don’t want to describe it for the sake of the families.” An inquiry into the fire’s cause revealed that a space heater in the driver’s cabin had caused the hydraulic oil in a pipe to overheat and leak on to a plastic seat, where it ignited.