Among the many colorful characters recruited as spies during World War II, no one was more unusual than Morris “Moe” Berg. Tall, handsome, and highly intelligent, Moe was a professional baseball player, lawyer, scholar, linguist, and spy. He earned degrees from Princeton, Columbia Law School, and the Sorbonne, eventually becoming fluent in at least twelve languages, including Sanskrit. He was comfortable talking about topics ranging from the conjugation of Sanskrit verbs, to the mechanics of throwing an effective curve ball, to the physics involved in splitting the atom.
Lou Gehrig (l) & Babe Ruth
This part of Moe’s story begins in 1934. when he accompanied a group of baseball All-Stars, including Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, on an exhibition tour of Japan. Like a lot of tourists, carried a 16mm movie camera. One day he visited St. Luke’s International Hospital, one of the tallest buildings in Tokyo, ostensibly to pay a visit to the daughter of the U.S. ambassador to Japan who had just given birth. But Berg never stopped at her room. Instead, he went to the top of the building and took a series of panoramic movies of Tokyo. After America entered World War II, Berg screened the movies he took during that trip for military intelligence officers planning the Doolittle Raid on Japan in 1942.
Fingerprinting goes all the way back to ancient Babylonia, where business people pressed the tips of their fingertips into clay to record transactions. Fast forward to the third century BC, when the Chinese began using ink-on-paper finger impressions for business dealings and to help identify their children. This eventually spread to Japan, many years before Europe caught up.
These early methods lacked today’s sophistication, however, and were used solely to identify the signers of the various documents. It wasn’t until 1686 that a professor at the University of Bologna, in Italy, noticed that fingerprints had common patterns, such as loops, whorls, arches, and ridges. This was rather interesting to the good professor, but he still couldn’t find a practical use for it. Meantime, 137 years later, another professor discovered nine different fingerprint patterns. Again, he thought it was interesting, but had no further use for the discovery.
Life aboard German submarines in WWII ranged from uncomfortable to downright hazardous, even when they weren’t dodging depth charges. They were cramped, spartan, and even in the best of circumstances, the air was foul with diesel fumes, body odors, and other smells. Worst of all, there were only two toilets on board to service the needs of its 50-man crew, and one of the “heads” was located next to the galley, so the space was often used instead to store food.
In the world of the ancients time of day had very little meaning See “Development of Time Zones”. Most people got up at sunrise and went to bed at sunset. However, the time of year was extremely important, especially as far as planting and harvesting was concerned, so, as far back as 800BC, early calendars, based on either sun cycles or moon cycles began to appear.
The original Roman calendar was said to have been invented by Romulus, the first king of Rome, around 753 BCE. This calendar started the year in March (Martius) and consisted of 10 months, with 6 months of 30 days and 4 months of 31 days. The winter season was not assigned to any month, so the calendar year only lasted 304 days with 61 days unaccounted for in the winter.
In the early days of television, there were three TV networks, NBC, ABC, and CBS, and on New Year’s Day they broadcast four major bowl games: The Cotton Bowl (Dallas,) the Sugar Bowl (New Orleans,) The Rose Bowl (Pasadena,) and the Orange Bowl (Miami,) all featuring two of the strongest teams in the country.
To be sure, there were a number of other regional bowl games played all across the country (most of them on New Year’s Day,) but the limitations of the broadcasting industry at the time meant that only four games could be telecast coast-to-coast on that day. Regarding the other games, TV moguls felt that nobody outside the immediate area of the two combatants would have the slightest interest, so if there were coverage at all, it would have to be done by local stations. Over the years, however, TV executives and university officials discovered there was money to be made in post-season bowl games, and that’s how it is that now there are now more than 40. It also explains why there are bowl games on TV from December 16th through Jan 8th, and how a team that ends with an 7-7 record can still get into a bowl game.
In January 1933, Adolph Hitler assumed power in Germany. After some political shenanigans, he was named Chancellor (a position analogous to Prime Minister) by the aging president and WWI hero Paul von Hindenburg. When Hindenburg died, at the age of 86 in 1934, Hitler immediately moved to secure almost unlimited political power through his use of terror, manipulations, and false promises.
Hitler was vocal about ignoring the stipulations put on Germany by the Treaty of Versailles, which ended WWI and prohibited Germany from rebuilding its military. In particular, Hitler declared that since Germany was a sovereign nation it had the right to modernize its military, and by God, no mere treaty was going to make him give up that right.
Like all words which began life as slang, etymologists aren’t sure exactly how “OK” came to be added to the language. One leading contender dates back to Martin Van Buren (1782-1862,) our eighth president.
Van Buren was born into a Dutch-speaking household in Old Kinderhook, NY. Kinderhook, located roughly about 20 miles south of Albany, is Dutch for “children’s corner,” and was named by explorer Henry Hudson, who first discovered it in 1609.
According to mythology, the first person to actually see an image of himself was the Greek hunter, Narcissus. Narcissus was widely known for being one of the handsomest lads in the kingdom, and caught the attention of many an amorous maid, including an ardent wood spirit named, Echo. Echo pursued Narcissus, but he had seen a himself in a still pond, and fell in love with his own reflection. The long and short of the story is that Narcissus refused to leave his reflection even to eat, so starved to death. Grief-stricken Echo pined away until only her voice remained.
WWII was over. Germany was divided into four spheres of influence each controlled by one of the four victors: The US, France, the UK, and Russia, with Russia controlling the eastern sector. Further, the city of Berlin, which was located in the Russian-controlled east, was also divided into four parts.
By 1948, it was apparent that the Western Powers (Great Britain, France, and US) plan to rebuild Germany differed substantially from those of the Soviet Union, and because of that, Soviet strongman Joseph Stalin wanted the allies out of Berlin. To accomplish that, in April, Stalin ordered all American military personnel maintaining communications equipment out of Soviet controlled Berlin. Then, train service was discontinued, and finally, in late June, all land and water access to West Berlin was cut off by the Soviets. There were to be no more supplies from the West.
In this year’s Halloween visit to old radio, we present a story from a Canadian horror series series called, Nightfall. This story, from July 1980, is called The Monkey’s Paw, the classic tale of an enchanted paw which grants the holder three wishes — but at a horrific price.