Oct. 31, 2000


by Robert Frost

Broadcast date: TUESDAY, 31 October 2000

by Robert Frost from The Poetry of Robert Frost (Henry Holt)

Today is Halloween. In ancient Britain and Ireland, the Celtic festival of Samhain was celebrated on this day, and was considered to be their New Year's Eve. People celebrated by building huge bonfires on hill tops, and dressed up as witches and ghosts to frighten away evil spirits. The potato, as well as the turnip and rutabaga, was one of the original jack-o'-lanterns, hollowed out, and grotesquely carved with a scary face, lit from within by a candle. Once in America, the pumpkin was discovered, and it was a much better fruit for carving spooky faces.

Today is the birthday of broadcast journalist Dan (Irvin) Rather, born in Wharton, Texas (1931), the son of an oil pipeliner and a waitress. While working on his journalism degree, he got a reporting job with a 250-watt radio station in Huntsville, Texas, where, for 40 cents an hour, he put together newscasts, did play-by-play for local high school and college football games, answered the phone, and even mowed the lawn.

It is the birthday of historian William Hardy McNeill in Vancouver, British Columbia (1917), most noted for his book, The Rise of the West.

It is the birthday of blues singer and actress Ethel Waters, born in Chester, Pennsylvania (1896).

It is the birthday of English Romantic lyric poet John Keats in London, England (1795). He was born in the Swan and Hoop Stables, his father's livery stable in London. He went to medical school and apprenticed as a surgeon when he was only 16, and later worked as a dresser—a junior house surgeon—at Guy's and St. Thomas hospitals. He met many famous romantic poets, including Percy Bysshe Shelley and William Wordsworth, and decided to devote his life to writing, publishing his first sonnets in The Examiner when he was 21. He is best known for his Odes, including "Ode on a Grecian Urn," "Ode to a Nightingale," "Ode on Melancholy" and "Ode to Autumn," all of which he composed while suffering from tuberculosis, the sickness that had killed his mother and brother Tom. On February 3, 1820, he returned home from London on the outside of a coach, and became feverish and very ill, coughing up blood as he got into bed. His experience in the medical world forewarned him, and he said, "that drop of blood is my death warrant; I must die." He rallied long enough to see his third volume of poetry published, and sail for Italy; but he died in Rome a year later, after having written his own epitaph: "Here lies one whose name was writ on water."

On this day in 1517, Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses (which is to say, 95 propositions) to the door of Wittenberg's Palace Church, denouncing the sale of indulgences and denying the Pope the right to forgive sins. Four years after posting his 95 theses, Luther was told to relent, refused, and was excommunicated (1521). The Reformation was underway.

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