July 21, 2022

#ThrowbackThursday – 21 July

What do a comedian’s birthday, a trial verdict, and a legendary moon-landing all have in common? They all occurred on 21 July, of course!

Without further ado, take a look at these three events that went in history on 21 July:

1951 – Happy Birthday, Robin Williams

Today would have marked the 71st birthday of the late actor and comedian, Robin Williams.

Born in 1951 in Chicago, Illinois, Williams became famous for his quick, gut-busting improvisational style and comedic timing, which he regularly employed in his stand-up comedy routines on the San Francisco and Los Angeles comedy circuits.

After appearing in a handful of TV shows, he got his big break on the 1978 sitcom, “Mork & Mindy”, in which he starred as an alien named Mork who comes to Earth to study human behaviour. Two years later, he got to show off his comedic chops on the big screen as the titular hero in “Popeye”.

Since then, Williams went on to take a variety of roles ranging from the hilarious (Adrian Cronauer in “Good Morning Vietnam”, Euphegenia Doubtfire in “Mrs Doubtfire”, and Genie in “Aladdin”) to the serious (John Keating “Dead Poets Society”, Sean Maguire in “Good Will Hunting”, and Parry in “The Fisher King”).

Despite his star-studded career, Williams’ personal life was far from glittery: he struggled with drug addiction and alcoholism for two decades before he relapsed in 2006, suffered from depression, and engaged in extramarital affairs. Ultimately, in 2014, he would take his own life at the age of 63, much to the sadness of his fans and colleagues.

Even though Williams is gone, his legacy lives on in his filmography, through which he has shown us that even in dark times, light can appear in the form of laughter.

1925 – A “Fine” End to a Trial

Paying $100 for breaking the law sounds like a mere slap on the wrist. Of course, it was a great deal of money back in 1925; however, compared to a possible prison sentence in Tennessee, it was worth two slaps on the wrist at most.

John T. Scopes was a 24-year-old substitute teacher who received such a fine after teaching evolution in a high school biology class in Dayton, Tennessee. He used a textbook that promoted the theory of human evolution, as introduced by the English naturalist Charles Darwin 54 years ago.

Per the Butler Act, which was passed by the Tennessee legislature in March, it was illegal to teach and/or promote the evolution theory in public schools, as it went against the Biblical account of mankind’s origin.

Two months later, Scopes would undergo a trial that became a nationwide sensation: Rhea County Courthouse was filled to the brim with spectators, journalists and academics from across the country who wished to see the ever-classic argument – creationism vs Darwinism – being played out in a court of law.

On 21 July, Scopes was found guilty of violating the Butler Act and was fined $100 (the equivalent of nearly $1 700 today). But he never paid it: rather, an American journalist named H.L. Mencken, who covered the trial in favour of evolutionists, footed the fine for him.

The Butler Act was overturned in 1967, and evolution theory was soon introduced into the curriculum of public schools. As for Scopes, he would leave teaching to become a chemical engineer.

1969 – Moonwalking Made Real

“That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

These are the words of Neil Armstrong, one of the three American astronauts who partook in NASA’s first manned lunar landing mission in 1969.

When the Apollo 11 lunar module landed on the moon, Armstrong became the first man to set foot (his left foot, specifically) on its powdery surface at 02:56AM, uttering his now-iconic line as he did so. Approximately 600 million people watched – and heard – him as the historic moment was televised worldwide.

Together with Buzz Aldrin (their colleague, Michael Collins, remained in the command module as it travelled in lunar orbit), Armstrong traversed the cratered landscape, collected nearly 21kg of moon rocks, took photographs of the moon’s surface (including an imprint of Aldrin’s bootprint), and conducted scientific tests (including a glass prism experiment that measured how long it took for light to return to Earth).

Three days later, the three astronauts returned to Earth with a splashdown in the Pacific Ocean. Their mission to the moon not only broadened the fields of science, astrophysics and engineering for years to come, but it also broadened the imagination and wonder of the public for an eternity.