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TIDBITS® CELEBRATES THE

SUMMER SOLSTICE

by Kathy Wolfe

This year, the Summer Solstice will fall on Friday, June 21, and will be the Northern Hemisphere’s longest day of the year and the Southern Hemisphere’s shortest day. It’s when the sun reaches its highest position in the sky, and the Earth’s North Pole tilts directly toward the sun. After this day, the length of days decreases as the season progresses toward the next solstice. Follow along as Tidbits sets its sights on that event and other happenings that have occurred during this Solstice week over the years.

• On the June solstice, in the Northern Hemisphere, the solstice is used as the start of the summer season.  The tilt of the Earth’s axis is most aligned with the sun, providing us with the most daylight of any day of the year. South of the Antarctic Circle, there is no direct sunlight whatsoever, known as Polar Night.

• Every year, thousands gather at Stonehenge, the stone circle in Wiltshire, England, to watch the sun rise above the circle’s Heel Stone. Stonehenge’s age is estimated at 4,500 years, and the Neolithic stone circle is well-known for its alignment with the movement of the sun. The sunrise of the summer solstice and the sunset of the winter solstice align with Stonehenge.

• This week was significant in amusement park history. On June 16, 1884, America’s first roller coaster opened on Coney Island in Brooklyn, New York. The Switchback Railway, as it was called was a 600-foot wood structure that traveled at about 6 miles per. At the cost of a nickel per ride, the coaster generated $600 a day, and had paid for itself in just three weeks.  Although the coaster was torn down, Coney Island’s famous Cyclone roller coaster sits on the same site. The Cyclone, which opened in 1927, reaches speeds of 60 mph, and has an 85-foot drop. It’s one of America’s oldest coasters still in operation.  On June 21, 1893, the Ferris wheel made its debut at Chicago’s Columbian Exposition.  Measuring 250 feet in diameter and requiring 100,000 parts, with 36 cars each carrying 60 people, the wheel was the brainstorm of a 33-year-old Pittsburgh engineer named George Ferris, Jr.   For the 19 weeks of the fair’s operation, more than 1.4 million people rode the Ferris Wheel, paying 50 cents for the 20-minute ride. Unfortunately, the wheel created several legal issues for George Ferris, who was bankrupt just three years after the fair closed. He then contracted typhoid fever and died at age 37. The Ferris wheel became an integral part of the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis, but two years later, it was dynamited and sold for scrap.

•  June 16, 1903 was a big day in the business world.  It’s the day that Henry Ford and his 12 stockholders gathered in Detroit to sign the paperwork to incorporate the Ford Motor Company. It had been seven years since Ford had built his first gasoline-powered vehicle in the workshop behind his house.

• One month after the Ford Motor Company was established, the first Ford vehicle was assembled at a Detroit plant. Elsewhere in the business world, on the same day in New Bern, North Carolina, Caleb Bradham was registering the official trademark for his invention, Pepsi-Cola. Originally known as “Brad’s Drink” and served at Bradham’s downtown drug store, it was a mixture of sugar, water, caramel, lemon oil, and nutmeg. He renamed it Pepsi-Cola, taking the term from the word dyspepsia, meaning indigestion. Bradham claimed it was a healthy drink, and used the slogan, “Exhilarating, Invigorating, Aids Digestion”

• All eyes were on the television screen on June 17, 1994, as a white Ford Bronco raced down a California freeway, chased by Los Angeles policemen. They were chasing former football great O.J. Simpson, who had been charged that morning with the murder of his wife Nicole and her friend Ronald Goldman. Simpson was scheduled to surrender at 11:00 AM, but instead fled in the Bronco to the Santa Ana freeway, where he engaged police in an hour-and-a-half pursuit before surrendering in the driveway of his Brentwood home. He was arraigned on June 20, 1994, and “The Trial of the Century” began, ending in Simpson’s acquittal in 1995.

•  On June 18, 1983, astronaut Sally Ride stepped aboard the space shuttle Challenger, the first American woman in space, as well as the youngest American astronaut at age 32. The physicist and engineer had answered an ad in the Stanford University student newspaper, announcing the search for applicants for the U.S. space program. At age 27, she was chosen by NASA to join the program. After leaving NASA in 1987, Ride returned to Stanford, this time to work at the Center for International Security and Arms Control. She later became a physics professor at the University of California.

•  Sally Ride wasn’t the first woman in space. That honor belongs to Russian cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova, who rocketed into space aboard Vostok 6, almost 20 years to the day before Ride, on June 16, 1963. Prior to her career in space travel, Tereshkova was a textile factory worker and amateur skydiver.

•  The French ship Isere cruised into New York Harbor on June 17, 1885, bearing the 350 individual pieces of the Statue of Liberty, a gift of friendship from the people of France. Once reassembled, the 450,000-lb. statue was taller than any NYC structure at the time. It was officially dedicated in October of 1886

• The College of Philadelphia (today’s University of Pennsylvania) granted America’s first medical diploma on June 21, 1768. Dr. John Archer graduated from the Department of Medicine, but strangely enough, began practicing law the following year rather than pursuing a medical career. He was instrumental in organizing troops for the Revolutionary War, became a major in the Continental Army, and was elected to the U.S. Congress three times from the state of Maryland.

•  June 21, 1939 was a sad day in baseball history when the New York Yankees announced the retirement of their first baseman Lou Gehrig. Gehrig’s performance on the field had been declining for several weeks that Spring, and after undergoing six days of intensive testing at the Mayo Clinic, Gehrig was informed he had an incurable disease called amyotrophic lateral sclerosis that would lead to paralysis, and eventually death. Gehrig played his final game on April 30, the 2,130th consecutive game of his career. He died at age 37 on June 2, 1941, the anniversary of the beginning of his consecutive game streak.