By the late 1950s, the post-World War II societies of the United States and Soviet Union had become entrenched in a new kind of warfare. After the first half of the 20th century featured one of the bloodiest spans in human history, the two emergent world powers began a conflict centered on technological competition and the threat of nuclear attack.
On this day in 1959, the Soviet Union crashed a rocket into the moon’s surface — the first time a man-made object had reached it. Although it didn’t actually land, this was a significant accomplishment for the eastern power, one that placed additional pressure on a U.S. space program still looking to best the Soviet’s 1957 launch of Sputnik, the first orbital satellite.
In response, the United States increased funding and accelerated its space efforts. John F. Kennedy even made it one of his campaign focal points while running for president in 1960. In 1969, the American Neil Armstrong became the first human to step foot on the moon.
This decade also featured stars of a different sort, perhaps none remaining so bright today as actress and model Marilyn Monroe.
On Sept. 15, 1954, the production team on “The Seven Year Itch” held a public shoot of the nowiconic “skirt” scene, in which Monroe stands on a subway grate that blows air upward, revealing her bare legs.
This initial Lexington Avenue, Manhattan, shoot drew quite a few spectators, as well as professional photographers who helped popularize the image. The scene, which infuriated Monroe’s husband, baseball legend Joe DiMaggio, was later reshot in a studio for audio improvements.
On Sept. 17, 1820, a 24-year-old English poet named John Keats set off for Italy, in hopes the climate would improve his worsening tuberculosis. Instead, the Mediterranean country would become his final resting place.
Keats, who is today one of the best known of the English Romantic poets, made his name at a surprisingly young age, especially considering his lower-class beginnings. in 1819, only in his early 20s, he wrote a number of lasting poems, including “Ode on a Grecian Urn,” which is considered a classic.
In February 1821, Keats died and was buried in Rome. His tombstone, which only identifies him as “YOUNG ENGLISH POET,” also reads on the bottom, “Here lies One / Whose Name was writ in Water.”
More than 20 years ago next Monday — Sept. 19, 1995 — the Washington Post published the 35,000-word manifesto of the then-unidentified Unabomber. The lengthy document had been mailed to the Post, as well as to the New York Times, in June of that year.
The publication led to the eventual identification of Theodore Kaczynski by his brother David, who recognized the writing style. Since 1978, Theodore had been periodically sending mail bombs to people and companies who he believed were perpetrators of the technological advancements he abhorred. In all, he sent 16 bombs, killing three.
In April 1996, Theodore was arrested at his remote cabin in Montana, and he is now serving eight life sentences in a supermax prison facility in central Colorado.
Marilyn Monroe poses over the updraft of a New York subway grating while in character for the filming of “The Seven Year Itch.”