Jan 13: The Twist craze sweeps America as Chubby Checker’s single “The Twist” reaches the top of the charts. It will stay there for two weeks, only to be shoved aside by Joey Dee and the Starliters’ “Peppermint Twist”, which will also remain number one for three weeks.
Jan 17: Ten former game show contestants plead guilty to perjury, admitting that they had lied under oath when they said they were not given answers to questions before appearing on rigged television quiz shows. This represents the final chapter of the 1958 Quiz Show scandal that saw five popular quiz shows canceled between August and December.
Feb 4: Gnostic Philosopher Samael Aun Weor, declares February 4, 1962, to be the beginning of the “Age of Aquarius,” based on the alignment of the first six planets, the Sun, the Moon, and the constellation Aquarius. Each astrological age lasts for 2,150 years.
Feb 5: French President Charles de Gaulle, in a televised address, threatens to again invoke a state of emergency, which would give him near-dictatorial power to crush the outlawed Secret Army Organization (OAS), an underground far-right terrorist organization led by former French Army Officers. The OAS’s goal is to prevent Algeria from becoming independent from France. De Gaulle hints that negotiations between Paris and the provisional Algerian government are nearing a positive conclusion for possible Algerian independence. OAS saboteurs are able to knock one Algerian TV station of the air during de Gaulle’s speech. OAS attempts to destroy a microwave link and television transmitters on top of the Eiffel Tower are foiled. At the end of the broadcast speech, French Algerians turn out in the streets of Algiers, blowing whistles, banging dishpans and shouting “Algerie Francaise.” Meanwhile, it was announced that French police had arrested seven OAS leaders over the weekend, and uncovered detailed plans for assassinating police officials and prominent politicians.
Feb 14: First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy takes television viewers on a tour of the White House. The tour is broadcast on CBS and ABC, and it will be broadcast on NBC four days later. The program is seen by 45 million viewers in the U.S., and it will be syndicated to 50 countries including Russia and China.
Feb 20: John Glenn becomes the first American to orbit the Earth on board Friendship 7. Glenn is launched at 9:47 a.m. local time, and enters orbit twelve minutes later. After three trips around the earth, Glenn leaves orbit at 2:20 p.m. and lands in the Atlantic Ocean 23 minutes later.
Mar 1: A massive ticker-tape parade takes place in New York City to honor astronaut John Glenn. A typical ticker-tape parade averages about 50 tons of confetti, but the city sanitation department reports that it collected 3,474 tons of paper afterward.
Mar 8: American drug manufacturer Richardson-Merrell Pharmaceuticals withdraws its request to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to approve the prescription of thalidomide to pregnant mothers to ward off morning sickness. Thalidomide has been linked to 15,000 babies born with birth defects in West Germany and Australia over the previous six months. The FDA approval had been blocked by reviewer Frances Oldham Kelsey, who is hailed in the press as a hero. Her persistence leads to more rigorous drug approval regulations. Kelsey will be awarded the President’s Award for Distinguished Federal Civilian Service by President Kennedy.
Mar 20: In defiance of the cease fire declared in Algeria, OAS guerillas, made up of former French fighters opposed to Algerian independence, fire five mortar shells into a crowd of civilians at the Casbah in Algiers, killing four and wounding 67.
Apr 3: U.S. District Judge J. Skelly Wright orders the desegregation of elementary schools in New Orleans. This order comes one week after Archbishop Joseph Rummel orders private Catholic schools integrated.
Apr 7: A Cuban military tribunal convicts the 1,179 surviving Bay of Pigs invaders of trying to overthrow the government. They are sentenced to 30 years each and fined a total of $62 million, which must be paid before they are released.
Apr 8: French voters overwhelmingly approve Évian Accords, an agreement between France and Algeria’s provisional government which will lead to Algeria’s independence. Weary from eight years of war, French voters approve the measure 91% to 9%.
Apr 21: The Century 21 Exposition World’s Fair opens in Seattle, Washington. The fair feature’s Seattle’s iconic Space Needle, and a carnival to “fit a working man’s budget. And get this: the carnival is called “Gayway.”
Apr 28: Oskar Schindler, the German industrialist and Nazi Party member who saved more than 1,200 Polish Jews from extermination by the Nazis, is honored on his 54th birthday at the Yad Vashem Memorial in Jerusalem. He is proclaimed a ger toshav (“a righteous Gentile”).
May 19: Marylin Monroe sings “Happy Birthday” to President John F. Kennedy at a Democratic Party fundraiser at Madison Square Garden. It will be Monroe’s last significant public appearance.
May 30: Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem premieres at an the arts festival held to celebrate the consecration of the new Coventry Cathedral. The requem is scored for soprano, tenor and baritone soloists, chorus, boys’ choir, organ, and two orchestras: afull orchestra and a chamber orchestra. Critics hail it as a modern masterpiece.
May 31: Adolf Eichmann, who was responsible for organizing and managing the logistics for the mass deportation of Jews to ghettos and concentration camps, is hanged at a prison in Ramla, Israel. His body is cremated and his ashes dumped into the Mediterranean Sea outside of Israeli territorial waters. Eichmann is the first person to be legally executed in the history of modern Israel.
Jun 15: Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) complete the Port Huron Statement. Also known as the “Agenda for a Generation,” it popularizes the concept of participatory democracy “both as a means and an end.” The statement calls for nonviolent civil disobedience to bring about racial equality and social change, and becomes a foundational document of the New Left.
Jun 25: The U.S. Supreme Court rules that magazines featuring nude males are not obscene. In the case of MANual Enterprises v. Day, the U.S. Supreme Court rules that photos of nude men are not inherently more obscene than photos of nude women. The Court rules that the same standards applied for erotic magazines aimed at heterosexual readers must be applied to magazines aimed at homosexual readers.
Jul 1: Following the French referendum on Algerian independence held on April 8, Algerians voters go to the polls and, in a nearly unanimous vote, approve the Evian Accords. The vote was 5,992,115 for independence, and only 16,532 against. Most of the 1.4 million or so French nationals living in Algeria have either fled or abstained.
Jul 9: The U.S. explodes a 1.4 megaton hydrogen bomb in outer space, 248 miles above Johnston Atoll in the Pacific. The detonation reveals the destructive power of the electromagnetic pulse, which disrupts electric power and communications systems 900 miles away in Hawaii. The explosion also pumps enough radiation into the Van Allen belts to destroy or damage seven satellites.
Jul 23: Telstar 1 relays the first live trans-Atlantic television broadcast via satellite. Because the satellite is not in geosynchronous orbit, it can only relay transmissions to and from Europe during a 20-minute interval while it is over the Atlantic ocean. Two separate 20-minute broadcasts are conducted. The first, from America, opens with the Statute of Liberty, and includes a couple of plays of a baseball game, President Kennedy’s news conference, and scenes from San Francisco, a Detroit expressway, Niagara Falls (via Canada), hula dancers, the United Nations, a fairground and Mt. Rushmore. When Telstar’s orbit brings it again over the Atlantic a few hours later, the European broadcast begins with the image of Big Ben filling the screen. That second broadcast also features the Champs-Élysées, the Roman Coliseum, the National Museum in Belgrade, the Sistine Chapel, an operatic performance in progress in Rome, a farm in Sweden near the Arctic Circle, and fishermen in Sicily. The broadcasts are shown on all three American networks, the CBC, and the Eurovision-member networks.
Aug 12: The Soviets launch Vostok 4, with cosmonaut Pavel Popovich on board. On only the fourth launch of a cosmonaut into space, this marks the first time that two manned spacecraft are in orbit at the same time. The launch of Vistok 4 is carefully timed to allow the two Vostok capsules will come to within 4 miles of each other, a remarkable feat of coordination.
Aug 17: East German border guards kill 18-year-old Peter Fechter as he tries to cross the Berlin Wall into West Berlin. Fechter’s death is particularly notorious when he slowly bleeds to death in full view of news photographers and hundreds of spectators, while East German guards refuse to approach him.
Sep 2: The Soviet Union announces that it has signed an agreement with Cuba on military and industrial assistance. This announcement comes six weeks before the October Cuban Missile Crisis becomes public knowledge.
Sep 11: Five weeks before the October Cuban Missile Crisis becomes public knowledge, the Soviet Union warns that a U.S. attack on Cuba or on Soviet ships carrying supplies to Cuba “will be the beginning of unleashing war … which might plunge the world into the disaster universal world war with the use of thermonuclear weapons.”
Sep 13: Mississippi Gov. Ross Barnett delivers a twenty-minute televised address instructing state officials to refuse to obey a federal court order to integrate the University of Mississippi. He declares, “We will not drink from the cup of genocide. There is no case in history where the Caucasian race has survived integration. … There is no cause which is more moral and just than the protection of the integrity of our races.”
Sep 20: James Meridith arrives at Oxford, Mississippi, escorted by federal marshals, to enroll at the University of Mississippi. Gov. Ros Barnett personally blocks Meredith’s from entering the admissions building.
Sep 23: Philharmonic Hall, the first of three buildings for the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, opens in New York City. The inaugural concert features Leanard Bernstine and the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, and several opera stars. The concert is broadcast live on CBS. The hall will be renamed Avery Fisher Hall in 1973, and David Geffen Hall in 2015.
Sep 29: President Kennedy issues a proclamation commanding all those who have prevented James Meredith from enrolling at the University of Mississippi, in violation of court orders, to “cease and desist therefrom and to disperse and retire peaceably forthwith.” The proclamation also cites the President’s authority to call out the armed forces “to suppress any insurrection, domestic violence, unlawful combination, or conspiracy.”
Sep 29: Mississippi Gov. Ross Barnett attends a Saturday night Ole Miss game against Kentucky. During halftime, as a giant Confederate flag is displayed on the field, he gives a brief speech: “I love Mississippi! I love her people! Our customs! I love and respect her heritage!”
Sep 30: James Meredith, escorted by U.S. Marshalls, arrives at Oxford, Mississippi and moves into a dorm room before enrolling the next day at the University of Mississippi. That evening, a riot breaks out in Oxford after state police are withdrawn from the city. The Mississippi National Guard is federalized and sent to Oxford to restore order.
Oct 22: In a nationally televised address, President John F. Kennedy reveals the existence of Soviet missiles in Cuba. He announces “a strict quarantine on offensive military equipment under shipment to Cuba.” He also warns that any launch of a nuclear missile from Cuba on any nation in the western hemisphere will require “a full retaliatory response upon the Soviet Union.” Kennedy adds, “I call upon Chairman Khrushchev to halt and eliminate this clandestine, reckless and provocative threat to world peace and to stable relations between our nations.” The U.S. military forces go to DEFCON 3.
Oct 23: Four hundred and fifty ships of the U.S. Atlantic Fleet and 200,000 military personnel are assembled and begin preparations for a confrontation with Soviet ships as the freighter Polotavia sails toward the quarantine line.
Oct 24: The U.S. Navy quarantine of Soviet ships begin. Some Soviet freighters alter their courses while others proceed. The U.S. raises its readiness level of Strategic Air Command forces to DEFCON 2 while the rest of the armed forces remain at DEFCON 3. This places B-52 bombers on continuous airborne alert, B47 bombers fully loaded and ready to take off on 15 minutes notice, 145 ICBMs on ready alert, and one-third of 161 nuclear-armed intercepters on 15-minute alert. Twenty-four Air Force Reserve squadrons are activated.
Oct 25: Two American destroyers stop and board a Soviet-chartered freighter 400 miles from Cuba. The Navy allows the ship to proceed after a two-hour search of its cargo shows that it poses no threat. Meanwhile, American U.N. Ambassador Adlai Stevenson angrily confronts Soviet Valerian Zorin with photos of the Soviet missile sites in Cuba. Zorin refuses to answer Stevenson’s questions.
Oct 26: The Soviets agree to keep their ships away from the quarantine line “for the time being.” But American officials counter that the real threat is in the construction work already underway in Cuba. The latest U-2 overflights show that the Soviets are accelerating their construction of missile bases in Cuba in order to “achieve a full operational capability as soon as possible.”
Oct 27: An American U-2 is shot down over Cuba, killing pilot Maj. Rudolf Anderson. Several other American reconnaissance aircraft are fired on. The Navy drops a series of depth charges on a nuclear-equipped Soviet sub as it approaches the quarantine line. Another U-2 strays into Soviet airspace near Alaska and is nearly intercepted by Soviet fighters. With so many potential flashpoints occurring in very quick succession, war appears all but imminent.
Oct 28: The Cuban Missile Crisis ends when Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev announces that he has ordered the removal of Soviet missile bases in Cuba. The U.S. pledges not to invade Cuba. The U.S. also privately pledges to remove obsolete American missiles from Turkey at a later date. The U.S. will continue enforcing its quarantine until the Soviet missiles and bombers are removed from Cuba.
Nov 6: Richard M. Nixon loses the California governor’s race. The next day, he will hold what he calls his “last press conference” where he will announce his retirement from politics. He tells reporters, “you won’t have Nixon to kick around anymore.”
Nov 7: Nelson Mandela is sentenced to five years in prison for incitement to rebellion and leaving the country without permission. While in prison, he will be charged with other crimes that will lead to a life sentence.
Nov 21: Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s novella One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich is published in the literary magazine Novy Mir. The novella, which required clearance from Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev himself to be published, represents an unprecedented acknowledgement of the Soviet Union’s Stalinist past.
Dec 2-6: A week of severe smog begins in London. Over the next four days, it will kill at least 106 people and send another thousand to the hospital. During the height of the smog, visibility is as low as 15 feet. By December 5, the smog will spread across Britain, with Leeds recording its highest ever level of sulphur dioxide in the air and pneumonia cases in Glasgow have trebling. Extremely low visibility combines with ice-covered roads to make road travel especially difficult. This will be London’s last great smog event before clean air legislation takes effect in 1965.