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Archive for Then & Now

Last Surviving Stage Assistant to Harry Houdini Passes Away at Age 103

Dorothy Young, the last surviving stage assistant to famed illusionist Harry Houdini and accomplished dancer, passed away Sunday at her retirement home in Tinton Falls, New Jersey. The entertainer was 103.

The news of Young's passing strangely coincides with the 137th birthday of her employer, Harry Houdini.

Born Erik Weisz in Budapest, Hungary, Harry Houdini, a legendary name in magic, became an international sensation after accomplishing incredible feats as an illusionist and escape artist extraordinaire. In the AMERICAN EXPERIENCE documentary Houdini, old photographs, film clips and a breadth of interviews give an in depth look into the life of the master magician. Houdini died in 1926 from a widespread infection from an appendix burst. He was 52 years old.

Sides: Motivations of a Political Assassin

Author Hampton Sides, a frequent AMERICAN EXPERIENCE consultant and author of Hellhound on his Trailon which our 2010 film Roads to Memphis was based, draws a parallel between the Arizona shooter Jared Loughner and the infamous MLK assassin James Earl Ray in a recent Newsweek article. "Though he spent his criminal career striving for anonymity, he desperately wanted the world to know he existed," wrote Sides. "Like a certain deranged young man in Tucson last week, Ray imagined the best way to leave his mark was the gun down someone young, eloquent, and charismatic."

AMERICAN EXPERIENCE has an exclusive interview with Hampton Sides talking about his memories of the MLK assassination and the character of James Earl Ray and his motivations for killing Dr. King.


"Ask Not" to Awaken the Future

At his 1961 inauguration to the presidency, John F. Kennedy issued a challenge to the American people that, fifty years later, leaders are trying to revive. "My fellow Americans," Kennedy proclaimed into the frozen January air, "ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country." The speech was in part an exhortation to the American people to change their attitudes toward government and become active participants in civic life. On the 50th anniversary of his famous inaugural speech, we can't help but wonder: are Americans taking his words to heart?

From the Times to the Tomes: An Abridged History of Thanksgiving

Every Thanksgiving the same argument erupts at my house over one of the most “traditional” condiments in the typical Thanksgiving feast: the cranberry sauce. It goes like this: someone slaves over a stove for several hours perfecting and then chilling a usually delicious portion of the home-made stuff, soft ripened cranberries in a sauce sweetened with ample portions of sugar, and in some instances honey. Walnuts are added, maybe, to provide a little texture. It was a labor of love, you know, we’re all told after someone asks, “Where’s the traditional cranberry sauce?” You know, the real stuff—the stuff with the ridges and the texture of day old oysters—that unmistakable Thanksgiving staple in a can. And so, the argument begins between tradition and traditional...

Get on the Bus

History is infinitely interesting, often depressing, sometimes happy, and at its best, truly inspiring. It was perhaps never more inspiring than in 1961, when 436 Americans boarded buses to test and challenge segregated travel facilities in the Deep South. It was a simple but daring plan, and it changed America forever. The Freedom Riders were black and white, Northern and Southern, secular and religious, old and young. Along their journey, they were beat up, arrested, and generally treated in unspeakable ways-- ways that no human being should be treated. Most have names that you’ve never heard before, but they were and are American heroes. Read more...

From the Times to the Tomes: History Evolving

In Phillip Roth’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel American Pastoral he remarks of history, “People think of history in the long term, but history, in fact, is a very sudden thing.”