Not Your Century

On hiatus as of March 2020 because of the coronavirus crisis. Get unlimited access to the Chronicle. | A daily celebration of the news — and the news media — of years gone by. King Kaufman takes you on a quick tour of the Bay Area and the world as it used to be, which often colors the world of your century.

1962: Crusading Against Animal Nudity
G. Clifford Prout Jr., president of the Society for Indecency to Naked Animals, has toured the San Francisco zoo and discovered a shocking amount of animal nudity there. His group is fighting for the nation's morals!
6 min
1961: The Berlin Wall
Germans would come to know it as Barbed Wire Sunday. With a railroad line that bypassed the city complete, East Germany shut down border crossings in Berlin and put up fencing. It was the beginning of what would become the wall.
5 min
1964: Great Train Robber Escapes
Charlie Wilson busts out of Winson Green prison in a caper nearly as sensational as the crime that put him there: The Great Train Robbery of 1963 outside London.
5 min
1934: Alcatraz Opens for Business
The first federal prisoners arrive by train, then barge, under heavy guard, with prison officials lying about them to throw off any pals with escape plans on their mind. Al Capone and Pretty Boy Floyd will be there soon.
5 min
Corrected—1974: Richard Nixon Resigns
Dear Subscribers: Thanks to a file mixup, you got a preview of tomorrow's episode about Alcatraz instead of the correct one about Nixon's resignation. We're republishing the episode with the correct audio. Sorry about the error! The president lost the support of Republicans in Congress following the release of the "Smoking Gun Tape," which revealed him plotting to obstruct the Watergate investigation. Saying "I have never been a quitter," he quits.
4 min
1974: Richard Nixon Resigns
The president lost the support of Republicans in Congress following the release of the "Smoking Gun Tape," which revealed him plotting to obstruct the Watergate investigation. Saying "I have never been a quitter," he quits.
4 min
1964: Gulf of Tonkin Resolution
President Lyndon Johnson applauds Congress for authorizing him to take all necessary steps to defend Southeast Asia against Communist aggression. It's based on a lie.
3 min
1945: Hiroshima
The headlines couldn't have been more stark. The most terrible destructive force ever harnessed by humanity had been unleashed on a Japanese city, with tens of thousands dead.
5 min
1981: Reagan Fires 11,000
Ronald Reagan liked to point out that he was the first president who'd been a union chief, and he'd even led a strike. But when air-traffic controllers went out, he fired them. It was a devastating loss for organized labor.
5 min
1873: The First Cable Car
The story is that Andrew Smith Hallidie, who manufactured "wire rope," saw horses struggling to pull a streetcar uphill. So he had an idea, and this run up Clay Street was its first test.
5 min
1955: L.A.'s First Smog Alert
It wouldn't be the last. People had been donning gas masks in the smoky air for joke photos for a decade, but this was the first official recognition of Los Angeles' signature air pollution.
4 min
1996: Clinton Triangulates
Bill Clinton's central campaign promise in 1992 was to "end welfare as we have come to know it." With Election Day looming, he backs ending cash welfare. A Bay Area congressman calls it a "cave" to the GOP.
5 min
1975: Jimmy Hoffa Disappears
The former Teamsters president was trying to regain control of the union after serving time in prison. He had what was supposed to be a peace conference with a couple of dangerous enemies. He hasn't been seen since.
5 min
1945: Empire State Building Plane Crash
World War II was still being fought in the Pacific, but this wasn't an enemy attack. An American B-25 pilot got disoriented in the fog and slammed into the 79th floor, killing 14. One woman fell from the 80th floor — and lived.
4 min
1984: The Original Psycho Checks Out
Ed Gein barely rated a mention in the obituary column when he died in prison, but the psychotic Wisconsin killer launched a Hollywood genre. Norman Bates, Leatherface and Buffalo Bill were all based on him.
4 min
1997: Critical Mass Goes Critical
Chaos rules the streets of the Financial District as Mayor Willie Brown's attempt to crack down on the monthly freeform bicycle ride backfires in a big way.
4 min
1959: The Kitchen Debate
A grumpy but funny Nikita Khrushchev mixes it up in a model American kitchen in Moscow with a charming — at least on the Nixon scale — Vice President Richard Nixon.
6 min
1976: Chowchilla Suspect Surrenders
Richard Schoenfeld and his two accomplices would eventually be convicted of a kidnapping that shocked the nation: 26 children and their schoolbus driver buried alive. Driver Ed Ray led the kids to safety.
5 min
1916: Preparedness Day Bombing
Two labor leaders are framed for the worst terrorist act in San Francisco history. They spend 23 years in prison for the parade bombing that kills 10 and wounds 40.
6 min
1993: Don't Ask Don't Tell
President Bill Clinton knows you're not going to like the new policy he's announcing on gays in the military. Whoever "you" are. Even the policy's creator didn't think much of it.
4 min
1938: Wrong Way Corrigan Lands in Ireland
Douglas Corrigan takes off for L.A. from Brooklyn, and 28 hours later he lands ... in Dublin! He says he misread his compass and couldn't tell because of the heavy clouds. And if you believe that, there's a bridge in Brooklyn he could sell you.
6 min
1944: Port Chicago Explosion
The disaster at a munitions depot near Martinez kills 320 sailors, most of them African American, and highlights racial inequality in the Navy.
6 min
1969: Apollo 11 Launches
Hundreds of thousands of people crowd the Florida coast to brave traffic jams, parties and the sight of a sweaty Ed McMahon as Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins sit on top of a rocket that hurls them toward the moon.
5 min
1997: Gianni Versace Murdered
A shocking, brazen killing on the front steps of the designer's South Beach mansion. Suspicion quickly falls on one of the FBI's 10 Most Wanted — prostitute Andrew Cunanan, already suspected of 4 killings.
5 min
1972: Ho-Hum, 2 More Hijackings
After D.B. Cooper, the thing to do was take over a plane and demand half a million bucks and a parachute. It rarely worked, but it sure got tried a lot during the golden age of hijacking.
5 min