Where were you in October 1969? While the news of the day might have flown under your radar at the time, there were important events happening that fall.
October 1: A new supersonic passenger jet
Several prototypes of the new Concorde aircraft were tested in 1969. The first test flight was in March. On October first of that year, the first prototype built, designed as Concorde 001, broke the sound barrier by flying at Mach 1.5 (1,125 mph) for nine minutes. It was the first commercial passenger jet to fly at supersonic speeds.
October 2: Project Milrow
Project Milrow was a limited underground nuclear test to determine whether the Aleutian island of Amchitka was suitable for full-scale nuclear testing. The 1.2 megaton thermonuclear device was detonated on October 2, 1969.
Despite the depth of 4,000 feet, the explosion caused a dome of earth to rise about 16 feet in an area four miles across, and sent water from the lakes and streams spouting 50 feet high. The island was deemed to have survived the blast well enough for the five-megaton Cannikin test in 1971.
October 4: Diane Linkletter’s death
Twenty-year-old aspiring actress Diane Linkletter jumped from the window of her apartment in West Hollywood, falling sixth floors to her death. Her father, popular TV host Art Linkletter, blamed her death on LSD.
When the toxicology report found no LSD (or other drugs), Linkletter believed she had been suffering from an LSD flashback. Police concluded Diane’s death to be a suicide.
An urban legend grew from the incident in which Diane, under the influence of LSD, stepped out of the window because she believed she could fly. Art Linkletter became an ardent anti-drug crusader for the rest of his life.
October 5: Monty Python’s Flying Circus
The TV show Monty Python’s Flying Circus premiered on BBC One. The show featured the comedy troupe Monty Python, consisting of John Cleese, Eric Idle, Graham Chapman, Michael Palin, Terry Jones, and Terry Gilliam.
The Circus lampooned British mannerisms and stereotypes, particularly those denoting class differences. Only 45 episodes were made, between 1969 and 1974.
Since Monty Python’s Flying Circus relied on cultural idiosyncrasies unique to Britain, critics thought American audiences would not appreciate its surreal humor. However, the show leaked into American TV in 1974 and slowly built a fan base. The cast went on to movies, Broadway, road shows, and lasting notoriety.
October 8: Four Days of Rage
The Weathermen (later known as the Weather Underground) was born as a faction of the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). They organized their first Vietnam War protest as a four-day event in Chicago to run October 8-11 called Days of Rage.
The few hundred protesters that showed up faced thousands of Chicago police and National Guardsmen, although the protesters’ numbers grew to 2,000 by the third day. The Weathermen had rejected the non-violent tactics promoted by the SDS, and smashed windows and cars as they marched through the streets.
By the end of the four-day riot, 287 Weathermen were arrested, and dozens of police and bystanders were injured. Both the SDS and the Black Panthers disavowed the Weathermen over the violence. The Weather Underground would produce more violent protests throughout the 1970s.
October 11: Soyuz 6
The Soviet Union launched the spacecraft Soyuz 6. That was followed by the launch of Soyuz 7 on October 12, and Soyuz 8 on October 13. All three spacecraft orbited the earth together with the goal of docking 7 and 8 together to transfer crew members, while Soyuz 6 recorded the operation on film. The transfer failed, but the crews successfully tested different methods of welding in space.
October 15: The Moratorium to End the War in Vietnam
The largest protest of the Vietnam War to that date occurred on October 15, when an estimated two million people (some estimates are much higher) participated in peaceful protests and demonstrations simultaneously across the country, including a quarter-million people who marched in Washington.
President Richard Nixon responded with a speech on November 3 in which he asked the “silent majority” of Americans to support the war. The Second Moratorium March was held in November 15 in Washington, attended by more than 500,000 people.
October 16: The Miracle Mets
The New York Mets were truly awful throughout most of the 1960s, so much so that the team was used as a metaphor for failure. But then came 1969.
Beginning in June, the team was on fire, fueled by future Hall of Famers Tom Seaver and Nolan Ryan. By fall, the Mets found themselves in the World Series, battling the Baltimore Orioles. After losing game one to the Orioles, the underdog Mets won the next four games and clinched the crown on October 16. The Mets have won the World Series only once since then, in 1986.
October 18: Relief from bubblegum
The song “Sugar Sugar” by the Archies relinquished the #1 spot on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart, where it had spent four weeks, to the Temptation’s song “I Can’t Get Next to You.”
October 18: Art heist
The 1609 Caravaggio painting Nativity with St. Francis and St. Lawrence had hung above the altar in the Oratorio di San Lorenzo in Palermo, Sicily, for hundreds of years. On October 18, 1969, a group of thieves removed the painting from its frame and made off with it, along with other church treasures. It was never seen again.
The Sicilian Mafia is suspected to have been involved. Over the years, a few people connected to the Mafia have made claims about the theft or the whereabouts of the painting, but none of those stories have led to any concrete evidence. A replica was commissioned and installed at the chapel in 2016.
October 18: Goodbye cyclamate
In the 1950s and ’60s, many new diet products were introduced that used a combination of saccharin and cyclamate as artificial sweeteners. But were they safe?
Animal studies showed that rats tended to develop cancer after ingesting cyclamates in the equivalent of 350 cans of soda a day.
On October 18, 1969, the U.S. banned the use of cyclamate in food. Diet products afterward used only saccharin, which left an aftertaste without the added cyclamate. When saccharin was banned for the same reason in 1977, consumers and manufacturer struck back and managed to reverse the ban. Cyclamate is in use in 130 countries today, but not in the United States.
October 24: Paul is not dead
The rumor that Beatle Paul McCartney had been dead for years was raging during the autumn of 1969. McCartney was at his farm in Scotland during the second half of October, and granted an interview to Chris Drake of the BBC on October 24:
McCartney suggested that the stories had begun as he had adopted a lower public profile recently. He said that he once did “an interview a week” to keep in the headlines, but since getting married and becoming a father he preferred to live a more private life.
He was firm in denying he had died, saying: “If the conclusion you reach is that I’m dead, then you’re wrong, because I’m alive and living in Scotland.”
We know it’s true, because Sir Paul released a new children’s book this year.
October 27: Nixon pretends to be insane
President Richard Nixon, hoping to scare the Soviet Union into pressuring North Vietnam into peace talks, executed the secret operation Giant Lance. The point was to convince Moscow that the leader of the US was crazy enough to use nukes.
On the morning of October 27, 1969, a squadron of 18 B-52s — massive bombers with eight turbo engines and 185-foot wingspans — began racing from the western U.S. toward the eastern border of the Soviet Union. The pilots flew for 18 hours without rest, hurtling toward their targets at more than 500 miles per hour. Each plane was loaded with nuclear weapons hundreds of times more powerful than the ones that had obliterated Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
During discussions between the Americans and the Soviets, Henry Kissinger hinted that the president was “out of control.” The good news was that the flights ended three days later without nuclear attack from either side. The bad news was that the USSR made no effort to stop the war in Vietnam. The public only learned of the operation 35 years later.
October 31: Wal-Mart milestone
Sam Walton’s chain of 38 Wal-Mart discount stores was formally incorporated as Wal-Mart, Inc. The following year, they opened their headquarters in Bentonville, Arkansas, and the company began to publicly trade stock. In 2019, the chain has 11,389 stores in 27 countries.