History Book

MARY REICHARD, HOST: Next up on The World and Everything in It: the WORLD Radio History Book. Today, a space rock hits a woman while she’s taking a nap. And 28 years ago, Margaret Thatcher resigns as Britain’s prime minister.

NICK EICHER, HOST: But first, we mark the 183rd birthday of one of America’s foremost humorists. Here’s Paul Butler.

PAUL BUTLER, REPORTER: Today we begin with the birth of Mark Twain on November 30th, 1835. Born Samuel Langhorne Clemens, he is the sixth of seven children. When Samuel is a toddler, the Clemens family moves to Hannibal, Missouri—a town that eventually inspires The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

MOVIE SOUND: Well ain’t that work? Well, all I know is that it suits Tom Sawyer. Say, let me whitewash…

As a young man, Clemens serves as a printer’s apprentice before becoming a typesettist. He leads an adventurous life as a riverboat pilot, Confederate soldier, an unsuccessful miner, and renowned journalist before turning homourist.

He was raised a Presbyterian and seemed to maintain that affiliation to some degree for most of his life. Some of his harshest satire was against religious hypocrisy and fanaticism, as can be heard in this dramatic presentation by Hal Holbrook of Twain’s 1896 article: The Lowest Animal.

HOLBROOK: He loves his neighbor as himself, and cuts his throat if his theology isn’t straight. Why he’s made a graveyard of the globe in trying his honest best to smooth his brother’s path to happiness and heaven.

Later Twain said he believed in God, but doubted supernatural revelation, God’s providential role in the world, and he wavered on the existence of an afterlife. Samuel Clemens died in 1910.

Next, November 30th, 1954. Ann Hodges of Sylacauga, Alabama, is reclining on her couch when a softball-sized meteorite crashes through her ceiling. It bounces off her radio and strikes her side.

News of the meteorite earns Hodges 15 minutes of fame. Dozens of newspapers interview her. She also appears on the cover of Life magazine and is featured on the 1954 television program I’ve Got a Secret, with host Garry Moore.

MOORE: Imagine, you are lying in your bed…now what time was this?

HODGES:About 12:45.

MOORE: 12:45 and this comes through the roof and hits you. This is the actual meteorite Ms. Hodges?

HODGES: Yes, that’s right…

Hodges and her landlord both claim the rock belongs to them. Their court case is national news. By the time the two parties settle their dispute, no one is interested in purchasing the meteorite. Hodges and her husband eventually donate it to the Alabama Museum of Natural History in 1956.

MOORE: The first person in recorded history ever to be hit by a meteorite. Imagine that. Other people probably have been, but nobody was ever around or they didn’t live to tell about the experience…

And finally, November 28th, 1990. After 11 years as British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher resigns.  

THATCHER: Ten years ago, the eastern part of Europe lay under totalitarian rule, its people knowing neither rights nor liberties. Today, we have a Europe in which democracy, the rule of law, and basic human rights are spreading ever more widely…

Thatcher is the longest-serving prime minister of the 20th century and the first woman to hold the post. She was a strong ally of U.S. President Ronald Reagan. She is most-often remembered for her small government policies, social reforms, and as an advocate for democracy in Europe.

THATCHER: These immense changes did not come about by chance. They have been achieved by strength and resolution in defense, and by a refusal ever to be intimidated. No one in eastern Europe believes that their countries would be free had it not been for those western governments who were prepared to defend liberty, and who kept alive their hope that one day east Europe too would enjoy freedom.

Thatcher remained politically active for more than a decade—both publicly and behind the scenes—before retiring due to health concerns. She died in 2013, at the age of 87.

That’s this week’s WORLD Radio History Book, I’m Paul Butler.

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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