History Book

NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Monday, January 28th. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day. Good morning. I’m Nick Eicher.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard. Coming next on The World and Everything in It: the WORLD Radio History Book.

Today, Washington D.C.’s biggest and deadliest snowfall. Plus, 50 years ago this week, the Beatles perform together for the last time.

EICHER: But first, one of America’s most well loved patriotic hymns. We remember the anniversary of its publication. Here’s Paul Butler.

PAUL BUTLER, REPORTER: We begin today with February 1st, 1862. The Atlantic Monthly publishes “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” It’s a poem written by unitarian suffragist and abolitionist Julia Ward Howe.

A few months earlier, during a trip to Washington, D.C., Howe met Abraham Lincoln and attended a public review of Union troops in nearby Virginia. During the procession, soldiers sung a popular marching song, “John Brown’s Body.”

LYRIC: John Brown’s body is moldering in the grave…

James Freeman Clarke, a pastor traveling with Howe, felt some of the lyrics were irreverent, so he challenged her to write a more fitting verse.

In the late night hours of November 19th, Howe awoke with the words of the poem forming in her mind. She bolted out of bed, found the stubble of pen in the hotel room, and wrote furiously.

LYRIC: He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored;
He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword:
His truth is marching on.

Howe later said it felt like the words flowed through her, and not from her. She believed the poem was more a gift from God than her own creation.

After publication in The Atlantic Monthly, the patriotic song spread rapidly across the country, becoming a powerful theme in many future struggles, including the civil rights movement.

MLK FINAL SPEECH: Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord  [Applause]

Howe gained induction into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1970 and the U.S. Postal Service featured her on the 14 cent stamp in 1987.

LYRIC: Glory, Glory, Hallelujah. His truth is marching on.

Next, January 27th, 1922.

AUDIO: [Sound of blizzard]

A Category 5, extra-tropical cyclone hits the Mid-Atlantic coast, dumping nearly 3 feet of snow on Washington, D.C., over two days. The wind produces snow drifts as high as 16 feet, and the blizzard shuts down the city, and the government.

However, on the evening of January 28th, The Knickerbockera north side movie house—opens its doors for an evening showing of Get-Rich-Quick Wallingford. The Knickerbocker is the largest and newest movie theater in Washington, D.C. While not a full house, more than 300 patrons brave the weather for the event.

Over the evening, snow continues to pile high on the building’s flat roof. During intermission, the weight becomes too much for the steel and concrete structure.

AUDIO: [Sound of roof collapse]

It collapses, killing 98 and injuring 133 more.

The accident leads to improved building techniques and inspections. And the January Blizzard of ‘22 becomes known as the Knickerbocker Storm in commemoration of the victims who died in the theater disaster.

And finally, January 30th, 1969—50 years ago this week:

The Beatles perform an unpublicized concert on the 5th floor rooftop of Apple Records in London: it turns out to be the last time they play together publicly:


Some of the band members weren’t so sure of the idea, including George Harrison:

HARRISON: Are you still expecting us to be on the chimney with a lot of people, or something like that? You know, whatever, I’ll do it, but I don’t want to go on the roof…

The lunch-time performance draws onlookers to the streets and neighboring roof tops. The Metropolitan Police become concerned about noise levels and stopped traffic, so they shut the concert down after 42 minutes.

Fans wonder if the performance is the group’s way of trying out material for a tour, but the Beatles disband eight months later.


In 2009, Paul McCartney reenacted the 1969 concert with a surprise performance atop the Ed Sullivan Theater marquee in New York after an appearance on the Late Show with David Letterman. Street corners were closed off to accommodate fans as news spread quickly via social media. This time, police let the concert take its course, unhindered.


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

(Photo/The Telegraph)

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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One comment on “History Book

  1. Craig Williams says:

    “soldiers sung a popular marching song” Have we really come to the point where World journalists can’t do any better than the rest?

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