History Book: A death at Martha’s Vineyard, and a failed assassination


NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Monday, July 15th. 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: 50 years ago this week, a tragedy on Martha’s Vineyard with political repercussions. 

Plus, 75 years ago, a failed assassination and revolt in Hitler’s Germany.

EICHER: But before all that, an anniversary of the first performance of one of classical music’s most recognizable suites. Here’s Paul Butler.

PAUL BUTLER, REPORTER: On the evening of July 17th, 1717, Britain’s King George I (the first) throws a party on the River Thames. He commissioned George Frideric Handel to compose music for the occasion.

BURROWS: Writing music for a party sounds easy, but it’s actually very complicated. What sort of thing do you do? 

Professor Donald Burrows is a music scholar and historian:

BURROWS: Handel found a very interesting mix. On the one hand, very simple dance movements…things like minuets…and on the other hand, he wrote these grand, longer pieces, that made full use of this great gathering of players…

On the night of the party, the King leaves the palace with a large entourage of wealthy and loyal nobles. They board a barge and ride the incoming tide upriver for a late supper. A second barge with 50 musicians accompanies the river parade. 

According to the account in The Daily Courant newspaper, dozens of boats cover the river to watch the party and listen to the premiere of Handel’s “Water Music.” 

MUSIC: [Water Music]

“Water Music” is an immediate success. The king likes it so well, he demands the musicians play it again and again during the trip. 

“Water Music” is one of Handel’s most recognizable works. The memorable melodies and joyful dances make it one of his most popular compositions.

Next, 75 years ago this week, Adolf Hitler narrowly survives an assassination and coup attempt:

NEWSREEL: Operation rooms, Hitler’s headquarters following the attempt on the fuhrer’s life. Conjecture runs high on whether in fact he did escape at the time or succumb later to his injuries…

On July 20th, 1944, a young, decorated German army colonel arrives at Hitler’s secure command post in Prussia. Hidden in his leather briefcase are plastic explosives. During a scheduled staff meeting in the “Wolf’s Lair,” Claus von Stauffenberg sets the briefcase on the floor near Hitler. Later, Stauffenberg steps out of the room for a phone call. The bomb explodes and he flees to Berlin to join the attempt to overthrow Hitler’s government.

NEWSREEL: According to Gertils, everyone in the conference—with the exception of and the fuhrer—was blown out the window by the blast…

Four men die in the explosion, but Hitler escapes with only injuries. An officer discovered Stauffenberg’s briefcase and moved it behind a thick table leg just seconds before it detonated. The heavy table protected Hitler from the force of the blast. 

The Nazi’s quickly put down the planned revolt known as “Operation Valkyrie” when news of Hitler’s escape reached Berlin. They executed hundreds of dissidents, including Stauffenberg and his fellow conspirators.

After this 6th attempt on his life, Hitler avoids most public events and distrusts nearly everyone. But in the end, he isn’t killed by the Allies, or an assassin, but dies by his own hand as Germany prepares to surrender.

And finally, 50 years ago this week:

HOWARD K. SMITH: Senator Edward M. Kennedy drove a car off a narrow bridge and into a pond on Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts. A young woman in the car with him was drowned. Kennedy survived but failed to report the accident until 10 hours later…

ABC news anchor, Howard K. Smith.

One week after the July 18th incident, Senator Ted Kennedy enters a guilty plea for “leaving the scene of an accident.” That evening he addresses the people of Massachusetts with his version of events. 

TED KENNEDY: I remember thinking with the cold water coming around my head that I was drowning…

Kennedy explains his decision to leave the scene as the result of a concussion and shock. He off-handedly admits the accident made him wonder about a family curse. During his 12-minute speech, he appears reserved, but not quite apologetic. 

TED KENNEDY: These events raises the question in my mind of whether my standing with the people of my state has been so impaired that I should resign my seat in the United States Senate… 

In the end, Kennedy does not resign, though the media attention makes him reconsider his presidential aspirations. A judge hands down a suspended two-month jail sentence, and revokes Kennedy’s drivers license temporarily.

BRIEFING: Right now we’re trying to locate survivors…

Thirty years later, almost to the day, Kennedy’s nephew—John F. Kennedy Jr.—dies when the plane he’s piloting crashes off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard.

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


(Photo/Legal Insurrection)

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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