In this episode, we’ll learn about historical events that happened this week in history as they were depicted in BAnastasia, Eight Men Out, and Dahmer.
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Note: This transcript is automatically generated. There will be mistakes, so please don’t use them for quotes. It is provided for reference use to find things better in the audio.
July 17, 1918. Yekaterinburg, Siberia.
Our first movie this week is a cartoon. We’re in a dark room, looking through some pillars. The stonework around the room is suddenly illuminated with a red pillar of light from the center of the frame.
We hear some voiceover explaining what’s going on as more magical elements are swirling around angrily in the shot…almost like a tornado.
The voiceover says that Rasputin was consumed by his hatred of Nicholas and his family and sold his soul for the power to destroy them.
The man by the swirling pillar tornado of magic gets sucked into it, leaving only his skeletal bones behind. The cartoon skeleton is outlined in a glowing blue that contrasts against the red lighting.
Just then, a glass vial wrapped with what looks like a snake with a skull on top appears in the air. Inside the glass vial is some sort of a green magical element floating. The blue skeleton grabs it, and we can see it forming around the skeleton.
Then, we see the evil-looking Rasputin again, his face lit by the green magic. Under his breath, he mutters to the magical green element that it must, go and fulfill its dark purpose—to seal the fate of the czar and his family once and for all.
The green element oozes out of the glass vial as it leaves the room and to the streets outside. The voiceover says from that moment on, the spark of unhappiness across our country was fanned into a flame, and on the screen, we can see the little green magical elements doing something that seems to be spreading into people rioting, revolting, and tearing down statues.
This sequence comes from the 1997 animated movie called Anastasia and, as you’ve probably guessed, this is not what really happened at all.
But it is trying to depict something that really did happy this week in history when the last Czar of Russia, Nicholas II, was killed along with his family in Yekaterinburg on July 17th, 1918.
Since the movie’s version of this event is highly fictional, let’s get a quick summary of what really happened.
To understand this, we have to realize that in mid-1918, the Great War was still raging. What we now call World War I. Of course, we know now that it ended in November of 1918, but in July of 1918, they didn’t know that for sure. What they did know was that things were going badly for Russia in the war.
They were one of the first countries to join the war in 1914, and almost right away the Russian armies were not doing well. They were being defeated so badly that Nicholas II decided to take personal control of them. His advisers didn’t like this idea, but he did it anyway, and for the next few years he spent most of his time away from the government.
That’s important to the story because of the other character we see in the movie: Rasputin. He was a real person, although he wasn’t necessarily the evil mastermind behind the demise of the Czar and his family.
That said, Rasputin was…well…there are a lot of questions around the real Rasputin. We do know he was a self-proclaimed holy man. He was a mystic. So, obviously, the cartoon movie takes those things to the extreme by making him some sort of a magician when in reality he was probably more of a religious figure—a prophet of sorts.
We do know he was a friend of Nicholas II and the rest of the imperial family, and he helped with the imperial family’s only son, Alexei, who was sick a lot due to hemophilia. So, Rasputin acted as a sort of religious healer for little Alexei which meant he was around quite a bit.
Meanwhile, when Nicholas II went away to lead the Russian army in World War I, as the months and years dragged on, Empress Alexandra relied more and more on Rasputin’s advice.
A lot of people in Russia didn’t like Rasputin and saw him as nothing more than a fake, a fraud, a charlatan. As his influence over the empire grew, so, too, did the unhappiness within the Russian public about how the Empress was allowing him to influence her decisions.
On top of that, Nicholas II was not doing a good job leading the Russian army in the war. They were suffering huge loss of life and the cost of the war weighed heavily on the economy. High inflation and lots of poverty became the norm in Russia.
So, the riots and unrest we see happening in the movie really did happen, but it wasn’t because of some magical power by Rasputin, but instead it was because the Russian people were fed up with the way the Czar was leading the country. The riots that broke out in February of 1917 were so bad that Nicholas II had no choice but to abdicate the throne—he did that on March 15th, 1917. That formally ended the monarchy in Russia that had been established back in 1721.
So, to back up with a little historical context: World War I is still going on. Russia is in the war. Meanwhile, back at home, Russians are without the monarchy that has led the country for hundreds of years. There was a provisional government in place, but that was overthrown by Vladimir Lenin’s Bolshevik party in the fall of 1917.
Meanwhile, Nicholas II and his family had already left the palace after Nicholas II abdicated, and they were placed under house arrest.
At this point, essentially Russia was entangled in a civil war on top of World War I still going on, too. For the purposes of our story today, though, Lenin, had to figure out what to do with the former monarch and his family. Well…we wouldn’t be talking about it if we didn’t already know what they decided to do.
What’s tricky about this part of the story, though, is that there has been a lot of conflicting reports and sources about exactly what happened. As they say, history is written by the winners, and in this case, much of the history that survived is written by those who made sure the Romanov family did not survive.
The gist of the story, though, is that out of fear of approaching anti-Bolshevik forces nearing where the Czar and his family were being held, Nicholas II and his family were woken up in the early morning hours of July 17th, 1918 and led to the basement of a house. It was for their own safety against the oncoming forces. At least, that’s how the story goes for what they were told. Instead, though, the entire family was executed in the basement.
Or was it? Did their youngest daughter, Anastasia, survive? Some say she did.
Because of what I just mentioned, this version of history being written by the winners, the true story of exactly what happened in that basement has been studied, debated, and researched by historians ever since.
If you want to watch the story, this week is a great one to watch the 1997 animated cartoon simply called Anastasia. The sequence we started this segment with is right at the beginning, at about four minutes into the movie. And if you want to learn more about the true story, we dug deeper into what really happened back in episode #94 of Based on a True Story.
July 18, 1921. Chicago, Illinois.
The camera is from the ground, angled up. In the background is a tall city building. In the foreground is a young boy holding a bundle of papers. He calls out the same headline from the newspaper in his hand. We can see it printed as he yells, “Sox trial starts today!”
In the next shot, there are people standing outside a stately stone building. The camera quickly cuts to inside the building where plenty of men and women are milling around. Everyone seems to be dressed up, there are some women but there seem to be more men—all of whom are wearing nice suits.
A couple of the guys walk to the forefront as their dialog starts. One of them, an older man, throws his thumb in the direction of someone else, identifying him as Commy’s lawyer. He’s the one who has counsel lined up for the boys. The other man looks at the lawyer who is now engaged in a conversation of his own in the background.
He turns back to the older man and says he thought Commy was testifying against them. The older man says it depends on which way the ball rolls.
The man says there are three signed confessions, that’s a tough hand to beat. The old man smiles, this is Chicago—anything can happen!
This scene comes from the 1989 movie called Eight Men Out and it might be showing something that happened this week in history. This is another of those cases where the movie doesn’t really tell us the exact date so we’re having to deduce what the day is based on the events in the movie.
The next 20 minutes or so show people giving testimony, and it seems to be in the same room without any obvious passage of time, so that’s why I’m assuming that this is depicting when the testimony began at the trial for the Chicago “Black” Sox on July 18th, 1921.
The bit of confusion is the trial itself started about a month earlier on June 27th. It got delayed some for illness, or alleged illness at least, some evidence went missing, or allegedly went missing at least, and the jury selection process happened.
Of course, the name “Black” Sox was a nickname. The official team is the Chicago White Sox of Major League Baseball, and the squad we’re referring to here was the 1919 White Sox team who earned the nickname the “Black” Sox because they were accused of throwing the 1919 World Series.
Well, not all of them.
Eight of the players on the White Sox were accused of getting paid to throw the series. The man behind the payment was a crime boss in Chicago named Arnold Rothstein. He ran a gambling circuit in town and paid off the players to help control the outcome of the series.
At least, that’s what the allegations were.
However, the scandal changed the face of Major League Baseball forever because even before the trial took place, the reputation of baseball had been tarnished across the United States. People had lost trust in MLB as an entity to provide a clean game. To help battle this, the owners got together and decided to enlist the help of a federal judge who was widely respected: Kenesaw Mountain Landis. He agreed to help fix the way baseball was governed on one condition, that he was the only Commissioner. Basically, he had full control over the game of baseball. And so it was that on November 12th, 1920, Kenesaw Mountain Landis became the very first Commissioner of Baseball—a position that still exists as the sole person who oversees Major League Baseball today.
The movie’s mention of “Commy” is a correct reference to one of the owners, Charles Comiskey. He was the closest to the scandal since he was the owner of the Chicago White Sox. Most MLB owners back then weren’t liked by the players because there wasn’t a union for the players so the owners basically had total control over the players. So, as a result, it wasn’t hard to find players who needed extra cash.
The trial lasted for few weeks until, on August 2nd, the jury deliberated for three hours and came back with a not guilty verdict for all the players.
But, the game had already been changed forever. In the aftermath of the trial, even though the eight players charged had been found not guilty, Commissioner Landis declared all eight players were to be banned permanently from baseball. Many people saw this as him using the eight players as an example against anyone else who might want to tarnish the game.
Those eight players had their careers ruined and in the process created a whirlwind of controversy.
If you want to watch the start of the trial testimony as it’s shown in the movie, check out 1988’s Eight Men Out and the scene we started this segment with is at about an hour and 37 minutes into the movie.
And if you want to learn more about the true story and some of the levels of involvement for the players, we covered this movie back in episode #132 of Based on True Story.
July 22, 1991. Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
The camera focuses on a telephone pole. On the pole is a piece of paper. At the top the headline says, “Missing Person. Have you seen me?” Then there’s a photo of the missing person, and beneath the photo the text is more difficult to read but we can see the name if Oliver Lacy.
As the camera pans up slightly we can see another “Missing” paper on the same pole. There’s no cut as the camera shifts focus to behind the telephone pole and we can see a man walking along the sidewalk. In red neon is a sign that says, “Club 219.”
The man, who we can see is a white man with blond hair and wearing glasses, slowly walks inside.
Once inside the club, we can hear the sound of music. The man walks to the bar and asks a couple other guys already there if he can buy them a drink. The two Black guys at the bar mock the man in glasses when he orders two PBRs for them. PBRs? Must be a real player, one of the guys laughs.
The man in glasses doesn’t reply, but he slowly takes a drink from his glass. We can see a cigarette is in his hand.
One of the guys speaks to the man in glasses again. “You bought me a drink before, you know that right?”
The man seems to be in a bit of a daze as he replies, “Have I?”
One of the two Black guys at the bar points out that there aren’t a lot of white queens in there with blond hair. The white guy in glasses doesn’t say anything, just takes another drink.
Then, a third Black guy walks to the bar from where he was in the restroom. He says that the guy in glasses bought him a drink last week, too. But he didn’t even make a move, did he? He sits down at the bar as he says this, taking a drink from the pint glass. The man in glasses slurs his words as he orders one more for the new arrival at the bar.
This sequence is how the 2022 miniseries from Netflix simply called Dahmer starts. And while the series only starts by saying it’s 1991 in Milwaukee, the events it’s depicting here really did happen this week in history on July 22nd, 1991.
We know this because the third man that we see sitting down at the bar after Dahmer had already ordered two beers was named Tracy Edwards. The series goes on to show this, and we also see him going back to Dahmer’s apartment. When he’s there, Dahmer tries to kill him but Edwards managed to get away.
All that is accurate.
It’s also true that Edwards flagged down some cops who took him back to Dahmer’s apartment to try and get the key for the handcuffs Edwards had on his wrist. While looking for the key, the cops found photographs of dismembered bodies. Looking closer at the photos, they recognized the background in the photos as the apartment they were standing in.
And so, Jeffrey Dahmer was arrested and taken to the police station where, just like we see happen in the series, Detective Patrick Kennedy led the interrogation. They found more body parts in Dahmer’s apartment, so Dahmer knew he was caught. He confessed right away, and it was up to Kennedy to unravel the evil.
If you want to see the event that happened this week in history, we started our segment at about five minutes into the first episode of the Netflix series Dahmer.
Oh, and the brief piece of paper for a missing person named Oliver Lacy on the telephone pole that we mentioned is also accurate. Well, I don’t know if the paper looked exactly like the one we see in the series, but Oliver Lacy really was one of Dahmer’s victims.
And Club 219 that we see in the first episode really was a gay bar in Milwaukee that Dahmer frequented and lure people back to his apartment where he’d kill them.
That first episode goes on to recount more things that happened this week in history that led up to Jeffrey Dahmer’s confession.
And if you want to dig deeper into the true crime story, we covered the Netflix series with Robyn Maharaj, who co-wrote Kennedy’s memoir called Grilling Dahmer: The Interrogation of the Milwaukee Cannibal. You can hear that at basedonatruestorypodcast.com/217
July 20th, 1944. East Prussia.
We’ve already done our three stories for this week so we’ll make this bonus one quick, but if you’re still looking for something else to watch then this week would be a great time to watch the 2008 movie Valkyrie. That’s because it was on July 20th, 1944 at Adolf Hitler’s military headquarters in East Prussia known as Wolf’s Lair that Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg attempted to assassinate Hitler.
Although it was probably one of the closest attempts on Hitler’s life, as we know from history, it was not successful. The whole plot is shown in the 2008 movie where Tom Cruise plays Stauffenberg and we covered the true story back in episode #62 of Based on a True Story.