In this episode, we’ll learn about historical events that happened this week in history as they were depicted in these movies: Lincoln, All Quiet on the Western Front, and The Buddy Holly Story.
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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.
January 31, 1865. Washington DC
Our first movie gives us some text on screen to tell us it’s the morning of the vote.
Tommy Lee Jones’ character, Thaddeus Stevens, sits down in the empty room. It’s quiet. The calm before the storm.
The camera cuts to the upper balcony. There are more people in the room now. It’s filled with people. Two rows of Black men and women enter the upper balcony and find their seats. All the men below are quiet as they watch them enter. One of the men greets them, “Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, first in the history of this people’s chamber…to your House.”
A round of applause.
David Costabile’s version of James Ashley starts to speak, and we learn why this occasion is so important.
Today we are here for regarding the matter of adding a 13th amendment to the constitution. This amendment was passed by the Senate last year, says Mr. Ashley. We’ve debated for the past several weeks. Today we vote.
They are to have final statements before the vote.
The first causes a ruckus as Peter McRobbie’s version of George Pendleton from Ohio says he’s received confirmation that there is a delegation from the Confederacy in Washington DC bearing an offer of immediate cessation of the war. He proposes they postpone the vote until they hear from the President himself.
Seeing this, James Spader’s version of W.N. Bilbo and a couple others rush a note from the Capitol building to the White House where President Lincoln is waiting to hear the result of the vote. After Lincoln reads the note, he writes something down and hands it to Joseph Cross’ character, John Hay, to give to Mr. Ashley. At first, Hay questions this saying there is a delegation and making a false representation to Congress is impeachable. Lincoln says he hasn’t made a false representation, then he hands the note to Bilbo and tells him to deliver it to Mr. Ashley.
Mr. Ashley reads the note aloud to the House: “So far as I know there are no peace commissioners in the city nor are there likely to be.”
Despite some ongoing disagreements, the motion to postpone is tabled. They’re going to vote.
And, they do. Representatives are called by name and each one gives their “Yea” or “Nay” on the amendment. People are tallying the votes, counting down how many it will take to win. 15. 8. 6.
Finally, Speaker of the House Schuyler Colfax wishes to cast an “Aye” vote because, as he puts it, this isn’t usual—it’s history.
Speaker Colfax reads the final vote:
8 absent or not voting.
56 votes against.
119 votes for.
With a margin of two votes…
The camera cuts to President Lincoln in the White House. Church bells can be heard in the distance. Cannons are blasting. In the House of Representatives, there’s cheering and celebrating. Outside, throngs of people are cheering and singing. The 13th amendment passed!
The true story behind this week’s event depicted in the movie Lincoln
That sequence comes from the 2012 movie called Lincoln. The event it’s depicting is when United States House of Representatives voted to pass the 13th Amendment of the Constitution, which officially abolished slavery and involuntary servitude except as punishment for a crime. That happened this week in history on January 31st, 1865.
This was a momentous event in history because even though President Lincoln had passed the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1st, 1863, that proclamation made all the slaves in Confederate states free. Since the Civil War was still raging, though, it’s not like the Union could uphold the proclamation the Confederate states. It was not the end of slavery in the United States, but it can be considered the beginning of the end.
That process started in the same year when James Ashley from Ohio introduced an amendment to ban slavery on December 14th, 1863.
As battles raged across the United States during the American Civil War, political battles raged in Washington DC as lawmakers on either of the aisle debated the amendment that would end slavery.
On April 8th, 1864, the Senate passed the amendment by a vote of 38-6. That’s eight votes over the required amount to pass.
Then the amendment went to the House of Representatives. It was first debated there on June 14th, 1864 and failed to pass in a vote on the following day. That vote was 93 in favor, 65 against and 23 not voting. Since a two-thirds majority is needed to pass an amendment to the Constitution, the 13th Amendment failed.
The 13th Amendment was brought back up by President Lincoln on December 6th, 1864, who urged a reconsideration of it.
More debates followed at the beginning of 1865.
January 6th, 7th, 9th, 10th, 11th, 12th, 13th, 28th were filled with debates in the House of Representatives about the 13th Amendment.
Then, just like the movie shows, on January 31st, 1865, the House of Representatives voted on the 13th Amendment again. This is a quote from The Congressional Globe, a document in the Library of Congress about that event:
Mr. DAWSON called for the yeas and nays. The yeas and nays were ordered. The question was taken, and it was decided in the affirmative—yeas 119, nays 56, not voting 8; as follows…
…and then the document lists each of the members of the House of Representatives who voted “yea”, who voted “nay” and who decided not to vote. I won’t read each name here. It then continues…
So, the two thirds required by the Constitution of the United States having voted in favor thereof, the joint resolution was passed.
During the roll-call, on Mr. English and Mr. Ganson voting “ay,” there was considerable applause by members on the Republican side of the House.
The SPEAKER called repeatedly to order, and asked that members should set a better example to spectators in the gallery.
Mr. KALBFLEISCH and other Democratic members remarked that the applause came, not from the spectators in the gallery, but from members on the floor.
The SPEAKER. Members will take their seats and observe order.
The SPEAKER directed the Clerk to call his name as a member of the House.
The Clerk called the name of SCHUYLER COLFAX, of Indiana, and Mr. Colfax voted “ay.” [This incident was greeted with renewed applause.]
The SPEAKER. The constitutional majority of two thirds having voted in the affirmative, the joint resolution is passed.
[The announcement was received by the House and by the spectators with an outburst of enthusiasm. The members on the Republican side of the House instantly sprung to their feet, and, regardless of parliamentary rules, applauded with cheers and clapping of hands. The example was followed by the male spectators in the galleries, which were croweded to excess, who waved their hats and cheered loud and long, while the ladies, hundreds of whom were present, rose in their seats and waved their handkerchiefs, participating in and adding to the general excitement and intense interest of the scene. This lasted for several minutes.]
You’ll notice that event we saw in the movie where the Speaker asked for his own name to be called mentioned—it really did happen. After this, the House voted on a motion to adjourn, which also passed, so at 4:20 PM the House adjourned for the day.
If you want to read more about that event, you can find the document on the Library of Congress’ website. Look for A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation: U.S. Congressional Documents and Debates, 1774 – 1875 and the events of January 31st, 1865, are on page 531.
If you want to watch this event in the 2012 movie Lincoln, you’ll find the morning of the vote starting at 1h 47m and 23s.
And if you want to take a deeper dive into the true story behind the movie, including about that delegation from the Confederacy in DC at the time of the vote, check out episode number #170 of Based on a True Story to learn about the historical accuracy of the movie from Lincoln scholar Dr. Brian Dirck.
January 31, 1929. Germany.
It’s quiet. A fox sleeps, the baby sniffing around busily…From overhead, we can see dead soldiers lying on the frozen ground.
A spattering of gunshots sound, followed by dirt being kicked up as they hit around the soldiers. But everyone is dead already, so there’s no movement. The camera dollies in closer to the ground. Still no movement other than random gunshots, explosions here and there.
Then the camera cuts to the German trenches. A machine gun spits out shots while soldiers run this way and that in the trench.
Soldiers go to the ladders at the order of their commanding officer.
“Heinrich! Get out there!” is the order we hear when we see someone climb the ladder to the top of the trench.
The moment he’s at the top, a bullet hits him in the head and he falls back into the trench. Dead. Orders continue, “All of you, go!” Heinrich goes to tend to his fallen colleague, but the officer stops him. “Heinrich, get out there! Attack!” and Heinrich climbs the ladder his now-deceased friend just took to his death. Heinrich and plenty of other Germans make it up, though. And the camera follows them as they rush forward…charging toward an enemy we can’t see.
None of the soldiers shoot, they just run. They’re being shot at all the time. Men fall. Heinrich keeps going, panting as he drops down behind a fallen tree for some cover. Another soldier calls his name, “Heinrich!” but just as Heinrich gets to him…the soldier is shot and killed. Heinrich goes back to behind the log. Explosions kick dirt onto him. Another soldier falls next to him—blood covering his face as he lies there dead. Heinrich pants as he cocks his rifle and points it rather shakily over the cover. He shoots. Cock again. Fire. He’s not looking at where he’s shooting. He leaves the rifle now and pulls out his ax and runs straight ahead. Seeing an enemy soldier, he screams as he sticks the blade of the ax in the man’s chest.
Halfway through the scream, the scene cuts to black with the title of the movie: All Quiet on the Western Front.
The true story behind this week’s event depicted in the movie All Quiet on the Western Front
That sequence comes from the 2022 movie called All Quiet on the Western Front. And to be fair, the event that I just described in the movie isn’t anything to do with what happened this week in history…but, instead, it was this week in history that Erich Maria Remarque first published his novel that would be the basis for the movie. That was on January 31st, 1929.
Well, sort of.
You see, the story was published from November 10th to December 9th in 1928 in a serial form. The book form was published on January 31st, 1929, though.
The reception wasn’t entirely great at first. While plenty of readers loved the realism of the story and how eloquent Remarque’s words were, there were a lot of people in Germany who looked at his book as slandering a German war effort.
Because even though World War I was over, a new war was about to begin.
The book was banned by many countries because of its anti-war message. Austria banned their soldiers from reading it the same year it was published, 1929. Czechoslovakia the same and in 1933, Italy joined the ban. That year, 1933, All Quiet on the Western Front was one of the first books to be denounced and publicly burned by the Nazi Party.
However, many anti-war movements used the book as a way of helping to spread their own message against the evils of war. So, its popularity continued to spread.
In April of 1930, the book was adapted into a movie for the first time. That only helped spread the popularity of the book. Then, of course, in 2022 there was the latest on-screen adaptation of the book.
If you want to learn more about the historical accuracy of the 2022 movie, check out episode #218 of Based on a True Story with Dr. Christopher Warren from The National World War I Museum and Memorial.
February 2, 1959. Clear Lake, Iowa.
There are little drifts of snow piled up along the street corners.
A tow truck drives by pulling a big bus with a sign on it that says, “Winter Party ’59.”
As it passes by a big building, the camera shifts angles to show a better look at the large, stone building. People are bundled up in warm coats as they make their way out of the cold night air and up the steps to the front doors. Above the steps in the entryway reads a big sign that says: “WIOA Radio Presents Winter Party, ‘59”
Then, above that obviously temporary sign is the name of the building: “Clearlake Auditorium.”
The marquee on the auditorium mentions the date: “February 3.”
Also mentioned are the musicians playing tonight’s concert: “Dion & the Belmonts, Big Bopper, Ritchie Valens” and at the top of the marquee is the headliner: “Buddy Holly.”
Inside, we see Big Bopper performing.
Backstage, Gary Busey’s version of Buddy Holly makes a long-distance call to New York City. A woman in bed answers the phone. She gets excited to hear Buddy’s voice. He addresses her as Maria. Buddy mentions something about how they just got there because their bus broke down so they’re going to have to rent a plane tonight.
That must be the bus we saw a moment ago with the “Winter Party ‘59” sign on it as it was being towed away.
Maria tells Buddy they’re both doing fine. She kicked me this morning, and Buddy gets excited to hear it. She must be pregnant with their child.
As Big Bopper wraps up, Buddy tells Maria he has to go. He’ll call tomorrow. Love you, bye!
He hangs up the phone.
Just then, two guys enter Maria’s apartment. They seem to be friends of Buddy’s and they tell her they weren’t sure if he’d want to get back together. She says he’d love to, they say they were going to fly to Iowa to surprise Buddy and they want to know where the show goes next. Maria looks it up. Tomorrow he’ll be in Moorhead, Minnesota, 8 PM.
Back on stage, the crowd goes crazy as Big Bopper introduces who he calls a fellow Texan, Mr. Buddy Holly.
We see a decent amount of the set in the movie. It starts off with a slow song called True Love Ways before getting more upbeat with a medley of Buddy Holly’s classic rock songs like That’ll Be the Day, Oh Boy and Peggy Sue among others. Big Bopper and Ritchie Valens joining Buddy Holly on stage to perform the big finale at the concert.
Then, just as Buddy says “We love you, Clearlake! We’ll see you next year!” to end the concert, the music and roaring crowd fade away.
Text on the screen tells us that Buddy Holly died later that night along with J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson and Ritchie Valens in a crash of a private airplane just outside of Clearlake…and the rest is rock ‘n roll.
The true story behind this week’s event depicted in the movie The Buddy Holly Story
That sequence comes from the 1978 movie called The Buddy Holly Story. And right away you might’ve noticed a discrepancy. When we started this event, I gave the date of February 2nd, 1959, while the date on the marquee sign of the Clearlake Auditorium said February 3rd.
The true story is that the final performance for Ritchie Valens, The Big Bopper and Buddy Holly was at the Surf Ballroom in Clearlake, Iowa on the evening of February 2nd, 1959. The plane crash that took the lives of all three musicians was in the early morning hours of February 3rd.
While the movie is correct to mention the tour bus breaking down as the reason why the musicians took a plane, there’s more to the story that we don’t see in the movie.
On February 1st, J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson, Dion DiMucci from Dion & the Belmonts, Ritchie Valens, Buddy Holly and other musicians on the tour were driving from their last concert in Duluth, Minnesota. It was in the early morning hours of the 1st when, near Hurley, Wisconsin, the tour bus threw a piston.
Without heat on the bus, the musicians had to burn newspapers in the aisle of the bus for hours to battle the freezing cold. Temperatures that night were around -30° Fahrenheit, or about -34° Celsius.
They managed to find another bus which they boarded near Green Bay, Wisconsin. They were headed to the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa, where their next show was. That’s about 350 miles, or 560 kilometers away.
That bus didn’t have much luck against the frigid temperatures, either. Just before they made it to Clear Lake, the heaters on the bus failed. From my research, I couldn’t find anything to suggest the bus itself was broken down, but the heater not working was enough. The bus had to be repaired.
But, they managed to make it to the Surf Ballroom in time for their 8 PM concert.
But, because of their bad luck with buses, Buddy Holly had decided he didn’t want to get on a bus for the next stretch of the road. The bus breaking down and just barely making it to Clear Lake in time for the show meant they were all tired and dirty—not like they’d done laundry in a while.
The movie was correct to mention their next show was in Moorhead, Minnesota. And if you remember I just mentioned they were in Minnesota before going to Iowa, so you’re probably wondering why they were doing that…well, you’re not alone. The whole tour was rather poorly planned out so the musicians had to crisscross a lot, and added on the bus breakdowns, Buddy was looking forward to a few extra hours of relaxation time that flying would give him before everyone else arrived on the bus.
Buddy asked the manager at the Surf Ballroom to look into getting a flight to their next show. They were flying into Fargo, North Dakota, which is right along the state border and about a mile away from their next show in Moorhead, Minnesota.
While the manager found a flight, the musicians had a show to do.
Tickets that night were $1.25 and over 1,200 people showed up—pretty good numbers considering the town of Clear Lake had a population of around 8,000. Lots of people coming in from out of town, no doubt.
Oh, and that $1.25 ticket in 1959 is about the same as $12.75 today.
The concert itself went off without a hitch.
And the manager was able to find a plane. It was a Beechcraft Bonanza airplane, which seats four people. One of those seats was for the pilot, a man named Roger Peterson. So that left three for the musicians…but there were more musicians than that, which means they had to figure out who would fly and who would end up taking a bus anyway.
Buddy was the one who wanted to fly, so he was one of them. Ritchie Valens and another in the band, Tommy Allsup, both wanted one of the seats. They flipped a coin for it. Valens called heads and it came down heads, so he won the seat. The last seat was going to another band member, Waylon Jennings, but he offered to let Big Bopper take the seat instead because Big Bopper had come down with the flu so the extra time in Moorhead would give him some extra time to recuperate before the rest of the musicians arrived for the show by bus.
And if you’re a fan of country music, yes it was that Waylon Jennings.
And so it was that Big Bopper, Ritchie Valens, Buddy Holly and pilot Roger Peterson got into the plane. They took off just before 1:00 AM on Tuesday, February 3rd, 1959.
They made it six miles before the plane crashed. All four on board were killed. The cause of the crash was determined to be because the pilot, Roger Peterson, was only qualified to fly using visuals and not only using instruments. Since the weather was so bad, they couldn’t see well enough to fly visually and, on top of that, there’s been speculation that he wasn’t familiar with the instruments in the Beechcraft Bonanza plane he was flying.
Today, February 3rd is known as “the day the music died” because singer-songwriter Don McLean referred to it in his popular song American Pie.
While the crash itself isn’t shown, the movie that I was describing to start this segment is the 1978 biopic simply called The Buddy Holly Story. It does show Buddy’s last concert in Clear Lake, Iowa, and that starts at an hour and 37 minutes into the movie.
Oh! And as a fun little bit of trivia, my best friend is Buddy Holly’s cousin! So, as you can imagine, her family knows quite a bit about the real Buddy Holly—she told me his last name originally was spelled Holley—but his wife or mom, they’re not really sure which, convinced him to change the spelling to Holly because it’s easier.