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330: This Week: The Trench, 1776, The Pride of the Yankees, Lawrence of Arabia, Project Blue Book

In this episode, we’ll learn about historical events that happened this week in history as they were depicted in these four movies: The Trench, 1776, The Pride of the Yankees, Lawrence of Arabia, and the TV series Project Blue Book.

Events from This Week in History


Birthdays from This Week in History


A Historical Movie Released This Week in History

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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 1st, 1916. Northern France.

The sky is an eerie yellow-orange color. Silhouetted against the eerie light in the foreground we can see two soldiers wearing British-style helmets. While they face the left side of the camera’s frame, another soldier walks on the right side of the frame in the trenches. Also, on the right side we can see posts with barbed wire strung between them.

The camera cuts to a soldier sitting in one of the trenches. Text on the screen tells us it’s 5:30 AM. The soldier is smoking a cigarette as he writes something down, presumably a letter. When the camera angle cuts closer, we can see his face a little better. This is Daniel Craig’s character, Sgt. Telford Winter. After examining the letter one last time, Winter folds it up and puts it into an envelope. Then, he picks up his rifle and puts on his helmet.

He walks down the trench a little way and says “good morning” to some other soldiers. It’s still very dark, so it’s hard to see how many soldiers are there, but I can count at least five or six at any one time on screen. It makes for what looks like cramped quarters in the trenches.

A few minutes further into the movie, it’s brighter outside now as the sun seems to have risen further. The battle is about to begin.

The true story behind this week’s event depicted in the movie The Trench

That is how the 1999 movie called The Trench shows an event that happened this week in history…and right up front it’s helpful to know this movie is trying to capture the essence of what it was like for the British soldiers leading up to the battle. So, it’s not going to be entirely accurate to everything that happened or even the soldiers who were there. For example, I couldn’t find anything in my research to suggest Daniel Craig’s character, Sgt. Winter, was based on a specific soldier.

With that said, though, the movie is correct to show the Battle of the Somme starting this week in history on July 1st, 1916. The name coming from the Somme River in Northern France.

By the end of July 1st, the British Army alone suffered 57,000 casualties marking the bloodiest day in its history. The battle lasted for 140 days, from July 1st to November 18th, 1916, and in that time over three million soldiers fought.

The British suffered 420,000 casualties, the French around 200,000, and the Germans lost at least 450,000 men. So, with over a million men killed or wounded, the Battle of the Somme went down as one of the deadliest battles in human history.

Some people refer to the Battle of the Somme as the start of modern warfare because it was during this battle that the first tanks were used when the British sent them into action on September 15th, 1916. It was also the first time a creeping barrage was used in battle. That’s when artillery continues to move forward to lay cover for infantry close behind it.

Well, I guess, technically that wasn’t the first time—the Bulgarians used a creeping barrage during the siege of Adrianople in March of 1913, but with the start of World War I in 1914, most of the rest of the world had already forgotten about that event and in a way it was re-invented at the Battle of the Somme.

If you want to watch the depiction on screen, check out the 1999 movie called The Trench. Most of the movie is set this week in history as it starts on June 29th, 1916, but the beginning of July 1st starts at an hour, eight minutes and 47 seconds into the film.


July 3rd, 1776. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

A piece of paper reading July 2 is torn off to reveal the new date underneath. July 3.

We’re inside a large room with tall ceilings. And we’re not alone; there are a number of well-dressed men sitting at desks scattered throughout the room.

David Ford’s version of John Hancock bangs a gavel on his desk and stands up. He addresses the room, asking if there are any objections to the declaration as it stands now. William Daniels’ character, John Adams, stands up and says he has one. He points out that the correct word is “unalienable” and not “inalienable.”

Ken Howard’s version of Thomas Jefferson replies by saying that, no, “inalienable” is the correct word. Adams disagrees. The men in the room murmur. Calling the room to order by banging the gavel again, Hancock asks if Jefferson will yield to Mr. Adams’ request. Jefferson refuses.

After a moment, Adams withdraws his objection and sits back down.

Then, John Hancock puts a large piece of paper on the desk. The camera cuts to a closeup as we see him signing his name beneath all the writing. Someone comments how large his signature is and Hancock replies it’s so “Fat George” in London can read it without his glasses. Everyone laughs at this.

Hancock tells everyone to step up. “Don’t miss your chance to commit treason,” he says.

Just then, a messenger enters the room and hands a piece of paper off. Standing in front of everyone, it’s read aloud. The message is a report. It says the eve of battle is near. It also says the forces consist entirely of Haslet’s Delaware Militia and Smallwood’s Marylanders—5,000 troops to stand against 25,000 of the enemy.

The laughing from just a moment ago turns to a somber note as everyone realizes this is serious. The report continues to say the enemy is in plain sight beyond the river. We do not know how this will end, but there will be brave men lost before it does. The report is signed, “G. Washington.”

As the reading of the report is finished, William Duell’s version of Andrew McNair gets up from his chair. He steps up to the piece of paper that reads July 3. Tearing off the top piece, now it is July 4.

Hancock instructs McNair to ring the bell.

The true story behind this week’s event depicted in the movie 1776

That is how the movie called 1776 tells the story of an event that happened this week in history when the Continental Congress approved the Declaration of Independence on July 4th, 1776.

The true story? Well, it’s not really what we see in the movie. But that’s not too surprising because even though it’s not so obvious from the segment we’re talking about today, the movie 1776 is a musical interpretation of the events.

With that said, though, it is true that John Hancock was the first person to sign the Declaration of Independence. And his signature was the largest and horizontally centered on the Declaration—that’s why the saying of leaving one’s “John Hancock” is a term people use for signing a document today.

The other people in the movie are based on real people in history, too. Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and the custodian in Continental Congress, Andrew McNair, was known as the official ringer of the Liberty Bell.

Although the movie’s timeline is simplifying things quite a bit, too.

What really happened on July 4th, 1776 was that after the final wording was approved on the Fourth, a handwritten copy of the Declaration of Independence was sent to a nearby print shop owned by a man named John Dunlap. That night, Dunlap got to work on printing a couple hundred copies of it for distribution.

On July 6th, the first newspaper printed a copy of the Declaration.

And while it is likely that Andrew McNair was the one to ring the Liberty Bell to announce independence, that didn’t happen until July 8th. They had delayed it by four days to allow for printing the document for the first public readings of the document. That reading happened on July 8th.

From there, the word started to spread like wildfire. On July 9th, John Hancock sent a copy to George Washington who read it to his troops in New York City. Crowds of people started to tear down statues and anything representing British or royal authority.

As a quick side note, the movie’s joke about “Fat George” isn’t referencing George Washington—you probably already guessed that. It’s referring to King George III, who was the monarch on the British throne at the time.

While British officials sent copies back to Great Britain, it wasn’t until mid-August that the Declaration was printed in British newspapers.

If you want to see this week in history as it’s shown in the movie, check out the 1972 film called 1776. Andrew McNair tearing off the paper to mention it’s July 3rd started at about two hours, 39 minutes into the movie while July 4th starts a little later at two hours, 43 minutes and 38 seconds.

And as a little bit of extra trivia knowledge for you to share with your friends and family this July 4th, it was actually 20 years later that Independence Day was celebrated for the first time: July 4th, 1796.

And in a bizarre twist of fate, it was exactly 50 years after America’s birthday that two of the Founding Fathers mentioned in this segment died when Thomas Jefferson and John Adams both passed away on July 4th, 1826. They died within five hours of each other. Exactly five years after that, another Founding Father died when James Monroe passed away on July 4th, 1831. Jefferson, Adams, and Monroe were not only Founding Fathers but they were the second, third, and fifth President of the United States, respectively.


July 4th, 1939. New York, New York.

Our next movie is in black and white. In the foreground, a man sits in front of a microphone doing something a lot like what I’m doing right now: Describing what he sees happening in front of him.

Except he’s not describing a movie like I am. On the other side of the table with his microphone we can see some netting, and beyond that a huge baseball stadium. He’s the radio announcer for the game.

He tells us that 62,000 people have jammed into Yankee Stadium this afternoon to pay tribute to the man who gave his all to the team for the past 16 years.

The camera cuts a little closer a marching band in uniform on the field, and it’s obvious there’s not an empty seat in the house. There are shots of fans enjoying the performance on the field as the radio announcer continues to talk about the man known as Larruping Lou and the Iron Man playing 2,130 consecutive games over those 16 years.

Now, he says, everyone is here to say farewell to Lou Gehrig—the pride of the Yankees.

In the tunnel, Gary Cooper’s version of Gehrig is wearing a Yankees uniform. By his side is his wife, Eleanor Gehrig. She’s played by Teresa Wright in the film. Slowly, they walk hand-in-hand, down the stairs. Lou stops part-way down and looks back at Teresa, who smiles at her husband.

Then, he lets go of her hand and continues down the dark tunnel to the light on the other side and out onto the field. The camera cuts back to Eleanor so we can’t see Lou stepping onto the field, but we can hear the crowd erupting into cheers. We can only assume they’re cheering at the sight of Lou on the field.

Instead of seeing him, though, we can see tears in Eleanor’s eyes for a moment before bursting into a full sob. She continues crying until the camera cuts back to the field.

Now we can see two rows of uniformed baseball players. On the right side of the frame are players in Yankee pinstripes. On the left side is a row of players with a “W” on their arm. All of them have their hats off, and they’re all looking at home plate in the center of the frame.

There, on the far side of where the camera is angled, we can see more people near home plate. Some are wearing business suits. There’s a podium with a banner of stars and stripes by the plate. And then there’s Lou Gehrig, wearing #4 on the back of his Yankees uniform.

Although it’s not visible in the movie, based on how this scene is framed it looks like the camera is on the pitcher’s mound with Gehrig and the other men by home plate and both teams lining the space from the mound to home.

The radio announcer continues to describe what’s going on as he says the Yankee’s manager Joe McCarthy hands Lou Gehrig a plaque. And then, just as he describes, on the screen in the movie we can see actor Harry Harvey’s version of Yankee manager Joe McCarthy hand Gary Cooper’s version of Lou Gehrig a plaque. Most of the writing is too small to read, but the headline at the top clearly says “Don’t Quit” in all caps.

McCarthy puts the plaque down, now, and turns to be handed a trophy. He then gives the trophy to Gehrig. It’s from his teammates on the Yankees, as a token of their appreciation for him. As Gehrig holds the trophy, the camera cuts back to the angle with the rows of players and we can see all of them start clapping for Gehrig. In the stands, everyone follows the players and they give Gehrig a standing ovation.

Then, a man in a suit identified by the radio announcer as New York City Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia steps up to the podium with his back to the camera but facing toward the crowd behind home plate. We can’t hear what he’s saying, but he seems to say something briefly before turning to Gehrig and giving him a hearty handshake before making way for yet another man in a suit who steps up to the podium.

The radio announcer tells us this is the Postmaster General of the United States, Tim Farley. And again, he seems to say something to the crowd that we can’t hear. And again, only a few seconds later, he turns to shake Gehrig’s hand before leaving the podium for the next person.

Wearing a white suit, that person is identified by the announcer as none other than the Sultan of Swat: Babe Ruth. After saying something into the mic, he walks over to Gehrig to give him a handshake. This time the movie cuts up close to show Babe Ruth putting his arm around Lou Gehrig. After a moment, Ruth lets go of Gehrig and walks off.

Yankees Manager Joe McCarthy steps up to the podium now. Then, he gives Gehrig another handshake and walks with him to the podium. Finally, it’s Lou Gehrig’s turn to address the crowd.

As Gehrig steps up, the crowd goes crazy. They had sat back down, but now again everyone gives him another standing ovation. At the microphones, Gehrig takes in some deep breaths with his eyes cast down to the ground. Then he looks up as if to speak, but the crowd is still cheering, hooping, and hollering. He smiles a little bit as he looks around.

Then, he opens his mouth, and the crowd starts to quiet.

By the time Gary Cooper’s version of Lou Gehrig speaks, the crowd is hushed so they can hear what he has to say.

“I have been walking on ball fields for 16 years, and I have never received anything but kindness and encouragement from you fans. I have had the great honor to have played with these great veteran ballplayers on my left, Murderer’s Row, our championship team of 1927. I have had the further honor of living with and playing with these men on my right, the Bronx Bombers, the Yankees of today. I have been given fame and undeserved praise by the boys up there behind the wire in the press box. I have worked under the two greatest managers of all time, Miller Huggins and Joe McCarthy. I have a mother and father who fought to give me health and a solid background in my youth.”

The camera cuts to show an older man and woman, who we can assume are his mother and father. She puts a handkerchief to her face in a move that looks as if she’s dabbing away tears. Back on the field, Gehrig continues his speech. And now we can see what looks like tears starting to grow in his eyes, too.

“I have a wife, a companion for life…”

Again, the camera cuts away, this time to Eleanor who is still in the same place in the tunnel where Lou left her. She’s still crying, but a slight smile crosses her face when he talks about her.

“…who has shown me more courage than I ever knew. People all say that I have had a bad break. But today…today, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth.”

With that, Gehrig covers his mouth in thought for a brief moment before turning away from the microphones and the crowd goes wild. He walks past Babe Ruth, Joe McCarthy, and the rest of the Yankees. The crowd continues to cheer as he walks toward the third base dugout.

When he reaches the dugout, the movie cuts closer as he walks down the steps and back into the tunnel he came from a few minutes earlier. As Gehrig disappears out of the sunlight and into the shadows of the dark tunnel, in the background we can hear the umpire yelling, “Play ball!”

The true story behind this week’s event depicted in the movie The Pride of the Yankees

That is how the 1942 movie called The Pride of the Yankees shows an event that happened this week in history: Lou Gehrig’s final public appearance at Yankee Stadium just a few years before the movie on July 4th, 1939.

If you’re a baseball fan, you know who he was…if you’re not a baseball fan, Lou Gehrig was one of the greatest players in Major League Baseball history.

Gehrig’s final appearance at Yankee Stadium, however, wasn’t to play a baseball game. It was to say goodbye.

Let’s get some more historical context that we don’t see in the movie’s segment I just described. To do that, we’ll go back about a year earlier to the Yankee’s 1938 season.

As that season progressed, Gehrig started noticing more and more that something was off. He couldn’t figure out exactly what it was, but his hands would ache, and he just couldn’t hit as well as he used to. So, he adjusted his swing, his stance, and the weight of his bat while his manager moved him in the batting order to try to get him out of his slumps throughout the season.

Of course, his slumps didn’t change that he was still Lou Gehrig. Even with signs of an issue, he worked hard to overcome it. In the 1938 season, Lou Gehrig hit .295 with 29 homers and 113 RBIs. So, he still had a great year.

But then, during the offseason, things didn’t get better. They got worse. Much worse. Gehrig’s balance was off. He wouldn’t be able to grasp things as well.

In the movie, we see Teresa Wright’s character, Eleanor Gehrig. And that really was Lou Gehrig’s wife’s name.

And in the true story, during the offseason as her husband was more clumsy than usual by dropping items or tripping over curbs, she started to be worried it might be something more. Maybe a brain tumor?

So, she and Lou went to the doctor. The diagnosis was a bad gallbladder, and he put Lou on a diet of fruits and veggies.

Even before the 1939 season started, during spring training, things had degraded enough to be noticeable to some of Gehrig’s teammates. They could tell he wasn’t right. But, he’s still Lou Gehrig…so, of course, when the 1939 season officially started, he was in the lineup just like he was in every game.

But he started in a bad slump. A career .340 hitter, Gehrig started the 1939 season hitting only .143. Not only that, but Gehrig could tell things hadn’t gotten better.

So, Gehrig asked to be taken out of the lineup. He did that on May 2nd, 1939, meaning his last game on April 30th was officially the end of his consecutive game streak playing in 2,130 games over 14 years. We learned more about that on episode #316 of Based on a True Story for the week that happened.

After taking himself out of the lineup, for the rest of May he still suited up and traveled with the team even though he didn’t play. In June, he tried playing again in a minor league exhibition game. He didn’t last the whole game, though, so he and Eleanor went back to the doctors to get more answers. Within a few weeks, those doctors diagnosed him with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or ALS…or, as it’s most commonly known today, “Lou Gehrig’s Disease.”

Taking a step back for how fast a lot of this happened for the public, the 1939 season started in April as it did for the past 14 years with Gehrig continuing his consecutive games streak. On June 21st, 1939, the world found out Gehrig was officially retiring from baseball.

And then, on July 4th, 1939, the Yankees were playing a double-header against the Washington Senators. Between the two games, they held a special ceremony they simply called Lou Gehrig Appreciation Day. The movie was correct to show a few people addressing the sold-out crowd, including the mayor of New York City, Fiorello LaGuardia, as well as the Postmaster General, a man named James Farley.

The movie was also correct to show bands playing as they march around the field. It was also correct to show the framed sign given to Gehrig with the headline “Don’t Quit.” I’ll include a link in the show notes for some actual footage from the event where you can see those things.

Something we don’t really see in the movie, though, is that after others expressed their appreciation for Gehrig, the man himself almost didn’t speak to the crowd. The emcee for the event, reporter Sid Mercer, announced Gehrig, but he didn’t step up to the mics. Instead, he whispered something into Mercer’s ear who, in turn, told the crowd that Gehrig was too moved to speak but he asked Mercer to thank everyone.

Imagine being in a stadium packed with people–the movie mentions 62,000 people, but in the true story it was actually 61,808. I guess we can give it to the movie, though, haha! But all those people started chanting, “We want Gehrig!”

So, Gehrig stepped up to the mics and gave what many people consider to be one of the most famous speeches in sports history. Let me set this up real quick…because you’re going to hear Lou’s voice and my voice…because, unfortunately, a recording of the whole speech doesn’t exist.

But we do have part of it; the rest of it has been filled in by historians through newspaper reports from the day. And you’ll notice in the movie they actually do the “luckiest man on the face of the earth” at the end, but in the real speech you’ll notice that’s how he starts the speech…so, let’s start with Lou’s actual audio from July 4th, 1939:

Fans, for the past two weeks, you’ve been reading about a bad break.


Today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth.

I have been in ballparks for 17 years and have never received anything but kindness and encouragement from you fans.

When you look around, wouldn’t you consider it a privilege to associate yourself with such fine-looking men as are standing in uniform in this ballpark today?

Sure, I’m lucky.

Who wouldn’t consider it an honor to have known Jacob Ruppert? Also, the builder of baseball’s greatest empire, Ed Barrow? To have spent six years with that wonderful little fellow, Miller Huggins? Then to have spent the next nine years with that outstanding leader, that smart student of psychology, the best manager in baseball today, Joe McCarthy? Sure, I’m lucky.

When the New York Giants, a team you would give your right arm to beat, and vice versa, sends you a gift—that’s something. When everybody down to the groundskeepers and those boys in white coats remember you with trophies—that’s something. When you have a wonderful mother-in-law who takes sides with you in squabbles with her own daughter—that’s something. When you have a father and a mother who work all their lives so you can have an education and build your body—it’s a blessing. When you have a wife who has been a tower of strength and shown more courage than you dreamed existed—that’s the finest I know.

So I close in saying that I might have been given a bad break, but I’ve got an awful lot to live for. — Thank you.

In the movie, we see Babe Ruth at the ceremony. And that is very true. Not only was Babe Ruth at Lou Gehrig Appreciation day in 1939, but the real Babe Ruth played himself in the 1942 movie that re-enacted the event from this week in history.

If you want to watch that, hop into the show notes to find where you can watch The Pride of the Yankees. We started our segment from this week in history about two hours into the movie.


July 6th, 1917. Aqaba, Jordan.

A bell rings, alerting everyone to the attack.

The lookout ringing the bell is in a square-shaped defensive position lined with sandbags. On the sandy desert below, we can see rows of white tents. Tiny people in the distance are moving around the tents, mostly running in the opposite direction as the oncoming attackers.

From an angle behind the lookout, we can see the attackers charging in the distance. After he’s done ringing the bell, the lookout raises his rifle and shoots.

The camera cuts to a closer shot on the attackers. They’re all riding on either horses or camels, huge plumes of sand getting kicked up by what must be hundreds of horses charging the enemy ahead. One of the soldiers gets hit, presumably by the lookout’s shot. But it doesn’t slow anyone down as they gallop ahead.

All the men on horseback start ululating as they charge forward. Some of them are on camels, and the camera focuses on one of the men wearing all white as he urges his camel onward. The camera cuts to a further away shot and we can see the attackers on horses and camels rushing the encampment. They reach the white tents to be greeted by the sound of gunshots. Some of them fall, but others continue forward with the attack.

Defenders are cut down and before long, it seems obvious the attackers have the upper hand. The cinematic music swells as we see the attackers rushing passed the tents to the city behind it—pushing the defenders back toward the water just beyond the city.

The true story behind this week’s event depicted in the movie Lawrence of Arabia

That depiction comes from the 1962 film Lawrence of Arabia and it’s showing an event that happened this week in history on July 6th, 1917, when Arab forces led by Sherif Nasir and Auda abu Tayi along with the British officer T.E. Lawrence defeated the Ottoman Empire at the important coastal city of Aqaba.

For a little more historical context, this whole conflict was part of the Middle Eastern theater of World War I, and the British were assisting the Arabs revolt against the Ottoman Empire.

This specific battle is referred to as the Battle of Aqaba, and in the movie, we see it being almost as if the attackers overrun the defenders. There seems to be hardly any slowing them down, and for the most part that’s true.

There were about 5,000 men in the Arab force that attacked about 1,100 defenders. The attack mostly came from the desert, although the British Navy assisted as well. Coming from the desert was a complete surprise to the Turks, though, because they assumed no one could make the 600-mile desert journey.

But, that’s exactly what they did.

And the result was a lopsided victory for the Arabs, with only two Arabs killed while the defending Turks suffered about 300 casualties.

As T.E. Lawrence wrote in his book:

The Arabs needed Akaba: firstly, to extend their front, which was their tactical principle; and, secondly, to link up with the British.

Or, in other words, because Aqaba was a port city, it allowed the British Royal Navy to help supply them from the water.

If you want to watch the event that happened this week in history, check out 1962’s Lawrence of Arabia and the day of the battle starts at about an hour and 47 minutes into the movie. And if you want to dig deeper into the true story, we covered that back on episode #49 of Based on a True Story.



July 7th, 1947. New Mexico.

A line of military vehicles are driving along a dirt road. It seems to be a mixture of larger transport trucks and some smaller Jeeps. The terrain around the dirt road is desolate with little more than rocks, sagebrush, and dirt.

One of the men in one of the Jeeps points ahead, “There it is!”

We can catch a glimpse of some smoke rising up from something ahead.

In the next shot, it’s a little easier to see what’s happening. There’s a depression in the terrain. Along the ridge, men in military uniforms walk up to look at the smoke billowing out from below. Not everyone is in military uniforms, though, a couple of the men are in plainclothes.

Now we can see what’s causing the fire. A huge pile of tires are burning. Orange flames and black smoke are flying into the sky.

One of the military men, who seems to be an officer, barks out orders to other soldiers to put the fire out. There’s a flag in the middle of the flames.

“Get that flag out of there!” the officer yells.

As the soldiers spring to action, one of the plainclothes men wearing a white hat notices one of the soldiers carrying a box. The soldier says it’s locked. It’s a little easier to identify the men now, and the man in a white hat is Aidan Gillen’s character, Dr. J. Allen Hynek. He turns to the other plainclothes man, Michael Malarkey’s character, Captain Michael Quinn, and asks him when the original crash was reported in the press.

Quinn says it was July 8th, 1947. Hynek uses that code to unlock the combination lock on the box. It works. Inside is a single piece of paper. Quinn reads it:

“In 1947, alien spacecraft crashed in this desert. Before you stands the man who covered it all up, General Harding. Tomorrow at 9 am I will show the world proof of what really happened in Roswell, New Mexico.”

The true story behind this week’s event depicted in the TV series Project Blue Book

Okay, so there’s a few things to separate here to get to the true story.

Let’s start with where this scene comes from, it’s from the first episode of season two in the History Channel’s TV series called Project Blue Book.

Dr. J. Allen Hynek was a real person who really was in charge of Project Blue Book—that’s what the U.S. Air Force called their official investigation into UFOs. The character of Captain Quinn, though, is a fictional character.

And I’ll admit up front this sequence is not showing something that happened in 1947. The reason for that is because the TV series is set much later, so this is a fictional scene to try and backtrack and talk about one of the world’s most popular conspiracy theories: The UFO crash at Roswell, New Mexico.

Also, the date the TV show just mentioned is right, although you’ll notice that the series mentioned that’s when it was reported in the press…not when it actually happened.

That’s a bit of a loaded phrase, isn’t it? I mean, when it comes to the topic of a UFO crash…did it actually happen at all? Plenty of folks will disregard it simply because of the topic.

Well, if we could say without a shadow of a doubt then it wouldn’t really be a conspiracy theory, would it? But, regardless of whether or not you believe the Roswell crash was a real event, no one can deny that the story of what supposedly happened around July 7th in Roswell has had an impact on countless people around the world.

As the story goes, a rancher named W.W. Brazel, who goes by the nickname “Mac”, found some debris scattered in a field. That happened in June of 1947. But his ranch didn’t have a phone or a radio, so he didn’t think much of it until he was driving to town on July 5th. There, he heard stories of flying disks being seen. For example, a pilot named Kenneth Arnold had seen what the press quickly referred to as flying saucers on June 24th, 1947. Just the day before “Mac” Brazel went into town, on July 4th, United Airlines Flight #105 also talked about seeing some flying disks.

Countless other copycat sightings started popping up fast as word spread about the flying disks.

So, hearing some of these stories, Brazel was reminded of the debris he saw in the field. So, a couple of days later, on July 7th, he took some of the debris into the sheriff’s office in Roswell. The sheriff called the Roswell Army Air Field nearby, and one of the officers, a man named Major Jesse Marcel, went out to the field with Brazel where he found the debris. Marcel didn’t take the debris right to the airfield. Instead, he simply took it home for the night and delivered it the next morning when he went to work.

The next day, on July 8th, the public information officer at Roswell Army Air Field released a statement that a “flying disk” had been recovered from a ranch near Roswell. It hit the papers and news reports soon after. The Roswell Daily Record newspaper ran a story on July 8th, 1947 with the headline: “RAAF Captures Flying Saucer On Ranch in Roswell Region.”

RAAF standing for Roswell Army Air Field.

Now, I’ll play a clip from a radio broadcast on July 8th, 1947 that talks about the flying disk at Roswell. But before I play it, just so you know there are some other new items mentioned as well. I thought about cutting that out, but I decided to leave it unedited so you can hear the report as it was broadcast.

So, here it is:

Note: This transcript is automatically generated.

On July 8, 1947, the Army Air Forces has announced that a flying disk has been found and is now in the possession of the Army. Army officers say the missile found sometime last week has been inspected at Roswell, New Mexico, and sent to right field, Ohio, for further inspection. Russia has demanded U.N. action to get all foreign military personnel out of Greece. Southern Cross collaborators have not yet reached agreement with John Lewis, but the rest of the soft coal industry has resumed production. The House of Representatives has passed the tax reduction bill by more than the two thirds, which would be required to override a veto. Headline of this new special report and set of views in a moment. The American Broadcasting Company had a period in session for that headline edition received a grant from all over the world forever. The day’s headlines were made headline figures and brings you accurate, timely reports on the news behind both headlines, plus informative and personal interviews with the men and women who made the headlines today. Today’s edition presents a roundup of the latest developments in the finding of a flying and eye witness report of the day’s significant actions at the UN Security Council. Ohio Congressman Thomas Duncan commenting on today’s House action on tax legislation. A special report on the status of so-called negotiations and the details of today’s All-Star Baseball game, reportedly because they ended up with history in the making. Stay tuned to headline Now is telegraphed late this afternoon, a bulletin from New Mexico suggested that the widely publicized mystery of the flying saucers may soon be solved. Army Air Force officers reported that one of the flames had been found and inspected sometime last week. Our correspondents in Los Angeles and Chicago have been in contact with Army officials endeavoring to obtain all possible late information. Joe Wilson reports to us now from Chicago that he may be getting to the bottom of all this talk about the so-called flying saucers. As a matter of fact, the 509th Atomic Bomb Group headquarters at Roswell, New Mexico. Reports that it has received one of the deaths which landed on a ranch outside Roswell. This landed at a ranch at Corona, New Mexico, and the rancher turned it over to the Air Force. Roger W w Rozelle was the man who discovered this office. William Blanford of the Roswell Air Base refuses to get details of what the plane this looked like in Fort Worth, Texas, where the object was first sent. Brigadier General Roger Ramey says that it is being shipped by air to the ADF Research Center at Wright Field, Ohio, moments ago. I talked to officials at Right Field and they declared that they expect the so-called flame supper to be delivered there, but that it hasn’t arrived as yet. In the meantime, General Ramey describes the object as being a flimsy construction, almost like a bus. So he says that it was so bad, but he was unable to determine whether it had a disc form, and it does not indicate its size. Rainey says that so far as can be determined, no one saw the object in the air, and he described it as being made of some sort of tin foil. Other Army officials say that further information indicates that the object had a diameter of about 20 to 25 feet and that nothing in the operation section indicated any capacity for speed and that there was no evidence of a power plant. This also appeared to flimsy the carrier man. Now back to photograph in New York. There was important activity within the U.N. Security Council today.

The next day, the Army said it wasn’t a flying disk at all. As the story goes, Major Marcel reported to the commanding officer at RAAF, Colonel William Blanchard. Colonel Blanchard, in turn, reported to General Roger Ramey at the Fort Worth Army Air Field in Texas. General Ramey ordered them to fly the debris to him, so Major Marcel did that. As soon as Marcel arrived, he showed the debris to General Ramey who recognized it as pieces of a high-altitude weather balloon.

So, the story of the flying disk was retracted and, for the most part, forgotten. That changed in the 1970s when Major Marcel was interviewed by a man named Stanton Friedman. In that interview, Marcel said the story of the weather balloon was a cover-up and the debris he saw was extraterrestrial. In 1991, a retired USAF General named Thomas DuBose who was one of the men posing for press photographs of the debris in 1947 also said Marcel was correct in saying the weather balloon story was a cover-up.

And so, the story has been talked about ever since.

If you want to watch the way story is shown on screen, check out the History Channel’s TV series called Project Blue Book. Because of the timeline of the series, it doesn’t really show the event itself but the first two episodes of the second season are dedicated to it. And if you want to go deeper down the rabbit hole, so to speak, I’ve covered Project Blue Book multiple times from different angles, and you can find them all at


Let’s move onto our next segment now, where we learn about historical figures from the movies that were born this week in history…and we had five events in this week’s supersize episode, so why not have five historical birthdays, too?

On July 1st, 1899, Henry Walton Jones, Jr. was born in Princeton, New Jersey. He’s best known by his nickname: Indiana Jones. Haha! Okay, so he’s obviously not a historical figure…but if you’re interested in historical movies, I’m sure you know who he is so I couldn’t help but include him. Do you have a favorite Indiana Jones movie? It’s Last Crusade for me, but I was surprisingly impressed with the latest movie that just came out last year—Dial of Destiny. Did you see that one yet? Hop into the Based on a True Story Discord and let’s chat about it!

Also on July 1st, but in 1921, Seretse Khama was born in Serowe, Botswana. He was a politician who served as the first president of Botswana and the story of his controversial marriage was told in the 2016 film A United Kingdom where Seretse was played by David Oyelowo. We covered that movie back on episode #238 of Based on a True Story.

On July 5th, 1810, Phineas Taylor Barnum was born in Bethel, Connecticut. He’s best known by his initials, P.T. Barnum, and as the man who founded the Barnum & Bailey Circus with James Anthony Bailey. Barnum was played by Hugh Jackman in the 2017 movie The Greatest Showman and we covered the true story behind that back on episode #123.

Oh, and as a fun little side note, even though Bailey from Barnum & Bailey never made it into The Greatest Showman movie, the real James Anthony Bailey was also born this week in history, on July 4th, 1847, in Detroit Michigan.

On July 6th, 1747, John Paul Jones was born in Scotland. Even though he wasn’t born in America, he emigrated to America and became probably the most well-known naval commander for the United States in the American Revolutionary War. John Paul Jones became famous throughout history for the quote, “I have not yet begun to fight!” when he was asked about surrendering. Although, there’s plenty of debate about whether or not he really said that exact line. But, he was played by Robert Stack in a 1959 biographical film simply called John Paul Jones. And yes, that Robert Stack—the same guy who hosted the popular TV show Unsolved Mysteries.

On July 7th, 1906, Leroy Robert Paige was born in Mobile, Alabama. He’s best known by his nickname, “Satchel.” Satchel Paige was a Hall of Fame baseball player whose career spanned 50 years. He debuted in Major League Baseball with the Cleveland Indians in 1948 at the age of 42. To this day, that is the oldest debut for any player in Major League Baseball. He played in the Majors until he was 59, another record that stands to this day. His story was told in the biopic from 1981 called Don’t Look Back: The Story of Leroy ‘Satchel’ Paige with Louis Gossett Jr. playing the lead role of Satchel Paige.


Onto our segment about ‘based on a true story’ movies, since we’re doing a supersize episode this week, I’ve got a couple movies: One that was released in the past, and one that is being released this week!

Let’s start by going back to 15 years ago this week when Public Enemies was released on July 1st, 2009.

Directed by Michael Mann, Public Enemies stars Johnny Depp and Christian Bale. The storyline revolves around Depp’s character, John Dillinger, who really was a notorious bank robber in the 1930s who many have compared to a Robin Hood-type character. On the other side, though, is Melvin Purvis, an FBI agent played by Christian Bale who is leading the hunt to track down Dillinger.

According to the movie, the FBI is relatively new, so a lot of the storyline around the hunt for Dillinger shows things we might consider normal today, but at the time were state-of-the-art techniques such as fingerprinting and tapping telephone lines.

The movie was right about that, although as you might expect there’s more to the true story.

Let’s start with Dillinger’s reputation as a bank robber in the 1930s.

To be more specific, the Dillinger’s crime spree was less than a year between September 1933 and July 1934. In that time, they killed 10 people, wounded seven others, organized three jail breaks, and robbed at least a dozen different banks in that time. Some have thought perhaps as many as 24 banks, but we know of 12 for sure. And it’s said that Dillinger got away with about $11 million that he hid…and maybe it’s still out there waiting for a treasure hunter to find it. Check out the TV show Expedition Unknown, season 9, episode 1 for more about the search for Dillinger’s treasure.

For today’s movie, though, Public Enemies was correct to have an FBI agent named Melvin Purvis in charge of taking down John Dillinger and his gang. Purvis had been a field agent at FBI offices in Birmingham, Oklahoma City, and Cincinnati, before being assigned to the Chicago office and tasked with leading the takedown of Dillinger.

Although the movie mostly shows Purvis taking the lead, another FBI agent named Samuel Cowley was also assigned to leading the takedown of Dillinger. In the movie, Cowley is played by Richard Short and has a smaller role than he did in the true story.

According to the FBI’s official documentation on the case, the way it worked was Agent Cowley was sent from Washington by J. Edgar Hoover himself to head up the investigation against Dillinger. He was sent to where Dillinger’s crimes were being committed, around the Chicago area. Agent Purvis was in charge of the Chicago office, so that’s how Cowley and Purvis started working together to take down Dillinger.

Oh, and while some have romanticized Dillinger as a form of Robin Hood-type character, in the true story that’s simply not the case. In the movie we’re talking about today, Dillinger never gave of the money he stole away…and that is true.

I’ll include a link in the show notes to a list of 10 myths about Dillinger on the FBI’s website, and #10 directly addresses the idea of Dillinger being a Robin Hood-type character.

Here’s what they had to say:

Dillinger certainly had charm and charisma, but he was no champion of the poor or harmless thief—he was a hardened and vicious criminal. Dillinger stormed police stations in search of weapons and bulletproof vests. He robbed banks and stole cars. He shot at police officers (and may have killed one) and regularly used innocent bystanders as human shields to escape the law. Worse yet, he stood by as his ruthless gang members shot and killed people, including law enforcement officials. And what of his ill-gotten gains? They were used to line his own pockets and those of his partners in crime, not those of impoverished Americans in the midst of the Great Depression.

Speaking of being a bank robber, if we go back to the movie, we see Dillinger along with a couple other gangsters named Tommy Carroll and “Baby Face” Nelson rob a bank in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. When they plan the robbery, they anticipate coming away with $800,000.

If we’re to believe the movie’s version of history, during the robbery, both Dillinger and Carroll are shot. Carroll is left behind and arrested while Dillinger manages to escape, but quickly finds out they only got about $46,000—not nearly what they were expected.

And that really did happen, although I found some conflicting sources on whether or not Dillinger’s gang expected to get away with $800,000.

But there’s a lot of details we don’t see in the movie, too, here’s what we do know about that particular bank robbery.

On the corner of Ninth and Main in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, sat the Security National Bank. At about 10:00 AM on the morning of Tuesday, March 6th, 1934, a green Packard car pulled up to the bank. There were six men in the car.

When they got to the bank, four of the men got out and went inside. Two others stayed with the car. Inside the bank, one of the men issued an order saying, “This is a holdup; lie down.” The 30 or so people in the bank did as they were told, although someone managed to hit the alarm first. In 1934, Sioux Falls had about 26,000 residents, so it didn’t take long for word to spread of a bank robbery in progress.

As a crowd gathered outside, the two guys with the car periodically shot their Thompson machine guns into the air to keep the crowd away. Of course, it no doubt also drew attention for those who hadn’t yet heard about the robbery. One of those people happened to be an off-duty cop by the name of Keith Hale. When he came to investigate the sound of gunshots, one of the robbers inside saw him and opened fire through the front window, injuring Hale.

The robbers exited the bank, forcing everyone from inside the bank outside with them to help give them cover as they got into the car. Then, to protect themselves from the police shooting at them, the robbers forced five bank employees to ride along with them on the car’s running boards as they made their escape. They released the hostages before leaving town.

While this wasn’t the only bank robbery for the Dillinger gang, it was one that really drew the attention of law enforcement because Dillinger himself had escaped from jail just three days beforehand—on March 3rd—so it was a busy week for Dillinger that really pressed on law enforcement to bring him in.

Back in the movie’s timeline, the storyline comes to an end as Dillinger is shot by Purvis and other FBI agents in an ambush, they set up for him at a brothel. One of the agents named Charles Winstead manages to hear Dillinger’s last words. Winstead is played by Stephen Lang in the movie. He goes to visit Dillinger’s love interest in the movie, Marion Cotillard’s character, a woman named Billie Frechette. She’s in prison when Dillinger is shot, and she’s moved to tears when Winstead tells her Dillinger’s last words were: “Tell Billie for me, ‘Bye, bye, Blackbird.’”

Were those really John Dillinger’s final words? To be honest, we don’t know.

Officially, no, Dillinger had no last words as far as any official reports go. That doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of theories around what his final words might’ve been.

What is true, though, is the character of Billie Frechette being Dillinger’s girlfriend. She was arrested by the FBI in April of 1934 when she visited a friend in Chicago. She was charged with harboring a fugitive.

So, it is true that she was locked up near the end of the story.

The hunt for Dillinger continued, though, and it was a lot like the movie shows, an ambush at the end. In the movie, the woman who helps law enforcement is named Anna Sage. She’s played by Branka Katic in the movie. In the true story, Anna Sage’s real name was Ana Cumpanas—although she called herself Anna Sage, probably because it’s easier to pronounce for Americans like me.

The real Ana came from Romania and was in the process of being deported thanks in no small part to her job at the brothel. She met with Agents Cowley and Purvis, who promised to put in a good word for her with the government agency in charge of the deportation—the Department of Labor at that time.

So, she agreed to help. She told the agents one of her friends, a woman named Polly Hamilton, was going to see a movie with Dillinger the next evening. The next day, she confirmed the plans with agents and the ambush was a “go” for that evening: Sunday, July 22nd, 1934.

At about 8:30 PM, Anna Sage, Polly Hamilton, and John Dillinger showed up at the Biograph Theater on Lincoln Avenue in Chicago. After the movie, which was a Clark Gable film called “Manhattan Melodrama,” Dillinger and the two women emerged from the theater. Here is the official FBI explanation of what happened next:

At 10:30 p.m., Dillinger, with his two female companions on either side, walked out of the theater and turned to his left. As they walked past the doorway in which Purvis was standing, Purvis lit a cigar as a signal for the other men to close in.

Dillinger quickly realized what was happening and acted by instinct. He grabbed a pistol from his right trouser pocket as he ran toward the alley.

Five shots were fired from the guns of three FBI agents. Three of the shots hit Dillinger, and he fell face down on the pavement.

At 10:50 p.m. on July 22, 1934, John Dillinger was pronounced dead in a little room in the Alexian Brothers Hospital.

The agents who fired at Dillinger were Charles B. Winstead, Clarence O. Hurt, and Herman E. Hollis. Each man was commended by J. Edgar Hoover for fearlessness and courageous action. None of them ever said who actually killed Dillinger.

If you want to watch the movie released this week in history, you’ll find a link in the show notes for where to find 2009’s Public Enemies on streaming services.

Oh! And that reminds me, as a quick bit of trivia for you, the FBI labeled John Dillinger as “Public Enemy #1” in 1934, so a lot of people think that means Dillinger was #1 on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted list, but that’s not true…John Dillinger was never on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted because that list didn’t even exist until 1950. Although I guess if we’re being technical, the FBI itself didn’t exist in 1934…that name came about in 1935, so during the time of John Dillinger it was simply the Bureau of Investigation or BOI.

With that said, though, if the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted existed back in when Dillinger was alive, he probably would’ve been on it.

So, that’s Public Enemies.


Now, let’s fast forward to this week, because there’s another “based on a true story” movie coming out. It’s called Boneyard, and it’s directed by Asif Akbar, starring Mel Gibson and Curtis Jackson—better known as 50 Cent. If you haven’t heard of it, that’s not too surprising, it looks to be a low budget film and according to my research, it looks like it’ll be releasing in select theaters and straight to video on demand on July 2nd.

But as it is a new movie, I haven’t seen it yet—and I’m guessing you haven’t seen it yet. So, let’s learn a little more about the true story so you can be the one who knows how much of the movie really happened if you see it this week.

The one-sentence synopsis of Boneyard they have listed on IMDb says it is, “Inspired by the true events of a serial killer that may still be out there today.”

The movie is a true crime story that starts when they discover the remains of 11 women and girls in the New Mexico desert. Enter Mel Gibson’s character, an FBI agent named Agent Petrovick, and 50 Cent’s character, the Chief of Police in Albuquerque, New Mexico, who team up to try and identify the killer. Before long, they start to realize it’s likely the work of a single person: A serial killer.

So, what’s the true story?

The movie is based on what’s become known as the West Mesa Murders. And the movie’s IMDb synopsis is correct to say the serial killer might still be out there—as of this recording, the West Mesa Murders are still unsolved.

West Mesa is the name of the mesa—that’s the raised landmass to the west of Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Well, that’s where the true story starts back on February 2nd, 2009, when a woman named Christine Ross was taking her dog for a walk. On that walk, her dog found a bone. As you might imagine, she was surprised by that. She thought maybe it was a human bone, but maybe not…she wasn’t sure. So, she took a photo of it and sent it to her sister, an RN, who confirmed it was a human bone.

The police were called, and in the weeks that followed, they unearthed bones from 11 women and girls, one of whom was pregnant. Their ages ranged from 15 to 32 years old. They were able to determine the identity of the women and found most of them were sex workers or runaways.

Sadly, when they disappeared, they weren’t reported missing.

Piecing together information from interviewing hundreds of people who knew or at least knew of the victims, police were able to piece together a rough timeline between 2001 and 2005 as when the murders took place. The bodies were likely dumped in the West Mesa area because it was a remote area.

And it took years for them to be found, putting law enforcement way behind on unraveling the case. But that doesn’t mean there were no suspects. In fact, there were a number of suspects over the years. From pimps who knew some of the murdered women, to men with a history of violence against women, but there are probably two top suspects…and those two start with a guy named Lorenzo Montoya. He had a history of violence against sex workers, as well as his girlfriend. Some people also pointed out that he lived just a few miles from where the bodies were found; and his co-workers even said Montoya claimed to have killed women and buried them on the West Mesa.

Remember when I mentioned the police determined the timeline was between 2001 and 2005? Well, some have suggested perhaps they stopped because Lorenzo Montoya was killed in 2006. He didn’t die of natural causes, either. He had just finished strangling a sex worker to death when her boyfriend showed up and shot and killed Montoya.

Or maybe the guy who shot Montoya was her pimp. Or maybe he was both; the sources I found vary on his relation to her.

Would she have ended up on the West Mesa? We might not ever know.

The other top suspect came more recently, about ten years ago, in 2014, when another suspect named Joseph Blea came to the police’s attention…and before I go further, let me give a trigger warning for rape and sexual assault, skip ahead 30 seconds if you want to skip past that.

Blea was a rapist who targeted teenage girls in the 1980s and ‘90s, known for stealing their underwear. He wasn’t a suspect, though, until 2010 when a rape test kit was re-tested, DNA pointed to Blea, and although he lived with his wife and daughter, the police found underwear and jewelry not belonging to either of them in the house. The police thought perhaps they were trinkets from victims.

And then while Blea was in prison, it’s alleged that he admitted a connection to the West Mesa murder victims, saying he’d hired them for sex. Finally, police suspected Blea of killing another sex worker in 2015. When they had enough evidence against him, Blea was arrested and in June of 2015 he was sentenced in the ‘80s and ‘90s rape cases and sentenced to 36 years. Assuming Blea is still alive in 2051 when that sentence ends, he’ll be 94 years old.

Neither Blea nor Montoya were charged with anything related to the West Mesa Murders. As of this recording, officially, they’re still unsolved.

But, if you want to watch the movie version of this true crime investigation, hop in the show notes for a link to where you can find Boneyard!

And if you do give it a watch, chances are you’ll watch it before me, so let me know what you think of it and maybe give me your own historical letter grade for how well it told the true story!



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