On October 17, 1974 the film Benji opens in theaters and becomes an instant family classic. The lovable film about a stray dog who helped rescue a group of kidnapped children, starred a scruffy mutt named Higgins who himself was rescued from a California animal shelter. Though Higgins had appeared in a number of TV shows and movies, the success of Benji was more than he could handle. Under the watchful eye of the paparazzi, Higgins’ life spiraled out of control in a blur of partying, drinking and a rather serious cocaine addiction. While in an out of rehab throughout the later 1970’s and early 80’s, Higgins made a series of unsuccessful Benji sequels, but was noticeably intoxicated in all of them.
Higgins reached “rock bottom” on October 19, 1982, when he was arrested along with automaker John DeLorean in a Los Angeles motel during a failed drug deal. John DeLorean was caught with a suitcase containing $24 million in cocaine, the sale of which was meant to help salvage his sinking DeLorean Motor Company. It is unclear whether Higgins was present at the drug deal as a prospective buyer, but he was taken into custody none-the-less. DeLorean was later acquitted of the crime on the grounds of entrapment by the government and Higgins was released because he was a dog.
*Higgins’ mugshot on Oct. 19, 1984.
Their time in prison made Higgins and DeLorean fast friends and shortly after their release (in a drug induced stupor) they made plans to turn DeLorean’s signature care into a time machine to go back and warn their past selves of the troubles ahead. Though obviously unsuccessful, their stories were so detailed and thorough that many began to believed them to be true. They even became the basis of the 1985 film Back To The Future and the 1990 sequel Back To The Future III (not Back To The Future II… that was a bunch of b.s.), in which Michael J. Fox plays the part of Higgins and Christopher Lloyd captured perfectly the cocaine addled John Delorean as the jittery Doc Brown.
On October 12, 1492, Christopher Columbus landed his fleet of three ships on the Caribbean island of San Salvador (in the modern day Bahamas) effectively “discovering” the new world of the Americas. Over the next few years, Columbus made four total voyages to the New World, with the indigenous people becoming less and less impressed with his discoveries of the land they already inhabited. For the remainder of his life, Columbus never recognized the fact that he had stumbled upon a new continent, but instead thought that he had indeed found a new route to the East Indies. Thanks to the launch of Google Maps in 2005 we now know this to be untrue.
In 1906, Colorado became the first U.S. state to dedicate a day to honor Columbus’ pseudo-discoveries. This made a tremendous amount of sense, because who better to celebrate the accomplishments of a seafaring Italian from the east, than a western, landlocked state full of forest dwelling mountain people? Anyway, it only took 28 years, but the Christopher Columbus bug finally caught on (not to be confused with the variety of viruses he gave to the indigenous people he met) and Columbus Day became a national holiday in 1934.
Most people don’t know, but Christopher Columbus is not the only person to sort of discover the Americas and have a sort of holiday named after them. In fact, October 9th is recognized as Leif Erikson Day after the Viking explorer who “discovered” what is modern day Newfoundland in Canada, nearly 500 years before Columbus. Erikson even went so far as to establish a settlement on the island, but was forced to abandon it citing “crippling boredom” as the reason. It is also said the the Viking explorer was lactose intolerant and could not handle all the Poutine which is still a favorite Canadian dish to this day. This is why it is customary to avoid dairy products on October 9th in Canada and why only about eight people live in Newfoundland. In actuality, Erikson actually spent more time in the neighboring province of Labrador, because as everyone knows this is where labrador puppies come from and Vikings love puppies.
*Leif Erikson looking for a restroom after eating to much Poutine.
On October 1, 1890, the U.S. Congress effectively signs 1,500 square miles of California’s Sierra Nevadas, as Yosemite National Park. Though most people are familiar with Yosemite National Park, below are some little known facts that will probably be new to you:
1. Yosemite National Park derived its name from the battle cry of the Native Americans who originally called it home. The battle cry being “Yo-che-ma-te” roughly translated to “some among them are killers”. Though clearly a rather lame battle cry, this suggestion was one of only two submitted to Congress and was deemed more favorable than “Yo-ma-ma-phat” which translated to “Oh crap, the white people are coming.”
2. In 1909, a scruffy haired, mustachioed drifter named Samual Bergden earned moderate national fame after being arrested a record 15 times in the national park for ‘harassing the wildlife”. Most of his infractions came from using the two revolvers he carried to hunt the parks rabbit population. Though records indicate he was acquitted in each case for lack of evidence (he was a terrible shot and never hit anything), most believe the judges simply found his hot-headed outbursts of innocuous rants to be endearing and let him off the hook. After Warner Brothers unveiled their “Yosemite Sam” character in 1945’s Looney Tunes classic “Hair Trigger”, Bergden sued and was able to die a rich man.
3. A series of bear encounters in the park during the mid-1950’s, generated the park’s second famous cartoon character when Yogi Bear debuted in 1958. Between 1953 and 1957, there were 17 documented incidents in which Yosemite bears raided and stole camper’s picnic baskets. They also mauled dozens of people in these incidents, but that was largely left out of the children’s cartoon.