Thursday, December 31, 2009

New Years Eve Times Square Ball: A History

Tonight, millions of people will gather in Times Square in the heart of New York City to watch the Waterford Crystal Times Square New Years Eve Ball drop starting at 11:59EST. This year's theme is "Let there be Joy" meaning that it is time when happiness and optimism for the future should be the main focus for the upcoming year of 2010. This year's ball, consists of 1,728 new crystals and 32,356 LED's are more than three times the number compared to last year's ball. Also, it is about ten to twenty percent more energy efficient than the 2008 ball.

So, how long have people been celebrating New Year's Eve in Times Square? They have been celebrating since 1904 in the famous Square but it was not until 1907 that the ball made it's debut and descended down a flagpole on top of the Times Square Building. This first ball was made with a combination of iron and wood. It contained about one-hundred twenty-five watt light bulbs, weighed 700lbs., and measured five feet in diameter. The ball was constructed by Jacob Starr, an immigrant metalworker

The New Years Eve Ball was lowered every year since 1907 but not in 1942 or 1943 because of blackout restrictions during World War II. Instead, the people rang bells to mark the New Year. In 1920, a slightly lighter ball, weighing 400lbs., replaced the original ball and this ball was made out of wrought iron and lasted until 1955. In 1955, a new ball was constructed out of aluminum and weighed around 200lbs and lasted until the late 1990s. During the decade of the 80's, the ball was converted to an apple by the addition of a green stem and red lights, as part of the "I love New York" marketing campaign. The 1995 version of the ball was upgraded with aluminium skin, rhine stones, strobes, and computer controls. Finally, in 1998, the aluminium ball was lowered for the last time and replaced by crystals made by the Waterford Crystal Company base out of Ireland.

The concept of ball-dropping to mark the passage of time originated at England's Royal Observatory at Greenwich in 1833. At 1PM every afternoon, a ball dropped that allow the captains of nearby ships to precisely set their chronometers (an important navigational equipment) to the right time. After the success at Greenwich, 150 public-time balls were installed around the world. The tradition still continues today at many locations, including the United States Naval Observatory in Washington, D.C. where the time-ball descends at 12 noon everyday.

As all of you engage in your New Year's Eve traditions to help ring in the New Year, please take sometime to either watch the Ball drop live or later on video, in Times Square and appreicate how this national tradition started over 100 years ago that continues to this day. Also, you should enjoy watching the enthusiastic crowed gathered for more than six hours to witness a piece of Americana that is unique to our country. What other country has this ritual every New Year's? If any of you have been to Times Square to watch the ball dropped please send me an e-mail of your experience at or write it in the comments box. Happy New Year everybody and thanks for reading!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Movie Review of Invictus

My brother and I recently saw the movie Invictus directed by Clint Eastwood and starring Morgan Freeman as Nelson Mandela. Rather than reviewing the movie from a cinematic point of view, this post will review the movie from a historical point of view. The movie takes place in the 20th century's most racially divided country, South Africa, where apartheid (literally means "apartness;" a system of strict racial segregation in South Africa from 1948 to early 1990s) brought political, social, and economic hardship to minority citizens, especially blacks, by the government under white control. For over thirty years, Nelson Mandela became the last best hope for the minorities to bring down apartheid but unfortunately he became a political prisoner
in 1962. He was freed by President De Klerk in February of 1990, was elected president, and unified the country.

The movie starts with the release of Mandela from prison and how he used the universal language of sport to unite a racially and economically divided nation coming off from apartheid. The film used one of many Mandela's ideas to unite the country, racially, by lobbying to bring the 1995 Rugby World Cup Tournament to South Africa. Also, he rallied the whole nation, both blacks and whites, to support South Africa's underdog rugby team, the Springboks, to win the Cup. The team was supported by the whites and not blacks during the years of apartheid since it was made up of mostly white players. The climax of the movie came when Mandela handed the championship trophy to team captain Francois Pienaar after defeating New Zealand in the World Cup Final to the unifying cheers of the country's citizens.

The movie fits nicely with other movies (Ghandi, Malcolm X, etc.) that addresses historical problems of racism through out society and how one leader can make a difference in uniting all races. In order to better understand the historical events that surrounds this movie, there are some good books to recommend like Nelson Mandela: The Fight Against Apartheid by Steven Otfinoski, Mandela: The Authorized Biography by Anthony Sampson, and finally Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela by Mandela himself. Finally, I recommend this movie for anyone to learn about one of history's most influential leaders who made a fundamental difference in a country that was the most racially divided nation in modern history. If you have seen this movie, please feel free to provide your comments about this important film at or in the comments box. Thanks for reading.

The word "Invictus" in the title of the movie and Latin for "invincible" is actually a poem written by the English Poet William Ernest Henley (1849-1903) that inspired Mandela for his cause in ending apartheid while imprisoned. Here is the full text.

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

Monday, December 28, 2009

The History Behind the Title

Some of you may be wondering why I named my blog "The Dapper Dan Daily." I decided to name it after a famous barbershop quartet that you would find exclusively at the Walt Disney Theme Parks. Some of my family and friends probably know that my favorite vacation destination is Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida. I enjoy Disney World for many reasons; the great hospitality, customer service, the rich history, and most of all enjoying the many talented performers entertaining the guests, especially the Dapper Dans. In this post, I will provide you with a brief history of the quartet and hope that next time you visit Walt Disney World or Disneyland, take some time to listen to their performances on Main Street USA. You will not be disappointed.

The Dapper Dans first started to perform at Disneyland in 1959 when the Director of Entertainment, Tommy Walker (born in Milwaukee), contacted Park talent supervisor Chuck Corson and told him that Disneyland needed a barbershop quartet. Corson, a former stage manager for the Fred Waring Chorale, contacted some of the singers from that group to be the first Dapper Dans. The first group consisted of John Borneman (tenor), Roger Axworthy (lead), T.J. Marker (bass), and Ted Nichols (baritone). For subsequent years, new members were primarily recruited from nearby Champman College's strong music department that also trained future musicians to perform at the park. The quartet held performances along Main Street USA, either standing or riding a four-seater custom built Schwinn Bicycle commissioned by Walt Disney himself. They continue to do this method today.

As the Walt Disney Company built more theme parks for the next several years following Disneyland, the Dapper Dans made their debut at Disney World in 1971, Disneyland Hong Kong in 2005 and a brief apperance at Disneyland in Paris but cut due to budget issues. At Disney World, the Dapper Dans perform nine sets per day, seven days a week up and down Main Street USA at the Magic Kingdom to the smiles of many guests. Sometimes they sing Happy Birthday to guests that are celebrating their birthdays (of course when other members of their party tip off the quartet) and even allow guests to sing along with them.

When they sing, the Dapper Dans just do not stand still and sing but sometimes they tap dance, waive their arms, or play the Deagan Organ Chimes (made by the J.C. Deagan Company in Chicago, IL circa 1901) all choreographed to the song they are singing. The music library consists of over 100 songs that include 19th century American folk songs, turn-of-the century barbershop classics, ragtime, jazz, swing tunes, modern pieces from musical theatre and Disney animated films. The two most popular songs the guests enjoy listening to are "Mr. Sandman" written in 1954 by Pat Ballard and also "My Irish Rose" based off a musical from 1947.

As you can see, the Dapper Dans have a long tradition of performing at the Walt Disney Theme Parks ever since 1959 at Disneyland and continued as more theme parks developed over the years. This is only a brief history about the quartet and there are two ways you can listen to some of their spectacular performances, either by YouTube or in person the next time you take a trip to Disney World or Disneyland. If you have any questions or comments about the Dapper Dans or my other postings, please feel free to e-mail me at Thanks for reading my blog.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

A Historic Christmas Message

Since the United States went to war in Afghanistan and Iraq, we hear either on the radio or television around Christmastime taped messages from the soldiers who are serving in the two wars wishing family, friends, and sometimes their community a Merry Christmas wishing they were home for the holidays. These soldiers chose high risk career paths and sometimes their careers require them to miss the holidays with their loved ones in order to protect our freedoms abroad.

Another field that many consider high risk is being an astronaut. Astronauts, just like soldiers, do not have the luxury of taking holiday vacation during this time of the year because of their job requirements. If NASA schedules a mission during Christmas, then the astronauts have no choice but to perform their jobs even if they have to miss the holidays with their families. Just like soldiers when war breaks out. They try to make the best of it by sending brief Christmas messages back home. This was the case forty-one years ago today when the crew of the Apollo 8 had to miss Christmas because of their mission. They made the best of it by sending a moving Christmas Eve message to the country. Here is their story.

NASA scheduled the Apollo 8 mission several months in advance to take place between December 21 through December 27, 1968. On Christmas Eve, the Apollo 8 became the first spacecraft to orbit the moon and also conducted a live television broadcast from the lunar orbit, showing pictures of Earth and the Moon from the windows of the spacecraft. At the end of the broadcast, the three astronauts (Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, a Wisconsin native, and Bill Anders) gave one of the most memorable Christmas messages in history.

Lunar module pilot, William Anders, opened the message by saying "For all the people on Earth the crew of the Apollo 8 has a message we would like to send to you." Then each of the three astronauts read a quote from the Book of Genesis. At the end of the message, Borman closed out by saying, "And from the crew of the Apollo 8, we close with good night, good luck, a Merry Christmas, and God bless all of you-all of you on the good Earth." Tonight, as we celebrate Christmas Eve with our loved ones, please take the time to remember the men and women who are serving overseas in high risk war zones and thank God they were able to record or tape brief Christmas messages for all of us to cherish.

Merry Christmas and thanks for reading. I will be taking a couple of days off as I prepare more postings.

Here is the acutal recording.

Welcome to My Blog

I would like to take the time to welcome everybody to my new blog that I have created and a first time blogger. There are three reasons I decided to start blogging. First, I believe that the blogs are the future method of communicating with the ever-shrinking world. Second, blogging provides a forum for people to discuss a wide variety of topics that affect out lives. Finally, I have always wanted to start my own blog and after spending sometime as the intern running the PhilCast Facebook fan page, I felt that it was time to start my own blog.

You might, wonder, what type of content that I will be focusing on this blog. Let me tell you about my background. Since the fifth grade, my favorite subject was history since God blessed me with gifts of long-term memory, understanding the concepts of history, and able to recall what I have read in countless history books. History was the subject I did best in from the fifth grade, through high school, college, and finally at Cardinal Stritch University where I received my Masters of Arts in History. Throughout my study of history, I developed a philosophy believing that the best way for people to understand current events and be an informed citizen is to have a basic knowledge of history. Therefore, I decided to make this blog a little different from the thousands of blogs out in cyberspace. Rather than taking a particular political point of view, I am going to blog on current events taking a historical point of view, providing readers with some historical analysis using my skills as an amateur historian

The blog will be on a part time basis since I have a regular career and some topics will require additional research compared to other topics. I will do my best to keep the blog fresh. Finally, feel free to provide any comments, suggestions, or questions about the content of my blog by e-mailing me at