Great Moments in Travel History – December 2021

Grumman G-21 Goose in Pan Am livery, ca. 1939 at the Pan Am Museum

By Jesse Sokolow on 1 December 2021
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December, the first month of meteorological winter in the Northern Hemisphere, was the tenth month of the Roman calendar, and derives its name from decem, “ten” in Latin.  It is now the 12th and final month of the year, and is associated with multiple holidays including Krampus, Christmas, and Hanukkah as well as  New Year’s Eve.

The Anglo-Saxons called both December and January – the entire winter solstice period – “Ġēolamōnaþ,” the Yule month. Indeed, many Yuletide customs observed by the historical Germanic people have made their way into today’s Christmas celebrations.

December hosts a number of holidays in addition to Christmas and Hanukah, the latter formerly a minor Jewish eight-day festival that has risen in prominence due to its close proximity to Christmas on the calendar. The list includes Boxing Day, which is the day following Christmas on which in many countries gifts were given to servants and tradesmen; the winter solstice on December 21; and New Year’s Eve or Silvester, on December 31, the day on which we watch the skit “Dinner for One” on television before going out to celebrate the New Year.

Here’s what happened in Decembers past.

The Wright Brothers made the first powered controlled flight, in a heavier-than-air craft, on December 17, 1903, in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.

The Palace Hotel, which survived the 1906 San Francisco earthquake only to be consumed by the fires in the quake’s aftermath, reopened its doors on December 19, 1909.

The Boeing Airplane Co. B-1 mail plane, the first Boeing-designed commercial aircraft, made its inaugural flight on December 27, 1919.

The Drake Hotel in Chicago opened its doors on December 31, 1920. The luxury hotel is a longtime rival of Chicago’s historic Palmer House hotel.

The first motel opened its doors on December 12, 1925 in San Luis Obispo, California. The Milestone Mo-Tel, now known as the Motel Inn of San Luis Obispo, was built by Arthur Heineman, who combined the words “motor” and “hotel” as sales of automobiles began to take off. Heineman’s motel was noted for the sign that changed the first letter so it alternated the words “hotel” and “motel.” Guests had 160 individual chalets available, each with a bathroom, telephone, and garage.

The attack on Pearl Harbor by the Empire of Japan occurred on December 7, 1941, bringing the United States into World War II.

On December 7, 1946, the deadliest hotel fire in U.S. history devastated the Winecoff Hotel, in Atlanta, Georgia, now known as the Ellis Hotel. One hundred and nineteen people perished in the blaze.

The Park Slope Plane Crash occurred on December 16, 1960, when United Airlines Flight 826, a Douglas DC-8-11, collided with Trans World Airlines Flight 266, a Lockheed L-1049 Super Constellation, over New York City with the United DC-8 crashing in the Park Slope section of Brooklyn. All 128 passengers onboard the aircraft, as well as six people on the ground, lost their lives. The incident became the first time in history that a black box was used to provide details in a plane crash investigation.

John F. Kennedy International Airport, originally dedicated as New York International Airport and later known as Idlewild Airport, was renamed on December 24, 1963, a month after President Kennedy’s assassination.

Eastern Air Lines Flight 401, a Lockheed L-1011-1 Tristar jet, crashed in the Florida Everglades on December 29, 1972. One hundred and one people died in what was the first wide-body aircraft crash.

Apollo 8, the first manned mission to the moon, launched on December 21, 1968, from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

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