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He Inspired Jerry Springer (Plus 9 Other Stories About RFK)

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On June 8, 1968, the body of Robert Francis Kennedy was transported by train from New York to Washington. The rolling funeral procession stretched twenty-one cars long and carried over a thousand people. Because of overwhelming crowds along the tracks, a journey that should have lasted four hours took twice as long. In Elizabeth, New Jersey, people jumped onto the northbound tracks to get a closer look. Two were killed. Some estimates put the number of mourners and curious spectators around two million.

Forty years later, the world's fascination with RFK lives on. Here's a look at ten Bobby Kennedy stories you may not have heard.*

1. He worked for Senator Joe McCarthy, and almost had Roy Cohn's job.

Joe Kennedy had asked Senator McCarthy to appoint his son as staff director of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. McCarthy opted instead for Roy Cohn, who had helped convict atomic bomb spies Julius and Ethel Rosenberg (and would be portrayed by Al Pacino in Angels in America a half-century later). Kennedy was appointed Assistant Counsel in December of 1952, but resigned the following summer. In January of 1954, he rejoined the committee when the Democrats appointed him Minority Counsel.

2. He may have prevented an Indianapolis riot the night Dr. King was killed.

3. He wasn't above a bar fight.

"Shortly after his twenty-first birthday, Kennedy celebrated by buying his first beer. Soon he was buying rounds for everyone in the bar. Some of the patrons began singing 'Happy Birthday' to someone else, and Kennedy, inebriated for the first time in his life, became enraged at their ingratitude. He smashed a beer bottle over one man's head and refused entreaties by [Kenneth] O'Donnell to apologize." [Source]

4. He inspired Jerry Springer (the man, not the show).

Springer met with then New York Senator Robert Kennedy in 1968, and joined the Kennedy campaign. Kennedy's assassination had a profound effect on Springer. According to NBC.com, "That moment in history compelled him to the political action he has never abandoned."

5. He debated Ronald Reagan in 1967.

RFK-Reagan1.jpgOn May 15, 1967, the giants of the left and right met on CBS News. The topic: "The Image of America and the Youth of the World." This debate, which featured questions from students in London, is not mentioned in any of the great Kennedy biographies (well, at least not Robert Kennedy: His Life, Robert Kennedy and His Times or Up Close.)

Newsweek called Reagan the victor: "To those unfamiliar with Reagan's big-league savvy, the ease with which he fielded questions about Vietnam may have come as a revelation." They continued: "Political rookie Reagan...left old campaigner Kennedy blinking when the session ended." According to the National Review, "Kennedy himself conceded defeat to Reagan, telling his aides after the debate to never again put him on the same stage with 'that son-of-a-bitch.' Kennedy was heard to ask immediately after the debate, 'Who the f—- got me into this?' Frank Mankiewitz was that aide, as Kennedy was quick to remind him a few weeks later: 'You're the guy who got me into that Reagan thing.'"

[You can read the complete transcript and score it yourself.]

6. He was the first to climb Mount Kennedy.

mountkennedy.jpgIn 1965, with a three-man team on an excursion sponsored by the National Geographic Society, RFK reached the summit of the 13,000 foot Canadian mountain. He had no previous climbing experience. Up to that point, Mount Kennedy was the highest unclimbed peak in North America. It had been named after President John F. Kennedy earlier that year.

RFK was zinged by his brother Ted in a quote given to The New York Times: "I wish to point out for the record he is not the first Kennedy to climb a mountain. I climbed the Matterhorn in 1957, which is higher, and I didn't need the help of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police."

7. He tried to talk LBJ out of the VP job he'd already accepted.

JFK-LBJ.jpgFrom the PBS.org companion to the RFK American Experience special: "At around 11 a.m. on the day a nominee was to be presented, John Kennedy visited Johnson in his hotel suite and offered him the [VP] job. Robert Kennedy maintained afterward that his brother offered the job to Johnson only as a courtesy, and then felt trapped when he accepted. 'Now what do we do?' the candidate asked, then answered by sending Bobby back to talk Johnson out of it. Around 4 p.m., with tensions running high all around, John Kennedy called Johnson to assure him he was the one. Ignore Bobby, he said, because 'he's been out of touch and doesn't know what's happening.'" [Here's a YouTube montage of awkward moments between RFK and LBJ.]

8. His house was a zoo.

rfkdog.jpgIn August of 1962, The New York Times wrote about Attorney General Kennedy's dog Brumus (not pictured), who was a regular visitor to the Justice Department. "He usually stays at home with the children," Kennedy explained. "But the children are away on vacation and he gets very lonely. So I bring him down here and get pretty girls to take him for walks." The article ended by listing the rest of Kennedy's animal friends: "two other dogs, ponies, horses, geese, a burro, a sea lion (!?), Hungarian pigeons, twenty goldfish, rabbits, turtles and a salamander."

9. He's been portrayed by everyone from Martin Sheen to Andrew McCarthy.

RFKs.jpg

Sheen (The Missiles of October) and McCarthy (TV movie Jackie Bouvier Kennedy Onassis) are just two of many actors to play RFK. IMDb has the complete list, which includes Stephen Culp (Thirteen Days and Norma Jean & Marilyn; he's pictured above), Zeljko Ivanek (TV movie The Rat Pack), John Shea (1983 miniseries Kennedy; Martin Sheen played JFK), and Robert Knepper (The Women of Camelot).

10. He's not forgotten by the social networking crowd.

His 1968 campaign has a MySpace page. RFK Facebook groups include the Bobby Kennedy Fan Club, Bobby Kennedy's Vision, and even a fantasy group called RFK Wins California, Midwest to Defeat Nixon, 283-209. (I'm pretty sure these links will only work for Facebook users.)

*Unless you're a Kennedy buff, or read the slightly longer RFK post from which this was taken.

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Big Questions
Why Do So Many Rooms in the White House Have an Oval Shape?
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Why do so many White House rooms have an elliptical "oval" shape?

Taylor Griffin:

The Oval shape of rooms in the White House was chosen to accommodate a formal greeting ceremony known as a "levee." The ceremony has its roots in the royal courts of England and particularly France.

The White House Historical Association explains how it worked in America:

The levee, a tradition borrowed from the English court, was a formal occasion to allow men of prominence to meet the president. Replete with formal dress, silver buckles, and powdered hair, the event was a stiff public ceremony almost military in its starkness. Invited guests entered the room and walked over to the president standing before the fireplace and bowed as a presidential aide made a low announcement of their names. The visitor then stepped back to his place. After 15 minutes the doors were closed and the group would have assembled in a circle. The president would then walk around the circle, addressing each man by his name from memory with some pleasantry or studied remark of congratulation, which might have a political connotation. He bowed, but never shook hands. When he had rounded the circle, the president returned to his place before the mantel and stood until, at a signal from an aide, the guests went to him, one by one, bowed without saying anything, and left the room.

George Washington ordered the bowed walls that characterize the three oval-shaped rooms on the South side of the White House residence: the Diplomatic Reception Room, the Blue Oval room on the State Floor and the Yellow Oval Room on the third floor, expressly for the levee.

But the ceremony was only briefly used. The practice was not loved by John Adams, the White House’s first resident. While Adams accepted the reasoning behind the levee, an efficient way to grant wider access to the president in a manner consistent with his station, he didn't disguise his personal distaste for it. In a letter to his wife Abigail, Adams said simply:

"I hate levees …"

The levee was promptly abolished by Thomas Jefferson, who saw the ritualized grandeur of the ceremony as uncomfortably close to the trappings of monarchy from which the young nation had just fought a revolution to divorce itself. The oval shape nevertheless was reprised in the design of the iconic President’s office when the West Wing was built in 1909. The shape of the Oval Office serves no formal purpose except as a homage to the oval rooms of the White House residence, reinforcing the sense of awe for the power wielded within it.

This post originally appeared on Roughly Explained and Quora. Click here to view.

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History
That Time The U.S. Confirmed You Can Only Kill A Yeti In Self-Defense
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In the 1950s, yeti hunting was all the rage among explorers. In 1951, mountaineer Eric Shipton’s expedition to Mt. Everest brought back photos of a mysterious three-toed footprint; in 1954, the Daily Mail sent scientists and mountaineers on a 6-month “Snowman Expedition” to the Himalayas specifically to find the mysterious creature. None of their research was conclusive, but that didn't stop adventure-seekers from trying to find evidence of the yeti's existence.

The U.S. government took the time in 1959 to remind these zealots that if they found a yeti, they couldn't shoot it. Unless it was trying to kill them, of course.

In a state department memo dated December 10, 1959, government officials laid out the regulations that governed yeti hunting in Nepal.

First of all, it was not going to be free. Would-be trackers were ordered to get a permit from the Nepali government, paying 5000 rupees (adjusting for inflation, about $1100 today) for the privilege.

Furthermore, the Nepali government was entitled to any evidence the hunters found. Any photos taken or reports proving the animal’s existence had to be surrendered to the government, and if there was going to be a report “throwing light on the actual existence of the creature,” it couldn’t be given to the press until the government approved it. If the creature was captured, obviously, it would also have to be turned over to the state. Dead or alive.

A State Department memo from 1959 lists regulations for hunting Yeti.
NARA

And last, and most importantly, that “dead or alive” clause wasn’t permission to go around shooting mythical creatures. Yetis could only be killed or shot in self-defense. Finding the yeti was a scientific pursuit, not a trophy sport.

Why did the U.S. government care? According to the National Archives—which currently has the yeti memo on display—it was a diplomatic move. The Nepali government had issued the memo two years earlier, but when the U.S. translated it into English, it was signaling its support of Nepal’s sovereign rule. In doing so, the U.S. hoped Nepal—which neighbors China—would be friendly to Americans' desire to keep tabs on China's communist government.

“Although, at first glance, a memo about yeti-hunting seems fanciful, it is in fact representative of American Cold War strategies to combat what they saw as the rising threat of communism,” historian Sanjana Barr writes on the National Archives’ blog.

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