50 Things Turning 50 in 2019

NASA, Getty Images
NASA, Getty Images

Celebrating the big 5-0 this year? You’re in excellent company. From the first manned Moon landing to Monty Python, here are 50 things marking a half-century on this planet (and beyond) in 2019.

1. First Manned Moon Landing

Apollo 11 began its historic voyage to the Moon on July 16, 1969. It reached its destination on July 20 and on July 21, Neil Armstrong became the first person to step onto the lunar surface, with Buzz Aldrin following him about 20 minutes later. The mission marked the beginning of the U.S. putting a dozen men on the moon.

2. Sesame Street

On November 10, 1969, television audiences were introduced to Sesame Street (including an orange version of Oscar the Grouch). In the nearly 50 years since, the series has become one of television's most iconic programs—and not just for kids.

3. Stonewall Riots

In the early morning hours of June 28, 1969, The Stonewall Inn—a popular gay bar in New York City’s West Village—was raided by police. The incident sparked a series of riots in protest, and became the birthplace of the modern LGBTQ rights movement. In 2016, the bar was named a National Monument.

4. Monty Python’s Flying Circus

The creators of Monty Python's Flying Circus
Alan Howard, Getty Images

On October 5, 1969, Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, Michael Palin, and Terry Gilliam changed the face of sketch comedy forever with the BBC debut of Monty Python’s Flying Circus.

5. The Internet

There’s been a long-running debate about when “The Internet” was born, with many tech-heads citing April 7, 1969 as the web’s official birthdate. That’s the day the first official Request for Comments, or RFC, was published—which included research, proposals, and ideas for the creation of true internet technology.

6. Woodstock

On August 15, 1969, a 600-acre dairy farm in New York’s Catskill Mountains became the site of one of the most defining music events in rock ‘n’ roll history. Though Woodstock’s organizers assured town officials that no more than 50,000 music lovers would show up, word spread fast and the final tally ended up being closer to 400,000—almost 100 times the town of Bethel’s year-round population of about 4200.

7. Fla-Vor-Ice

Those plastic tubes of frozen, flavored sugar water seem to be a part of everyone’s childhood—and with good reason: Fla-Vor-Ice made its grocery store debut in 1969.

8. The Gap

On August 21, 1969, Donald and Doris Fisher opened the very first Gap store on San Francisco’s Ocean Avenue. While jeans were a main attraction, the retailer looked a lot different back then: It sold Levi’s only (plus records, in an attempt to attract that coveted teenage demographic).

9. The Beatles’s Rooftop Concert

On January 30, 1969, right around lunchtime, The Beatles made their way to the rooftop of the Apple Corps building, their record label’s headquarters, for an unannounced performance. It was the first time in more than two years that the band had performed live, and they didn’t miss a beat. The Fab Four spent 42 minutes testing new material out on a crowd of onlookers. Eventually, a bank manager called the police to lodge a noise complaint—and the plug was pulled.

10. PBS

On November 3, 1969, PBS was founded as a successor to National Educational Television (NET) and quickly became the country’s preeminent broadcaster of educational, cultured television. Among its most popular series in those early days were Sesame Street, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, Nova, The French Chef with Julia Child, and Masterpiece Theatre (some of which are still going strong).

11. Wendy’s

Wendy’s—the fast food burger giant that also makes a mean baked potato—was founded by Dave Thomas in Columbus, Ohio on November 15, 1969. The restaurant differentiated itself from the competition with its square burger patties, which were inspired by Kewpee’s, a burger joint in Thomas’s hometown of Kalamazoo, Michigan.

12. The Very Hungry Caterpillar

On June 3, 1969, Eric Carle’s The Very Hungry Caterpillar came into the world and made the tale of, well, a very hungry caterpillar that eats his way through the story and emerges as a butterfly a staple of bedtime stories around the world. More than 30 million copies of the children’s book have been sold since its original publication.

13. David Bowie's "Space Oddity"

Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey inspired David Bowie to write “Space Oddity,” the opening song on his second studio album that would become one of the artist’s defining hits. It was released on July 11, 1969—less than a week before Apollo 11 began its historic voyage to the Moon.

14. Peter Dinklage

On June 11, 1969, Peter Dinklage came bouncing into this world in Morristown, New Jersey. In 1991, he made his onscreen debut in Woody Allen’s Shadows and Fog. Today, of course, he’s best known as Tyrion Lannister—everyone’s favorite character Game of Thrones’s character and the series’ real star (according to math).

15. Funyuns

Looks like an onion ring, tastes like an onion-flavored chip. Funyuns have been offering the best of both worlds since 1969.

16. The Brady Bunch

Here's the story of a lovely lady, her architect husband, three daughters, three stepsons, one housekeeper, a dog named Tiger, and one jinx of a cousin—all of whom came together to create one memorable blended family sitcom. The Brady Bunch made its premiere on September 26, 1969.

17. Slaughterhouse-Five

On March 31, 1969, Kurt Vonnegut published what is arguably his most popular work, Slaughterhouse-Five—a semi-autobiographical novel based on his experiences as a POW during the Allied bombing of Dresden in 1945.

18. John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s Bed-In

John Lennon and Yoko Ono in their bed in the Presidential Suite of the Hilton Hotel, Amsterdam, 25th March 1969. The couple are staging a 'bed-in for peace' and intend to stay in bed for seven days 'as a protest aga
Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

On March 20, 1969, one of the world’s most famous couples—John Lennon and Yoko Ono—officially got hitched. Knowing that all eyes would be on them in the days following their wedding, they decided to book the presidential suite at the Amsterdam Hilton Hotel and stage a week-long “Bed-In” to protest the Vietnam War and promote global peace.

19. Automatic Teller Machine

On September 2, 1969, the country’s first ATM started shelling out cash to Chemical Bank customers in Rockville Center, New York.

20. Cracker Barrel

On September 19, 1969, Dan W. Evins opened the first Cracker Barrel Old Country Store in Lebanon, Tennessee, where made-from-scratch fare was always on the menu. Today, the restaurant chain operates more than 650 locations across 45 states.

21. Chappaquiddick Incident

In the late-night hours of July 18, 1969, Senator Ted Kennedy drove his car off a one-lane bridge and into the water on Chappaquidick Island, Massachusetts. While Kennedy was able to escape the vehicle, his passenger—28-year-old Mary Jo Kopechne, a former staffer for Ted’s late brother Bobby—was not. Instead of calling for help, Kennedy fled the scene and didn’t report the incident for another 10 hours. Kennedy eventually pled guilty to leaving the scene of an accident and received a two-month jail sentence, which was suspended. Though he remained an active politician for the rest of his life, the “Chappaquidick Incident,” as it came to be known, is often cited as a reason why Kennedy was never elected president (he ran unsuccessfully in 1980).

22. Tic Tacs

Introduced in 1969 as “Refreshing Mints,” Tic Tacs have cornered the market on teeny-tiny breath mints that make a fun shaking noise while resting in your pocket. Though orange and mint were the original (and still popular) flavors, dozens of new flavors have been added since then and the mints now sell in more than 100 countries.

23. "Sweet Caroline"

Neil Diamond sings 'Sweet Caroline' during a game between the Kansas City Royals and Boston Red Sox in the 8th inning at Fenway Park on April 20, 2013 in Boston, Massachusetts
Jim Rogash, Getty Images

In June 1969, Neil Diamond released “Sweet Caroline,” which he later explained had been inspired by Caroline Kennedy. (He even performed the tune at her 50th birthday.) Whether you love the song or hate it, it endures—particularly as a theme at sporting events. For more than 20 years, it’s been played at Boston’s Fenway Park during every Red Sox home game. So good, so good, so good.

24. Jennifer Aniston

On February 11, 1969, Jennifer Aniston was born in Sherman Oaks, California to actors John Aniston and Nancy Dow. Though she rose to super-stardom playing Rachel Green on Friends, her roles weren’t always so glamorous: Her first gig was an uncredited role in 1987’s Mac and Me and she had a starring role in the awesomely terrible 1993 “horror” film Leprechaun. Aniston share’s her birthday with a host of other talented actresses turning 50 this year, including Cate Blanchett, Renée Zellweger, Jennifer Lopez, and Catherine Zeta-Jones.

25. Easy Rider

A seminal film of the late 1960s counter-culture—and one of the film’s that kicked off the New Hollywood era of filmmaking—Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda’s trippy road movie made its premiere at the Cannes Film Festival on May 12, 1969. Hopper, who directed Easy Rider and co-wrote it with Fonda and Terry Southern, left France with the festival’s Best First Work award (and a soon-to-be-iconic film on his hands).

26. I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings

Originally published in 1969, the first in Maya Angelou’s series of autobiographies delves into her earliest years, beginning at age 3, when she and her brother were sent to live with their grandmother in Arkansas. It culminates with a teenaged Angelou giving birth to her son, Guy, at the age of 16. The book confirmed Angelou’s status as one of America’s most original and important voices, and was nominated for a National Book Award in 1970.

27. “A Boy Named Sue”

On February 24, 1969—while famously performing live at California's San Quentin State Prison—legendary singer Johnny Cash debuted “A Boy Named Sue.” If the title and lyrics seem oddly whimsical for the Man in Black, that’s because the tune was written by children’s author/poet Shel Silverstein.

28. Firebird Trans Am

The first generation of Pontiac’s legendary muscle car began rolling off the assembly line in 1969 and continued being manufactured—with tiny tweaks over the years—until 2002. The vehicle earned an important place in pop culture, thanks to starring roles in Smokey and the Bandit and Knight Rider.

29. The Star Trek Finale

Given its pop culture dominance and impact on the science fiction genre, it’s hard to believe that the original version of Star Trek only spent three seasons on the air. But on June 3, 1969, early Trekkies watched as an evil scientist swapped bodies with Captain Kirk and attempted to take control of the Enterprise in the series finale, “Turnabout Intruder."

30. Mario Puzo’s The Godfather

The bestselling novel that led to Francis Ford Coppola’s Oscar-winning movie—and one of the only sequels in cinema history to be as good as, if not better than, its predecessor—was published on March 10, 1969.

31. The Concorde


Getty Images

While the origins of the supersonic jet that came to be known as the Concorde began back in the 1950s, it wasn’t until March 2, 1969, that the vessel—a.k.a. Concorde 001—made its maiden voyage. It would take another seven years for the plane to become a regular sight in the skies.

32. Paul Rudd

Hollywood’s most likeable actor was born in Passaic, New Jersey on April 6, 1969. Fifty years later, he’s stirring up all sorts of confusion and excitement amongst fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe following his unexpected cameo in the first trailer for this year’s Avengers: Endgame. Rudd shares a birthday with Matthew McConaughey and Dave Bautista.

33. Human Eye Transplant

On April 22, 1969, doctors at Houston’s Methodist Hospital made history when they performed the first human eye transplant on 55-year-old John Madden. While the transplant itself was technically a success, the donated eye had not been properly preserved, so Madden’s eyesight remained unchanged. "I don't know what they expected,’’ Madden’s wife said at the time. “They tell us that being able to transplant an eye and have movement in it is really something.”

34. Midnight Cowboy

John Schlesinger’s buddy dramedy about a goofy Texan (Jon Voight) and a sickly—albeit crafty—con man (Dustin Hoffman) teaming up to turn the 6-gallon-hat-wearing galoot into one of New York City’s most in-demand gigolos is the first and only X-rated film to win the Oscar for Best Picture.

35. Quartz Watches

On December 25, 1969—following 10 years of extensive research—Seiko debuted the Quartz-Astron 35SQ, the world’s first quartz watch. Even today, it's still logged as one of the great milestones in electric engineering.

36. Abbey Road

Abbey RoadThe Beatles’s eleventh studio album, and the final one on which all four original members recorded together—was released on September 26, 1969. (Let It Be came out on May 8, 1970, but was recorded before Abbey Road.)

37. Home Surveillance Systems

On December 2, 1969, Queens, New York native Marie V.B. Brown and her husband Albert were issued a patent for a home security system that allowed the owner to utilize a television set in order to see and hear whoever was at the front door.

38. Portnoy's Complaint

On January 12, 1969, the publication of Portnoy’s Complaint turned author Philip Roth into both an instant celebrity and a lightning rod for controversy for those who took issue with his frank depictions of sexuality. He maintained an impressive status as both until his passing in 2018.

39. The Saturday Evening Post’s Final Issue

After nearly 150 years of Norman Rockwell covers and iconic Americana, The Saturday Evening Post ceased publication in 1969. Though the print magazine was revived in 1971, its focus was much more on medical articles, so it was never again the same thing that it had been.

40. Wes Anderson


Tullio M. Puglia, Getty Images

The quirky, whimsy-loving director behind Bottle Rocket, The Royal Tenenbaums, and The Grand Budapest Hotel was born in Houston, Texas on May 1, 1969. It’s in that very same city that Anderson attended high school at the St. John’s School, which would later play the titular role in Rushmore.

41. Capri Sun

Though Capri Sun—and its notoriously difficult-to-pierce-in-just-the-right-place juice pouches—didn’t make its way to the U.S. until 1981, the juice concentrate was first introduced in Switzerland in 1969.

42. Led Zeppelin

Led Zeppelin’s first studio album made its American debut on January 12, 1969, less than a year after the iconic rock band’s formation.

43. Cory Booker

Cory Booker, the longtime mayor of Newark-turned-New Jersey senator, was born in Washington, D.C. on April 27, 1969.

44. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid


20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

Director George Roy Hill took the American western to dizzying new heights with the help of Paul Newman and Robert Redford when Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid was released in theaters on October 24, 1969. Four Oscars followed.

45. RMS Queen Elizabeth 2

For nearly 40 years, the RMS Queen Elizabeth 2—better known as the QE2—was the grand dame of the Atlantic Ocean. As part of the Cunard family of ships, the luxury ocean liner made her maiden voyage on May 2, 1969 and continued to serve as a transatlantic shuttle between Southampton, England and New York City until 2008. In 2018, she reopened as a floating hotel in Dubai.

46. Altamont Free Concert

Free concerts didn’t work out quite as planned in 1969. Four months after Woodstock attracted an unprecedented number of guests to a dairy farm in upstate New York, the Rolling Stones decided to host a free concert of their own at California’s Altamont Speedway. While it’s often reported that the Hells Angels were officially hired as security for the event, some individuals involved in its planning deny this. But there’s no denying that several members of the infamous motorcycle club were indeed there, surrounding the stage, and reacting to the increasingly agitated crowd. By the end of the night, four people had been killed—three of them accidentally—while many more were injured due to scuffles of varying degrees of severity. Documentarians Albert and David Maysles were on hand to record the events, which they turned into Gimme Shelter, one of the most fascinating rockumentaries of all time.

47. Battery-operated Smoke Detectors

Smoke detector and smoke
iStock

You know that tiny device that wakes you up in the middle of the night making a racket just because its batteries are dying? But could also save your life in the event of a fire? It’s turning 50! Duane D. Pearsall invented the first battery-operated smoke detector on February 5, 1969.

48. The Manson Family

In 1967, following his release from a seven-year prison stint for forging checks and transporting women across state lines for the purpose of prostitution, Charles Manson moved to San Francisco and began assembling a devout group of followers—many of them young women—who were ready to do his bidding, whatever that might be. Though the “family” unit was formed a bit earlier, they rose to global prominence—much to the horror of everyday citizens everywhere—when a group of Manson’s followers murdered five people at Roman Polanski and Sharon Tate’s Los Angeles rental home on the evening of August 8, 1969. Tate, who was eight months pregnant at the time, was among the victims. One week later, police raided Spahn Ranch—where the Manson Family lived—and arrested 26 individuals, Manson among them.

49. Scooby Doo

On September 13, 1969, CBS viewers were introduced to the kind of trippy world of Scooby Doo and his gang of human mystery-solvers—Fred Jones, Daphne Blake, Velma Dinkley, and Shaggy Rogers—when Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! debuted as part of the Saturday morning cartoon lineup. That most of the “mysteries” ended in the same way—with the gang pulling a mask off the monster that had been stalking them, only to find it was a human they knew—didn’t seem to hinder the classic cartoon’s popularity.

50. Turn-on

Several months before Monty Python’s Flying Circus made its debut, another sketch comedy show—one that included Albert Brooks among its writers—made its premiere on February 5, 1969 and disappeared just as quickly. Though two episodes were filmed, only one aired. Leaving the series to be remembered as one of the biggest flops of all time. (Yes, it’s important to commemorate that, too.)

Eliza Leslie: The Most Influential Cookbook Writer of the 19th Century

American cookbook author Eliza Leslie
American cookbook author Eliza Leslie
Wikimedia // Public Domain

If it wasn't for Eliza Leslie, American recipes might look very different. Leslie wrote the most popular cookbook of the 19th century, published a recipe widely credited as being the first for chocolate cake in the United States, and authored fiction for both adults and children. Her nine cookbooks—as well as her domestic management and etiquette guides—made a significant mark in American history and society, despite the fact that she never ran a kitchen of her own.

Early Dreams

Born in Philadelphia on November 15, 1787, to Robert and Lydia Leslie, Eliza was an intelligent child and a voracious reader. Her dream of becoming a writer was nurtured by her father, a prosperous watchmaker, inventor, and intellectual who was friends with Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson. She once wrote that "the dream of my childhood [was] one day seeing my name in print."

Sadly, her father’s business failed around the turn of the 19th century and he died in 1803. The family took in boarders to make ends meet, and as the oldest of five, Leslie helped her mother in the kitchen. To gain culinary experience, she attended Mrs. Goodfellow’s Cooking School in Philadelphia, the first school of its kind in the United States. Urged by her brother Thomas—and after fielding numerous requests for recipes from friends and family—she compiled her first book, Seventy-Five Receipts for Pastry, Cakes, and Sweetmeats, in 1828. Notably, the book included the term cup cake, referring to Leslie's employment of a teacup as a measuring tool ("two large tea-cups full of molasses")—possibly the first-ever mention of a cup cake in print.

Seventy-Five Receipts was a hit, and was reprinted numerous times. Encouraged by this success—and by her publisher, Munroe & Francis—Leslie moved on to her true desire: writing fiction. She penned short stories and storybooks for young readers as well as adult fiction and won several awards for her efforts. One of her prize-winning short stories, the humorous "Mrs. Washington Potts," appeared in Godey’s Lady’s Book, the popular 19th century magazine for which she also served as assistant editor. Leslie also contributed to Graham’s Magazine, the Saturday Gazette, and The Saturday Evening Post. At least one critic called her tales "perfect daguerreotypes of real life."

As much as Leslie loved writing fiction, however, it didn't always pay the bills. She wrote a second cookbook, Domestic French Cookery, in 1832, and achieved the pinnacle of her success in 1837 with Directions for Cookery. That work became the most beloved cookbook of the 1800s; it sold at least 150,000 copies and was republished 60 times by 1870. She offered pointers on procuring the best ingredients ("catfish that have been caught near the middle of the river are much nicer than those that are taken near the shore where they have access to impure food") and infused the book with wit. In a section discouraging the use of cold meat in soups, she wrote, "It is not true that French cooks have the art of producing excellent soups from cold scraps. There is much bad soup to be found in France, at inferior houses; but good French cooks are not, as is generally supposed, really in the practice of concocting any dishes out of the refuse of the table."

In The Taste of America, noted modern food historians John and Karen Hess called Directions for Cookery “one of the two best American cookbooks ever written," citing the book's precise directions, engaging tips, straightforward commentary, and diverse recipes—such as catfish soup and election cake—as the keys to its excellence.

Leslie is also credited with publishing America’s first printed recipe for chocolate cake, in her 1846 Lady’s Receipt Book. While chocolate had been used in baking in Europe as far back as the 1600s, Leslie’s recipe was probably obtained from a professional chef or pastry cook in Philadelphia. The recipe, which featured grated chocolate and a whole grated nutmeg, is quite different from most of today's chocolate cakes, with its strong overtones of spice and earthy, rather than sweet, flavors. (You can find the full recipe below.)

Later in life, while continuing to write cookbooks, Leslie edited The Gift: A Christmas and New Year’s Present, which included early publications by Edgar Allan Poe. She also edited her own magazine of literature and fashion, Miss Leslie’s Magazine. She wrote only one novel, 1848's Amelia; Or a Young Lady’s Vicissitudes, but once said that if she was to start her literary career over, she would have only written novels.

A Uniquely American Voice

Historians have argued that Leslie was successful because she crafted recipes to appeal to the young country’s desire for upward mobility as well as a uniquely American identity. At the time she began writing, women primarily used British cookbooks; Leslie appealed to them with a distinctly American work. (She noted in the preface to Seventy-Five Receipts, "There is frequently much difficulty in following directions in English and French Cookery Books, not only from their want of explicitness, but from the difference in the fuel, fire-places, and cooking utensils. ... The receipts in this little book are, in every sense of the word, American.")

Leslie included regional American dishes in her books, promoted the use of quality ingredients, and was the first to (sometimes) organize recipes by including ingredients at the beginning of each recipe instead of using a narrative form, setting the tone for modern recipe writing. Her books were considered a treasure trove of knowledge for young pioneer women who, frequently separated from their families for the first time, often relied on Leslie's works for guidance.

Unmarried herself, Leslie never managed her own kitchen, and often had others testing recipes for her. She maintained strong ties with her erudite, sophisticated family, and lived for a time with her brother Thomas while he was attending West Point. Another brother, Charles Leslie, was a well-regarded painter in England; her sister Anna was also an artist, and sister Patty was married to a publisher who produced some of Leslie’s work. As she got older, Leslie lived for years in the United States Hotel in Philadelphia, where she was something of a celebrity for her wit and strong opinions.

Leslie died on January 1, 1858. Many of her recipes are still used today, but it's likely she’d be most pleased to know that many of her short stories are available online. Modern readers can appreciate the totality of her work: the fiction writing that was her passion, though for which she was lesser known, and her culinary writing, which guided generations.

Eliza Leslie's Recipe for Chocolate Cake

From The Lady's Receipt Book:

CHOCOLATE CAKE.—Scrape down three ounces of the best and purest chocolate, or prepared cocoa. Cut up, into a deep pan, three-quarters of a pound of fresh butter; add to it a pound of powdered loaf-sugar; and stir the butter and sugar together till very light and white. Have ready 14 ounces (two ounces less than a pound) of sifted flour; a powdered nutmeg; and a tea-spoonful of powdered cinnamon—mixed together. Beat the whites of ten eggs till they stand alone; then the yolks till they are very thick and smooth. Then mix the yolks and whites gradually together, beating very hard when they are all mixed. Add the eggs, by degrees, to the beaten butter and sugar, in turn with the flour and the scraped chocolate,—a little at a time of each; also the spice. Stir the whole very hard. Put the mixture into a buttered tin pan with straight sides, and bake it at least four hours. If nothing is to be baked afterwards, let it remain in till the oven becomes cool. When cold, ice it.

11 Facts About Johann Sebastian Bach

Illustration by Mental Floss. Image: Rischgitz, Getty Images
Illustration by Mental Floss. Image: Rischgitz, Getty Images

Johann Sebastian Bach is everywhere. Weddings? Bach. Haunted houses? Bach. Church? Bach. Shredding electric guitar solos? Look, it’s Bach! The Baroque composer produced more than 1100 works, from liturgical organ pieces to secular cantatas for orchestra, and his ideas about musical form and harmony continue to influence generations of music-makers. Here are 11 things you might not know about the man behind the music.

1. There's some disagreement about when he was actually born.

Some people celebrate Bach’s birthday on March 21. Other people light the candles on March 31. The correct date depends on whom you ask. Bach was born in Thuringia in 1685, when the German state was still observing the Julian calendar. Today, we use the Gregorian calendar, which shifted the dates by 11 days. And while most biographies opt for the March 31 date, Bach scholar Christopher Wolff firmly roots for Team 21. “True, his life was actually 11 days longer because Protestant Germany adopted the Gregorian calendar in 1700,” he told Classical MPR, “but with the legal stipulation that all dates prior to Dec. 31, 1699, remain valid.”

2. He was at the center of a musical dynasty.

Bach’s great-grandfather was a piper. His grandfather was a court musician. His father was a violinist, organist, court trumpeter, and kettledrum player. At least two of his uncles were composers. He had five brothers—all named Johann—and the three who lived to adulthood became musicians. J.S. Bach also had 20 children, and, of those who lived past childhood, at least five became professional composers. According to the Nekrolog, an obituary written by Bach’s son Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, "[S]tarting with Veit Bach, the founding father of this family, all his descendants, down to the seventh generation, have dedicated themselves to the profession of music, with only a few exceptions."

3. He took a musical pilgrimage that puts every road trip to Woodstock to shame.

In 1705, 20-year-old Bach walked 280 miles—that's right, walked—from the city of Arnstadt to Lübeck in northern Germany to hear a concert by the influential organist and composer Dieterich Buxtehude. He stuck around for four months to study with the musician [PDF]. Bach hoped to succeed Buxtehude as the organist of Lübeck's St. Mary's Church, but marriage to one of Buxtehude's daughters was a prerequisite to taking over the job. Bach declined, and walked back home.

4. He brawled with his students.

One of Bach’s first jobs was as a church organist in Arnstadt. When he signed up for the role, nobody told him he also had to teach a student choir and orchestra, a responsibility Bach hated. Not one to mince words, Bach one day lost patience with a error-prone bassoonist, Johann Geyersbach, and called him a zippelfagottist—that is, a “nanny-goat bassoonist.” Those were fighting words. Days later, Geyersbach attacked Bach with a walking stick. Bach pulled a dagger. The rumble escalated into a full-blown scrum that required the two be pulled apart.

5. He spent 30 days in jail for quitting his job.

When Bach took a job in 1708 as a chamber musician in the court of the Duke of Saxe-Weimar, he once again assumed a slew of responsibilities that he never signed up for. This time, he took it in stride, believing his hard work would lead to his promotion to kapellmeister (music director). But after five years, the top job was handed to the former kapellmeister’s son. Furious, Bach resigned and joined a rival court. As retribution, the duke jailed him for four weeks. Bach spent his time in the slammer writing preludes for organ.

6. The Brandenburg Concertos were a failed job application.

Around 1721, Bach was the head of court music for Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Köthen. Unfortunately, the composer reportedly didn’t get along with the prince’s new wife, and he started looking for a new gig. (Notice a pattern?) Bach polished some manuscripts that had been sitting around and mailed them to a potential employer, Christian Ludwig, the Margrave of Brandenburg. That package, which included the Brandenburg Concertos—now considered some of the most important orchestral compositions of the Baroque era—failed to get Bach the job [PDF].

7. He wrote an amazing coffee jingle.

Bach apparently loved coffee enough to write a song about it: "Schweigt stille, plaudert nicht" ("Be still, stop chattering"). Performed in 1735 at Zimmerman’s coffee house in Leipzig, the song is about a coffee-obsessed woman whose father wants her to stop drinking the caffeinated stuff. She rebels and sings this stanza:

Ah! How sweet coffee tastes
More delicious than a thousand kisses
Milder than muscatel wine.
Coffee, I have to have coffee,
And, if someone wants to pamper me,
Ah, then bring me coffee as a gift!

8. If Bach challenged you to a keyboard duel, you were guaranteed to be embarrassed.

In 1717, Louis Marchand, a harpsichordist from France, was invited to play for Augustus, Elector of Saxony, and performed so well that he was offered a position playing for the court. This annoyed the court’s concertmaster, who found Marchand arrogant and insufferable. To scare the French harpsichordist away, the concertmaster hatched a plan with his friend, J.S. Bach: a keyboard duel. Bach and Marchand would improvise over a number of different styles, and the winner would take home 500 talers. But when Marchand learned just how talented Bach was, he hightailed it out of town.

9. Some of his music may have been composed to help with insomnia.

Some people are ashamed to admit that classical music, especially the Baroque style, makes them sleepy. Be ashamed no more! According to Bach’s earliest biographer, the Goldberg Variations were composed to help Count Hermann Karl von Keyserling overcome insomnia. (This story, to be fair, is disputed.) Whatever the truth, it hasn’t stopped the Andersson Dance troupe from presenting a fantastic Goldberg-based tour of performances called “Ternary Patterns for Insomnia.” Sleep researchers have also suggested studying the tunes’ effects on sleeplessness [PDF].

10. A botched eye surgery blinded him.

When Bach was 65, he had eye surgery. The “couching” procedure, which was performed by a traveling surgeon named John Taylor, involved shoving the cataract deep into the eye with a blunt instrument. Post-op, Taylor gave the composer eye drops that contained pigeon blood, mercury, and pulverized sugar. It didn’t work. Bach went blind and died shortly after. Meanwhile, Taylor moved on to botch more musical surgeries. He would perform the same procedure on the composer George Frideric Handel, who also went blind.

11. Nobody is 100 percent confident that Bach is buried in his grave.

In 1894, the pastor of St. John’s Church in Leipzig wanted to move the composer’s body out of the church graveyard to a more dignified setting. There was one small problem: Bach had been buried in an unmarked grave, as was common for regular folks at the time. According to craniologist Wilhelm His, a dig crew tried its best to find the composer but instead found “heaps of bones, some in many layers lying on top of each other, some mixed in with the remains of coffins, others already smashed by the hacking of the diggers.” The team later claimed to find Bach’s box, but there’s doubt they found the right (de)composer. Today, Bach supposedly resides in Leipzig’s St. Thomas Church.

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