John’s Believe It Or Not… July 17th

* 1976 – Queen Elizabeth II officially opens the Montréal Olympic Games. * 1955 Disneyland opens * 1938 “Wrong Way” Corrigan crosses the Atlantic * 1975 Superpowers meet in space * 1996 Flight 800 explodes over Long Island

Walt Disney points to areas on a map of Disneyland.

It’s Tuesday! Did You Know…

* 1976 – Queen Elizabeth II officially opens the Montréal Olympic Games.

In 1976, Montréal became the first Canadian city to host the Olympic Games. The XXIst Olympiad, held from 17 July to 1 August 1976, included memorable performances from many athletes, including Romanian gymnast Nadia Comaneci and American decathlete Bruce Jenner. Although Canada did not win a gold medal at the Games, the Canadian team won 11 medals in total —more than double the number of medals won at each of the previous two Olympic Games. The Olympic facilities, while costly, became Montréal landmarks and many are still used for training and competition.

An important part of the Olympic Games is the torch relay. On 13 July 1976, before a gallery of dignitaries, Maria Moscholiou (acting as high priestess of the flame) knelt near the Temple of Hera in Olympia and lit the Olympic flame. The relay then traveled more than 550 kilometers on Greek soil before reaching Athens on 15 July; there, the flame was placed before a sensor, which detected the ionized particles of the flame and converted them into impulses that were transmitted by satellite. In Ottawa, a receiver picked up the signal and triggered a laser beam that recreated the flame, starting the Canadian leg of the torch’s journey to Montréal. It was the first time such technology had been used to transmit the Olympic flame.

On the evening of 16 July, former marathoner Gérard Côté lit the cauldron on Mount Royal. The next day at 3:30 p.m., 16 Canadian athletes carried the flame in turn until it reached the Olympic Stadium where the opening ceremonies were unfolding. In total, the Olympic torch was carried by 1,214 runners.

On 17 July 1976, at 3:00 p.m. more than 73,000 people gathered in the Olympic Stadium to take part in the Opening Ceremonies of the Montréal Olympics. The rituals began with the arrival of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, accompanied by Prince Philip and Prince Andrew and by IOC president Lord Killanen and Commissioner of the Games Roger Rousseau.

This was followed by the procession of athletes into the stadium. After the Queen officially opened the Games, the Olympic flame was carried into the stadium by two 15-year-old athletes, Sandra Henderson from Toronto and Stéphane Préfontaine from Montréal, to the sounds of the Olympic Cantata written by Louis Chantigny.

In total, 6,084 athletes (1,260 women and 4,824 men) from 92 nations took part in the Olympic Games. However, this did not include athletes from 22 African countries that officially withdrew from the Games due to the sporting links between New Zealand and apartheid South Africa. The central issue was the refusal of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to ban New Zealand, whose rugby team (the All Blacks) was touring South Africa. (Due to its apartheid policies, South Africa itself was banned from the Olympic Games from 1964 to 1992.) According to Kenyan foreign minister, James Osogo, the IOC decision not to ban New Zealand would give “comfort and respectability to the South African racist regime and encourage it to continue to defy world opinion.”

This meant the loss of over 440 competitors (173 from athletics alone), including world-class runners like Filbert Bayi from Tanzania (who held the world record in the 1500m) and John Akii-Bua from Uganda (who held the world record in the 400 meters hurdles). Moreover, Montréal lost a million dollars in seat refunds and event cancellations in the first two days of the Games.

Queen Elizabeth among cheering fans opening the Montreal Olympic Games. (
Queen Elizabeth among cheering fans opening the Montreal Olympic Games. (Daily Mail)

* 1955 Disneyland opens

Disneyland, Walt Disney’s metropolis of nostalgia, fantasy, and futurism, opens on July 17, 1955. The $17 million theme park was built on 160 acres of former orange groves in Anaheim, California, and soon brought in staggering profits. Today, Disneyland hosts more than 14 million visitors a year, who spend close to $3 billion.

Walt Disney, born in Chicago in 1901, worked as a commercial artist before setting up a small studio in Los Angeles to produce animated cartoons. In 1928, his short film Steamboat Willy, starring the character “Mickey Mouse,” was a national sensation. It was the first animated film to use sound, and Disney provided the voice for Mickey. From there on, Disney cartoons were in heavy demand, but the company struggled financially because of Disney’s insistence on ever-improving artistic and technical quality. His first feature-length cartoon, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1938), took three years to complete and was a great commercial success.

Snow White was followed by other feature-length classics for children, such as Pinocchio (1940), Dumbo (1941), and Bambi (1942). Fantasia (1940), which coordinated animated segments with famous classical music pieces, was an artistic and technical achievement. In Song of the South (1946), Disney combined live actors with animated figures, and beginning with Treasure Island in 1950 the company added live-action movies to its repertoire. Disney was also one of the first movie studios to produce film directly for television, and its Zorro and Davy Crockett series were very popular with children.

In the early 1950s, Walt Disney began designing a huge amusement park to be built near Los Angeles. He intended Disneyland to have educational as well as amusement value and to entertain adults and their children. Land was bought in the farming community of Anaheim, about 25 miles southeast of Los Angeles, and construction began in 1954. In the summer of 1955, special invitations were sent out for the opening of Disneyland on July 17. Unfortunately, the pass was counterfeited and thousands of uninvited people were admitted into Disneyland on opening day. The park was not ready for the public: food and drink ran out, a women’s high-heel shoe got stuck in the wet asphalt of Main Street USA, and the Mark Twain Steamboat nearly capsized from too many passengers.

Disneyland soon recovered, however, and attractions such as the Castle, Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, Snow White’s Adventures, Space Station X-1, Jungle Cruise, and Stage Coach drew countless children and their parents. Special events and the continual building of new state-of-the-art attractions encouraged them to visit again. In 1965, work began on an even bigger Disney theme park and resort near Orlando, Florida. Walt Disney died in 1966, and Walt Disney World was opened in his honor on October 1, 1971. Epcot Center, Disney-MGM Studios, and Animal Kingdom were later added to Walt Disney World, and it remains Florida’s premier tourist attraction. In 1983, Disneyland Tokyo opened in Japan, and in 1992 Disneyland Paris–or “EuroDisney”–opened to a mixed reaction in Marne-la-Vallee. The newest Disneyland, in Hong Kong, opened its doors in September 2005.

Disneyland shot at the front gates with fireworks displays in the background.

* 1938 “Wrong Way” Corrigan crosses the Atlantic

Douglas Corrigan, the last of the early glory-seeking fliers, takes off from Floyd Bennett field in Brooklyn, New York, on a flight that would finally win him a place in aviation history.

Eleven years earlier, American Charles A. Lindbergh had become an international celebrity with his solo nonstop flight across the Atlantic. Corrigan was among the mechanics who had worked on Lindbergh’s Spirit of St. Louis aircraft, but that mere footnote in the history of flight was not enough for the Texas-born aviator. In 1938, he bought a 1929 Curtiss Robin aircraft off a trash heap, rebuilt it, and modified it for long-distance flight. In July 1938, Corrigan piloted the single-engine plane nonstop from California to New York. Although the transcontinental flight was far from unprecedented, Corrigan received national attention simply because the press was amazed that his rattletrap aircraft had survived the journey.

Almost immediately after arriving in New York, he filed plans for a transatlantic flight, but aviation authorities deemed it a suicide flight, and he was promptly denied. Instead, they would allow Corrigan to fly back to the West Coast, and on July 17 he took off from Floyd Bennett field, ostentatiously pointed west. However, a few minutes later, he made a 180-degree turn and vanished into a cloudbank to the puzzlement of a few onlookers.

Twenty-eight hours later, Corrigan landed his plane in Dublin, Ireland, stepped out of his plane, and exclaimed, “Just got in from New York. Where am I?” He claimed that he lost his direction in the clouds and that his compass had malfunctioned. The authorities didn’t buy the story and suspended his license, but Corrigan stuck to it to the amusement of the public on both sides of the Atlantic. By the time “Wrong Way” Corrigan and his crated plane returned to New York by ship, his license suspension had been lifted, he was a national celebrity, and a mob of autograph seekers met him on the gangway.

Corrigan poses in front of his plane.
The Adventures of Wrong-Way Corrigan (HistoryNet)

* 1975 Superpowers meet in space

As part of a mission aimed at developing space rescue capability, the U.S. spacecraft Apollo 18 and the Soviet spacecraft Soyuz 19 rendezvous and dock in space. As the hatch was opened between the two vessels, commanders Thomas P. Safford and Aleksei Leonov shook hands and exchanged gifts in celebration of the first such meeting between the two Cold War adversaries in space. Back on Earth, United Nations Secretary General Kurt Waldheim congratulated the two superpowers for the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project and praised their unprecedented spirit of cooperation and peace in planning and executing the mission.

During the 44-hour Apollo-Soyuz embrace, the astronauts and cosmonauts conducted experiments, shared meals, and held a joint news conference. Apollo-Soyuz, which came almost three years after the sixth and last U.S. lunar landing, was the final Apollo program mission conducted by NASA. It was fitting that the Apollo program, which first visited the moon under the banner of “We came in peace for all mankind,” should end on a note of peace and international cooperation.

Astronauts Thomas P. Stafford (left) and Donald K. "Deke" Slayton hold containers of Soviet space food in the Soyuz Orbital Module during the joint U.S.-USSR Apollo-Soyuz Test Project docking
Astronauts Thomas P. Stafford (left) and Donald K. “Deke” Slayton hold containers of Soviet space food in the Soyuz Orbital Module during the joint U.S.-USSR Apollo-Soyuz Test Project docking. (

* 1996 Flight 800 explodes over Long Island

Shortly after takeoff from New York’s Kennedy International Airport, a TWA Boeing 747 jetliner bound for Paris explodes over the Atlantic Ocean, killing all 230 people aboard. Flight 800 had just received clearance to initiate a climb to cruise altitude when it exploded without warning. Because the plane was loaded with fuel for the long transatlantic journey, it vaporized within moments, creating a fireball seen almost all along the coastline of Long Island.

The tragedy came just two days before the opening of the XXVI Summer Olympic Games in Atlanta, Georgia, and many suspected terrorism. Suspicions of foul play seemed to be confirmed when a number of eyewitnesses reported that they had seen what appeared to be a missile shoot up toward the airline an instant before the explosion. The U.S. Navy and the FBI, in conjunction with the National Safety Transportation Board, launched an extensive investigation of the incident, collecting the scattered wreckage of the aircraft out of the Atlantic and reconstructing the plane in a closely guarded hangar. Despite continuing eyewitness reports, authorities did not come forward with any evidence of a missile or a bomb, and the investigation stretched on.

When it was revealed that several U.S. Navy vessels were training in the Long Island area on the night of the blast, some began to suspect that Flight 800 had been accidentally downed by a navy test missile. U.S. authorities ruled out the possibility of an errant missile strike by the navy, but a number of conspiracists, including former White House press secretary Pierre Salinger, supported the theory. The much-criticized Flight 800 investigation ended in late 1998, with investigators concluding that the explosion resulted from mechanical failure, not from a bomb or a missile.

Modal Trigger FBI agents in 1997 guard the reconstructed remains of TWA Flight 800.
Modal Trigger FBI agents in 1997 guard the reconstructed remains of TWA Flight 800. (New York Post)

Today’s Sources: 

* Canadian History Timeline – Canada’s Historical Chronology

* The Canadian Encyclopedia                    

* This Day In History – What Happened Today                                             

Author: John Fioravanti

I'm a retired History teacher (35 years), husband, father of three, grandfather of three. My wife, Anne, and I became business partners in December 2013 and launched our own publishing company, Fiora Books (, to publish my books. We have been married since 1973 and hope our joint business venture will be as successful as our marriage.

12 thoughts on “John’s Believe It Or Not… July 17th”

    1. I’ve not visited either Disneyland or Disney World. I didn’t know that there is one in Europe, Japan, and now one being built in China. I’m not likely to get to those either! I’m sure these parks are just fabulous! Dianna took Lexi when she was a toddler to Disney World and they had a blast. Thanks, John.

      Liked by 2 people

  1. Wrong Way Corrigan- this was new to me and a great story. I loved reading about Walt Disney and Disneyland. And, the details of the Olympic Games in Canada and carrying the torch was a great read. Thanks, John!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. We’ve been fortunate to host one Summer Olympics and two Winter Olympics in my lifetime. Now we get to share the hosting of the FIFA World Cup with the USA and Mexico down the road. Thanks, Jennie!

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Gosh, I remember when Disneyland opened. It was exciting news for kids in California. 🙂 And, I still have questions about the 1996 Flight 800. So sad. On a hopeful point, when I think about the superpowers meeting in space, I know we humans can bridge our differences. Thank you, John, for this excellent list.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. With all of the international tensions that Trump is stirring up these days, it’s good to revisit a time when the Superpowers collaborated on something significant. I agree – reason to hope. Thanks, Gwen!

      Liked by 1 person

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