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Two more special ‘Time Capsule’ years: 1961 and 1986

Here’s a look at some of the major (and minor) events of those two years that helped shape our lives. We begin with the year that gave us President Kennedy, the Berlin Wall and a ramped-up space race.

Last week, in honor of the New Year, I offered a glimpse at the first half of our mega-time capsule of memories from four seminal anniversary years — 100, 75, 50 and 25 years.

We started our time travels with the years 1911 and 1936.

This week, we’ll look at some of the major (and minor) events of 1961 and 1986 that helped shape our lives.

50 years ago — 1961 

Big events
A new leader:
Fifty years and one day ago, John F. Kennedy is inaugurated as our 35th president, electrifying the nation with a memorable speech filled with still-quotable sound bites about “the torch being passed,” “paying any price” — and a call for citizens to ask what they could do for their country. Check it out here.

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And if you thought Barack Obama had a busy first year in office, check out a small sample of what was on JFK’s full plate: The new president advises families to build bomb shelters because of world tensions, and he asks Congress to authorize a $531 million mission to put a man on the moon. He also establishes the Peace Corps.

Oh, and he runs into a bit of international trouble with the Bay of Pigs fiasco involving the CIA’s  unsuccessful attempt to overthrow Cuba’s Fidel Castro.

The space race: The Soviets win the year’s first round in April, making Yuri Gagarin the first man in space. A month later, the United States puts Alan Shepard in orbit. Eight years later, Neil Armstrong takes mankind’s first step on the moon.

Worsening Cold War: Construction of the Berlin Wall begins, as East German authorities shut down the border between East Berlin and West Berlin.

Congressional giant: The funeral of legendary House Speaker Sam Rayburn draws two former Presidents (Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower), the current president and the future president, LBJ.

American quagmire: The United States begins its first direct military involvement in Vietnam when the first American helicopters deliver 400 personnel to Saigon.

Lots of people: The world’s population is estimated to have topped 4 billion for the first time.

The life and times
Inventions and innovations:
TWA offers the first in-flight movies, Squibb Co. introduces the electric toothbrush, and Pampers, the first disposable diaper, hit the market. Six Flags Over Texas, opens in Arlington, the first of the chain’s theme parks.

Big films: “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” and “West Side Story”

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Big TV shows: “Bonanza,”  “Gunsmoke” and “Perry Mason”

Big musical moments: The Beatles perform for the first time at the Cavern Club. The year’s top songs include Bobby Lewis’ “Tossin’ and Turnin’,” Jimmy Dean’s “Big Bad John” and Del Shannon’s “Runaway.”

Baseball record-breaker: New York Yankee Roger Maris, a Hibbing native, breaks Babe Ruth’s record, earning an asterisk next to his name for hitting his 61st home run on the last day of an expanded season.

Pop culture: Marvel Universe launches with “The Fantastic Four No.1,” revolutionizing the nation’s comic book industry. Mattel introduces Barbie’s boyfriend, Ken.

Wow factor: The March cover of MAD Magazine notes that 1961 is an “upside-up” year — the first since 1881 — where the numerals look the same upside down. (The next one won’t occur until 6009.)

Big comings and goings
Barack Obama, Princess Diana,  Scottish singer and overnight phenomenon Susan Boyle, actors George Clooney and Michael J. Fox, hockey great Wayne Gretzky, and the Summer Olympics’ first “perfect 10” in gymnastics, Nadia Comăneci.

Deaths: Master writers Ernest Hemingway and Dashiell Hammett, actors Barry Fitzgerald and Gary Cooper, Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung, ornery baseball legend Ty Cobb, and Anna Mary Robertson Moses, better known as the late-blooming painter Grandma Moses.


25 years ago— 1986

Big events
Two big tragedies
: The Challenger and Chernobyl.

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• Next week marks the 25th anniversary of the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger, which disintegrated 73 seconds after launch, killing the seven astronauts, including schoolteacher Christa McAuliffe.

• In April, an explosion at the Soviet nuclear reactor at Chernobyl — and the resulting radioactive fallout — killed more than 4,000, damaged nearly $7 billion in property and forced the resettlement of more than 350,000 nearby residents.

Big breakthroughs: Pope John Paul II becomes the first modern pontiff to officially visit a synagogue. Arms talks between President Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev lead to a groundbreaking disarmament commitment.

Iran-Contra affair: News surfaces of the Reagan’s administration’s arms sales to Iran, with profits illegally diverted to the anti-communist Contra rebels in Nicaragua. The scandal led to a major investigation.

Outer space:  The Soviets launch the Mir space station. And Halley’s Comet makes its second 20th century visit to our solar system.

Other notable events: Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme is assassinated on his way home from a theater.  The first case of mad cow disease is identified. And the experimental airplane Voyager completes the first non-stop, around-the-world flight.

The life and times
Inventions and innovations:
The Human Genome Project is launched. Plans for building the Channel Tunnel between Great Britain and France are announced. British surgeons complete the first triple transplant, involving the heart, lung and liver. The nicotine patch is unveiled.

Technology: The first laptop computer, IBM’s PC Convertible, debuts, and the first PC virus, named Brain, begins spreading.

Landmarks: New York City celebrates the centennial of the Statue of Liberty’s dedication. Smoking is banned on public planes, trains and buses. Depending on estimates, anywhere from 5 million to 7 million people take part in “Hands Across America” trying to make a human chain across the nation as a fundraiser to fight hunger and homelessness.

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Big films: “Out of Africa” wins the Best Picture Oscar at the 58th Academy Awards. “Top Gun,”  “Crocodile Dundee” and “Platoon” rule the box office.

Big TV shows:  “The Cosby Show,” “Dynasty,” “Falcon Crest,” “Family Ties,” “Magnum, P.I.” and “Remington Steele.” And one low point:  In a highly hyped flop, Geraldo Rivera opens Al Capone’s secret vault and discovers only a bottle of moonshine.

Big musical moments: Dionne Warwick (and Friends) with “That’s What Friends Are For,” the Bangles’ “Walk Like an Egyptian,” and one of my all-time favorite videos (check out the seamless coast-to-coast blending of rooms), “On My Own,” by Patti LaBelle and Michael McDonald.  

Sports world: In seven games, the New York Mets defeat the Red Sox, following the legendary Game 6 screw-up by Boston first baseman Bill Buckner, who lets an easy ground ball roll through his legs for a loss. Mike Tyson becomes the youngest heavyweight champion ever. And Greg LeMond, who now lives in Minnesota, became the first American to ever win the Tour de France, the first of his three titles.

Other talkers: Prince Andrew marries Sarah Ferguson at Westminster Abbey.  Two weeks after it was taken, Picasso’s “Weeping Woman” is recovered in Melbourne, Australia. A complete survey of Loch Ness is conducted but turns up no evidence of any monster. After 35 years, NBC airs the last episode of “Search for Tomorrow,” the longest-running non-news program on network television.

Big comings and goings
Singing phenomenon Lady GaGa, tabloid mainstay Lindsay Lohan, Welsh soprano Charlotte Church, TV actresses Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, and “Twilight” vampire series hottie Robert Pattinson.

Deaths: We lost many big names that year:

• Three screen legends, Cary Grant and James Cagney and TV mom and “Wonderful Life” actress Donna Reed, and two master film directors Otto Preminger and Vincente Minnelli.

• Plus artist Georgia O’Keeffe, Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard, “Making of the President” writer Theodore White, feminist writer Simone de Beauvoir, and Wallis Simpson, widow of the Duke of Windsor.

• And jazz musician Benny Goodman, musical theater’s Alan Jay Lerner (“Camelot” and “My Fair Lady” lyricist) and composer Harold Arlen (“Over the Rainbow,” “Blues in the Night”) and “God Bless America” singer Kate Smith.

• Also TV’s Desi Arnaz, singer and actor Rudy Vallée, actor Ted Knight (Minneapolis’ WGN anchor Ted Baxter) and Paul Frees, the voice of no-goodnik Boris Badenov of “Rocky and Bullwinkle” fame.  

• And one more, Frances Scott Fitzgerald, the daughter of F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald. She was born in St. Paul.