This photo-poster hangs on the wall of the Free Speech Movement Cafe on the Berkeley campus. That’s graduate student Jack Weinberg in the back of a police car after his arrest on October 1, 1964, for violating a campus ban on political speech. The police had driven the car onto Sproul Plaza on campus. After Weinberg’s arrest someone (we still don’t know who) shouted “Sit down!” Hundreds did, setting off a mass sit-in that lasted about 36 hours.

I spent months studying 1964 and the Free Speech Movement as background for The Ninth Day. I covered the big news, the stuff you’ve likely heard about recently as we look back fifty years: civil rights, Freedom Summer, the Beatles, the presidential race, Vietnam. Before 2014 slips away, I thought I’d share a few outtakes from my research, tidbits overshadowed from 1964 that never made it into The Ninth Day.

  • Bel-Gem Takes The Big Apple. New York City hosted the World’s Fair in 1964. Maurice Vermersch and his family came from Belgium to set up a waffle shop in his country’s Belgian Village. He called the sweet fluffy treat “Bel-Gem” waffles, and they became an instant success. Vermersch knew how to promote his Bel-Gems. He had put the waffles through a test run with American taste buds at the 1962 World’s Fair in Seattle.
  • Astronaut Slips in the Bathroom. John Glenn is best known as the first American to orbit the Earth. According to NASA, Glenn’s flight aboard the Friendship 7 Mercury spacecraft last nearly five hours, during which time Glenn pulled a maximum of 7.7 Gs and traveled in orbit about 17,500 miles per hour. Glenn resigned from the space race in January, 1964, and announced his political race for the U.S. Senate seat from Ohio. Several weeks later he slipped on his bathroom rug, sustained head injuries, and withdrew temporarily from politics. He won that Senate seat from Ohio ten years later.
  • Mustangs Hit the Road. In April of 1964, the Ford Motor Company introduced its new sporty car, the Mustang, at the New York World’s Fair (waffles and wheels, a mighty combination!). The iconic car appeared in the James Bond film Goldfinger that fall and got its own song in “Mustang Sally” the next year.
  • Heist of the Century Nabs Uninsured Jewels. Climbing in through a bathroom window at the American Museum of Natural History, thieves made off with several gems, including the famous Star of India, the world’s largest gem-quality blue star sapphire. Weighing more than 563 carats, the Star of India is about two billion years old. In 1975, the movie “Murph the Surf” told the tale, making the heist way more daring than it actually was. All the jewels except one were later recovered and the Star of India is back at the museum, no doubt under tighter security.

The Ninth Day tells the story of Hope Friis, a normal teenager living in Berkeley, California in the 1960s: she hangs out with friends, spends time with her family, and dreams of winning a singing competition and college scholarship despite her pronounced stutter. It seems like she has everything under control, until she takes part in the Free Speech movement that engulfs the city—a choice that could crush her chance of competing.

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