John’s Believe It Or Not… August 7th

In 1679 – La Salle launches his 46-ton trading vessel ‘Le Griffon’ – the first ship to sail the upper Great Lakes. In 1947 Wood raft makes a 4,300-mile voyage. In 1964 Congress passes Gulf of Tonkin Resolution. In 1959 U.S. satellite photographs earth. In 1997 A free concert by Garth Brooks draws the last “six-figure crowd” to New York City’s Central Park.

John Fioravanti standing in fron of his classroom blackboard.

Oh-Oh… It’s Monday! Did you know…

* 1679 – La Salle launches his 46-ton trading vessel ‘Le Griffon’ – the first ship to sail the upper Great Lakes.

Le Griffon (The Griffin) was a 17th-century barque built by René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle in his quest to find the Northwest Passage to China and Japan.

Le Griffon was constructed and launched at or near Cayuga Creek on the Niagara River as a seven-cannon, 45-ton barque. La Salle and Father Louis Hennepin set out on Le Griffon’ maiden voyage on August 7, 1679, with a crew of 32, sailing across Lake Erie, Lake Huron and Lake Michigan through uncharted waters that only canoes had previously explored. The ship landed at a location on an island in Lake Michigan where the local tribes had gathered with animal pelts to trade with the French. La Salle disembarked and on September 18 sent the ship back toward Niagara. On its return trip from the island said to be located at the mouth of the body of water which is now known as Green Bay (Lake Michigan), it vanished with all six crew members and its load of furs.

In late December 2014, treasure hunting divers Kevin Dykstra and Frederick Monroe alerted media outlets that they found indisputable proof of Le Griffon’s location. They happened upon the wreckage while searching the floor of Lake Michigan for Confederate gold. Evidently, they spotted the wreck in 2011 but waited until 2014 to reveal the discovery of what some call the “holy grail” of Great Lakes shipwrecks while they consulted experts. There are “no cables, no cabin, and no smokestacks,” no mechanical devices of any kind, and a carving on the front of the ship strongly resembles 17th-century French carvings of griffins, Dykstra says. On January 2, 2015, Frederick Monroe told an interviewer for public radio that he believed Le Griffon was built in Canada, below Niagara Falls, and brought to the upper Great Lakes. He went on to say that the wreck is “the one that got in the way.” Their claim was quickly debunked when Michigan authorities dove down on June 9, 2015, after receiving the coordinates to verify its authenticity. Michigan state maritime archaeologist Wayne R. Lusardi presented evidence that the wreck was, in fact, a tugboat due to its 90-foot (27 m) length and the presence of a steam boiler.

Prior to this, wreckage from Le Griffon was thought to have possibly been located near Fairport, Michigan by US wreck diver Steve Libert in 2004. Since then, ownership of the potential remains has been the subject of lawsuits involving the discoverers, the state of Michigan, the U.S. federal government and the government of France. Some scientists concluded it was a bowsprit detached from a ship dating hundreds of years old, while others believe it is a 19th-century-pound net (fishing) stake.

Griffon A 45-ton, five-gun "barque" on Lake Erie in 1679. Artist C.H.J. Snider shows Father Hennepin, who accompanied La Salle, on the quarter-deck.
Griffon A 45-ton, five-gun “barque” on Lake Erie in 1679. Artist C.H.J. Snider shows Father Hennepin, who accompanied La Salle, on the quarter-deck. (Early Canada Historical Narratives)

* 1947 Wood raft makes a 4300-mile voyage.

On this day in 1947, Kon-Tiki, a balsa wood raft captained by Norwegian anthropologist Thor Heyerdahl, completes a 4,300-mile, 101-day journey from Peru to Raroia in the Tuamotu Archipelago, near Tahiti.Heyerdahl wanted to prove his theory that prehistoric South Americans could have colonized the Polynesian islands by drifting on ocean currents.

Heyerdahl and his five-person crew set sail from Callao, Peru, on the 40-square-foot Kon-Tiki on April 28, 1947. The Kon-Tiki, named for a mythical white chieftain, was made of indigenous materials and designed to resemble rafts of early South American Indians. While crossing the Pacific, the sailors encountered storms, sharks, and whales, before finally washing ashore at Raroia. Heyerdahl, born in Larvik, Norway, on October 6, 1914, believed that Polynesia’s earliest inhabitants had come from South America, a theory that conflicted with a popular scholarly opinion that the original settlers arrived from Asia. Even after his successful voyage, anthropologists and historians continued to discredit Heyerdahl’s belief. However, his journey captivated the public and he wrote a book about the experience that became an international bestseller and was translated into 65 languages. Heyerdahl also produced a documentary about the trip that won an Academy Award in 1951.

Heyerdahl made his first expedition to Polynesia in 1937. He and his first wife lived primitively on Fatu Hiva in the Marquesas Islands for a year and studied plant and animal life. The experience led him to believe that humans had first come to the islands aboard primitive vessels drifting on ocean currents from the east.

Following the Kon-Tiki expedition, Heyerdahl made archeological trips to such places as the Galapagos Islands, Easter Island, and Peru and continued to test his theories about how travel across the seas played a major role in the migration patterns of ancient cultures. In 1970, he sailed across the Atlantic from Morocco to Barbados in a reed boat named Ra II (after Ra, the Egyptian sun god) to prove that Egyptians could have connected with pre-Columbian Americans. In 1977, he sailed the Indian Ocean in a primitive reed ship built in Iraq to learn how prehistoric civilizations in Mesopotamia, the Indus Valley, and Egypt might have connected.

While Heyerdahl’s work was never embraced by most scholars, he remained a popular public figure and was voted “Norwegian of the Century” in his homeland. He died at age 87 on April 18, 2002, in Italy. The raft from his famous 1947 expedition is housed at the Kon-Tiki Museum in Oslo, Norway.

Celebrating 70th Anniversary of Thor Heyerdahl's’ Kon-Tiki Expedition
Celebrating the 70th Anniversary of Thor Heyerdahl’s’ Kon-Tiki Expedition (

* 1964 Congress passes Gulf of Tonkin Resolution.

The United States Congress overwhelming approves the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, giving President Lyndon B. Johnson nearly unlimited powers to oppose “communist aggression” in Southeast Asia. The resolution marked the beginning of an expanded military role for the United States in the Cold War battlefields of Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia.

By 1964, America’s ally, South Vietnam, was in serious danger of falling to a communist insurgency. The insurgents, aided by communist North Vietnam, controlled large areas of South Vietnam, and no amount of U.S. military aid and training seemed able to save the southern regime. During the presidencies of Dwight D. Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy, hundreds-and then thousands-of U.S. military advisers had been sent to South Vietnam to train that nation’s military forces. In addition, hundreds of millions of dollars in military and economic assistance had been given to South Vietnam. The administration of President Lyndon B. Johnson made the decision that only direct U.S. military intervention in the conflict could turn the tide. However, Johnson was campaigning in the presidential election of 1964 as the “responsible” candidate who would not send American troops to fight and die in Asia. In early August, a series of events occurred that allowed Johnson to appear statesmanlike while simultaneously expanding the U.S. role in Vietnam.

On August 2, North Vietnamese torpedo boats attacked an American destroyer in the Gulf of Tonkin. Johnson responded by sending in another destroyer. On August 4, the two destroyers reported that they were under attack. This time, Johnson authorized retaliatory air attacks against North Vietnam. He also asked Congress to pass the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution. This resolution declared, “The United States regards as vital to its national interest and to world peace the maintenance of international peace and security in Southeast Asia.” It also gave Johnson the right to “take all necessary measures to repel any armed attack against the forces of the United States and to prevent further aggression.” The House passed the resolution by a unanimous vote; the vote in the Senate was 88 to 2. Johnson’s popularity soared in response to his “restrained” handling of the crisis.

The Johnson administration went on to use the resolution as a pretext to begin heavy bombing of North Vietnam in early 1965 and to introduce U.S. combat troops in March 1965. Thus began a nearly eight-year war in which over 58,000 U.S. troops died. In a wider sense, the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution can be considered America’s Cold War policy toward all of Southeast Asia at the time. The resolution was also another example of the American government’s less than candid discussion of “national security” matters during the Cold War. Unspoken during the Congressional debate over the resolution was the fact that the commanders of the U.S. destroyers could not state with absolute accuracy that their ships had actually been attacked on the night of August 4, nor was any mention made of the fact that the U.S. destroyers had been assisting South Vietnamese commandos in their attacks on North Vietnamese military installations. By the late 1960s, the tangle of government deceptions and lies began to unravel as public confidence in both Johnson and the American military effort in Vietnam began to erode.

Map: Vietnam War, Gulf of Tonkin incident: North Vietnamese gunboats allegedly fire on the U.S. destroyers USS Maddox and USS Turner
Vietnam War, Gulf of Tonkin incident: North Vietnamese gunboats allegedly fire on the U.S. destroyers USS Maddox and USS Turner (

* 1959 U.S. satellite photographs earth.

From the Atlantic Missile Range in Cape Canaveral, Florida, the U.S. unmanned spacecraft Explorer 6 is launched into an orbit around the earth. The spacecraft, commonly known as the “Paddlewheel” satellite, featured a photocell scanner that transmitted a crude picture of the earth’s surface and cloud cover from a distance of 17,000 miles. The photo, received in Hawaii, took nearly 40 minutes to transmit.

Released by NASA in September, the first photograph ever taken of the earth by a U.S. satellite depicted a crescent shape of part of the planet in sunlight. It was Mexico, captured by Explorer 6 as it raced westward over the earth at speeds in excess of 20,000 miles an hour.

The first image of the Earth made from orbit was this badly smeared photograph made by Explorer 6 on August 14, 1959.
The first image of the Earth made from orbit was this badly smeared photograph made by Explorer 6 on August 14, 1959. (Don Davis Space Art)

* 1997 A free concert by Garth Brooks draws the last “six-figure crowd” to New York City’s Central Park.

In 1979, folk-pop icon James Taylor became the first major popular-music figure to draw a crowd numbering in the hundreds of thousands to a free concert in New York City’s Central Park. On August 7, 1997, country-music giant Garth Brooks became the last. The reason for the abrupt end to six-figure crowds at concerts in the park? It wasn’t a change of policy with regard to allowing such gatherings—but a dramatic shift in how the crowds were counted.

The crowd that turned out to hear Garth Brooks in Central Park on this day in 1997 was truly enormous, filling the park’s North Meadow to capacity and spilling out into seemingly every available patch of grass and asphalt within earshot of the stage where Brooks stood and belted out hits like “Ain’t Goin’ Down (‘Til the Sun Comes Up).” But was the crowd really as large as the astonishing figure of 750,000 that was widely claimed in media coverage of the event? Thanks to an unrelated political controversy that arose seven years later, we now know that it almost certainly wasn’t.

In the summer of 2004, a group opposing the war in Iraq applied for and was denied a permit to stage a protest rally of approximately 75,000 people on Central Park’s Great Lawn, just a few dozen blocks from the site of the Republican National Convention. Concern over damage to the recently renovated lawn was the reason given by the City Parks Department, but a lawsuit alleging political motives was filed against the City of New York, with the enormous size of previous concerts crowds cited in support of the case. After all, James Taylor’s 1979 performance at Sheep Meadow was reported to have drawn 250,000, and Elton John’s appearance on the Great Lawn the following year was estimated at 50,000 more. In 1981, some 400,000 saw Simon and Garfunkel in the park, and 10 years later, an estimated 600,000 saw Paul Simon play solo.

So just how did those ever-escalating crowd estimates come about? In 2008, Doug Blonsky, former Parks Department administrator and then-president of the Central Park Conservancy told The New York Times, “You would get in a room with the producer, with a police official, and a person from parks and someone would say, ‘What does it look like to you? The producer would say, ‘I need it to be higher than the last one.’ That’s the kind of science that went into it.”

Thanks to the city’s need to defend itself against the RNC protest lawsuit, Garth Brooks would be the last superstar to benefit from this fuzzy math. In the summer of 2008, the capacity crowd at a heavily promoted free concert by Bon Jovi on the same spot as Brooks’ 1997 show was hand-counted at only 48,538-plus. As New York City Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe told the Times, “You look out at the sea of people from the stage, and your mind tells you, ‘That’s what hundreds of thousands of people look like.’ Now we know it’s 48,500.”


Aerial view: Garth Brooks in Central Park (1997)
Garth Brooks in Central Park (1997) (

Today’s Sources: 

* Canadian History Timeline – Canada’s Historical Chronology

* Wikipedia                                                                       

* 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.

26 thoughts on “John’s Believe It Or Not… August 7th”

  1. I always appreciate your blog, John, even though I am inevitably stunned by how little I know. LOL! I was living in Connecticut when Garth Brooks performed in Central Park. I have no recall of this…how could this be? I think you would have hated me as a student in your class. LOL!! 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Gwen, I discover many of these events as I research each date. I love those “I didn’t know that!” moments. I’m not a country music fan so I’m not familiar with Garth Brooks. The statistical story is what grabbed me. Thanks for your kind words, Gwen!


  2. Space science has come a l-o-n-g way in a few years. Amazing, actually. I read Kon-Tiki as a kid – the first “adult” book I tackled, so it was fun to be reminded of it here.

    Sad day for America, giving Johnson unlimited authority to plunge us into protracted jungle warfare, however – especially since NO politician can ever be trusted *not* to misuse if not abuse “unlimited” power, IMHO.

    “Concert math” was especially interesting to me. Porto-potties and police preparation were the most important reasons for a count that was in the reasonable ballpark, IMHO. It was a fairly mellow crowd – you could get stoned on the air – and New York’s Finest were cool about it as long as they could maintain plausible deniability. As long as you were cool. they were cool.

    BUT, of course, Corporate Capitalists attempting to hype the marketing and city officials who could be “bought” made getting a count anywhere NEAR reality difficult I’m sure. I doubt it’s accurate still today. How can you count heads in a venue that has no tickets and no seats?

    I was there for 20 years of a few “smaller” concerts and open air events. Still tons of people and somebody in your group had to get there really early to claim a spot – so I preferred Madison Square Gardens for the bigger names. MUCH nicer bathrooms too – lol. You get what you pay for?

    Thanks, John. Love these posts.
    (Madelyn Griffith-Haynie – ADDandSoMuchMORE dot com)
    ADD/EFD Coach Training Field founder; ADD Coaching co-founder
    “It takes a village to educate a world!”

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Always liked La Salle. Kon Tiki was magical.In 1947 Wood raft makes a 4,300-mile voyage. Gulf of Tonkin Resolution was as a result of made up intel. The fact that a U.S. satellite photographed the earth was amazing. Garth Brooks could draw them in. Nice job, John

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Yes, it does, Robert. That post-WWII strategy had the positive side effect of sparing the world another global conflict. It will be interesting to watch how Trump tries to wriggle out of global responsibilities and retreat to a national policy of isolationism.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. The Garth Brooks concert photo really puts numbers into perspective. The Gulf of Tonkin- I remember it well. I did not know about the Kon-Tiki. Fascinating (as all your history is).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Jennie – I appreciate your kind words. The NYC Central Park concerts underline the way “spin” is used to exaggerate and sensationalize and ultimately convince people if something which serves their agenda. Same thing with the Gulf of Tonkin incident – government spin to win over public opinion for an escalation of war. Thanks for commenting!

      Liked by 2 people

  5. Gosh John – Satelite images – and now we can read a person’s newspaper over his shoulder from space. Vietnam and Kon-tiki – how strange are the vagaries of human endeavour.
    These must take you ages to put together. I love them.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I love a story like the first satellite image – shows us how far the technology has advanced. Another reason I enjoy doing these each day is that I see the best and the worst of humanity’s deeds – a more complete perspective. I’m glad you enjoy these, Opher. Thanks for your kind words!


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