New History Channel DVD Release Is Another Great Set In And Out Of The Classroom

Courtesy: History Channel/A&E Entertainment

Did you know that Hollywood has hugely mishandled the famed gunfight at the OK Corral?  What about Benjamin Franklin?  Did you know that he actually created America’s first gossip rag, and even fathered an illegitimate son?  And allegedly, Rat Pack front man Frank Sinatra really wasn’t the brains behind the band?  Thanks to its new show, 10 Things You Didn’t Know, History Channel reveals these facts and more.  And fans can learn about these little tidbits of information and more next week when History Channel releases the first season of 10 Things You Didn’t Know About on DVD.

In 10 Things You Didn’t Know About host David Eisenbach reveals to audiences some of the secrets of history’s most famous and infamous figures and events.  One of the most intriguing facts that Eisenbach reveals to audiences is that the battle of the OK Corral actually didn’t happen in the OK Corral.  Rather, it happened in a vacant lot behind the corral.  And unlike what’s been presented in movies, it only lasted a grand total of thirty seconds.  In those thirty seconds, only thirty shots were fired, one for each second.  And while most audiences know Wyatt Earp as an iconic hero figure, he was originally a business man who had only been in one fight before the fight at the OK Corral.  He actually helped run a brothel before everything leading up to the now legendary gunfight.  The story of what led up to the gunfight is even more interesting.  It gets somewhat discombobulated, as a number of factors ended up leading to the fight.  But in adding it all up, many audiences may find it surprising what led to the gunfight.

The gunfight at the OK Corral and its combatants weren’t the only famed events and figures that Eisenbach discusses in this season of 10 Things You Didn’t Know About.  He also reveals through discussions with academics and experts that the iconic picture of Benjamin Franklin holding a kite with a key was not entirely true.  As a matter of fact, Eisenbach reveals through his interviews that it was in fact Franklin’s illegitimate son William who actually had the kite.  Franklin himself actually ran for cover during the storm.  Speaking of his illegitimate son, the show notes that Franklin admitted in his autobiography that he had fathered William with a prostitute.  Of course, prostitution wasn’t illegal back then.  While there are some seedy details revealed about his life in this show, it does also reveal that Franklin did a lot for the country, his inventions aside.  For instance, he helped to found the country’s very first public hospital.  And thanks to his ways with the ladies, Franklin managed to convince the wife of French ruler Louis XVI to side with America in its war with Britain.  And if not for that partnership, America might have otherwise lost the war. 

Lawmen and founding fathers aren’t the only figures covered by Eisenbach in History Channel’s hit show.  For those who are more into pop culture, 10 Things You Didn’t Know About also travels into that realm.  In this brand new collection, Eisenberg reveals to viewers that the famed Rat Pack actually was not called the Rat pack, but the Summit.  It was actually actress Lauren Bacall who came up with the Rat Pack name, which Frank Sinatra never liked.  The Summit named, it’s revealed, had political links.  And speaking of politics, it’s also revealed that the Rat Pack—Sinatra especially—was very closely tied to the civil rights movement, even helping Dr. Martin Luther King’s now famous organization, the SCLC.  This is just a small sampling of what is revealed about The Rat Pack in this season of 10 Things You Didn’t Know About.  Fans can learn even more about the group, and even more figures when they get the two-disc set for themselves next Tuesday, August 28th.  It can be ordered direct from History Channel on its website at http://shop.history.com.

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PBS’ New Civil War Documentary Set Sure To Please Any History Buff

COurtesy: PBS

The Civil War is one of the most important events in the United States’ near two hundred and forty year history.  To this day, it is discussed inside and outside the classroom.  The mere flying of a rebel flag in some parts of the country raises tensions and political discussions.  Countless documentaries have been crafted on the subject from nearly every possible angle.  Now thanks to PBS, history buffs, teachers, and Civil War enthusiasts alike have a new addition to their libraries in the form of “America and the Civil War.”

“America and the Civil War” is a double disc DVD set from PBS that combines the best of the network’s Civil War programs and culls them together in an expansive five-part collection.  The five specials culled together come from the network’s “American Experience” and “NOVA.”  Being that the set includes five different specials, each viewer will have his or her own favorite moment(s).  This reviewer’s personal favorite moments are the special, “Lincoln’s Secret Weapon” and “The 54th Colored Infantry.”

“Lincoln’s Secret War” has previously been released on DVD.  It is part of the network’s “NOVA” programming.  This near hour long special follows a group of Navy divers as they try to raise the propeller and shaft of the famed U.S.S. Monitor from the floor of the Atlantic Ocean just off the North Carolina coast.  As viewers follow the sometimes tense moments of the work involved, they are also provided a history of why this project is being undertaken.  The program’s narrator gives a history of the Monitor and its creator John Ericsson.  Ericsson is described here as one of the greatest engineering minds of his time.  It was Ericsson who developed the first screw propeller, which would eventually be used in the Monitor.  Though, it was actually used in the Princeton first.  The program also goes into some depth, explaining how the success of the Monitor led to the creation of other Monitors, though the outcome was not good.  That’s because certain parties thought the ships could be used in open water battles.  That ultimately was what led to the sinking of the original Monitor off the coast of North Carolina.  It should be noted at this point, that Lincoln’s Secret Weapon is somewhat dated, as the turret from the Monitor has been pulled from the ocean floor.  That aside, it is still a good lesson explaining what would be one of the turning points in naval history.

“Lincoln’s Secret Weapon” is a good special for anyone interested in naval history (this reviewer included).  For those interested in other matters, there is the special, “The Massachusetts 54th Colored Infantry.”  This roughly hour long special closes out the double disc set.  It is narrated by veteran actor Morgan Freeman.  It documents the true story of the regiment whose achievements were made into the big screen feature, Glory (1989).  Through interviews with descendants of the 54th and historians, audiences learn interesting facts such as how the 54th Colored Infantry got its start in Boston.  Perhaps most interesting of all in this special is that it actually took the Emancipation Proclamation for the 54th to be formed.  Before this edict from President Lincoln, African Americans were not allowed to serve in the military, even in the North.  And even when they were finally allowed to service, it was with a catch.  They were not permitted to serve as commissioned officers or lead regiments in general.  So even after Lincoln’s new law was signed, discrimination still happened to African Americans who wanted to fight for their own freedom.  As Freeman notes at one point, documents showed that some Union soldiers went so far as to admit that they weren’t fighting against slavery at all.  They were fighting because the war was right, in their eyes.  So even in the North, free blacks faced almost as much unfair treatment as in the south.  Of course, what documentary on the 54th would be complete without mention that the regiment did have a very important victory just before the war’s end?  It was the 54th that helped to finally take Charleston, South Carolina only months before the war finally ended.  As with “Lincoln’s Secret Weapon”, this is another interesting addition to PBS’ new Civil War documentary set.  It is one more piece that makes the entire set worth the watch.  It has so much more information that teachers and history buffs alike will enjoy checking out.

Of course, the only way to check out these two specials and the others in “America and the Civil War” is to own it for oneself.  “America and the Civil War” will be available on August 28th.  It will be available for order at http://www.shoppbs.org.  

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WWII in HD is a powerful, fitting tribute to the Greatest Generation

Courtesy: History Channel/A&E Home Video

Never forget.  Those two simple, tiny words have echoed throughout America’s people since the tragedy of September 11th, 2001.  That dark day was this generation’s Pearl Harbor.  It changed our country forever, just as Pearl Harbor did for the Greatest Generation.  Sadly, today roughly only ten percent of that generation still remains today to tell the story of what happened when the United States entered the war, which had already ravaged much of Europe for two years.  Now, thanks to History Channel and A&E Home Video, a new piece of the history from World War II has been brought to light in order to make sure that no generation will ever forget.  That piece of history is the recently released WWII in HD Collector’s Edition on blu-ray. The WWII in HD Collector’s Edition on blu-ray was released May 15th of this year.  The new collector’s edition is one of the more comprehensive sets released in recent memory.  The two primary discs that make up the set take audiences from the dark days when the Nazi occupation began spreading through Europe straight to the closing days of the war when the allied forces finally closed in and tightened the noose around the Nazi forces in the German capital of Berlin.  It also includes two bonus discs.  The first of the two bonus discs is a roughly forty-minute program that focuses on the battle to take the island of Iwo Jima.  It goes into full depth explaining how rather than taking ten days (as was predicted by one official), the battle to claim the island took more than a month.  The raising of the two flags atop Mount Suribachi was only one part of that horrific battle.  The second bonus disc focuses on the air war over the European Theater and its attempts to disable the production of Messerschmitts in Nazi occupied Germany.  The run time on this program is just under an hour and a half.  But it is truly worth that near ninety-minutes for anyone from military historians to students to the most casual of viewers.

The story presented in WWII in HD starts off in Germany, 1939.  Audiences are first introduced to Austrian Jew Jack Werner.  He is one of a dozen figures from whom audiences will learn what life in the war was like.  Werner came to America to escape the Nazis.  He also came with stars in his eyes, hoping to become a movie star.  When that didn’t happen, he ended up working in a flower shop before joining the American war effort.  The other eleven figures are:  Bert Stiles, Shelby Westbrook, Nolan Marbrey, Jack Yusan, Rockie Blunt, Archie Sweeney, Richard Tregaskis, Charles Scheffel, Jimmie Kanaya, June Wandry, and Robert Sherrod.  Each figure brings their own perspective to the men and women who served during one of the country’s most difficult times.  North Carolinians will appreciate the mention of Archie Sweeney, who was voiced by Mark Hefti throughout the program, was originally assigned to Fort Bragg before entering the war.

Among the more interesting pieces of history included in WWII in HD are that when America’s military first entered the war, it was hardly the largest or most well trained.  That lone puts the entire war into a wholly different perspective.  Audiences also learn of the reaction of Nurse June Wandry to providing candy to the captives in the concentration camps, and of the prisoners themselves to receiving said candy.  It’s one of those moments that will bring even the most emotionally strong individual to tears.  There is also note of how President Truman actually gave the Japanese the opportunity to surrender.  He offered them two chances, as a matter of fact.  It was because they refused both of those chances, according to the documentary, that both bombs were dropped.  Audiences will also learn other interesting facts such as the landing force used at Okinawa was larger than that used at Normandy on D-Day. 

WWII in HD shares so many stories that there is no way to tell each one of them.  And while there is no way to possibly tell each individual’s story shared in this mini-series, one thing is certain, though, of this presentation.  The complete story shared in the WWII in HD Collector’s Edition reminds viewers of the sacrifices made by our men and women in uniform past and present.  It helps us to appreciate everything that they have gone through and go through today.  It serves not only as an educational tool or entertainment.  Rather, it serves as a tool to ensure our world will hopefully learn from its past, and never forget.  Audiences can purchase this box set in stores or online at http://shop.history.com.

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Titanic at 100 adds another chapter to the history of the Titanic

The sinking of the Titanic is arguably one of the most talked about tragedies in transportation and nautical history.  Even just over a century later, there are still conflicting views on what really happened, and who’s to blame.  Earlier this year, History Channel released what is one of the most interesting discussions to date on the tragedy in “Titanic:  The Complete Story.”  Now, the network has released another documentary centered on the great ship’s doomed voyage in “Titanic at 100:  Mystery Solved.”

“Titanic at 100:  Mystery Solved” is a wonderful companion piece to History Channel’s previous documentary.  That documentary was released March 13th of this year.  What makes this most recent documentary the great companion to the prior is that it provides a different viewpoint of what exactly did or didn’t happen to the doomed vessel.  “Titanic at 100:  Mystery Solved” argues that the belief that the ship’s lack of structural integrity was to blame for its sinking was wrong.  One way that it supports its argument is by testing rivets made from hundred year old metal.  The theory in question being tested was that when the Titanic scraped against the iceberg that ripped it open, rivets on the ship had actually come loose from the hull, thus allowing the iceberg to basically “unzip” the hull.  In turn, that “unzipping” allowed the cold North Atlantic waters to flood into boiler room six.  The test results show that perhaps the rivets had not come undone after all.

Testing the rivet theory was only one part of the investigation by the team from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.  After the Titanic was ripped open, the ship’s front half went into the water.  This is where this documentary takes a different turn.  The research team in this documentary argues that when the ship broke, the front half of the ship actually hung onto the back end for a moment before breaking off and sinking.  This would tie in to the argument made by the 2005 History Channel expedition to the Titanic.  That crew’s expedition led to the conclusion that a poorly constructed expansion joint led to the ship’s demise.  But according to this documentary, if the ship had actually stayed connected even for a moment, then the expansion joint could not have been the culprit in the ship breaking.  It doesn’t come right out and say that.  But it does seem to intimate that argument by making mention of the ship at least temporarily staying together before sinking.  The documentary does make a brief mention of the expansion joint in the team’s research.  It also makes mention of the pieces of the ship’s bottom discovered in the ’05 expedition.  It ties that discovery in to its argument, claiming that those pieces are what held the ship together before it sank in two pieces.  The prior documentary, though, used those same pieces to argue that the expansion joint was at fault. 

Having tested and debunked the rivet theory as a cause for the Titanic’s sinking, the research team had to find another way to support its argument about the ship’s integrity.  It did this by becoming the first research team to ever completely map out the debris field.  It wasn’t an easy journey for the team.  In the process of mapping everything, the team had to abort its voyage at least for a day because of a hurricane.  It nearly even lost a highly important piece of equipment trying to outrun the hurricane.  That piece of equipment was a camera that had gotten tangled in the ship’s remains.  The team does manage to get the entire wreck site mapped out, including the long lost middle section.  That middle section was right around where the expansion joint was, thus the reference to the previous expedition.  According to the researchers, when they realized the missing piece they had found was mostly still in tact, that was fodder in the argument against the ship cataclysmically breaking apart.  Having gathered all of this information, the team uses a virtual set to “reconstruct” the Titanic to try and find out what they believe to have been the cause of the Titanic’s final hours.  That, combined with the extensive mapping of the wreckage site will keep audiences enthralled throughout the documentary’s presentation.

Whether or not the team is correct in its assumptions as to what might have happened that fateful night, audiences will love the discussions created via this presentation.  It’s a wonderful companion piece to “Titanic:  the Complete Story” in that it presents a different view of what happened.  It even includes more stories of the passengers on board, including an alleged affair between two of the passengers.  One of the people involved in the creation of the famed Coney Island Witching Waves ride was on board, too.  These small tidbits of information are the extra spice that make “Titanic at 100″ such an interesting watch.  Whether one has a special interest in all things transportation or nautical, or is simply a history buff in general, “Titanic at 100:  Mystery Solved” is one more example of what makes History Channel’s documentary programming some of the best on television.  It’s great both for the average viewer and for the classroom.  And while countless documentaries are released each year surrounding the doomed ship, this is one documentary that manages to stand on its own merits both by itself and with its companion documentary, “Titanic:  The Complete Story.”  Put together, the two documentaries give an even more complete story, making for an even more enthralling look back into history.

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