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The Most Boring Day of the Twentieth Century

A Hodag lightpost built in 1950.
Wisconsin Historical Society
A Hodag lightpost built in 1950.

A recent question on the television game show Jeopardy! Wanted to know what the most boring year in the twentieth century was. The answer was 1954, and more specifically, the most boring day was April 11, 1954. Was it really that boring, including here in the Northwoods?

In 2010, Abdullah Atalar, an engineering professor at Bilkent University in Turkey, used a search engine of his own design called True Knowledge to scour the historical record. With it he determined that during the previous 110 years, the year in which the least interesting things happened was 1954. Additionally, the most boring day of that year was Sunday, April 11.

Atalar was born on April 11, 1954, which implies that this research might not be entirely objective. Something similar happened with the definition of the American West. In 1878, John Wesley Powell determined that the 100th meridian was the dividing line between the humid eastern United States and the arid western United States. However, in his 1931 book The Great Plains University of Texas historian Walter Prescott Webb said Powell was wrong and shifted the dividing line 2 degrees east, to the 98th meridian. Why the shift? Webb lived in Austin, Texas, and Austin sits on the 98th meridian.

The truth is that 1954 was as eventful a year as any other. The year 1954 is when the Battle of Dien Bien Phu took place in Vietnam, it marked the Brown v. Board of Education decision, it saw the thermonuclear Bikini Atoll detonations, it was when Senator Joseph McCarthy was finally censured, and April 12 of that the year is when Bill Haley and the Comets recorded the song Rock Around the Clock. A year that saw the birth of Rock and Roll can hardly be called boring. But what about that one day in April 1954? While internationally the 11th was a relatively quiet day, the same could be said for almost any Sunday. To state that an uneventful day is a boring day is to engage in the fallacy of false equivalency.

So, what about right here in Rhinelander? Was April 11, 1954, a boring day? Two significant events happened in town that day, one of which was a tragedy. Early in the evening of April 11, 1954, Margaret Shelp, a retired schoolteacher, was crossing the street at the intersection of Brown and Frederick Streets. A truck driven by Joseph Rhode came around the corner, clipped Shelp, and knocked her to the hard concrete. She died later that night from her injuries. Shelp was a graduate of Rhinelander High School and had taught in the Rhinelander School district since 1927.

The other major event was a string of break-ins that took place early Sunday morning. A window was broken at Carlson Furniture Company. A burglar gained entry, but nothing was missing. The same could not be said for Ray and Ann’s Tap on Brown Street where $40 in cash and eight bottles of liquor were stolen. That same morning, burglars broke into Kristensen’s gun shop on Pehlham street and stole 30 guns, some of which were antiques. The total loss was valued at $1,600.

Small events in our daily lives may seem insignificant when looking at metadata, but for those who lived and died on April 11, 1954, there was nothing at all boring about that day or year.

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In addition to being a historian and educator, Gary R. Entz serves on WXPR's Board of Directors and writes WXPR's A Northwoods Moment in History which is heard Wednesdays on WXPR's Morning Edition and All Things Considered.
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