Martin Luther posts 95 theses On October 31, 1517, legend has it that the priest and scholar Martin Luther approaches the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany, and nails a piece of paper to it containing the 95 revolutionary opinions that would begin the Protestant Reformation. In his theses, Luther condemned the excesses and corruption of the Roman Catholic Church, especially the papal practice of asking payment—called “indulgences”—for the forgiveness of sins. At the time, a Dominican priest named Johann Tetzel, commissioned by the Archbishop of Mainz and Pope Leo X, was in the midst of a major fundraising campaign in Germany to finance the renovation of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Though Prince Frederick III the Wise had banned the sale of indulgences in Wittenberg, many church members traveled to purchase them. When they returned, they showed the pardons they had bought to Luther, claiming they no longer had to repent for their sins. Luther’s frustration with this practice led him to write the 95 Theses, which were quickly snapped up, translated from Latin into German and distributed widely. A copy made its way to Rome, and efforts began to convince Luther to change his tune. He refused to keep silent, however, and in 1521 Pope Leo X formally excommunicated Luther from the Catholic Church. That same year, Luther again refused to recant his writings before the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V of Germany, who issued the famous Edict of Worms declaring Luther an outlaw and a heretic and giving permission for anyone to kill him without consequence. Protected by Prince Frederick, Luther began working on a German translation of the Bible, a task that took 10 years to complete. The term “Protestant” first appeared in 1529, when Charles V revoked a provision that allowed the ruler of each German state to choose whether they would enforce the Edict of Worms. A number of princes and other supporters of Luther issued a protest, declaring that their allegiance to God trumped their allegiance to the emperor. They became known to their opponents as Protestants; gradually this name came to apply to all who believed the Church should be reformed, even those outside Germany. By the time Luther died, of natural causes, in 1546, his revolutionary beliefs had formed the basis for the Protestant Reformation, which would over the next three centuries revolutionize Western civilization. 1926 October 31 Celebrated magician Harry Houdini dies Harry Houdini, the most celebrated magician and escape artist of the 20th century, dies of peritonitis in a Detroit hospital. Twelve days before, Houdini had been talking to a group of students after a lecture in Montreal when he commented on the strength of his stomach muscles and their ability to withstand hard blows. Suddenly, one of the students punched Houdini twice in the stomach. The magician hadn’t had time to prepare, and the blows ruptured his appendix. He fell ill on the train to Detroit, and, after performing one last time, was hospitalized. Doctors operated on him, but to no avail. The burst appendix poisoned his system, and on October 31 he died. Houdini was born Erik Weisz in Budapest in 1874, the son of a rabbi. At a young age, he immigrated with his family to Appleton, Wisconsin, and soon demonstrated a natural acrobatic ability and an extraordinary skill at picking locks. When he was nine, he joined a traveling circus and toured the country as a contortionist and trapeze performer. He soon was specializing in escape acts and gained fame for his reported ability to escape from any manacle. He went on his first international tour in 1900 and performed all over Europe to great acclaim. In executing his escapes, he relied on strength, dexterity, and concentration—not trickery—and was a great showman. In 1908, Houdini began performing more dangerous and dramatic escapes. In a favorite act, he was bound and then locked in an ironbound chest that was dropped into a water tank or thrown off a boat. In another, he was heavily bound and then suspended upside down in a glass-walled water tank. Other acts featured Houdini being hung from a skyscraper in a straitjacket, or bound and buried—without a coffin—under six feet of dirt. In his later years, Houdini campaigned against mediums, mind readers, fakirs, and others who claimed supernatural talents but depended on tricks. At the same time, he was deeply interested in spiritualism and made a pact with his wife and friends that the first to die was to try and communicate with the world of reality from the spirit world. Several of these friends died, but Houdini never received a sign from them. Then, on Halloween 1926, Houdini himself passed on at the age of 52. His wife waited for a communiqué from the spirit world but it never came; she declared the experiment a failure shortly before her death in 1943. 1950 Earl Lloyd becomes first Black player in the NBA On October 31, 1950, 21-year-old Earl Lloyd becomes the first African American to play in an NBA game when he takes the court in the season opener for the Washington Capitols. Lloyd grew up in Jim Crow Virginia and went to West Virginia State, where he was the star of the school’s championship basketball team. He didn’t know he’d been drafted by the NBA until he ran into a friend on campus who told him she’d heard a rumor that he’d be moving to Washington. It turned out that the Capitols had picked him in the ninth round of the draft. Two other Black players joined the NBA that season—the Celtics drafted Chuck Cooper in the second round and the New York Knicks got Nat “Sweetwater” Clifton from the Harlem Globetrotters—but the Knicks and the Celts didn’t start their seasons until November. As a result, Lloyd became a coincidental pioneer: the first Black player to make his debut in the NBA. Joining an all-white team was intimidating, Lloyd remembered, but his teammates—most of whom had played on integrated college teams—were immediately welcoming. Some fans, however, were less kind. As the announcer read the Capitols’ lineup on that first night of the season, a white man in the front row used a racial slur. After seven games with the Capitols, Lloyd was drafted into the military and sent to Korea for two years. When he returned to the United States, the Capitols had gone out of business, and so he went to play for the Syracuse Nationals (who later became the Philadelphia 76ers). He wrapped up his nine-season career in Detroit. After he retired from playing, he stayed in the Motor City, serving as a scout and then as an assistant coach for the Pistons. In 1970, he became the first full-time black head coach in the league. He coached the Detroit team for a year, and then went on to work for the city, in the police department and as a school administrator. He was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2003. He died in 2015.