420 A.D: Death of Saint Jerome (b.347 A.D.), an early Christian scholar and one of the Doctors of the Church, who is best known for his seminal work of translating Hebrew and Greek biblical texts into a standardized Latin version, known as the Vulgate, in addition to a huge number of incisive commentaries on various books and letters contained in therein. He is recognized as a Saint by all the major High Church denominations.
1187: After three weeks of siege (DLH 9/20), the Saracen warlord Saladin captures Jerusalem, ending 88 years of Crusader rule over the Holy City. In contrast to the Crusaders’ bloodletting and mayhem when they entered the city in 1092, Saladin permitted the option of an orderly departure of its citizens, or a hefty dhimmi tax. Thirty days after the fall, Jerusalem’s gates were opened and the vast majority of the city left under Saladin’s guarantee of safe passage for Antioch and other Christian strongholds along the Levant coast.
1226: Death of the monk Francis of Assisi (b.1181), who renounced a life of wealth and soldiering in favor of a life of pious poverty and prayer. His Franciscan Order grew to be one of the most influential in Europe, with its ministry structured on the simple precept: “To follow the teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ and to walk in his footsteps,” the injunction being drawn from Francis’ reading of Matthew 10:9. The current Bishop of Rome took Francis’ name when he ascended to the papacy in 2013.
1535: French explorer Jacques Cartier lays claim to the area now known as Montreal, Canada.
1535: Publication of the Coverdale Bible, the first English printing of the complete 66 canonical books plus the Apocrypha. Translator Miles Coverdale used William Tyndales’s New Testament translations, in addition to Tyndale’s translation of the book of Jonah. The rest of the Old Testament he translated himself from German texts and the Latin Vulgate.
1553: On the death of her half-brother Edward VI, Mary I of England, the legitimate offspring of Henry VIII and his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, is crowned Queen of England. Despite her father’s serial marriages and semi-Protestant breakaway from the Roman Catholic Church, she remained a lifelong Catholic, and within months or her coronation initiated a violent Catholic Restoration across the country that swept up many of the most notable men in the realm. The numbers of imprisonments and executions conducted under her hand earned her the lasting nickname of “Bloody Mary,” a reputation made worse by the glories of her half-sister Elizabeth I, who assumed the throne after Mary’s death in 1558. Despite her dark reputation, she is notable for being the first woman to successfully assume the throne of England, ironically paving the way for Elizabeth’s succession.
1574: Six years into what would become the Eighty Years War (also known as the Dutch War of Independence) a flat-bottomed fleet of boats and ships, collected and led by Prince William the Silent of the House of Orange, and manned by the Watergeuzen*, lifts the Siege of Leiden, and saves the university city from certain desolation from the hand of the Spanish Duke of Alva. The dynastic ebbs and flows of the 16th and 17th Centuries provide much fodder for our lingering cultural sense of what is good and what is not. It always struck me as odd that the 17 provinces of the Netherlands were under Spanish rule, unless you remember that Spain was, itself, ruled by princes from the Austrian House of Hapsburg, who schemed long enough to see their dynasty completely surround their arch-enemy, France. The economic power of this tiny region provided an unusually lucrative income for the Spanish throne, who took great pains to keep it under the Spanish thumb, both politically and economically. William of Orange tapped into the stirrings of Dutch nationalism and led a rebellion against Spanish rule that would eventually lead to the independence of the Netherlands in 1648, but that’s another story. Back to the Siege of Leiden: this beautiful and strategically located city was a hotbed of independent thinking and support for the rebellion, and Alva was especially ruthless in his attempts to beat them down. The city’s outstanding defensive dispositions- walls and moats- protected it from Alva’s first investment a couple years earlier, and again during this siege. But the city’s situation also made them terribly isolated from William’s relieving force. William finally sent a carrier pigeon into the city, telling them to hang on for three more months, at which point he would arrive by boat with a relieving force. To do so, he broke the dykes between the North Sea and Leiden, and systematically sailed his fleet across the flooded polderland, driving Alva’s forces from the field and relieving the city, eventually unloading tons of herring and white bread for the starving citizens. The event remains a Big Deal in the Dutch psyche, and includes those odd little bits that you sometimes wonder about. For example, if Dutch children are bad at Christmastime, they are threatened with being fed to the Black Prince (Alva always wore black), or they are threatened with being sent off to Spain, which would have been a terrifying proposition in 1574.The day is celebrated today with meals of herring and white bread, and a carrot & onion stew called “Hutspot,” which was actually a Spanish meal, abandoned hot by the defending army at the sudden appearance of the rising waters that carried in the Watergeuzen.
1770: Death of Christian evangelist and founder of Methodism, George Whitfield (b.1714), whose open-air sermons in the fields of England sparked a significant spiritual revival in that country. He first came over to the New World in 1738 and continued his custom of preaching the Gospel to huge crowds in outdoor venues. In 1740 he began a preaching a series of revivals that lasted continuously for several months, beginning in New England and ending in Charleston, South Carolina. His work during this period, and the explosive growth of churches throughout the colonies are now known as The Great Awakening. Whitfield’s voice, his crossed eyes, his charisma and his message made him one of the most recognized and celebrated men in the English colonies, widely admired by even the worldly Benjamin Franklin, who considered him a lifelong friend. He is buried in the Old South Church in Newburyport, Massachusetts.
1780: Death of British spy John Andre (b.1750), hanged by the neck until dead. You’ll remember (DLH 9/23) that he was closely aligned with Benedict Arnold’s plan to turn over West Point to the British. Although he proclaimed his innocence of espionage, his plea was undone by having the plans for West Point tucked into his socks, which did not go over well with the military tribunal who sentenced him. Interestingly, everyone associated with him between his arrest and his hanging agreed that he remained the consummate gentleman, facing death like a true soldier, despite not being allowed a soldierly death by firing squad.
1789: President George Washington signs the first Thanksgiving Day proclamation.
1795: The French general (age 26) Napoleon Bonaparte, fresh from suppressing counter-revolutionary insurrection down in Toulon, arrives in Paris to suppress an even more dangerous insurrection that physically threatens the National Convention. He orders several batteries of artillery into position in the streets of the capital to protect the Tuilieries Palace. The cannons are not loaded with normal cannonballs, but with thousands of small pellets, making them the equivalent of giant shotguns. Bonaparte’s artillery mows down over 1,400 royalists, tidily ending the revolt. His actions today quickly became known as the “whiff of grapeshot…” the expression of which you will still hear bandied about today.
1861: Birth of the great American artist Fredric Remington (d.1909), known for his brilliant, historical depiction of the early, American West.
1863: President Abraham Lincoln signs a proclamation designating the last Thursday in November as Thanksgiving Day.
1871: Birth of Nobel Laureate Cordell Hull (d.1955), who carries the distinction of being the nation’s longest-serving Secretary of State- 11 years- during the administration of Franklin Roosevelt. He is credited with being the “Father of the United Nations,” a role for which he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1945. In my mind, his best moment occurred on the morning of December 7th, 1941, when he received word about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor at the very moment two Japanese diplomats were in his anteroom awaiting an audience regarding continuing negotiations. What happened next is deliciously described in the estimable Wikipedia: “Roosevelt advised him not to tell them about the raid but ‘to receive them formally and coolly bow them out’. After he had glanced at their copy of the fourteen-part message [Japan’s declaration that negotiations were at an end], Hull’s anger burst forth. ‘In all my fifty years of public service,’ he told the astonished diplomats, ‘I have never seen such a document that was more crowded with infamous falsehood and distortion.’ Nomura and Kurusu, who had not been told of the attack, bowed themselves out in an embarrassed fluster. A department official overheard Hull muttering under his breath as the door closed, ‘Scoundrels and piss-ants.’”
1882: American inventor Thomas Edison, creating the market infrastructure for his electrical inventiveness, opens his first commercial hydroelectric power station on the Fox River near Appleton, Wisconsin.
1890: Egged on by naturalists Galen Clark and John Muir, and building on the Yosemite Grant signed by President Lincoln, Congress establishes Yosemite National Park, a spectacular glacial valley and wilderness area in the central Sierra Nevada range that defines the National Park system to this day.
1904: Death of Austrian chemist Carl Bayer (b.1847).
1908: Sale of the first Model T Ford, marketed for the unheard of price of $850.00, when most automobiles of the day cost well over $2,000. Henry Ford was determined to build a machine that virtually anyone could afford- including his factory workers. Between the initial start-up in 1908 and the end of the run in 1927, the Ford Motor Company built over 15,000,000 of them, a record only recently surpassed by the air-cooled Volkswagen Beetle.
1919: President Woodrow Wilson suffers a massive stroke that paralyzes the left side of his body, rendering him essentially incapacitated for the remainder of his Presidency. His wife Edith completely controlled his schedule and access to anyone outside the immediate White House circle, particularly the Vice President, the entire Cabinet, and visiting Members of Congress. After several months, she arranged for journalist Louis Sibold to write a false account of his health. Toward the end of his term, he would be wheeled into the Cabinet Room, where he would preside but only make the most perfunctory remarks.
1921: Birth of North American Aviation test pilot Scott Crossfield (d.2006), who alternated with fellow test pilot Chuck Yeager in setting altitude and speed records in increasingly spectacular and dangerous test aircraft during the 1950s. He was the first to reach Mach 2.0. He was intimately involved in the design and test flights of the X-15 rocket plane, flying the machine 14 times to verify systems and procedures, without making any record-breaking flights himself. His own X-15 records are Mach 2.97, and an altitude of 91,800 feet; not too shabby in any pilot’s logbook.
1927: Outfielder Babe Ruth of the New York Yankees smacks his 60th home run of the season, a record that will stand until 1961, and again just days ago by yet another Yankee.
1928: The Soviet Union, showing the world that “experts” can really make an economy hum, announces its first Five Year Plan, setting production quotas, prices, distribution plans and work assignments for the entire country.
1928: Birth of Nobel Laureate, Holocaust survivor and relentless Nazi-hunter, Elie Wiesel (d.2016).
1935: Fascist Italy, governed by the internationally popular Progressive reformer Benito Mussolini, opens its invasion of Abyssinia, an eight month conflict that ended with the region’s annexation into the Italian Empire as Italian East Africa. The glory days were brief, as the colonies were stripped away from Italy by the Allies of World War II, and later granted independence as Ethiopia and Somalia. As if more evidence were needed, this war also underlined the futile efforts of the League of Nations to create a viable forum for settling international disputes. And for us language mavens, the independence of these two new countries (of itself a good thing) also foreclosed on two more of those East African place-names that are so entertaining to pronounce: Somaliland and Abyssinia.
1938: The League of Nations, perhaps sensing the true import of yesterday’s Munich Pact, unanimously passes a resolution that outlaws “intentional bombing of civilian populations.” Very helpful, this resolution, I’m sure.
1947: First television broadcast of the World Series, the contest that year being between the New York Yankees (there they are again!) and the Brooklyn Dodgers.
1949: Chinese warlord Mao Tse Tung, adding a thick layer of untoward political brutality to the usual brutalities of civil war, proclaims the establishment of the People’s Republic of China.
1950: First installment of the Peanuts cartoon strip, written and drawn by Charles Schultz.
1955: First television broadcast of Walt Disney’s Mickey Mouse Club.
1957: The Soviet Union successfully launches Sputnik 1 into orbit, creating a little beep heard ‘round the world. You youngsters may find it hard to believe, but that little ball of aluminum turned the United States inside out until we launched a little satellite of our own. Part of the angst was the realization that the Russians had the rocket technology to lob a bomb across the planet at us, and we had nothing in return.
1957: The first broadcast of Leave it to Beaver. The program ran 234 episodes, up through 1963.
1960: First broadcast of The Flintstones, the first animated series to hold a prime-time slot on television. ABC ran the show for 166 episodes over six seasons.
1962: Navy Commander Wally Schirra blasts into orbit aboard Sigma-7 the fifth flight of the Mercury space program. The six-orbit mission lasted a little over 9 hours. The Sigma-7 mission was distinctive from the engineering perspective as it tested the suitability of spacecraft systems for progressively longer duration missions. The tests did not make for much drama (other than the fact of orbiting in space), as Schirra spent much of the mission doing essentially nothing, either permitting the spacecraft automated flight controls to maintain its positioning, or shutting down the system entirely for hours at a time, and then seeing what happened when it was re-engaged. It provided proof-of-concept for the remaining Mercury flight (22 orbits) and the much more ambitious planning for the Gemini program. Schirra was the only one of the original astronauts to fly on all three of the United States’ original space programs.
1966: The former British Protectorate of Bechuanaland declares its independence and changes its name to Botswana. It’s a shame about the name change, as it is one of those historic place-names, like Zanzibar and Tanganyika, that just feel good to pronounce out loud.
1968: At their plant in Everett, Washington, the Boeing Company rolls out the astonishing 747 airliner. 1,574 of them have been built to date, in no fewer than nine variants.
1979: As the first step in implementation of the Carter-Torrijos Panama Canal Treaty, the United States formally released its sovereignty over the Canal Zone, changing its status to a tenant of the Panamanian government.
1990: The final day of existence for communist German Democratic Republic.
1995: The blood-soaked and shrunken leather glove didn’t fit, so Heisman Award winner O. J. Simpson is acquitted of murdering his wife and houseguest.
2001: NATO confirms Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty for the first and only time. You remember that Article 5 is the core of the treaty, stating that an attack on one is an attack on all. Although it was designed to counter a Soviet attack on Western Europe, it was actually the United States who invoked it after 9/11. Germany responded right away by deployin g NATO AWACS to U.S. airspace, and the rest of the European allies did their bit by supporting our engagement in Afghanistan.
2004: Death of actress Janet Leigh (b.1927), probably best known for her shocking movie death in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960).