This week of November 19th:
316 A.D.: Built over the tomb of the martyred Apostle Peter, consecration of Old Saint Peter’s Basilica in the outskirts of Rome.
1307: Swiss patriot William Tell refused to bow down to the hat of Hermann Gessler, one of the functionaries of the Hapsburg Empire. Arrested for this disrespect, Gessler promised Tell his freedom if he could shoot an apple off his (Tell’s) son Walter’s head. With Walter tied to a stake, Tell drew out two bolts to his crossbow, and successfully split the apple. When Gessler asked why he drew two arrows instead of one, Tell replied that if he failed his shot at his son, the next one would be into the heart of Gessler himself.
1594: Death of Martin Frobisher (b.1539), an English sea-dog contemporary of Francis Drake, he was one of the key English leaders during the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588. Frobisher made three trips to the New World, landing principally in Canada, where he explored for both the fabled Northwest Passage, and for the elusive mother lode of gold.
1718: Death of Edward Teach (b.1680), better known as the pirate Blackbeard, who terrorized the southern seaboard of the English colonies, at one point blockading Charleston, South Carolina for ransom. He spent the majority of his pirating career based out of Ocracoke Inlet in North Carolina, using its strategic location to survey the shipping moving up and down the coast and dashing out in his ship Queen Anne’s Revenge to plunder and kill. He is finally brought to heel this day by the Royal Navy’s Lieutenant Robert Maynard, who crafted a carefully executed attack which played on Teach’s propensity to attack weak-looking vessels. The surprise appearance of Maynard’s men from below decks fractured the integrity of the pirates’ attack, and Teach himself was mortally wounded with five gunshots and no fewer than 25 severe cuts from swords and cutlasses. Maynard decapitated the corpse and hung the head from a yardarm on his return to Hampton, Virginia to prove to citizens ashore that their nemesis was indeed dead.
1789: New Jersey becomes the first state to ratify the Bill of Rights.
1820: The Nantucket whaling ship Essex, on station in the South Pacific, is repeatedly rammed by an enraged sperm whale and sinks. The story in part inspired Melville’s novel Moby-Dick.
1863: President Abraham Lincoln presiding over the dedication of a new national cemetery where are buried the Union dead from the Battle of Gettysburg, delivers his Gettysburg Address.
1928: Walt Disney releases the animated film, Steamboat Willie, starring Mickey Mouse. The film combines synchronized sound with the dancing images of Mickey.
1931: James Whale’s horror masterpiece FRANKENSTEIN opened in theaters. “Iconic” is a word that gets overused a lot, but this film richly deserves it.
1963: (November 22nd) John Fitzgerald Kennedy, the 35th president of the United States, is assassinated while traveling through Dallas, Texas, in an open-top convertible. Vice President Lyndon Johnson, who was three cars behind President Kennedy in the motorcade, was sworn in as the 36th president of the United States at 2:39 p.m.
1963: Dallas police move to transfer Kennedy assassin Lee Harvey Oswald from the basement of the Dallas police headquarters to the county jail. Instead, nightclub owner Jack Ruby steps forward and shoots Oswald in the abdomen. Oswald died 90 minutes later in Parkland hospital, the same place where President Kennedy was declared dead two days earlier. All the national networks were broadcasting Oswald’s transfer, providing the country with a live broadcast of the murder that Sunday morning.