303 A.D.: Death of George of Lydda, who became revered as Saint George, patron saint of ten countries (we’re most familiar with England), no fewer than 19 cities (including Moscow, Russia), and numerous professions, most notably soldiers. Son of a Roman proconsul and his Palestinian wife, both Christians, George was a successful Roman soldier until ordered by Emperor Diocletian to renounce his Christian faith and make sacrifices to the pagan gods. He refused, and the example of his bravery during the subsequent torture and execution provided strength for a host of subsequent Christian conversions, most notably the Empress herself and a pagan priest of the court. His association with slaying the dragon stems from a legend where he came upon a dragon who made a nest over the water supply of the city of Silene. The citizens have to dislodge the beast draw water, so every day they offer a sacrifice of a sheep, or if none is available, a maiden. George appears as the maiden is about to be sacrificed; he gets between the dragon and the damsel and slays the beast, saving her life ending the dragon’s hold on the city. The grateful citizens abandon their paganism and embrace Christianity. The Union Jack of the UK is designed around the Cross of St. George- the red cross on a white field, with St. Andrew’s cross (white X on blue field) and the Cross of St. Patrick (narrow red X on a white field).
753BC: Traditional date of the founding of Rome by Romulus and Remus, orphaned brothers, suckled by a she-wolf.
1519: Spanish conquistador Hernando Cortes lands with a small army on the Mexican mainland near present-day Veracruz. To help motivate his men for the task of conquest ahead, he orders his ships scuttled. They are looking for glory and gold, and when they eventually find in the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan.
1529: Signing of the Treaty of Saragossa, which plays out as the third diplomatic act between Spain and Portugal, dividing the world into their “legal” spheres of influence and colonization. Portugal, you’ll recall, had a long history of seaborne exploration into the southern Atlantic and along the coast of Africa, working to find an oceanic path eastwards to the Spice Islands (then called the Moluccas, later the Dutch East Indies, now called Indonesia). Spain focused on the direct route westward, and after Columbus’ discoveries in 1492 both countries realized that some means was needed to assign sovereignty to future discoveries and colonial outposts.
First Act: In May of 1493, Pope Alexander VI issued a papal bull Inter Caetera, which defined the Line of Demarcation as a pole-to-pole meridian located halfway between the Cape Verde Islands (Portuguese) and the easternmost islands claimed by Columbus (Spanish).
Second Act: The Treaty of Tordesillas, signed in June of 1494, cleaned up some of the ambiguity of the papal bull regarding pre-existing Spanish and Portuguese settlements on the “wrong” sides of the Line. It also moved the line a hundred miles or so westward, which magically gave Portugal a substantial toe-hold in South America, which they parlayed into the massive colony of Brazil. The meridian of Tordesillas did not- alas- extend all the way around the earth, and between Magellan’s (Spanish) claim on the Philippines and Portugal’s claims on the Moluccas, the need for an antipodal line of demarcation resulted in today’s treaty.
1564: Birth of William Shakespeare (d.1616). He was somebody who wrote something [sic].
1574: Death of Cosimo I de’ Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany, one of the leading lights and great patrons of the Italian Renaissance in Florence.
1770: Captain James Cook in HMS Endeavour arrives at New South Wales and begins exploration and survey of the Great Barrier Reef.
1775: Armed Massachusetts militia, alerted and mustered overnight by the alarm riders* of Paul Revere and Charles Dawes form up on the Commons in Lexington to meet the leading force of over 700 British Regulars who left Boston on a forced march before midnight, intent on making a surprise capture of suspected Rebel arms and powder from the arsenals in both Lexington and Concord. What they did not suspect was that the Patriots were having none of it. As dawn broke the Red Coats looked across the green and watched 80 Minutemen emerge from Buckman Tavern and form ranks, their muskets loaded and ready to fire. The group was under the command of Captain John Parker, who set up his men offset from the road to Concord. It was to be a demonstration of resolve: “Stand your ground; don’t fire unless fired upon, but if they mean to have a war, let it begin here.” It did, with both sides exchanging fire and both sides taking casualties. And it continued again in Concord around 11:00 where the Minutemen’s ranks swelled to over 400, and fire was exchanged across the Concord River at the Old North Bridge. And it continued the remainder of the day when the British abandoned their hunt for stored ammunition and made their way back to Boston, under nearly continuous sniper fire and occasional large ambuscades from the Patriot forces who leapfrogged ahead of the exhausted Regulars until they arrived to the relative safety of Cambridge.
1836: Battle of San Jacinto. Led by Sam Houston, the Army of Texas completely surprises and routs the Mexican army of General Santa Ana, who is also Mexican President. The short, sharp fight opens with the Texas army screaming from the woods adjacent to the Mexican camp with cries of “Remember the Alamo!” and, “Remember Goliad!” 18 minutes later, the fight is over, with over 700 Mexicans dead and what remains of Santa Ana’s army completely shattered and fleeing into the countryside. Santa Ana himself is captured, and Houston negotiates a complete Mexican withdrawal from Texas. Although Mexico does not recognize it until 1848, Santa Ana’s defeat effectively marks the beginning of Texas as an independent republic.
1861: Union forces abandon and burn the Gosport* Navy Yard in Portsmouth, Virginia. Confederate engineers poking through the wreckage are later able to salvage the lower hull of USS Merrimack and convert it into the ironclad gunboat CSS Virginia.
1870: Birth of Vladimir Lenin (d.1924).
1889: The Oklahoma Land Rush, staged at high noon, opened the former Indian Territory for free settlement. Within hours, over 10,000 people coalesced in one spot and founded Oklahoma City.
1889: Birth of Adolf Hitler (d.1945), in the little town of Braunau am Inn, in Austria-Hungary.
1898: Two months after the sinking of USS Maine, and one day after Congress declared war on Spain, the US Navy begins a blockade of Cuba.
1903: Birth of Eliot Ness (d.1957). The head of “The Untouchables” of the nascent FBI, who finally nailed Chicago gangster Al Capone on Tax Evasion charges.
1910: Death of Samuel L. Clemens (b.1835), a.k.a. Mark Twain, rumors of whose death are no longer greatly exaggerated. Interestingly, he prophesied a year earlier:“I came in with Halley’s Comet in 1835. It is coming again next year, and I expect to go out with it. It will be the greatest disappointment of my life if I don’t go out with Halley’s Comet. The Almighty has said, no doubt: ‘Now here are these two unaccountable freaks; they came in together, they must go out together.” He was correct.
1912: First publication of Pravda (“Truth”) as the official news outlet of the Russian Communist Party.
1861: Birth of General Edmund Allenby (d.1936). The British general fought in the Boer War, and at the outbreak of the Great War, fought on the Western Front. In June of 1917 he took command of the British Egyptian Expeditionary Force (EEF) which fought the Ottoman Turks from Cairo in a campaign to dislodge them from their Middle Eastern empire. Allenby was the key supporter of Colonel T.E. Lawrence’s efforts with the Arabs in Sinai and the upper Arabian Peninsula. As Turkish resistance crumbled, Allenby specifically targeted the capture of Jerusalem as his key strategic goal, which he accomplished in December of 1917. Out of respect to the spiritual significance of the city, he and his staff entered through the Jaffa gate on foot, a display that paid huge dividends as he set about un-doing several centuries of Turkish domination.
1917: Birth of the first super model, Dorian Leigh (d.2008) who, during the 1940s and’50s, defined glamour photography.
1918: Death of Baron Manfred von Richthofen (b.1892), a.k.a. “The Red Baron.” The German fighter ace amassed 80 confirmed kills of Allied aircraft, leading his Jagdstaffel 2 squadron to consistent successes not by dramatic acrobatics, but by disciplined tactics and superb marksmanship. The RAF credited his shoot down this day to Canadian Captain Roy Brown, but much controversy surrounds this decision: Richthofen was killed by a single .303 bullet through his chest (shot with an upward trajectory) and he landed his Fokker Dreidecker virtually undamaged in a French field. After recovering his body, the British squadron gave him a funeral with full military honors.
1920: The League of Nations recognizes the Balfour Declaration and creates the British Mandate of Palestine from lands ceded by the Ottoman Empire at the close of the Great War.
1927: Mae West is sentenced to 10 days in jail for obscenity from her recent play Sex. She ended up serving 8 days, with 2 off for good behavior, and ate dinners with the warden, “…and I wore silk underwear while I was in jail.”
1928: Birth of Shirley Temple (d.2014).
1939: Ted Williams’ first major league hit, a double. His last hit was a home run on September 28th, 1960 at Fenway Park.
1945: Soldiers of the Red Army enter Berlin.
1955: Volkswagen opens its first U.S. dealership in Englewood, NJ. An invasion of Beetles follows.
1960: Brazilia, a completely artificial city carved out of the jungle, is commissioned as the new capital of Brazil, replacing Rio de Janero. The governing idea was to build a functional city completely from scratch, with every aspect subject to strict design approval, and localized zones established for every manner of commercial and governmental function; banking sector, hotel sector, government sector, etc. It was recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1986 in recognition of its modernist architecture and “artistic” city planning.
1970: The first “Earth Day”.
1972: Apollo 16 successfully lands on the Moon. The landing was delayed 7 hours when a control rocket failed in the command module just after Lunar Module (LM) separation. Rather than descend to the surface and risk missing the lunar ascent rendezvous, the LM crew of John Young** and Charlie Duke flew formation on Ken Mattingly in the CM until the problem was solved. The delay cut from three to two the number of excursions taken in the lunar buggy but the instrumentation set up and 212 pound haul of lunar rocks made the mission an outstanding scientific success.
1978: A Korean Air Lines jetliner is forced down by the Soviet Air Force. Deviating with a sudden turn to the east from its normal Paris-Seoul polar flight route, the aircraft was intercepted crossing into Soviet airspace. Instead of landing at the airport indicated by the Soviet fighters, the crew put the plane down with a hard landing on a frozen lake south of Murmansk. Two passengers were killed and several others injured. Soviet authorities were “amazingly unhelpful” in helping to understand the incident. This episode not to be confused with the September, 1983 shootdown of a KAL 747 over Sakhalin Island, at the other end of the 11-time-zone-country.
1993: Federal agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms storm the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas with Bradley fighting vehicles and tear gas, igniting the compound into an inferno that kills 77 U.S. citizens. Attorney General Janet Reno authorized and defended the action of the ATF agents.