1066: The last successful invasion of the British Isles takes place at the Battle of Hastings, where an invading French army under the command of the illegitimate son of the Duke of Normandy demolishes the army of England’s King Harold II. The victor changes his moniker from William the Bastard to William the Conqueror, and assumes the throne of England as William I. The victory was a credit to the discipline and morale of William’s army, aided by severe fatigue in Harold’s army, which had just recently force-marched themselves from the coastal north, where they repelled a Norse invasion on the 25th of September.
1307: On this Friday night, King Philip the Fair of France, with the begrudging support of the Pope, sends out swarms of secret agents to arrest over 400 Knights Templar on charges of treason, blasphemy, and a dozen or so other spurious charges. You probably remember back to DLH 3/18, when the last Grand Master of the order, Jacques de Molay was burned at the stake: this was the moment when Philip’s crusade against the Crusaders came to fruition, with torture, forced confessions and brutal executions following in the wake of this night.
1322: Robert the Bruce defeats the Earl of Richmond at the Battle of Old Byland– yet another nail in the coffin of British King Edward II’s subjugation of Scotland.
1492: Five weeks after heading west from the Canary Islands, Christopher Columbus makes landfall near Samana Cay in the southern region of the Bahamas Islands. He spends the next three months exploring primarily along the north coast of Cuba and the island of Hispaniola, trading with the natives and taking careful soundings and locations of the harbors and provisions available for follow-on exploration. NOTE: There is a particularly vitriolic strain of revisionist history that is working even as we speak to debunk Columbus’ colossal achievement in planning and successfully executing this unprecedented voyage, in addition to working to intellectually neutralize the impact of his other two voyages and attempts to establish a Spanish colonial regime over a people who were hitherto completely ignorant about European power and politics. Depending on how you frame it, Columbus’ voyages to the New World can be a story that exposes the ugly underside of power and corruption, i.e., the normal human condition, or it can be a story of vision and courage and endurance against unknown and often fatal odds. I strongly favor the latter view. Columbus may not have been the first European to set foot in the Americas (and I believe that Lief Erricson has that honor, even though he didn’t know it), but he was certainly the first to do it intentionally as the leader of a truly national undertaking. Today’s discovery was the trigger for the Great Age of Exploration and the scientific revolution that swept into its wake. It is also not much of a stretch to credit the Reformation and the Enlightenment to the exploratory impulse of this great mariner, whom the Spanish Crown named “Admiral of the Ocean Seas.”
1739: Birth of Grigory Potemkin (d.1791), Russian nobleman, military leader, and lifelong “favorite” of Empress Catherine the Great of Russia. The idiom that now bears his name came from his time as Governor-General of the newly annexed Crimea region. On the eve of renewed war with the Ottoman Empire, the Empress made an “unannounced” visit up the Dnieper River with her Court, multiple ambassadors, and a disguised Austrian Emperor Joseph II to show them the strength of her new territories. Potemkin painted up actual riverfront villages to make them look better, and also created a kind of mobile village that could be set up quickly and populated with members of his army and staff dressed up as peasants as the royal flotilla went by. It could just as quickly be knocked down and moved to the next location. There is, naturally, some controversy about the degree to which Potemkin was trying to deceive, although he was quite frank about wanting to put on the best front for his exalted guests.
1775: The Continental Congress, recognizing the need to do something to protect American trade on the high seas, authorizes and purchases two vessels to act as the Continental Navy, progenitor of the United States Navy, which recognizes this date as its formal beginning. The tiny American fleet eventually grew to 65 vessels, mostly converted merchant ships, all of which provided the command and operational experiences for the cadre of captains who distinguished themselves in later naval conflicts with both France and Great Britain. 11 ships finished the war basically intact, with the final one, frigate Alliance, being sold off to a private buyer for $26,000 in 1785.
1792: In the District of Columbia, the cornerstone is laid for the Executive Mansion, known today as the White House.
1844: Birth of Henry J. Heinz (d.1916). The logo on his ketchup bottles says “57 Varieties.”
1884: American inventor George Eastman receives a patent for a paper-strip photographic film.
1893: Birth of silent screen siren Lillian Gish (d.1993), one of the pioneers of the film industry who helped define the term, “Movie Star.”
1908: The Chicago Cubs win the World Series.
1910: At Kinloch Field just west of Saint Louis, Theodore Roosevelt climbs aboard a Wright Model B aeroplane with pilot Archibald Hoxey and becomes the first (ex-)President to go flying.
1912: Former President Theodore Roosevelt, campaigning in Milwaukee as the head of the new Bull Moose party, is shot in the chest by a local saloon keeper. The bullet penetrated his steel eyeglass case and a 50 page copy of his manuscript before lodging in the muscle of his chest wall. Since he was not coughing up blood, TR knew that the wound was not mortal, so he went ahead and gave the speech with blood slowly oozing under his shirt and coat. He opened his comments with, “Friends, I shall ask you to be as quiet as possible. I don’t know whether you fully understand that I have just been shot; but it takes more than that to kill a Bull Moose…the bullet is in me now, so that I cannot make a very long speech, but I will try my best.” Afterwards, the doctors decided it would be safer to leave the bullet in place rather than remove it, and TR carried it with him until he died.
1925: Birth of the Iron Lady, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher of Great Britain.
1926: British author A.A. Milne introduces his most memorable character to the public with the publication of Winnie-the-Pooh.
1938: First flight of the Curtis P-40 Warhawk, the mainstay fighter of the Army Air Corps in the early years of WWII, with 13,738 produced before production ceased in 1944.
1943: After running Il Duce out of office and putting his corpse on public display on a meat hook, the new government of suddenly non-Fascist Italy turns on their former Pact of Steel partner and joins the Allies against Nazi Germany. The occupying German army is not impressed, and fought a bitter and basically successful retrograde action up the Italian peninsula for the next two years, with the Germans still holding much of northern Italy when the war ended. The political reversal did not do any favors to the reputation of Italian fighting forces, a sting that lingered for decades.
1947: USAAF ace and former POW Captain Chuck Yeager, flying as a test pilot at Edwards Air Force Base out in the Mojave Desert, makes the world’s first supersonic flight in the Bell X-1 rocket plane. The event was nicely depicted in the 1985 movie The Right Stuff, derived from Tom Wolf’s book of the same name, which rightly identified the Edwards test pilot cadre as the quintessence of America’s push into ever more expanded and dangerous flight regimes. After this flight, Yeager went continued to set altitude and speed records in an ongoing competition with fellow test pilot Scott Crossfield .
1962: Pope John XXIII convenes the Second Vatican Council, the first “summit conference” of the Roman Catholic Church since the First Vatican Council of 1878, and only the 21st Council since the beginning of Roman Christianity. Called with the specific intent of better aligning Catholic practice with the modern, post-World War II world, it remains a flashpoint of principled dissent within the traditional wing of the larger church body. Two primary arguments against the Council assert that: 1) since there was no formal doctrinal statement supporting the dilution of longstanding traditions of the Church, those changes were therefore not binding for faithful Catholics, and; 2) building even further on this thought, a small but intense school of thought believes that since the leadership of the Church broke with tradition with the work of the Council, the subsequent Popes have no canonical standing and cannot legitimately claim the papacy, thus legally rendering the office vacant. Of particular note is the post-John XXIII fate of four of the participants of the Council: Cardinal Giovanni Montini (Paul VI), Bishop Albino Luciani (John Paul I), Bishop Karol Wojtyla (John Paul II), and Father Joseph Ratzinger (Benedict XVI).
1962: A USAF U-2 reconnaissance plane returns from a flight over Cuba with photographic proof that the Soviet Union was installing ballistic missile launching facilities on the newly communist island.
1972: A race riot breaks out aboard the aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk (CVA-63) while conducting Operation Linebacker in the Gulf of Tonkin. With resentment simmering from a recent racial incident on shore leave in Subic Bay, Philippines, nearly 200 black sailors assaulted and injured a number of white crewmen, several of whom had to be evacuated to shore-based hospitals for treatment. Post-event investigation exposed resentment at perceived assignment of black sailors to menial and degrading duties, and the perception that white sailors got more lenient treatment at Captain’s Mast (non-judicial punishment under the UCMJ). CDR Benjamin Cloud (who was black), the Executive Officer of the ship, helped diffuse the situation and got most of the malcontents back to their stations prior to the next day’s flight operations. Nineteen sailors were eventually found guilty of charges related to the riot. It does not take much linguistic imagination to call this event a mutiny, but you won’t hear the word from official Navy sources. What the event did trigger was hair-trigger awareness of any perceived racial slights between black and white sailors. A second, eerily similar mutiny occurred within a month aboard USS Constellation (CVA-64).
1975: First broadcast of Saturday Night Live, with hosts George Carlin and Andy Kauffman.
2003: Chicago Cubs… Game 6 of the NL playoffs: Cubs 3 games to 2 over the Marlins; bottom of the 8th inning, Cubs ahead 3-0 , 1 out, full count. What could possibly go wrong? Marlins 2nd baseman tags an easy pop fly to the Left Field line. Cubs LF Moises Alou runs over to catch it, which will put them only 4 outs away from their first World Series since 1945, let alone that darned 1908 record. Alou makes a leap toward the wall, and… and… rabid Cubs fan Steve Bartman also reaches out from his seat to snag the probable foul ball and tips it away from Alou’s glove. The inning therefore continues, and the Cubbies… oh, the Cubs, allow the Marlins to score 8 runs in the remaining at bats to win the game and tie the playoffs. It stands to reason that the Marlins follow up with a win in game 7.