So you sent 1995 off to the scrap heap with a big celebration.
There are all sorts of intriguing anniversaries waiting to be
observed this year: centennials and bi- and tri- and
sesquicentennials and such everywhere you turn.
Crusades and cannon. Gold and grapefruit. "Blue Tail Fly" and
Shoo-Fly Pie." Tootsies. Bikinis. Plus some nice St. Louis events.
WE can go all the way back to two-digit territory, in fact, to
the original 96: 96 A.D. That's when Roman emperor Domitian's reign
of terror - persecuting Christians, confiscating property, sending
countrymen into exile - came to a sudden end, at the pointy end of
a dagger. Among the plotters? The missus herself, the Empress
But we don't have to go quite that far.
Take 996, for instance - exactly a millennium ago. From
Alexandria to Venice comes: cane sugar! It's all sweetness and
light for Otto III, too; the 16-year-old is finally crowned Holy
Roman Emperor. He was only 3 when his father died, but his
succession was disputed by the Duke of Bavaria, one Henry the
Troublemaker. Henry kidnapped the tyke (Henry the Felon?), but
Otto's mom and grandmom got him back and eventually put him on the
The First Crusade hits the road in 1096. The effort to restore
Christianity in the Holy Land sets off from France under Peter the
Hermit and Walter the Penniless, among others. (Typical
Crusade-era conversation: "Hey, who's in charge of this outfit?"
"Peter the Hermit." "Anyone else?" "Walter the Penniless."
"Sounds good - sign me up!")
It's 1346, early in "The Hundred Years War," and one of
history's most significant battles is about to occur: the English
against the French at Crecy. The French have Europe's best horse
soldiers, plus heavy armor, the crossbow and plenty of attitude.
The English invaders have foot soldiers, the longbow, and
"bombards," the first primitive cannon. The result? A massacre.
The French lines are wiped out by the rapid-firing English
longbowmen, and the heavily armored French knights can't even
remount once their horses are shot - or scared - out from under
them. A thousand years of cavalry superiority is at an end, as is
the unchallenged dominance of the aristocracy, the only ones who
can afford the horses and the armor. The foot soldier - the common
man - is on the rise.
Christopher Columbus is on the move in 1496; he returns from
his second voyage to the New World. He still hasn't found India,
but from the West Indies he brings back samples of a "bewitching
vegetable" that the natives dry, ignite and inhale from a
slingshot-shaped pipe inserted in their nostrils. The pipe is
called a "tabaco." We can call it "Indians' revenge."
There are two major cultural advances in 1546. The first Welsh
book is printed ("Yny Lhyvyr Mwnn" - rough translation: "Buy a
Vowel From Vanna"). And "The Proverbs of John Heywood" appear,
including such cliches-in-the-making as "A man may well bring a
horse to the water, but he cannot make him drink"; "Rome was not
built in a day"; "When the iron is hot, strike"; "Look before you
leap"; and "Haste makes waste." Omitted somehow from Heywood's
collection: "If it doesn't fit, you must acquit."
More words to remember in 1596: Shakespeare's "The Merchant of
Venice" and "King John" have their first performances. If the
crowd doesn't like them, they can always throw tomatoes,
introduced into England this very year as an ornamental plant.
And making its first appearance in the New World in 1596 or
thereabouts: the wagon, the Western Hemisphere's first wheeled
It looks a lot like the German farm cart, and the Spanish will
use it to haul supplies as they explore and settle the American
In Massachusetts in 1646, the Rev. John Eliot holds the
colonies' first Protestant service for Indians, preaching to the
Algonquins in their own language. …