An Anniversary Mix for '96 Toot, Toot, Tootsie, Hello!

Article excerpt

So you sent 1995 off to the scrap heap with a big celebration. Why stop?

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 Domitia.

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 throne.

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 vehicle.

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 Southwest.

In Massachusetts in 1646, the Rev. John Eliot holds the colonies' first Protestant service for Indians, preaching to the Algonquins in their own language. …