Day By Day

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

This Day In History

Today is "Be Bald and Free Day" so go out there, shave off your hair, and experience true freedom.

On this day in 1066 AD William, Duke of Normandy, defeated King Harold Godwinson at the Battle of Hastings. This was the decisive battle in the Norman Conquest of Britain. This was the last successful invasion of England and it had enormous impact on English elite culture. Before Hastings the dominant influence had been Scandinavian, afterward it was French.

And on this day in 1322 Robert the Bruce of Scotland defeated King Edward II of England thus forcing him to recognize Scotland's independence. Eventually the two kingdoms would be united, but under a Scottish, not an English monarch.

And on this day in 1773 the First Continental Congress adopted the "Declaration and Resolves", one of the fundamental documents of American political culture. It sets out in specific terms the rights to which Americans were entitled including rights to "life, liberty, and property" and the right to representation. Read the whole text here.

And on this day in 1884 George Eastman patented the "roll film" that allowed the efficient recording of sequential images on a chemically-treated strip of material. This technique made possible the invention, four years later, of the motion picture camera and soon thereafter the emergence of an international film industry. Art and life would never be the same. Eastman went on to found Kodak and become one of the great philanthropists of his day.

On this day in 1912 former President Theodore Roosevelt (and current candidate for re-election on the Progressive Party ticket) was on his way to a speaking event in Milwaukee when a shot rang out. The bullet struck Roosevelt in the chest but penetrated only three inches because it passed through his eyeglass case and a copy of the speech he intended to give. The shooter, John Schank, was immediately apprehended and Roosevelt, noting that he was not coughing up blood, refused to seek medical attention. Instead he delivered a ninety-minute speech during which he said, with reference to the shooting, that "it takes more than that to kill a bull moose". The press had a field day with the story and the "Bull Moose" became fixed in the public mind as the symbol of both Roosevelt and the Party. When he finally did submit to medical examination doctors determined that it would be too risky to remove the bullet so they left it in place. Roosevelt carried it in his body for the rest of his life. I don't know about you, but I find TR to be a pretty scary guy.

And on this date in 1917 Mata Hari [real name Margaretha Geertruida Zelle], an exotic dancer and paramour of many of Europe's most powerful men, was executed in Paris for being a German spy. Debate still rages around her. Was she really a spy or was she the innocent dupe of a French spymaster who himself was a double-spy? I get a headache thinking about things like that. She was not a great beauty, but men certainly found her interesting and she led an exotic life. Her fame was only enhanced by her death and the subsequent mysterious disappearance of her body. In death she became one of the most famous females of the twentieth century and the archetype for the femme fatale. You can read about her here. Take some time to do so -- she was, as they say, interesting.

Happy Birthday to William Penn [1644], Dwight D. Eisenhower [1890] and Lillian Gish [1896]. And a very special "Happy Birthday" to my wife. Today is an embarrassment of riches -- so much could be written about any of these fascinating people -- but I'm limited in time and space and so must call a halt here.