The Anniversary Schmaltz

January 13, 1991|By RICK HOROWITZ | RICK HOROWITZ,RICK HOROWITZ is a syndicated columnist.

Pearl Harbor -- absolutely.

Joe DiMaggio -- of course.

And "Citizen Kane" -- almost certainly "Citizen Kane."

It's 1991, and you know what that means, don't you? It means we're about to be inundated with all that 50th anniversary business for the momentous events of 1941 -- the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, for instance, and Joe D's 56-game hitting streak, not to mention Orson Welles' movie-that-changed-the-face-of-movies.

But what about Cheerios? Or the American Bowling Congress Hall of Fame? They're also part of the Class of 1941. And did you think "Citizen Kane" was the only big thing in movies that year? Don't forget "Dumbo."

You say 100th anniversaries are more your style? Fine -- 1991 will keep you plenty busy, too. Sherlock Holmes made his first magazine appearance 100 years ago. Basketball was invented. And so was -- drum roll, please -- the clothing zipper!

In fact, there are all sorts of anniversaries to choose from in 1991; it all depends on what kinds of milestones you favor, and how far back you care to go. Ready?


Let's go way back to 41, for starters -- not "something-41," mind you, just plain old 41. After all, why limit yourself to celebrating 50ths when you can celebrate 1,950ths? It was in 41 -- 1,950 years ago -- that the Roman Emperor Caligula was murdered by his Praetorian Guard and succeeded by Claudius. Caligula was all of 29 when he bit the dust, or whatever passed for dust back then. Tough town, Rome? You bet it was. It took another three centuries, until the year 341, before the Empire banned pagan sacrifices.

Two hundred years after that -- in 541 -- Europe entered the Age of Silly Names, as Totila became King of the Ostrogoths after the death of his uncle Hildebad. Totila ruled for 11 years, until he was killed fighting the Byzantines under Narses, the Eunuch General. (You'd be out for blood, too, if people called you that.)

In 641, someone called Chindaswinth became king of the Visigoths -- not to be confused with the Ostrogoths, except by everybody -- and 50 years after that, in 691, Clovis III became king of all the Franks.

Meanwhile, the Arabs under Omar celebrated 641 by destroying the Persian Empire, on their way to conquering Egypt, Mesopotamia and Syria the following year. Islam replaced the religion of Zoroaster, and for good measure, the Arabs obliterated the book-copying center at Alexandria, which was then considered the center of Western culture. So much for Western culture.


In 791, the Byzantine Emperor Constantine threw his mother, Irene, into prison for her cruelty. ("Big shot emperor, you don't have time for your mother anymore? So when are you gonna get a real job?") But by 792, Irene had regained power, proving once again that you can't keep a good empress down.

In 841, Halfdan of Norway subjected the nobles and founded the Norwegian monarchy. There is absolutely no truth, by the way, to persistent rumors that Halfdan of Norway has a high-ranking American descendant named Fulldan of Indiana.

In 991 -- 1,000 years ago -- construction began on the first church in Kiev, just a year or two after Russia adopted Christianity. And speaking of Christianity: In 1191, Richard the Lion-Hearted led a fleet of 100 ships out of England for the Third Crusade -- but he and King Philip II of France spent the winter quarreling in Sicily, and Philip went back home. (Winter vacations can be so #F difficult!) More 1191 religion: Zen Buddhism was introduced to Japan by a priest named Aeisai, just back from a visit to China. Aeisai also brought back tea seeds, which he planted with much to-do about tea's medicinal powers.

In 1241 -- 750 years ago -- the Baltic trading towns that made up the Hanseatic League first made use of exciting new navigational discoveries -- the rudder, for instance. In 1291, the Crusades finally came to an end. Other things started: The middle-European districts of Uri, Schwyz and Unterwalden formed the Everlasting League. Right.


Jump ahead to 1491 -- exactly 500 years ago. A clerical committee appointed by the king files a report: "The project in question is vain and impossible, and not becoming great princes to engage in, on such slender grounds as had been adduced." The king, one Ferdinand of Spain, eventually ignores the recommendation, and the following year, Christopher Columbus sets sail for the Indies.

The clerics were right, of course -- Columbus never did make it to the Indies. What he did find, though, made possible a whole other stack of 1991 anniversaries. Take 1541, for instance. The Spanish explorer Francisco Vasquez de Coronado led an expedition from what is now New Mexico across Texas, Oklahoma and eastern Kansas. In the very same year, the other Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto discovered the Mississippi River. ("It must know something," writes de Soto in his journal. "It don't say nothing. It just keeps rolling, it keeps on rolling along. . . . ")

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