The Year was 453

Even 15 centuries later, this name, Attila the Hun, brings images of barbaric carnage. The word barbarian came from the word Greeks used to designate anyone who was not Greek. To the urbane Greeks, those people sounded like they were saying “bar bar” and thus became known as barbarophonos. Barbarophonos came to mean ‘bearded and…

The Year was 1917

This was the year the unthinkable happened – a woman ran for Congress. And won! The state was Montana and the woman was Republican Jeannette Rankin. Her achievement was monumental because she was a lobbyist for the suffrage movement. In fact, because she had pushed Montana to give women the vote in 1914, they could…

The Year was 1035

When King Cnut died in 1035, it should have been a simple matter to divide his kingdom between his two teenage sons. King Cnut had a wife, Emma of Normandy. They had a son, Harthacnut.  King Cnut also had a mistress, Aelfgifu. And they had a son, Harold Harefoot. King Cnut ruled two kingdoms, the…

The Year was 1793

On a hot summer day in Paris, concealing a butcher knife in her long skirts, Charlotte Corday appeared at the gates of Jean-Paul Marat’s house. She told the guards she had names of Marat’s enemies – for the guillotine. And she would give them to no one but Marat. His wife had a bad feeling…

The Year was 1939

Why would all these people be coming to this obscure graveyard? The caretaker could not understand the sudden interest in the nondescript grave of a teenage soldier who had died during a skirmish in the British Mandate of Palestine more than 60 years earlier, in 1939. The teenager, named Harry, had lied about his age…

The Year was 1946

“Those crazy enough to try to change the world often do.” This was not Gandhi. Not Martin Luther King. Not Churchill. Not even Shakespeare! It was Branch Rickey. Who was he? For you non-baseball fans, he was the president and general manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers. And what he did in fact did change the…

The year was 1938

Magda was fed up. She wanted a divorce. But she did not ask her husband. Instead, she asked Adolph Hitler. Not only had Hitler arranged her first meeting with Joseph, but years later, he had set up Magda and her husband and their six adorable blond, blue-eyed children as the poster family for the Third…

The Year was 1917

Facing the firing squad, Mata Hari refused the white blindfold. In a firing squad, all the shooters fire bullets except one, who fires blanks, so that no shooter knows who fires the fatal bullet. As the sun came up, Mata Hari smiled, seemingly unafraid, even blowing a kiss toward her executioners.   Born in Holland,…

The Year was 1922

Lee Duncan and his dog were watching a movie crew shoot a scene with a wolf for a movie called Man from Hell’s River. The wolf could not get it. Duncan called to the crew, “Hey guys, my dog could do that on the first take.” “Oh, sure!” they said. “Get lost!” But after more…

The year was 1916

Col. Mark Sykes called Gertrude Bell (among other things!) a “conceited, gushing, flat-chested… blethering fool.” Both were British. Sykes joined with France’s Francois Georges-Picot to draw the 1916 Sykes-Picot Agreement, but it was Bell who was the power behind the map that carved up the old Ottoman Empire, willy-nilly creating the countries that are now…