1925 – Margaret Thatcher, the Prime Minister of Great Britain from 1979 to 1990. Much maligned by the popular press at the time and ever since, she has been called, conversely, ‘The Iron Lady’ and ‘Attila the Hen,’ among many other, less printable things. During her time in office Thatcher generated strong feelings for and against her and is still both loved and hated by large sections of the population. Either way, no one can dispute the fact that she reinvigorated the British economy and reestablished British prestige and power around the world. She was absolutely convinced that her policies were the best for Britain. That was both her strength and her downfall. In the end, it was she who almost single-handedly jump-started Britain into the 21st Century.
1941 – Paul Simon, one of the pure poets of the modern era. Simon started writing songs in the 50s but didn’t achieve any great success until he teamed up with Art Garfunkel, in the mid 60s. They produced some great songs together, like “Sounds of Silence” and “Bridge over Troubled Waters.” But it was after Simon and Garfunkel broke up, in 1970 that Paul Simon did his best work, with songs like, “Still Crazy After All These Years” and “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover” along with albums like Hearts and Bones and Graceland. What makes Simon more than just a songwriter are his stand-alone lyrics with lines like this, from “Graceland”:
The Mississippi delta was shining like a national guitar,
I am following the river
Down the highway
Through the cradle of the Civil War
1307 – Yet another conspiracy theory/legend was born on Friday the 13th, 1307, when Philip IV of France (ironically “Philip the Fair”) ordered the simultaneous arrest of all Knights Templar on charges of heresy, idolatry, homosexuality and anything else he could think of. After 150 years as a charitable order, the Knights were filthy rich, and Philip wanted to get his mitts on some of the money. He ordered confessions, and after a couple of days of relentless torture, got them. He then seized all the Templar property, paid off his debts and probably forgot about the whole thing. History, however, never forgets, and quickly built up a whole pile of stories associated with the Templars. The two most enduring legends are 1) the Templars’ incredible wealth was never found and still exists today in one enormous cache, and 2) during the Crusades, the Templars found The Holy Grail (see The Da Vinci Code)and have protected it — in secret — ever since. Tons has been written on both subjects, but not one scrap of evidence has been produced to substantiate either claim.
1884 – On October 13th, 1884 the International Meridian Conference, by a vote of 22 to 1, established the Prime Meridian at Greenwich, England. Before that, time had been a matter of personal preference. However, international trade and travel were literally sweeping the globe and the world needed a standard to set its watch by. Greenwich was chosen mainly because most sailors had already been using it for years to find their longitude on a limitless ocean. So, who cares? Mostly bureaucrats and nerds, but the point is without a starting point there wouldn’t be any standard time in the world, and nothing to orient your GPS to. In other words, without Greenwich Mean Time, you wouldn’t know where you were or when you got there. By the way, the one country who voted against the proposition was San Domingo, the modern Dominican Republic.
54 – Roman Emperor Claudius, who is thought to be a bit of a dolt. However, sandwiched between his infamous nephew Caligula and his more flamboyant great nephew Nero, as he is, it’s no wonder history has not treated Claudius very kindly. History does record that he married his niece Agrippina (the mother of Nero) and she generally took charge of the palace and, therefore, the Empire. It also records that Agrippina most likely murdered Claudius, with poison mushrooms, to ensure that her son Nero got to the throne. Claudius was Mark Antony’s grandson.
2002 – Stephen Ambrose, who was discovered as a popular author when his book Band of Brothers was turned into an incredibly good miniseries by Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg.
What is less generally known is that Ambrose, a noted historian, is one of the first scholars to put forward the theory that World War I and II were actually one war with a 22 year truce. In fact, Ambrose went so far as to suggest that it was actually a European Civil War — which might have gone on indefinitely if Europe hadn’t been invaded by the external military forces of Asia and America. It’s too bad that Ambrose never took the time to expand this theory.