By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
1297: If I told you that giant giraffe birds in New Zealand die out this year, would you believe me? Well, it's true. They were called Moas. R.I.P.
1397: If you were the Duke of Gloucester on September 9 of this year, you would be murdered.
1497: In between dating young boys, Michelangelo sculpts the Bacchus, a fabulous monument to debauchery. Also on the sex front, the European syphilis epidemic makes its way to England and Scotland, and the English blame it on the French. Who blame it on the Italians, who blame it on the Spanish, who think it came along with Columbus from Haiti. In any case, the disease is serving up pustules, skin eruptions and leg ulcers--with madness as a kicker--to thousands.
Contemporary M.D.'s are stymied, offering scripts for vulture broth with sarsaparilla as a remedy. Which doesn't really work. One military doc alone claimed to have sliced off the private parts of 5,000 soldiers. You can have my share of that.
1597: Thomas Morley writes A Plaine and Easie Introduction to Practicall Musick, apparently years before A Plain and Easy Introduction to Practical Spelling is written. Shakespeare is hard at the quill this year, penning King John and The Merchant of Venice. And, using its unique form of foolproof evangelism, the Catholic Church recruits new members in Upper Austria, Styria, Carthinia and Carniola on pain of death.
1697: The sedan chair is introduced as the latest in transportation in France. In New York City--yes, it's that old!--the first paid fire department is created. Daniel Defoe (distant relative of Willem Dafoe) comes up with "An Essay Upon Projects." Whatever that is. Mayan civilization in the Yucatan is effectively erased by the Spanish, but to this day, those ruins make for a great tourist attraction.
1797: Mother Earth belches up a good one for the poor souls in Ecuador on February 4; a humongous earthquake starts the dominoes of destruction falling; they include avalanches and volcanoes. The village of Cuero is utterly buried by a massive chunk of mountainside. In Masdro, just as the avalanche is about to roll into village limits, the ground opens up and swallows everything wholesale. Only two people live to tell the tale. Forty thousand are killed, all told.
On a lighter note, John Adams--the first president to live in D.C.--is inaugurated; German astronomer H.W.M. Olbers publishes his enthralling method of calculating the orbits of comets, his fellow countryman Ludwig Tieck writes Der Gestiefelte Kater (Puss in Boots to you and me); England, God love her, begins to export iron and the first washing machine is patented. Goodbye, blue Mondays. Let's not forget that Cuban cigar makers, God love 'em, create "cigarettes" by using paper wrappers. And rolling smaller. One more thing, a French chemist named Louis Nicolas Vauquelin isolates chromium, which down the road will make a big splash in fenders and dildoes.
1897: Lordy, what a year this is. Bram Stoker publishes his novel Dracula (later to influence Hollywood stud-talents Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise). Rostand writes Cyrano de Bergerac (later to influence Hollywood funny man Steve Martin), and Tolstoy comes up with Resurrection (as yet to influence anyone in Hollywood).
Also, just when they thought it was never going to happen, the Sultan of Zanzibar abolishes slavery. Do you know what an electron is? If you do, you can thank one J.J. Thompson for that; he discovered the little buggers this year.
No fun being a Parisian socialite in '97, at least if you are on the Rue Jean Goujon for the charity bazaar on May 4. A flash fire breaks out and kills some 200 partygoers.
But why dwell on tragedy? C.W. Post introduces breakfast cereal; some genius invents the ice cream sundae in Ithaca, New York, on a Thursday; the first x-ray of the entire body of a living, breathing person happens in New York City; my grandfather is born in San Bernardino, California; the first incinerator burns up a load of trash in St. Louis; and perhaps more important than anything, the first Rock Wool Factory opens in Alexandria, Indiana.
In the words of Mr. Sinatra, it was a very good year.
Which brings us to 1997.
Nothing has happened yet.
You can allow your eyes to refocus. You can ruminate on what you have just learned. Don't you see the path of history more clearly? Now do you understand how that path will extend into the future and bring us all pain, sorrow, joy and truth as we approach the frightening and magical year 2000?