This Week in History

August 15, 1057 – Macbeth, King of the Scots, dies

Seventeen years to the day after King Duncan I died while leading the fight against the forces of Macbeth, the successor himself was mortally wounded in battle. For an update, let’s go to The Pietist Schoolman’s special correspondent, Wm. Shakespeare:

DUNSINANE CASTLE – A shocking turn of events this morn, as Duncan loyalists led by the late king’s heir, Malcolm, burst out of Birnam Wood and overwhelmed the army of King Macbeth. When asked why his troops were bedecked in th’ attire of trees themselves, Malcolm claimed that it served to “shadow / The numbers of our host and make discovery / Err in report of us.”

It is believed that Macbeth’s fair queen took her own life not long before the set-to. And while some critics had predicted that “the untitled man bloody-scepter’d” would likewise “play the Roman fool,”  Macbeth went down with sword drawn, dueling furiously with Macduff (who, sources close to him now confirm, “was from his mother’s womb / Untimely ripp’d”). Macbeth’s last words are uncertain, though eyewitnesses reported him daring Macduff to “lay on” near the end of their clash. In the Glamis dialect of the Scots’ rough-hewn tongue, it is believed that “lay on” can be taken to mean, “I dare you to chop off my head, you craven coward.”

Even before being crowned officially, Malcolm engaged in a remarkably bald-faced act of nepotism, making earls of all of his “thanes and kinsmen.” Meanwhile, remnants of the former regime were quick to place blame for the fiasco on three “witches” who had recently been brought into Macbeth’s inner circle of advisors.

August 16, 1920 – Ray Chapman steps in to bat against Carl Mays…

Ray Chapman's Grave
Chapman's Grave in Cleveland - Creative Commons (jtesla16)

…in the top of the 5th, with his Cleveland Indians up 3-0 over the host New York Yankees, and is hit in the (unhelmeted) temple by Mays’ first pitch, a fastball. Twelve hours later, Chapman was dead — the first and still only major league baseball player to be killed by a pitch. Remarkably, the Indians not only won that game, but moved into first place in the process and hung on to win the American League pennant and then their first World Series. (They’ve only won one more since.)

Even more remarkably, Chapman’s replacement at shortstop, a 5’6″ Alabaman named Joe Sewell (who turned 22 during the World Series), posted a .413 OBP during the stretch run, went back to medical school in the offseason, then had a fourteen-year career (along the way ranking in the league top ten in being hit by pitch eight times) that earned him a spot in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

August 17, 1914 – Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Jr. is born
August 17, 1988 – Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Jr. dies

Sure, being this particular “Jr.” already makes you an interesting figure in history. But to die on your birthday…

Makes you wonder who’s the most famous person to pull off that feat, no?

Not FDR, Jr. Besides the name and his three terms in the U.S. Congress, his résumé’s just too thin, not enough to overtake pioneering feminist Betty Friedan (February 4) or gangster George “Machine Gun” Kelly (July 17), or maybe even novelist Allen Drury (September 2). Petrarch came close, dying one day short of his 70th birthday, but close only counts in horseshoes — and not if you’re playing my Grandpa Peterson, since he’ll just get a double-ringer anyway.

Shakespeare is an enticing possibility. He died April 23, 1616, and his birthdate is often observed on April 23rd. “Observed” being the key word there, since even if we can assume that the William Shakespeare of Stratford-upon-Avon born in 1564 wrote Hamlet, King Lear, etc., all we can really verify is that he was baptized on April 26th.

Notorious (1946)
Ingrid Bergman with Cary Grant in Notorious (1946) - Wikimedia

So I’m going to declare the most famous person to die on their birthday to be… Ingrid Bergman (b. 8/29/1915; d. 8/29/1982), the luminous Swedish actress who starred in both my favorite Alfred Hitchcock film (Notorious) and my favorite Hollywood film of all time (Casablanca) and was so admired by Woody Guthrie that he wrote a lyric in her honor (“Ingrid Bergman, yer so purdy / You’d make any mountain quiver”) that decades later was finally set to music and recorded by Billy Bragg and Wilco for their Mermaid Avenue album.

August 18, 1969 – Edward Norton and Christian Slater are born

Continuing a sub-feature that began with my interest in the fact that David Brooks and Craig Ehlo share a birthdate, I present this week’s “Odd Couple who Share a Birthdate of the Week.”

Now, aside from the fairly unremarkable coincidence that two successful motion picture actors (three, if we take out the two qualifiers in front of “actors” and add Malcolm Jamal-Warner) were born on the same day in the same year in the same country, it doesn’t seem like these two have much in common. After all, while Edward Norton was busy studying history at Yale (1987-1991), Christian Slater was building his stardom in films like Heathers, Pump Up the Volume, Young Guns II, and Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. But after starting his career in theatre, Norton hit it big in his first screen role: as an altar boy charged with murdering an archbishop in Primal Fear.

Here’s where it gets strange: when Primal Fear premiered in April 1996, the big (though not big enough) blockbuster to that point in the year was the John Woo film Broken Arrow, co-starring John Travolta and, yes, Christian Slater. At that point, almost no one on Earth could have told Edward Norton apart from any other mild-mannered history buff; everyone on Earth knew who Christian Slater was.

But it’s almost as if God decreed, for His good reasons, that only one American actor born on August 18, 1969 could be successful at one time — because that was it for Slater. The next studio film he did (Hard Rain) grossed $130 million less than Broken Arrow, and the movie after that (Very Bad Things) pulled in half as much as Hard Rain. I defy you to name a successful Christian Slater vehicle produced since 1996.

Well, let’s put it this way, his two most recent releases (Lies & Illusions and Sacrifice – remember them?) have both co-starred Cuba Gooding, Jr.

Meanwhile, Edward Norton has gone on to answer my least favorite question in the world — “What can you do with a History major?” — by garnering two Oscar nominations (though sadly, one fewer victory than Cuba Gooding, Jr.), dating Salma Hayek, and memorably playing the bass player for Spandau Ballet in a hilarious episode of Modern Family. He’s my top choice to play me in the film version of The Pietist Schoolman.

August 19, 1953 – Mohammed Mosaddeq is arrested

Mosaddeq in CourtWe observed the birthday of the Berlin Wall last Saturday in a special post. But permit me to go back to the Cold War for this event… A social democrat and secularist, Mosaddeq was Iran’s democratically elected (as far as these things went in Iran) prime minister, but his decision to nationalize Anglo-Iranian Oil (now known as this) led to a crippling British boycott and then to a coup planned by the British intelligence agency MI-6 and the American Central Intelligence Agency.

Most CIA documents related to the coup were destroyed in the 1960s, and many remain classified, but you can read an internal CIA history and other documents at the National Security Archive.


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