IT HAPPENED ON … MARCH 11
222 AD — Two-for-one murders. The Praetorian Guard went on a rampage that in the good old days of the Not-Yet-Holy Roman Empire passed for an election. Teen-aged Emperor Elagabalus and his conniving mother, Julia Soaemias, were slaughtered and tossed in the Tiber River, paving the way for Cousin Alex, aka Severus Alexander, to claim the throne.
1169 — Perhaps the most feared volcano in Europe, Mount Etna is remembered for a deadly eruption on this date 950 years ago. An estimated 15,000 Sicilians perished. Etna is still very active, and seismologists say it is no less dangerous.
1731 — Robert Treat Paine, who would sign the Declaration of Independence, was born in Boston. Although not one of the best-known founders, he’s a big deal in our house because he’s a great-great-great-great something-or-other of my wife.
1851 — And the Fat Lady sings. Giuseppi Verdi’s beloved opera Rigoletto debuted on this date in Venice.
1862 — Abraham Lincoln’s patience with General George McClellan ran out and he removed the flamboyant self-promoter from command of the Army of the Potomac. Historians credit McClellan as a superb Army builder, but Lincoln didn’t think much of of his reluctance to engage the enemy. In 1864, Lincoln would soundly defeat general-turned-politician McClellan and earn the second presidential term cut short by assassin John Wilkes Booth.
1885 — Sir Malcolm Campbell was a noted British journalist, but his main legacy is 13 world speed records he set at numerous distances in a variety of vehicles and boats. He dubbed his cars Bluebird and was a rarity in his trade: He died of natural causes, while numerous contemporaries perished in crashes. Born on this date, Sir Malcolm died in 1948 and did not live to see his son, Donald Malcolm Campbell, set seven world marine records and one on land. Donald was killed instantly in a 1967 high-speed marine speed run mishap.
1918 — The Spanish Flu Pandemic reaches the United States with the first cases reported in Kansas. Nearly 700,000 Americans will perish.
1926 — Civil Rights giant Rev. Ralph Abernathy, a contemporary, colleague and friend of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., was born on this date in a hostile and segregated Alabama. He headed the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and was a key spokesman for African Americans, particularly after King’s 1968 assassination. Abernathy died at 64. His tombstone is inscribed “I Tried.”
1935 — Hermann Goering forms the Luftwaffe in Adolf Hitler’s “demilitarized” Germany. War-weary allies are wary but do nothing. Goering, a World War I fighter pilot ace, was at Hitler’s side to the end. He avoided a date with aNurenberg noose in 1946 by committing suicide.
1936 — Antonin Scalia, perhaps the most influential conservative jurist of the last century, was born this date in New Jersey. His sudden death in 2016 led to protracted and contentious political maneuvering between the Republican and Democratic parties. The GOP stalled choice of a successor until Barack Obama left the White House, and Neil Gorsuch was nominated by Donald Trump and confirmed by the U.S. Senate.
1955 — Alexander Fleming was the Scot who famously discovered penicillin in a ham loaf on Wonder Bread sammich. It probably would have been better for him to discover statin drugs. His 1955 death, at age 73, was due to a heart attack.
1955 — Who says cold cuts are bad for your health? German meat packer Oscar Mayer was born in 1859 and lived to age 95.
1970 — Erle Stanley Gardner died at his California ranch. Gardner couldn’t even spell Earl, but was nevertheless one of America’s most successful authors. His best-known character, Perry Mason, became a library staple as well as a small-screen fixture. After success with his novel The Case of the Velvet Claws in 1933, Gardner gave up his law practice and cashed in on 80 Perry Mason novels. CBS aired 271 episodes of the Perry Mason courtroom drama, starring Raymond Burr and Barbara Hale, from 1957-66.
1977 — Who can forget the compelling page-turner The Cenezoic Brachiopoda of Western North America, published in 1944 by Ulysses S. Grant IV, grandson of our 18th president? USG4 was an accomplished geologist, paleontologist, author and travel writer. That’s impressive, but the science geek’s death on this date was little noted and not long remembered.
1987 — Yeah, he had a fiery temper and lousy impulse control. Yeah, he got fired. And, oh yeah, he was perhaps the greatest college football coach of all time. Wayne Woodrow “Woody” Hayes won five NCAA National Championships and 13 Big 10 titles in 28 years at the helm of The Ohio State University Buckeyes. His teams won 205 games, lost only 61, kissed their sisters 10 times, and players loved to hate him. Hayes also won eight national coach of the year awards. What most folks outside Ohio don’t know is that Woody was a serious student of history, generous to a fault, and warm and clever away from the sidelines that were known to bring out his, uh, intensity.
1989 — When a new batch of Star Trek movies featuring the original characters was begun in 2009, Russian-born Anton Yelchin, born this date, was the fan-favorite engineering officer Pavel Chekov. By the time the third installment was released in 2016, his film credit was posthumous. Yelchin was crushed in a freak vehicular accident in 2016 at the age of 27.
1990-91 — Before the fall. Bill Cosby was named Peoples Choice Awards top male TV performer two years running.
1996 — TV’s Ben Casey, played by Vince Edwards on ABC, was the small screen’s way of balancing out the sugar overdose provided by Dr. Kildare, played by Richard Chamberlain on NBC. The dueling medical dramas debuted the same week and both ran from 1961-66. Casey was a dark, often surly surgeon, and Kildare was an endearing, wet-behind-the-ears intern. Edwards was almost exactly six years older than Chamberlain and died of pancreatic cancer on this date at age 67. Chamberlain, 84, lives in Hawaii.
1997 — Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry’s cremains were
launched into space, six years after his death at age 70.
2004 — Nearly 200 Spaniards were killed in explosions that targeted the Madrid rail system. Two bombs were planted by Al-Qaeda with the intention of disrupting upcoming elections.
2118 — The Peoples National Congress took action that cleared the way for Xi Jinping to become President for Life in Communist China.