27 BCE — Augustus becomes the first Emperor of Rome

The nephew and chosen heir of Gaius Julius, Caesar before him, Augustus was the first Emperor of Rome and the architect of the Empire. His accession was not a simple one, though – it’s worth noting that it took 17 years from the death of the divine Julius for him to ascend to the throne in his own right.

He first formed a triumvirate with Mark Antony and Marcus Lepidus, but it was never a smoothly running system. Before long, war broke out between the three, with Lupidus and Antony battling Octavian (as Augustus was then known). Unfortunately for them, Octavian was better general than either of them, which is why he wound up being Emperor Augustus and they wound up being dead.

Referenced in:

Imperial Rome — Aska

1605 — “Don Quixote” first published

Widely seen as the first modern novel, Miguel de Cervantes’ “Don Quixote” (in full, “The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha”) remains a classic even today. It is a deconstruction and an affectionate parody of the chivalric romances that had dominated fiction in Europe for several centuries prior to its publication. The plot of the book concerns a deluded man named Alonso Quijano, whose head has been addled by reading too many chivalric romances. Adopting the name Don Quixote, he sets out to perform what he considers appropriately knightly endeavours.

Unfortunately, the rest of the world doesn’t go along with his delusions, and this conflict is the origin of most of the book’s famous comedy. Famously, Quixote attempts to battle windmills, believing them to be giants – from whence the phrase ’tilting at windmills’ originates. He is also the origin of the word quixotic. To say that Quixote – the character and the book – cast a long, long shadow over Western literature is to understate the case: this one book is more influential than all but the most important and well-known of Shakespeare’s plays, for example.

Referenced in:
Rambozo the Clown — Dead Kennedys

1935 — Kate ‘Ma’ Barker is killed in a shootout with the FBI

The Barker-Karpis gang was, in its time, one of the most feared and deadly gangs of criminals in the United States of America. Between 1910 and 1935, they committed a number of robberies and were implicated in a dozen murders.

Ma Barker and her son Fred were shot to death by the FBI at a rented house in Lake Weir, Florida. Later evidence strongly suggests that Ma Barker, although often covering for her four son’s criminal endeavours, was not the criminal mastermind or teacher she has often been portrayed as. John Ford would understand why.

Referenced in:
Ma Baker — Boney M

1936 — Albert Fish is executed for murder

One of the most prolific serial killers in American history, Albert Fish claimed to have killed as many as a hundred people, mostly children. He was also a rapist and a cannibal, which makes his claim to have ‘had a child in every state’ both more horrific and more ambiguous. It is still unclear how many crimes Fish actually committed, and how much was just boasting on his part – a mystery further clouded by his refusal to confess to some crimes he was suspected of.

At his trial, he plead not guilty by reason of insanity, a claim backed by expert witness Fredric Wertham (a noted child psychologist at that time). Although the jury agreed that he was insane, Fish was convicted of three homicides based on evidence, and confessed to two others. He was sentenced to death, and killed via electrocution in Sing Sing prison. His last words were reportedly, “I don’t even know why I’m here.”

Referenced in:
Fishtales — Macabre
Instruments of Hell — Exhumed
Needleshark — Unusual Suspects
The Gray Man (Albert Fish) — Church of Misery
Albert Was Worse Than Any Fish In The Sea — Macabre
Document.Gracebudd — The Number Twelve Looks Like You
Mr. Albert Fish (Was Children Your Favourite Dish?) — Macabre

1957 — Arturo Toscanini dies

At the time of his death in 1957, Arturo Toscanini was a few weeks short of 90 years old, and probably the single best known and most celebrated orchestral conductor in the world. He was a remarkable musical talent, possessed of a photographic memory and an extremely sensitive ear – both of which drove a level of perfectionism and intensity that was exceptional, even for a conductor.

After his emigration to the United States in the 1930s, Toscanini frequently made appearances as a conductor of orchestral works on television and radio – the stereotypical conductor character in many films, cartoons and so on made between 1940 and 1970 is usually based on him, so completely was he associated with the role. Toscanini also conducted the world premieres of such operas as Pagliacci, La bohème, La fanciulla del West and Turandot.

Referenced in:
We Didn’t Start The Fire – Billy Joel

1977 — Christopher ‘The Falcon’ Boyce is arrested

An employee of TRW in California from 1974, Boyce was disturbed by misrouted cables for the CIA that he began receiving at work, which made it look as if the CIA was conspiring to destroy the government of Australian Prime Minister Gough Whitlam (who was acting in a way that the Agency considered contrary to American interests) and to similarly meddle in the affairs of other American allies. Disgusted by what he regarded as this betrayal of America’s allies, Boyce retaliated by selling CIA secrets to the KGB.

Unfortunately for him, his intermediary was an old high school buddy, cocaine and heroin dealer Andrew Daulton Lee, who took the information to the Soviet embassy in Mexico City. When Lee was arrested by the Mexican police on an unrelated charge, he had on him microfilm intended for the Soviets – and it didn’t take long for him to implicate Boyce as well. Ten days after Lee’s arrest, Boyce was picked up by the FBI. Later, he would be sentenced to 40 years in prison on espionage charges, although he was later paroled after serving 25 years.

Referenced in:
This Is Not America — David Bowie and the Pat Methany Group

1980 — Paul McCartney is busted for marijuana possession in Tokyo

It was a scandal briefly, and then completely forgotten. While passing through customs at Tokyo (on his way to tour Japan with Wings), Paul McCartney was discovered to have approximately 200 grams (or 8 ounces, if you prefer) of cannabis in his luggage. He was immediately arrested, and the news made headlines around the world.

But after ten days, the sheer weight of celebrity proved too great for the Japanese government. McCartney was released from prison without any charges being laid, although he was deported from the country, completely ruining the planned Wings tour. If only this had been the worst thing to happen to a Beatle in 1980.

Referenced in:
I’ve Been To Bali Too — Redgum

January 16, 1920 — Prohibition officially begins in the USA

One of the most expensive and counter-productive intrusions of the government into the private sphere in human history, Prohibition was enabled by the 18th Amendment to the US Constitution. It banned the sale, production and consumption of alcohol throughout the United States. Naturally, it was immensely unpopular with the kind of people who like to drink alcohol, and these people, if they could not obtain their tipple legally, would do so illegally. The new law – which was also rather more heavily enforced on the poorer classes than than the richer, often by police known to drink themselves – lead to an incredible increase in the number and wealthiness of criminals, with a corresponding increase in violent crime.

Ultimately, Prohibition failed and was written out of law with another amendment to the Constitution, but the hand of organised crime had been strengthened in a way that, nearly a century later, law enforcement has still not brought back to pre-Prohibition levels.