Authors: Jeffrey Sackett
A collection of desultory historical anecdotes compiled (with all due deference to such historical accuracy as they may or may not contain)
., Th.D., Ph.D., Five time Fellow of the National Endowment for the Humanities, author, raconteur,
First Digital Edition published by Crossroad Press
Illustrations by Paulette Sheldon
B.F.A., M.F.A., artist, art teacher, wife, mother,
and One Heck of a Good-lookin' Gal
Cover Design by David Dodd / Copy-Edited by Hunter
The Warm & Witty Side of Attila the Hun
The Author Sitting on Charlemagne's Throne
I became interested in History because of the Hungarian Revolution of 1956.1 was a five
year old child, sitting at the kitchen table in my parents' apartment in Queens, eating a hamburger as my mother did the ironing, when the show on the radioâthe Arthur Godfrey
Show, I seem to recallâwas interrupted by a news bulletin from Washington. "Soviet troops
. Artillery fire and rifle fire can be heard in all parts of the capital. Short
wave radio picked up this plea for help..." And then a shrill, trembling, heavily accented voice
could be heard saying, "Send us guns, send us help, send us anything. The Russians are in the streets! Russian tanks are in the streets!"
Well, I was terrified. I had no idea where Budapest wasâin Brooklyn, for all I knewâ
and though I knew very little about the Russians, what I had learned about them from listening to my family was that they were hounds from hell, the devil's spawn. I panicked and started crying.
To calm me down, my mother told me that Budapest and Russia were nowhere near Queens. She
must have called my father at work to tell him what I was going through, because when he came
home that night he brought with him a child's world atlas. (You know the kind of book I mean. Here are all the countries, here are pictures of the children of all the countries, they all dress funny but they are all just like you.) That book began my lifelong love affair with History, because a little snippet of historical background accompanied each map and picture. I had learned about Paul Revere and Abraham Lincoln and Davy Crockett, etc., in Kindergarten, but it had never occurred to me that stuff had actually
elsewhere around the world. I simply
to find out what all that stuff was!
It was eight years later that the impact important events can have upon one's personal life
was brought dramatically home to me. I was a thirteen-year-old freshman in Forest Hills High
School, Queens, New York, and the event was the Kennedy assassination.
I was, as noted, already interested in History and politics, but in November of that year what I was mostly interested in was Jane Mahoney, who was arguably the most beautiful girl
whose dainty foot ever graced the grass of God's green earth. That's how she appeared to my
adolescent eyes, anyway. I was madly in love with her. She, however, did not know I was alive.
When I saw her in the hallway between classes I would always make a point of trying to talk to her. She never looked me in the eye, looking instead in all directions around me as if to
imply, "There's something in my way but I don't know what it is." But then a sheer accident, a
happenstance as it were, of alphabetical seating made Jane my table partner in science lab. It was
then that I decided that there is indeed a God.
Every generation has its indelible moment, a moment when everyone remembers exactly
where he or she was, what he or she was doing, when the moment came. For my parents'
generation, it was when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. For my daughters' generation, it was
9/11. For my generation, it was the assassination of JFK.
Early in the afternoon on Friday, November 22, 1963, I was in Mr. Lukas' General
Science class. (They didn't have Earth Science in those days; freshmen took a general intro to the sciences.) Jane and I and all the other kids were separating hydrogen from oxygen in water
when the P. A. switched on and the principal, Dr. Ryan, said, "May I have your attention. A confirmed news report informs us that President John F. Kennedy is dead. The report further
indicates that he was the victim of an assassin's bullet."
Ryan said that school would be dismissed soon, and then softly read the 23
Psalm as the shock of the news sank in. (For reading the 23
Psalm in a public school today, of course, he
would have been fired by the School's Chancellor, would have been sued by vicious atheist bigots, and would have had both his license and his pension revoked by the State Ed Department. But I digress.) Anyway, I remember that Mr. Lukas's face was as white as a sheet. All around the room people were beginning to cry, and Jane broke down completely. She was Irish Catholic, and Kennedy, an Irish Catholic president, was like a saint to her. I instinctively put my hand comfortingly on her
shoulder and she proceeded to bury her face in my chest and weep uncontrollably as I embraced
The details of the assassination were of course as yet unclear, Lee Harvey Oswald was still a name unknown to the public, so all manner of possible explanations of this terrible event
occurred to me. Three thoughts were running through my mind at that moment. The first thought
was that the assassination might be the prelude to an invasion by a hostile power. Made sense. Kill the leader and then attack. The second thought was that this might presage a rebellion by some radical political group in America. This also made sense. Throw the nation into confusion
and then raise the standard of revolt.
The third thought that occurred to me, the most important thought, was this: I am hugging Jane Mahoney. I have my arms wrapped around Jane Mahoney. She has perfume in her hair, and
it is right up against my face. This is a good thing. This is great. This is the silver lining in the
We all went home a few minutes later, not to return until the next week, at which time Jane
seemed to have again forgotten I was alive.
l 'amore, C '
There have been many other occasions in my life when events in the world around me,
past and present, were made real to me by personal experience. In my youth I travelled
extensively, to visit as many of the places in America and Europe I had read about as possible. I
went to the beach at Hastings, England, and saw the memorial to Harold, the last Anglo-Saxon king of England, who was killed there in 1066 by the forces of William the Conqueror. I have visited the battlefields of Waterloo and Gettysburg. I have visited the three-hundred-and-fifty-year-old graves of my ancestors, one of whom was my namesake and the mayor of the town of Sandwich, England. I was physically thrown out of Aachen Cathedral in Germany when I ignored the barrier to run over and sit on Charlemagne's throne. I was arrested at the
in Vienna (the royal treasury, housing the Hapsburg crown jewels) when I
inadvertently tried to enter through a delivery entrance and set off a deafening barrage of alarms.
I took three classes of high school juniors on a field trip to the Statue of Liberty on the day that the PLF (the Puerto Rican Liberation Front) seized control of Liberty Island. I found myself in
the rifle sights of an East German border guard as I took photos over the Berlin Wall. I attended
Oktoberfest in Munich and got into a fistfight with a Japanese tourist in the
(The people I was with tell me that I decided to take exception to Pearl Harbor for some reason, probably because I had had a few steins of beer too many; they also told me that on the whole I enjoyed Oktoberfest immensely; I woke up the next day in Augsburg.) I have also seen many important people up close and personal (e.g., Robert F. Kennedy, Margaret Thatcher, Mayor
Lindsay, Pope Paul VI, Prince Charles,
Kohl, Mayor Koch).
And graves. God, the graves I've visited, contemplating the names, dates, and on
occasion epitaphs. Napoleon's massive brown marble sarcophagus in the
Paris, and the simple marker of T.E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia) in a little country churchyard in Sussex, England; the crypt beneath Westminster Abbey, where Elizabeth I is interred close beside Mary Queen of Scots, the cousin she ordered beheaded; the Edinburgh grave of Robert the Bruce, the King of Scots who broke the English at Bannockburn; the
(Imperial Crypt) in Vienna, where the Hapsburg emperors and empresses are interred, including Franz Ferdinand, whose assassination precipitated World War One; the chapel in Windsor Castle where a large rectangular marker identifies the burial site of Henry VIII and Queen Jane, who bore his long-desired male heir; the burial sites of Washington,
Adams, Jefferson, Grant, both
; Beethoven in Vienna; Rembrandt in Amsterdam; and
one of my favorites, because I love his poetry and no one ever goes there, Robert Burns in Dumfries, Scotland; etc., etc., etc.