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1994: A WORLD OF ANNIVERSARIES

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So what's it going to be? You can sit there in your post-holiday stupor, or you can rev things up and get going again. Did you have yourself a merry little Christmas? Fine! Is "Auld Lang Syne" still langing in your ears? Great! But now what? you wonder. Who'll do my celebrating now that my celebrating is gone?

You'll do it - because it's not gone, it's only beginning. Dive into 1994, in fact, and you splash into a whole new collection of meaningful milestones with major multiples. Anniversaries, that is - everything from singing bananas to Whiskey Rebellions, from the beaches of Normandy to "The Sidewalks of New York." And speaking of songs - we were, you know - how about "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," or possibly even "Auld Lang Syne" itself? Big-time anniversaries, every one, and they're all waiting for you. Plus, of course, the normal dose of sex and violins. . . .

Wine, women and worms

We could start way back, 1,950 years back, in A.D. 44. That's the very year the Roman Empire gives its . . . heart to vomitoriums. True: The Emperor Claudius and his friends eat their fill. Then slaves tickle their throats and "Whoomp, there it is!" - they can start eating all over again. It must be one of those holiday meals.

Those same Romans spend part of A.D. 44 creating the capon, doing a bit of surgery on unsuspecting male chickens to make them (or what's left of them, anyway) grow larger. In 594 - 1,400 years ago - the great plague that ravaged Europe for more than 50 years and cut the population in half comes to an end. In Japan, the Empress Suiko announces that she'll support Buddhism. Fifty years later, in 644, a new religion - Tokoyonomushi - springs up in Japan in response to a major famine. True believers worship a worm, dance in the streets, get drunk on sake and give away all their money. Their descendants can apparently be found even today in picturesque temples known as "frat houses."

In 794, Japan's seat of government is transferred from Nara to Heian (Kyoto), where it will stay until 1868.

A thousand-year quiz: Two of the following three besieged London in 994. A: Sweyn of Denmark. B: Olaf of Norway. C: Frederick's of Hollywood. (There will be no partial credit.) And big news from Spain in 1094: The Moorish city of Valencia finally falls into Christian hands. The triumphant leader of the siege: Don Rodrigo Diaz de Bivar, better known as El Cid Campeador ("The Lord Champion"). El Cid drives the Moors from Spain, and later provides employment for Charlton Heston and a cast of thousands.

Win a few, lose a few

In 1244 - 750 years ago - the Muslims return the favor, recapturing the Holy Land and booting the Christians out of Jerusalem. The city will remain in Muslim hands until 1918. Also in 1244: England's first Dunmow Flitch archery competition, open to all comers whether or not they're named Dunmow Flitch.

New College at Oxford really is new - in 1394.

In 1494, Columbus is being a bit of a bore. . . .

The ever-flotatious Christopher is busy discovering more tropical paradises for Isabella. The big find of the year: Jamaica - "the fairest island that eyes have beheld," Columbus reports. And he's beheld more than 60 of them on this second voyage, including islands we know today as Guadeloupe, Montserrat, Antigua, St. Martin, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. Columbus goes for 33 days with almost no sleep, loses his memory and even comes close to death. Ah, those Caribbean cruises. . . .

In 1544, the Law of Unintended Consequences gets a workout in Europe, as the Protestant Reformation means the end of many monasteries, a decline in honeybee colonies - the monks used to raise them - and a serious honey shortage.

"O Romeo, Romeo! Wherefore art thou Romeo?" Because Shakespeare wrote it that way, that's wherefore. "Romeo and Juliet," first performed, it seems, in 1594 - 400 years ago.

Another opening in 1594, in Cologne: Mercurius gallobelgicus, believed to be the world's very first magazine. (No scratch-and-sniff ads, but still. . . .) And the sweet potato reaches China in 1594, 30 years after being introduced by the Spanish into the Philippines. The potato is treated for exhaustion and released.

Fifty years later, China has even bigger things on its plate. The Ming Dynasty comes to an end in 1644, and the Manchus help establish in its place the Qing (Ch'ing) Dynasty, which will rule until 1912. In Italy, Antonio Stradivari is born; he'll make the strings sing for some 1,100 violins, violas, cellos and guitars. And the New England shipbuilding industry gets its start in 1644, as "Trial" is completed in Boston.

In 1694, the Bank of England is chartered. The French writer and philosopher Francois Marie Arouet de Voltaire is born. And in Japan . . .

Basho, Zen master,

Haiku man beyond all men,

Closes eyes and dies.

Everybody sing

It's 1744 - a mere quarter-millennium ago - and in London "Tommy Thumb's Pretty Song Book" is published and includes the earliest known versions of such future nursery favorites as "Who Killed Cock Robin?" "London Bridge Is Falling Down" and "Hickory Dickory Dock." In France, meanwhile, King Louis XV takes a new mistress, the bright and beautiful Madame de Pompadour. (But what's that thing she does with her hair?) If you can lose your head while all about you are losing theirs, the chances are you're Robespierre, top blade in the Reign of Terror that the French Revolution has now become. Robespierre is executed in 1794, and the worst of times become a little bit better.

In the United States, there's a pocket-size revolution, the Whiskey Rebellion, as farmers in western Pennsylvania protest against the new federal government's excise tax on whiskey. They protest, that is, until President George Washington personally takes the field against them with 12,500 militiamen; then they go home.

James Madison asks Aaron Burr for a formal introduction to Dolley Payne Todd. Something must have clicked; we call her Dolley Madison.

The country's first major turnpike, between Philadelphia and Lancaster, Pa., is completed in 1794; 62 miles long, it's also America's first macadam road.

And raise a glass to Scottish poet Robert Burns: It's in 1794, say most authorities, that he publishes his reworking of an old Scottish folk tune. "Should auld acquaintance be forgot/And never brought to mind?/Should auld acquaintance be forgot,/And auld lang syne!" Bobby Burns. Not Guy Lombardo.

Dark horses and sweet chocolate

"Fifty-four forty or fight!" That's the cry of the American expansionists in 1844, squabbling with Britain over Oregon Country's border with Canada. The expansionists' candidate, James K. Polk, wins the presidency, the first "dark-horse" to take the White House. But they still don't get their "54-40"; the border with Canada is set at the 49th parallel instead.

"What hath God wrought!" That's the message sent by Samuel F.B. Morse in Washington, D.C., to Baltimore, as he establishes the first practical telegraph service between two cities. A good year for famous quotations, 1844.

The New York Sun newspaper reports the first airborne crossing of the Atlantic Ocean in 1844, a balloon supposedly carrying eight Englishmen traveling from Wales to South Carolina. But the whole thing is a hoax, perpetrated by 35-year-old author and critic Edgar Allan Poe. ("Orson Welles, call your office. Orson Welles, please call your office. . . .") "Caramels are just a fad," declares Pennsylvania candymaker Milton Hershey in 1894. "Chocolate is a permanent thing." Hershey puts his money where your mouth is, introducing a chocolate product in a rectangular slab - a chocolate Hershey "bar." Then there's a breakfast cereal making its own debut in 1894: Cream of Wheat.

On Java, the first skeletal remains of Homo erectus are discovered. He's an early ancestor of man, lived some 500,000 to 1.6 million years ago, and never laid a tongue on either Hershey's or Cream of Wheat. No wonder we call him "primitive."

In Chicago, one of the country's fiercest labor disputes begins with a strike among Pullman Palace Car Co. workers objecting to pay cuts of 25 percent and more. The Pullman strike leads to a nationwide boycott of railroads, and federal troops are dispatched to Chicago to break the strike and, in some cases, the strikers.

In France, composer Claude Debussy presents his "Prelude to Afternoon of a Faun," which some critics call "formless" and "tuneless." It's nothing you can hum, that's for sure - not like "The Sidewalks of New York," one of the year's biggest hits in this country.

You can't "crash the boards" if there are no boards, can you? Never fear: In the still-infant sport of basketball, the first backboards appear in 1894. In baseball, it's the very first squeeze play, pulled off by two clever Yalies in a game against Princeton.

And speaking of sports: A few hands of poker prove fatal to Texas gunslinger John Wesley Hardin, who insults Marshal John Selman during a not-so-friendly game at the Acme Saloon in El Paso. Hardin gets it in the back of the head.

Hitting the beach

"I've always voted for Roosevelt as president," says Bob Hope in 1944. "My father always voted for Roosevelt as president." FDR is elected to an unprecedented fourth term, this time with Sen. Harry Truman as his vice president, as the Allies move ever closer to victory in World War II.

In Europe, the surprise landing south of Rome at Anzio is only the appetizer for the bigger, more successful, surprise to come: D-Day, June 6. The Allies storm ashore at Normandy and gain a foothold in Western Europe. In the East, the Russians break the German siege at Leningrad and mount a massive counteroffensive. In the Pacific, as the Allies slowly gain the upper hand against Japan, Gen. Douglas MacArthur is as good as his word, stepping ashore at Leyte in the Philippines and announcing: "I have returned."

And Kodacolor film makes its debut in 1944, making it possible for low-price cameras to take color pictures of those vets when they return. Seventeen magazine makes its debut, too. The Green Bay Packers defeat the New York Giants, 14-7, to capture the NFL championship; in baseball, it's the Battle of St. Louis, with the National League Cardinals topping the American League Browns, 4 games to 2. It's the only time the Browns will ever get to the Series.

Bing Crosby turns in an Oscar-winning performance as Father O'Malley in "Going My Way." (Would you like to swing on a star? Carry moonbeams home in a jar?) "Going My Way" will be voted best picture of 1944 as well, while Ingrid Bergman will take the best actress award for "Gaslight."

Other big flicks of 1944 include "Double Indemnity" (starring Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray), "National Velvet" (starring Mickey Rooney and a 12-year-old Elizabeth Taylor), and "Meet Me In St. Louis," in which Judy Garland introduces a song you may have heard once or twice lately: "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas."

Other big songs? Try "Don't Fence Me In," "Moonlight in Vermont," "Straighten Up and Fly Right." The Andrews Sisters grab the Yankee dollar twice, with "Rum and Coca-Cola" and "Tico-Tico."

There's one more memorable song from 1944, a song that definitely has . . . appeal. It's exactly 50 years ago that the United Fruit Co. introduces to the world: Chiquita Banana! That's right - no more generic bananas; now they're a brand-name item with a tune-trilling mascot. Ready? Just don't slip on those lyrics:

I'm Chiquita Banana

And I've come to say

Bananas have to ripen in a certain way:

When they are fleck'd with brown and have a golden hue

Bananas taste the best and are the best for you.

Strangely exhilarating, isn't it? And you were thinking you had nothing to celebrate. You meant you had plenty to celebrate, didn't you? Starting right now.

Rick Horowitz is a syndicated columnist based in Milwaukee, and a winner of the National Headliner Award.

1993 Rick Horowitz