This Day In History: March 31 Happenings

One way to learn a little about history is to write about it. An even better way is to teach it. Today I am just going to write about it.

Photo by Natalia Y on Unsplash


French philosopher Rene Descartes was born on this day in 1596. Descartes wrestled with the notion of self and knowing, famously declaring, “I think, therefore I am.” Truth be told, his actual words were in French, and the statement above is a bad translation of what he actually said, which was “I am thinking, therefore I am.”


Austrian composer Franz Hayden was born on this day in Austria. I took my first piano lessons at age 8 and was introduced to simplified versions of compositions by great composers, including Chopin, Beethoven, Liszt and Franz Hayden.


Russian author Nikolai Gogol was born on this day in 1809. Though his career overlapped Dostoevsky’s he was a forerunner of sorts for the great Russian authors who followed. Most of us who studied Continental literary figures have read his story “The Overcoat.” Another of his stories was titled “The Nose,” which happens to be the title of one of my own stories which you can read here.


Boxer Jack Johnson was born. Jonson would become the first African American to become World Champion and you can bet he was much hated for this achievement. He reigned supreme from 1908 to 1915, the most famous black man of his time. He married a white woman at a tine notorious for the Jim Crow laws in the Deep South. His cavorting resulted in getting sentenced to prison for violating the Mann Act. He fled the country for seven years but finally returned to serve a year in Leavenworth. 105 years later he received a presidential pardon for this injustice, from Donald Trump.

Saddleback Mountain, Monterrey. 1980.


Mexican diplomat and poet Octavio Paz was born. In 1990 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature. In 1945 he went to Paris as a diplomat and wrote “The Labyrinth of Solitude.” Labyrinths are a recurring theme in the writing of Argentine Jorge Luis Borges, who influenced numerous 20th century authors including Umberto Eco (Name of the Rose), Gabriel Garcia Marquez (The General in His Labyrinth), Italo Calvino and myself (Duel of the Poets.)


Albert Arnold Gore, Jr. was born in Washington D.C. to a Tennessee congressman who would later serve 18 years as a senator from Tennessee. Born into politics he became a two-term VP under Bill Clinton. He was derided many ties over the years for having claimed to invent the Internet. These cheap jabs were based on a false interpretation of what he had said. In reality, Gore actually did cast an important vote that enabled the Internet to come into being. He never once said or hinted at having invented it. He was treated like a chump for something he never said. He’s more famous now as an environmentalist. In 1998 I attended an Environmental Expo across the street from Disneyland in Anaheim where he was the keynote speaker. I attended in person; he was piped in by satellite.


101 years ago today Daylight Savings Time went into effect for the first time in U.S. history.

Old Mexico


On this day in General Pershing and the U.S. Army invaded Mexico with whom we were not at war and routed Pancho Villa. From 1910 to 1920 the Mexican Civil War (or revolution) was an ongoing disruption. After Victoriano Huerta was ousted Pancho Villa and Venustiano Carranza vied for power. The U.S. chose to take sides with Carranza so Pancho Villa got even by executing 16 Americans living in Northern Mexico and 17 more in a New Mexico town. Pershing took 10,000 troops deep into Mexico to deal with Pancho Villa, but after a year Mexicans got tired of this American army cat-and-mouse game and Pershing was dispatched back to his home turf. Three years after the Revolucion someone assassinated Pancho Villa on his ranch during peacetime.

EdNote: Writing this brought to mind a 5-mile long underground tunnel from the center of Matehuala to Pancho Villa’s hideaway outside of town. For a pair of interesting films about this period of Mexico history see Viva Zapata! (Marlon Brando) and The Old Gringo (Gregory Peck, Jane Fonda) based on the powerful novel by Carlos Fuentes. (The film was weak but I enjoyed it because I’d read the book.) FWIW, the Viva Zapata! screenplay was written by John Steinbeck. (Bet you didn’t know that.)


The Eiffel Tower in Paris officially opens as part of the Exhibition of 1889. Hopefully it will still be standing after all this Yellow Vest protesting of the past several months in France.


Wabash, Indiana is first city in the U.S. to install street lamps.


Maximilien Robespierre is elected president of the Jacobin Club. When I was in seventh grade I did a report of Robespierre, who played a central role in the bloody French Revolution. He came to exemplify the saying, “He who lives by the guillotine dies by the guillotine.” They didn’t call it a reign of terror for nothing. You might just say this is one more reason I’m not a fan of mob rule.

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Courtesy Bill Pagel Archives.


This won’t get you in to tonight’s show, But it’s pretty cool. Courtesy Bill Pagel Archive. Tonight, Bob Dylan is performing in Dusseldorf, Germany. The European leg of his Never Ending Tour is in full swing.


Bob Dylan performed at the Brixton Academy in London.


The Beatles were filming A Hard Day’s Night.


The Beatles filming their sequel, Help!

Happy March 31!

Originally published at on March 31, 2019.

An avid reader who writes about arts, culture, literature & other life obsessions. @ennyman3 Look for my books on Amazon

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