“Our life is a faint tracing on the surface of mystery, like the idle, curved tunnels of leaf miners on the face of a leaf. We must somehow take a wider view, look at the whole landscape, really see it, and describe what’s going on here. Then we can at least wail the right question into the swaddling band of darkness, or, if it comes to that, choir the proper praise.”—Annie Dillard, “Pilgrim at Tinker Creek”
Annie Dillard is 71 today.
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George Washington was inaugurated the first President of the United States on this date in 1789 at Federal Hall in Lower Manhattan, as depicted in the statue outside Federal Hall seen at top. He told the members of the House and Senate in his brief (1419 words) inaugural address that he would follow their lead in determining what the duties of the executive office ought to be (“… it will remain with your judgment to decide how far an exercise of the occasional power delegated by the fifth article of the Constitution is rendered expedient …”) and stated that he would not accept a salary, as he had not while serving the country in his earlier positions.
The Bible that was used in the ceremony was opened in haste to a rather random passage, Genesis 49:13, which reads, “Zebulun shall dwell at the haven of the sea; and he shall be for an haven of ships; and his border shall be unto Zidon.”
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The 1939–40 New York World’s Fair opened on this date 77 years ago.
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The Soviet Red Army began what became a three-day fight for control of the Reichstag building in Berlin on this date in 1945.
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Saigon, the capital of South Vietnam, fell to the North Vietnamese military on this date in 1975, thus ending the war between North and South Vietnam. The result was the unification of the two countries and the end of U.S. involvement in the war.
The Paris Peace Accords had been signed in 1973 with the intent to end the war and to end U.S. involvement with the conflict; those agreements were regularly flouted, however, and in April 1975, South Vietnam’s government collapsed. Its president, Nguyễn Văn Thiệu, resigned, and he declared on April 21, “The United States did not keep its promise to help us fight for freedom, and it was in the same fight that the United States lost 50,000 of its young men.” In two decades, the U.S. military lost 58,000 to the conflict, which had thrown the nation into an existential crisis whose echoes are still heard today. The total dead from the entirety of the conflict is estimated to range between 1.5 million and 4 million (military and civilians alike across several nations).
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Adolf Hitler committed suicide on this date in 1945.
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Sheldon Harnick is 92 today. The lyricist who wrote the songs for “Fiddler on the Roof,” among other musicals, told the New York Times in November: “Writing is too much fun. What comes after you write can be agonizing—getting things on, or having them done badly, or not getting them done at all—but the writing is fun.”
Cloris Leachman is 90 today. Burt Young is 76. Bill Plympton is 70 today. “Your Face,” for which Plympton was nominated for an Oscar:
Jane Campion is 62. Lars von Trier is 60 today. Isiah Thomas is 55. Kirsten Dunst is 34.
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Love Annie Dillard…
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