A 2000-foot deep lake now sits atop Mount Pinatubo on the island of Luzon in the Philippines. It is picturesque, a popular hiking destination, but 25 years ago today, it did not exist. On this date in 1991, the summit of the volcano was still in place, but after a year of earthquakes and huge explosions that sometimes sent ash clouds as tall as 15 miles into the atmosphere, the climactic explosion came.
Technically, it was an Ultra-Plinian type eruption. Seismographs nearby, at Clark Air Force Base, were rendered inoperable: they were knocked offline completely by what they were supposed to measure. The explosion was the second-largest volcanic eruption in the Twentieth Century and it was 10 times larger than the eruption of Mount St. Helens a decade earlier. The top 1000-plus feet of the mountain was removed by the blast, and the ash and other materials (such as sulphur dioxide) that were launched 20 miles into the atmosphere for several continuous hours affected global climate for the next two years: a global cooling hurt agriculture around the world.
The photo at top, by Alberto Garcia, was taken from more than 20 miles away from the eruption. The cloud almost overtook the speeding trucks. Garcia now resides in Canada.
Even with a year of warnings, several hundred people lost their lives as a result of the eruption. Many were lost because, by coincidence, a typhoon struck Luzon the same day as the eruption and this brought more ash down more quickly than it would have fallen on its own over some regions, and rooftops collapsed under the weight of the mud falling from the sky.
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On this date in 1215, at Runnymede, near London, King John signed a document that limited his role as king; he would and could no longer rule by whim. Further, the document established a council to check his powers. The document came to be known as the Magna Carta.
King John was not as dictatorial as some kings had been, and he was worse than some others, but for a couple dozen barons, his policies crossed their last line. His random and heavy taxation of the barons whenever he needed cash to support his ongoing fight to retake Normandy, and his willingness to imprison barons who displeased him without any accusation of what they might have done wrong led them into open rebellion.
The Archbishop of Canterbury authored a draft document as a sort of peace treaty, and on June 10 it was offered to the king. He made changes and signed it with witnesses on June 15, 1215.
The agreement had little effect on the relations between John and the rebel barons; their relationship remained toxic. John appealed to the Pope to annul the agreement and the Pope did so, with vivid language: it “shames the English nation” he wrote. John declared himself a Crusader and stated that as such he was beyond the reach of such agreements, anyway.
It did not matter. The Magna Carta eventually was seen as establishing the rule of law over the rule of the monarch. It set in ink allegiance on both sides to due process. For one of the first times in Western history the question “What is a government?” was raised. We still debate this question.
As Robert Tombs writes in his epic 2014 book, The English and Their History, “over the centuries the Magna Carta has been given too much and too little importance.” It is sometimes considered the first national constitution, he writes, but he adds that similar charters were agreed to between rulers and ruled throughout Europe in that era. What made it unique was that it emphasized that the king ruled under the law and not above it and that a system ought to be installed to hold him to it.
The agreement had little effect on the relations between John and the rebel barons; their relationship remained toxic. But a commitment to the Magna Carta has been reaffirmed 33 times through the years, and a Parliament grew in part out of the tradition established by the barons.
John died in October that year. In the days before, his traveling party attempted to cross the marshy Wash in East Anglia. Several packhorses and pieces of luggage were swept away, or, according to some descriptions, sucked down into quicksand. Nothing has been found in all the years since, but archaeologists continue to try. When his nine-year-old son was crowned Henry III, his mother’s bracelet was used instead of a crown, as “John had lost or sold the crown.” (Tombs’ book, from which that came, is quite enjoyable.)
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Almost as important as the Magna Carta, on this date in 1965, Bob Dylan and a group of session musicians began recording “Like a Rolling Stone” in New York City. Five takes were recorded on this first days of sessions, all of them in 3/4, or waltz, time.
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Ella Fitzgerald died 20 years ago today. Irving Berlin’s “Blue Skies,’ from 1958’s Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Irving Berlin Song Book:
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Erroll Garner was born on this date in 1923. Governor Mario Cuomo was born on this date in 1932. Waylon Jennings was born 79 years ago today. Harry Nilsson was born 75 years ago today. Nilsson accompanies Nilsson with help from Nilsson:
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Xaviera Hollander is 73 today. Johnny Hallyday is 73. President Xi Jinping is 63. Jim Belushi is 62. Julie Hagerty is 61. Polly Draper is 61. Helen Hunt is 53 today. Courteney Cox is 52. Ice Cube is 47. Neil Patrick Harris is 43 today.
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