700 Years of 9/11

Never heard of the Battle of Malplaquet? Then you don't know your Sept. 11 history.

On the first anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the national media are overwhelming us with solemn tributes, televised moments of silence, and teary reflections from survivors. Locally, the San Francisco Chronicle has launched a series called "An American Portrait," an attempt to document the emotional, political, historic, religious, social, economic, technological, patriotic, and artistic fallout of Sept. 11. As staffer Carl Nolte wrote in the first installment on July 4: "On the surface, it appears that things have changed very little since 9/11, but random interviews with dozens of Bay Area people seem to show the opposite:

"Life is different."

Unfortunately, we at SF Weekly don't have the resources to conduct dozens of random interviews with Bay Area people, some of whom, the Chronicle tells us, no longer like to cross bridges. But the ubiquitous media coverage got us thinking about how we could contribute to the healing process. And then it hit us: Why commemorate only Sept. 11, 2001? Surely no true appreciation of Sept. 11 can be complete without looking back at previous editions, some of which, we discovered, were significantly more bloody, jingoistic, bizarre, and prophetic than last year's. What follows, in an attempt to provide a little perspective on a day that actually did exist before 2001, is a far-from-comprehensive list of noteworthy Sept. 11s.

1297 -- Remember Braveheart? Well, this Sept. 11 was just like the movie. Vastly outnumbered by a better-trained British force, William Wallace gives a blue-faced pep talk to his army of Scots before leading a stunning massacre of the English at the Battle of Stirling Bridge.

1609 -- In one of those eerie coincidences that conspiracy theorists die for, British explorer Henry Hudson discovers Manhattan Island, writing in his diary: "Never have I beheld such a rich and varied land."

1709 -- In only six hours of fighting, nearly 40,000 soldiers are killed during the Battle of Malplaquet, which pits the French army against the British, Austrian, and Dutch in the bloodiest engagement of the 18th century -- and of all the Sept. 11s in history.

1773-- More eerie premonition: As tensions between King George III and the American Colonies mount, Benjamin Franklin writes in a letter dated Sept. 11, "There never was a good war or a bad peace."

1857 -- More than a century before Osama bin Laden, Mormon fanatic John D. Lee puts lethal religious fervor on the Sept. 11 map. Angered by President James Buchanan's decision to remove Utah Gov. Brigham Young from office, Lee incites a band of Mormons and Indians to massacre a California-bound wagon train of 120 gentile men, women, and children in Mountain Meadows, Utah.

1922 -- Despite fierce Arab protests, a British mandate begins in Palestine, with promises of a homeland for Jews in the territory that formerly fell under the Ottoman Empire. The troubled British administration of Palestine lasts until 1948, when the United Nations authorizes a partition of the territory and establishes the state of Israel.

1941 -- Construction of the Pentagon begins, 60 years to the day before it is attacked for the first time.

1954 -- The Miss America Pageant makes its network TV debut on ABC, and San Francisco's Lee Ann Meriwether, Miss California, is crowned the winner. Asked what she thinks of the responsibilities of Miss America, Meriwether says, "I think she should retain her own personality, and above all, not go high-hat."

1971 -- Former Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev -- who once told Western diplomats, "We will bury you!" -- dies of a heart attack at age 77.

1972 -- BART begins service with a 28-mile line from Oakland to Fremont.

1973 -- A military overthrow of Chile's president, Salvador Allende, brings Augusto Pinochet to power. During his 17-year reign, Pinochet allegedly kills more than 4,000 citizens who oppose his policies.

1985 -- The always-likable Pete Rose of the Cincinnati Reds gets his 4,192nd career hit, passing the equally likable Ty Cobb for first place on the all-time-hits list.

1986 -- The Dow Jones Industrial Average suffers its biggest one-day decline ever to that point, plummeting 86.61 points to 1,792.89.

1987 -- Anchorman Dan Rather walks off the set of the CBS Evening News, furious because a tennis tournament runs long. CBS shows six minutes of dead air before Rather returns to his desk.

1990 -- Speaking to a joint session of Congress to secure support for what would become Operation Desert Storm, President George Bush vows that "Saddam Hussein will fail" in his takeover of Kuwait. In the nationally televised speech, titled "Toward a New World Order," Bush says: "The crisis in the Persian Gulf, as grave as it is, also offers a rare opportunity to move toward an historic period of cooperation."

1998 -- Cigars aren't just for smoking anymore! Congress releases Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr's report on President Clinton's sexual escapades with Paula Jones and Monica Lewinsky, detailing the Leader of the Free World's enthusiasm for oral sex and perjury.

2001 -- Hours before the World Trade Center is attacked, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan declares Sept. 11 the International Day of Peace. In a statement still posted on the U.N.'s Web site, Annan says, "The International Day of Peace is a day on which we try to imagine a world quite different from the one we know. We try to picture those who wage war laying down their arms and talking out their differences. ... We try to picture hatred turning into respect, bigotry turning into understanding, and ignorance turning into knowledge. ... On this International Day of Peace, let us dare to imagine a world free of conflict and violence." -- Matt Palmquist

You Can Call Me Yoko

Ring, ring.

"Hello?!?"

"Welcome to the Yoko Ono show!!! How do you like my shoooow?"

This was the greeting that emanated from the white telephone perched atop a pedestal that was, for most SFMOMA-goers, just a stationary object to be glanced at before moving on to the truly interactive displays of the recent "Yes Yoko Ono" art exhibit. But for a handful of others, the phone provided an opportunity to talk to the legendary Ono.

In a manner of speaking.

For those of you who missed the Ono show, let's start at the beginning. "Yes Yoko Ono" is a touring retrospective of her decades-long (and until recently, underappreciated) exploits in the visual arts. The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art show was received with mostly rave reviews, but what may have been the exhibit's best piece wasn't covered in the press, or planned by the curators, or experienced by the vast majority of museum attendants, or even created by Ono.

The white telephone art prank started out innocently enough when a couple of friends at the show grew curious about the phone, which was accompanied by a sign that read something like, "Wait for Yoko Ono to call." Never content to wait by a phone, one of the friends -- let's call him "Erik" -- picked up and got a dial tone. But with a stern-faced docent looking on, he quickly hung up. Undaunted, Erik's roommate, "Cooper," grabbed the receiver and dialed his own cell phone. Up popped the white phone's number on Caller ID.

"So, of course, I called," says Cooper. "It rang, and a crowd immediately gathered around the phone, but the docent, a Filipino woman, saw what was going on and was like, in her broken English, 'How did you get that number? How did you get that number!' I just sort of pretended not to understand her and walked away."

The next day, a few friends were at Cooper and Erik's for brunch. On a whim, they decided to call. Using a speakerphone, "Megan" -- who, fortuitously enough, happens to be a very funny comedy writer -- launched the first "You Can Call Me Yoko" performance art piece.

"Oh my gawwd!" cried the woman who answered the phone, apparently unaware that Yoko Ono doesn't really have a Japanese accent. "Your work has been such an inspiration to me!"

Megan quickly had museumgoers doing their own performance art pieces: In keeping with Japanese tradition, she told one callee to remove her shoes.

"I'm taking off my shoes and running around barefoot because Yoko Ono told me to!" shouted the callee to the gathered crowd, phone receiver still in hand. A cheer went up.

"You Can Call Me Yoko" was such a smashing success, the group decided to turn it into a regular Sunday gig. Word of the performance spread and the following week's assembly at Cooper and Erik's was considerably larger.

"I made a fabulous champagne brunch," says Cooper. "The only rule was that you can't laugh out loud, and that wasn't always easy to do."

In due time, Megan made a point of actually going to the show, which she hadn't yet seen. "Before the first call, I didn't know much about it. When I saw all the interactive displays and that Yoko really has a sense of humor, I realized how appropriate our piece is."

One exhibit consisted of piles of rocks. The display instructed people to pick up a rock and move it to another pile, thus rearranging the piles to make a new formation.

This make-art work was not quite interactive enough for Megan, who called the white phone and instructed the listener: "I want you to go to the rocks and bring one back to the phone." The callee obliged. "Now go get another one."

Other tele-dupes were exposed to Yoko's "dragon lady" persona. Megan interrupted one star-struck, yammering phone-answerer with this non sequitur: "I hate Donatella Versace. I asked her to exhibit a gown at the show, and she refused. She's such a bitch. Don't ever buy her stuff."

Several more "You Can Call Me Yoko" brunches ensued, with ever larger audiences assembled around the speakerphone until, alas, the show closed. Not a single callee seemed to have the least bit of skepticism about who was on the other end of the white phone.

"I think Yoko would really appreciate it," says Cooper, who nonetheless doesn't want his real name used, just in case the museum's sense of humor isn't as irreverent as Yoko's. "She's all about impromptu art, and so are we." -- Lisa Chamberlain

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