NICK EICHER, HOST: Next up on The World and Everything in It: the WORLD History Book.
This week, conspirators face the hangman, and the world loses a heavyweight of children’s literature—but welcomes a baseball legend. Here’s WORLD senior correspondent Katie Gaultney.
KATIE GAULTNEY, SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: We’ll start this week’s installment off with a bang! In the Gunpowder Plot of 1605, provincial English Catholics attempted to assassinate King James I and blow up the House of Lords. They were reacting to increasing discrimination against Catholics by the throne of England. But the king’s forces discovered the plot, and four of the conspirators died for their treason on January 31, 1606—including notorious explosives expert Guy Fawkes.
CLIP: “Stop right there!”
The plot might have succeeded if not for a letter warning a family member not to go to Parliament on the day of the planned attack. Simon Dodd is a yeoman warder at the Tower of London. He explains how that warning led to the plotters’ discovery.
DODD: The letter fell into the king’s hands, and a search was ordered of Parliament. Fawkes was found with a fuse, a small lamp, and a box of matches.
After standing trial, Thomas Wintour, Ambrose Rookwood, Robert Keyes, and Guy Fawkes faced hanging, drawing, and quartering. Fawkes, though, either slipped or jumped from the hangman’s scaffold, dying moments before what would have been his official execution.
The English celebrate “Bonfire Night” annually on November 5th—the night Fawkes’ plot was discovered. Traditionally, the night holds fireworks and effigies of Guy Fawkes.
AUDIO: [BONFIRE NIGHT CELEBRATION]
Interesting to note: the term “guy”—as used to refer to any male person—originated with Fawkes. Children would make likenesses of him and display them in the streets to raise money for fireworks. After that, any strangely dressed man may be called a “guy,” and over time, that term came to mean just, well, “guy.”
Moving now to gentler topics—like the creator of a beloved childhood icon. Here’s Stephen Fry as Winnie the Pooh, with narration by actress Judy Dench.
AUDIOBOOK: And all the time, Pooh had been trying to get the honey jar off his head. The more he shook it, the more tightly it stuck!/ Ow! Ow! Help!…
Author A. A. Milne, creator of Winnie the Pooh, died on January 31st, 1956, at the age of 74. Here’s Milne reading from his classic book.
MILNE: One fine winter’s day when Piglet was brushing away the snow in front of his house, he happened to look up, and there was Winnie-the-Pooh…
Prominent writers surrounded him. When he was just 7 years old, H.G. Wells was one of his grammar school teachers. As an adult, Milne—an excellent cricket player—was on teams with Peter Pan author J. M. Barrie, Sherlock Holmes creator Arthur Conan Doyle, and P. G. Wodehouse.
In addition to his accomplishments on the cricket field, Milne served in the British army in World War I. Then, pen in hand, he became a magazine editor, playwright, novelist, and a screenwriter in the infancy of film. The magic of the Hundred Acre Wood came to him later, through the stuffed animal friends of his own son—Christopher Robin Milne. Here’s the heartwarming ending to Milne’s House at Pooh Corner, read by Peter Dennis:
THE HOUSE AT POOH CORNER: “Come on!” “Where?” said Pooh. “Anywhere.” said Christopher Robin. So, they went off together. But wherever they go, and whatever happens to them on the way, in that enchanted place on the top of the forest, a little boy and his bear will always be playing.”
And from a beloved bear to a beloved cub: Mr. Cub.
BANKS: Hey, hey, holy mackerel, no doubt about it, the Cubs are on their way, hey hey!
That’s Ernie Banks, legendary American baseball player and coach, who was born January 31st, 1931. Banks was a 14-time All Star with over 500 home runs in his playing career.
ANNOUNCER: That’s a fly ball… That’s it! That’s it! He did it! Ernie Banks got number 500! (cheering)
Two-time National League MVP, the Cubs’ first Gold Glove winner, and first ballot election to the National Baseball Hall of Fame. The favorite son of Chicago maintained his humility, despite plenty of accolades. He shared in a 2014 documentary:
BANKS: You talk about somebody hitting a home run, that’s what you’re supposed to do. You don’t make a big deal out of it, that’s what you’re supposed to do. So just doing what you’re supposed to do is my life.
In 1967, he also became the first black owner of a Ford dealership. President Barack Obama awarded Banks the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2013.
OBAMA: That’s Mr. Cub. A man that came up through the Negro Leagues making $7 a day, and became the first black player to suit up for the Cubs, and one of the greatest hitters of all time. And in the process he became known as much for his 512 home runs as for his cheer, and his optimism, and his eternal faith that someday the Cubs would go all the way. (laughter)
Banks died eight days before what would have been his 84th birthday in 2015. The year after Banks died, the Cubs won their first World Series since 1908.
SONG: “Go Cubs Go”
That’s this week’s History Book. I’m Katie Gaultney.