I spent part of today having a great conversation about the use of primary sources with a small group of teachers. We begin to talk about famous historical characters which in turn led to a fun discussion about lesser known people in history.

Lesser known perhaps but all had a huge impact on future events. Just a couple for the fun of it.

55 phone call

Wells security log detailing 1:55 phone call

Frank Wills

Frank was the security guard working the 12:00 – 7:00 am shift at the Watergate hotel on June 17, 1972. During his normal rounds he noticed a piece of tape covering the door lock of one of the entrances. Thinking it was put there by one of the late night cleaning crews, he removed it.

During a later check, tape was back on the lock. And so around 1:55 am, Frank called the Washington DC police who would find five men wearing rubber gloves and carrying listening devices in the offices of the Democratic Party.

It’s likely that if James McCord, leader of the five arrested, hadn’t replaced the tape, the burglars would have been able to complete their task.

So what?

Do the math. Without the arrest of McCord and crew, we never would have had that great movie with Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford and thousands of college kids wouldn’t have switched their majors to journalism.

But it did lead to extensive changes in campaign funding, a stronger Freedom of Information Act, an empowered media corps and an expectation that maybe, just maybe, politicians can be held accountable.

Richard the Lionheart

Richard the Lionheart

That one kid

Okay . . . this one’s a bit tougher since we really don’t his name. But the kid ended up changing the course of English history and influencing political thought in the United States. So what did the kid do?

Shot England Richard the I in the neck with an arrow.

Apparently Richard the I, also known as Richard the Lionheart, traveled in 1199 to the Limousin region of France to put down a revolt. In the process, he did what all kings did at the time.

He “devastated the Viscount’s land with fire and sword”

while putting the local castle under siege. Taking a walk around the castle one evening, he noticed an archer with a crossbow who aimed and fired. When the first arrow missed, Richard’s ego got the best of him and he urged the bowman to try again. The second attempt did not miss, hitting Richard near the neck. This arrow was eventually removed but the wound became gangrenous.

The bowman turned out to be a kid. He was captured and summoned before the king. Claiming that RIchard’s men killed his father and brothers, the boy had wanted revenge. In a last act of mercy, the king pardoned him and sent him on his way with 100 shillings.

Of course, as soon as Richard died, his aides had the boy skinned alive and hung his body from a tree.

So what?

The crown went to Richard’s brother, John, who quickly lost British claims to lands in France. British noblemen later forced John to agree to the Magna Carta. One could argue (and I am) that the Magna Carta and the thinking behind it helped create the democracy that you and I take for granted.

What “unfamous” person comes to your mind?