How long does it take to make history?

By Ernest J. Corrigan, 12/8/2000

S THE FLORIDA vote count debacle grinds on, it seems appropriate to look at some other notable events and moments in history in order to gain some perspective on now long history actually takes.

What follows is a random sampling of events that took less time than the still-disputed task of counting the presidential election ballots in one state:

The Bay of Pigs Invasion. On April 15, 1961, CIA-trained pilots began air strikes on Cuban targets in preparation for an invasion force of some 1,500 Cuban exiles at the Bay of Pigs in Cuba. By April 19, the fighting had ended with approximately 100 dead and the rest taken prisoner. In just four short days, the United States had an international crisis in its hands, and President John F. Kennedy's legacy was permanently marred.

President Richard M. Nixon's resignation. Less than one hour. In a letter signed by Nixon and initialed by Henry Kissinger at 11:35 a.m. on Aug. 9, 1974. It simply stated: ''I hereby resign the Office of the President of the United States.

The entire presidential term of William Henry Harrison. Our ninth president, William Henry Harrison, gave the longest inaugural speech in history on a bitterly cold day, and, after getting pneumonia, was dead one month into his term.

The invasion of Grenada. In the early morning hours of Oct. 25, 1983, the United States invaded the island of Grenada, forcing most Americans to scramble for a world atlas to try to locate this strategically important island. The initial wave of 1,200 troops soon grew to more than 7,000, and the baffled Grenadian Army and scattered Cuban military units were running for the hills within a few days.

The longest baseball game in history. Save for the neighborhood games that never seem to end, this one stretched out over two days and 33 innings in our own backyard as the Pawtucket Red Sox outlasted the Rochester Red Wings from April 18 to 19, 1981. The game, which featured future All-Stars Cal Ripken Jr. and Wade Boggs, mercifully ended with the PawSox edging the Red Wings 3-2.

John Glenn's historic orbit of the Earth. File this under ''They Can Send a Man to the Moon, but they can't count one state.'' US astronaut John Glenn became the first American to orbit the Earth in 1962 when he lapped the Earth three times in his Friendship 7 Mercury spacecraft on Feb. 20, 1962.

The Other Speech at Gettysburg. Everyone knows that Abraham Lincoln scribbled the greatest speech ever delivered on his train ride to the Gettysburg Battlefield in Pennsylvania in 1863. But how long did it take the windbag before him, Edward Everett, to deliver what was supposed to have been the memorable speech? A bit over two hours. And Lincoln's little two-draft speech? Just north of two minutes long.

Everett, so impressed by Lincoln's flatly delivered oratory, was reported to have said to him afterward: ''I wish that I could flatter myself that I had come as near to the central idea of the occasion in two hours as you did in two minutes.''

The first circumnavigation of the world in a hot air balloon. John Glenn had a pretty good slingshot going as he circled the Earth, but even a hot air balloon can get around the globe in less time than it takes to count chads - hanging or otherwise - in Florida. The record stands at 19 days for buzzing around the earth in a hot air balloon. It is probably a good thing that they did not start or end in Florida.

And speaking of counting, the average person can count to a half million at a fairly leisurely pace of one number per second. If you counted normally eight hours a day for 20 days (weekends off, of course) you would reach 576,000. One person counting just one ballot every minute for eight hours a day five days a week since Nov. 8 could have counted over 10,000 ballots. Imagine what 100 people could have done if they wanted to arrive at the right number?

Ernest J. Corrigan is president of Corrigan Communications in Newton.