You might enjoy James Burke’s “Connections” series. It’s built on the whole notion of this sort of surprising degree of interconnection of historical figures.
Intellectually, I know that people 2000 years ago acted just like us, and looked just like us, but I still find clear photographs of the 19th century, strangely compelling in ways a painting – even a photorealistic one – isn’t. The most hauntingly compelling ones are of someone that looks like they could be walking down the street today, and wouldn’t look out of place.
As a kid I was blown away that my grandpa was born in 1898. Cowboy times for heavens sake. The changes he witnessed. From wagons to rockets. I’ve told my son, born 100 years later, that one day young people will marvel that he was born in the 20th century. Back when we, well, when we live like we do now.
I have heard that there may still be living civil war widows. That is to say, very old women, whom when they were in their teens married very old men ( as part of a care taking arrangement ) who fought as young boys during the civil war. Any truth to that?
The last one seemed to have died in 2003 but it is possible… maybe?
There are claims that there may be others still living, but the practice was banned in the 20s or 30s (presumably it wasn’t a bad arrangement to essentially be someone’s nurse in their old age, then get an inheritance and military pension when they went).
i was babysat by an old lady who was taught to be a nanny by a woman who was taught by Churchill’s nanny who said that Churchill would wait for his parents to leave the house then climb to the top of a tree,where he was not allowed go but could not be reached, much to the annoyance of his nanny. only coming down on hearing a parents return. he knew if she said anything she would be scolded for not being properly in charge. and so he avoided being told what to do all day long. this one bit of leverage he used to dominate his situation and gain freedom . i dont think anyone knows this as his nanny found it highly embarrassing apparently
While the movie suffers from having a “made for TV” look and feel, it does present an interesting way to look at human history. The best science fiction only uses the “science” aspect as a technique to explore other ideas. I believe you can watch this free on Hulu. Wikipedia page contains spoilers, but the synopsis at the beginning doesn’t give too much away.
I’ve always felt it was somehow significant that Galileo died the same year Newton was born: 1642.
I shook hands with Ben & Jerry, of the Ice Cream fame. That’s it, my claim to “human wormholes”.
Oh you humans with your brief little mayfly lifespans shaking your cute little wings for the last few seconds. ~ The Universe
Oh you universes with your fast little jogs of measurable “time” lost in the timeless desert of heat deaths. ~ The Bulk
Just kidding. This is actually really cool. But nothing kills ego quite like cosmology.
" Robert Todd Lincoln was present as his father died of assassination, was at the train station with President James Garfield was assassinated, and was in attendance at the event in which McKinley was assassinated? "
And he would have gotten away with it, too, if it weren’t for those meddling time-traveling kids!
Srsly, I presume at some point someone thought to take his name off the invite list.
Mine was 1895, born in a farm house that only later got gas lighting, and then electricity. Didn’t think his life was worth talking about, no matter how much we tried to convince him.
What do we have now, that in 50-100 years is going to seem as primitive as no lighting in a home other than candles and lanterns?
Burning fossil fuels for energy?
The man who invented the Total Perspective Vortex did so basically in order to annoy his wife.
Trin Tragula - for that was his name - was a dreamer, a thinker, a speculative philosopher or, as his wife would have it, an idiot.
And she would nag him incessantly about the utterly inordinate amount of time he spent staring out into space, or mulling over the mechanics of safety pins, or doing spectrographic analyses of pieces of fairy cake.
“Have some sense of proportion!” she would say, sometimes as often as thirty-eight times in a single day.
And so he built the Total Perspective Vortex - just to show her.
And into one end he plugged the whole of reality as extrapolated from a piece of fairy cake, and into the other end he plugged his wife: so that when he turned it on she saw in one instant the whole infinity of creation and herself in relation to it.
To Trin Tragula’s horror, the shock completely annihilated her brain; but to his satisfaction he realized that he had proved conclusively that if life is going to exist in a Universe of this size, then the one thing it cannot afford to have is a sense of proportion.
Maybe passive mirrors? If active display surfaces get as cheap to produce as light bulbs, single-function mirrors might become an old-fashioned affectation the way candles have. Then in the future Etsy shops can sell them for five times (not adjusted for inflation) what they fetch now.
There were some wonderful stories like this in an exchange of letters in the LRB, starting with an article by Adam Smyth that began like this:
A friend who teaches in New York told me that the historian Peter Lake told him that J.G.A. Pocock told him that Conrad Russell told him that Bertrand Russell told him that Lord John Russell told him that his father the sixth Duke of Bedford told him that he had heard William Pitt the Younger speak in Parliament during the Napoleonic Wars, and that Pitt had this curious way of talking, a particular mannerism that the sixth Duke of Bedford had imitated to Lord John Russell who imitated it to Bertrand Russell who imitated it to Conrad Russell who imitated it to J.G.A. Pocock, who could not imitate it to Peter Lake and so my friend never heard it. But all the way down to Pocock was a chain of people who in some sense had actually heard William Pitt the Younger’s voice.
My favourite, though, was:
Maurice Bowra, the legendary warden of Wadham College, records in his Memories (1966) meeting an old Wadham man, Frederic Harrison, then aged 92. Harrison had gone to Oxford in 1849 and remembered the accession of Queen Victoria when he was seven years old. As an undergraduate, he had met Dr Routh, long in office as president of Magdalen (and reputedly the last man in Oxford to wear a wig), who died in his hundredth year soon afterwards. Routh in turn had met in his boyhood an old lady who when she was young had seen Charles II exercising his spaniels in Magdalen College gardens.
(from a reader named Keith Salway)
Edwin Booth, the much more famous actor brother of John Wilkes Booth, once saved the life of Robert Todd Lincoln, the son of the president. They were standing near each other on the platform at a railroad station when young Lincoln lost his footing. Booth caught him and hauled him back just before he would have been crushed by an oncoming train. Neither knew who the other was 'til much later,
My father spent the first 9 years of his life in a home with gas and kerosene lighting. My grandmother vividly remembered her mother telling her of crossing the plains in a covered wagon.
It’s this sort of connection that makes me so bewildered by those who find history boring and irrelevant.
Fucking awesome post, Ryan Holiday.