Time travel is likely confined to questionably structured sci-fi movies for the foreseeable future. But while we may all be doomed to experience the future in stupid, boring real time, there are more exciting ways we can experience the past. And we're not talking Colonial Williamsburg here. By court order, we're never allowed to talk Colonial Williamsburg again. We're referring to how ...
The American Revolution occurred almost 250 years ago, long before the camera was invented and several decades before The Big Bang Theory started airing. Without a way to document them, images of the Revolution will forever remain shrouded in the mists of time. Wait, we have paintings. Uh ... those don't count.
There is another source, however. In 1864, Reverend E.B. Hillard got it into his head to track down every surviving Revolutionary War veteran and photograph them before it got creepy. Amazingly, a few were still up and kicking. Accompanied by two photographers, Hillard traveled throughout New England to interview all six known survivors. That included one Lemuel Cook, who was present at the British surrender at Yorktown, and rockin' a spritely 105 in this photo.
There was also William Hutchings, 100 years old when his photo was taken. Hutchings was captured by the British, but released because they "declared it was a shame to hold as prisoner one so young." He was only 15 at the time.
When journalist Joe Bauman stumbled upon these photos in 1976, he decided to do one better and managed to dig up some even older daguerreotypes. He got his hands on eight, including the one below of Peter Mackintosh, who was a 16-year-old blacksmith in 1773. He's best remembered by history for supplying the ash for patriots to disguise themselves on the way to the Boston Tea Party. He apparently continued rocking that look well into old age.
Much of what you know about slavery in the U.S. probably comes from Quentin Tarantino, who has been served numerous cease-and-desists by the abstract concept of history. But what else can you do? Firsthand accounts of slavery are scarce, given that slaves were often forbidden to read or write. But they do exist, if you know where to look. In the 1930s and '40s, a New Deal project was launched to document the experiences and lives of those who worked as slaves before the Emancipation Proclamation. Fountain Hughes, a former slave from Charlottesville, was over a hundred years old when he did this interview.
The full interview is a bit long to post here, but check it out if you've got a half hour.
Hughes was descended from a man owned by founding father / child rapist Thomas Jefferson himself, and some of his earliest memories are of "n*igga traders" and his fear of them. As he recounts the horrors of slavery, he states in no uncertain terms that he would rather kill himself than return to being a slave.
George Johnson, whose interview can be found here, had a different experience. But Billy McCrea is probably the winner ... if one can "win" history. He shared recordings of slave songs sung by actual slaves. You can listen to them here. As far as music history goes, it's right up there with Elvis' uncleaned toilet.
We generally consider cave paintings to be crude accounts of ancient history. Only one of those words is wholly accurate, though. The aboriginal rock art of Djulirri, Australia documented history all the way up to the time of Western imperialism. Djulirri contains over 3,000 paintings, with the oldest dating back around 15,000 years -- so old that they depict extinct animals, like marsupial lions.
Aaaand right alongside that are depictions of steamships, bicycles, and even biplanes.
The paintings even dispel the myth that Australia was first visited by the British, supplying new evidence of contact with Chinese and Macassan traders from Indonesia, who presumably came all that way for the awesome kangaroo cats.
Abraham Lincoln is "notable history." Game shows are "modern tripe." In 1956, these two concepts collided to create five minutes of truly surreal television.
Samuel Seymour was only five years old on the fateful night he went to Ford's Theatre to see the play Our American Cousin. Flash-forward over 90 years, when CBS was looking for exciting guest stars to appear on I've Got A Secret. Who better to feature on a lighthearted quiz show than a man who saw the violent death of the world's most influential figure before he even hit puberty?
Essentially, the show's premise was a game of 20 Questions. A person with an interesting experience was brought out, and a panel of celebrities guessed what their secret was by asking yes/no questions. This played out rather awkwardly for the 96-year-old Seymour, who was both hard of hearing and noticeably infirm. Still, the panel persevered, and slowly managed to tease out the horrific truth. Although Seymour couldn't remember the assassination itself, he did recall John Wilkes Booth falling from the president's box onto the stage. For sharing his precious time and reliving his traumatic memories, Seymour was awarded $80 and a box of pipe tobacco. It's no washer/dryer combo, but it's something.
What better way to experience history than to get wasted off of it? You can get started with this 200-year-old vintage, which archaeologists discovered while excavating a shipwreck off the coast of Poland in 2014. Initially thought to be mineral water, testing revealed it to be a bottle of clear spirits, likely vodka or jenever (something like gin). Astonishingly, it was still drinkable. Reports do not state whether it goes better with tonic or citrus. That will require deeper research.
Or take this bottle of Roman wine, which dates back to the 4th century. The wine has not yet been opened, let alone sampled, although scientists "suspect the alcohol would not be dangerous." Let's be serious, alcohol is never "not dangerous," to say nothing of the stuff that's potentially haunted by gladiator ghosts.
If you want to play it safe in case you're something boring like an accountant or an adult, there are other options. Italian historians are drawing on 2,000-year-old agricultural texts to recreate the methods the Romans used to make their wine. They primarily utilized lesser-known grape varieties, and of course, no artificial fertilizers or pesticides, essentially making Ancient Rome the very first hipster winery.
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Ever hear that ancient expression "when in Rome, bathe in foam?" No? That's because it doesn't exist. But soap made out of beer does exist, so now you can make that quote a real thing. Go ahead. Let's make this happen.
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