Thursday, July 28, 2011
In these complicated times one must occasionally return to 1892 to get one's bearings. Grampa was 20 years old, clerking in a general store, days, and bar tending at night in the wild west. Life was simple and horrifying, like now. People got happy, mad, drunk, rich, poor and enlightened, like now, and some demonstrated the fundamentals of pacifism to subsequent generations. I return to 1892 for two good reasons --an inherited custom. One is, that is the date stamped (after the name Remington) on the breechblock of Grampa's shotgun --which was kept unloaded under the bar. Its stock was broken and mended with a brass cuff. It was unloaded because Grampa swung it by the barrels and didn't want it going off while he was defending himself. I consider it an artifact of enlightened pacifism. The other reason I return to that year is it was the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus's famous voyage and there was a World's Fair about it.
That year, Grampa was not in attendance. As might be expected of a man who originated a family tradition of having two good reasons for things, Grampa had two good reasons. The World's Columbian Exhibition of 1892 was in Chicago, 2000 miles away. Secondly, it wasn't open until 1893. Why a year late? Because people were calmer back then and not so nervous about details. So let's forget about 1892 and proceed to 1893. There was a Ferris Wheel! You can see it in the picture above.
The Ferris Wheel (from which the word "Wheee!" is derived) was designed by Geo. Washington Gale Ferris Jr. for two good reasons. He wanted to devise a technological marvel that people could climb into --people who craved technology in a vigorous age. These were people who had seen Thomas Edison light their cities safely with electricity. Before that, Alfred Nobel had tried unsuccessfully to light them with his own invention, dynamite, and created many pacifists in the attempt, hence the Nobel Peace Prize. People found the glare of dynamite unnerving, especially in libraries, but strangely, not in some bars. Second reason: Ferris was upset about the Statue Of Liberty.
Not about the whole statue, just the inside --the framework, the iron armature that holds up Liberty's soft copper shell. Administrators overseeing the transformation of Bedloe's Island said Ferris's design would damage Liberty and endanger tourists as it spun her over and over from her waist. The contract was awarded to Gustave Eiffel instead. I'm not sure what effect all this had on Grampa, but he seems to have followed technology out of the bar. By the late 1920's he'd started a service station. Here he is, at left, standing at the gas pump with his son, Daddy, who became my father.
This brings us into the 20th century, in which I started a family and found young folks far more technology-savvy than I, even though I'd been to more world fairs and always had two good reasons for doing so (unfortunately, this is now the 21st century and I no longer remember the reasons). My main contribution to tradition was to stop naming people things like Grampa and Daddy and I hope my offspring appreciate it. I have four children: 40, 39, 31,and 27. By uncanny coincidence, those are also their ages.