About Historical Trivia
Welcome to the November 2010 edition of
“Jud’s New England Journal,” the rather curious monthly musings of Judson Hale,
editor-in-chief of Yankee Magazine,
published since 1935 in Dublin, New Hampshire.
About Historical Trivia
But some “trivia” is important history!
I learned years ago that New Englanders have always been slightly annoyed with Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s account of Paul Revere’s ride the night of April 18–19, 1775. Why? Well, for one thing, why didn’t he include the name of Revere’s horse? Every horse has a name. What a silly oversight. This particular horse was called “Brown Beaty” … or was it “Brown Betty”? (Some maintain it was “Minuteman,” but I doubt that one.)
Anyway, the majority of historians say it was a mare, although, indeed, some argue gelding and still others stallion. Most hold to the notion that she/he was a Narragansett Pacer, a breed popular before the Revolution. George Washington, for instance, owned two Narragansett Pacers.
Surely Longfellow should have included some of those things in his poem, the real title of which, incidentally, is not “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere” but rather “The Landlord’s Tale.”
I don’t, however, think it’s fair to accuse New Englanders of being obsessed with historical trivia. They’re not. Well … not excessively so. For one thing, we don’t consider historical details to be trivial. Remembering details, it seems to me, is simply an effort to remember, period. An accurate memory preserves history, which, in turn, supports the present from which we launch into the future.
Yet frail memory plays tricks on us or fails, which is no doubt another reason we sometimes become obsessed with historical details. The last time I leaned over the railing and looked down at Plymouth Rock, enshrined there in Plymouth, Massachusetts, a father and his young daughter were beside me.
“Do you know what happened here?” I overheard the father asking.
“Oh, yes, Daddy,” the girl replied. “This was the place the penguins landed.”
A few months later, while attending a dinner party, I told this story to the group at my table. Everyone chuckled, and then, a moment later, an elderly lady next to me turned and said in a low, confidential tone, “You know, my niece is at Skidmore College, and they’re teaching her that Columbus never landed on Plymouth Rock after all.”
For a moment, I couldn’t think of a thing to say.