Quirky Coincidences of History
Do you remember who won the World Series in 1991? Wait, let’s take a step back. Do you know who won the World Series last year? Do you follow baseball at all? Maybe it’s not about the sport or the teams or the scores or the victors or the spoils. Maybe you’re not good with dates. Many of my friends defy my geeky logic and profess to not being history buffs primarily because they cannot remember all those names and dates and places. But I argue that historic moments cannot be rhetorically remembered by names and dates and locations, but rather by the circumstances of the events that help to remind us of the salient details.
President James K Polk (do we all remember that name?), the Commander-in-Chief during the Mexican/American War (do we remember the year that ended?), happened to mention in his State of the Union address that a spot in the American West (do you recall the place?) happened to produce a golden nugget – a nugget that would transform the United States’ destiny. And that valuable mineral propelled people with promises of prosperity westward spurring the largest stampede that defined the growth of the 19th century American West. And how do I remember the key names and dates and places? Easy: San Francisco, a city located west of the South Fork of the American River, hosts the National Football League’s 49ers named for the year those money-hungry settlers arrived en masse and that's the year of the California Gold Rush. The year before that, 1848, the United States acquired the land that became the Golden State at the end of the Mexican/American War. The year after, 1850, California had boomed in a transition from territory to state faster than any other in America’s history because of the rush of folks to the tantalizing gold fields. And as for President Polk, his middle name, Knox, in one of the fun, quirky coincidences of American history, happens to be the same name as the site of America’s gold depository at Fort Knox.
My Mnemonic Device
Leaning history stems from more than clever coincidences, the memorization of facts, or even the names of NFL teams. Our memories makes history truly magical and remarkable. We recall the date of Pearl Harbor because our president (do you know which one?) told us the date would live in infamy. Our children will remember the events of 9/11 because it may be their earliest memory of American history. But not all history is tragic, or monumental, or even memorable to everyone. Take the World Series of 1991. If you are not from Minnesota, even a baseball fan may not recall the final outcome of that year’s playoffs, and while I am an aficionado of the sport, I would be unable to recall who won the October Classic in 1990. I remember that particular year, though, (and similarly why I remember the winners in 1992) the way many people recall history – by having been there.
During the summer of 1991, I drove with my son (see “Rapid City, Rapid Change,” November 2011) from Denver, Colorado to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan (see “The UP,” July 2012). The route took me through the Twin Cities during August as the aptly named home team gave its finest effort to make the season truly memorable for the players, the fans, and the Land of 10,000 Lakes. Baseball history, world history, American history, and my family’s history converged in the summer of 1991 and for that reason, I recall who won the 1991 World Series. I also know what year members of the old Soviet regime kidnapped Mikael Gorbachev, and what year our family moved to Michigan. And I didn’t have to memorize any names or dates or places; instead I experienced all of the above. That’s what I adore about history: the way it comes alive in our lives, the way it becomes a part of who we are in large and small ways, the way it sticks with us and follows us, the way its quirkiness, its coincidences, and its own kind of storytelling excite me. Don’t even get me started on what happened when Sacajawea bumped into her brother.