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A Total Failure?

One evening near sunset a man was taking a casual walk along a beach. Almost no one was on the beach at the time. When the man neared the pier he heard a faint noise coming from beneath it. The sound was similar to a dog whimpering. Being a dog lover, he bent down and proceeded to go under the pier pilings. About ten feet from the shore he spotted a figure in the shadows leaning against a piling. As he walked closer to this figure, he determined that it was not a dog. It was an old man. The man had his hands covering his face and was crying. Wanting to help, he gingerly approached the man and inquired what was wrong. The other man kept sobbing and ignored the question. After several minutes, the sobbing man replied “I am a fifty year old man and a total failure. No one will ever know I was even on the planet. There is no sense in continuing to live. Go away and leave me alone.”

“I will leave after I tell you a story,” replied the good samaritan. He went on to relate the following:

There was a man whose only brother died in early infancy. At age seven he nearly drowned. His mother died when he was only nine years old. When he was ten years old he was kicked by a horse and nearly died. His only sister died giving childbirth.

He was in his mid-twenties before he had his first romance but after a short courtship she dumped him. A few years later he asked his new girlfriend to marry him. She declined. Needing something to take his mind off the rejections, and seeking to earn a living, he obtained a business partner and they opened a store. Within one year the business was nearing bankruptcy. His business partner ran off leaving him to pay the creditors. It took him years to pay off the debt.

With great effort he finally managed to obtain a law degree. His first law partner didn’t work out so they disbanded the partnership. His second law partner ended up the same way.

When he was in his mid-forties, he fell in love with another woman who was from a wealthy family. Things were finally looking better. He courted her for almost two years before he asked her to marry him. She accepted. However, a few months later she told him she didn’t want to marry him anymore. After a few more months she had a change of heart and they were married.

Just when his life seemed to be going much better, his second son died in infancy. His third son also died. Wanting to enter politics, he ran for state legislature twice and lost both times. He also ran for senator twice and lost both elections. Up until this point in his life he considered himself a failure, lived in poverty, and suffered from depression for most of his life.

When he turned fifty he was elected President of the United States. The man’s name was Abraham Lincoln.

Getting Things in Perspective

Many issues ago I related how in 1980, while working for a hospital, I met a patient that was 104 years old. I often visited her while she was still in the hospital. My favorite question to ask older people is who was the first president they can remember from life and not from studying in school. In her case, she related the first president she recalled was Benjamin Harrison. However, her most memorable president was William McKinley because she was only standing six feet from him when he was assassinated. Being 25 years old at the time it made quite an impression on her.

We also discussed how technology improved in her lifetime. During her childhood and early adulthood, the only means of transportation involved either walking, a horse or, if you were lucky, a train. By the 1960’s transportation had improved to inter-planetary travel by “spaceships.” Quite a leap in technology!

My regret is that I did not record our conversations or at least take extensive notes. Now all I have is my memories of what she said over 25 years ago.

In 1956 I was 8 years old. My great grandmother came to live with us. She died at age 99 in 1958 when I was ten years old. As I think back now, she had such a wealth of historic information that I never bothered to inquire about. Imagine: she was born in 1857, meaning she was 8 years old when Lincoln was assassinated and 19 years old when the Custer Massacre took place! She too saw rapid advances in technology. Being 8 to 10 years old at the time, of course, I had no interest in history. The questions I could ask her now!

Recently, my memories of these two ladies have come back in bits and pieces. While marveling how much things improved during their lifetime, it made me start thinking of advances in my own lifetime. Take the telephone for instance. As a child I can remember when every telephone call involved utilizing an operator. There were no dials or buttons to push to connect to anyone; just pick up the receiver and wait for an operator to come online and then tell her the number you wanted. Something like MJ87. Today, as you know, we have gone to cellular telephones that are almost as small as a credit card and fit in a pocket. You can not only place calls to other people, but send text messages, play music or movies, and send photos clear across the world if you want to!

Don’t even get me started on the technology of computers and the Internet! I purchased my first computer in 1978. It had only 16K of RAM, no hard drive and utilized 5 ˝ inch black floppy disks that held only 200K of data.

If you look back over your lifetime I am sure you will find that you too have seen many advances in technology. Stop and think about it. The older a person is, the more they know about history because they actually lived it! Get things in perspective. While they are still alive, start asking your parents, grandparents, and other people older than yourself about how life was when they were younger. Don't wait until it is too late.

On the History Channel
Premieres Memorial Day – Monday, May 29th at 9:00 p.m. ET/PT

He lost more battles than he won, faced mutinies among his men, and helped to ignite a war with reckless military decisions. And still to this day, George Washington is the standard by which all other American commanders are held. Unbowed in defeat and generous in victory, he showed America the way to greatness with grace, courage, and persistence under relentless fire from enemies and even friends. Find out how George Washington became America’s foremost founding father, one battle at a time, in the special History Channel presentation, WASHINGTON THE WARRIOR, airing Monday, May 29th at 9:00 p.m. ET/PT.

Though he eventually came into great wealth at the Mount Vernon estate, George Washington was born to more modest roots as a fifth-generation Virginian. Adamant in his desire to climb to higher social circles, he mastered physical skills and rules etiquette, then joined the military in search of the prestigious life of an officer. He gained a good reputation by completing dangerous missions on behalf of the British, but a series of missteps and defeats in 1754 led directly to the onset of the French and Indian War and held Washington up for public ridicule for the first time.

But he stood tall and received a second chance a year later when he assumed battlefield command of the Virginia Militia after its commander had been killed, dodging bullets on the front lines at Monongahela and forever gaining the respect of his men. From there he matured as a commander and helped drive the French from the Ohio Territory before retiring to Mount Vernon at age 27. Little did Washington know at the time that his military life had only just begun.

WASHINGTON THE WARRIOR taps experts, historians, authors, journals, and historical documents to tell the story of the man who spearheaded the American revolution with a fortitude that would not be denied. Authors Joseph J. Ellis, Caroline Cox, Edward G. Lengel, and Bruce Chadwick as well as Lt. Gen. Dave R. Palmer, previously the Superintendent of West Point U.S. Military Academy, headline a list of experts offering insight and perspective on the life, times, and mindset of George Washington.

Online Newspaper Archives Improved

Many of the beta testers for the new format commented that viewing the newspapers involved too much scrolling. With the help of some donations by visitors and my working overtime at my "pay the bills" job, I was able to come up with enough money to hire someone to make a new layout format for the opening page of the Online Newspaper Archives. This format requires less scrolling. Let me know what you think.
April Brain Teaser

I can only live when there is light; I die if the light dies. What am I?

Answer: A shadow

May Brain Teaser

If you have only one match and you walked into a room where there was an oil burner, a kerosene lamp, and a wood burning stove, which one would you light first and why?

Answer: Next issue. (No prizes offered for correct answer.)

PS: If you make any money by winning bets on these brain teasers, a little commission would be nice :-)

April Contest

ALTERNATE QUESTION: The Columbian Exposition was held in 1893 to observe the 400th anniversary of what?

ANSWER: Observance of Columbus' discovering America.

GRAND PRIZE QUESTION: Only one American president's image has appeared on an American stamp while still living. Who was it?

ANSWER: Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederate States of America.

Sixty-five people entered the contests. I made an error in the contest rules for the last issue. Somehow I deleted the rule about entering "Contest Entry" in the subject field if entering the alternate contest. Thus, for the alternate contest FOR THAT ISSUE ONLY, any subject line would be eligible to win. For the Alternate Contest, almost everyone got the answer correct. For the Grand Prize question, very few had the correct answer. Three prizes went unclaimed.
The April contest winners were:
  • Robert Taylor - Tennessee
  • Robert Milton - Alabama
  • Tammy Wells Grube - Vermont
  • Robert W. Rushing - South Carolina
  • Kacie Yood - Georgia
  • Suzanne Crisafi - New York
  • Mike Scott - Alabama

This Issue's Question

To enter the Grand Prize Contest, answer the question: At the time that the Declaration of Independence was drafted, John Hancock was president of the Congress. Who was secretary at the time?

To enter the Alternate Contest, answer the question: A draft of the Declaration of Independence was presented to Congress on June 28, 1776. On July 1, a vote was taken, and all but two states approved the Declaration. Which two voted no?

Contest Rules

  • Contest entry deadline is Tuesday, May 16, 2006. Later entries will be disqualified. Winners will be notified by email within 24 hours after the contest deadline. Winners' names and states will be published in the next issue of the HistoryBuff.com newsletter.

  • Subscribers may enter both contests, but can only win one prize.

  • To enter either contest, email your answer to help@historyreference.org.

  • If entering for the Grand Prize, enter "Contest Entry Grand Prize" for the subject heading.

  • If entering for alternate prize contest, enter "Contest Entry" for the subject heading.

  • Entries with prize desires such as "any prize is OK," "any of the historic newspapers" etc. will be disqualified. You MUST select ONE prize.

  • If entering both contests, send separate emails.

  • From subscribers entering the alternate contest, submitting the correct answer, correct subject heading, submission received by the deadline, as well as advising which ONE alternate contest prize they want to win, EIGHT will be selected to win ONE of the alternate contest prizes below.

  • From subcribers entering the Grand Prize contest, one will be selected to win the prize from those submitting the correct subject heading, correct answer, and by the deadline.

  • Subscribers to this newsletter that won a prize in my trivia contests in the last 90 days are ineligible to win.
Grand Prize
(One winner will be selected)

Software 3-Pack on CD ROM
  • Encyclopedia of History
  • Street Maps of Entire United States
  • Illustrated Medical Encyclopedia
Alternate Contest Prizes
Alternate Contest Prizes (Only one of each offered)

Eight Episodes of Classic TV Series

  • Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet (1953)
  • Alfred Hitchcock Presents (1955)
  • The Red Skelton Show (1958)
  • Beverly Hillbillies (1963)
  • Bonanza (1960)
  • Burns and Allen Show (1952)
  • Dragnet (1954)
  • The Dick Van Dyke Show (1962)

  • Rockin' '60's & 70's

    Music CD Includes:
  • Tears of a Clown - The Miracles
  • I Just Want to Celebrate - Rare Earth
  • Smile a Little Smile For Me - Flying Machine
  • Along Comes Mary - The Association
  • Nice to Be With You -Gallery
  • Kicks - Paul Revere and the Raiders
  • One Toke Over the Line - Brewer & Shipley
  • Get Ready - Rare Earth
  • Build Me Up Buttercup - The Foundations
  • Wild Thing - Trogs
  • Plus 18 More Songs!

    DVD Includes the Documentaries:
  • First Team in Vietnam
  • Know Your Enemy: The Viet Cong

  • History Channel T-shirt
    Size Large
    "Ten Days That Unexpectedly Changed America"
    Three-quarter length sleeves

    History Channel Baseball Cap

    CD ROM Game
    Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?
  • Over 600 Questions
  • Hosted by Regis Philbin
  • Original Historic Newspapers

    Original The Globe (Washington City) historic newspaper from 1839

    Original The Constitution (Washington City) historic newspaper from 1859

    Original The New Hampshire Patriot and State Gazette historic newspaper from 1853

    Original The Commercial Bulletin (Boston) historic newspaper from 1867
    That's it for this issue.

    Rick Brown

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