Friday, January 22, 2016

Snow and Books, 18

This being a pleasantly yet disturbingly snow-free winter so far (I pause here to knock frantically on all the wood I can find), I did not read book number 18 during a storm. Instead, I picked this one up on a cold, dry day as meteorologists gleefully anticipated a potential blizzard in the days ahead. For this edition of Snow and Books I chose On This Day in Connecticut History by Gregg Mangan. It's not a Connecticut guidebook but, as you may have guessed, a desk-calendar-esque take on local history.

The concept is simple: the book starts with January 1 and ends with December 31, and each day of the year gets its own very short essay about a historical event that took place on that date.

There is Ye Olde Historie here (on April 20, 1640, Daniel Patrick purchased Norwalk from local Norwake and Makentouh leaders for "three hatchets, three hoes, six glasses, twelve tobacco pipes, three knives, ten drills, ten needles and ten fathoms...of wampum"; next time you're stuck in traffic at exit 16, you can debate whether this was worth it) and recent history too (the Yale "Grade Strike" of January 16,  1995.)

There are plenty of horrific accidents chronicled in these 300-odd pages, as well as lots of crime, corruption, and very disconcerting weather. (I know, residents of Connecticut, you are shocked.) Also unsurprisingly, many days' events deal with the military and manufacturing. Of course there are firsts, like America's First Mass Murder, February 3, 1780 (#soproud), and a few lasts, like Connecticut's Last Whaling Voyage, September 24, 1908. There are also inventions, such as the first can opener, patented in Waterbury on January 5, 1858, 48 years after people began selling food in cans. (This was not the pathetic little can opener we know today, it was a hardcore, badass can opener that involved a bayonet and a sickle blade.)  OTDICH mentions famous visitors to Connecticut (Charles Dickens was mobbed by fans in New Haven on February 11, 1842), and pieces of Connecticut that famously found their way out (a slab of pink granite from Guilford became the cornerstone of the Statue of Liberty on August 5, 1884.)

A book like this could easily have ended up reading like a compilation of seventh grade social studies assignments, but it doesn't, thank goodness. One nice effect of the daily diary format is that events are thrown completely out of chronological order. Usually I love me a timeline, but jumping from the Civil War era on one day to the 1960s on the next frames Connecticut's past in a fresh way. It also allows for the option of opening pages at random or looking up, say, your birthday - on mine, November 14, Paul Sperry patented the Top-Sider in New Haven in 1939. (I'm not quite sure how I feel about that.)

If I wanted to nitpick, I'd complain that this book is not indexed, making it hard to check whether one's own favorite Connecticut towns, milestones, or individuals are included. (Presumably there was no budget for that; indexing this book would be quite a task.) I wish, too, that the format was more impressive - flipping through this paperback with its few black and white photos, I kept imagining it transformed into a glossy coffee table book complete with cute illustrations. Of course, that would only happen in a publishing industry that no longer exists, and in Connecticut, described in OTDICH's introduction as "a state with a well-publicized identity crisis," probably no one would buy it anyway. Curiously, there's no entry for February 29, and I found myself wondering whether Leap Day was ignored because it wasn't in whatever template Mangan used to compile his data, or if indeed nothing ever transpired in Connecticut on February 29, like those faux-historic plaques you see affixed to buildings around the country that read ON THIS SITE IN 1897, NOTHING HAPPENED.

By the time you read this post, it might be snowing, a perfect day to stay inside with a book after all. Hopefully it will be nothing like the Great White Hurricane of March 12, 1888, which resulted in death, destruction, and a 38-foot snow drift in Cheshire.

No comments:

Post a Comment


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...