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Bryan: A Fond Perspective

(Host) With the coming of the new year, educator, author and commentator Frank Bryan reflects on year's end a century ago - from a fondly personal perspective.

(Bryan) On December 27th I called my aunt, Corinne Bryan, who lives in Waterbury Center expressing regrets that the snowstorm meant I'd miss a family get-together for her birthday. Quick as a wink she said. This is a no place like home' night. You stay right where you are.

So, What's the point?

It was her 100th birthday.

In 1912, the year of Corinne's birth, America had only 46 states. New Mexico, Arizona, Alaska and Hawaii had yet to be admitted. Basketball games were still using real baskets from which the ball had to be retrieved after each made shot and U.S. Senators were elected by state legislatures, not by the voters.

The year of Corinne's birth, the Italians were at war, forcibly colonizing Libya. U.S. Marines occupied Nicaragua, the Manchu dynasties were finally overthrown in China, and wars in the Balkans finished off the Ottoman Empire.

The same year, the Titanic went down with the loss of over 1500 lives as did a Japanese steamer The Kich Maru drowning 1000.

Writers John Cheever and Mary McCarthy, impressionist Jackson Pollock, composer John Cage and French dramatist Eugene Ionesco were all born in 1912 along with Julia Child, Perry Como, Woodie Guthrie, Lady Bird Johnson, Pat Nixon, Gene Kelly and Stan Kenton.

In science the theories of stellar evolution, continental drift, and Gestalt psychology were established.

Politically Woodrow Wilson was elected President with the largest electoral vote margin ever to that date, 435; Progressive Teddy Roosevelt got 88, and the Republican Taft got only 8 - all from Utah and Vermont.

In 1912 The National Woman's Party was formed.

In sports Fenway Park opened and the Boston Red Sox won the World Series. In football, Native American Jim Thorpe scored 22 points as Carlisle (a Native American college) defeated Army 27-6 in football and became the National Champion. The army team included future President Dwight Eisenhower.

Also in 1912 Kewpie Dolls were invented, America's first dirigible exploded over Atlantic City, the first US postage stamp picturing an airplane was issued.

History, it seems to me, is memory refined. But, what T.S. Elliot called the mixing of memory and desire in The Wasteland, can be dangerous to those who seek a future that improves upon the experiences of the past. I think it's helpful to begin with events relatively distant from our own time and yet close enough to be imagined. Indeed, there is a utility in dropping back a century - the shock of perspective.

Still, nothing can replace a witness. How do we contrast the floods of Irene for instance with the floods of 1927, when deaths were at least ten times higher? My aunt Corinne was 15 years old in 1927. I guess I'll drop by - and ask her.

Frank Bryan is a writer and Professor Emeritus of Political Science at the University of Vermont.
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