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 Beauty”… or was it “Brown Betty?” (Some say its name was “Minuteman.”)
Anyway, the majority of historians maintain it was a mare although, indeed, some argue gelding and still others stallion. Most hold to the notion she (he? it?) 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 for which, incidentally, was “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, New Englanders do not 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 often plays tricks with us or fails, which is probably another reason we sometimes become obsessed with historical details. Which brings to mind that the last time I leaned over the railing and looked down at Plymouth Rock enshrined there in Plymouth, Massachusetts, a father and his daughter of about eight years of age were beside me.
“Do you know what happened here?” I overheard the father asking.
“Oh, yes, Daddy,” the girl replied. “This was the place where the penguins landed.”
A few years ago at a dinner party I was attending in New York, I told this story to the group at my table. Everyone chuckled and then, a moment later, an elderly lady seated next to me turned and said in a low, confidential tone, “My niece is at Skidmore College and they’re teaching her that Columbus never landed on Plymouth Rock after all.”
You know, for a moment there I couldn’t think of a thing to say…