Monday, May 14, 2012

Lost to Time

Lost in Time by Martin Sandler is a book about unforgettable bits of history that time has managed to forget. It read like a manifesto for the importance of PR, although admittedly I'm biased to see that since that's my field. Most of the stories are similar to famous stories that we know well, but for whatever reason those other stories got more publicity and stuck in the public's mind.

For example, one of the stories about two people who completed longer, more dangerous rides than Paul Revere to warn the Americans about the British  during the American Revolution, yet neither of them are remembered while people flock to Revere's house to celebrate him. One of those riders was a 16-year-old girl who rode through the woods in the middle of the night, warning more people than Revere and saving hundreds of lives. But she and the other rider didn't have Longfellow as a friend to write a poem about them.

A similar story is the tale of Gustave Whitehead, who built and flew an airplane two years before the Wright brothers. Yet Whitehead didn't seek out media attention, and despite receiving a few articles about him, has faded from memory and the Wright brothers are credited with the first flight. Part of this is attributed to the fact that Whitehead was a German immigrant and as the World War approached, nobody wanted to credit him with the achievement over two American-born men. It also appears that the Wright brothers touted themselves as the first, even though they visited with Whitehead and saw one of his flights!

One of the other stories that stuck out was about a massive fire in Peshtigo, WI. Everyone's heard of the Chicago Fire, but few have heard of Pestigo even though it was much more destructive. Over 1.5 million acres burned and at least 1,200 people died, although many think it was probably nearly twice that. Whole families died trying to flee. People had to try to make it to the river and just stay there for hours until the fired died out. The excerpts from some of the first-hand accounts were horrific.

Finally, a man decided to start building a subway in NYC in the 1860s - secretly, at night! He knew the leaders at Tammany Hall wouldn't go for it, so he got approval to build a mail carrying system. Instead, he secretly began building the subway. By the time he was caught, he had nearly completed the first phase. He was allowed to finish that part and riders were able to use it temporarily, until the corrupt government and an economic slump that cut off private funding and it was shut down. It wasn't until about 25 years later that there was a terrible blizzard and many people died trying to travel in the city. They decided to build a subway at that point, which opened in the early twentieth century.

These are just a few of the interesting stories found in the book. I really enjoyed the book overall, but I will admit there were a few less interesting chapters and something about the writing overall didn't really grab me, but it was easy to skim through the stories that weren't of as much interest to me and I liked the knowledge I gained overall, so I still recommend it. It was definetly one of those books that made me stop and read out random facts to my husband while he was trying to play video games!

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