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Archive for December 3rd, 2009

The ancient Mayans may be saying that the world will soon end but it’s not a new concept.  Many people throughout time have foresaw the end of the world through the signs they read in the pattern of their society’s breakdown.  You can read it throughout history.  Men of the day, from ancient Greece onward, decrying the breakdown of their civilization and the imminent demise of the world.

I’ve written a bit about the items I’ve been reading in the old newspapers while doing some research on my grandfather.  At first I was charmed by the vivid nature of the time.  Explosive growth and innovation in so many fields.  Seemingly unlimited potential for those willing to go for it.

But as I scanned through the pages, it became a nightmare world.  Every day brought new horrors.  The local pages were filled with the deaths of so many, young and old, from things that have been tamed by modern science for so long that we no longer give them a second thought unless we’re in a third world nation.  Dysentery, cholera and malaria.  Tuberculosis.

Rabies.  Yes, rabies, for chrissakes.

There were several accounts in the papers from the short time at which I was looking, in which local citizens died from rabies.  In one case the man was placed in a padded cell and was near death, according to the account.

People were hit by trains on the city streets on a regular basis.  Multiple accounts of farming accidents, most in graphic details that you would never see in today’s papers.  Plenty of murders.  There were only a handful of cars on the roads around 1905 but there were plenty of reports of accidents, many fatal.

And fires.  Everyday another fire and often, another death.  In Forestport, a booming logging town in the southern part of the Adirondacks where my great-grandfather plied his trade, the downtown area suffered two devastating fires in the period of seven years.

There was a wealth of other chaotic activities going on to stoke the fires under those who saw the end of the world at that time.  Nationally, there were anarchists setting off bombs.  Local skirmishes the world over.  Here, we had Black Hand societies that stemmed from Italian immigrants and were a precursor to the later Mafia.  They were notorious for their Black Hand letters sent to those from which they wanted to extort money, letters that usually had a drawing of a black hand and a dagger alongside their threat and demands.  Most of the threats were against other Italian immigrants. I was surprised to see multiple accounts of such letters being made public in the papers.

After a time of reading these papers and seeing page after page of relative misery, I could see why the contemporaries of that time would see the end of the world hurtling at them.  Made me appreciate our own times a bit more and put reports of our demise in perspective.

I guess Dickens was accurate for all eras when he wrote those great first lines of A Tale of Two Cities:    It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way- in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.

So, the world may or may not end as the Mayans forecast.  If it does, it does.  I fit doesn’t, we’ll just feel like it is anyways…


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