Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Our History

The tragic lost and the places they departed from...

I'm not sure when exactly my interest with history and death came to fruition. I knew I always loved history in general. I stood in the green, seeming boring fields in Gettysburg when I was 10 and knew I was somewhere very important. I stared at pictures of the great Hartford circus fire and wanted to ask Emmet Kelly what he felt when we was carrying children from the fire. I saw WW2 vet pilots and I wanted to crawl their minds and see what they saw. I wanted to know what color underwear Louise the 14th wore. I was always a curious and strange kid.

And it seems where ever history is, so is death. They go hand in hand, most times. With the death of Queen Mary the first of England, her sister Elizabeth took over and united England after much upheaval and confusion.

A little boy named Adam Walsh was kidnapped at a Sears in Florida. His head was found weeks later. The horrifying death of this one little boy changed America and even the world. John Walsh, his father, a successful business man who built luxury hotel, began a life long mission. It resulted in the capture of over 1000 criminals, the foundation of The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, and multiple pieces of legislation passed into law to help protect children.

Jayne MansfieldJayne Mansfield, her boyfriend, driver and 3 children were driving to New Orleans for a show when 20 year old Ronnie Harrison, the driver, continued to drive through a fog of insecticide without slowing and slammed into the back of a semi. The three adults in the front seat were killed instantly while the three children were spared with only cuts and minor breaks. Because of this horrifying accident, all large semis have a protective bar underneath the trailer to prevent smaller cars from hitting under the bottom and shearing the top of the car off. (Sometimes called 'Mansfield Bars', or so I'm told...) How many lives has this saved?

Of course, there is a kind of morbid fascination, but only to an extent. I am not one who gets their rocks off by looking a crime scene photos or masturbates to car accidents. It's the history and the life that was lived and the events that took place. If you don't recognize the dead, then you ignore everything they did, what they died for and even how they lived. Lionel Barrymore said in the movie Grand Hotel, "Believe me, if a man doesn't know death, he doesn't know life." That pretty much covers it.

And it's about loss. Because we all die. We all have to deal with our own mortality. Some are lucky and get to drift away in their warm beds. Others not so much. This is one reason why I am so fascinated by the lives and deaths of the people that touch my heart, even if only a little. If they are a part of me and they shuffle off this mortal coil, I am compelled to know what happened to that little piece of my heart.

The actor that made me cry when he sat in Rick's Cafe and wept over the girl that had come back into his life... with another man. Drowning his sorrow, barely holding his head up, listening to their song over and over again. I know you have felt this kind of sorrow; haven't all of us? He died of cancer at his home.

A young woman, only 22 years old, was executed via guillotine for opposing the Third Reich by distributing anti-Nazi leaflets at her college. When you were 22, did you believe in something so much that you were willing to die for it? She was an amazing person.

And in 1967, my cousin was driving to New Orleans and accidentally hit a semi, killing an aging Hollywood starlet.

History happens all around us.

Closeup of the architecture of the renovated G...When I was 19, I stood in the side drive at Griffith Observatory and watched James Dean fight with the other boys from school. The beautiful boy, only 24 years old in his red jacket and heartbreaking tears. When he shot his last scene for Rebel Without a Cause, he only had 4 months before his fateful drive on Route 466. His passenger walked away with a broken collarbone and a few other minor injuries. (He would die in a different car accident in 1981.)

When I was 24, I sat at the Eiffel tower and watched as the people of France wept as the Nazis marched into the city in June 1940. I saw the spot where Hitler stood for a photo op in front of the tower. (I am determined to visit the same spot where he took his own life and Europe was truly free from that piece of evil.) Over 2 million allies were killed or wounded. In the end, the world was free from the Nazis hold, but at such a cost.

And now, I've just booked myself a seat on the Dearly Departed Van Tour of old and new Hollywood to visit the places where some of my favorite people lived and died.

It's about history. It's about death. It's about a three hour tour. And I plan to have a great time. See you there.

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