You ever have one of those epiphany types of moments, where something you’ve wondered about for so many years is suddenly just handed to you on the proverbial plate?
Just happened to me.
I can’t tell you how long questions such as:
Why did people think the earth was flat?
Where did the New York moniker Gotham come from?
And just what the heck is a Knickerbocker anyway?
…have been tormenting me.
Well, not exactly tormented…
More of a general malaise, actually.
Sort of a vague, questioning of all the things that we sort of take for granted around here.
I’m sure that probably everyone else on the planet that is New York City probably already knows the answers to those and other questions.
I always seem to be just a little bit late to the party.
It turns out that much of the credit for the issues raised above must go to the man whose birthday we remember on this date – Washington Irving.
For those of you in other countries, Irving is the author of such seminal works of American fiction as The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, and Rip Van Winkle.
Perhaps you’re not as frightened by such tales these days.
With the coming of CGI, there’s not really a lot left to the imagination these days.
But if you’ve ever been out on a hay ride, in the dark, in the part of the country where he was writing about, and had a horseman come riding upon you…
Some screaming is involved.
But it seems that the myth of a flat Earth can also be laid at his feet; as he wrote it into a work on the explorer Columbus. Not content to merely write about the man, Irving used fictional elements to spice the story up.
Now, we all (I hope) know the Earth is round. And we’ve known this for over 2000 years.
But I’ve always wondered where the flat myth came from.
Now I know.
Gotham was first coined by Irving, as well as the phrase “the almighty dollar”.
Knickerbocker was a pen name of Irvings’ from early in his career.
Irving is also credited with reviving many of the Christmas traditions we now take for granted, and was given credit by no less a writer than Charles Dickens for much of Dickens’ portrayal of the holiday in his own A Christmas Carol.
Irving was the first internationally celebrated and successful American writer.
He pushed for copyright protection for authors.
He was a much sought after dinner guest for the wit and breadth of his conversation.
And he was America’s ambassador to Spain for a while, too…
Happy Birthday, Washington!
Image found here.