Sunday, April 22, 2012

Jesus's Doppelganger And Other Historical Doubles

He was a first century preacher who healed the sick, advocated for the poor, and rose from the dead. And he also looked like the lead singer of Jethro Tull. But he wasn't Jesus. For centuries, scholars have been remarking on the eerie similarities between JC and a Neopythagorean philosopher named Apollonius of Tyana (Flavius Philostratus wrote one of the most complete historical accounts, The Life of Apollonius, which can be found here).

But history is filled with these little B-sides. Many of the most famous facts you learned in school and on the news are woefully incomplete. For example:

There was another Zodiac Killer. You think this predator struck in San Francisco, became infamous, and was never heard from again. But years later, another man went on a wave of killing - this time in New York City - following a pattern of the signs of the Zodiac. His name was Heriberto Seda, and he was convicted in 1998. Here's the story, according to the Times:

Heriberto Seda, a 30-year-old high school dropout and loner from Brooklyn, was convicted... of being the Zodiac killer, a mysterious gunman who terrorized the city and taunted the police during two shooting sprees in the early 1990's... The ''Zodiac killer'' name stemmed from the killer's letters to the news media and the police in which he said he would kill one person for each sign of the zodiac.

There was another Thanksgiving. The first Thanksgiving did not involve Pilgrims in New England in 1621. It took place two years earlier in Virginia at a place called Berkeley plantation:

It was on bended knee in December 1619, along the banks of the James River, that newly arrived colonists celebrated a service of Thanksgiving... Virginia's claim to the first American Thanksgiving in 1619 was ratified in a proclamation by President John F. Kennedy in 1963, though the 1621 Thanksgiving by the Pilgrims at Plymouth, Mass., is often described as the first.

Read the rest of the story here in an article by the Richmond Times Dispatch. In Kennedy's Proclamation, Jack acts like a good politician and splits the difference:

Over three centuries ago, our forefathers in Virginia and in Massachusetts, far from
home in a lonely wilderness, set aside a time of thanksgiving. On the appointed day, they gave reverent thanks for their safety, for the health of their children, for the fertility of their fields, for the love which bound them together and the faith which united them with their God.

Speaking of Kennedy...

There was another Kennedy assassin. No, not the Mafia and the Masons. A retired postal worker named Richard Pavlick planned to blow up JFK just before he was inaugurated, but failed at the last minute and was soon arrested. In The New Statesman, Philip Kerr explains:

Incredibly, in the course of my meticulous research, I discovered that there had been a real attempt to kill Kennedy as early as December 1960... At some point towards the end of November, Pavlick sold or gave away all of his property and set out, in his station wagon, to kill the 43-year-old president-elect. Somewhere along the 1,500-mile journey, he purchased detonators, blasting caps, seven sticks of dynamite and four large cans of gasoline. In West Palm Beach, the cheaper part of town, he checked into a local motel, which, ironically, was very close to where Kennedy's own secret service detail was lodged. Nobody noticed him rigging up a car bomb in the motel car park. And, on 11 December, he drove to the house on North Ocean Boulevard. His plan was simple: to wait for Kennedy to come out of the house, and then to crash into the presidential limousine before detonating the car bomb, killing both Kennedy and himself.

The story of how Pavlick's plan derailed makes for gripping reading. The 20th Amendment to the Constitution states that if a president-elect dies before inauguration, the vice president-elect takes his place in the big chair. How would it have changed history to have LBJ take office as president in 1961? How would he have handled the Bay of Pigs and the Cuban Missile Crisis?

There was another Iran hostage rescue. Most people think the Iran hostage rescue was a military operation ended in a terrible explosion and loss of life at the spot code-named Desert One. However, the CIA conducted its own operation to rescue a smaller group of American foreign service staff who'd escaped the Iranians and were hiding out in the Canadian embassy. CIA Chief of Disguise (yes, that was his real title, although he's retired now) Tony Mendez created false identities for the entire group with a strange and effective idea: They all became Canadians and Europeans scouting locations for a Hollywood movie. Mendez even created a fake production company with its own offices in order to make the aliases more believeable. With their stories in place, he walked the entire staff through Tehran airport security, and they flew to safety. The story will be featured in an upcoming movie starring Ben Affleck. So the tale might still vanish into the mists of history.

There was another Henry Ford. The pioneer who created the auto assembly line and revolutionized how we think of cars was not the vicious antisemite we know and love, but a man named Ransom E. Olds. By 1902 Olds was using the technology to crank out 2,500 cars he called Oldsmobiles. Ford added a conveyor belt, cut the time to produce a car, and became so successful that he's now synonymous with the struggling American auto industry. Olds also used the initials of his name -- REO -- to name a company that created the REO Speedwagon. So now we associate him with early 1980's soft rock and men who hit unnaturally high notes when they sing.

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