Everything Old is New Again

Husband read this to me the other night. It is from Ron Chernow’s biography of Ulysses S. Grant. He is describing a 19th century railroad baron. Remind you of anyone we know?

With his handsome blond mustache, bloated frame, and  diamond rings, the flashy Jim Fisk was the antithesis of the saturnine Gould. The son of a Vermont peddler, he collected prostitutes and chorus girls no less promiscuously than he bought railroads and steamships and exulted in the attention his flamboyance aroused. Such was his roguish charm that people were captivated even as they were horrified by his total lack of scruples. As George Templeton Strong sketched him: ‘Illiterate, vulgar, unprincipled, profligate, always making himself conspicuously ridiculous by some piece of flagrant ostentation, he was, nevertheless, freehanded with his stolen money, and possessed, moreover, a certain magnetism of geniality that attracted to him people who were not particular about the decency of their associates ‘.   Chernow, R. (2017),  p 673.  Grant. Penguin Press: New York.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.  What trends from the past would you like to see again?

51 thoughts on “Everything Old is New Again”

  1. Jim Fisk ended up getting shot, in a stairway I think, by Edward Stokes.

    Because so much of what happens and what happened in history is in reaction to something else, I recognize that you don’t get good things from the past unencumbered by some very bad things.

    Having said that, the thing I would wish for is the greater income equality of the 1950s and 1960s. I can only speak to my own observations but in my parent’s generation, most of the fathers of my friends (few of the mothers worked, but that’s another issue) held very ordinary jobs—tradesman, postman, salesman—and with that job they were able to buy and maintain a house and family. They sent their children to college for a few thousand, not hundreds of thousands, and often were able to afford a summer cabin. Labor unions were strong and they had generous pensions to look forward to in addition to social security and their savings. The income disparity between the very wealthy and the middle class was much narrower. The wealthy paid a much higher portion to taxes.

    I don’t wish that for myself. Robin and I are OK. We went through college when it was possible to work part time and afford apartment rent, groceries, and your tuition. Our critical child-raising years caught the end of that easier economy. I wish it for my kids and for everyone’s kids. Keeping one’s head above water has gotten so much harder.

    Liked by 7 people

    1. “Because so much of what happens and what happened in history is in reaction to something else, I recognize that you don’t get good things from the past unencumbered by some very bad things”

      Maybe Trump means to make America great by first making it very bad.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Income equality is a good thing. The problem with the 50’s and 60’s was that white men had good incomes because the employers were all competing to hire among a relatively small pool of white men. Tradesmen, postmen, salesmen were mostly men. If you were a white man, or a white woman married to a white man, times were good. Single women, however, were pretty much SOL. As were African American families.

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  2. I enthusiastically agree with Bill. I would like a return of something else from the 1950s: free-range children. To my mind, modern children are protected and guarded like mafia bookkeepers hiding in witness protection programs. Today’s kids spend all their time in their rooms, playing with things with screens, or they are ushered about from one adult-dominated activity to another.

    My childhood looks romantic and rich by comparison. My folks didn’t have any idea of where I was or what I was doing most of the time. On foot, in my little rowboat or on my bicycle I roamed widely and had all kinds of adventures. Some of those adventures were borderline dangerous, but nothing bad ever happened. I had a wild and free childhood, and I can’t imagine a modern childhood that would have suited me nearly so well.

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        1. My parents had a cabin, as did several of our neighbors, all on the same lake. The lake was more-or-less round and about a mile across. I took that little boat everywhere on the lake.

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        2. I mentioned it because it was one of the things that allowed me to get around. My little rowboat was “The Shark.” It was made for me by my dad. He painted it gray with a red shark face reminiscent of the nose paintings of WW2 fighter-bomber planes.

          I rowed up and down Squaw Creek. Mostly up. You know the creek, having lived in Ames. At times there was hardly enough water to float the boat.

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        3. I know a person looking for a “little rowboat” for a show. Either of you got time to build her one??
          I built a “canoe” for a show once. (Twice if you count the motorized golf cart made to look like a boat for ‘Phantom of the Opera’) but my canoe was not pretty and it sure as heck wasn’t going to float.
          Well, maybe after it rolled over and capsized… then maybe it would “float”…

          Liked by 1 person

    1. I was going to say a similar thing, Steve. I’d love to see kids playing outside in groups all year-round. It’s so rare today when I see kids playing pickup touch football, or tag, or hide-and-seek, I actually get this strong feeling of “good for them, being trendsetters and showing their friends that you can have fun without electronics today.”

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  3. My second novel is about free range children in this era, which did not seem that odd given the setting. I wonder if anyone would notice, our age or twenty year olds.
    The term free range children creeps me out a bit. Makes them sound like a food or at least a commodity. Now that I think about it children of this era are treated exactly like a commodity.

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  4. Some of the old is new again things are stupid. Really? Does anyone really want a one speed bike? Let’s just toss out all that marvelous tech development on bikes.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. one speed bikes never break
      they are at about the right speed. it seems to me the one speed is something a bike community would use like amsterdam. id want it to be about 8th gear on a 10 speed

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  5. Victory gardens. We live here in blue earth country and no one uses it. I never had enough ground to do it until I moved into an association which forbid anything but minimal flowers. The School Sisters of Notre Dame supply allotments for free. About 100 are in use with a population of 50,000 in town.

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    1. We have a real victory garden here in our neighborhood, in continuous use since 1943. The waiting list was so long it often took years to get a plot. I got a plot quickly by taking one nobody wanted- it had been planted in grape vines and then neglected. I grubbed out the vines and rototilled and gardened there for several years. The plots in the garden are always completely spoken for.

      Liked by 4 people

  6. Film projector in the header: Carnegie library (speaking of Trump precursors) used to get in a rotating stock of 16 mm movies. Sandy would wait for a Saturday when no one had checked out the projector and bring it home with a bunch of movies. We would have Sunday move day. Our living room was rather dark and easy to darken. We would go for 5-6 hours. Popcorn, pizza.
    My daughter was never going to do the home theatre thing, but she got nostalgic about those Sundays. Now they make a point of doing the same thing with their new home theatre. Kids love it. But they do many family things because the kids have not been much involved in the lead around by adults stuff. They do almost all entertainment and events as a family.
    I would also go back to when we did not Anglasize spellings for marketing purposes.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I want to go back to when people had to be in their homes to talk on the phone. They don’t have to be on the wall, necessarily (I loved it when they went cordless), but have to be put back on the cradle to recharge, at least.
    It’s interesting now to watch a movie – you can pinpoint when the action takes place by the status of the characters’ phones.

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    1. I live in the old era. I do have a cell phone for emergency purposes. With Sandy that is nice to have. But it never rings except a rare nuisance call. Indeed no one calls me on land line or cell phone, except my daughter every now and then if they are coming over.
      When I wrote my short stories set across many years, I found just this huge divide in how I thought about my characters’ lives when the cell phone and computer arrive.

      Liked by 2 people

        1. I completely agree. I actually have a couple of friends who take it very personally that I do not pick up the phone a lot. Because it’s not with me a lot. I’m upstairs, it’s downstairs, I’m at work, it’s turned off in my purse. I’m driving, it’s in the back seat. I really think the phone is supposed to be a convenience for me not me to be a convenience to the phone.

          Liked by 1 person

      1. I remember when attitudes began to change about cell phones. I worked in the MN State Legislature in 1998. Just a few folks had cell phones then, generally the lobbyists. Average people were often hostile to mobile phones, associating them with self-important people with poor manners. But not long after that moms discovered how useful it was to have a way of communicating with their kids, wherever they were.

        I’ve never owned one. At my age, a landline is more than adequate.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I meant how the technology impacted how characters acted and impacted scenes. For instance I have two junior high children roaming freely across a large area of land in about 2015. But they have to have cell phones. Of course they would. In the crisis of the book the phones have to be a part of how people communicate and how the situation impacts people. When my main character, a 70 year old man moving back to where he grew up, decides to not have a cell phone, he finds it about impossible without cutting himself off from others but others will not let him cut himself off. Yet he can have a daily relationship with a character living 3000 miles away, including pictures. The tech is not window dressing but it affects the fabric of relationships.

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        1. I wasn’t clear PJ. I meant that if a typewriter is shown, its form can indicate the time period being filmed. Same with telephones. Same with TV models. Same with cars. People who are informed can tell exactly from clothing and hairstyles what the time frame is for things shown in a film or TV show.

          I think we had a discussion some time ago about the way films or TV shows often depict action from earlier times but the actors have inappropriate hair styles. The stylists aren’t ignorant about how people used to wear their hair, but authentic hair often is distracting or repulsive to modern audiences.

          Liked by 1 person

        2. We actually still have a typewriter at my office. It’s in the back client mailing center where we send out all of our mailings. Because every now and then you just need one label. Something got misspelled or left off and you don’t want to go back to your computer pull out of template and waste a whole sheet of labels to print off one.

          Liked by 1 person

    1. Not an easy answer. It would depend on where you were with regard to water quality. Before effective sanitation, water quality in the cities was dangerous pretty early. Kudzu and buckthorns are not the only imported invasives. If you include things like house sparrows and starlings and dandelions, you’d have to go back a long way.

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    2. Biologists speak, BiR, about “preColumbian” North America. By that, I mean to get back far enough to have NO invasives you have to go all the way back before the first Europeans arrived.

      People generally don’t understand how many now common species were introduced, many of them unintentionally. It shocked me to learn North America originally had no earthworms. The common starling that kills native bluebirds was apparently introduced by a jerk who wanted the US to have every bird Shakespeare wrote about. (But he got the wrong bird.)

      The one that infuriates me was the introduction of Asian carp in the 1960s . . . in my lifetime. I believe this was done by the Arkansas game and fish team as a way to reduce invasive lake weeds. What is so maddening is that they really should have known better. They were warned against doing this and were too proud to pay attention. When Asian carp were released to the environment they turned out to be far worse than the critics had feared. This is equivalent to a new strain of deadly disease being introduced by doctors.

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    1. Sorry hit post by accident before I finished my thought. I long for the good old days where we saw more sports and fewer celebrities yakking it up on the Olympics.

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  8. obama.
    the world when opbama was elected was full of hope and goodness and optimism and then the other show dropped and he wasnt allowed to do anything and the gop made his not getting reelected the number one priority. organized assholishness is an ok premise for people groups and organazations and that is not new but it is so accepted that it is disheartneing
    i love the 50’s and 60’s era when leave it to beaver, andy griffith and dick van dyke were just stories about the way life was.
    stories about the way things are today are disturbing without having to dig very deep.
    i remember getting really upset with my 5th grade son (now 30) when he would sit and play the stupid simple brainless games on his flip phone while he was waiting for the teachers conference or to get into the baseball practice or in the backseat on our way to somethig. my daughter (2 years younger ) was always texting people in europe and far away placwes because it was so cool but the line had to be drawn when we caught her texting at 3 in the mornibng to her friends in amsterdam.
    when she studied in europe she met up with all her friends because she had maintained all the relationships.
    i had 2 friends who were foreign exchange students and that was it for foreigners in my life. until i was 18 then i went into business and europe china south america all opeed up and the world changed

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