Drinks With Dead People

Raise a glass to history.

Tag: Connecticut

Henry Opukaha’ia

Have a drink with: Henry Opukaha’ia
Aloha oe.

Ask him about: No pineapple on Pepe’s, right?

Henry Obookiah

We’ve talked before about how Connecticut has given the world a wide assortment of innovations, some good, some bad: speed limits, law schools and scary Puritan judges, sure, but also Pepe’s pizza, submarines, constitutional government (maybe?) and P.T. Barnum.

With a check mark in each column: Henry Opukaha’ia. Good news: remarkable Hawaiian visits Connecticut, absolutely crushes scholarly agenda and impresses the pants off of the leading religious voices of his day. Bad news: his fan club includes a legion of New England missionaries bound for the Pacific.

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The Proprietors

Have a drink with: The Committee of the Proprietors of Common and Undivided Lands at New Haven
Say that one five times fast.

Ask them about: Food trucks, church buildings and underground parking structures

The New Haven Green

There are situations in which you are pleased to find your hometown has made national news. A horrific instance of mass overdose is emphatically not one of them. And as news coverage has attempted to understand and respond to a public health crisis of this particular impact, all but the most local coverage has overlooked one idiosyncratic fact about the administration of the space in question: the city of New Haven, Connecticut is not the owner of the New Haven Green.

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The Dissection Riots

Have a drink with: The Yale Medical School Class of 1824
Did you bring a shovel?

Ask them about: Buying your own school supplies

Grove Street Cemetery in New Haven

On a cold January morning almost 200 years ago in New Haven, Connecticut, someone came knocking on Jonathan Knight’s door. This itself was not necessarily unusual, as Knight had his thumb in many of the town’s proverbial pies: in addition to serving as a local doctor, he was also a professor at the young Medical Institution of Yale College. What was unusual, for the pre-breakfast slot on a Monday morning, was that the caller was a lawyer named General Kimberly, and that he was deeply concerned that some of the school’s medical students had apparently and emphatically not spent their Sunday at church.

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The Speed Limit

Skip drinks because it’s: The Speed Limit
You there, do you know how fast you were going?

Ask it about: Can it drive 55?

Most of us like to think that history is a parade of accomplishments, but when you get down to it somebody has to invent the everyday stuff, too – and as much as it pains me to say so, my home state has done more than most in making the world a duller place. Go ahead and thank Connecticut, pioneer of the boring, for we have given you: wooden nutmeg scandals, government paperwork, car taxes, the insurance industry, and the nation’s first law school.

And as if that weren’t enough, in 1901, my home state was first in the country to set a speed limit for motor vehicles.

No city driving over 12 MPH, now. In the burbs, you can punch it up to 15.

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David Bushnell

Have a drink with: David Bushnell
Damn the torpedoes.

Ask him about: The one that got away

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Folks in Warrenton, Georgia were understandably sad when Doctor David Bush passed away in 1826. Single and in his eighties at the time of his death, the old man was a local institution: in more than thirty years in town Bush had practiced medicine, been active in local politics and even set up an area school. Folks knew the local doctor was quiet, civic-minded and accomplished.

So his secret identity may have come as a bit of a surprise.
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Surly Puritan Judges

Have a drink with: New Haven Puritans
Judge swung his fist down, plunk plunk

Ask them about: Anything but Quakers.

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It’s election season, which means we are faced with ample opportunity to confront our worst tendencies and unresolved problems as a society, along with the inevitable call to harken back to a better, simpler, more moral time in American history.

Just so we’re clear, though, that time was not the 17th century.

Consider The Case of the Piglet’s Paternity, a fascinating collection of thirty-three cases heard before the Puritan courts of the 17th century New Haven Colony and superbly edited by Connecticut superior court judge Jon Blue. We can learn a few things from this book:

  1. Do not let a few instances of good justice wallpaper over a majority approach that marginalizes citizens and preserves a fear-based status quo.
  2. Don’t serve sailors booze by the quart.

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John C. Calhoun

Have a drink with: John C. Calhoun
The “cast-iron man,” nullifier, racist.

Ask him about: getting into college

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Yale University recently announced that it would retain the name of 19th century politician and slavery advocate John C. Calhoun on one of its twelve undergraduate residential colleges. The decision has been broadly condemned: on Twitter, #FormerlyKnownAsCalhoun quickly topped the trends list, and singer Janelle Monae used Yale’s Spring Fling stage to lead protest chants, calling Calhoun a “white supremacist.”

In a note to the Yale community, university president Peter Salovey justified the decision with the statement that removing Calhoun’s name “obscures the legacy of slavery rather than addressing it.”

But was John Calhoun history’s intolerant yet benign uncle, whom we harmlessly leave at the dinner table to rant, and should we care that his name’s on an Ivy League building?

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P.T. Barnum

Have a drink with: P.T. Barnum
Ask him to bring Jumbo. That elephant could drink.

Ask him about: Picking your Powerball numbers

PT_Barnum_Lottery

Last week I gave in to the siren song of Powerball and joined millions of other people in the giddy exercise of mentally spending the billion-plus dollars of my inevitable destiny (what would it cost for the local museum to let me ride the Brontosaurus skeleton, anyway?).

The unprecedented size of the recent jackpot may have created a real and novel sense of reward, but it doesn’t change the most fundamental truth about the lottery, which has remained unchanged over centuries: the real money isn’t in winning the lottery so much as it is in running it.

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The Yale Bowl

Have a drink with: the Yale Bowl
Stadium, immovable earth beast, cradle of American football

Ask it about: what it wants for its 100th birthday.

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In 1914, Yale University celebrated the completion of one of its largest and most famous construction projects, the Yale Bowl.  More than a stadium, much more than an Ivy League niche item, the Bowl is a physical point on the continuum of football’s growth as a sport.

Yale was instrumental in starting, growing and formalizing the game we know and watch in America today.  (No, really!  Ivy League football!)

To understand why this is true, let’s take a crash course in American football:

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The Charles W. Morgan

Have a drink with: The Charles W. Morgan
Whaleship, world traveler, cultural ambassador, marine rendering plant

 Ask her about: What it smells like to cart around a few dozen sailors in a wooden oil tub with limited cleaning facilities. For three years at a time.

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The Charles W. Morgan is the last of the American wooden whaling ships, originally built in 1841 in New Bedford, Massachusetts and retired in the early 20th century after an active whaling career. Normally a floating exhibit at Mystic Seaport, the Morgan has undergone a multi-year, multi-million dollar restoration and is right now under sail around New England for the first time since the 1920’s. She’ll travel from Connecticut to Newport, New Bedford, Cape Cod and Boston before returning home in August, and you can follow the voyage on the Seaport’s various great online and social media streams (hashtag: #38thvoyage).

Now, I love history, but I REALLY love whaling history. To the point that I did a summer internship at a whaling museum while in law school. (Tax law memos or scrimshaw? Duh.) But if you are not me, and chances are you aren’t, what is this Morgan thing all about?

I thought you’d never ask.

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