Drinks With Dead People

Raise a glass to history.

Tag: New Haven

Sarah Winchester

Have a drink with: Sarah Winchester
40BR, 30BA; move-in ready!

Ask her about: Extreme Home Makeover, Spectral Edition

Winchester Mystery House

You’d be forgiven for thinking that the star of the recent suspense film Winchester is Helen Mirren. She is, after all, a certified badass; a superb actress; and well kitted out for the job in a dour stare and a dramatic swath of black Victorian lace.

In fact, though, the star of the film is a house, purportedly as haunted in reality as it is on film. The Winchester Mystery House, as it’s popularly known, is a 160-room Queen Anne-style mansion in modern-day Silicon Valley, created by the real-life version of Mirren’s character Sarah Winchester. And as a 1940s tourism brochure points out, “The World’s Largest, Oddest Dwelling” is not your typical real estate listing.

Clipping Winchester Mystery House

So why spend more than three decades building an ooky, nonsensical Queen Anne monstrosity, albeit one with very nice amenities? If you believe the legend, it’s because Sarah Winchester was trying to manage a tenant roster of very unhappy ghosts.

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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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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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Delia Bacon

Have a drink with: Delia Bacon
“…very wise in the doctrine of consequences.”

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Ask her about: fair and balanced journalism

Once upon a time, two crazies went head-to-head in a public challenge. It was a deeply partisan fight marked by high emotions and questionable discretion, and in the end the loudmouthed, cowardly male nut job won in a maddeningly close vote by going after his intelligent but awkward female opponent with sexism and misdirection.

This was 1847, by the way.  Have we learned nothing?

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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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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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