Thursday, November 25, 2010

Don't believe everything you read on the web - except for this post

Recently, I began writing an essay on the subject of immortality. Along the way from draft one to draft two, an interesting tangent announced itself willing to be sacrificed. Not wishing it to be lost forever, I am placing it here, though a little context is required.

Part of my argument on the subject of immortality is that while the ability to live physically for eternity may be impossible (I discuss reincarnation as a form of immortality; rather than a single uninterrupted, unending life, perhaps a series of discrete existences could also qualify), a person's life in memory - his words, deeds, and impact on his family, community, nation, and the world - can live on long after that physical life is quenched. Not surprisingly, I used Abraham Lincoln as an example.

To bolster my case, I looked up a number of Lincoln quotes I knew that I felt were pertinent. I also, as you'll read below, did a general Google search for "Lincoln" and "immortality" to see what I might find. As it turned out, I discovered just how unreliable Web searches could be. To wit:


The democratization of the gathering and dissemination of information, which is the ultimate outgrowth of the World Wide Web, often results in greater access but lesser accuracy. For example, there are many sites on the web that exist specifically as compendiums of quotes on a range of subjects. Speakers, writers, and owners of other web pages often scour these sites for appropriate pearls of wisdom, but there many quotes that are incorrectly sourced and misattributed – fake pearls, if you will. There is a tendency, however, to believe that something that has been published online must be accurate, but in fact there is no central standards body that is charged with ensuring that anything on the web is true.

Because it is so easy to copy, paste, and spread misinformation on the web, there are those who may be gaining a false immortality, or who may be getting credit for something they never said or did. Lincoln, again, provides an example. For this essay, I Googled “Lincoln” and “immortality.” I found thousands of results featuring the following quote, attributed to him:

“Surely God would not have created such a being as man … to exist only for a day! No, no, man was made for immortality.”

In most instances, there was no attribution as to the specific date, letter, or speech in which this quote first appeared. That made me suspicious because Lincoln’s words have been so painstakingly documented by generations of historians. The only attribution I could find was that it was part of the text that Lincoln’s animatronic double spoke in the old Walt Disney World exhibit, “The Hall of Presidents.” While many of Lincoln’s lines are authentic (the full original script has been transcribed at, the particular quote in question, which dramatically concludes the presentation, doesn’t “feel” like Lincoln, and the knowledge that Disney was involved further casts doubt on its accuracy.

Finally, I consulted the acknowledged official source of Lincoln’s words, The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln (a searchable online version of which appears at I searched the word “immortality” and only two results were delivered (italics mine):

Eulogy of Henry Clay, July 6, 1852: “And in our last internal discord, when this Union trembled to its center—in old age, he left the shades of private life and gave the death blow to fraternal strife, with the vigor of his earlier years in a series of Senatorial efforts, which in themselves would bring immortality, by challenging comparison with the efforts of any statesman in any age.”

Second Lecture on Discoveries and Inventions, February 11, 1859: “As Plato had for the immortality of the soul, so Young America has ‘a pleasing hope—a fond desire—a longing after’ territory.”

This leads me to conclude that Lincoln himself, the Lincoln who actually lived as opposed to the robotic tourist attraction that may in our world be the ultimate price of immortality, never did say – and probably didn’t believe – that “man was created for immortality,” even though the consensus of the online world is that he did.


Given what I discovered, I would caution anyone doing a web search for quotes to be very careful and check offline sources for confirmation that the quote is accurately stated and attributed.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Jim Nabors, Carl Yastrzemski, Abraham Lincoln, and Me

I am a lifelong fan of the Boston Red Sox, yet I was only four years old during their magical 1967 season, when they competed through to the seventh game of the World Series after having finished the previous season in last place. Therefore, I have no first-hand memories of the team nicknamed the Cardiac Kids, or their remarkable season, dubbed the Impossible Dream. Yet as I came of age and followed the team more closely, my hero became Carl Yastrzemski, who had the most incredible year in that most improbable season. Leading the major league in home runs, runs batted in, and batting average, he remains 43 years later the last player to win the Triple Crown.

But the crux of this story begins closer to the time of the Impossible Dream, and at its core is the song of the same name, which was the show-stopper of Man of La Mancha, the musical version of Cervantes’ Don Quixote. I suppose it makes sense to go back briefly to the very beginning. By chance, I was born on February 12, 1963 – the 154th birthday of Abraham Lincoln. My family made a rather big deal over this coincidence, as if it were a positive omen of some kind. Perhaps no relative of mine was more instrumental in drumming the connection into my psyche than my Uncle Arnold, a teacher who shared a birthday with the far less notable Millard Fillmore. He would grill me on the Gettysburg Address, asking me to correct his intentional mistakes (“Four score and 11 years ago,” “The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or subtract.”).

So, suffice to say, I quickly became, and remain to this day, a certifiable Lincoln nut. Fast forward to 1967. Shortly after the unhappy conclusion of the World Series – which the Red Sox lost to the St. Louis Cardinals (though they finally got their revenge in 2004) – on November 3, to be exact, a new episode of Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C. aired. It was episode number 99 of the series, which was in its fourth season. The episode was titled “The Show Must Go On.” In it, the cast is in Washington, DC, to perform a show. Gomer (played by Jim Nabors) is supposed to sing but he develops severe stage fright and loses his voice. Sgt. Carter, naturally, loses his temper. Gomer walks distraught through the nation’s capital, eventually finding himself at the Lincoln Memorial. He enters and striking close-ups of the Lincoln statue are shown. Gomer walks to the left, where, carved into the marble wall, are the words of the Gettysburg Address. He begins to read them in a raspy voice, which gradually – magically – begins to regain its full strength and sonority. He is cured at Lincoln Lourdes! The show does indeed go on, and Gomer performs – what else? – “The Impossible Dream” (a big hit in real life for Nabors).

As I was too young to experience the 1967 Red Sox season first hand, I was also unable to experience first-run episodes of Gomer Pyle. However, I know I was still of single-digit age when I first watched the episode in re-runs. I was transfixed. Around that time, maybe later, I got an album with broadcast highlights of the Red Sox’ 1967 season. It was titled The Impossible Dream and featured an instrumental arrangement of the tune, along with a groovy little ditty about my hero’s heroics that year, called “Yaz Song.”

Thanks to photographic evidence, I know that I first visited Washington, DC in 1971, when I was eight years old. I recall clearly how I felt ascending the seemingly endless stairs leading to the temple. My heart was beating wildly. I was somewhat fearful of seeing the huge statue up close. I must have seen the episode of Gomer Pyle by then, for I was in awe of its apparent power. My father took a photograph of me looking up at the statue. My face is not seen but it is not unreasonable to assume that my mouth was fully agape. I have returned to the Memorial several times since then, most recently in 2005, when I took a photograph of my oldest daughter – then-eight, like me when I first visited DC – melodramatically recreating my pose from 34 years before.

Just about everyone who knows me well knows that I’m a Lincoln nut and that Yaz is my all-time #1 sports hero. In fact, I hope to meet Yaz next week when he does a public signing. But there are not many people who know that I have Jim Nabors on my iPod. Fewer would even care to know the reason why. I don’t mind. I know Jim Nabors is not what you might call hip. But I can’t help it. To this day, when I hear him singing that song, I truly feel like I can reach the unreachable star.