Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Mere Coincidences? Yes, Indeed

A couple of Lilly's friends were over recently, and as they sat around our dining table I overheard them discussing various U.S. presidents. The talk was probably inspired by a one-dollar place mat I bought earlier this year -- a Wipe Off SmartMat, distributed by Creative Edge LLC of Franklin, Tenn., that features a likeness of each chief executive, in order of service, along with their years in office.

It has educational pretensions, this mat, and since the girls were actually talking about presidents spontaneously, I guess there's some merit in the claim. I bought it on impulse along with another mat illustrating the oceans and continents. After all, the girls don't have the benefit of having The Golden Book of Facts and Figures, with its maps and table of presidents, as I did.

The mat was likely produced in time to take advantage of a spike in interest in the presidency around President Obama's inauguration, and is current enough to include him. It also boasts of using "Official White House Portraits." Meaning that they are public domain artwork, each and every one of them, and what publisher doesn't like that?

The portrait that got the kids' attention was the unusual painting of President Kennedy, which I understand was painted posthumously (what, he didn't get around to sitting for it in 1000 days?). Unusual, at least compared with the other portraits; Kennedy is the only one with his head down.

Then the subject of the "Lincoln-Kennedy coincidences" came up. They've been kicking around since the days of purple mimeographs -- I remember seeing one such page, passed around at school.

Since the girls weren't looking at a web site devoted to the "coincidences," they couldn't actually remember very many of them, but they did recall that the two men were elected president 100 years apart and that, "Booth ran from a theater and was caught in a warehouse, while Oswald ran from a warehouse and was caught in a theater." I've always wondered about that one -- a tobacco barn counts as a warehouse?

Pretty soon, the conversation moved on to other things, but I was impressed by the staying power of the "coincidences," though ultimately they themselves are unimpressive. The really astonishing presidential coincidence remains the famed deaths of John Adams and Thomas Jefferson on the same day, July 4, 1826.

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