History is the written story of famous moments, acts of note. But what about the individuals who create these moments? What dreams and fantasies the day before drive them to make history?
In 1846 a group of American pioneer migrants set out for California in a wagon train. Uncharacteristically early heavy snowfall delayed them. Snowbound in the Sierra Nevadas, the Donner Party debated whether to draw straws to see which of them would be eaten so that the others might survive. The moment of choice, each individual reacting in their own characteristic way to fate, praying, protecting their children, cursing God in rage.
The Devil Made Me Do It
What led John Wilkes Booth, one of the country’s most famous actors to assassinate Lincoln, who was, ironically, a fan. The night before his greatest act Booth rehearses it in his head, behind him a Mephistophelian figure feeding him his lines.
Ben Franklin, known womanizer, feels the power of his lightning rod the night before signing the Declaration of Independence.
The night before the battle of Fredericksburg, which would turn out to be the Union army’s bloodiest day in the Civil War, Ambrose Burnside relives his earlier humiliation at the altar where his bride-to-be shouted “No” in answer to the ministers final question. He vows never to fail again.
Splish Splash I Was Taking a Bath
Jean-Paul Marat, hero of the French Revolution. While soaking in his medicinal bath he would be murdered by Charlotte Corday; his martyrdom immortalized by the Jacques-Louis David painting. Here is Marat before his death, rubber ducky in hand “just relaxin’ in the tub thinkin’ everything was all right”
Custer Plays Cowboys and Indians
In 1876, Custer and his 5 divisions of the 7th Cavalry were annihilated at the Battle of Little Bighorn. On the night before his Last Stand, Custer the last in his class at West Point, imagines his triumph, playing Cowboys and Indians with his childhood toys.
Napoleon Bonaparte, defeated at Waterloo, to be exiled for the rest of his life. How could this near unconquered leader lose such a battle? Many say the cause of his failure was the hemorrhoids that left him unable to mount a horse and view the troops on the battlefield. On his chamber pot the night before his critical battle Napoleon hopes his desires wouldn’t be obstructed.
I Want to Be a Real Boy
Many know Hitler was an artist, but few realize he was also a passionate Disney fan, who owned a copy of Snow White and deemed it one of the greatest movies ever made. In 2008, 3 cartoons of Disney figures, done by Hitler and dated to 1940 were found behind a painting in Norway. The night before the Battle of Britain, Hitler dons his mouse ears to draw Pinocchio, dreaming of being a real German at last.
The Last Dogfight
Manfred Von Richtofen, the Red Baron, destroyer of 80 planes before being himself shot down at the end of WWI. A ruthless hunter, he would aim whenever possible for the pilot, rather than the engine of the plane. Yet, he was also a lover of animals, and often took his great Dane, Moritz into the air for a “dogfight”, dressing him in flight gear. The Red Knight of the sky says “Goodbye” to his beloved pup before his final flight.