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Better Late Than Never: 6 Delayed Tales

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Is it ever really too late to complete unfinished business? Last week, a 78-year-old woman in Lynwood, Washington was arrested for beating her 84-year-old husband over an affair he had (or at least that she suspected) 35 years ago. Was she angry all this time, or did she find out about it in their old age? The story reminded me of several other instances of unfinished business that took years to resolve.

The Race

Shizo Kanakuri ran the marathon at the 1912 Olympics in Stockholm. Or, he started the marathon. Before finishing the race, the heat got to him and he stopped. He was so embarrassed at not finishing that he booked early passage back to his home in Japan without telling the Olympic officials. Swedish authorities listed him as missing for years. Kanakuri competed in the 1920 Olympics in Antwerp, but the missing persons bureau in Sweden missed that. In 1962 a journalist caught up with him in Japan and found he was unaware of the trouble he had caused. In 1966, Kanakuri returned to Sweden and finally completed the unfinished marathon at age 75. His time from start to finish in that marathon was 54 years, 8 months, 6 days, 8 hours, 32 minutes and 20.3 seconds.

Graduation Day

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In the racially-charged atmosphere of Virginia in the 1950s, three high schools shut down at the beginning of the 1958-59 school year rather than allow black students to integrate their classes. The students were left to handle their education as best they could. Some moved to other districts. Some dropped out, and still others managed to get into college early. The seniors at Maury, Granby, and Norview were known as the "Lost Class of '59." The schools reopened in February, but most of the senior class had scattered. Last week, after a 50 year delay, 100 of those students received honorary diplomas from their old schools.

The Jailbreak

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Richard Paul Boucher broke out of a Chesapeake, Virginia prison where he was serving time for robbery in 1982. With the help of his wife, he made his way to Georgia, where the two changed their names and raised a daughter who never knew of her father's past. Now 56 years old, Boucher was arrested last week by police in Murray County, Georgia. He had been free for 27 years.

Reluctant Surrender

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In 1945, getting the word out to all Japanese soldiers stationed in remote areas that the war was over was not so easy. The soldiers were on guard for treachery and propaganda, and they weren't inclined to believe the news. Cases of Japanese holdouts trickled in through the 40s, 50s, and 60s. Three soldiers finally finished their war in the 1970s! Hiroo Onoda was sent to the island of Lubang in the Philippines and told by his superiors to never surrender and to never take his own life. Onoda faithfully carried out his orders over decades. He led several other soldiers who eventually all left or died. Onada was befriended by a Japanese college student in 1974, in whom he confided that he would not surrender unless ordered to by his commanding officer. The student contacted the now-retired officer, who flew to Lubang to personally order Onada to go home. A few months later, the very last Japanese soldier, Terruo Nakamura surrendered in Indonesia. Shoichi Yokoi had held out on his own in Guam until 1972.

Late Mail

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Walter Butler sent a postcard to his girlfriend while he was in action in World War I. She didn't get it, but the two later married, had children, and lived to a ripe old age. 90 years later, in 2007, the postcard was finally delivered to Butler's 86-year-old daughter. Where it spent those 90 years is still a mystery.

Second Chance Romance

240polk.pngIt's not uncommon that sweethearts will reunite and marry many years after they parted in high school. I myself married a high school boyfriend twenty years after we broke up. I found such stories that took place 30 or 40 years later. And a couple even longer.
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Don Polk of Greeneville, Missouri broke up with his high school girlfriend Wanda when he graduated, and left to fight in the Korean War. That was in 1952. They both married other people and only saw each other briefly at high school reunions. After more than 50 years, they reconnected after their spouses died. Don began writing and calling Wanda, and she kept their letters in the little box Don gave her for just that purpose back in high school. The Polks were married last year.

238frankmaimie.jpgMaimie Meakin and Frank Walker were sweethearts in England during World War II. Her parents discouraged the romance because they didn't expect Frank to survive as a RAF tail gunner. They separated, but never forgot each other. 60 years later, both found themselves single after their longtime spouses died. Maimie, now 86 placed an ad looking for Frank, who is now 88. Friends who saw the ad put them in contact, and they are now inseparable. They are considering marriage.
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Maybe it's never too late to finish something you started a long time ago.

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James Cameron is Making a Documentary to Reassess the Accuracy of Titanic
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20th Century Fox

While making the 1997 blockbuster Titanic, James Cameron was a stickler for the details. The writer-director wanted his homage to the tragic ocean liner to be as historically accurate as possible, so he organized dives to the site, solicited experts to analyze his script, and modeled the set off photographs and plans from the Titanic's builders. He even recreated the ocean liner’s original furnishings, right down to the light fixtures. Now, 20 years after the film’s release, E! News reports that Cameron will scrutinize the film’s authenticity in an upcoming National Geographic documentary.

Titanic: 20th Anniversary is slated to air in December 2017. It will feature Cameron and a team of experts who, together, will evaluate the film's accuracy using new historical and scientific insights about the ship's fateful sinking on April 15, 1912.

"When I wrote the film, and when I set out to direct it, I wanted every detail to be as accurate as I could make it, and every harrowing moment of the ship's final hours accounted for," Cameron said in a statement. "I was creating a living history; I had to get it right out of respect for the many who died and for their legacy. But did I really get it right? Now, with National Geographic and with the latest research, science, and technology, I'm going to reassess."

It's not the first time Cameron has revisited his Oscar-winning epic; in 2012, the director made some tweaks to the film for its 3-D re-release after receiving some criticism from renowned astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson.

“Neil deGrasse Tyson sent me quite a snarky email saying that, at that time of year, in that position in the Atlantic in 1912, when Rose is lying on the piece of driftwood and staring up at the stars, that is not the star field she would have seen," Cameron explained. “And with my reputation as a perfectionist, I should have known that and I should have put the right star field in." So he changed it.

In the case of Titanic: 20th Anniversary, Cameron and his team will give viewers an updated interpretation of the Titanic’s sinking, and reexamine the wreck using new underwater footage, computer-generated simulation, and research. They’ll also scrutinize some of the film’s most famous scenes, and provide biographical context about the filming process.

We’re sure fans, historians, and, of course, Kate and Leo, will approve.

[h/t Mashable]

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6 Eponyms Named After the Wrong Person
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Salmonella species growing on agar.

Having something named after you is the ultimate accomplishment for any inventor, mathematician, scientist, or researcher. Unfortunately, the credit for an invention or discovery does not always go to the correct person—senior colleagues sometimes snatch the glory, fakers pull the wool over people's eyes, or the fickle general public just latches onto the wrong name.

1. SALMONELLA (OR SMITHELLA?)

In 1885, while investigating common livestock diseases at the Bureau of Animal Industry in Washington, D.C., pathologist Theobald Smith first isolated the salmonella bacteria in pigs suffering from hog cholera. Smith’s research finally identified the bacteria responsible for one of the most common causes of food poisoning in humans. Unfortunately, Smith’s limelight-grabbing supervisor, Daniel E. Salmon, insisted on taking sole credit for the discovery. As a result, the bacteria was named after him. Don’t feel too sorry for Theobald Smith, though: He soon emerged from Salmon’s shadow, going on to make the important discovery that ticks could be a vector in the spread of disease, among other achievements.

2. AMERICA (OR COLUMBIANA?)

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Florentine explorer Amerigo Vespucci (1451–1512) claimed to have made numerous voyages to the New World, the first in 1497, before Columbus. Textual evidence suggests Vespucci did take part in a number of expeditions across the Atlantic, but generally does not support the idea that he set eyes on the New World before Columbus. Nevertheless, Vespucci’s accounts of his voyages—which today read as far-fetched—were hugely popular and translated into many languages. As a result, when German cartographer Martin Waldseemüller was drawing his map of the Novus Mundi (or New World) in 1507 he marked it with the name "America" in Vespucci’s honor. He later regretted the choice, omitting the name from future maps, but it was too late, and the name stuck.

3. BLOOMERS (OR MILLERS?)

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Dress reform became a big issue in mid-19th century America, when women were restricted by long, heavy skirts that dragged in the mud and made any sort of physical activity difficult. Women’s rights activist Elizabeth Smith Miller was inspired by traditional Turkish dress to begin wearing loose trousers gathered at the ankle underneath a shorter skirt. Miller’s new outfit immediately caused a splash, with some decrying it as scandalous and others inspired to adopt the garb.

Amelia Jenks Bloomer was editor of the women’s temperance journal The Lily, and she took to copying Miller’s style of dress. She was so impressed with the new freedom it gave her that she began promoting the “reform dress” in her magazine, printing patterns so others might make their own. Bloomer sported the dress when she spoke at events and soon the press began to associate the outfit with her, dubbing it “Bloomer’s costume.” The name stuck.

4. GUILLOTINE (OR LOUISETTE?)

Execution machines had been known prior to the French Revolution, but they were refined after Paris physician and politician Dr. Joseph-Ignace Guillotin suggested they might be a more humane form of execution than the usual methods (hanging, burning alive, etc.). The first guillotine was actually designed by Dr. Antoine Louis, Secretary of the Academy of Surgery, and was known as a louisette. The quick and efficient machine was quickly adopted as the main method of execution in revolutionary France, and as the bodies piled up the public began to refer to it as la guillotine, for the man who first suggested its use. Guillotin was very distressed at the association, and when he died in 1814 his family asked the French government to change the name of the hated machine. The government refused and so the family changed their name instead to escape the dreadful association.

5. BECHDEL TEST (OR WALLACE TEST?)

Alison Bechdel
Alison Bechdel
Steve Jennings/Getty Images

The Bechdel Test is a tool to highlight gender inequality in film, television, and fiction. The idea is that in order to pass the test, the movie, show, or book in question must include at least one scene in which two women have a conversation that isn’t about a man. The test was popularized by the cartoonist Alison Bechdel in 1985 in her comic strip “Dykes to Watch Out For,” and has since become known by her name. However, Bechdel asserts that the idea originated with her friend Lisa Wallace (and was also inspired by the writer Virginia Woolf), and she would prefer for it to be known as the Bechdel-Wallace test.

6. STIGLER’S LAW OF EPONYMY (OR MERTON’S LAW?)

Influential sociologist Robert K. Merton suggested the idea of the “Matthew Effect” in a 1968 paper noting that senior colleagues who are already famous tend to get the credit for their junior colleagues’ discoveries. (Merton named his phenomenon [PDF] after the parable of talents in the Gospel of Matthew, in which wise servants invest money their master has given them.)

Merton was a well-respected academic, and when he was due to retire in 1979, a book of essays celebrating his work was proposed. One person who contributed an essay was University of Chicago professor of statistics Stephen Stigler, who had corresponded with Merton about his ideas. Stigler decided to pen an essay that celebrated and proved Merton’s theory. As a result, he took Merton’s idea and created Stigler’s Law of Eponymy, which states that “No scientific discovery is named after its original discoverer”—the joke being that Stigler himself was taking Merton’s own theory and naming it after himself. To further prove the rule, the “new” law has been adopted by the academic community, and a number of papers and articles have since been written on "Stigler’s Law."

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