I think I’m pretty smart, and yet there are things I just don’t understand.
Why, for instance, is New Britain’s Northend Elementary School located in the South End of town? Stressed out by that question, I actually looked it up, and Northend turns out to be a family name, not a location. So we can scratch that one.
More mysterious, and more material to everyday life, is the question of what really happened to Jimmy Hoffa. Did the bad guys … (well, Hoffa was something of a bad guy himself, having been convicted of looting one of the Teamsters Union’s pension funds, so let’s call them the worse guys.) Did the worse guys bury him under the end zone of Giants Stadium in New Jersey, as the rumor goes?
Then there’s the mystery of Bob Denver, the only TV star to die twice — once in 1961, when a rumor spread that he was electrocuted while taking a bath when a radio fell into the water, and again in 2005, with much more finality. The real mystery about the man who played both a beatnik named Maynard G. Krebs in “The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis” and later Gilligan, of “Gilligan’s Island,” is, of course, how the wild electrocution rumor was able to go viral decades before the internet.
But a much bigger mystery to me is why civilizations are always shocked when they discover the ruins of some previous civilization right under their feet. The stuff may be a few inches down, like some of the Viking relics found in the U.K., or several meters deep, but it is generally thousands of years old.
My question: How distracted, preoccupied and/or absent-minded did the people in places that have been occupied continuously for millennia have to be that they didn’t notice when their city was being buried under enough dirt to disappear completely? Were they drunk all those centuries?
And where did all that new dirt come from, anyway?
I remember one time seeing a modern office building in London with some preserved Roman ruins in its plaza. Apparently, when they started digging to build that steel-and-glass tower, they found the stony leftovers that had been there all along.
The Romans occupied their province of Britannia from about A.D. 43 to A.D. 410 (better make that from XLIII to CDX), and it turns out there are still plenty of ruins to be found in its capital, Londinium, including an amphitheater, a fort, a two-mile-long wall and even a bath house with under-floor heating. But how did subsequent denizens of this metropolis (who I doubt had anything as sophisticated as under-floor heating) not notice that the sands of time were burying their town? Weren’t they paying attention?
There must have been plenty of people milling about through later epochs, slogging through the mud right past these places, from Saxon times to the Viking invasion to Henry VIII with all his wives to Mad King George (who lost the American colonies, thank goodness) to Winston Churchill to the current crop of royals. How the hell did they all fail to notice what was going on? How could they be so obtuse?
Pompei doesn’t count. It was never forgotten because its end came all at once, when Mount Vesuvius flipped its lid.
These are my deep thoughts for today.
Reach Glenn Richter at email@example.com.