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William Hornaday

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Over the Christmas holiday, I saw The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. An excellent film, reminiscent of Forrest Gump in some ways. I recommend it.


There was one scene in which Button meets a young gentleman whom we are told is an African pygmy. The man is cultured and well spoken but he tells Benjamin of a "job" he formerly had being exhibited in a zoo, interacting with monkeys for the amusement of zoo patrons. Ghastly 19th century racism I thought, did that sort of thing really happen?


Researching this bit online, I found the story of Ota Benga (1881-1916), a Congolese pygmy who was featured behind bars at the Bronx Zoo in 1906 alongside an orangutan. "Bronx Zoo director William Hornaday saw the exhibit as a valuable spectacle for his visitors, and was encouraged by Madison Grant, a prominent scientific racist and eugenicist." Yes, it turns out, that's the same Hornaday. Who knew? (No point, just curious.)





Reminds me of the time I discovered that Sir Issac Newton was also a crackpot alchemist. I guess we're all artifacts of our times.


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That is a fascinating piece of information. At least Dr. Hornaday took action when the black community objected to this blatantly racist display. Madison Grant makes for some interesting reading as well. Like Hornaday he was a noted conservationist and a friend of presidents Teddy Roosevelt and Herbert Hoover. His writings on race and eugenics however strongly influenced anti-immigration and anti-miscegenation laws in the US and were embraced by the National Socialist movement in Germany. Hitler referred to one of his books as "my Bible". His writings were introduced as evidence at the Nuremberg war crime trials to defend the Nazi euthanasia program . It is scary how close Dr. Hornaday was to someone who's influence led to such evil. Certainly food for thought.


I agree that Benjamin Button was a good movie but I think it needed another pass through the editing room... man it was long. The similarity to Forrest Gump is more than coincidental; same screenwriter.

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Merlyn beat me to it, the defence of Newton. But I do get the implication that Trevorum refers to obliquely and I think he understands Merlyn's point: It's difficult to make fair judgements outside the context of that time.

I think Trevorum's use of the term, 'crackpot', was 'tongue-in-cheek'.


But that is an interesting observation, Trevorum, thanks.

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Thank you for that link, Hal! Her perspective as a family member is especially interesting.


The author notes that the episode was "a typical, if exceptionally blinkered, product of [the] era." As we have noted above, all of us are products of our own era; I hope that we can nontheless strive to see beyond our own blinkers.

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I agree. Some of those who I consider to be the great (Thomas Jefferson for instance) were deeply flawed by 21st century standards. How could TJ be against slavery as an institution yet still own (and beget children with) slaves?


Charles Lindbergh (and Baden-Powell and Gandhi for that matter) thought highly of Hitler at one point but ultimately realized the error of his thinking.


John Newton who wrote Amazing Grace was a slave ship captain before becoming an Anglican minister.


I constantly marvel at the contradictions.






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I can sympathize with the conflicted feelings of the Post writer. And I can probably confess to being one of those unidentified descendants of a slave owner. These days, I suspect most of us just don't know (or really care for that matter).

One side of my family was very Southern. I still have living relatives who proudly display authentic framed bills-of-sale for a slave. I have seen the equally authentic Confederate money stuffed behind in the same display frame, as if for protection. They still have portraits of the traitors, Lee and Davis, hanging in their homes. They are not on my Christmas card list.

At the same time, on the other side of my family, ancestors fought for the North and commanded ships with Farragut and had, among other things, great responsibility for the seige of Vicksburg. That side of the family IS on my Christmas card and letter list.

But eventually, we're all related, however distantly, to someone who did something we consider immoral. Most of us don't have to go back very far. As the Post writer notes, it isn't important for today, except perhaps as a cautionary lesson, at least not more important than doing the right thing now and in the future.

So I try to be accurate when recounting my family's history, what little of it I'm confident about - knowing I'll be added to it in fleetingly few years or perhaps sooner. And I make sure my children have the tools to make their own fair decisions. And then I hope for the best.

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" How come we meet so many descendants of slaves but no descendants of slave owners? "


The same reason everyone in France had relatives in the French Resistance but no one knows anyone who was Vichy French.




(This message has been edited by scoutingagain)

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