You are there

Not the CBS Radio (later TV) series created by the easy Goodman Ace, but a Gedankenexperiment proposed by Marko the Munchkin Wrangler. The premise:

You have the opportunity to make a visit to the past. You get to pick one calendar year in the history of the United States, starting with its first full year of existence after declaring independence, 1777, and ending with the last full calendar year, 2007.

Your visit will start a minute after midnight on the 1st of January of that year, and end a minute before midnight on December 31st.

Difficulty: You are not permitted to leave the country (presumably with the borders that existed at the time), to screw with actual history, to profit from your trip, or to affect your family tree.

I thought this over, and decided on 1860, in Charleston, South Carolina, the year before the Civil War Between the States for Southern Independence (choose whatever combination you prefer), a year in which secession sentiments had been growing, culminating with the issuance of Declaration of the Immediate Causes Which Induce and Justify the Secession of South Carolina from the Federal Union, the state’s Declaration of Independence as it were, on the 24th of December, a response to the election the month before. Two days later, Major Robert Anderson, commander of the garrison at Fort Moultrie on Sullivan’s Island, decided that the fort could not be defended, and relocated his troops to Fort Sumter in Charleston harbor; we all know what happened there.

The relevance of 1860 to today seems obvious to me: now as then, war was predicted if the election returns went a certain way. But I have more of a personal stake in this experiment, as a one-time resident of Charleston and as a defender of the South, if not of its “Peculiar Institution.” I’d certainly have no trouble making my way around the five square miles of the peninsula, many of whose streets I’ve walked myself; it’s a place to which I have a strong emotional connection, a place to which I’d never allowed myself to return, lest my childhood illusions be somehow damaged. (I finally went back in 2001, thirty-two years after I’d left; I’ve gone back once more since.) And I’m familiar with the background: when I was in high school, two-person teams, as a history-class project, put together their versions of a theoretical daily Charleston newspaper dated 13 April 1861, the day after Confederate batteries fired on Fort Sumter and started what some of us were in 1968 still calling “the late unpleasantness.”

(Found at A Call to Wings.)


  1. Kay Dennison »

    2 November 2008 · 10:07 am

    I really like this idea. I might try it. There are so many things in history I’d like to understand better and this might be a way to put things in perspective.

  2. unimpressed »

    2 November 2008 · 11:36 am

    The only thing(s) I’d want to do would be to go kick myself in the butt to convince me to change some of the decisions I’d made.

  3. McGehee »

    2 November 2008 · 12:25 pm

    I’m with unimpressed. I would go to Fairbanks in 1994 and tell myself not to listen to the first bunch of politically active people who happen to grab my attention.

  4. fillyjonk »

    2 November 2008 · 1:45 pm

    Hrm. Would there be some kind of “exit provision” in case you, say, came down with scarletina during a time before the advent of antibiotics?

    ‘Cos it would really suck to go back in time just to be felled by some kind of infection.

    Actually, I think I’d go for more recent history…perhaps New York in 1964, just in time to see the British (Pop) Invasion hit. Or one of the years out of the fifties. Simply because that was the time, in American History classes, that we were racing like crazy to get everything in before the end of the year and usually things were greatly glossed over.

    Or actually, it would be kind of fun to go to the year of my birth (1969) and see what all was going on that I was technically around for, but had no chance of remembering, like the televised moon landing.

  5. Jenny »

    2 November 2008 · 10:49 pm

    So… when SC secedes, does that mean you’ve violated the provision of not leaving the US and you have to come back? :)

    Nice choice – that would be a fascinating – and SCARY time to see!

    It’s weird enough visiting old childhood haunts after years away and seeing how some things are so different and others almost identical. I bet it would be mind-bendingly odd seeing your Charleston of that far back. So familiar, so different.

    Neat choice!

  6. CGHill »

    3 November 2008 · 7:41 am

    So… when SC secedes, does that mean you’ve violated the provision of not leaving the US and you have to come back? :)

    I think I’d slide by on a technicality: they wouldn’t really have been out of the US until such time as they were able to make it stick, and at least some factions within the national government were inclined to force them to stay.

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