To rival the 1,063-foot-tall Eiffel Tower, nearly twice the height of the Washington Monument, planners of the Chicago Exposition of 1893 presented the Ferris Wheel, which was 264 feet tall. While the wheel was slowly spinning, Frederick Jackson Turner delivered a paper in which he proclaimed the end of the frontier phase of American history.
While on his deathbed in 1849, the Japanese artist Hokusai said to those gathered around him that he wished he could live another ten years. He paused, and went on: “If I had another five years, even, I could have become a real painter.” Then he died, at the age of eighty-nine.
“The splendors of this age outshine all other recorded ages,” wrote Ralph Waldo Emerson in 1871. “I have seen wrought five miracles—namely, the steamboat, the railroad, the electric telegraph, the application of the spectroscope to astronomy, the photograph.” He died in 1882, missing the invention of the machine gun by three years, the gramophone and radar by five years, and the diesel-fueled internal combustion engine by ten years.
“The history of the twentieth century should have taught us that it is important to shape circumstances before crises emerge, and to meet threats before they become dire,” reads the Statement of Principles for the Project for the New American Century, June 3, 1997. Among the signatories were Dick Cheney, Francis Fukuyama, Dan Quayle, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, and Jeb Bush—but not George W.
Mark Twain was born on November 30, 1835—two weeks after the perihelion of Halley’s Comet. “I came in with Halley’s Comet,” Mark Twain commented in 1909. “It is coming again next year. The Almighty has said, no doubt, ‘Now there are these two unaccountable freaks; they came in together, they must go out together.’” He died on April 21, 1910—one day after the comet had once again reached its perihelion.
About how statements get written up by the press, Andy Warhol wrote, “It would always be different from what I’d actually said—and a lot more fun for me to read. Like if I’d said, ‘In the future everyone will be famous for fifteen minutes,’ it could come out ‘In fifteen minutes everyone will be famous.’ ” About the future, Andy Warhol also wrote, “I really do live for the future, because when I’m eating a box of candy, I can’t wait to taste the last piece. I don’t even taste any of the other pieces.”
“We don’t like their sound,” an executive at Decca Records said in 1962, rejecting The Beatles, adding, “and guitar music is on the way out.” The same year, Marshall McLuhan wrote, “The book is dead. That is to say sometime before the end of the present century, the last printed book will roll off the presses.”
“Six days, six weeks. I doubt six months,” said Donald Rumsfeld, on February 7, 2003, about the duration of the Iraq war. “Whatever happens in Vietnam, I can conceive of nothing except military victory,” Dwight D. Eisenhower said in 1967. Four years before that, Robert McNamara asserted, “The war in Vietnam is going well and will succeed.”
On July 23, 1995, in New Mexico, the astronomer Alan Hale saw an unidentified fuzzy object in the sky. He emailed the Central Bureau for Astronomical Telegrams. In Arizona, Tom Bopp saw the same thing. He telegrammed the bureau. The comet was named Hale-Bopp the following day. Believing that a UFO was traveling behind it, thirty-eight members of The Heaven’s Gate cult committed suicide on March 26, 1997, six days before the comet reached its perihelion.