This began years ago as a running joke with my wife. She will make a comment and I’ll say, “I could fix that – if I owned a time machine.” I tell her I have built a prototype and sent it on a test hop. If the damn thing ever rematerializes, I’ll let the world know. For now, I wait…and history remains unchanged.
This got me thinking – where I would go if I had my time machine? Now I am going to make some assumptions regarding the device. I would not physically be in these times but would be watching them in an observer-mode. Hey, I’m a military historian, the last thing I want is to get shot myself on a time-hop. I also write true crime – so I have no desire to end up a victim as well. Also there would need to be a language interpretation capability so that I could understand what was being said.
The list I have compiled is far from complete – I will add it to from time-to-time (pun intended). In the meantime (It’s hard to stop the time puns) here, in no priority or historical order, are the places or events I would like to travel to in our history:
1560 – England – London. I want to see one of Shakespeare’s plays performed during the period when he was alive at the Globe Theatre.
Approximately 30 – The city of Capernaum on the Sea of Galilee. I would like to see Jesus preach. Look, I’m not a religious guy at all. I believe in God, I just don’t practice any organized religion. Having said that – Jesus, purely as a historical figure, has had more impact on our planet than any other person. I want to see him preach once, hear his own voice without centuries of translations potentially altering the words. I don’t want to see him at the crucifixion because I don’t want to witness his suffering. I don’t want to see the resurrection because some things have to be left to faith.
May 20, 1927, 7:52am Roosevelt Field New York. This is when Charles Lindbergh took off on his historic flight. While tempting to be in Paris at Le Borget when he arrives, I think it would be great to see him in those last few hours before he became the heroic figure we all came to know.
August 4, 1892, Mid-morning, Falls River Massachusetts. Andrew Borden and his wife were brutally murdered with an axe. Did their daughter Lizzie commit the crime? The true crime author in me wants to know the truth once and for all.
July 2, 1863, 4:00pm, Gettysburg Pennsylvania, Little Round Top. Watching the 20th Maine fight their epic struggle for the Union left flank, with the fate of the entire battle of Gettysburg at stake…well, I’d have to see this. To watch Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain mount his charge into the Confederates would be something to witness.
June 26, 1876, Afternoon, Little Bighorn River Valley, Montana Territory. Three words – Custer’s Last Stand. I know it was not the heroic epic stand that artists represent – but I would like to see how the end for the 7th Cavalry unfolded. I harbor no illusions about Custer being the last man to die, but I would like to see how the “last stand” actually happened.
December 23, 1783, Maryland State House, Annapolis Maryland. On this day George Washington resigned his commission as commander in chief to return to his life as a simple Virginia landowner. I would want to hear his words in his own voice and experience the emotion that must have hit the audience.
March 21-23, 1971, Las Vegas Nevada. “I was somewhere on the edge of the desert near Barstow when the drugs began to take hold.. ” Hunter S. Thompson was in Vegas experiencing and writing his epic Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. I’m a huge Thompson fan and would have liked to have witnessed Thompson during this drug-and-alcohol induced binge.
22-23 January 1879, 4:20pm, Rorke’s Drift, Natal Province, South Africa. One-hundred -and-forty-one British and local militia battled 4000 Zulu warriors who had completely trashed a larger British force a day before.
Eleven Victoria’s Crosses – the most distinguished of Britain’s medals, were awarded to the defenders of Rorke’s Drift, seven of them to soldiers of the 2nd/24th Foot – the most ever received in a single action by one regiment. Go watch the movie Zulu, seriously, it’s awesome.
August 20 or September 8–10, 480 BC Greece. The Battle of Thermopylae. This battle has always struck me as a clash of technology and tactics as much as fighting prowess.
March 6, 1836, San Antonio Texas, The Alamo. If you haven’t figured it out yet, I’m a fan of last stands and battles where the odds are impossible. I would like to see the end of this battle and see if, indeed, Davey Crockett survived the fight and was executed. I simply must know.
May 10, 1940 Fort Eben-Emael Belgium. This is the kind of stuff for a Hollywood blockbuster. Eighty German commandos land gliders on top of a massive fortress and taken on over a thousand defenders – and win! The assault on Eben-Emael changed the dynamic for airborne operations. It was brilliant in execution and the battle had its own cliffhanger in the form of a late arriving glider carrying the commanding officer of the operation.
November 15, 1805. The Mouth of the Columbia River. Lewis and Clark arrive at the Pacific Ocean. When the Corps of Discovery arrived at the Pacific Ocean, it had to be a fascinating moment worthy of a time-travelling hop.
December 26, 1776, 8:00am, Trenton New Jersey. General George Washington crosses the Delaware and attacks the Hessian troops garrisoned at Trenton New Jersey. This victory kept the hope for the American Revolution alive – and I would love to see how it really happened.
December 17, 1903. Kitty Hawk North Carolina. The Wright Brothers first true flights would be interesting to watch. Alright, I would have to make a trip to Bridgeport Connecticut on August 14, 1901 as well to see if Gustave Whitehead allegedly made his first flight – just to prove or disprove his claim.
July 17, 1918 Yekaterinburg, Russia. The execution of Czar Nicholas and his family – ending the Romanov rule of Russia. I have no idea why this instance fascinates me (probably my mother taking me to see Nicholas and Alexandra as a kid), but it does. I suppose because it is both a true crime and history tale, woven in with sadness.
July 1, 1898. San Juan and Kettle Hills, Cuba. I would like to the charge of the First Volunteers (The Rough Riders) led by Teddy Roosevelt at the Battle of San Juan Heights. This battle cemented Roosevelt in the public’s mind. It was a bloody and costly affair but one worthy of witnessing.
August 17, 1943, 10:30am Messina, Sicily. General George S. Patton arrives in Messina, having beaten British General Bernard Montgomery. I would like to see the exchange of the British officers (Churchill and Currie) with Patton. I know there are Patton fans and Patton detractors out there. I admit my unabashed admiration for his military prowess.
June 30, 1908, Krasnoyarsk Krai, the Podkamennaya Tunguska River, Russia. A comet or meteor exploded above the Earth with such force it was felt/seen in many countries. Dubbed the Tunguska Event, witnessing this kind of explosion first-hand would be spectacular.
April 15, 1865, 10:25pm, Washington DC, Ford’s Theater. I know it seems maudlin, but I would like to witness John Wilkes Booth’s assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. It was a pivotal event in our history which has ripples into the present-day.
September, 52 BC, France, Alesia. This is Julies Caesar’s greatest victory – the epic battle of Alesia. The infamous ‘Donut Defense” rings – the overwhelming odds – this battle has it all. It was THE battle (in my mind) that cemented Caesar in history.
October 21, 1805, 11:45am, Cape Trafalgar. I would like to be aboard the HMS Victory to witness Nelson’s greatest victory. The battle saved Britain at the cost of Nelson himself. It is a moment that defined the Royal Navy and I would like to see it unfold.
December 24, 1914 Ypres, Belgium. After months of bitter fighting on the Western Front, both sides settled into what would be known as The Christmas Truce. Both sides laid down their weapons and celebrated the holiday.
June 3, 1942, Pacific Ocean near Midway Island. The Battle of Midway changed the entire dynamic of the war in the Pacific. I want to be there to watch the Americans attack and destroy the Japanese carrier force.
January 14, 1963 – mid-morning – Battle Creek Michigan. I wrote about the unsolved murder of Daisy Zick in my home town. I would like to go back to that day and see who it was that killed her. Justice demands some closure for the family – one way or another.
September 29, 1918, France, The Western Front near Dun-sur-Meuse. I wrote the definitive biography about Frank Luke Jr. (Terror of the Autumn Skies), who was, on this date, America’s Ace of Aces in WWI. On his final mission, defying arrest, Luke took off and blasted several observation balloons before being shot down. I would like to witness his last few moments, to see if he did draw his gun against approaching German troops.
December 25, 1916, The North Atlantic Ocean. Count Flex Von Luckner, commanding the windjammer/merchant raider, Seeadler, is apprehended by the auxiliary cruiser Avenger and boarded. Luckner and his crew masqueraded as Norwegians and manage to convince the British to let them set sail. This was the start of a raid that ended on a deserted island in the Pacific. That is one act I would love to witness.
July 16, 1945, 5:10am New Mexico, Alamogordo Bombing and Gunnery Range. This is the first test of a nuclear weapon (Trinity) in the world. It helped bring about the end of the war – and changed the world. I know a lot of folks would say go to Hiroshima but I don’t want to watch people die. Besides, this was the first true test of an atomic weapon.
June 6, 1944, France, Normandy. D-Day, the invasion and liberation of Western Europe is something I think I’d have to witness. I would want to focus on two things. First is Omaha Beach were the Americans became bogged down and the best threat to the invasion presented itself. Second, as a bagpiper, I’d want to go to the British beach (Sword) and watch Lord Lovat and his piper William “Bill” Millin come ashore to The Road to the Isles.
September 7, 1888 – evening – near a doorway in the back yard of 29 Hanbury Street, London. Okay, we’ve all wondered at one point or another as to who Jack the Ripper was. I want to travel back to witness Annie Chapman’s murder and hopefully assign a face to the killer that terrorized London and taunted Scotland Yard.
April 9, 1865, afternoon – Appomattox Court House, Wilmer McLean’s home. This trip would take two hops. One, I would like to witness General Lee’s surrender to General Grant – ending the American Civil War. Secondly – on April 12, I would like to witness the Confederate Army surrender before General Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain. The order of a marching salute – Gordon tipping his sword to his boot. It was then we really became the United States.
November 22, 1863 – 12:30pm – Dealey Plaza, Dallas Texas. I want to position my arrival with a clear view of the Texas Schoolbook Depository and Lee Harvey Oswald. I am a big proponent that he was the lone gunman. I want to witness it myself. I don’t think I could watch what happens to the President…but I want to see for myself, once and for all – ending the pointless debate about a mythical second gunman.
July 2, 1937 – morning – the Pacific Ocean some distance from Howland Island. What happened to Amelia Earhart? I know where she wasn’t – Howland Island. She was somewhere in the area. I want to see where she went down and if she did, indeed, survive.
June 18, 1815 – afternoon/evening – Waterloo in present-day Belgium. I want to see Napoleon commit his final reserves, the Imperial Guard, into Wellington’s force. Witnessing the breaking point of this elite unit, the turning point for Europe, would have been spectacular.
Sept. 14, 1814 – morning – Fort McHenry, Baltimore Harbor. The War of 1812 was not a glorious moment for America. But I would like to witness what Francis Scott Key saw that morning when the American flag was still waving despite the vicious British bombardment of Fort McHenry.
Well, there’s my starting list. Where would you go?