A SHORT STORY
The Washington Irving legend awakens to celebrate the passing of time.
What if… instead of Rip Van Winkle falling asleep for 20 years, he’d actually slept 200?
It was 1819 when Washington Irving originally published his story of Rip Van Winkle. The story features a hapless Dutch American in the Catskills who falls asleep for two decades and misses the American Revolution.
Since it is now 200 years since Irving published that fable, I thought it might be fun to imagine how much things would have been different for Mr. Van Winkle had his deep sleep begun the day the story was published, and was two centuries instead of two decades. What follows are a few details regarding how things that have changed.
If Van Winkle fell asleep in the summer, there were 21 states in our nation in 1819. Alabama became 22nd in December. Today, of course, it’s 50.
The United States was 20 years old. The British Empire was the most powerful nation on earth and at the height of its powers. “The sun never sets on the British Empire” was a truism of that time. Today, it is the American Empire that has its tentacles everywhere via multi-national corporations, with Pentagon bases and warheads on nearly every continent and under the high seas.
The U.S. population was fewer than 10 million. The population today of New York City is 8.6 million and New York State 19.5 million.
There were no cars, subways, trains or airplanes when Rip fell asleep in 1819. Nor was there electricity. He may have had a wind-up cuckoo clock or sundial to tell time, but there were no watches.
In 1819 there was no Internet and he didn’t have to worry about being flamed on social media, which was good. He was no doubt surprised to learn that upon awaking his story got one billion likes on Facebook after going viral due to 85 million shares. Naturally he had no idea what any of these things meant.
In 1819, as many as 25% of live births in America failed to reach five years old. Today less than 1 in 200 die before the age of five.
7% of the U.S. population lived in urban areas in in 1820. Today that number is 80%. The New York City skyline, for Rip, was incomprehensible.
James Monroe was president. Today Donald Trump is president.
Each has 11 letters in their names, at which point the similarity ends.
Rip was unable to understand the meaning of many words that he was hearing for the first time. Robotics, nuclear power, weapons of mass destruction, double helix, DNA, Cold War, microchip, Internet.
He was astounded to learn that men had walked on the moon 50 years ago.
It surprised him when he read a tabloid headline that said Rip Van Winkle did not exist, that he was “fake news.” This occurred at a grocery store checkout line. The abundance and variety of fresh-picked fruit and vegetables blew him away.
He was also surprised to find the farmland in the Catskills that he once purchased for a couple hundred dollars was now owned by a former news man named Dan Rather and worth millions. Rip especially wanted to meet this Mr. Rather, primarily because he’d never seen a talking head.
Any thoughts on where we’ll be 200 years from now? The times, they are a-changin’.