Five Historic Moments You Can Experience Online

Thanks to the Internet, we’re all looking for new thrills and the next big thing.  In between LOLcats and next week’s dance craze, though, are some incredible moments preserved in the amber of YouTube and audio files.

Watch the last witness to President Lincoln’s shooting

Movies like the Oscar-winning “Lincoln” make us feel as if we were there during important moments of President Lincoln’s life, but one clip actually gives us an eyewitness account of his assassination and it’s featured, of all things, on a 1950s quiz show.  Samuel J. Seymour appeared on “I’ve Got a Secret” in 1956 as the last living witness from Ford’s Theater on April 14, 1865. Mr. Seymour was five years old at the time, a little country boy seeing his first play, when John Wilkes Booth shot the President and leapt from the stage. His determination to go on this quiz show was well-founded. In the clip, he has a bump on his head from a fall; he passed away soon after the program was televised.


Listen to poet Robert Browning

Even though Robert Browning passed away in 1889, the irony and drama of his poems are just as powerful today.  Known for character-driven narratives, he may indeed be the father of movie villain monologuing, so perhaps he owes us an apology along with that tremendous literary legacy. Before he ended up with Tennyson and Chaucer in the Poet’s Corner of Westminster Abbey, he attended a dinner party during his last year and was persuaded to record a poem into a phonograph one of the guests had brought. While he flubs the recitation of “How They Brought the Good News from Ghent to Aix,” it’s still pretty damn cool to hear Robert Browning cheer like a football fan. The audio clip is fuzzy, but hey, it’s from freaking 1889, so cut it some slack. While you’re listening, read the notes alongside it at the Poetry Archive for context.


See President McKinley’s Inauguration

These days, a Presidential inauguration is covered from top, bottom and sideways by an army of cameras and reporters. We know more than we really want, from who’s in the audience to what designer clothes the First Lady wears. With all that television coverage, it’s hard to imagine that just over 100 years ago, an inauguration was recorded on film for the first time. President McKinley was filmed by Edison Studios on March 4, 1901, as he took the oath of office for his second term. The clip is very short, with good reason: as the President began to speak, rain poured from the sky, ending the delicate process of filming. The notes with the film also show that the crew was allowed special access in order to record the President from only 15 feet away. Those filmmakers had no idea they were only 111 years from the President “slow jamming the news” with Jimmy Fallon on late night TV.


Hear Rudolph Valentino

If you’re far too young to recognize the name of Rudolph Valentino, just know that he was Ryan Gosling and Robert Downey Jr. combined for the movie-watching woman of the 1920s. Valentino was the sexiest man on film in his day, with legions of female fans. His accomplishment was even more impressive when you consider that no one ever heard his voice in his films, since this was the silent movie era. His death at 31 launched him into James Dean/Marilyn Monroe territory, and the voice of early film’s most famed lover was lost, except for two songs he recorded onto wax cylinders in 1923, before records came along.  His Italian-accented English is hard to understand in ‘Kashmiri Love Song,” but according to various accounts, that accent was so charming and smooth in real life, you couldn’t hear anything else in his wake due to the thunder of panties dropping across the land.


Hear Albert Einstein explain the theory of relativity

Everyone on the globe knows who Albert Einstein is, although many only know enough to sarcastically insult someone with his name. A brilliant physicist, he was largely responsible for the creation of modern physics, and the formula for his theory of relativity is the one equation most people know. He came up with it while working at the Swiss Patent Office in 1905, which may have been a blow to office productivity but a total win for the “Life, the Universe and Everything” column. While it’s entertaining to ask your average reality TV viewer to explain E=MC squared, it’s far more fulfilling to hear the Nobel-winning man do it himself.  A few seconds of listening to Einstein may not make you an instant genius, but you will feel slightly smarter for the rest of the day.