Israel Bissell – Not a Jewish Vacuum Cleaner
Talk about getting burned. Nobody got more toasted than Israel Bissell. And who was this fine gentleman? No, not a “Jewish Vacuum Cleaner”, but a postal rider from Massachusetts who on April 19th, 1775 took off from Watertown, Mass. and for four days through five states Izzy warned the colonists of a invasion by the
British Redcoats all the way to Philadelphia, Pa. That is a total of 345 miles. Paul Revere only went 19 miles from Boston to Cambridge and ” the only person he could have warned was the Dean of Harvard University”.
What went wrong for Israel Bissell? His name. In 1860, America was on the verge of the great Civil War which severely dented the soul of this great nation and cost close to 700,000 lives. American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was an abolitionist, very pro-union, and wanted to appeal to the Northerner’s sense of urgency and a call for action. History favors the courageous (as does eating: first guy to eat a clam or a lobster ) and Hank wanted to get the word out and stir up the pro-union sentiments. (Don’t know how much Hank Longfellow stirred us with ” Song of Hiawatha ” except to make us drink more Hamm’s Beer.) So Longfellow wanted to write a poem that would capture his opinion and capture this “hour of darkness and peril and need.” The problem was that the name Israel Bissell just didn’t have the rhyming scheme nor the flair of Paul Revere. Remember that Hank is writing this poem some 85 years after the ride and people sort of forgot how it all went down. Even when Paul died in 1818 there was no mention in his obit about “His Historic Ride” just that he had a good business sense, made nice silver punch bowls, and was a cool guy.
So Paul Revere gets the nod, statues, junior high schools, rock bands (Paul Revere and the Raiders. I mean really who could forget “Kicks” or “Indian Reservation ( the lament of the Cherokee Reservation Indian)” and what does Israel Bissell get? Maybe a country named after him or a vacuum company, but that’s a big reach. Perhaps just that we know Israel Bissell was a cool patriot and let’s think, what rhymes with Israel Bissell? Groove.
Again, I have stolen shamelessly. This time from Robert Wuhl “Assume the Position with Mr. Wuhl” which is great stuff.