Reviving Lincoln

Russell Baker

October 21, 1993|By Russell Baker

NOT since "Famed Psychic's Head Explodes" has a news headline seized and held my attention so insistently as "Abraham Lincoln's Corpse Revived" in the Weekly World News of Oct. 5.

Doctors using the Emancipator's remains to test the experimental drug Revivitol brought him around for 95 seconds. This was long enough for Lincoln to get his eyes open and ask, "Gentlemen, where am I?" before re-expiring.

I was disappointed in Lincoln's failure to say anything more stirring than "Where am I?" You expect something as insipid as that from a maiden coming out of a swoon, but not from the author of the Gettysburg Address.

I would have expected him to talk like one of those movie Lincolns, like Henry Fonda or Raymond Massey. "Slain six score and eight years ago, I am constrained to ask, 'Gentlemen, whither the Union?'" would have been about right.

Scientific advances like this one create trouble. Until now, when contemplating the end I have worried mostly about having some memorable last words ready for historians. I am still undecided whether to make these last words romantic with "Put out the light," magisterial with "Let there be light," ironic with "Hark, is that light at the end of the tunnel?" or rakish with "Light my fire, baby."

Now with this Revivitol thing on the horizon last words won't be enough. There will also have to be memorable first words for speaking as you re-enter the living condition.

Maybe not, though. Maybe I am too optimistic here. Normally when you return from a great journey full of eagerness to talk about it, stay-at-home friends and relatives shut you off by talking about what happened to them while you were gone.

Come to think of it, I'll bet that once Revivitol becomes as common as Prozac a returning cadaver won't be able to work the stiffness out of his larynx before dozens of his progeny are shouting about all the wonders he missed by going unrevived so long.

The more I think of these doctors reviving Lincoln, the less I like it. Reading the paper more closely, I have my doubts about their being doctors, even though the paper calls them "doctors." Doctors of what? It doesn't say.

There is a kind of doctor who fools around with this kind of medicine. Dr. Frankenstein was one. Vincent Price was another. So was John Carradine. I recall Carradine once putting on his white doctor's smock to turn a beautiful woman into a gorilla, strictly in the interest of science of course.

They all toiled in the interest of science, just as these "doctors" experimenting on Lincoln with Revivitol are said to be working for science. They even had a video camera to record the scene. For the medical journals, I suppose.

No wonder Lincoln was at a loss for beautiful language. When you've been dead 128 years, and the light bulb hadn't even been invented yet when you died, much less the information superhighway, and you find yourself coming out of it and staring into a television camera . . . .

That's carrying science too far. Remember, Lincoln doesn't know we've been to the moon and got tired of it, yet here are these "doctors" welcoming him with a TV camera.

Not that I mean to denounce science. Far from it. Science is our great ornament. One of these days it will solve the riddle of the age, which of course is, "People can't really believe a thing they read in a grocery tabloid, can they? So why do they?"

It isn't clear from the story in the Weekly World News why the drug industry is experimenting on ways to bring back the dead. You wouldn't think there could be big profits in it, since rich heirs who can pay big drug prices surely don't want their forebears back nagging them as spoiled, incompetent young wastrels.

It looks suspiciously to me like a sinister plot by the drug industry to extort billions from an already overcrowded planet by threatening to create a new back-from-the grave-population explosion.

Now, about that famed psychic's exploded head . . . .

Russell Baker is a columnist for the New York Times.

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