December 17, 2003

ANNIE OAKLEY, 43, had just quit Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show. Clark Gable was 2 years old. Mark Twain was 68; Ernest Hemingway was 4. In Russia, the Bolsheviks split with the Mensheviks. Pablo Picasso, 22, was in his "blue period." The artists James Whistler and Paul Gauguin died; Mark Rothko was born. So was Lou Gehrig. And Bob Hope.

Gen. Daniel E. Sickles, who had lost his leg 40 years earlier at Gettysburg, was 84. Henry Cabot Lodge, who was to be Lyndon Johnson's ambassador to South Vietnam, was a baby. Ho Chi Minh was 13.

Al Capone was 4. J. Edgar Hoover was 8. Lizzie Borden was 43. Wyatt Earp was 55, and living in Los Angeles.

Scott Joplin, 35, was living in Sedalia, Mo., and still enjoying his success with "The Entertainer," written the year before. Louis Armstrong was 3, or maybe 2, and living in New Orleans; it would be another decade before he picked up a trumpet. Also resident in the city was James Longstreet, 82, a Confederate general who had opposed General Sickles on the field of battle, but later became a Republican serving in the Grant administration.

George Westinghouse, who had made safe train travel a reality with the invention of the air brake 35 years before, was 57. Albert Einstein was a patent examiner in Switzerland. President Theodore Roosevelt had just proposed to Congress the construction of a canal in the newly independent republic of Panama. A mechanic in Detroit set up a new manufacturing firm, which he named after himself: the Ford Motor Co. The Kaiser was worried about his fleet. All of Europe was ruled by royalty except for Switzerland and France. Humphrey Bogart was 4.

Neither the North Pole nor the South Pole had been reached. Amelia Earhart was 5. Antoine de Saint-Exupery, the aviator-author of The Little Prince, was 3. Charles Lindbergh was 1.

James Doolittle, who was to lead his Raiders to Tokyo 39 years later, was 7. Manfred von Richthofen, the Red Baron, was 11. Francisco Franco, whose forces bombed Guernica, Spain, in 1937, was also 11. Haile Selassie was 12, and, despite the Italian air and land invasion of Ethiopia in the 1930s, would remain emperor into the administration of Gerald Ford. Herman Goering, who directed the Luftwaffe, was 10.

Igor Sikorsky, who developed the modern helicopter, was 14, and living in Kiev. Nikita Khrushchev, whose government was to send the first man into space, was 9.

This was the world, 100 years ago today. It was a thoroughly old-fashioned world at the moment of becoming a thoroughly modern one. A hinge was turning, though hardly anyone was there to see it. Think of the steady wind blowing in off the cold surf, and the two brothers, one running in the sand, the other, fitfully, in the air.

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