The Hundredth Meridian

Epic America

Up in Oregon a woman was bathing in a river. The transistor radio she had set on the bank played as she swam. She was still swimming when a movement farther along the bank caught her eye. She turned and saw Elvis disappearing into the woods on her side of the river. At the same moment "Heartbreak Hotel" came on the radio.

We tend to regard Elvis sightings as examples of a peculiarly contemporary form of zaniness, yet the phenomenon of autosuggestion induced by heroes or celebrities is probably as old as human history itself People have been seeing Mary the Mother of God for nearly two millennia, and the folk history of Europe is enriched by apparitions of figures beloved by the populace from their own time, or earlier ones. The author of the Wobbly ballad claimed he saw Joe Hill last night, and Lew Rockwell, in an adaptation of the Hill lyrics, saw Murray Rothbard. Popular icons, like left-wing causes, never die. So with Butch Cassidy, the Sundance Kid. And so with the other Kid, Billy—alias William Bonney, William Antrim, and Kid Antrim — whose actual name was Billy McCarty and who was born, probably, in Missouri around 1855 and grew up in Silver City, New Mexico Territory. This worthy youth was dispatched to bliss eternal by Sheriff Pat Garrett at Fort Sumner, New Mexico, at midnight, July 14, 1881 — and almost immediately, as one of his biographers says, the Billy the Kid of legend came alive. Since...

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