Good Luck and Bad Luck

March is a month when we remember fate and destiny. Or the lack of fate and destiny. Sometimes, things just happen.

March 15 is famous for being the Ides of March, or the middle of the month. It’s the day that Julius Caesar was assassinated by members of his senate. It’s memorable to the English-speaking world because of William Shakespeare’s play. So it’s because of a writer that we remember this particular assassination and feel the chill in our own bones as we look at the calendar.

Likewise, March is the month of St. Patrick’s Day. But before you go slinging about the phrase “the luck of the Irish” like it’s something to celebrate, realize the phrase is ironic. The Irish were considered an unlucky group of people because of the poverty they faced in the old country and the prejudice they faced in the new.

Luck also reminds us at Ohioana about two sons of our state: Eddie Rickenbacker (good luck) and George Armstrong Custer (the other kind).

In our collection, we have Rickenbacker’s own memoirs of his service during the Great War, Fighting the Flying Circus, which was published in 1919 by the Frederick A. Stokes Company. The book includes a handsome portrait of Colonel Rickenbacker in the front as well as a glossary of terms unfamiliar to the reading public at the time, including “joystick” and “zoom.” A biography in our collection is titled Rickenbacker’s Luck, and was written by Finis Farr and published by Houghton Mifflin in 1979. Rickenbacker was never injured in combat, and not seriously in a childhood attempt to fly a bicycle off of the roof of the family garage. So that’s good luck right there.

Neither luck nor heroism are associated with Custer. He’s regarded, rightly or wrongly, as a vainglorious fool with emphasis on the “vain” part. The 1970 film, Little Big Man probably has a lot to do with that perception. The general was portrayed as a complete creep (at best) by actor Richard Mulligan. The truth, as always, is somewhere else, a concept investigated by Nathaniel Philbrick in The Last Stand: Custer, Sitting Bull and the Battle of Little Bighorn. In the end, the only place left for Custer to find another way forward is in the land of alternate history, like the novel Custer’s Luck by Robert Skimin and William E. Moody, published by Herodias in 2000. Yes, the victor of Little Bighorn was elected president in 1880.

Strange days indeed. Be careful out there today, March 15, OK?