|George Washington's sonogram |
Every great superhero needs a great origin story. As it turns out, George Washington’s is electifying.
It all started one dark and stormy night (really) in Virginia in 1731. Augustine Washington and a very pregnant Mary Ball Washington were hosting some church friends for dinner while a thunderstorm raged outside. As they dug into their dinner, the house was struck by lightning.
The bolt came in through the chimney and struck a young girl, zapping her to death so hard her knife and fork fused together.
Let me make that clear: the lightning bolt was so hot and powerful it WELDED her cutlery together. But the electricity didn’t stop at the poor girl’s silverware, or her charred meal. It continued along the table and sent a terrifying jolt through the pregnant Mary.
|Mary Ball Washington, mother of George Washington and survivor of the worst dinner party ever.|
Was it mere chance lightning struck that house, that night, that Founding Fetus? Or was there a supernatural, superheroic force chiseling out this monumental leader?
There are three distinct possibilities.
The first is the “divine providence” Washington felt guiding him when he said, "Divine providence, which wisely orders the affairs of men, will enable us to discharge [our duty] with fidelity and success." Perhaps it was this divine providence that discharged lightning into George’s mother. The thing is, that doesn’t exactly fit the Christian God’s M.O – he preferred sending angels to tell pregnant Marys about their superbabies. (Although how much more exciting would Christmas pageants be if he'd sent a billion volts instead?)
The second possibility harkens back to Greco-Roman history, a subject of great interest to the founders. Washington welcomed comparisons to one particular Roman farmer-turned-hero, Cincinnatus, and his favorite play was Cato, based on the Roman senator. So who better to zap a budding demigod with lightning than the king of gods himself, Zeus? That guy all about lightning! All he had to do to recreate a Greek democracy was wait patiently for thousands of years until the right leader was brewing and then ZAP! Instant democracy, just add firebolt.
|This massive statue of Washington posed like Zeus was commissioned by Congress but deemed too off-putting for the Capitol. )Some said it looked like Washington was reaching for a towel after a bath.) Today it lives in Smithsonian's National Museum of American History, just down the hall from Elmo.|
I'm not going to let the pesky fact that Franklin's experiments with lightning didn’t take place for another 20 years get in the way of this theory. We know for a fact he invented both the lightning rod and the
Only the inventor of bifocals could have the foresight to literally jumpstart George Washington in utero, infusing his DNA with the superhuman abilities to dodge bullets, inspire awe, and get thirteen disparate colonies to sign off on an enduring Constitution.
|Though Ben Franklin was against slavery, he may have owned several angels.|
But it doesn't matter if the lightning bolt was sent by God or Zeus or (most likely) Time-Traveling Ben Franklin. Putting aside all supernatural speculation, that real bolt of lightning still had earth-shattering consequences.
According to biographer William Stern Randall, Mary Ball Washington “never fully recovered from the shock she had seen and felt” that night. The experience changed her and she became fearful and overprotective, averse to the young George taking any risks. That kind of stronghold caused him to rebel against both his mother and his motherland, England.
That bolt shaped his childhood and the world. Joining the military against his mother's wishes, Washington’s early incompetence caused the French and Indian War which led to the taxation that started the American Revolution, which lit the spark for the French Revolution, which in turn inspired revolutions across the world.
We have that electrical discharge to thank for setting off a wildfire of democracy. And the young girl who absorbed most of the voltage. Unlike George Washington, that little surge protector’s name is lost to history.