25 September 2012

tilly with the others: part 30

In Toronto's Annex neighbourhood, a high percentage of the rental apartment stock is in converted Victorian houses. One big tower of about thirty storeys sits just south of Bloor & Spadina, though. The twelfth floor includes a one-bedroom unit, recently rented by a woman who was widowed about six months ago, and who spent most of her adult life living in the outer suburbs of the city. She keeps her apartment clean and noticeably clutter-free. The only casually-left-out item in the blue-and-brown living room is a first-edition copy of We Came from Outer Space, by a one Franklin J. Gibbs. Gibbs was famous enough about forty-five years ago, but is mostly forgotten today. The only reference to him on-line that is more than by-the-bye is an unusually brief Wikipedia biography:

Franklin J. Gibbs (1898-1975) was an historian, author, and public lecturer. Gibbs enjoyed moderate success as an academic until the publication of We Came from Outer Space: A Study of the Human Extraterrestrial (1968).

Gibbs attended Princeton, eventually earning his Ph. D. in History in 1927. He secured a tenure position at Forest College, and married two years after joining the college.

With a specialisation in ancient civilisations of the Americas, Gibbs often spent the summers on trips to South and Central America, consulting with archaeologists in the field and studying colonial documents. His translations of some of these texts from the original Spanish are still used in research today.

Gibbs was officially a professor emeritus and had retired from lecturing when he wrote We Came from Outer Space: A Study of the Human Extraterrestrial. His critics claimed he had written it to cash in on the popularity of experimental archaeology adventures, such as Thor Heyersdaal's Kon-Tiki expedition.

Unfortunately, We Came From Outer Space  was denounced so strongly in academic circles that Gibbs lost his emeritus status at Forest College. To the surprise of his colleagues and friends, Gibbs stubbornly defended the book, and embarked on a public lecture tour to both support the book and promote the idea that human beings were descended from space aliens.

Though it may seem a strange relic now, We Came From Outer Space was hardly the only book on the market in the late 1960s and early 1970s to publicise such an idea. The book enjoyed some success, briefly appearing in the top 20 list of the New York Times non-fiction bestseller list.

Gibbs died of a brain aneurysm in Hoboken, New Jersey, just ten minutes before he was to give a lecture. He was survived by his wife, Maureen, and by his two sons and one daughter. His daughter and eldest son both work in academia, and have both publicly disavowed any association with their father's views on the presence of extraterrestrial life on earth.

The last copy of We Came from Outer Space that Gibbs signed, less than a minute before he died, was recently sold on eBay for $800.

4 comments:

  1. I enjoy these interludes. They add to the sense of your world being real and make a nice change of tone.

    I'd have liked more of a lead in. I started reading this and wondered what was going on. I think the last time you did this, Tilly had sat down to read a book and then in the next episode we learnt about it. This time it felt more abrupt. Apologies in advance if I missed / forgot the lead in!

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    Replies
    1. You must be a very good critic -- every time I think "hrm, I should have done X" but don't, you call out the same thing! I just wrote a quick intro -- hope it helps.

      Thanks for reading!

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    2. Thanks! It's a tricky thing giving written criticism to people online. I worry sometimes about whether I've missed something or whether it will be received as intended. Sometimes this means I stick to 'safe' comments. So please take it as a compliment that I think you're cool enough to handle feedback in all its forms. :D

      The intro does help ease the reader in btw.

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  2. I'm glad you put in the intro - it certainly did help.

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