We like to commemorate the half-century mark in our culture. It seems it’s always the 50th anniversary of something: next week is the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. In three months we’ll observe the 50th anniversary of the assassination of JFK. The very next day is the 50th anniversary of the premiere of Doctor Who.
The first 50th anniversary I remember was that of DC Comics in 1985, which released its first comic books in 1935. Since then, I’ve experienced numerous 50th anniversaries over the years.
It strikes me that there’s someone out there who was born exactly 50 years before me, at the very end of 1923, who is my “doppleganger-plus-50,” as it were. At the same age as I experienced the 50th anniversaries of various events, he lived through the actual events. He’s living a life parallel to mine, just shifted 50 years.
In 1985 I discovered comic books when DC Comics celebrated its 50th anniversary. I was 11 years old and reading Crisis on Infinite Earths, and Superman, and Batman. I fantasized about going back in time to the 1930s and buying now-rare comic books for a dime. When my double was that age, he might have read those actual comic books. He’d soon encounter Superman and “The Bat-Man” as they hit the market.
In 1987, the Lincoln Tunnel had its 50th anniversary. I was 13 or 14. I remember being in a car approaching the tunnel entrance around that time, on a gloomy, cloudy weekend afternoon, and noticing its Art Deco influences and thinking about the Depression. At the same age, my double was a young teenager living through the gloomy Depression itself, and Art Deco design was all over Manhattan.
Two years later, in 1989, the media covered the 50th anniversary of the German invasion of Poland that began World War II. I was 15, in high school. My double was 15 and hearing about the invasion on the radio.
On the 50th anniversary of Pearl Harbor in December 1991, I was 17 years old, in college, living a carefree life. We had a chorus concert that night. My double was 17 in 1941 and worried about being drafted and going to war.
I was 20 years old on the 50th anniversary of D-Day, in June 1994. I was still in college; a friend of mine and I were driving back to Charlottesville from an overnight road trip to Gettysburg, and we listened to coverage of Bill Clinton’s speech on the car radio. My double was 20 years old and might have been at war overseas.
Assuming he survived the war, my double came home, got married, and started a family in prosperous postwar America. At that age I was in law school in the prosperous late 1990s. He discovered television in his 20s, around the time I discovered the World Wide Web. At the start of 1950, he was 26, the same age as when I celebrated the year 2000. He grew older as the 1950s continued. He turned 30 in 1953. He raised children and saw them enter adolescence. On the night that Sputnik launched and “Leave It to Beaver” premiered (both on the same night, which was also Erev Yom Kippur!), he was 33. He was 37 when JFK was inaugurated; he was 38 when John Glenn orbited the Earth. I remember news coverage of the 50th anniversaries of all of these.
Now he is 39, almost 40, and it’s the late summer of 1963, and JFK will be assassinated in a few months. Shortly after he turns 40, the Beatles will hit America. Then there’ll be another war, along with a cultural and musical revolution, but he’ll be too old to get it. (He’s a couple of years older than Don Draper.) He’ll be 50 during Watergate, around the time when I’m born, and our lives will begin to overlap.
I like reading about anniversaries of news events and imagining how people experienced those events when they happened. Picturing my time-shifted doppleganger is a cool way to do it, because it helps put various events into a chronological context. Looking back on 1985 from 2013 is the same as looking back on 1935 from 1963.
And just over 10 years from now, a baby will be born, and I will be his time-shifted doppleganger. And the cycle will continue…