“If you could have dinner with any historical figure, who would it be, and why?” We asked that of the 250 good souls chosen to be among this year’s Ingram’s 250. Their answers never failed
to enlighten. (As an aside, if you did not make the 250, rest assured, you were on the bubble).
Working with a large sample of early returns, I was surprised to see one name appear twice as frequently as any other. Try to guess who it was. I will come back to that answer later.
The person who I thought would prevail came in second, not a position Jesus Christ is used to. “Jesus, because he was the greatest influencer/leader in the world,” said one respondent.
“Not only did he believe in what he preached, he was willing to die for us and our sins.”
The respondent has it right. If you live in Kansas City—or anywhere in the western world—Jesus has had more influence on the civilization around you than any historic figure. I mean, who comes in second? Said one respondent succinctly, “Jesus Christ. I have a lot of questions.”
Surprisingly, no one mentioned the one most quotidian asset of having Jesus as a dinner guest. Yes, you never have to worry about running out of wine.
Three Missourians made the list. The top two should not be hard to guess: Mark Twain and Harry Truman. Truman was appreciated by one respondent for “his boldness,” Twain for his appreciation of “good cigars and
Then too, the conversation with Twain would have had to be amusing: “His insights on life were pithy and poignant and he always delivered them with humor, which caused you to give them consideration.” Exactly.
The third Missourian was the recently deceased and much-missed Henry Bloch. “To have just one more lunch with Henry Bloch,” wrote an old friend from the heart, “every time was a blessing.”
As an aside, noted British historian Paul Johnson recognized 17 world figures in his book, “The Creators.” Those 17 included the likes of Shakespeare and Picasso. Only four Americans made
the list, but three of the four were from Missouri. Twain, of course, was one. The other two? Guess. The answer comes later.
Although many women were named as an ideal dinner guest, no two people chose the same woman. Among those selected were first ladies Eleanor Roosevelt, “while sometimes unpopular and controversial, she fought for human and women’s rights,” and Jackie Kennedy, “the epitome of style, grace and elegance, which she managed to maintain during one of our nation’s greatest tragedies.”
Men were reluctant to choose women as guests; I think less out of sexism, than out of fear of seeming to two-time their significant others, even with a woman long dead.
Ironically, the one man in my sample who chose a woman chose one who is still very much alive, Oprah Winfrey. “She’s not ‘historic,’” he wrote, “but she embodies success and serving others
in powerful ways.” I’ll buy that, Mac,
but will the missus?
Oprah was the most successful entrepreneur to make the list. Surprisingly, no one wanted to dine with a captain of industry: no J.P. Morgans or John D. Rockefellers or even a Steven Jobs. These guys were all notoriously tight-fisted. Were our respondents worried about get-ting stiffed?
Now for those other two great “creators” from Missouri as designated by historian Paul John-son, any guesses? The first one is not too hard, Walt Disney. The second one separates the parish trivia night hotshot from the Jeopardy champ—author and poet, TS Eliot from St. Louis. Rumor has it though that Johnson may de-list Eliot after seeing the movie version of “Cats.”
Many of the Founding Fathers got dinner invites. These included Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and George Washington multiple times. “He had unlimited power and he gave it up to return to his farm, just like his hero Cincinnatus,” one respondent said about Washington.
Before someone decided congressmen should get pensions, people routinely used to leave government while still alive. For example, around 4 p.m. on the very day of Dwight Eisenhower’s inauguration, Harry and Bess Truman boarded a train in DC without Secret Service and headed home to Independence.
Six months later, Harry and Bess took a 19-day driving tour around the country, just the two of them in their Chrysler. On the Pennsylvania Turnpike, a trooper pulled Harry over for careless driving. Those were the days.
One respondent chose the Founding Father I would have chosen, and for the same reason: “He loved a good meal and a good drink, and I’d love to hear what really happened behind those locked doors at Independence Hall.” Of course, we’re talking Benjamin Franklin here. A notorious gossip, Ben could dish it with the best of the girls.
Our most popular dining companion was a political figure as well. No, it was not Ronald Reagan, although the Gipper got a few votes. And he was a Republican—no, no, don’t get scared. The man in question “provided unparalleled leadership under incredibly difficult circumstances.”
“He was self-made. A leader who demonstrated unmatched courage, conviction and selflessness.” He was “the ultimate example of personal sacrifice for the greater good.”
What intrigued several of our respondents was that this fellow “worked with a team of rivals to arrive at decisions that were in the best interests of our country.” OK, yes, even your high school honor students should be able to guess by now, at least if you give them the first name “Abe” as a hint. Second name, kids, starts with an L.
Easily the most provocative respon-dent was the fellow who chose to dine with the 25-year-old Adolph Hitler. Now before you scratch him off your approved vendors list, consider his rationale: “I would shoot him and save the Greatest Generation a whole lot of trouble.”
Now, this might be a fun guy to go to dinner with.