Intriguing Connections: Oscar Wilde and JFK

alex atkins bookshelf triviaHow is it possible that Oscar Wilde and JFK living almost a half-century apart are connected? The most unlikely connections between two people, of course, can occur when certain events fall on the same day in the calendar. Take today, May 25. In May 25, 1895, at the height of his popularity, Irish playwright Oscar Wilde was convicted of “gross indecency” under British law that deemed homosexuality as a criminal offense. At his sentencing, the judge stated, “I shall pass the severest sentence that the law allows. In my judgment it is totally inadequate for such a case as this. The sentence of the Court is that you be imprisoned and kept to hard labor for two years.” The famous author served two years at London’s Pentonville Prison, where he picked oakum, a substance used to seal gaps in ships. Wilde suffered in prison from the harsh life and poor diet. After his release, his health continued to decline. He spent his final years, adopting the name Sebatian Melmoth, living destitute and in exile in France. There he composed his last work, The Ballad of Reading Gaol. He died on November 30, 1900, at the age of 46. The epitaph on his grave reads: “And alien tears will fill for him/ Pity’s long-broken urn, / For his mourners will be outcast men, / And outcasts always mourn.” Over a century later, in 2017, Wilde was pardoned for homosexual acts that were decriminalized under the Policing and Crime Act 2017.

Fast forward 66 years, to May 26, 1961. President John F. Kennedy stood before Congress to declare that the United States “should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth.” It wasn’t until a year later, September 12, 1962 to be precise, when JFK declared this ambitious goal to the world. This time, he was speaking before a larger audience at Rice Stadium located at Rice University (Houston, TX): “We choose to go to the Moon… We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to win, and the others, too.” That goal was met triumphantly on July 20, 1969, when at 10:56 EDT, astronaut Neil Armstrong set foot on the surface of the moon and proclaimed, “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.”

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