Sunday, April 10, 2011

Who Is Jim Wheeler, and Why Does He Need New Pants?

One of Abraham Lincoln’s lesser-known moments.

Used under the fair use doctrine for commentary purposes.

Apparently, I missed a significant rite of passage by not having Linden Bateman as a history teacher at Bonneville High.

The man, I’m told, abhors plastic. And loves Abraham Lincoln. So much so, he forces his students to memorize the Gettysburg Address and, I don’t know, sculpt a bust of Lincoln out of wax. Not plastic.

I had mostly loser teachers for history in high school, so maybe having Mr. Bateman wouldn’t have been that bad.

I’m sure he would have known of Carl Sanburg’s “Lincoln, the Laughing President.” What follows, per Sandburg, are jokes in Joe miller’s Jests, a book Lincoln carried around as a lawyer and, we can assume, as president:

An Irishman going to be hanged begged that the rope might be tied under his arms instead of round his neck, for said Pat, “I am so remarkably ticklish in the throat that if tied there I will certainly kill myself with laughing.”

Lieutenant Connolly, an Irishman in the service of the United States during the American war, chanced to take three Hessian prisoners himself, without any assistance. Being asked by the commander-in-chief how he had taken them – “I surrounded them” was the answer.

I have a hard time imagining a modern president daring to tell any kind of joke because you know somewhere someone would be offended by it as soon as those faithful messengers of the media scooped the turd up off the ground and hand-delivered it to the offendee. (To see such turds delivered, go here, or, indeed, to any of the national news networks, newspapers, et cetera.)

The rest of Sandberg’s essay, I must confess, confuses me. He tells a few tales of Lincoln but they’re not particularly funny. Here’s an example:

He was the man who had started a little circle of people to giggling one morning in Judge Davis’ courtroom, and the judge spluttered out: “I am not going to stand this any longer, Mr. Lincoln. You’re always disturbing this court with your tomfoolery.” The fine was $5.00, for disorderly conduct. Lincoln sat with his hand over his mouth trying to keep his face straight. Later the judge called Lawrence Weldon to him and Weldon whispered into his ear what it was that Lincoln had told. Then the judge giggled. Getting his face straight, he announced, “The clerk may remit Mr. Lincoln’s fine.”

Get ready, folks, here comes the punchline:

The joke had to do with “taking up a subscription to buy Jim Wheeler a new pair of pants.”

Whooo! That’s a rib-tickler. Wait. Who’s Jim Wheeler? The Internet is silent on the subject. The reason for the mirth behind this story is lost, apparently, as far as the Intertubes are concerned. Maybe Mr. Bateman would know.

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