Another most eminent scholar told us in all simplicity that he had fallen into such a state that he would read the same telegraphic dispatches over and over again in different papers, as if they were new, until he felt as if he were an idiot. Who did not do just the same thing, and does not often do it still, now that the first flush of fever is over? Another person always goes through the side streets on his way for the noon extra–he is so afraid somebody will meet him and tell the news he wishes to read, first on the bulletin board, and then in the great capitals and leaded type of the newspaper.

When any startling piece of war-news comes, it keeps repeating itself in our minds in spite of all we can do. The same trains of thought go tramping round in circles through the brain, like the supernumeraries that make up the grand army of a stage show. Now, if a thought goes round the brain a thousand times in a day, it will have worn as deep a track as one which has passed through it once a week for twenty years. This accounts for the ages we seem to have lived since the twelfth of April last, and to state it more generally, for that ex post facto operation of a great calamity, or any very powerful impression, which we once illustrated by the image of a stain spreading backwards from the leaf of life open before us through all those which we have already turned. (5-7)

O.W. Holmes, “Bread and the Newspaper” Soundings from the Atlantic (1864)

Today was the anniversary of a lynching in Duluth. Three men were hung from a lamppost downtown in 1920. I’ve not seen the memorial site, though I’ve wandered around down there. I don’t know how I missed it. I wonder if the annual ritual of speaking on the site ever lightens the stain? But this isn’t the impression I get from Holmes; this makes me think more of the way that the stain of a calamity such as 9/11 causes us to look at the history before it as blotched and imperfect, an impression that we failed to register before the cataclysmic event.