Holten: How not to be famous

Is it possible to be the vice president of the United States and not be well known? Apparently it is and I have a case in point. But first let me ask you this; who was Abraham Lincoln's first vice president? In case you don't know, which I'm sure...


Is it possible to be the vice president of the United States and not be well known? Apparently it is and I have a case in point. But first let me ask you this; who was Abraham Lincoln’s first vice president? In case you don’t know, which I’m sure you don’t, it was Hannibal Hamlin.

Not only was he Lincoln’s first vice president, he was also the first Republican vice president, and yet none of us knows who he is. That’s a bit startling because, after all, Abe Lincoln is probably the most famous president of all time. Yet apparently his right hand man did a really great job of hiding out somewhere.

Hamlin may have even turned down a presidential invitation to Ford’s Theater the night that John Wilkes Booth snuck into that private box and changed history. Then again, maybe not since he’d already, by then, worked his way out of the vice president job.

Which begs the question: Who is more famous today, Kim Kardashian or Hannibal Hamlin? Obviously it’s Kim Kardashian and that’s either a harsh comment on their times or ours.

As it turns out, we were probably fortunate that Hamlin wasn’t the VP when Lincoln was assassinated. Yet, according to most historians, it would have been better if Vice President Andrew Johnson hadn’t been either because, after he became president, it’d have been best if he’d just not come to work most days.


Still, Hamlin was a major contributor to his own infamousness. You see, he was not what you’d call a hard worker. In fact, he spent most of his reign as vice president with his family in his home state of Maine.

Time magazine has Hamlin sitting atop their list of “America’s Worst Vice Presidents.” That’s quite a distinction. So at least he achieved something, but he certainly didn’t deserve fame.

Then there are those other people who should be famous but aren’t. One of them is Nicolas Steno. He was Danish, lived from 1638 to 1686 and was responsible for recognizing that successive layers of geological formations contain a fossil record of life in chronological order, which has led to many important discoveries. Yet he gets no glory.

Then there is a man by the name of Cleisthenes. All he did was create democracy in ancient Greece way back in 508 B.C. He should be the most famous man in the world today since his system of governance is the most dominant in the world.

Add to that list a man who we don’t know whose funeral was larger than anyone’s in U.S. history except that of President Abraham Lincoln. His name was Elisha Kane and he was a U.S. Navy Officer who was a member of two unsuccessful Arctic expeditions organized to rescue Sir John Franklin, a British Artic explorer who vanished while attempting to chart the Canadian Arctic.

In the process, while suffering from scurvy and at times near death, Kane penetrated farther north than any other explorer ever had.

Eventually his ship became icebound so he led his party on an 83-day march across the frozen north and they lost only one man. Eventually they were rescued. But the toll on his body did him in and he died a couple of years later in 1857. That’s when they transported his body from New Orleans to Philadelphia and every train station in between was filled with a memorial delegations. Thus we should probably remember him today.

Then again, maybe fame isn’t the most wonderful thing in the world. Perhaps we can learn something from former UCLA basketball coach John Wooden, who most people think is the greatest college coach of all time. He once said, “Talent is God given. Be humble. Fame is man-given. Be grateful. Conceit is self-given. Be careful.”

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