Tonawanda News

February 7, 2013

History: the neverending story

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The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — I’ve been enthralled by the tale that’s being played out ... or perhaps ending ... this week underneath a parking lot in England.

A team of historians and archaeologists confirmed Monday that a set of skeletal remains found under the lot in Leicester, England, is that of King Richard III, he of “Princes in the Tower” infamy and one of the most reviled monarchs in English history. 

The skeleton with its bashed-in skull and painful-looking curved spine lay in that cramped space for more than 500 years, since the last of the Plantagenet monarchs was killed in 1485, at the Battle of Bosworth Field about 20 miles away.

And suddenly, “Richard III” was trending on Twitter. (And the king himself supposedly has a Twitter account now. Somehow.) People are talking about Shakespeare and Plantagenets and Tudors. And a new conversation about history and how the victor writes the school books is taking place.

It’s fascinating, in part because of how the story came to be (a woman researching Richard III for a film spent years trying to convince authorities to do the dig), the stories behind it (one of history’s greatest mysteries may be what became of Richard’s two nephews, the so-called “Princes in the Tower” and whether he caused their deaths) and even the science behind the identification (a Canadian-born cabinet-maker discovered to be a descendant of Richard’s sister Anne of York provided the DNA). 

A new reconstruction of the monarch’s face shows him looking a great deal like Lord Farquaad, villain of the first Shrek movie. (Tell me you didn’t notice this.) Still, he’s nothing like the deformed monster depicted by Shakespeare.

I find that I can’t get quite enough of the story. I’ve read up on the history; I’ve tracked down new books to try. What is it about the tale? Maybe it’s simply that in this day and age we don’t expect history to be quite so raw and present as that image of the damaged skull and spine in a grave under a parking lot.

But it is. History isn’t just books, much as I love them. It’s well-used furniture and dented helmets and run-down houses and, yes, bones still marked by the battle that killed their owner.

And while they may not be as universally recognized as Richard III’s tale (be it true or false), we have lots of stories here too.

In the North Tonawanda library, an exhibit on the Tonawandas and the Civil War showcases the human aspect of the show and its connection to the area. A bullet pulled from the leg of a soldier. Letters between loved one here and at war. An old knapsack. 

A mystery: Why does a woman buried in the City of Tonawanda cemetery have the war marker of a soldier? 

No one knows. She’s not Richard III, but maybe someone somewhere out there is looking for the story of Anna Ohms.

The North Tonawanda History Museum is packed with local items. The Kenmore-Tonawanda Historical Society is too, both in its artifacts, dozens of notebooks, thousands of digitalized photos and the 163-year-old building on Knoche Road itself. The Long Homestead in the City of Tonawanda is even older, clocking in at 183 years old and furnished in the period of the time.

They may not have any skeletons under the parking lot (or maybe they do), but they have plenty of stories inside their walls, and without.

History is a story that happens to be true. And it never ends; it just keeps growing and changing and, occasionally, proving us wrong.

That’s what’s so great about it.

Jill Keppeler is a writer for the Tonawanda News. She can be reached at jill.keppeler@tonawanda-news.com.