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29.6.16

The Mandela Effect, Part 1

The other day, a colleague out of the blue asked me if I remembered when Nelson Mandela died.  "It was 1998, or so, I guess," I replied.

"Would it surprise you if I told you it was 2013?" he asked.

"Uh, yeah.  Why?"

And that is how I discovered the Madela Effect.  Or at least that it had a name.

Did you know Kirk Douglas is still alive?  I distinctly remember his son Michael being interviewed on the occasion of his death.

Do you recall Helen Thomas dying during the (first?) Clinton Administration in the 90s?  It was actually 2013.

And wait till you read my experience.

Google defines the Mandela Effect as:
[a] term for where a group of people all mis-remember the same detail, event or physicality. It is named after the instance in which a large group of people all shared the same memory that Nelson Mandela died prior to his actual 2013 death, usually some time in the 1980's.

Nelson Mandela died in 2013, at least according to Wikipedia, but a lot of people, including me, remember him dying a fair time earlier, thus lending his name to the effect.  For a fairly succinct summary of what all this is about, take a look at Fiona Broome's website.

If you look up all the YouTube videos, you'll find that the term has been around for a while.  A lot of people experience these kinds of things, though not necessarily everyone having the same experience.  I never had a term for it until now.  If you read George Ure at UrbanSurvival (link in right column), he's discussed this effect for some time, though I've never seen him call it the Mandela Effect.

According to the data I've found, most folks experience it with celebrity deaths or movie lines.  Frankly, I dismiss the movie lines as completely unreliable.  For instance, one of the most famous movie lines of all time, "Play it again, Sam," never existed.  It's been quoted in cartoons, books, other movies, hell Woody Allen even named one of his plays after the line.  It supposedly comes from the film Casablanca, and was supposedly uttered by Humphrey Bogart, but if you watch the movie, you will not hear the line spoken by any character at any time..

When I see all these folks getting all worked up about things like Snow White's "mirror, mirror" and "magic mirror," or what Darth Vader said to Luke in Empire Strikes Back, I have to wonder how many of them actually watched the movie, and how many just remember the line from a popular impersonation or other reference?  After all, when was the last time you watched Snow White?

However, I am one of those people who remember Nelson Mandela dying some time ago, not in 2013.  And I've had the feeling before.  Even when other people have agreed with my memory, I've usually written it off as a strange sort of coincidence.

I have had two experiences that I cannot dismiss.  One I won't go into because I have no witnesses nor any way to corroborate it.  The other, though, I have four witnesses (one unfortunately died several years ago) and we all remember the same event the same way and we were all spooked by it.

In ancient times, the four of us worked together as stage hands at the old Tower Theater in Houston.  The place was a fun but small house, which made for some great shows with very intimate settings.  I got to meet a lot of names there, including one of my favorite authors, Hunter S. Thompson (on two occasions).

A frequent visitor was the blues guitar master B. B. King.  He came there on probably six or seven occasions.  My group and I were big blues fans and we loved working those shows, and even hung out together at a tiny blues club in the Houston Heights, called The Ready Room (now a tavern).

The Ready Room had a great house band and we talked about bringing B.B. there to gig one night.  The chance came in 1990 or '91, when B.B. had an entire weekend gig at the Tower.  He was doing three shows on Friday and Saturday.  We approached him and he agreed to come to The Ready Room on Sunday night.

Just for fun, we didn't tell the owner or anyone else at the club.  We just showed up on Sunday night with B.B. in tow, and it turned into a magical evening, with a crowd of about 25 people.  As a bonus, the owner comped our table for the night for bringing B.B. in.

More than a decade later, news came that B.B. had died on May 5, 2005.  Needless, to say, it was a sad day for blues lovers the world over.  The four of us got together and went to Fitzgerald's up the street from where the now-defunct Ready Room used to be (it had closed some time earlier).  One of our gang was now a producer for the overnight shift at the local classic-rock radio station (107.5), and we worked together to build a playlist for a B.B. tribute that night.  It ran at midnight for an hour and drew a slightly better rating than the usual fare.

On May 14, 2015, I read the headline that B. B. King had just passed away.  I sat stunned.  I stared at the headline for a long time, flashing back to our beer-drinking session years before and the playlist and my explicit memories surrounding B.B.  I checked the article's date and found articles on other services, so it wasn't a fluke or misprint.

I clicked over to email and sent the link to the other two remaining cohorts.  Within several hours, the responses came.  They were both as befuddled as I was.  We all had distinct memories of B.B.'s death and the beer-fueled wake and the playlist.

The guy who had been the on-air producer went back to the station to try and find the log sheets for that night on May 5-6, 2005.  Since the FCC only requires public broadcasters to keep logs for five years, they had unfortunately been destroyed quite a while before, though he was able to track down the Nielsen's from that night, which showed a fair bump in the overnight ratings (something like a 2 to a 5) due to the tribute, but no mention of the content.

I haven't talked to either of the remaining guys since early last year.  We were all quite rattled by the experience, since we all shared the exact same memories.  There is no doubt in any of our minds that B.B. died on May 5, 2005.  We commemorated the event both together and publicly on-air.  And what was even stranger was that the "second" death was almost exactly 10 years to the day after the "first."

Needless to say, this was a profound experience.

I'm not the only one who has had this experience, apparently.  There are hundreds of references on YouTube, more on blogs and websites, but most I consider to be spurious at worst, and mismemories at best (to coin a term).  The best I can find so far is that the Mandela Effect was named about 15 years ago, or so. I guess I'm a little slow on these things.

Movie lines are unreliable.  Folks remember a lot of things that were never said in movies, but are still deeply associated with them.  Other types of events are hard to document, since something has obviously changed in our perception of events.  We tried to find the air logs, but were about five years too late.  We know what we did and none of us had different or conflicting memories of the events surrounding B.B.'s "first" death.

One often-mentioned event is the Interview with a/the Vampire name change.  I'm not much of an Anne Rice (Anne Rampling maybe) nor Tom Cruise fan, so I don't have any specific memory of the titles of the book or movie.  However, it seems to me that there must be a lot of folks out there with old/original copies of both who can confirm or deny this one.  If it's any comfort, Wikipedia lists the book/movie as Interview with THE Vampire.

The common thread, from what I can find, is these things surround celebrity deaths, have time lapses of roughly 10 years or so, and can involve either someone still alive who one thinks died some time back, or someone who died twice.

Tomorrow, I'll explore more of this topic, as I've been talking to other folks who have had this experience - and it's becoming a genuine phenomenon.  Stay tuned!