Libraries, Baby Names, and Swiftwater Bill GatesLeave a comment
January 23, 2014 by libroshombre
The library’s award-winning Guys Read program is underway, and me and thirty-five friends are reading boy-friendly books at local schools, including Neil Gaiman’s popular “Fortunately, The Milk.” This features a dad’s abduction by space aliens and rescued by a time-traveling, sentient stegosaurus in a hot-air balloon who insists on giving things awkward names, for example calling his balloon a “floaty-ball-person-carrier.”
It’s like the trend among university library schools to re-label themselves “schools of information.” “Library” means more than information; it includes all the messy permutations of human interaction. People meet and think there, organize and recreate, listen, watch, socialize and, yes, use information. This is especially true of public libraries, one of America’s greatest contributions to civilization. The first tax-supported public library in history was founded in Peterborough, New Hampshire in 1833, and the concept spread across the land. Today public libraries outnumber McDonald’s outlets,and more Americans own library cards than VISA cards.
Americans care deeply about names, judging from the long-standing interest in the library’s baby name books. Such books saved my beloved and me from choosing a name for our son whose original meaning turned out to be “stinking hair.” Today’s new parents often utilize Google to scope out prospective monikers, seeking new, unusual, and “safe” names. For example, a 2011 NY Times article reported on parents choosing “Kaleya” over “Kalia” when a Google search revealed “Kaleya” was used by a Goth poster illustrator and a Spanish heavy metal band, while several online strippers use “Kalia.”
“Uniqueness seems to be a primary motive,” the article noted adding that there’s a smartphone app called “KickToPick” for parents who can’t agree on a name. They create a shortlist of names on their phone, place it on the pregnant mother’s belly, and the program cycles through the names until the baby “chooses” one by kicking.
“What’s in a name?” as Shakespeare’s Juliet asked. “[T]hat which we call a rose By any other name would smell as sweet.” Not everybody named Bill Gates smells like a billionaire philanthropist, for example. There are scads of Bill Gates in the country, and even more in history, including the runner-up to E.T. Barnette in the race for worst scoundrel in Fairbanks history.
This was “Swiftwater” Bill Gates, who resembled Microsoft Bill in several regards. According to a 1997 Seattle Times article by Ross Anderson, they’re both known for being “highly competitive, almost ruthlessly so,” and both “amassed a fortune through an extraordinary combination of work, vision, personal charisma, and sheer luck.” However, the modern Bill, a much nicer guy, doesn’t come close to Swiftwater in sheer audacity and crookedness.
The five-foot-five Swiftwater Bill got his nickname during the Klondike Rush in Dawson when he bragged about being a boatman, but soon he was one of the richest men around. Swiftwater was in the Klondike before the rush began, and worked a mine for one of the first claimholders. He concealed a rich paystreak until purchasing the claim, made the first of several fortunes, and lost it all gambling, his favorite vice, along with seducing very young women.
Swiftwater began with 19-year-old goodtime girl Gussie Lamour, whom he won after buying all the eggs, her favorite comestible, in Dawson. They traveled together to San Francisco, where she ditched him to rejoin her previously undisclosed husband and 3-year-old child. So Swiftwater courted and married her younger sister Grace. The union lasted only three weeks, so he pursued the even younger Lamour sister, Nellie, who turned him down.
After helping a Seattle widow spend her fortune on an ill-fated post-boom hotel in Dawson, Swiftwater eloped to Alaska with her 15-year-old daughter, whom he abandoned in Nome for his sister’s 17-year-old stepdaughter, whom he married bigamously. Eventually he was caught, but the charming Swiftwater convinced the Seattle widow to post his bail, pawned her diamonds, and bought a Cleary Creek claim in Fairbanks, where he made another fortune. He lost that, and died in 1935 while developing a Peruvian silver mine.
I learned about Swiftwater Bill at a free lecture at Noel Wien Library, which contains a lot of information, but as Neil Gaiman noted, is “a community space. It’s a place of safety, a haven from the world.”