By Debra Adams Simmons, HISTORY Executive Editor
As the coronavirus global death toll mounted and tens of millions of Americans were ordered by their states’ governors to stay home, many of us homebound people jammed to the streaming music of Derrick Jones at a virtual place called Homeschool: Club Quarantine.
The online party, hosted by DJ D-Nice (above) on Instagram Live, started with a few hundred people on Wednesday and by Sunday night reached more than 160,000, attracting everyone from Duke University's Coach K to Oprah, Rihanna and Mark Zuckerberg. And me as well, so I guess you could say, to quote an old hit, that last night a DJ saved my life.
The gathering used history—in this case, a good old-fashioned trip down music’s memory lane—to re-imagine and redefine social distancing, considered critical to stop the spread of COVID-19.
Instead of being isolated in our homes and driven by panic, that moment when the rational part of our brain is overrun by emotion, as NatGeo’s Amy McKeever reports, DJ Nice provided therapy and developed a new social norm. He put a creative spin on the Zoom meetings that consumed workers the previous week. Better than happy hour, his nine-hour set on Saturday, followed by an extended encore Sunday, enabled thousands of people to relax, take a deep breath and declare—in the comfort of our individual family rooms—that we’re in this together. And he's back at 6 p.m. eastern Monday.
The world’s largest house party is juxtaposed with risk-taking Spring Break revelers searching for a party on the beaches of Florida or Texas, or the Cherry Blossom faithful descending on Washington, D.C.’s tidal basin to witness peak bloom. Among the participants in these annual IRL rites of spring lurks unknowing spreaders of disease. As so many asymptomatic coronavirus carriers emerge, history tells us that there are spreaders to be discovered in myriad places, including a South Korea church gathering and a Japanese karaoke bar.
We are reminded of Typhoid Mary, an Irish cook believed to have spread typhoid fever during the early 1900s in New York City. Mary Mallon had no symptoms but the first person became sick three weeks after she arrived. She went on to infect 51 people, three of whom died, during two outbreaks. NatGeo’s Nina Strochlic writes that the case exposed how one person could be an unwitting spreader of disease and sparked a debate about personal autonomy when it’s pitted against public health.
Don’t know about you, but I’m happy enough to stay in my home and groove again to DJ Nice. Or, if you prefer, this gorgeous version of Beethoven's Ode to Joy, mixed from individual members of the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra, each in their own self-quarantine.
Stay safe, everyone. And rockin'.
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Today in a minute
Year of Wonders: The plague-infected English Derbyshire village of Eyam is best known for its 1660s decision to wall itself off from the world rather than risk the spread of pandemic to nearby communities. Village accounts say the plague had arrived via flea-invested cloth from London, Atlas Obscura reports, and the quarantine was so complete that neighboring towns left food outside the walls for the villagers, who had left vinegar-rinsed coins in payment. The community is also known as the setting of a best-selling novel of the plague, Year of Wonders, by Geraldine Brooks.
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Overshadowed by Petra: Millennia before Harrison Ford’s Indiana Jones and hordes of tourists swarmed the magnificent ruins of the Nabatean capital of Petra, in modern-day Jordan, Mada'in Saleh, in northeastern Saudi Arabia, still paled in comparison. But the city, settled 2,000 years ago by the Nabateans, was the kingdom's second largest settlement and southernmost outpost, says photographer Tasneem Alsultan. Now it's an archeological site, with its own treasures, still a bit off the beaten path.
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The big takeaway
Spared: After Pearl Harbor, the United States could have repeated its shameful “internment” of Japanese Americans on the West Coast in Hawaii as well. But a combination of factors—the sheer size of the community, the multiethnic tolerance of Hawaii, and the courage of the Army commander in outmaneuvering superiors—prevented that xenophobic World War II shame in the Pacific territory. “Sometimes it is not the path history takes but the one not taken that teaches the most important and enduring lessons,” writes historian Richard B. Frank for Time.
In a few words
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The last glimpse
Proving fakes: Investigators photographed purported pieces of the Dead Sea Scrolls under many different wavelengths of light, a technique called multispectral imaging. Through examination such as this, the investigators determined the pieces, displayed by the Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C., were forgeries. Nat Geo’s Michael Greshko details the investigation and the use of high-tech gear like this imaging machine.