Down the Rabbit Hole

Posted: February 12, 2019 9:00:00 AM CST

Have you ever Googled David Bowie's age and wound up learning about Wild Bill Hickok's famous shootout? Well, I'll let you in on a secret. That counts as research!

At Bell Library, we encourage that kind of research and, more to the point, we encourage the use of Wikipedia.

Now, I'm not saying you should cite Wikipedia in your lab report, but I am saying that Wikipedia is an amazing resource and just because it's crowd-sourced doesn't mean it's worthless. I use it all the time because it's perfect for my Very Serious Research Needs (like finding out David Bowie's age).

And because I never learn just one thing when I'm on Wikipedia, I'm going to take you down the rabbit hole with me and force you to learn all of the cool stuff I learned after I Googled "david bowie age."

So first, I Googled "david bowie age" and then I naturally clicked on his Wikipedia page (side note: all Wikipedia pages I visited are linked here. Check them out and go down your own Rabbit Hole!).

David Bowie: In addition to learning that David Bowie was 69 years old when he died in 2016, I also learned that he played Nikola Tesla in that movie The Prestige. I only vaguely remembered the movie and I definitely didn't associate it with Bowie, so onto the next page.

The Prestige: I was pretty sure this was the 2006 movie where Edward Norton did magic tricks, but apparently it's the 2006 movie where Hugh Jackman did magic tricks (2006 was, undeniably, a magical time). After reading the introductory section of The Prestige's Wikipedia page, I learned that there was yet another movie in 2006 about stage magicians, the second being The Illusionist and the third being Scoop.

So obviously I click on Scoop’s Wikipedia page. I learned from the page's first sentence that this movie is a "romantic crime comedy film written and directed by Woody Allen…" Based on this limited information and the fact that I'm not really into Woody Allen, I decided to end my research there and go back to learning about The Prestige.   

So in The Prestige, they're working on a magic trick where a tied up woman escapes from a water tank. Apparently someone's not good at tying knots, because the woman drowns and that bums out the magicians (as it should). I noticed that the phrase "escapes from a water tank while tied up" was typed in blue text which surprised me. Blue text in Wikipedia means, "Click me! I'm a link to a different Wikipedia page!". I thought it was odd that such a long phrase had a page, so naturally I had to click it and that brought me to….

Chinese Water Torture Cell: The Chinese Water Torture Cell was a trick created by Harry Houdini whose whole thing was escaping from various situations. The "Chinese Water Torture Cell" was neither Chinese nor a torture device. It was created in England in 1911 for the sole purpose of Houdini's escape attempt. You've probably seen the trick in a movie or TV show at some point because it's become a classic illusion. While reading about the modern interpretations, I saw that Happy Days' resident Cool Guy, The Fonz, was himself an escapee of the Chinese Water Torture Cell. That led me to…

Fonzie: There's a lot to learn about Fonzie (whose full name is apparently Arthur Herbert Fonzarelli). Fonzie has a whole section of his Wikipedia page dedicated to Civic Involvement. Since I only knew Fonzie for effectively turning on juke boxes, I read his page's section on Civic Involvement and found mention of jury nullification. Apparently this issue came up when Fonzie was on a jury in an episode called Twelve Angry Men. But what is jury nullification? IDK! So I clicked on that link.

Apparently jury nullification is the event of a jury deciding that a person who is accused of a crime cannot be guilty of that crime because what they did shouldn't be a crime. So even if someone did break the law, the jury finds them not guilty because they don't think the defendant's actions should be illegal.

While reading about jury nullification, I came across a reference to Habeas Corpus. I don't think I ever learned what Habeas Corpus is, I just heard it referenced in the movie, Legally Blonde and left it there. Turns out it's a law that says a person can report unlawful detention or imprisonment. This seems like a very reasonable thing to have a law about, so I went back to jury nullification.

Apart from being utilized in an episode of Happy Days, jury nullification was an option used in 1865 when a jury found Wild Bill Hickok not-guilty of killing David Tutt in a duel. A duel??? Count me in! I clicked the linked phrase "manslaughter of Davis Tutt" and was taken to…

Wild Bill Hickok – Davis Tutt Shootout which was a gunfight in Missouri. Basically two men were gambling and then they resolved their issues like mature adults. JK! They have a gun fight in the middle of town and one of them died. Since he killed a man, Wild Bill Hickok was charged with murder. The jury ended up acquitting Hickok because of "the unwritten law of the 'fair fight.'"

"Fair Fight" doesn't have its own Wikipedia page, but it does have a note and a citation! Following up on the citation at the end of the note, I learned "That when danger is threatened and impending a man is not compelled to stand with his arms folded until it is too late to offer successful resistance…"  So the jury decided Hickok was not guilty because it seemed unreasonable to expect a man to let himself be shot.

If I had the time and inclination, I would keep following this rabbit hole and learn about Davis Tutt and the Tutt-Everett War and the Whig Party and the Tariff of Abominations and I'd go on and on and on until… IDK… I died?

It's hard to believe this all started off as a passing curiosity about David Bowie's age, but that's the fun thing about Wikipedia and curiosity-driven research! We all learn so much more when we keep asking "what's that?" So ask questions and seek out answers, because you never know what rabbit hole you'll fall down.


Emily Metcalf
Instructional Services Librarian
Wikipedia Wench

By: Emily Metcalf

Category: Library Randomness, Library Hacks