by Ellis Parker Butler
Let us consider Christopher Columbus and Jane Ann Fliggis in the light of all the information now at our disposal. I admit that Columbus is more widely known, but is that the true test of merit? The finer minds do not think so. Spenser's Faery Queen is a finer work than Mother Goose but does not sell as well. Mere notoriety proves nothing. I ask that Jane Ann Fliggis be given her dues.
Those who do great deeds must be considered not only in the light of the deed itself but also in the light of the use made by them of the deed. What, for example, were the personal reactions of these two great discoverers, Christopher Columbus and Jane Ann Fliggis, of Betzville, Iowa, to their discoveries?
Perhaps we have been giving Christopher Columbus too much credit and Jane Ann Fliggis not enough. Columbus was, by occupation, a navigator of ships. He was, by preference, a wandering navigator -- a discover. His business was to discover things and places. It was his life work. He was fitted for the work by his past training and by his natural inclinations.
In 1492 Christopher Columbus, with three ships, left Spain with the intention of discovering India, which had already been discovered. The expedition was a discreditable failure. His three ships, instead of discovering what they meant to discover, ran into two continents and a whole gang of islands that Columbus had not wanted to discover and had no use for. By doing this Columbus broke the word he had given the Queen of Spain and brought on the Spanish-American war.
And what was the result to Columbus himself? He was taken to Spain in chains, passed his latter days in poverty and neglect, and died miserably, not even knowing he had discovered America.
Jane Ann Fliggis, on the other hand, knew what she had discovered the very moment she discovered it. As soon as her eye recognized the feminine writing on the envelope and her hand felt the photograph inside the envelope she knew she had discovered something of vast and far-reaching consequences.
"So, ho! Henry Fliggis!" she exclaimed, although her husband was not there to hear the immortal words; "I guess this will settle you!"
There is, as historians have noticed, a remarkable similarity in the events preceding the discoveries of Mr. Columbia and Mrs. Fliggis. Eggs entered into both careers. Columbus made an egg stand on end to prove a point; Mr. Henry Fliggis used the fact that his breakfast egg was too well boiled as an excuse to scold and browbeat Mrs. Fliggis and make her weep meekly. In both cases the discoverers were asking something. Columbus asked for money; Mrs. Fliggis asked permission for her mother to come and visit with her for a month.
Like Columbus, Mrs. Fliggis had done some small exploring before the great event, and in both cases an accident led to great results. If Columbus had navigated seas Mrs. Fliggis had more than once sent her hands into Mr. Fliggis's pockets for spare change. She was not an untried explorer. These are the similarities, but how great are the differences!
"Well, Henry," said Mrs. Fliggis, when her husband returned home that evening, "I have written to mother."
"Told her she couldn't come, huh? And mighty good work, too! I wouldn't have that old cat --"
"Henry! Henry Fliggis!" Mr. Fliggis, so proud, so commanding, so stern a ruler of his wife and home, so great a tyrant, looked at his wife and was surprised. This was not her usual meek tone.
"I have written mother to come, Henry," said Jane Ann Fliggis in a cold but firm tone. "I have asked her to come and bring her furniture and her hair dye and her poodle. I have asked mother to come and stay with us during August, September, October, November and December, 1921, and the entire calendar years of 1922, 1923, 1924, 1925 and 1926 and until she passes from this life in our best bedroom, happy and contented, not having had one harsh or unpleasant word from you, Henry Fliggis! And mind you remember that! No, not a word, Henry! Be careful, now! Who, may I ask, is Sunbeam Spongecake? And how many more little Sunbeams have been brightening the hours during which you said important business affairs kept you at the office? Mother, Henry, will arrive on the 6:30, Monday next. You will meet her, Henry, and welcome her as a loving son would welcome her. Understand?"
"Yes, my dear," said Mr. Fliggis humbly.
"You had better, if you know what is good for you," said Jane Ann.
Mrs. Fliggis accomplished all this without leaving her own home. She overthrew a tyrant and established a just but severe reign by a discovery in which she employed but one hand with four fingers and a thumb. What would the much-vaunted Columbus have discovered had he used one hand only? What, I ask, might not Mrs. Jane Ann Fliggis have discovered if she had had three ships, three crews and the whole Atlantic Ocean for achieving her discoveries? O poor, weak Columbus! O mighty, invincible, all-worshipful Jane Ann Fliggis! Fame does indeed bestow her laurels blindly.