On Stranded Train Passengers

I was reading about the unfortunate adventure of about 400 Amtrak passengers on two trains that got stuck in the snowy Sierra Nevada mountains last week. And I thought, that sounds familiar.

It took a while to realize that I had conflated the true story of the Donner Party and a short story it inspired by Mark Twain called "Cannibalism in the Cars." (My family often tells me that it’s painful to follow my — pardon the pun — train of thought. Now everyone can suffer.)

The Donner Party was a group of settlers whose wagon train got stranded by snow in the Sierra Nevadas during the California gold rush. Some members of the party resorted to cannibalism to survive.

Twain, obviously riffing off that story, wrote about a train stranded in snow on the Great Plains. The passengers resorted to cannibalism in a very civilized way that mocked the political nomination process. The debate over the candidates for consumption focused largely on their perceived nutritional value.

I can’t imagine that anyone who was stuck on the Amtrak trains would find the story even slightly amusing, but if you aren’t one of them and you think Mark Twain is funny, give it a read. (The question of whether Mark Twain is funny, by the way, has long been a serious point of contention between my mother and myself.)

Anyway, the story just seems timely, in a topical and political way.


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