History Blog

Six Degrees of Kevin “Turkey” Bacon

You’ve likely heard of the popular game Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon[1] based on a real social theory suggesting that any two people in the world are linked by six or fewer acquaintances. The theory was first proposed in 1929 by Frigyes Karinthy[2], a Hungarian researcher, studying the urbanization of Europe after World War I, and was immortalized by John Guare in the title of his 1990 play, Six Degrees of Separation.[3] Perhaps more immortalizing was when students at Albright College, while apparently watching Footloose, experimented with the game and the actor, Kevin Bacon. The actor also runs the charitable website, sixdegrees.org, as a “social network for social good.”

Regardless, due to the “small world theory” or the Kevin Bacon Game, we can all tie ourselves to another, in theory, in six-or-less steps.

We decided to try the theory ourselves to see how the History Center relates to Thanksgiving.

  1. Today is Thanksgiving. And while we’re at it, “Happy Thanksgiving to all of you from all of us at San Diego History Center!” Thanksgiving traditionally, though today not universally, derives from the Plymouth Colony’s survival of the first winter on the western side of Cape Cod Bay in 1620.
  2. Thanksgiving was first proclaimed as a national observance by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863.  Lincoln actually called two days of Thanksgiving that year, one in August in response to the devastation of the Battle of Gettysburg, and a second in November, “for the general good.”  It is this second proclamation, on the fourth Thursday of November, which has consistently been the document named for making Thanksgiving a federal holiday.
  3. Two years later, President Abraham Lincoln[4] – 23 days before his assassination – appointed Dr. Lewis C. Gunn as Assessor of Internal Revenue for the First Collection Division of California.   The History Center holds the actual document in its archives, pictured here, and authenticated by the Lincoln Presidential Library in 2011. This document is rare because most of Lincoln’s appointments were signed A. Lincoln.
  4. Dr. Gunn, who lived in San Francisco at the time of the appointment, moved to San Diego in 1868 to join his brother Douglas and sent for his daughter, Anna Lee, in 1875 to live permanently.
  5. The following year, Anna Lee meet her soon-to-be husband—named George Marston—when they both performed  in a play called The Courtship of Miles Standish, a Plymouth Pilgrim-themed poem written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in New England in 1858.  The Courtship relates the fictional story of a thwarted marriage proposal by the Pilgrim’s military captain, Miles Standish, by Priscilla Mullins, the one single woman of marriageable age that survived the first dreadful winter in Plymouth Colony in 1620 from where the storied narrative of Thanksgiving is derived.[1]
  6. And as we all know, George Marston founded the San Diego Historical Society in 1928 which is today known as the San Diego History Center located in Balboa Park though still operating the original home of the Historical Society, the Junípero Serra Museum in Presidio Park.

Whew! We did it!

So from our family to yours, Happy Thanksgiving everyone, and here’s to a prosperous, abundant new year!


[1] Records of a California Family: Journals and Letters of Lewis C. Gunn and Elizabeth Le Breton Gunn (San Diego, 1928), 270-71, quoting; Marston, Family Chronicle, 1:190-92, 205-06

[1] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/celebritynews/8560483/Actors-Hollywood-career-spawned-Six-Degrees-of-Kevin-Bacon.html

[2] The Biography of Frigyes Karinthy.  http://www.karinthy.hu/pages/kf/en/

[3] Guare J(1990) Six Degrees of Separation (Vintage, New York).

[4] Rowe, Peter.  Two Lincoln Documents Found in San Diego.  San Diego Union- Tribune.­   February 7, 2011.

[5] Records of a California Family: Journals and Letters of Lewis C. Gunn and Elizabeth Le Breton Gunn (San Diego, 1928), 270-71, quoting; Marston, Family Chronicle, 1:190-92, 205-06

Welcome to the San Diego History Center Blog

Welcome to the History Center’s new blog! Posts will explore topics relevant to San Diego’s past, present, and future. Each week, discover new stories about our community mined from our vast object, document, and photo collections.

This October, join us as we explore San Diego’s evolving attitude towards death in our series, “Grave Matters: San Diego’s Relationship with Death.”

While death itself has remained a constant in life, attitudes surrounding death and ways of interring the deceased have changed over the course of time. Views and traditions of death may have shifted, however, like all cultures of the past, San Diegans must still confront our physical contact with the dead, funeral rites, and interment practices, and how we grieve and memorialize those gone before us.