The Memory Palace is a quiet podcast that runs for 5 or so mintues. Nate DiMeo, creator and curator, speaks softly but passionately over instrumental music. During those 5 minutes, he transports the listener to certain special moments from the past–the wonders of Coney Island’s Dreamland, the first animals shot into space, the hoaxes and spectacles of P.T. Barnum. Throughout these stories, what DiMeo does best is recreate these moments, reminiscent the delicate care and attention of miniature models or watch movements.
For example, in the episode “shadowboxing”, Nate tells the story of John L. Sullivan–“The Boston Strongboy”. John L Sullivan was a boxer from the late 19th century and the first professional athlete to make a million dollars. Sullivan died at age of 59, an alcoholic with ten dollars to his name. DiMeo imagines his fall from glory through the image of Sullivan on a bar stool, his body swollen and destroyed from his time in the ring and years of alcoholism.
But the story doesn’t paint John Sullivan as a failure, but as “a man who got up”. Through his all his failed attempts–comebacks, quitting drinking, as an actor, as a businessman–Sullivan kept getting knocked down, and kept getting back up, just as he had in the ring in his glory days.
The memory palace is a labor of love. In an interview, Nate describes being inspired to start the podcast after seeing The Glass Flowers at The Harvard Museum of Naturally History. The collection contains almost 5,000 highly realistic and detailed glass models of real flowers. The whole collection was crafted by Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka from 1887 through 1936 in their studio, for the sake of botanical study.
I get the feeling there is a sense of duty DiMeo feels to forgotten moments and characters from history, a meticulous and delicate care inspired by characters like the Blaschka brothers. Or the women he praises in the episode “400,000 Stars”.
The women in the episode (and this picture) were known as the Harvard Computers. They worked for the astronomer Edward Pickering at the turn of the 20th century. Before, they worked as maids, schoolteachers, factory workers and other jobs considered suitable for women at the time. Pickering hired them because he was tired of the lazy, entitled grad students who worked for him before.
These women worked harder and better than the grad students. They examined photographs of stars, counting thousand and thousands of stars and measured their relative brightness. DiMeo praises them by name– “These women ordered the heavens.”
Do yourself a favor, and listen and subscribe to his podcast now. If you like it, please donate and share it with your friends.