Here is a highly amusing account by Washington Post journalist Gene Weingarten of winning the Pulitzer Prize for this article – lauded at the time as original and groundbreaking – about a stunt which turned out to have been a brilliant if unintentional echo of another stunt just like it, carried out more than 70 years ago.
Weingarten wrote about an experiment he undertook with classical violinist Joshua Bell, in which Bell played in a Washington DC metro station “disguised” as a generic busker, to see whether anyone noticed the quality of the busker’s playing, to find out how influential context can be. After winning the prize for his article, Weingarten was shocked to discover, via the research efforts of an intrepid reader, that this very stunt had been pulled in 1930 by another journalist.
The news, while dispiriting, does nothing to take away the power of Weingarten’s article. Does this story prove there’s nothing new under the sun, or that everything old is always new again, if you wait long enough?