November 1963

Gettysburg battlefield for the back porch of Eisenhower's farm, early 1960s

Gettysburg battlefield from the back porch of the Eisenhower farm, early 1960s

This past Wednesday morning I mentioned to the Hayfoot that it was Remembrance Day, the anniversary of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. Remembrance Day, besides being an opportune time to contemplate Lincoln’s words, is a gentle reminder that the cold and early darkness will not last forever. Spring and summer will indeed return and with that will come our near-annual visit to Gettysburg.

I was thinking about this again yesterday when I realized it was the 51st anniversary of the Kennedy assassination. JFK’s murder is something I have never gotten too involved in; it just seems an interminable rabbit hole. I remember living in Dallas in the mid-1990s and coming across Dealey Plaza by accident one day. This was already thirty years after Kennedy’s death and more people than you might think were out selling their pamphlets with their individual theories. For 5/10 bucks someone would take you on a guided tour. Maybe people are still doing this.

One aspect of Kennedy’s assassination that does not always occur to people is that it came three days after the 100th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address. Quite intentionally, some of the iconography of Lincoln’s funeral was incorporated into the ceremonies for Kennedy. Interestingly they had invited Kennedy to Pennsylvania but he went to Texas instead. His predecessor, Eisenhower, took his place. Eisenhower of course lived in Gettysburg and was an active part of the community. One thing that stands out in the Eisenhower parlor are the statuettes of Meade and Lee on the mantel.

Dwight D. Eisenhower wrote this letter just after the 100th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address and Kennedy assassination

Dwight D. Eisenhower wrote this letter days after the Kennedy assassination and 100th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address.

This past February, on Lincoln’s Birthday no less, I was doing research at the Union League Club for the Theodore Roosevelt Sr book. Nineteen sixty-three was the centennial not just of the Gettysburg Address but of the ULC as well. Roosevelt Senior and his brothers were early members of the club, which was founded in February 1863 to help Lincoln prosecute the war. This was just after Fredericksburg and the Emancipation Proclamation. Lincoln popularity was down and he needed all the help he could get. The Union League Club is something I always discuss during my tours of the Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace.

I came across an interesting document. It is a letter written by Dwight Eisenhower to the leader of the Union League Club thanking him for honorary membership in the organization. Many things stand out in the letter. One of the most striking is that it was written on 30 November 1963, eight days after the Kennedy assassination.

(top image/Library of Congress)

 

Warren Shaw Fisher

The dapper James J. Walker defeated Warren S. Fisher and other candidates in the 1925 NYC mayoral election. Walker's fashion sense was part of the iconography of Jazz Age New York.

The dapper James J. Walker defeated Warren S. Fisher and other candidates in the 1925 NYC mayoral election. Walker’s fashion sense is part of the iconography of Jazz Age New York.

I have been thinking more and more about the United American War Veterans since posting the bit the other day about the plaque they placed at the U.S. Custom House on Memorial Day 1921. It seems remarkable to me that a prominent group like that could just come and go so quickly. I intend to do more with this in the near future, but a cursory search reveals that the story is as fascinating as it is obscure.

The head of the the U.A.W.V. turns out to have been a New Yorker named Warren Shaw Fisher. He was a veteran of both the Spanish-American and Great Wars, and his father had fought in the American Civil War. It turns out Fisher was a bigwig in New York State Progressive politics. On 26 October 1919 he stood in for Leonard Wood at a veterans function at Carnegie Hall. The timing was not accidental, Theodore Roosevelt had died that January and his birthday was the next day. Everyone in the audience would have known that.

Just two weeks earlier Wood had spoken at Carnegie Hall himself, at a fundraiser of the Women’s Roosevelt Memorial Association. Corinne Roosevelt Robinson, Theodore’s sister and a published poet, read a poem she had written about Quentin Roosevelt’s air service buddies and the role  they played at Theodore’s funeral that January. This Carnegie Hall fundraiser served the dual function of promoting Wood’s 1920 presidential prospects. It must have been an extraordinary moment.

The 1920 campaign was where Corinne Robinson gained fame as the first woman ever to speak for a major party candidate when she spoke on Wood’s behalf. Fisher threw his influence behind the general’s presidential run and was active in the Leonard Wood League.

On the 4th of July 1921, just five weeks after the dedication of that plaque on Bowling Green, Shaw was the grand marshall in a 100,000 strong march against Prohibition. The 69th Regiment Band played behind him with a sign declaring that “The Volstead Act Must Go.” In case anyone failed to get the message, the parade included wounded vets driven in automobiles.

In 1922 Fisher supported Al Smith in his successful bid to retake the Albany governor’s mansion. Like Smith, Shaw was a Tammany Democrat. There must be a great story here because in the 1924 presidential election Shaw abandoned Smith and backed Robert La Follette. Shaw ran for New York City mayor in 1925 on the Progressive Political League ticket. The Progressives were strong in New York because of Theodore Roosevelt’s roots here, but the election went to Jimmy Walker.

Fisher died just three years later at the tender age of forty-nine. This may explain why he and the veterans group he led are all but forgotten today.

(image/Library of Congress)

 

Armistice Day 1938

The World War One Centennial Commission has posted my article about the 1938 Armistice Day on its Facebook page. If so inclined, be sure to like the page to receive regular updates via the Commission. I can tell you that they are doing a lot of worthwhile things for the anniversary of the Great War.

A parade was part of the dedication of the New York Fair's Court of Peace, 11 November 1938

A parade was part of the dedication of the New York Fair’s Court of Peace, 11 November 1938

Clergymen of different denominations shared the stage with military and political dignitaries

Clergymen of different denominations shared the stage with military and political dignitaries.

(images/NYPL)

The United American War Veterans

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Yesterday I submitted some research to the World War 1 Memorial Inventory Project about a plaque that stands on the northern wall of the Alexander Hamilton U.S. Custom House in Bowling Green. The Custom House is a beautiful structure designed by Cass Gilbert at the turn of the twentieth century. Standing at the corners of Broadway and Whitehall, the building is one of the grandest and most distinct structures in Lower Manhattan. Today it houses the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian and the National Archives. Late in the summer I stumbled upon this monument early on a Sunday morning on my way to Governors Island:

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I had to look him up but William H. Todd was a shipbuilder who lived in Brooklyn, NY. That makes sense as his company, Todd Shipyards Corporation, was based Red Hook. The company was formed through various mergers in 1916 and built many of the barges and minesweepers used by the U.S. Navy during the Great War. Oddly Todd died in 1932 when he fell down a flight of stairs at his son’s home.

What caught my attention on the plaque though wasn’t Todd, but the reference to a U.A.M.V. It turns out this was something called the United American War Veterans. I had never heard of this group but as it turns out it was a veterans group that in some ways competed with the American Legion after the First World War. It did not last; the U.A.M.V. seems to have gone defunct in the late 1920s.

If you search old newspapers from the 1920 you see a crazy quilt of Memorial Day commemorations across New York City. The Grand Army of the Republic was shrinking but still very much around. Not to be outdone there were then the veterans of the Spanish-American War. Now in 1919 and into the 20s there were the doughboys. Sometimes these cross-generational groups marched together and sometimes not. What’s more, even after consolidation in 1898 Brooklyn and Manhattan, not to mention the other boroughs, often had their own separate commemorations. There could be even more than one within the boroughs.

We see the remnants of the G.A.R. all around us. And the American Legion is still with us. It is funny though how some of these other groups fell by the wayside, all but forgotten by history.

The Great Was as impediment to human progress

British Tommies toil in the mud at Third Ypres, October 1917

British Tommies toil in the mud at Third Ypres, October 1917

This article is a little dense but I wanted to pass along Wilfred M. McClay’s article about the First World War and what it did to the notion of human progress. I remember being in graduate school 10+ years ago and having this discussion with my professor in a class on Modernity. One of the most fascinating aspects of World War One is that it came at a moment when two opposing notions were running parallel to each other. Never was Europe stronger; never did it control so much of the earth’s surface; never did the future, with its rationalism and idea of scientific progress, seems so limitless. Yet things were tenuous underneath–and not so far underneath–the surface. Reactionary monarchies ruling over unwieldy constituencies. Social strife. Nascent colonial independence movements. Jim Crowism and racial unrest here in the United States. These were all there as well. How these problems might have been resolved had the war not come we will never know.

As McClay notes, there is still an odd duality in our consciousness. On one side there is the hand-ringing and the postmodern nihilism that says we can never find objective truth; at the same time many in the West still believe it is possible to intercede and improve the world’s lot through thoughtful effort. Think of Bill Gates’s work on eradicating West Nile virus. It could be that one needs the notion of Progress in order to move forward. Still, the idea can have disastrous results and unintended consequences. Think about current events from our own recent past.

Read the whole thing.

(image/Imperial War Museum)

 

The Armistice’s fifth anniversary

Today is Veterans Day, or what used to be called Armistice Day because the day was reserved to remember the end of the fighting on 11 November 1918. One of the major figures in the early memory of the Great War was Ted Roosevelt, the oldest son of 26th president. Roosevelt had been an officer in the 26th Regiment of the FIrst Infantry Division during the war. After, he co-founded the American Legion. Roosevelt also served as Assistant Secretary of the Navy. This was the position once held by his father and later by his cousin Franklin. As Assistant Navy Secretary he was part of the Harding and then Coolidge Administrations. Here he is with Silent Cal at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier on Armistice Day 1923, five years after the guns fell silent.

Ted Roosevelt (second from right) with President Coolidge (second from left) and Secretary of War John Weeks, 11 November 1923

Ted Roosevelt (second from right) with President Coolidge (hand toward face) and Secretary of War John Weeks, 11 November 1923

This was a crucial time in 20th century history. The New York Times reported the day before the photo above was taken that “a sign painter from Austria” with “a gift for demagogic oratory” was causing trouble in Munich. This was Adolf Hitler’s Beer Hall Putsch. Others noted the fragile nature of the peace. The day the Times reported on Hitler, Woodrow Wilson gave a radio address in which he discussed the fragile peace. The following day 15,000 people showed up at his house on S Street in Washington to see him in person. Wilson’s health was fragile; he died less than three months later. Wilson had cause for concern. It was not just Hitler. The Brooklyn Daily Eagle noted with concern on 12 November that many of Europe’s “wisest statesman” were calling also calling for dictatorship. Even an American, a graduate of the Harvard class of 1909, had participated in Hitler’s attempted takeover.

Defendants in Hitler's Beer Hall Putsch at their trial in Munch, April 1924. The putsch took place a few days before the fifth anniversary of the armistice that ended the First World War.

Defendants in Hitler’s Beer Hall Putsch at their trial in Munch, April 1924. The putsch took place a few days before the fifth anniversary of the armistice that ended the First World War.

No one understood the dangers more that Ted Roosevelt. He resumed his civilian life in the 1920s and 1930s, but returned to military service when the Second World War began. Again a member of the First Infantry he served in North Africa, Italy, and Europe. He was the only American general to land on the beach of Normandy on 6 June 1944. Ted Roosevelt died of a heart attack the following month, the day before he was to be promoted to major general.

(images/top, Library of Congress; bottom, Berlin Document Center)

 

Ernst Bacharach’s Great War

I had an exhausting and exhilarating day today. It was day one of The Center for Jewish History’s Conference on World War 1 and the Jews. It will take me weeks, months really, to absorb and digest everything I learned. I took copious notes. It is amazing to live in New York City and attend these types of events and then walk back onto the street where people are going about their day. I am too tired to share much right now, but one neat thing did happen. After one of the sessions the moderator invited the audience to check out the two exhibits that opened this weekend. These are The Kaiser’s Call to Arms: Jewish Expression in the Great War and German Jews at the Eastern Front in WW1: Modernism Meets Tradition.

Many people were looking at the displays when I noticed a woman paying close attention to one case. Incredibly she was comparing the war medals of one Carl Rosenwald with those of her grandfather. As you might imagine this drew considerable interest from many of the guests. Here are a few photos.

The Great War medals of Carl Rosenwald (left, in display case) and Ernst Backarach (right, on top of case)

The Great War medals of Carl Rosenwald (left, in display case) and Ernst Backarach (right, on top of case)

The medals of the two men are not all the same, but you will note that a few of them are. Both men appear to have been from Munich; they each received the Bavarian Military Merit Cross. There is a King Ludwig Cross in each set as well. Then there are the Prince Luitpold medals. It was extraordinary to see these after listening to such authoritative speakers talking about the war and its causes and consequences.

Ernst Bacharach's granddaughter shows the medals he earned during the Great War. Bacharach came to the United States at the start of the Second World War.

Ernst Bacharach’s granddaughter shows the medals he earned during the Great War. Bacharach came to the United States at the start of the Second World War.

As one might imagine public interest in Bacharach's story was keen. There is nothing like making a tangible connection to history.

As one might imagine public interest in Bacharach’s story was keen. There is nothing like making a tangible connection to history.