Sunday morning coffee

Hey all, it is another early Sunday morning. I am off to Governors Island in a bit.

Today is the final stage of the Tour de France. I liked the way the Tour incorporated elements of WW1 commemoration into some of the racing stages. I hope this continues through 2018. It seems there is so much they could do without impeding on the integrity of the  race itself. One thing that is unique about the Tour is that its course changes year-by-year. It seems that for one thing they could alter the course here and there to visit battlefield sights. This seems to have already happened to a certain extent.

This all got me thinking to past tours, including one that took place at one of the most unique moments in pre-war history: the 1910 funeral of King Edward VII. As you can from the image, most of the European crowned heads-of-state turned out. I once wrote something on the TRB Facebook page about how former president Theodore Roosevelt represented the United States and had a good laugh at the pomposity on display. Still, he did get along with many of these people, including Kaiser Wilhelm II.

These nine rulers are just some of the European royalty who showed up for the funeral of King Edward VII on May 20, 1910. Their striking resemblance is not coincidental; many were related to one another. Less than five years later they would be at war.

These nine rulers are just some of the European royalty who showed up for the funeral of King Edward VII on May 20, 1910. Their striking resemblance is not coincidental; many were related to one another. Less than five years later they would be at war.

It is hard to imagine how Europe would have turned out had the Great War not taken place and many of these monarchs not been deposed.

The Tour de France took place two months later and the winner was Frenchman  Octave Lapize. When the Great War came Lapize became a pilot in the French Army. He was killed on Bastille Day 1917.

July 31, 1910: an exhausted Lapize wins the Tour de France. Note the flowers.

July 31, 1910: an exhausted Lapize wins the Tour de France two months later. Note the flowers.

(Funeral image photographed by W. & D. Downey and Lapize image by Agence Roi from Bibliothèque Nationale de France; both via Wikimedia Commons)


Battling for Lincoln

JJohn Nicolay (seated) and John Hay (right) were best friends who worked selflessly for President Lincoln. After the war they toiled equally hard to craft his image and defend the Unionist perspective of the war.

John Nicolay (seated) and John Hay (right) were best friends who worked selflessly for Abraham Lincoln. After the war they toiled equally hard to craft his legacy and defend the Unionist perspective of the war.

Last night I finished Joshua Zeitz’s Lincoln’s Boys: John Hay, John Nicolay, and the War for Lincoln’s Image and gained a lot from reading it. Zeitz traces the relationship between the 16th president and his two assistants from the time they met prior the Civil War all the way through the early years of the twentieth century when Nicolay (1901) and Hay (1905) died. I have always known the general outline of the story of how the two wrote their mammoth ten-volume Lincoln biography in the 1880s. Zeitz does a good job of capturing the two competing and contradictory impulses at work in the decades immediately after the war. On one hand there was a tendency to deify the martyred president. Republicans couldn’t go wrong waving the bloody shirt. At the same time the Lost Cause narrative was gaining traction in these years, with such figures as Jubal Early laying the foundation for what would prove to be a remarkably resilient narrative about why the war was fought and how it was lost. We’ve seen the dying throes of this narrative play out in the headlines and cable news shows over the past several weeks.

Hay and Nicolay were very much writing against this narrative, though ironically the Lost Cause was being disseminated in the same place at the same time. While The Century was publishing excerpts from the highly anticipated biography, that magazine was also publishing pieces from Battles and Leaders of the Civil War. B&L was drum and bugle history and sought to give both equal time to the Union and the Confederacy, while strenuously avoiding the cause and consequences of the war. One can only imagine what people were thinking when they read these pieces juxtaposed next to one another, which they did for years. Sometimes Hay and Nicolay could be unfair, especially in their rough handling of General McClellan, who they disliked intensely and were determined to excoriate.

Nicolay and Hay both had long successful careers after the Civil War, including stints overseas in important diplomatic positions. Hay wound up U.S. ambassador to the United Kingdom, where he did so much to build the special relationship that served the U.S. and Britain so well during the First World War and then through the twentieth and early twenty first century. He was of course later Secretary of State in the McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt Administrations as well, where he continued his important work.

(image by Alexander Gardner taken in studio in Washington, D.C. on November 8, 1863, less than two weeks prior to the Gettysburg Address; Library of Congress.)

“A public place”

This 1862 photograph shows the construction of Central Park. Note how the soil has been raked and the boulders placed in preparation for the landscaping that would come later.

This 1862 photograph shows the construction of Central Park. Note how the soil has been raked, the boulders placed, and the stone walls laid in preparation for the landscaping that would come later.

This week, in between hacking from the cough I seemingly cannot shake, I have been making progress on the Theodore Roosevelt Senior book. I have been focusing my energies at the moment on the 1850s, when the sectional crisis was intensifying. Many New Yorker had strong Southern sympathies and were ambivalent at best about slavery one way or the other. New York was also a notoriously cramped and squalid place, with its own concerns and provinciality. Ultimately all politics is local and New Yorkers were most concerned about their own increasingly dangerous and crowded streets. Charles Loring Brace founded the Children’s Aid Society in 1853 to combat at least some of the city’s social ills. He and Theodore Roosevelt Senior were active with the Aid Society for decades. The CAS exists today in the 21st century, doing much of the same work it has always done.

On July 21, 1853, around the time Brace founded the Children’s Aid Society, the New York States Assembly passed the enabling legislation for what would eventually become Central Park. Five years later Frederick Law Olmsted and his colleague Calvert Vaux would win the design competition. It is lucky the park was ever finished, its construction coming as it did in the wake of the Panic of 1857 and the onset of the Civil War in 1861.

I say all this because Olmsted and Brace were best friends and shared many ideas about the city. For one thing, both passionately believed in the democratic and redemptive power that open land could have on a city’s populace. One must remember that there were few public parks in Manhattan at this time. It had no garden cemeteries either. Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn had opened in 1838 as much to serve the needs of the living as the dead. Still that was a ways to come with no subways or Brooklyn Bridge to get you there. Thus a communal, public park was crucial for New York City’s future. These things are important to keep in mind when in a place such as Central or Prospect Parks. The tendency is to think they just put a fence around nature when nothing could be further from the truth. These are planned communities in every way.

(image/Rare Book Division, The New York Public Library. “View of the crossing in connection with 8th Ave. and 96th St. October 18, 1862.” The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1862.


Harry Vardon, 1870-1937

Best known today for the Vardon Grip, the overlapping technique commonly used today, Harry Vardon won six Open Championship prior to the First World War.

Best known today for his Vardon Grip, the overlapping technique commonly used today, Harry Vardon won six Open Championships prior to the First World War.

Watching Tom Watson finish out at his final British Open on Friday got me thinking about the only man to have won more Open Championships. That would be Harry Vardon, who captured his sixth Open title in June 1914 just prior to the onset of the Great War. (Three others are tied with Watson with five titles.) Vardon is less well-known today than Bobby Jones and Walter Hagen, much like tennis star Tony Wilding is less well-known than Bill Tilden and René Lacoste, but he deserves a better place in our consciousness. I suspect the reason men like these don’t get the credit they deserve is that the world they inhabited was swept away by the cataclysm of the Great War. Figures like Tilden, Lacoste, Jones, and Babe Ruth captured the zeitgeist of the Roaring Twenties and became superstars on a level unimaginable before the war. From the perspective of, say, 1924, everything that happened prior to the assassination of the Archduke Ferdinand must have seemed remote.

Vardon was a poor kid, a gardener’s son, from the island of Jersey. He, James Braid, and John Henry Taylor comprised the Great Triumvirate that ruled golf in the Victorian and Edwardian eras when the game was still centered in the British Isles. Braid and Taylor are two of the men tied with Tom Watson. All of their Open victories, like Vardon’s, came prior to the Great War. (Australian Peter Thomson is the fourth of the golfers with five Open titles, his victories coming in the 1950s and 60s.)

Today no longer part of the Open rotation, Prestwick was the scene of Vardon's 1914 Open victory.

Today no longer part of the Open rotation, Prestwick was the scene of Vardon’s 1914 Open victory.

Signs of change were in the air. The twenty year old American Francis Ouimet famously defeated Vardon in a playoff at the 1913 U.S. Open at The Country Club in Brookline, Massachusetts. It was a stunning and very public defeat. Still, Vardon rebounded. When he won at Prestwick in 1914, Ouimet finished well off the leaderboard in 56th place. In June 1914, the very month he won that sixth Open, Vardon was confident enough to pen an article for Everybody’s Magazine titled “What’s Wrong with American Golf?”

When Franz Ferdinand was killed at Sarajevo one week later Europe went on enjoying its golden summer. They played the French Open over the first week of July as if nothing had happened. Vardon finished in second in that tournament. The guns of August inevitably came and when they did the center of golf shifted to the United States. The subtitle of a March 1915 New York Times article captured the moment: “War puts the Game Back in Great Britain—Look to America.” They would not play the British or French Open again until 1920. Vardon and others kept busy, even playing in charity events at the front in Flanders in July 1917.

The Great War crippled British golf, at least for a time. Americans won eleven of the next fourteen Open Championships. The British rebounded during the Depression until the Second World War brought on another golf moratorium. By the late 1940s and early 1950s the transfer was complete. Americans Byron Nelson, Ben Hogan, and Same Snead were the golf world’s new Trio.

(images courtesy of the George Arents Collection, The New York Public Library Digital Collections:

“Harry Vardon.”


The effort to preserve the Waikiki War Memorial Natatorium

The Waikiki War Memorial Natatorium as it is today.

The Waikiki War Memorial Natatorium as it is today.

Since the start of the WW1 centennial there has been a great deal of effort to inventory and/or preserve the roughly 10,000 Great War memorials spread across the United States. One of the most unique is the Waikiki War Memorial Natatorium. Hawaii was a territory in 1917 and would not become a state until 1959. Still, nearly 10,000 Hawaiians fought in World War One, and 101 of them would lose their lives. That is itself a story that someone will hopefully tell over these next few years.

One effort that has been underway for some time is to save the natatorium. Hawaiians opened this memorial in 1927 and used it for decades in ways that reflect its island provenance. Olympian Duke Kahanamoku himself swam and surfed there, as did thousands of other Hawaiians. It eventually fell into disrepair and closed in 1979. Though the natatorium closed, its location is still an active place for memorial ceremonies and other events of the like.

Here is a recent video that depicts the current effort to preserve the natatorium. Note that my sending it does not automatically imply any position on the preservation effort. That is something the people of Hawaii will decide for themselves. It is a story that nonetheless needs to be told.

(image By Waikiki Natatorium [CC BY 2.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons)


Quentin Roosevelt lantern slides

One of my favorite things in the Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace is the stereoscope in the family library. Stereography was a major medium until moving imagery rendered it obsolete in the early twentieth century. An even earlier method for conveying imagery was the magic lantern. Magic lanterns date back to the seventeenth century and could even depict the illusion of movement by projecting images drawn on glass slides on to a screen via candle light. When daguerreotypes and film came along in the nineteenth century magic lanterns adapted and thrived. Enthusiasts still practice the craft in its many forms today in the digital age.

I say all this because, in response to a post on the WW1 Centennial Commission Facebook page, Susan Mitchem of the The Salvation Army National Archives in Virginia noted that her repository holds several lantern slides of Quentin Roosevelt’s original resting place in Chambray, France. You may know that Lieutenant Roosevelt was shot down of Bastille Day 1918, the anniversary of which was yesterday. (In the 1950s Quentin was reinterred in Normandy American Cemetery next to his older brother Ted. Quentin Roosevelt is the only soldier of the Great War to be buried in this cemetery overlooking Omaha Beach.)

Ms. Mitchem said she would be interested in sharing the slides and so I contacted her seeking permission to show them here on The Strawfoot. And so, here you go: two lantern slides of Quentin Roosevelt’s original resting place. The Germans buried him with full military honors and, when the Allies re-took this area shortly thereafter, this site became something of a shrine for soldiers and civilians alike. Pilgrimages such as you see here were quite common.

lantern 3

lantern 1

(images courtesy of The Salvation Army Archives)

Anthony Frederick Wilding, 1883-1915

Anthony Wilding (far court) defeated fellow tennis hall-of-famer Beals Wright in the 1910 Wimbledon final. Note the all-white uniforms.

Anthony Wilding (far court) defeated fellow tennis hall-of-famer Beals Wright in the 1910 Wimbledon final. Note the all-white uniforms.

With this year’s Wimbledon final between Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic slated for this morning, it seems appropriate to look back at one of the greatest figures in the history of the All England Club. Anthony Frederick Wilding may not be familiar to contemporary audiences—especially outside the British Commonwealth—but, years before Bill Tilden and René Lacoste, there was Tony Wilding; this New Zealander won consecutive Wimbledon singles titles from 1910-13. To give some perspective, that feat was not surpassed again until Björn Borg won five consecutive titles from 1976-80. Wilding also reached the 1914 Wimbledon final, which coincided with the assassination of the Archduke Ferdinand and Europe’s Last Summer.

Wilding was a frequent winner in the Davis Cup as well; as late as August 1914 he led Australasia to victory in the finals of that event. The headline of the August 14, 1914 Brooklyn Daily Eagle mentions Wilding’s Davis Cup victory over Richard Norris Williams, below which in smaller type is a photograph and an article about British troops making their way to London’s Victoria Station. Wilding’s tennis career ended soon after that Davis Cup victory, however; he joined the Royal Marines and served as an officer on the Western Front.

Lawyer, cricketer, motor enthusiast and tennis champion Anthony Frederick (Tony) Wilder as he was in 1908, seven years before he was killed on the Western Front.

Lawyer, cricketer, motor enthusiast and tennis champion Anthony Frederick (Tony) Wilding as he was in 1908, seven years before he was killed on the Western Front.

Anthony Wilding was born in Christchurch in 1883. His father was a lawyer and he too studied for the bar, reading law at Cambridge’s Trinity College before becoming both a solicitor and a barrister. It was as a sportsman however that Wilding made his reputation in the early 1900s. A star athlete with dashing good looks, he enjoyed London’s Edwardian society and seems to have a hit with the ladies. And why not?

Wilding also had a yen for mechanical things, especially motorcycles, automobiles, and aeroplanes. It is not surprising therefore that he quickly moved from the Royal Marines to the Royal Naval Air Service and eventually the Armoured Car Force. Among other duties he drove Rolls Royce vehicles to the front. He made captain in April 1915, but did not survive the spring. Wilding was killed in a bombardment at the the Battle of Aubers Ridge in Neuve-Chappelle on 9 May 1915. Tony Wilding is buried at the Rue-des-Berceaux Military Cemetery at Pas-de-Calais.

(top image by London: Methuen and bottom image of unknown origin, both via Wikimedia Commons)


Sagamore Hill set to reopen

index.phpYesterday’s New York Times had a write-up about Sunday’s reopening of Sagamore Hill. I will probably visit sometime in early fall. Like the restoration of the Lee Mansion in Arlington that took place a few years ago, much of the Sagamore restoration work was gritty and unglamorous. It was about the infrastructure–electricity, duct work, cleaning the taxidermy–and things of that nature. Sexy or not that is what needs to be done to keep such treasures functioning for future generations. The latest rehabilitation is now itself a part of the story of the 130-year-old home.

The excitement around Sagamore has been building for months. We certainly talked about it with visitors at the Roosevelt Birthplace on a daily basis.

Find your Park.

(image/Irma and Paul Milstein Division of United States History, Local History and Genealogy, The New York Public Library. “Sagamore Hill, home of President Theodore Roosevelt at Oyster Bay, L. I.” The New York Public Library Digital Collections.

Robert Roosevelt’s Brooklyn Bridge

484px-Robert_Roosevelt_-_Brady-HandyThe Roeblings and the Roosevelts are two of the most prestigious families in American history. There was also a connection between the two clans: Robert Roosevelt, Teddy’s uncle, was a trustee in the Brooklyn Bridge Company. Today Robert is less well-known than other Roosevelts, but he was a very prominent figure in Gilded Age America . He was a U.S. Congressman in the early 1870s and later an alderman and diplomat. Roosevelt was a Tammany Democrat, but also a reformer. He helped take down Boss Tweed’s infamous Ring.

Roosevelt joined the trustees in June 1879 when the construction of the bridge was already very much underway. He was an active member of the board who attended meetings and read financial documents with a lawyer’s care. Roosevelt was involved in a very public dispute with the Edgemoor Iron Company over the business’s inability to provide material in a timely manner. He even challenged Washington A. Roebling’s abilities as Chief Engineer, insisting that he file regular reports to the trustees. Roebling dutifully complied. Roosevelt was occasionally too clever for his own good. He once innocently wondered if the extra steel in the bridge might make it more susceptible to collapse. Roebling explained that the added weight provided additional, not less, stability. The Brooklyn Bridge opened to great fanfare in May 1883. When it did however, Robert Roosevelt was not involved in any official capacity; he had very resigned at a trustee’s meeting on June 12, 1882.

(Matthew Brady image/Theodore Roosevelt’s uncle Robert was an important lawyer, politician, and reformer. Roosevelt was a conscientious trustee, but his passion for weeding out municipal corruption sometimes led him to challenge the Roeblings unfairly.)

Who will be the last remaining WW2 veteran?

An aging WW2 veterans is escorted onto the Hermione, July 3, 2015

Here and below aging WW2 veterans are escorted onto the Hermione, July 3, 2015. Note the cameraman in the bottom image.

Some readers know of my fascination with aging soldiers. On Friday another volunteer and I conducted an oral history at Governors Island with a former trumpeter in the First Army Band. He told us that in the mid-1950s he and the band gigged in Vermont at a ceremony for a handful of aging Civil War veterans. This was on my mind a few hours later when I was at the South Street Seaport to see the Hermione. There were many things going on for the July 4th weekend, including something for World War II veterans. There is still a ways to go before the WW2 soldiers are finally no more. Generationally they are at the point where Civil War veterans were in the 1920s-30s. There were then still many thousands, which got down to the hundreds, and then finally just a handful over the next 15-20 years. I am too young to remember that, but I do remember a time when soldiers of the Great War were not that uncommon. Seeing these two being escorted onto the Hermione I could not help but wonder who will be the Frank Buckles of the Greatest Generation.



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