Secretary Garrison resigns

at his office in the State, War, and Navy Building

Garrison at his office in the State, War, and Navy Building

They have uploaded my article about the resignation of Lindley M. Garrison over at Roads to the Great War. Woodrow Wilson’s Secretary of War stepped down one hundred years ago today under intense pressure over a disagreement with the president about how best to prepare for American involvement in the First World War.

(image/Library of Congress)

Five years and counting

IMAG0082I received an email from WordPress this past Saturday informing me that I reached my fifth anniversary as a blogger. Five years is a fair chunk of change and I must say that in some respects it does seem like eons ago. I remember getting excited then that the 150th anniversary of First Bull Run was only five months ago. Yikes. I went back the other day and looked at random at a few posts I’ve done over the years, which is something I never do. Occasionally, such as I did with the Pearl Harbor post for a few years, I’ll re-post something. For the most part however, once I have completed a post I am on to the next thing. It’s really the only way. Some of the old posts make me wince. To take a line from George Carlin, I can’t believe the material I once got away with. Usually my weakest posts were those where I failed to stay true to myself. Still, I haven’t posted anything I am truly ashamed or embarrassed about. I guess it all leads up to where one is today.

It may seem that the subject matter has changed here at The Strawfoot, especially as we moved from the Civil War sesquicentennial to the 100th anniversary of the Great War. I myself have never seen it that way, and think I bring the same perspective I always did. There was a shift of emphasis when I began volunteering at the Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace in October 2013. I always knew a fair amount about both sides of the Roosevelt family, but going to the Roosevelt Birthplace every Saturday and writing regularly for the social media platforms. The TRB forced me to think harder.

I don’t know how much the blog says that is new or earth-shaking but I do like to believe it adds another perspective to the mix. I do know that some of you have been following along for several years now. It’s humbling to know that in the cacophony of modern life there are people out there who have made me part of their routine.

Sunday morning coffee

Three images of the Reverend S. Parkes Cadman from his Brooklyn Daily Eagle obituary

Three images of the Reverend S. Parkes Cadman from his Brooklyn Daily Eagle obituary, 13 July 1936

I’m sorry about the lack of posts this week. It was a hectic one with the start of classes, a meeting in the city toward mid-week, and the wrapping up of a blog post to appear elsewhere later this coming week at another site. I’ll post that when the time comes. The Learning Places class I am co-teaching is off to a good start. We had our first field trip to Cadman Plaza this past week. Before venturing out I spoke to the students about the Reverend S. Parkes Cadman, about whom I knew little before starting my prep for the class. I was making a comparison with Cadman to such figures as Babe Ruth, Jack Dempsey and Knute Rockne’s Four Horsemen, the point being that they all became public figures in the 1920s via the mass communication of radio. Twenty years earlier none of these individuals could have reached the masses in quite the same way that they did. Cadman’s sermons were broadcast nationally from his Central Congregational Church in Brooklyn every Sunday. It is strange that he so forgotten today.

I did not know until starting this thing that he served with the 23rd Infantry Regiment on the Mexican border during the Punitive Expedition. His papers are at the Brooklyn Historical Society and I am hoping 1-2 students pick up the baton and dig a little into why he may not have served a year later in the Great War. We shall see. He later became an outspoken opponent of Hitler and Mussolini. In some ways Cadman was the anti-Father Coughlin. Cadman died in July 1936 and so did not live to see the Second World War.

(image/Brooklyn Daily Eagle via Brooklyn Public Library, courtesy

Winding down January 1916 at Governors Island

Theodore Roosevelt's friend and political ally Leonard Wood was a major advocate Preparedness while commanding at Governors Island.

Theodore Roosevelt’s friend and political ally Leonard Wood was a strong advocate of Preparedness while commanding at Governors Island. As January 2016 closed out he was planning for, and looking ahead to, the opening of the civilian training centers come summer.

In the digging I did for yesterday’s post for the anniversary of the birth of Franklin Delano Roosevelt I came across a vignette about Major General Leonard Wood. Wood was commanding the Department of the East on Governors Island at the time, and with talk about Preparedness coming from all sides–from Theodore and Franklin Roosevelt, Elihu Root, and now even President Wilson–Wood too was thinking about the possibility of American involvement overseas. That is why one hundred years ago this week General Wood publicized his plans for that coming summer’s Plattsburgh camps. As Wood described it there would be five camps in Plattsburgh itself and four at Fort Oglethorpe in Georgia. I believe choosing a base in Georgia was a conscious effort to bring North and South together in preparation for joining the Allied cause. That’s also why, when America really entered the war a year later, so many of the bases hastily springing up down South were named after Confederate officers. Remember that this is only a few years after the Gettysburg 50th anniversary.

In a bulletin Wood explained that the nine camps would be divided into senior and junior divisions. College graduate and men aged 23 – 45 would attend the senior encampments and undergraduates and age-qualifying high school senior would be in the junior ranks. The Eastern Department brass was envisioning 10,000 men participating. 1916–just like 2016–was an election year and the Plattsburgh Movement would play a greater role in the election as the months passed.

(image/The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Photography Collection, The New York Public Library. “Maj.-Gen. Leonard Wood, 1860-1927.” The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1860 – 1920.



Franklin Delano Roosevelt, 1882-1945

A youthful Franklin Roosevelt as he was circa 1916 in his mid-30s. He loved performing these types of duties as assistant secretary of the Navy

A youthful Franklin Roosevelt as he was circa 1916 while in his mid-30s. He loved performing these types of duties as assistant secretary of the Navy

Franklin Delano Roosevelt was born on this day in 1882. It’s interesting how we commemorate Washington and Lincoln’s birthdays and then it drops off from there. I suppose with Washington commemoration had much to do with binding the tenuous nation together through the early decades of the republic; Lincoln then joined pantheon as the first president to be assassinated. That’s pretty much it. I thought it would be interesting to see what FDR was doing a century ago. His tenure as assistant secretary of the Navy is one of the least studied periods of his life, probably because he was not making policy per se but carrying out the orders of Naval Secretary Josephus Daniels and President Wilson.

In January 1916 Roosevelt was campaigning hard for Preparedness. He gave a talk in Binghamton, New York 100 years ago this week in which he averred that the U.S. Navy should give up “not one dollar” in appropriations. He was in accord with Wilson in many respects; the sinking of the Lusitania that past May had hardened Wilson’s stance. What is more, Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan was gone by this time, having resigned over what he saw as Wilson’s belligerent stance. In many ways Franklin Roosevelt was making the case better and more forcefully than Wilson, whose appeals to Congress and elsewhere were largely met with skepticism from all sides. FDR’s cousins Theodore Roosevelt for one was not impressed with Wilson’s proposals and called them “half-preparedness.” Of course as a former president he had more leeway than his cousin did to call it as he saw it.

Franklin Roosevelt returned to Washington after his Binghamton speech to get back to work and attend to Eleanor and his kids. He needed to be close to home. He and Eleanor’s last child, John Aspinwall Roosevelt, would be born just six weeks later. It is lost on us how young he was when so much of this was going on.

(image/Library of Congress)

Brooklyn’s Daily Eagle and the Manhattan Pattern

Today marks an interesting day in Brooklyn history: the Daily Eagle published its last edition on this date in 1955. Students in my upcoming course will be studying the Brooklyn Daily Eagle and its significance to Brooklyn, New York City, and American history. The BDE dated back to the 1840s, when Walt Whitman was an editor for several years before leaving over political differences tied to his Free Soilist leanings. The Eagle seems to have been silent on Abraham Lincoln’s famous 1860 visit to Brooklyn’s Plymouth Church, where the soon-to-be presidential candidate attended services the day before his Cooper Union speech launched him to national prominence. The newspaper’s apparent silence on Lincoln’s visit is not surprising given its publisher’s Democratic leanings. The Eagle came into its own during the Gilded Age but took a blow with the consolidation of New York City in 1898. It was still a great paper–it lasted another half century and then some. Still, once Brooklyn was subsumed into Greater New York it could not compete with the papers across the East River.

The Brooklyn Daily Eagle building stood in what is now Cadman Plaza.

The Brooklyn Daily Eagle building stood in what is now Cadman Plaza.

The Eagle continued performing its yeoman service documenting local and national events. It was so successful that it eventually outgrew its original building and moved into a new facility in what is now Cadman Plaza. For those who know Brooklyn, the building you see above stood where the New York State Supreme Court building is today, across the street from the post office. The paper coverage was especially good during the Great War, which is fortunate given that the Brooklyn Navy Yard, Governors Island military base, and New Jersey piers shipping men and armaments across the Atlantic were all with a stone’s throw of Eagle offices. The paper continued doing well until, like the rest of Brooklyn, it became victim to Brooklyn’s decline and the mass exodus to the suburbs that took place after the Second World War. In its final edition the editors explained that the paper fell victim to the “Manhattan Pattern” that had been underway “since Brooklyn became part of New York City.” Indeed as the paper noted in that editorial sixty-one years ago today, the papers was always a step-child compared to Manhattan’s more privileged status within the municipal infrastructure. That’s true, but the Eagle’s demise was due also to trends taking place in the publishing industry at the time; many dailies were either going away or consolidating, a victim to the rise of television, frequent newspaper strikes, suburbanization, and other issues.

Brooklyn became a lesser place when the Eagle shut down. Even worse, the borough is saddled with the monstrous eyesore of a building that took its place when the Eagle building was then down. When the Brooklyn Dodgers finally broke through and won the World Series that October the Eagle was sadly not there to cover it. In a cruel irony, the iconographic headline “THIS IS NEXT YEAR” celebrating the Dodgers’ win appeared in the October 5, 1955 edition of the New York Daily News.

(image/Art and Picture Collection, The New York Public Library. “Brooklyn Daily Eagle.” The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1903.


Sunday morning coffee

IMG_2888I hope everyone is safe after the Great Blizzard of 2016. I have not been out since Friday evening and so have not yet seen it, but we got dumped with about three feet here in New York City. I took advantage of the weather yesterday by preparing the syllabus for the class I will be co-teaching this semester. It’s about 30% done. There are some holes to fill but it’s coming along. As I said the other day, I’m nervous and excited in equal measure. There’s that feeling of working without a net.

The other day I posted about the obscure Lincoln tablet affixed to the north face of Borough Hall. That same day I took this image of the World War II memorial in Cadman Plaza. Ironically, despite its size many people miss this one too because it is in a seldom-visited part of the plaza. The reason why it is so seldom-visited is something out students will learn and write about over the term. The way I understand it Robert Moses constructed this memorial in the early 1950s in response to what he saw as the excessive number of World War I memorials that sprung up throughout the city in the wake of the Great War. As Mark Levitch, the founder of the World War I Memorial Inventory Project notes, there are something like 10,000 Great War monuments of all types and sizes across the country. Every park in the five boroughs seems to have its doughboy and Moses was apparently determined that this not repeat itself after VE and VJ days. There is so much history surrounding us as we go about our daily lives. I will be writing more about the WW2 memorial as the semester goes along. The snow will hopefully have disappeared by then too!

Documenting Cadman Plaza

Friday morning I was out and about taking photographs in Brooklyn’s Cadman Plaza for a class I will be co-teaching this coming spring semester. This is the first for-credit class I will be teaching and I am nervous and invigorated at the same time. Over the semester the students will be documenting a New York City locale; after some discussion my colleague and I chose Cadman Plaza. It is rife with interpretive possibilities. I have always known a fair amount about the area and am now boning up to bring myself up to full speed. I will talk about it here and there over the course of the term.

Brenner's plaque on the northern face of Brooklyn's Borough Hall

Brenner’s plaque on the northern face of Brooklyn’s Borough Hall

Here are two of the approximately twenty images I took the other day. This first one in on the north-facing wall of Borough Hall. It is hard to make out–my little phone camera will only do so much–but it is the Lincoln penny along with the full Gettysburg Address. When I first saw the tablet the other day–and I walked past it for years without ever noticing it–I figured the plaque was placed in either 1909 (centennial of Lincoln’s birth) or 1963 (centennial of the Gettysburg Address). With a little digging I learned via the Catalogue of the Works of Art Belonging to the City of New York, Volume 1 that the City of New York commissioned the 22″ x 28″ tablet from artist Victor D. Brenner for dedication in 1909. That is the year the Lincoln penny made its debut as well.

Communities large and small erected such works throughout that year to commemorate Lincoln’s 100th. President Roosevelt had commissioned Brenner to design the Lincoln penny a few years previously. Of course Roosevelt’s father was an acquaintance of Lincoln’s and a good friend of his personal secretary John Hay. Roosevelt always had an interest in coinage and medallic arts; TR was a good friend and patron of Augustus Saint-Gaudens as well. Downtown Brooklyn was doing poorly in these years, in large part due to the elevated train line that blighted the neighborhood and the new subway line that took commercial and residential traffic to other parts of the borough. Urban renewal efforts were in the works, but the onset of the Great War brought those plans to an end. I would go further into the story here, but that’s for the students to do this winter. I’m eager to see how the class goes.

The plaque and hall from a distance. The tablet is in the lower left corner above the white car.

The plaque and hall from a distance. The tablet is in the lower left corner above the white car.

Losing Roosevelt’s Badlands?


A postcard circa 1930s-1940s

A postcard circa 1930s-1940s

I’m sorry for the lack of posts this past week. I was out of town enjoying some R&R. There is still a few weeks to go but now I am getting ready for the upcoming spring semester. I faced an avalanche of emails when I returned, including one from a friend about a potential gravel mine threatening the vicinity around Theodore Roosevelt’s ranch on the Little Missouri River in North Dakota. Over the past several years the area surrounding Roosevelt’s Badlands has faced considerable environmental threat from the oil boom. The danger, though still real, has subsided in recent months with the drop in gas prices and resulting slowdown in oil field production. The land now in question is managed by the U.S. Forest Service but the mineral rights to the gravel belong to an outside individual.

In many ways the Dakotas made Roosevelt. Yes, he was always first and foremost a New Yorker. Indeed he was the only president to have been born in New York City. He was still finding himself when he began visiting the region while in his twenties, around the time he dropped out of Columbia Law School. It was there that he lost himself in the strenuous life after the death of his wife and mother in 1884. He shed some of his patrician airs while hunting and ranching with the roughnecks who worked the land. Years later his ties the area enabled him to straddle the three regions of the nation during his presidential campaigns. Truthfully and accurately he claimed membership as a bonafide New York Knickerbocker, a Southerner via his unreconstructed Georgian mother, and an adopted Midwesterner. The West, opened up by the railroads and immigration, was coming into its own in these decades between the Civil War and World War One.

It’s hard to see if and how the Forest Service can find a solution to this additional threat. I guess we’ll see what happens.

(image by The Hafstrom Co., Bismarck, N. Dakota from the Tichnor Brothers Collection, Boston Public Library)



Digitizing FDR

Roosevelt (in white pants at center right) and James M. Cox arrive at the White House with reporters in tow prior to their meeting with President Wilson, July 1920. Cox, with FDR as his running mate, lost his presidential bid that year. Roosevelt was assistant secretary of the navy at the time.

Roosevelt (in white pants at center right) and James M. Cox arrive at the White House with reporters in tow prior to their meeting with President Wilson, July 1920. Cox, with FDR as his running mate, lost his presidential bid that year. Roosevelt was assistant secretary of the navy at the time.

There was big news out of Poughkeepsie last month when Marist College, the Roosevelt Institute and the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum announced the completion of their effort to digitize FDR’s Master Speech File. The collection contains over 46,000 items spanning the thirty-second president’s long career. It is often lost on us how hard politicians work and the stamina they need to communicate their message to the people. His frenetic pace in advocacy of the Versailles Treaty is what led to Woodrow Wilson’s stroke; we tend to see FDR as being older when he was when he died, and yet he was only sixty-three. At Yalta he looked twenty years older than that. The collection contains not only the audio recordings themselves but the drafts and final texts of Roosevelt’s words. This is a treasure trove for historians, interpreters, and anyone interested in the history of the first half of the twentieth century, especially the World Wars.

(image/Library of Congress)


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