Bearing Lincoln

AbeLate last week I went to the CUNY Graduate Center to hear Martha Hodes discuss her new book Mourning Lincoln. Dr. Hodes, a professor at New York University, explained that while writing her book she used the events of 9/11 as a springboard to analyze the Lincoln assassination and especially its aftermath. What she meant was that today, fourteen years after the World Trade Center attacks, the tendency is to think that there was a universal quality to Americans’–and even New Yorkers’–responses to that event. Old photographs she dug up of people congregating at Washington Square reminded her that the immediate response was more complicated than her fading memory. Such is the nature of these types of events.

The ultimate example of this phenomenon is the murder of Lincoln. Today the tendency is to believe that all Americans responded with universal grief and solemnity when nothing could have been further from the truth. Many–and not just below the Mason-Dixon line–were euphoric. This was especially true here in New York City, where Copperhead sympathies predominated throughout the war. No photographs exist of Lincoln’s assassination or the scene at his deathbed. The closest thing we have is artist Carl Bersch’s painting Lincoln Borne by Loving Hands. As far as is known this is the only rendering to have been done by an eyewitness. The provenance is unclear, but Bersch seems to have painted the work sometime later in 1865. It’s what we have.

A friend sent me an article about the ongoing restoration of the painting, which is in the care of the National Park Service. The painting has not been seen by too many people over the past century and a half, though it did go to Russian four years ago as part of an exhibit to mark the parallel lives of Lincoln and Czar Alexander II. The czar had freed the serfs in 1861 and would himself later be assassinated. I would not put too fine a point on it, but in a way Lincoln’s killing can be seen as part of the wave of political assassinations that were so common between his killing in 1865 and Archduke Ferdinand’s in 1914. Bomb-throwing revolutionaries killed Alexander II in 1881, and it was Leon Czolgosz’s shooting of President McKinley twenty years after that that brought Theodore Roosevelt to power. And those are just a few of the most prominent examples. Anyways, here is that piece from the Washington Post about the painting’s restoration. The restoration work began in August and should conclude in early 2016 with the painting going on display at Ford’s Theater.

Kansas City 1921

american legion reviewing standI came across the image above the other day via the Kansas City Star. The photograph was taken in that city at the American Legion Convention in November 1921. They are hard to make out but the VIPs on the podium are none other than General Jacques of Belgium, General Armando Diaz of Italy, Vice President Calvin Coolidge, Marshal Ferdinand Foch of France, General Pershing, and British Admiral David Beatty. The photo cuts off whatever is on the far left, which is unfortunate because everyone including the big shots are looking in that direction. Of everyone present I find Foch’s presence the most interesting; later that same month he visited the still-under-reconstruction Roosevelt House on East 20th Street here in New York City. As I always point out to people at the TRB, he was on a grand tour modeled after Lafayette’s 1824-25 visit.

I searched a few online sources to see if Ted Roosevelt was present in KC for the convention. He appears not to have been, which makes sense as he was Harding’s Assistant Navy Secretary by this time. He had been in Missouri, in St. Louis, for the Legion’s founding convention two years previously. I assume these conventions were held where they were because these cities were located in the center of the country and thus easy to get to via railroad. KC is an important American city when it comes to the First World War. Theodore Roosevelt wrote for the Star for much of 1917 until his death in early 1919. So did Hemingway until he left for Italy in early 1918. Pershing was from there, which is why the Liberty Memorial and now the National World War I Museum and Memorial are in Kansas City. I have been to the Liberty Memorial once before and would love to get back during the centennial.

(image/Kansas City Star)

TRA Boston

Nora Cordingley worked here at the NYPL in the early 1920s before taking a position at Roosevelt House in 1923.

Nora Cordingley worked here at the NYPL in the early 1920s before taking a position at Roosevelt House in 1923 and then moving to Massachusetts twenty years later.

The Theodore Roosevelt Association’s annual conference is this weekend in Boston. Alas I will not be attending this year. I was talking to a friend the other day, an individual who is quite knowledgeable about Roosevelt, and mentioned to her that Boston is an ideal place to discuss TR and his legacy. Harvard, Alice Hathaway Lee, and Henry Cabot Lodge are all big parts of Theodore Roosevelt’s story with their roots in The Hub. Working on the article I submitted last week, I came across an individual I had never heard of previously: Nora E. Cordingley.

Ms. Cordingley was a Canadian-American who ended up working at the New York Public Library in the early 1900s. In 1923 she took a job at Roosevelt House working under director Hermann Hagedorn. She was there for two full decades; when the Roosevelt Collection moved from East 20th Street to Harvard University in 1943 she moved to Cambridge along with the collection. I was at NYPL a few weeks ago and asked the reference librarian if she had ever heard of Cordingley. She had not. The ref librarian added that NYPL had a training course in the early 1900s–this presumably in the years prior to one’s receiving an MLS from an ALA-accredited school–and that Cordingley may have been here in New York to receive this education. Then, if this is indeed the narrative, after her education and training she moved on to the Roosevelt collection that the RMA was building on East 20th Street.

Cordingley was dedicated to her job. Sadly she died in the Widener Library of a heart attack in March 1951 while editing Roosevelt’s letters. These were the letters that were published in eight volumes in the 1950s under the direction of Elting Morison. Cordingley’s is a moving story that I now think about each time I look up a Roosevelt missive in the set.

Coming soon: The Wonder of It All

The North Bridge over the Concord River, Minute Man National Historical Park

The North Bridge over the Concord River, Minute Man National Historical Park

I received the good news today from the editor at the Yosemite Conservancy that the book for which I wrote a chapter has gone to the printer and will hit the warehouse in mid-October. As they said they might, the editorial people indeed changed the title; there is no official release date yet, but The Wonder of It All: 100 Stories from the National Park Service will be hitting book stores toward the end of the year. This will be the first book chapter I have gotten into print. I am very excited about it not just for that reason, but because if I do say so myself it reflects many years of dedicated volunteer work. Of course it is not only my story but that of other volunteers and the rangers at Ellis Island, the Theodor Roosevelt Birthplace, and Governors Island National Monument who work so hard to make one’s National Park Service experience rewarding. It has been my good fortune to work and volunteer with many people who have taught me so much.

I remember writing the piece last November. It was actually easy to do, as I just opened up about how and why I began volunteering the winter after I married and my father died. The draft was written, proofread and sent off less than thirty-six hours after I received the announcement seeking solicitations. Alas I have no image of the dust jacket to share now. They said they would send that as we get closer to the publication date. Remember that the focus of the collection is the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service. Find Your Park in 2016.

John Kipling, 1897-1915

What do Theodore Roosevelt, Herbert Asquith, Oscar Wilde and Rudyard Kipling have in common? They are just a few of the prominent fathers of their era to have had their sons killed in the First World War. This was not uncommon. If one visits the Union League or University Clubs here in New York, just to name one city, one see the names of the war dead from some of society’s most prominent families. Rudyard Kipling’s son was killed at the Battle of Loos one hundred years ago today. John Kipling, known as Jack in the family to differentiate him from his grandfather and namesake, was an eighteen-year-old second lieutenant in the Irish Guards fighting. It was the young lieutenant’s first engagement.

John ("Jack") Kipling died at the Battle of Loos 100 years ago today.

John (“Jack”) Kipling died at the Battle of Loos 100 years ago today.

Roosevelt and Kipling knew each other quite well and there are parallels and differences in the deaths of their sons in France. Jack and Quentin were both born in 1897, and each was the baby in his family. Like Quentin, Jack was a witty and inquisitive young man who invariably saw the glass as half full. Though they both died young and tragically there was a crucial difference between their deaths: when Quentin was shot down in 1918 the Germans gave him a full burial; Jack’s remains were not found, which caused his father no end of anguish. Rudyard Kipling did all he could to find his son’s remains–indeed he did not give up hope that Jack was still alive until after the Great War’s end–but it was all to no avail. He went to his own grave in 1936 never knowing for certain what happened to his youngest child.

In the early 1990s officials at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission announced that they were now certain Jack was interred in the St Mary’s field hospital cemetery in Loos. That seemed to end the mystery until, in the early 2000s, two scholars released their own research that brought the War Graves Commission’s findings into question. The truth is that we will probably never know for certain. Stalin’s cliché about one death being a tragedy while one million a statistic is as true as it is cynical. Kipling himself channeled his grief into his writing. Later that very year he “My Boy Jack.” The first stanza reads:

“Have you news of my boy Jack?”
Not this tide.
“When d’you think that he’ll come back?”
Not with this wind blowing, and this tide.

(image/Rudyard Kipling Papers, University of Sussex Library)

Sunday morning coffee

It is the penultimate Sunday of the Governors Island season. I can tell that fall is coming because it’s still dark outside. A few weeks ago it was already bright by this time. Some of you have already seen the video above. It’s the piece we did at Governors Island in August. I am posting it here because I added it to Youtube. It had not been on a video platform at Governors Island and I wanted to make it better available. I hope we get to make more of these over the centennial. I finished the draft of the Hermann Hagedorn article last night and sent it to a friend to give it a look. I’m hoping to put the final touches on it over the week and send off. I really hope this gets published. We’ll see what happens.

Enjoy your Sunday.

A signed Roosevelt Memorial edition

IMG_2700Here is something you don’t see every day. I was at the New York Public Library today doing some research. The book I am holding here is volume 1 of the Memorial Edition of Theodore Roosevelt’s collected works. For those who may not know their TR, Colonel Roosevelt authored over thirty books in his lifetime. I wrote a Facebook post for the TRB page about a year ago. Hermann Hagedorn edited Roosevelt’s books in the mid-1920s. The collected works were then published in two versions, a limited-run Memorial Edition and a larger National Edition for the general public.

There were 1050 sets of the Memorial Edition. This is 629. What really drew my attention is that it is signed by Edith Roosevelt, Theodore’s wife. This thing has been part of the NYPL collection for 90+ years now. It’s amazing to hold such a thing in your hands.

Antietam plus 103 years

The Cornfield at Antietam as it was in summer 2012

The Cornfield at Antietam as it was in summer 2011

I could not let the anniversary of the Battle of Antietam go unnoticed. It is one of my goals to attend a battle anniversary there sometime in the coming years. Usually we go to Gettysburg the week prior to the anniversary of that battle, intentionally avoiding the crowds of July 1-3. The Antietam remembrance seems more lowkey and doable. We have a friend who was ranger there for years before taking another ranger post in Washington D.C. He always spoke of the big crowds who show up every September 17 for the extended battlefield walks.

Antietam Day 1904: Not that many years ago the men who once fought the Army of Northern Virginia remembered their feats

Antietam Day 1904: Not that many years ago the men who once fought the Army of Northern Virginia remembered their feats

Antietam Day was a big deal here in Brooklyn for decades after the war. This is not surprising given the number of New York regiments in the Army of the Potomac. Remember that Brooklyn was its own municipality until 1898. One sees the headstone and GAR plaques of the men of the such units as the 14th Brooklyn everywhere in Green-Wood Cemetery. Prospect Park was the big gathering place for these commemorations.

The image is a little grainy but above is a shot of the event held on September 17, 1904. You can see that there were still hundreds of living veterans there to mark the occasion. Their numbers would dwindle markedly over the next decade. The Brooklyn Daily Eagle noted in 1914 that while preparations were being made for the 52nd anniversary the British, French and Germans were assembling on the Aisne for a battle that could dwarf Sharpsburg. The Prospect Park programs seem to have become more muted after that first Antietam anniversary during the Great War. This was probably a combination of weariness from the news overseas and the fact that Civil War veterans were becoming fewer in number. Who wanted to commemorate after Versailles?

The Civil War’s 150th anniversary created a surge of interest in battlefield tourism. Hopefully interest will not slow down just because the sesquicentennial has come and gone.

(image/Brooklyn Daily Eagle via


The New York Times on Ft. Hamilton

One gets a sense of Ft. Hamilton's remoteness in this turn of the century photograph. Note the water background.

One gets a sense of Ft. Hamilton’s remoteness in this turn of the century photograph. Note the harbor in the background.

The piece is not too extensive but there are so few references to Brooklyn’s Ft. Hamilton that I thought I would pass along this New York Times piece about the Army base. If you have never been, I can attest that this is a great excursion. It’s something to think about especially with fall coming up. Ft Hamilton is in an interesting part of the city; the Verrazano Bridge changed the dynamic when it was completed in 1964, but the neighborhood still has its unique feel. I mention Ft. Hamilton every Sunday in my tours at Governors Island. One can’t understand New York Harbor’s coastal defenses without seeing how each fortification fits into a larger picture. Ft. Hamilton has a very long history. To the best of my knowledge it is the last of the system defenses to remain an active military base. Robert E. Lee was stationed there for five years in the early 1840s, just before the Mexican-American War.

In an episode that presages Prohibition, the Brooklyn Daily Eagle noted in its September 12, 1918 edition that the War Department closed fourteen saloons adjacent to the base that day. The article adds that saloons throughout Bay Ridge had been shut down for months prior to that. It is not a coincidence that Prohibition came when it did. The Temperance Movement had been making headway for decades and saw the First World War as their golden opportunity. Many states and localities went dry between 1914-18. The Volstead Act came on May 27, 1919 while President Wilson and his Administration were finalizing Versailles.

(image/Irma and Paul Milstein Division of United States History, Local History and Genealogy, The New York Public Library. “Cropsey house, Ft. Hamilton , Bay Ridge, Brooklyn” The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1885 – 1914.


Connecticut’s 1917 military census

Hagedorn ConnecticutAgain I’m sorry about the lack of posts over the past week. I have putting my head down and focusing on the Hermann Hagedorn piece. Happily most of the heavy lifting is now done. I have another 1200 words to go and am going to do all I can to finish the draft by Friday. If all goes well I will hone it next weekend and send off a week from tomorrow. I knew a fair amount about Hagedorn before starting the project but have a better understanding today of all he did for Roosevelt’s legacy. I did not know for one thing that he first met Theodore Roosevelt at Sagamore Hill in May 1916 when the Colonel was contemplating another presidential run. Together they did so much to help with the Allied cause during the First World War. I will share those things in the future.

Here is an interesting document I thought I would share tonight. Often I search Ancestry to research people about whom I am writing. One never knows when I good detail will pop out. Here is one such document. It is Hagedorn’s 1917 military census form. Note that he filled it out on March 3, that is one month prior to President Wilson’s request for a declaration of war. Hagedorn lists his employment as writer. It does not say so here, but he was writing at the time for The Outlook magazine, for which Roosevelt had written from 1909-14. The Outlook was a hugely influential periodical and an implacable foe of Woodrow Wilson.

This is not a Selective Service document; the WW1 draft did not come until May 18. Note the ambiguity in the document’s language. The Connecticut governor states that the purpose of the questionaaire is to “procure certain information relative to the resources of the state.” What that really meant was that they were trying to figure how many men of military age were living in Connecticut in case of war. It is amazing what documents will tell you if you know what to look for.

(image via


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