Not free, but a good home

I was on DuPont Circle on my way to meet the Hayfoot for dinner the other night when, to my great shock, I noticed that the Patterson Mansion is on the selling block. The mansion has been the home of the Washington Club for the past several decades. Apparently the cost of upkeep along with the prospect of a big payout proved too much to resist for the members of the women’s club. And who can blame them? They stand to make $25-$30 million.

Robert and Elinor (Nellie) Patterson built the home at the turn of the twentieth century when DuPont Circle was transforming into the hub of political and social life in the capitol. Stanford White was the architect. In the decade and a half prior to the Great War a great deal of diplomatic work was carried out in houses like this one in settings formal, informal, and semi-formal.

Here are a few pics.

I guess it should not be surprising, but I did not know that Sotheby's sold real estate.

I guess it should not be surprising, but I did not know that Sotheby’s sold real estate.

A detail of the stately structure

A detail of the stately structure

The 26,000 square foot mansion as seen from DuPont Circle itself

The 26,000 square foot mansion as seen from DuPont Circle itself

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The unknown biography of a well-known photograph

I was searching for something in The Letters of Theodore Roosevelt this morning when I stumbled upon a photograph I have seen numerous times. I was startled because it was one of those things I had only seen online and had assumed to be a fake. Here it is as I snapped it on my cellphone, uncropped to emphasize that it came from his Letters.


I was so surprised because although I have seen this photo a number of times it has always been online. What’s more, it is usually accompanied with a cheeky quote or comment pasted onto it. I have even posted it myself on the Facebook page. It seemed–and still seems–like one of those pics that seems to good to be real. One always semi-assumed that when one saw it.

This was not the internet however. Roosevelt’s Letters were edited in eight volumes for Harvard University Press in a early 1950s by a team of esteemed scholars. It has been in continuous print for sixty years. That would seem to have a little more cachet than just something one sees online.

Photoshopping obviously did not exist back in the day, but the manipulation of images is as old as the photography itself. I would love to know more about this photograph and whether it is indeed the real thing.

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The papers of Chester A. Arthur

I was back at the Library of Congress today. I was looking for some information about Chester Arthur and so began my search in the Presidential Papers indexes. Arthur, like all of the Gilded Age presidents, has been forgotten by history. This is unfortunate because the chief executives sandwiched in between Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt have more to tell us than we realize. Arthur lived less than ten block from the Roosevelts and knew them well. All were members of the Union League Club for one thing. They were also political friends and foes over the years as circumstances varied.

A portion of what remained of Chester Arthur's papers were stored in his Manhattan home at 123 Lexington Avenue in the 1880s and 1890s before disappearing.

After Arthur’s death a portion of what remained of his papers were stored in his Manhattan home at 123 Lexington Avenue before disappearing for good.

One of the most unfortunate aspects of the Chester Arthur story is that the former president had the bulk of his papers destroyed while he lay on his deathbed. Apparently three trash cans full of material were destroyed the very day before he died in 1886. The family kept a few things while the small remainder was sent from Washington to the basement of his New York City house.

There have been some first rate biographies of Arthur over the years but the full story will never be told. I had known the story of the Arthur Papers for many years, but it was struck home this morning when I saw his index in juxtaposition to Theodore Roosevelt’s.

I took the photo below this morning for comparison. On the left is the full record of Arthur’s papers in the Library of Congress and on the right is Roosevelt’s.





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Uncle Bob

Theodore's uncle and neighbor, Robert B. Roosevelt

Theodore’s uncle and childhood neighbor, Robert B. Roosevelt

I was in the Manuscript Division at the Library of Congress earlier today looking at the Theodore Roosevelt Papers when I came across something fun. It was a letter that Theodore had written to his father’s brother, Robert Roosevelt. What was so neat about it was that the letter was of the “catch up” variety. Theodore, though now president, was sending off a quick missive the way one does with family. Today it would have been an email.

Theodore Roosevelt wrote well over 100,000 letters in his lifetime to people of all walks of life. Some of the letters Roosevelt wrote to his children over the years were written with the idea that they would be published some day. And indeed some of them were. The diaries of political figures are often written in this same way.

Roosevelt quick note, which he sent off in 1902 less than a year after becoming president if I remember correctly, was not in that spirit. It was just a note to “Uncle Bob” saying they would all have to get together and catch up when they all had the time. Coming across the letter 112 years was a brief break in the day.

(image/Library of Congress)



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A check in the mail

Whitney_Bank_New_Orleans_Check_1905When I got home this rainy evening I found a check in the mail. It was payment from a publisher for an encyclopedia article I had written 1 1/2 years ago. It totaled $12.50. I have written about a dozen such articles over the past 2-3 years to build my resume and improve my writing chops.  Usually these projects are 1,000 words. My great friend Charles Hirsch always told me that these were great projects because they teach you how to write to spec. As usual he was correct.

If it is for a non-profit publication, which a few of them have been, I usually forgo the symbolic payment. Still I figure for the ones published by a publishing house I might as well take the cash. I have already told the Hayfoot that the burgers and fries will be on me this weekend.

(image/Whitney Bank)

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Four degrees of the Tonight Show

Johnny Carson in 1970 publicity still

Johnny Carson in a 1970 publicity still

The other day I was doing a bibliographic instruction session with an English literature class when we digressed into a brief discussion about late night talk shows. I mentioned that when Jimmy Fallon became host of The Tonight Show he changed the subtitle to Starring Jimmy Fallon. The preposition is important. When Leno took over in 1992 he called it The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. Conan O’Brien kept the “with” as well.

Without drawing much attention to it Leno and O’Brien were paying tribute to their predecessor. For three decades it was always The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. The class, most of whom were not born when Carson went off the air in May 1992, grasped my point. I am sure Jimmy Fallon will do a good job hosting Tonight and I don’t care what he calls his show. I just found the title change curious and was wondering how and why the decision was made to go back to the show name as it was from 1962-1992.

Carson was on my mind because I had just finished Henry Bushkin’s memoir of his years as the talk show host’s attorney, tennis partner, and all-around fixer. Bushkin’s story, good as it is, does not change the basic outline of the Carson story. Everyone knew he was a mean drunk, cold with his three sons & four wives, and increasingly demanding and petty as the years went by. When Carson died after a few months illness he was virtually alone. There was no funeral.

Still the details make for startling reading. It is all the more jarring because the Bombastic Bushkin–whom Carson fired after nearly twenty years service–seems to have no ax to grind.  All memoirs, especially tell all memoirs, are self-servicing but Bushkin’s story seemed for the most part a credible read.

What was so amazing was the way he could turn it off and on when the studio light went on and curtain parted. My theory about people like Carson is that they have only a finite amount of energy with which to use their talents. Sinatra was much the same way. On stage with a microphone he was fine as long as he stuck to the songs and spared the audience his cringe inducing monologues. Both men could also be charming and generous, albeit on their own terms. Always though, one never knew when the hammer might fall. And when it did . . .

Forced to choose between family and career many of the most talented individuals choose the latter. It is part of their greatness. We think it is easy because they make it look so.

The reason Carson will always be my favorite of the late night hosts was the way he conducted the show irony free. One of the wort trends in our culture today is the unrelenting irony and the arch “knowingness” that many seem to employ. Sincerity and genuine curiosity seem to have gotten lost. It is one of the worst aspects of our contemporary culture.


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Opening Day

I posted this last year and thought I would reprise it again. Enjoy.

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