Feeling like summer

Hey everybody, I got back from DC yesterday.  Being in the nation’s capital during Memorial Day weekend was a great experience.  I saw the Elmer Ellsworth exhibit at the National Portrait Gallery.  It will be on display through March 2012.  If you can make it, I highly recommend.  Adam Goodheart tells the Ellsworth story captivatingly in 1861: The Civil War Awakening.

(Source: The Photographic History of The Civil War in Ten Volumes: Volume One, The Opening Battles; Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons)

It is starting to feel like summer in New York: hot and humid.  Things are picking up here.  This Saturday a friend and I are going to see the just-opened “Honoring Their Sacrifice” exhibit at Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetery.  Unfortunately I missed their Memorial Day programming because I was out of town.  I’m starting at Governors Island the next day.  I also have a few writing projects I’m working on.  Then in a few weeks we’re headed to Gettysburg and Antietam.  We have gone each June the last few years and have gotten it down to a science a little more each time.  I’m hoping to squeeze in Monocacy as well.  We will be there a week and it is difficult to squeeze in everything.  We’ll see how it goes.

Summer 2011

I will be in Washington, DC for the next few days and blogging will be light at best.  Have a good Memorial Day weekend.  I’m looking forward to a fun and productive summer.

Remembering Miles

Miles Davis would have turned eighty five today.  It is hard to believe he has been gone twenty years.  This rendition of “So What” comes from the 1959 special The Sound of Miles Davis, which was something of a sequel to the 1957 The Sound of Jazz.  Both programs were organized by Nat Hentoff of the Village Voice and Whitney Balliett of the New Yorker and produced by early television pioneer Robert Herridge.  Coltrane’s playing is especially confident during this period, and he would of course strike out on his own just a few months later.  Today we take it for granted that such things are easily available to us at the click of a mouse and the touch of a keyboard; up until even the late 1990s, however, such was not the case.  I remember watching this for the first time at the Museum of Television & Radio (now the Paley Center for Media) when I came to New York City for a job interview in 1997.  Enjoy.


To Brooklyn Bridge

Earlier this spring I read The Great Bridge, David McCullough’s magnum opus about the creation of the span connecting Brooklyn and Manhattan.  One reason for doing so was because, after spending so much time reading about the death and destruction of the Civil War, I wanted to turn my attention to something being built not destroyed.  The bridge is down the street from where I work and I often have my lunch there.  It is also where I took my wife after our wedding reception.  Yesterday was the one hundred and twenty eighth anniversary of the opening of the Brooklyn Bridge.

Brooklyn Museum Collection

I sometimes think many New Yorkers assume the bridge has always “been there,” a natural part of the landscape.  Actually it was the brainchild of German-born John Augustus Roebling, who was wounded on the construction site and died prematurely years before the bridge’s completion.

Brooklyn Museum Collection, Gift of Paul Roebling

It was up to his son, Colonel Washington Augustus Roebling, to complete the task.  He did so, but at great personal expense.  Roebling contracted caisson disease, or the bends, from his frequent trips below the water to the excavation site and suffered in horrific pain the rest of his long life.  He lived until 1926.

Roebling was an officer in the Army of the Potomac and participated in many of the war’s most important events.  He fought at Antietam, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, and the Wilderness among other places.  He also personally witnessed the engagement between the Monitor and the Merrimac in 1862.  Roebling married Emily Warren, the sister of General Gouverneur Kemble Warren, in January 1865.

Looking at the bridge today…

Harpers, 1890

…it takes a leap of faith to imagine it as it was just after its completion.

The road in the top photograph is the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway.  Below that in the same photograph is a new park being built along the Brooklyn side of the East River.  The waterfront has not been part of the daily fabric of New York life for decades, since the collapse of the shipping industry in the mid-twentieth century.  The city has been working hard to change that in recent years with a number of adaptive reuse projects.

(Author: H. Finkelstein & Son; Source: Wikimedia Commons)

The bridge has always been a favorite of painters and poets.

May 24, 1883 (Source: Brooklyn Museum Collection)

May 24, 2011

Green-Wood’s Memorial Weekend

Regular readers of The Strawfoot know how much I cherish Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetery.  This past Saturday I was walking the grounds aimlessly when I came across the final resting place of Major General George Crockett Strong.  General Strong was wounded during the attack on Fort Wagner in July 1863 and died in New York a few weeks later.  Yes, this was the battle depicted in Glory.

Strong finished fifth in the West Point class of 1857.

The storming of Fort Wagner, lithograph by Kurz & Allison Source: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

Earlier this week the New York Times wrote about a Confederate general interred in Green-Wood, Robert Selden Garnett.  According to the Times:

Robert Selden Garnett, the first general killed in the Civil War, was buried in Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, but his family did not want visitors to the cemetery to know it.

Named brigadier general in 1861, Garnett briefly commanded Confederate troops in western Virginia before being shot dead in the battle of Corrick’s Ford on July 13, 1861.

According to research by the cemetery, one of his last cries on the battlefield was “Three cheers for Jeff Davis!”

But that Confederate pride did not follow Garnett to the grave.

Union forces turned over Garnett’s body to his family, who buried him in Baltimore. Four years later, the family decided he should lie in Brooklyn alongside his wife and son, who had died before the war. They exhumed Garnett’s remains and secretly re-interred him in Green-Wood, leaving his grave unmarked for fear of anti-Southern sentiments.

If you are able, I hope you get the opportunity to visit Green-Wood.  There has never been a better time.

For the younger generation…

I wouldn’t recognize rapper 50 Cent if he walked past me on the street, which being that we both live in New York City is a distinct possibility.  Be that as it may, tonight at 9:00 pm VH1 is airing 50 Cent: The Origin of Me.  In the documentary the Queens native travels to South Carolina to trace his roots.  In the words of the producer:

The basic idea was to connect the “genealogy chic” movement with a younger audience than watches Henry Louis Gates’s ancestry shows on PBS, and to bring hip-hop-generation African-American stars face-to-face with the legacy of slavery.

I have seen a few snippets and the results are interesting indeed.

An hour with Drew Gilpin Faust

Earlier this month Drew Gilpin Faust, president of Harvard and author of Mothers of Invention and This Republic of Suffering, delivered the 40th Jefferson Lecture at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC.  It is a sober and thoughtful meditation on the meaning of the American Civil War and war itself.  Sadly, the piece has few than 650 views as of yet.  It is worth an hour of your time.

Leaving Ellis

Hey everybody, it is with some sadness that I report that my time at Ellis Island has come to an end.  After fifteen months of volunteering in the Interpretation Division the time has come to move on.  I will always be thankful to the rangers, especially to volunteer coordinators April Antonellis and Anthony Chu, who taught me so much and gave me the opportunity to work in the museum and with the public.  I had always known what a special place Ellis Island is, but as the weeks and then months went by I was increasingly humbled as I learned more and more about the immigration station and the 12 million people who passed through it.  It is hallowed ground.  Leaving Ellis does not mean I will stop volunteering with the NPS, however.  This summer I will begin volunteering with National Park Service across the water at Governors Island, where I can pursue my passion not only for American history in general but the Civil War in particular.  I think it is going to be a rewarding and enjoyable summer.

Be well.

Ellis Island Registry Room, May 2011

The blues and the Civil War

Hey everybody,

As I have mentioned before here at the Strawfoot I often wonder if the people of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries could have imagined the world they bequeathed to us.  Sarah Brown is a case in point:

You’ve seen Sarah Brown on-stage if you ever went to Antone’s in the ’80s or early ’90s. She was the house bass player when Antone’s was a blues club, period, and so she backed everyone from Big Joe Turner and Sunnyland Slim to Buddy Guy and Albert Collins and Otis Rush. For almost 30 years, Brown has been one of Austin’s most valuable and visible side musicians.

But something only her closest friends knew until recently is that Brown, 59, is a descendant of John Augustine Washington, the youngest brother of George Washington. Although Brown is a blood relative of our first president, George Washington, she’s not a direct descendant, as George and Martha Washington had no children. Nor did John Augustine’s son Bushrod Washington, who inherited Mount Vernon and became a Supreme Court justice.

“Being a blues musician, it just wasn’t relevant to me to be a Washington,” said Brown, a Michigan native who has lived in Austin since 1982. The Washingtons she was committed to follow in the tradition of were Dinah and Walter “Wolfman” Washington, not America’s first family. “Our grandmother told us that we must amount to something in our own right because whatever blue blood we had was thin,” Brown said. George Washington is her great-great-great-great-great-great-uncle.

Alas I never visited Antone’s during my years in Texas, but I fondly remember R.L.’s Blues Palace in Dallas.