Earthquake damage, DC

(Stereoscopic image/NYPL)

Inspectors have concluded that the Sherman Building at the Armed Forces Retirement Home in Washington suffered significant damage in last week’s earthquake.  The Sherman Building is part of the facility that houses the Lincoln Cottage.  President Lincoln rarely left the District during the war and he often retreated to the cottage that now bears his name to enjoy the solitude and escape the miserable heat and humidity of downtown DC.  The Sherman Building was built in the picturesque style of architecture, which incorporated classic building features into a modern, nineteenth century sensibility emphasizing the surrounding natural environment.  The Sherman Building was originally named the Scott Building in honor of General Winfield Scott, who devised the plan to build the Soldiers’ Home after the Mexican War.  In one of those ironies you come across when studying the American Civil War, it was Senator Jefferson Davis who steered the legislation creating the Soldiers’ Home through Congress in 1851.

Irene Report

We had our water…

and our candles.

We had our small torch and reading lights in case of a power outage.

We double-checked the batteries.

We had stocked up earlier, but this was the bread aisle at the local supermarket.

For the first time I believe in history, the New York City subway system–all 722 miles–was shut down in its entirety due to natural causes.  The city did a remarkable job throughout the storm.

We never lost power and used the time to rewatch Abraham and Mary.

Thankfully we had the Iron Brigade on our side throughout the worst of it.

By late Sunday morning we were finally able to get out and get some fresh air.

There were many branches knocked down but this was the worst of it.

The automobiles were not damaged in any serious way.

All told we consider ourselves fortunate.  Wherever you are, if you were touched by the storm we hope you are as well.

Hello Irene

Hey everybody, it is the calm before the storm here in Gotham.  Everything is shutting down and the Hayfoot and I are going to ride the storm out at home. Sunday is going to be the Big Day.  I for one am going to catch up on some reading and probably break out some 54mm regiments in Blue and Gray on the living room floor.  I am somewhat at ease going into the storm because I turned in the draft of a small writing project earlier this evening.  I was going to put the final touches on it next week but with the storm coming I wanted to get it done.  One less thing to worry about.  Have a good weekend and I will back on Monday.

America’s Best Idea turns 95

Image courtesy Chris Light

Today is the 95th anniversary of President Woodrow Wilson’s signing of the Organic Act, the legislation that created the National Park Service.  Like all large organizations the NPS is not perfect.  Still, our nation would be a smaller place culturally and intellectually were it not for the existence of our national parks and the people who work in them.  Right now rangers are working harder than ever to ensure that visitors have a rewarding and meaningful experience.  Nowhere is this truer than at the Civil War battlefields and dozens of other sites related to the War of the Rebellion and the era.  It remains to be seen how the country’s economic problems will effect the parks in the long term.  Given the serious challenges we face today it is unlikely that the NPS will be able to undertake the types of projects it did in the 1950s and 1960s as it prepared for its 50th anniversary in 1966.  The parks are especially vulnerable because they are not seen as essential services necessary in the course of our daily lives.  Still, there are encouraging signs.  Visitation has never been higher at the Civil War related sites and is only expected to grow in the next few years.  The Park has also embraced social media, such as podcasting, in a big way.  We will see what the future brings.  One thing seems certain: the best way to protect our parks is to visit them.

Jerry Leiber, 1933-2011

Jerry Leiber, one half of the songwriting team that gave us such hits as “Hound Dog, “King Creole,” and “Jailhouse Rock,” to name a very few, has died.  What you notice when people such as he pass on is how young they were.  Leiber had been in the business for almost six decades and was still only seventy eight when he passed on.  More on the creative tension between various songwriting duos here.

(Image/Library of Congress)

Cyclorama Building on the move?

Authorities at Gettysburg National Military Park announced that they are exploring the feasibility of relocating Richard Neutra’s Cyclorama Building to a less conspicuous location.   This may be the least bad option given the possibility that the Park Service may never be granted the authority to demolish the site.

Gettysburg Cyclorama Building; photo/Don Wiles

I am always sympathetic to the arguments of architectural historians and preservationists that we are losing too much of our cultural heritage.  Every time I walk through the travesty that is the current Penn Station I rue the loss of the magisterial original.  It is fair to argue, too, that Neutra’s Gettysburg building is now itself part of the history of the evolution of the park, part of the Mission 66 project and designed to reflect the stature of the United States during the Cold War and Space Age.  Still, despite the nostalgia that many feel for the building they visited during their youth, the fact remains that the building never worked.  For one thing the Modernist structure sits incongruously atop Ziegler’s Grove on Cemetery Ridge, the site of some of the hardest fighting on Day 3 of the battle.  It was also structurally unsound, leaking frequently, and responsible for a great deal of the damage the Cyclorama incurred in the decades it was housed in the building.  Besides, there are plenty of representative Neutra buildings still standing.

Neutra’s Miller House, Palm Springs; photo/Ilpo’s Sojourn

Whatever happens, a permanent solution to the Cyclorama Building issue will hopefully be forthcoming in the intermediate future.  Stay tuned.

Summer’s almost gone

I am sorry about the paucity of posts recently. The Hayfoot and I are squeezing out a few last days of vacation before the busy fall semester begins. I am typing these words from a coffee shop in Union Station. We came to DC to see the sites and catch up with some friends. DC means more to me with each visit because I learn more with each trip. I am halfway through the Lockwoods’ The Siege of Washington, which chronicles the first twelve days after the fall of Ft. Sumter. The Confederate capture of the federal capital was a closer thing than I realized. DC means a great deal to me personally as well because my mother lived here as a little girl. Today would have been my grandmother’s 100th birthday.

We have a lot to do when we get home. The Hayfoot starts her final semester in grad school next week and I have a number of projects coming due this fall. These are things to look forward to. I will be back next week with more posts.

Bon weekend.

Fredericksburg slavery museum site to be sold

A few weeks back the New York Times reported that former Virginia governor L. Douglas Wilder’s plans for a slavery museum in Frederickisburg were in peril.  Yesterday it was announced that the $7.5 million dollar property is to be sold.  The project is apparently a victim of the recession and the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture that is about to break ground on the Mall near the National Gallery.  It is difficult to see any endeavor such as this fail but given the overlapping scopes of the two museums it was probably inevitable that this would happen.

Moving on

Hey everybody, it’s Sunday afternoon.  It is also the last day of my week off.  For years I always visited my father in Arkansas the first week in August.  My father was not much into the Civil War but over the years he took me to Shiloh, Vicksburg, Pea Ridge and elsewhere because he knew how much visiting these places meant to me.  These trips were all the more poignant because my father’s health was in decline for a long period and I knew year-by-year that each visit might be the last.  If he were still alive I would be flying back right now instead of typing these words. Knowing that I will never again have the chance to do so leaves me reflective, but aware too of the need to move forward and enjoy life in the moment.

We decided to have a quiet week.  I took some classes at the Apple store to learn more about my new Air, went to Prospect Park and Green-Wood Cemetery, and broke out a few regiments for some skirmishing on the kitchen table.  I also read Gary Gallagher’s The Union War. Here are a few photos from the last seven days:

Boat in Prospect Park


Major David B. Bridgford, Army of Northern Virginia; Green-Wood Cemetery

Moving ever onward here in Brooklyn…

Deep South baseball

African American baseball players who came up in the 1950s and 1960s often discuss their experiences playing minor league ball in the Deep South during this period.  This was an especially combustible time, with the Civil Rights Movement beginning to accelerate and the situation becoming more violent by the day.  Especially vulnerable were black ballplayers, who were joining Major League Baseball in larger numbers in the wake of Jackie’s Robinson’s integration of the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947.  Minor leaguers always have a tougher lot than those who make it to The Show, but to be playing in front of a segregated crowd during the Civil Rights Era was often literally to put your life at risk.  Roy White went one further; he had to wear the Confederate flag on his uniform.