We interrupt this vacation…

Brooklyn Museum of Art

Hey everyone, I hope you are enjoying the remainder of your holidays. Today a friend and I ventured to the Brooklyn Museum to see the highly touted Youth and Beauty: Art of the American Twenties. Our expectations were high and I can only say that they were exceeded. It is not every day that one sees the works of Georgia O’Keeffe, Thomas Hart Benton, Alfred Stieglitz, Edward Hopper, Marsden Hartley, Aaron Douglas, and others all on display, and so intelligently. American is the key word in the exhibit’s title. While Europeans were exhausted and recovering from the slaughter of the Great War, artists on this side of the Atlantic were busy creating a uniquely American idiom. Incorporating photography, painting, sculpture, and mass media, it is the type of show that changes one’s ideas of what “modern” is. The exhibit was so overpowering that we took a break and went to Tom’s Restaurant for lunch before going back for more. I used to volunteer at the Brooklyn Museum and can tell you that it is one of our country’s leading cultural institutions. If you are hesitating to travel to the land of us bridge and tunnel folk, don’t. The museum is remarkably easy to get to from Manhattan. Any time is a good time to visit the Brooklyn Museum, but if you can see this show before it ends on January 29. And bring your appetite for Tom’s around the corner.


Lives well lived

Hey everybody, I hope you are enjoying your day. Our dinner is in the oven. Earlier in the week the Hayfoot went to a small butcher shop in Little Italy and got a nice roast. I can smell it now. Earlier, after pancakes, I walked up to the bodega and bought a copy of the New York Times. The Times’s annual Lives They Lived is one of life’s small pleasures. The final Sunday of the year the paper’s magazine honors a cross section of people who have passed on during the year. What makes the annual tradition so intriguing is that the paper’s choices are intentionally counterintuitive. Thus Elizabeth Taylor, Jane Russell, and Andy Rooney are not here. Instead one finds marathoner Grete Waitz, fitness guru Jack LaLanne, and Dennis Ritchie, creator of the C Programming Language. The point is to focus on individuals who were not necessarily celebrities, but who contributed to the fabric of their–and our–times in some way. I usually just read two or three a day, all the better to savor between now and New Year’s.

We hope you enjoy the rest of the day. Remember, light blogging only between now and January 8th. Merry Christmas.

(image/Jane Russell, 1921-2011; 1945 photo courtesy U.S. Army)

Happy Holidays

Hey everybody, I wanted to take a few moments to wish you a Happy Holiday. Blogging will be sporadic at best here at The Strawfoot over the next two weeks. I turned in the draft of a magazine article to the editor yesterday. With the draft complete and today being the last day of class at the college where I work, it seems a good time to take a respite.  If the article gets published I will let you know.

Here is something one doesn’t hear me say too often, but I need a break from the Civil War. I am going to see a few movies, visit some museums, and just relax in general for the next two weeks.

I am looking forward to a fun and productive 2012. In January I will be writing some pieces for Governors Island’s website in my capacity as volunteer there with the NPS. The Governors Island season will resume in late May. I am submitting a proposal for The Conference on New York State History in June, and I have a few ideas for future magazine and journal articles as well. I believe I am finding my niche. I am going to make some improvements to the blog as well. Video, podcasting, better photography, and greater use of social media are some things I will be working on.

I’ll be checking in between now and early January, but only periodically. Regular posting will resume January 8th. Have a happy and safe holiday.


(image/Thomas Nast’s A Christmas Furlough, Harper’s Weekly January 3, 1863)

The Gettysburg cyclorama building

The fate of the Gettysburg Cyclorama Building reached a new phase last week when the Park Service contracted with consultants Vanasse Hangen Brustlin to perform an environmental impact study of the 1962 building. As many of you know the Park Service intended to demolish the Richard Neutra designed structure a few years ago after completion of the new visitors center. Those plans were complicated by advocates who maintained the building should be saved for its historic and architectural significance.

The Park Service essentially has three options, though the final decision maybe be out of the hands of the NPS: keep the building on its current site, move it to another location, raze it. Several months ago the Park Service announced it was seriously exploring option two.

This writer’s preference is either to demolish the structure or find a new home for it. I have made my argument here before and so won’t repeat it. The report will be be available to the public in early 2012.

Atlanta Cyclorama building

The new home for the Gettysburg cyclorama in the visitors center was long overdue and others are taking notice. Today a group from Atlanta travelled to Gettysburg to inspect the new facility and make recommendations for Atlanta’s own cyclorama. That painting is housed in a late nineteenth century structure (above) that cannot offer the protection the delicate artwork needs. Moreover, the building is located in a part of the city that is now off the beaten path for most Atlantans. Attendance has been declining for some time. And what indifference cannot kill off, shrinking budgets might. Finding a longterm solution to the Atlanta cyclorama’s financial and other problems may be easier said than done.

(image/Scott Ehardt)

Prospect Park’s Lincoln, cont’d

Last week I posted a brief comment about the controversial efforts to move the Lincoln statue in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park to a more prominent position in Grand Army Plaza. The controversy is that doing so as planned would entail moving an already existing memorial (below) to renowned physician Dr. Alexander Skene. The story has crossed the Pond to Skene’s native Scotland.

Alexander Skene: Civil War physician, romance novelist, finder of the G spot

(image/David Shankbone)

Hot stove news

A Civil War battlefield, a world class museum, and a beautiful ballpark are three of the places in the world where I always experience the sensation of time standing still. About ten years ago there was considerable talk in Boston of building a new Fenway Park, which I believed was a good move. After seeing the new Yankee Stadium that opened a few years ago I still believe a new Fenway Park would have been the correct decision. One did not realize how run down the old Yankee Stadium was until walking into the new one. Nonetheless the new Sox ownership decided to go in a different direction, adding as many modern amenities as possible and building the Monster seats. The results have indeed been impressive.  Now John Henry and associates may be rewarded. Fenway is on the verge of a listing in the National Register of Historic Places.

(image/Aidan Siegel)

What were they reading in 1912?

Is a question worth asking oneself. And not just because we are coming up on the centennial anniversaries of the sinking of the Titanic, the opening of Fenway Park, and the three-way race for the White House between incumbent William Howard Taft, New Jersey governor Woodrow Wilson, and Bull Mooser Teddy Roosevelt, fascinating though these things are.

Since getting my Kindle one month ago I have been downloading various titles that are in the public domain. Others have been doing the same. For historians of the Civil War era this is a treasure trove; all works published before 1923, which means most Civil War and Reconstruction titles written by primary players, are in the public domain. A few things stored in my cloud include Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass (deathbed edition), James Weldon Johnson’s The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man, and Leander Stillwell’s The Story of a Common Soldier of Army Life in the Civil War, 1861-1865. All were free and downloaded to my device in a matter of seconds. I plan to use my Kindle and iPad for further primary resources in the coming months. If you are hesitating, I encourage you to explore the ereader option for at least some of your reading and research. You will be surprised at how easy it is and what is available.

(Dreiser’s The Financier was published in 1912./image Open Library)

The Naked Lady

Adah Isaacs Menken

Call me ignorant if you wish, but Adah Menken was a name I had never heard until yesterday. Menken it turns out was a circus performer, published poet, and theater actress who played Broadway in the early 1860s. The starlet was hugely popular in her time and, like the World War 2 sex symbols who came two generations later, often entertained the troops. Madonna circa 1983 has nothing on Menken. The artist and bohemian had five husbands and was a personal friend of Walt Whitman, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and Samuel Clemens. Twain nicknamed her “The Great Bare ” for her often risqué roles. Born in the sexual gumbo of Louisiana, Menken was of mixed Irish and African-American lineage. She later converted to Judaism. Menken died in Paris in 1868 at the tender age of thirty-three and is buried in Pere Lachaise Cemetery. I may add this to my winter 2012 reading list.

(image/Charles D. Fredrick & Co.)

George Whitman, 1913-2011

George Whitman, owner of Paris’s Shakespeare & Company bookstore, has died at 98. I visited this Left Bank institution a few years ago and remember walking quietly through the stacks to avoid waking sleeping boarders. Famously, people were permitted to sleep in the shop in exchange for a few hours of labor in the store. The shop was directly across the Seine from Notre Dame and specialized in English language materials. Whitman was a great influence on the expatriate community that flocked to Paris in the 1950s. Acolytes included George Plimpton, a founder of the Paris Review, and Lawrence Ferlingetthi, who modeled his San Francisco establishment City Lights Books on the Paris bookstore. Whitman will be buried in Pere Lachaise.

(image/Celebrate Greatness)