Category Archives: New York City

Cal breaks his silence

The Mount Rushmore groundbreaking was this week in 1927. Construction was completed in October 1941.

The Mount Rushmore groundbreaking was this week in 1927. Construction was completed in October 1941.

In 1927 Al Jolson appeared in The Jazz Singer, Louis Armstrong recorded “Potato Head Blues,” and Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig combined for 107 home runs. The Great War was over for almost a decade and life was seemingly returning to normal. That August President Calvin Coolidge traveled to South Dakota to speak at the groundbreaking of Mount Rushmore. As if channeling his inner Roosevelt, the staid Coolidge rode up the mountain on horseback. Curiously–perhaps in a nod to recent Franco-American relations?–a choir sang “The Marseillaise” in addition to “The Star Spangled Banner” and other patriotic tunes.

Rushmore literally put Theodore Roosevelt on the same level with Washington, Lincoln, and Jefferson, and the monument was a big win for Roosevelt supporters. The RMA had lost a protracted battle for a Roosevelt memorial on the National Mall just a year earlier. The spot Hermann Hagedorn and others coveted eventually went to the Jefferson Memorial.

Ironically, Mount Rushmore has skewed our perceptions of the 26th president. When many people think “Theodore Roosevelt” they think of the West. Being depicted on a granite slab in the Black Hills will do that. Still it is important to keep in mind that, while Roosevelt spent chunks of time hunting and ranching out West, he was a city slicker first and foremost. Indeed he was the only president born in Manhattan, and it was to New York City and Long Island that he returned over and over across the course of his life.

(image/National Park Service)


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Filed under Memory, Monuments and Statuary, New York City, Theodore Roosevelt Jr (President)

Framing New York

Framing New York

Framing New York

This past Friday I was leaving Castle Williams after doing a tour when I noticed an art installation to the immediate left. It turned out to be “Framing New York.” After a few minutes enjoying the view of the Harbor and Lower Manhattan, I struck up a conversation with the artist, D. Chase Angier. She graciously agreed to answer a few questions.

The Strawfoot: Where did you get the inspiration for “Framing New York?”

D. Chase Angier: From New York itself – the rapid rate in which it changes, its history, beauty, art, and stories. I have a deep love for this city as many of us do who have either grown up here, transplanted here, or even just visit.

Inspiration for this project came from my complicated love for New York City coupled with my deepening concern for our future. What is New York City today and how does that reflect who we are and where we are headed?

One of the elements that makes New York City unique is the unusually rapid rate at which it is changing. The rate of change coupled with the extreme density of buildings and people living in New York, creates an intense energy that is distinctive. “Framing New York” asks the audience to pay attention together to one select place in New York City at a particular time.

How would you describe your approach to your art?

I have many different approaches to art but if I need to reduce it down to one thing, I am a site specific choreographer.

Artist D. Chase Angier in front of her creation. The orange boat is the Staten Island Ferry sailing by.

D. Chase Angier in front of her creation. The orange boat is the Staten Island Ferry.

Tell us a little bit about your background?

I received my BA in Dance from UCLA and my MFA in Choreography from The Ohio State University. Basically, I am an interdisciplinary artist who specializes is site specific choreography. I am a dance professor and director of the dance program at Alfred University. I also create and perform site-specific performances, performance installations, dance-theater, and walking performances. My works have been performed internationally in Japan, the Czech Republic, Germany, Mexico, the United Kingdom and throughout the different regions of the United States.

What other “Framing” projects, if any, have you done in the past?

I framed Edgewood Farms, owned by Harold and Beverly Snyder in Alfred, New York. That was different in that it was a one time 2.5 hour event. The audience watched him hay his field. I placed ten matching white Adirondack chairs in front of the white frame for the small invited audience. The audience had to remain small and invited, in fact, because they were put on call to view this work. Certain weather conditions had to work together (wind, temp, humidity) to make it possible to hay on a particular day.

The frame captured the shapes of the tall grass contrasting the cut hay, the tubular windrows, and the spiral “floor” patterns on the field. The lighting for the work was the sometimes indirect sunlight that filtered through the clouds creating interesting moving shadows, and the sometimes direct sunlight that not only brought out the gold color and the smell of the hay but also created the heat which added to the sensory experience. All of this activity happened against the beauty of the subtly changing landscape – the clouds, birds, cows, and hills.

Framing Edgewood Farms was the first in a series:

Had you spent time on Governors Island previously?

Yes. I have been going almost every summer since it reopened. My favorite experience was the three day New Island Festival in 2009 with the Dutch. I enjoyed the art work, lectures, parties. It was three days of incredible madness.

Two visitors take in the view

Two visitors take in the view from the installation

You mentioned in our conversation that the New York skyline changes depending on the weather, time of day, and other circumstances. Explain.

Every day is dramatically different. The clouds, light, temperature, water traffic, people walking/biking by. The shadows crawling up the buildings – or no shadows at all on a cloudy day. How the light and sky reflect on the mirrored buildings, making some of them look as it they are disappearing. The dramatic dark thunder clouds versus a hazy hot light day. The color of many of the buildings change. The events change – Obama coming to NYC and landing close to Pier 11 as his military helicopters through the frame; the fireboat shooting out water the next day; the lack of people in the frame during the week on a rainy day, versus the crazy amount of people on the weekends.

In addition to the light, color and sky –  I have been fascinated by the choreography of the harbor. The different shapes, tempos, directions, rhythms, colors, size, levels, of all of the various boats. Tall ships, clipper ships, kayaks, repetitive orange staten island ferry, circle line, garbage boats, tug boats, oil tankers, jet skies, shark motor boats, cruise ships, etc.

It is a participatory artwork in which people can sit in the chairs and watch the harbor and skyline.

What has the public’s reaction been?

So far extremely positive. My favorite part about New Yorkers is that they like to talk to strangers (me) and they like to tell stories. I had heard a lot of stories about 9/11 as they look and no longer see the twin towers. Firemen, construction workers, lawyers, financial analysts etc. Tourists have been moved as they are seeing the city live from a great perspective (across the water) that they have only seen in movies and photos. Skeptics, teenagers, and people not exposed to a lot of art have used the word “actually” a lot, as in “I actually like this”, “This is actually cool”, etc.

For how long can visitors see “Framing New York?”

Through July 27th


Filed under Governors Island, Interviews, New York City

Congressman Cox’s Governors Island

Here is a small interesting something. I was searching another matter in the Historical New York Times earlier today when I came across the article excerpted here.

GI copy

A quick search revealed that “Congressman Cox” was Samuel Sullivan Cox, a Tammany Democrat who represented the 6th U.S. District. Sullivan was originally from Ohio and as a Buckeye Congressman railed against Lincoln in a June 1862 speech entitled “Emancipation and Its Results–Is Ohio to be Africanized?” It is no wonder he eventually moved to Gotham and settled into machine politics.

Samuel S. Cox

Samuel S. Cox

The president mentioned is Grover Cleveland for whom Cox had served as Minister to Turkey in 1885-86. I am not sure how far Sullivan’s proposition turning Governors Island over to the New York State went, but it did not happen. (Quick history lesson: The Empire State turned Governors Island over to the Feds in 1800 when the Napoleonic Wars made European invasion of New York increasingly likely. In that decade Fort Jay was remodeled and Castle WIlliams built.)

Still, his vision for the island turned out to be prescient. It took 125 years but the Federal government returned Governors Island  in 2003. Now it is jointly managed by the NPS and NYC. I saw in his obituary that Cox is buried in Green-Wood Cemetery and that there is a statue of him in Tompkins Square. Over the summer I am going to have to search these out.

Congressman Cox didn't live to see it, but Governors Island eventually reverted to local control.

Congressman Cox didn’t live to see it, but Governors Island eventually reverted back to local control.

 (portrait image/NYPL)

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Filed under New York City

75 years of LACUNY

Kenneth T. Jackson

Kenneth T. Jackson

It was a special night tonight when the Library Association of CUNY (LACUNY) held its 75th anniversary party in Manhattan. I love being a librarian within CUNY and feeding off the energy of our  students. Many library faculty are dynamic individuals working on some fascinating projects. The keynote speaker was Kenneth Jackson, the Columbia University historian who also once ran and turned around the New-York Historical Society. He was at the Roosevelt Birthplace a few weeks ago, although I missed him and his students by about a half hour. The rangers spoke about what a good guy he was.

One my favorite projects of his was the museum retrospective a few years ago that helped rehabilitate he reputation of Robert Moses. He spoke tonight about the sociology of cities with an emphasis on what makes New York a unique place. I was so glad they got him for the keynote talk.

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Filed under Libraries, New York City

Imperiled Promise

FDR_Museum_and_LibraryThis morning I received the final details of the upcoming WW1 Centennial Commission trade show. About sixty individuals and organizations rsvp’ed. I am looking forward to the presentations and hearing what people have planned for the next 4-5 years. I know I myself intend to do a fair amount with the Great War Centennial between now and the 100th anniversary of the Versailles Conference.

It is hard to believe the New York History conference in Cooperstown was a full year ago. Alas I could not attend the 2014  NYSHA conference at Marist College in Poughkeepsie, as either a speaker or attendee. Tomorrow, however, I will be tuning in to a webinar coming from the nearby Henry A.Wallace Visitor Center at the FDR Presidential Library and Museum in Hyde Park. The panelists will be discussing Imperiled Promise: The State of History in the National Park Service, the 2011 report from the Organization of American Historians analyzing the state of public history within the NPS. I have read the report and its while it lauds some NPS successes it also highlights where there might be improvement.

Tomorrow’s panel begins at 9:00 am and will focus on history at NPS sites within New York State. This is going to be an informative and lively event.

(image/Alex Israel)










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Filed under Historiography, Interpretation, National Park Service, New York City, WW1


When I was at the New York Public Library last night I came across this fascinating photograph of various members of the United States Sanitary Commission. New Yorkers such as these played an outsized role in supporting the Union Cause and yet their contributions often go unnoticed. That is why I am having so much fun working on this book about Theodore Roosevelt Senior and his colleagues. Many of these individuals did so much from 1861-65 and then contributed to national life for decades to come.


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Filed under New York City

Walking in the steps of Black History

Nicodemus, Kansas

Nicodemus, Kansas

Two years ago I contacted a particular cultural institution here in New York City about setting up a walking tour of Lower Manhattan related to African-American history, especially nineteenth century African-American history. After showing great initial excitement, the individual with whom I was corresponding lost interest; I know this because he stopped returning my messages. I found the whole thing curious, especially because it was pretty clear I would do all the work, including the tours themselves. For free. Basically, the institution would have provided its imprimatur and done a little publicity on its website. Who it was I will never say.

Over the weekend I am going to write an encyclopedia entry about Nicodemus, the all-black Kansas town founded in the 1870s by individuals from Kentucky and Tennessee. Nicodemus is now a national historic site. I have been to Kansas before, but alas never to Nicodemus. It will someday be part of the Great Driving Tour of the Midwest the Hayfoot and I take in a few years. There is no substitute for going to the places where history is made.

For Black History Month the Civil War Trust has published its top ten list of African-American places to visit. A few of them I have been to; others are on my to-do list.  One need not wait for spring. Put your parka on and go.

(image/Library of Congress)

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Filed under Heritage tourism, New York City