Category Archives: Those we remember

Julia Grant Dietz

Julia Grant Dietz at Grant' Tomb in 2000

Julia Grant Dietz at Grant’s Tomb in 2000

I noted with interest the passing this week of Julia Grant Dietz, the last remaining great grandchild of Ulysses S. Grant. Ms. Dietz was the daughter of Ulysses S. Grant III and Edith Root. Grant III was a military aide in the Theodore Roosevelt Administration. Among many other things, he later ran the Civil War Centennial Commission before stepping down midway through the commemoration. Edith Root was the daughter of powerbroker Elihu Root.

I often wonder what life is like for these descendants of historical figures. It must be a balancing act between protecting the family legacy and being honest and faithful to the historical record. This past Saturday a Roosevelt descendant dropped into the TRB. He was a man in his late 20s who lives now in Colorado. He told us he was in New York CIty on business, happened to be walking past the site, and so came in. A few months back he attended the Roosevelt reunion in Warm Springs, Georgia.

Ms. Dietz seemed to be active in preserving the Grant family memory. For one thing she was a trustee of the Grant Monument Association. Her son is Ulysses Grant Dietz, the eminent curator at the Newark Museum of Art. I noticed that she was long active in Planned Parenthood. One wonders how that must have gone down in the extended family. Her parents and grandparents were quite conservative after all.

(image/Grant Memorial Association)

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Filed under Those we remember, Ulysses S. Grant

Sunday morning coffee

WW2 Memorial, National Mall

WW2 Memorial, National Mall

I had a productive week on my Hawley biography at the Library of Congress. I wrote some “Roosevelt’s Washington” posts for the Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace Facebook page as well. Now we are relaxing and taking it easy with coffee. It is one of those cold and bright mornings. Later while I am listening to the football games I am going to sort out everything  photocopied at the LOC and make some notes and outlines.

A friend sent me a link the other day about the death of Hiroo Onoda. I have written several times about the passing of the WW2 generation. The 70th anniversary of Pearl Harbor marked the end of something for me personally. It seems that the commemorations went from “distant current events” to “history” with that 2011 ceremony.

Hiroo Onoda (standing) and his younger brother  Shigeo during the war

Hiroo Onoda (standing) and his younger brother Shigeo during the war

For those who may not know, Hiroo Onoda was Second Lieutenant Onoda in the Imperial Japanese Army. He and a handful of others lived for decades in the Philippine jungles refusing to believe that the war had ended. He finally surrendered when in 1974 the authorities flew in his commanding officer to convince him to do so.

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Remembering Charles

I just came from the funeral of our great friend Charles Hirsch. Charles was a professor in the English Department at the college where I work. He was so many other things as well. In years past he had worked for the Muppets and was a writer/editor at the magazine Highlights for Children. Unafraid to take chances, he often moved to different parts of the country and even the world, certain that his charm, talents, and intellect would allow him to succeed anywhere he went. Of course he was right.

Charles and the Hayfoot at the Gettysburg First Shot marker

Charles and the Hayfoot at the Gettysburg First Shot marker

The word brilliant came up more than once during the ceremony. I am glad it did; I don’t think I ever won a debate with Charles. And yet his personality was such that you never felt he was showing you up. His was the kind of intelligence that lifted those around him. As the priest pointed out, Charles was so dynamic that when you were in his presence you felt like the most important person in the world. Fittingly there was a huge, disparate, turnout for his service, a cross-section of the multitudes of lives Charles lived in his sixty-six years.

I cannot believe we live in a world without Charles Hirsch. I am grateful for times we all had together, at our wedding in Florida where it was freezing cold, in Gettysburg, Yankee Stadium, and so many other places besides. I wanted him to live long enough to see me accomplish some of the projects on which I am currently working. Alas, that was not meant to be. Still, I will carry on with the knowledge that he believed I have what it takes to do them. It meant the world to me when he said that.

We will miss you, Charles. Yours was a life well lived.


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Arthur Kennell

799px-Evercemadams_gatehouseOne of the last  vestiges of Dwight Eisenhower’s Gettysburg is no longer with us. Eisenhower’s  local caddy and longtime superintendent of Gettysburg Country Club, Arthur Kennell, has passed away at the age of 86. Kennell worked at the GCC starting in the 1950s and retired in 1976 because he found the job so stressful. That Bicentennial Year he took a job of even greater prominence: caretaker of Evergreen Cemetery. As such, he lived in one of the most recognizable structures in all of Civil War iconography, the Evergreen Gatehouse.

The wife and I visit Gettysburg every summer but it was not until two years ago that we first made it to Evergreen. It instantly became my favorite place in the town. Cemetery Ridge is called Cemetery Ridge because of Evergreen; the fighting went right through it. What I find most touching walking the grounds is the way one sees the history of the battle and the town in front of you. The Culps, the Herbsts, even Gettys himself, are right there. It was all managed in such detail by Mr. Kennell, and now by his son Brian. When he was a kid, Boy Scout Art assisted elderly veterans during Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s 1938 visit for the 75 anniversary of the battle. Now there is a reminder that the war was not long ago in the grand scheme of things. Imagine telling that one to Ike.

What is perhaps most impressive about Mr. Kennell’s work at Evergreen is the manner in which he modernized the cemetery without detracting from its traditions in any way. For instance, in his years of service he gave increased prominence to the women of the town in their service during the war.

Art caddied hundreds of rounds for President Eisenhower adding up to over 1,000 hours on the bag. Having the groundskeeper as one’s caddy would be  decided advantage. He helped design the putting green at the Eisenhower Farm as well. It is sad to know that this unique individual is no longer part of Gettysburg.

(image/Donald E. Coho)

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Filed under Dwight D. Eisenhower, Gettysburg, Those we remember

Sunday morning coffee

William M. Evarts, 1818-1901

William M. Evarts, 1818-1901

Earlier in the week an obituary for a William M. Evarts Jr. caught my eye. For those who may not know–and it is entirely understandable why one would not–the “original” William M. Evarts was an attorney and political figure from the nineteenth century. Among other things, he was part of Andrew Johnson’s defense team during the president’s impeachment trial. Evarts also represented the United States in its lawsuit against Great Britain when the U.S. was seeking damages over the Alabama incident during the Civil War. Theodore Roosevelt’s uncle, James Bulloch, had been one of the Confederate agents conspiring with the British. Later, Evarts represented Rutherford B. Hayes during the electoral dispute that followed the 1876 presidential race. Hayes would later appoint him Secretary of State. So, you could imagine my surprise when I was that a William M. Evarts Jr. died this week.

A cursory search revealed that this was not the statesman’s son. Evarts died in 1901; Evarts Jr. was born in the 1920s. My curiosity piqued, I went to Ancestry to see what I might find. I do not know how the “Junior” thing works. Maybe you are not a junior if you share your father’s first, but not middle, name? It turns out the man who passed on this week was the great-grandson of the statesman mentioned above. There was the original William Evarts, whose son was Prescott. Next, in the 1880s, came the second William Evarts, who evevtually begat William Maxwell Evarts, Junior.

It seems Evarts led a full and productive life of fun and service. Here he is in the Harvard yearbook, standing next to a Julian K. Roosevelt no less.

William M. Evarts Jr. and Julian K. Roosevelt, Harvard crew team, 1948 Varsity 150 pounds

William M. Evarts Jr. and Julian K. Roosevelt: Harvard crew team, 1948 Varsity 150 pounds

Evarts played hockey as well.

Harvard hockey team, 1946-1947

Harvard hockey team, 1946-1947

Evarts Jr. was married to his wife for sixty-five years.


Filed under Theodore Roosevelt Jr (President), Those we remember, Uncategorized

Ike Skelton, 1931-2013

Rep Ike SkeltonI did not know much about Ike Skelton but I was saddened to learn that he died this week. The former congressman from Missouri had been elected chairman of the U.S. World War 1 Centennial Commission just last month. Skelton served in the U.S. House for thirty-four years, rising to chairman of the Armed Services Committee. As a teenager he once met Harry Truman. Talk about making an impression. Skelton lost his seat in 2010 and was practicing law for a Kansas City firm when President Obama tapped him for the Centennial Commission. Skelton was an excellent choice; his decades of experience in Washington had given him a firm understanding both politics and the military. I was eager to see what direction he intended to take the organization.

The Centennial Commission is something worth keeping an eye on. There are so many directions in which they can take their mandate. Way back, I speculated how they might interpret that mission. It seems they are leaning more toward events from 2017 (The U.S. entered the conflict in April 1917) through 2019, with the Versailles anniversary. I suppose that is fine, but there is a lot else in there as well. The Lusitania (1915) is one example that pops into mind. Yes, it is the United States World War One Centennial Commission but I hope they think wider and put the events of 1914-1919 into their full context. Sadly, the work will happen without the wisdom and guidance of Mr. Skelton.

(image/U.S. Congress)

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Marian McPartland, 1918-2013

I discovered last night that pianist Marian McPartland died in  August. Modern audiences will most remember McPartland for her NPR show Piano Jazz, which began broadcasting in 1978 and ran until she was well into her nineties. There was a reason why musicians loved sharing a stage and microphone with Marian; she knew everyone in the jazz world for three quarters of a century and was encyclopedia of knowledge. If you watch her scenes from the 1994 documentary A Great Day in Harlem, about the 1958 Art Kane photograph of the same name, you will see that.

One misconception of her, probably stemming from her intelligence and British accent, is that she was proper and genteel. In reality, Marian was tough as they came and could hold her own in a jazz world much different than the one we know today. It was less institutionalized, a world of dive night clubs, alcoholics, and late hours. People were tougher back in those days, less likely to speak in euphemism. They had, after all, lived through the Depression and the Second World War. Marian was unafraid to call something what it was. If feelings were hurt in the process, so be it.

The best known story of Marian McPartland is an exchange she had with Duke Ellington. Asked his thoughts after a performance, the Duke replied that “You play so many notes.” Initially she took this as a compliment to her technical prowess. Upon later reflection she realized it was an admonishment to curb her excesses. In music, as in life itself, it is what we leave out that often says the most. Thankfully for the rest of us Marian took Ellington’s advice to heart. Here is the proof.

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Art Donovan, 1924-2013

Art Donovan Jr. in his later years

Art Donovan Jr. in his later years

I noted with great sadness the passing of football great Art Donovan earlier this week. Among other things, Donovan played in the 1958 NFL championship game between the Baltimore Colts and New York Giants. Sometimes called The Greatest Game Ever Played, that contest signaled the arrival of professional football as a major sport. Until this time college football still predominated in the national consciousness. They played in Yankee Stadium and the  Colts won 23-17 in overtime. When journalist David Halberstam was killed in an automobile accident in April 2007, he was en route to interviewing Giants quarterback Y.A. Tittle for a book about that game to be published for the 50th anniversary in 2008. Frank Gifford finished Halberstam’s work, which included many great stories about the characters who played in that long ago game and era.

I was too young–okay, not yet born–to remember Donovan’s playing for those great Baltimore Colts teams of the late 1950s and early 1960s. I remember him for his appearances on David Letterman in the early 1980s. Even then Donovan looked like someone out of another time with his crew cut and uncalculated demeanor. Letterman’s style was still fresh and new at that time; his detached irony, not yet mimicked by others and coming late in the night at the 12:30 am time slot, contrasted well with the more cerebral Johnny Carson. Donovan was a always a great guest, self-effacing and funny, but obviously intelligent and aware at the same time. Memory is a tricky thing–this is more than three decades ago now–but I seem to remember Donovan recounting a tale of eating a case of spam as part of a bet with his Marine buddies during WW2 while stationed in the Pacific. He indeed ate the whole thing.

Mike Donovan's 1909 memoir

Mike Donovan’s 1909 memoir

What I did not know until reading his obituary in the London Guardian, was that Art Donovan Jr. was part of a prominent family in American sport and military history. His father, Art Sr., and grandfather, Mike, are both members of the Boxing Hall of Fame. It gets better. Mike Donovan was a Civil War veteran who fought in the Battle of Chattanooga. After the war he ended up in New York City and became a prominent boxer and trainer, going on to teach none other than Teddy Roosevelt the finer points of the Sweet Science. His son fought in the Great War and afterward became one of the greatest referees of the twentieth century, calling the Louis-Schmeling fight at Yankee Stadium–the place where his son, Art Jr., helped bring professional football into the modern era two decades later. It is an incredible story. The world seems a little emptier without Art Donovan.

(top image/Maryland Stater)

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Remembering Levon Helm, 1940-2012

Levon Helm, September 2011

Difficult as it is to believe, it was a year ago this week that Levon Helm left us. I just returned from the Village where I saw Ain’t in it for my Health, a recently released documentary that chronicles the musician’s final few years. The film is remarkably candid about the disputes with Robbie Robertson over royalties and credits, which contributed to The Band’s breakup in the mid-1970s and were never financially or emotionally settled even at the time of Helm’s death; the health issues that took away his voice and strength; and the related fiscal woes that led him to start the Midnight Rambles ten years ago. The film also captures the struggles we individuals face in handling the burdens of advancing age. Somehow, Helm managed all this with a palpable determination and grace. Of course I have him on the turntable right now. Here is a reprise of last year’s tribute:

The other night I was sitting on the sofa when the voice of Levon Helm wafted from the other room. The Hayfoot was watching a video clip of “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.” Instinctively I got up and went into the bedroom, where we watched it lying down. Like so many other songs sung by Helm–”Up on Cripple Weight,” “Don’t Do It,” The Weight”–it never fails to move. Sadly, the voice has been silenced; Helm died of throat cancer in New York City on Thursday. The drummer was born in the Mississippi Delta town of Elaine, Arkansas and grew up in nearby Helena. When he was a teenager Helm became the percussionist for Ronnie Hawkins. The two Arkansans eventually ended up north of the border and playing in a unit known as Ronnie Hawkins and the Hawks. After breaking off from Hawkins, the unit morphed into Levon Helm and the Hawks. Soon they were backing Bob Dylan just as the Hawks. Eventually the five members of the group–Helm, Robbie Robertson, Rick Danko, Richard Manuel, Garth Hudson–went out on their own as simply…The Band.

The group released its first album, Music From Big Pink, in July 1968. Big Pink was the group’s rented communal house in upstate New York. The album is notable for many reasons. First, it was a fully realized piece of work, created by musicians who had already woodshedded for a number of years. Released during the worst excesses of the Age of Aquarius, Big Pink manages to avoid the indulgences of the era. The reason for this, I believe, is because Helm especially was so grounded the American Songbook. You can’t have been a musician growing up in the Mississippi Delta in the 1940s and 1950s and not absorb its traditions. The first music group Helm saw in person was Bill Monroe and the Blue Grass Boys in 1946, the incarnation of that band that included Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs. He was six years old. Helm later saw Elvis play in person several times–Memphis being less than an hour’s drive from Helena–before the man who would be King was a cultural phenomenon.

Tradition meant a great deal to Helm and to everyone in The Band. 1968 was a year of turmoil throughout the world. A short list of incidents include: the Tet Offensive, the assassination of Martin Luther King Junior and subsequent rioting in hundreds of American cities, the Events of May in Paris that almost overthrew the French government, and the assassination of Bobby Kennedy in June. And that is just the first six months of the year. At a time when the battle cry for many baby boomers was “Don’t trust anyone over 30,” the group members pointedly posed with their extended family wearing their finest for what would be a widely disseminated group photo. Roots.

The Band’s original incarnation dissolved in 1976 after the famous Winterland concert filmed by Martin Scorsese and released as The Last Waltz in 1978. The breakup was probably inevitable given the tension, creative and otherwise, between Mr. Helm and Mr. Robertson. Helm later went on the road with other iterations of the lineup but to less effect. He was first diagnosed with cancer in the late 1990s and fought the disease, with periods of remission, up until the end. Helm was always an active musician, but in part to pay his medical expenses he was especially productive over the last several years of his life. Two of his finest efforts came during this period: Dirt Farmer (2007) and Electric Dirt (2009). He was proof positive that a rock star can age gracefully if he acts his age and stays himself.

With some artists it is just a lifelong thing. Thankfully for us.

(image/Parker JH)

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John E. Karlin, 1918-2013

Ben SchuminI was having coffee with a friend from work the other day when we got on the subject of Steve Jobs. I posited that a great deal of the credit given to Jobs over the years, especially after his death, was misplaced. My intention was not to denigrate Steve Jobs but to emphasize that technological breakthroughs are not so much the products of any one man’s genius as they are the incremental advancements of our knowledge. In other words the iPhone did not spring fully formed from the mind of any one person, but was the product of many individuals working, often anonymously, to help reach a point where it could happen. I suppose the reason we don’t think of it this way is because it is easier–and lazier–to attach the name and face of one person to a product or idea and leave it at that.

One of those anonymous people died last month. John E. Karlin of Bell Labs died on January 28th at the age of 94. Among other things in his long and active life, he was the researcher in charge of developing the touch tone telephone.

I remember being a young kid and asking my dad, a mid-level manager at Ma Bell, why our new bush-button phone had the * and # symbols. He explained that in the coming years these features would allow us to use our telephone in ways we couldn’t just yet. They were there not for today but for future use. I was around five, which would make this about 1972. (The story has stuck in my mind for four decades, but my dad no doubt forgot it five minutes later. I guess that’s the nature of childhood memory.) Today we never think about them anymore because cell phones are ubiquitous, but the touch tone phone was part of American family life–at least my American family life–for decades. How many first dates were dialed on the family phone hanging in the kitchen? And you’d better use the egg timer if it’s a long distance call. In my teenage mind we “arrived” when we got one that had the long cord. Now we could leave one room and enter the adjacent one! The trouble was, if you walked too far you might dislodge the cord from the jack and disconnect. How long ago was that in the grand scheme of things?

It is interesting that its development was as much psychological as it was technological. One of the biggest obstacles was to develop the device in a way that people would easily remember the seven digit number. And yet we eventually carried dozens of such numbers in our heads and could dial them off whenever we wanted. Fittingly, 2013 is the 50th anniversary of the push button phone.

Thank you, John E. Karlin

Thank you, John E. Karlin and team

(images from top/Ben Schumin and Retro 00064)

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