postcard of Youngstown, Ohio, c. 1910
Last night I finished George Packer’s sobering new book The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America. Packer consciously modeled the book on John Dos Passos’s USA Trilogy. Passos’s Trilogy depicted America as it was between 1910-1930. Packer talks about America between roughly 1970 and today. Trilogy was a series of novels; the stories told in The Unwinding are all too real.
It occurred to me when I read the book that I have never lived in a world where there was no Rust Belt. I found myself wishing my great friend Charles Hirsch were still alive. He was precisely twenty years old than I am and grew up at the tail end of Industrialized America. The loss of our manufacturing job base was something he talked about frequently. Were he still here today we would have talked about Packer’s book and broken it down.
This past November before he died we were planning a trip for this upcoming summer to his native Minnesota, where he was going to take me to some of the old mining towns and places like that. He would have been the perfect guide.
Packer does more than just discuss the collapse of American manufacturing. He tells the story of the deficit, banking crisis, political stalemate, and other ills that have plagued us in recent years. The book works because he puts a human face on the issues. He lets people from all sides tell their stories of success and/or failure in their own words.
I found myself getting older reading the farther I read along. So much of what seems like current events to me–say the energy crisis of the early 1970s–now reads as history. It is terrifying, too, to realize that the wheels aren’t on as tightly as you think they are.
I am sorry about the lack of posts recently. It may seem I have been slacking but I have actually been actively writing these past few weeks. Today I put the nearly-final touches on the third of three encyclopedia articles. Tomorrow I will give it one last proofread and then send off to the editor. It’s not something one does forever but I have written a dozen or so encyclopedia articles now and feel I always get something out of the process. I found these ones especially enjoyable and worthwhile to write. All three were related to NPS sites. I knew a fair amount about how national parks and monuments are created but I feel I now have a fresher perspective. Staring at the blank page will do that for you.
I have also been busy putting a proposal together for something about which I will comment if it transpires. Time will tell.
If you are on Facebook and have not “liked” the Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace National Historic Site Facebook I urge you to do so if you have the desire. One of the reasons my posting has been lighter here is because I have been doing some things for the TRB. I have been there almost five months and have been enjoying it a great deal. Roosevelt is great because one can take any aspect of American history and make TR part of the story. He is an interpreter’s dream.
The Theodore Roosevelt Sr. I am writing is underway as well. I am a little concerned about finding enough primary material but I think there is enough. He is a fascinating guy in his own right. His is a story worth telling. I was in Green-Wood this past Sunday roaming around the Roosevelt and other headstones. So many great stories…
The supporting cast of Barney Miller in a 1975 publicity still
Because it has been a long week we thought we would focus this Sunday morning on some lighter fare, this interview about 1970s television show Barney Miller. I have never understood why this show–which did last eight seasons–is not a greater part of our cultural memory. That it fell between genres–cop show, escapist sit com, socially relevant sit com–is the best I can come up with. One thing I think that hurt BM was being on ABC instead of CBS. The Tiffany Network, with its stable of Norman Lear shows such as All in the Family, Maude, One Day at a Time, and others, would have done a better job generating a following.
I have wanted to watch old episodes but alas BM is not available on either Amazon Prime or Streaming Netflix.
I had never thought about the idea that a show about a police precinct would itself be a statement coming after the social unrest of the 1960s. I know BM is in syndication and still watched by a large number of folks. I imagine though that its audience is primarily aging and watching for its nostalgia factor. It would be great if this show were rediscovered by a younger cohort in that “everything old is new again” vein in which popular culture operates.
I was looking something up in a 1903 copy of Scientific American earlier today when I got distracted by the ads in the back. Here is one that was so irresistible I had to share.
The was the John Quincy Adams Ward statue of Henry Ward Beecher as it was late this afternoon. With Super Bowl 48 now in the books we can look forward to pitchers and catchers reporting in a few weeks. Can spring be far behind?
I was working at the public library today. One of the books I was using was an old tome published just after the Civil War. When I opened it, out fell this call slip from someone who had requested the book in December 1961.
The entranceway of Alice Roosevelt Longworth’s Dupont Circle house
I am sorry for the lack of posts this week, but I have been busy. I am in Washington doing research at the Library of Congress for my Joseph Hawley book. The Hayfoot and I have also been hitting some Theodore Roosevelt-related sites. They have not been posted yet, but I am writing a series of posts for the Roosevelt Birthplace Facebook page about various Roosevelt-in-Washington places. Look for those later this week on the TRB Facebook page.
We intentionally chose three in the Dupont Circle area to make it easier logistically. When we visited Alice Roosevelt Longworth’s house (2009 Massachusetts Avenue, NW), a dour lady from the Washington Legal Foundation, the site’s current occupant, told us it is not a public space and shut the door in our faces. Oh well. We had a good laugh about it.
My table at the Library of Congress
The book is very much in the nascent stages but it is finally starting to gel. Looking at reels and reels of microfilm is exhausting but the hardest part was realizing the scope and tome of the book. I had that epiphany the other night and when I did the load got a lot lighter. I guess the whole thing from start to finish will be a process with forward and backward steps. It is amazing what can happen when you just start.
Working on this book project and writing content for the TRB website, along with my volunteering duties at the site, are going to be my intellectual pursuits for 2014. Despite a few crises of confidence it has been so far so good.
I got back from Florida late last night, about seven hours overdue. All told, I was one of the lucky ones. Yesterday I dealt with the avalanche of snow; today I am dealing with the avalanche of emails found in my in-box. One thing that caught my eye was this piece from the Washington Post about the new Senior Historian at the National Portrait Gallery, David Ward. The NPG is one our country’s great treasures. I love the part at the beginning where he talks about Theodore Roosevelt and the 1913 Armory Show. Roosevelt the Connoisseur is something I wrote about in late November. It is a prominent theme in my Interp at the Birthplace. When I am in Washington later this month I am going to see if they indeed changed the signage next to the sketch of the Colonel.
I am looking forward to getting back into the swing of things.
(image by Charles Dana Gibson/NPG)
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
Evarts played hockey as well.
Harvard hockey team, 1946-1947
Evarts Jr. was married to his wife for sixty-five years.