Category: Uncategorized

“They are starving in Belgium”


I am going to write more about this tomorrow, but I found this poster so striking I had to share. October 22 is the 100th anniversary of Herbert Hoover’s appointment as leader of the Commission for Relief in Belgium. Here is something that the National Archives published for the 75th anniversary in 1989. I have always thought it unfortunate that Hoover’s reputation never recovered from the Great Depression. His work during and just after the World War was one of the great humanitarian efforts of the 20th century. In the 1920s Hoover was justly lauded as one of the great men of the era. One would think Hoover would get a little bump after so many decades, but alas that does not appear to be happening any time soon. Even today the taciturn Hoover cannot compete with the charisma of his successor Franklin Roosevelt.

I am really looking forward to the Theodore Roosevelt Association conference here in the city this weekend. It is going to be an opportunity to meet some people with whom as of yet I have only corresponded via email. My piece on Theodore Roosevelt and the Preparedness Movement is coming along. It is so important here in the United States to focus on the events of 1914-1917, and not just wait for the anniversary of American involvement. Among other things, I am trying to show how Theodore Roosevelt’s endeavors before and during the First World War parraleled what his father did during and after the American Civil War. There is a lot to go and and the pieces are falling into place now.

(image/Library of Congress)

Joffre does America

10 May 1917: Tens of thousands of New Yorkers, including Leonard Wood, turned out to see Marshal Joffre place a wreath on Ulysses S. Grant's sarcophagus

10 May 1917: Tens of thousands of New Yorkers, including Leonard Wood, turned out to see Marshal Joffre place a wreath on Ulysses S. Grant’s sarcophagus. Here he is outside the tomb meeting the public. Grant’s Tomb was one of the nation’s most-visited tourist sites in the early decades of the 20th century.

I mentioned the Joffre-Viviani Mission in a post the other day. Today on my way to visit a friend for lunch I began John S.D. Eisenhower’s Yanks: The Epic Story of the American Army in World War 1. One of my mantras is that time on the subway shall not go wasted. Yanks is a primer on the American experience during the Great War. It is funny how one mentions something–even something as obscure such as the French military mission of spring 1917–and then a few days later it appears again.

As if on cue Eisenhower begins his narrative with Marshal Joffre and Prime Minister Viviani’s trip. The trip was really Joffre’s, as he was the one most Americans were eager to see. The marshal was one of those great characters from history who blended charisma, intelligence, chutzpah, and just the right mix of shamelessness  and hucksterism into an oversized package one could only love. Joffre had a little bit of Lionel Hutz in him.

7 May 1917: Three days earlier Joffre had been in Illinois paying his respects to the 16th president

7 May 1917: Three days before the ceremony at Grant’s Tomb, Joffre had been in Illinois paying his respects to Lincoln.

The Frenchman in America is a theme I discuss in my tours at the the Roosevelt Birthplace. It comes up when I discuss famous people who came to the Birthplace. One individual was Marshal Ferdinand Foch, who came to East 20th Street in 1921 when the site was being being rebuilt. Going back there was Lafayette in the 1820s, Tocqueville in the 1830s, Joffre during the Great War, and Foch three after it ended. These are things they themselves would have grasped at the time. Indeed Foch’s 1921 trip was modeled consciously on Lafayette’s.

Joffre’s American excursion was more than casual however. He had business to conduct in addition to the goodwill aspects of his visit. For one thing the British were also in town too and competing for Wilson’s ear. This is a simplification, but Joffre won the public relations campaign over the Brits. One of the people he met first in the United States was the young Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Like Theodore, Franklin had long been an advocate of preparedness. About a week into the trip there was that ticker tape parade up lower Manhattan. Joffre also visited Grant’s Tomb and Lincoln’s resting place in Springfield, Illinois.

(images/Grant’s Tomb. Library of Congress; Lincoln resting place, NYPL)


Sunday morning coffee

It is another early Sunday morning, though I did roll over and sleep in a bit. I figured I’ll get the 10:00 rather than the 9:00 boat. These weekends where I double up on the sites are fun, but they do take it out of you. The crowds were big at the TRB yesterday. It was a combination of the rain and anticipation for the Ken Burns/Geoffrey Ward documentary that starts tonight. Alas, I myself will miss the beginning unless it is streamed online. Such are the hazards of not having a television. I will probably order the dvds and watch at my own pace. I am especially interested to see what they do with part one, which is going to cover aspects of the book I am writing.

Today is also the anniversary of the death of William McKinley and ascension of Theodore Roosevelt to the presidency. Roosevelt was hunting and hiking in upstate New York when he received the news. A few sharp tacks even knew this when I threw out the hint yesterday during my tours. In a small irony McKinley died on the anniversary of the Battle of South Mountain, where he had fought as a young officer during the Maryland Campaign in 1862. It would be interesting to know if Burns and Ward knew this and scheduled part one for this occasion.

The Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace, 28 East 20th Street

The Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace, 28 East 20th Street

The resting places of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, Hyde Park

The resting places of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, Hyde Park, NY

(images/The Strawfoot)

Bon weekend

3f04112rI am sorry about the lack of posts. It was a busy week. The semester at my college is now in full swing. I also gave a talk at a Civil War roundtable on Wednesday, which took some time to put together. The talk went well and it was a great time. The group may come to Governors Island for a field trip next summer.

Today is the anniversary of the battle of St.-Mihiel. The memory of St.-Mihiel parallels the battle of South Mountain; both were largely overlooked because of the larger fighting at Antietam and in the Meuse-Argonne that took place shortly thereafter. I am hoping that misconceptions like these are changed during the Great War centennial. My news feeds have pulled in quite a bit of centennial coverage from Europe over the past two months. I hope Americans don’t wait for three years for the anniversary of the U.S. declaration of war to start paying attention.

During a Centennial Commission conference call on Wednesday someone mentioned the reconstruction of a WW1 monument right here in Brooklyn. I must say I was surprised and had missed this story entirely. Apparently in the early 1970s vandals desecrated the Saratoga Monument in Bed-Stuy, stripping it of its bronze plaque and selling it for scrap. Such vandalism was not unusual during NYC’s Dark Years. Grant’s Tomb, for instance, was covered with graffiti and even bullet holes in some of the structures on the exterior grounds. If my friend Charles Hirsch were still alive I would have gone with him on an excursion to check out the Saratoga Monument. It won’t be the same but I will still make it out there in October, with pictures and commentary.

It is going to be a bust weekend, TRB tomorrow and Governors Island on Sunday. It should work out well because it is supposed to rain tomorrow and be nice Sunday. There are three more weeks to go in the GI season.

(image/Library of Congress)

The Keeper of the flame is coming to the Roosevelt Birthplace

1623752_796568773696932_4253042670662453745_nIf you are looking for something to do this coming Saturday, here is something special: the Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace is hosting Charlie DeLeo. For over three decades Mr. DeLeo maintained the torch in the Statue of Liberty. That meant a 151 foot walk every day more than 2,500 times. Rain, shine, heat, frost. The work had to go on. Talk about a unique perspective on the city, and even the world given the hustle and bustle of New York Harbor. I can’t tell you what a singular experience this should be. And it is free.

We take the Statue of Liberty for granted because it has always been “just there.” It is such a part of our lives that it is easy to forget it is people like Mr. DeLeo who help make it possible. Everyone in the world knows the Lady Liberty.

It is always the right time to visit the Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace. Mr. DeLeo’s talk is sure to be one of the more unique moments in the history of this historic site. The contact information is on the side here. There is still time to make your reservation.