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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)

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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)

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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.

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Whither the house museum?

Concord's Old Manse

Concord’s Old Manse

Here is a confession for you: I never pay the full suggested admission price when I visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The reason is because I figure that, like many huge and successful insitutions, the Met is doing pretty well for itself, even in these difficult times. Usually when I visit I give them $5, not the $25 they suggest. Let me hasten to add that I believe it is crucial to support all cultural institutions, large and small. I never freeload and I always give even the wealthier places something. When visiting smaller museums–and I visit several dozen a year–I always make certain to support very generously. At a small site I always give the full suggested amount. If the place is gratis, I still make sure to put a little something in the donation box. Every little bit helps, especially at smaller venues. An interesting article came through my in box the other day about the perilous state of house museums in Massachusetts. By extension the problems faced by such museums in the Bay State are applicable across the country.

For me at least the term “house museum” can mean two different things: a building that was once the actual domicile of a famous individual, or someone’s current place of residence partially turned into an exhibit space through an act of passion for something. My favorite was this one. It is shocking to see that Paul MacLeod has died.

The topic was already fresh in my mind because a few of us at Governors Island were talking about the sins and virtues of a few particular house museums in Gettysburg. Without naming names, let’s just say the quality of interp varies along Steinwehr Avenue and the Baltimore Pike. Also, just a few days after that conversation I was in Boston and visited a few of the historic sites in Lexington and Concord. The museums were a mish mash of Park Service and private sites working next to each other along the route the Redcoats covered in April 1775. One of the most interesting was The Old Manse, the Concord house that Emerson and Hawthorne called home at different points in time. The museum staff was quite informed and knowledgeable, everything one can ask for.

Thank god for the Met, the Louvre, Musee D’Orsay and others, but I hate to think of a world in which our precious house museums disappear.

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Sunday morning coffee

I was at a social gathering a few weeks ago when I mentioned that linguist Steven Pinker has a new style guide coming out in September. My story of Pinker and his thoughts on grammar fell flat, though that was my fault. Broaching the ins and outs of split infinitives on a Saturday night was probably not the way to go.

In a nutshell, Pinker tries to split the difference between prescriptivists and descripivists. Grammarians and editors who fall into the prescriptivist camp believe that there are rigid rules to follow in writing and that deviation should be avoided at all costs. Yes, language evolves, they allow, but change should be slow and cautious. Descriptivists take a more relaxed approach and believe that language is more flexible and fluid. Language, they argue, is whatever people say it is. It is more complicated than that, but that is the gist of it. You can read more about it yourself; the London Guardian published an excerpt on Friday.

Ironically people generally–and lazily–call Pinker a descriptivist, which I think misses the point. His whole argument is that good communication is the goal and that style is an important part of the process. Otherwise why would he waste his time writing a book on usage? The point is to communicate effectively without being a prig.

I am looking forward to Pinker’s book, which will be released in September. Writing well and clearly is important. I wrote about this a few years back. Like Pinker, I too fall in the middle area between presriptivist and descriptivist. Standards matter. There is nothing more frustrating than reading something–an email, text message, newspaper article, whatever–in which the meaning is vague or unclear. It cannot be a total free-for-all. At the same time, we should not become totally captive to the rules, as if they exist just for themselves. The idea is to understand the rules of style and grammar well enough to be able to break them occasionally when necessary.

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Anna Bulloch (Gracie)

These now faded markers are the headstones of Anna Bulloch, James Gracie, and Martha (Grandmamma) Bulloch. Martha died in 1864 when the Civil War was still going on.

These now faded markers are the headstones of Anna Bulloch, James Gracie, and Martha (Grandmamma) Bulloch. Martha died in 1864 when the Civil War was still going on.

I was in Green-Wood Cemetery yesterday afternoon and came across the headstones of Anna Bulloch and James Gracie. I have seen these many times before. Anna was Theodore Roosevelt’s aunt, his mother’s sister; James was his uncle. James was part of the Gracie family that owned what we now call Gracie Mansion, the New York City mayor’s official residence.

Theodore Roosevelt’s mother Martha was from Roswell, Georgia and married Theodore Senior at a young age. Anna and Grandmamma moved to New York and lived at East 20th Street soon thereafter. Anna home schooled Theodore and many other neighborhood children, including Edith Carow. I have always suspected that they moved to help Martha as much with the in laws as with the kids.

a close-up of Anna and James

a close-up of Anna and James

In addition to her four children Martha had to contend with her in-laws living just a few blocks away on Union Square. What’s more, she had four brothers-in-law also in the neighborhood, including one next door. It did not help either that the Civil War was coming and the Bulloch were staunch Confederates living and/or married into a family of Lincoln supporters. She didn’t have the buffer as Seinfeld would say.

What has always intrigued me about these headstones is that Anna’s has her maiden name. I have never understood why hers says Bulloch and not Gracie. We know from the literature that theirs was a good and close marriage. James became very much a part of the Roosevelt extended clan and participated in the family’s charitable and other endeavors. It seems strange to me that she kept the Bulloch name.

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Pic of the day

Rough road ahead

I came across this sign up the street from our house and naturally had to stop and photograph. It is for the street work they have been doing, but feel free to interpret any way you wish.

 

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