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The restoration of Richard Theodore Greener, a further update

AR-140729811.jpg&maxw=368&q=100&cb=20140731000233&cci_ts=20140730130001I have been following the story of the personal papers of Richard Greener off and on for a few years now. As you can read from previous posts below, the papers were discovered during a home restoration in Chicago a few years ago. Since then the documents have been sold incrementally. I am glad the worker who found them did not get ripped off and that he has managed maintain control. Next week on August 6 one of the most prized artifacts–Greener’s 1865 Harvard College diploma–is going on the auction block. It is expected to fetch $10,000-15,000. We shall see what happens.

A year and a half ago I wrote the post below about the rediscovery of some of the effects of Richard T. Greener. There was great interest and speculation about where these things would end up. Appropriately, they have returned to the University of South Carolina. Find a half hour over the weekend to watch the ceremony that took place earlier this week.

Further update: This was a more complicated story than I first realized. Boston Magazine has more on the story, including a threat to burn the documents. Crazy.

(Hat tip David Jensen)

I have written before of my appreciation for the recovery of Long Lost Items. The stories are exciting precisely because of their unexpectedness. You are reading the newspaper one day and learn, for instance,  that a WW2 German U-boat has been discovered off the coast of New Jersey, as actually happened about a decade ago. The other day a friend forwarded me this piece about the discovery of a cache of personal effects once belonging to Richard T. Greener. That many readers might not know who Greener was is unfortunate, because he was very much the equal of Frederick Douglass, Booker T. Washington, and even W.E.B DuBois. Greener was the first African American graduate of Harvard College, entering that institution in September 1865 as a member of the first class to enroll after the Civil War’s end that April.

In the early 1870s Greener was the principal of the Male Department in the Philadelphia Institute for Colored Youth. He soon took a similar post at a school in Washington DC. Eventually Greener earned his law degree from the University of South Carolina. While studying there he traveled through the heart of the fire eating Palmetto State preaching the gospel of racial equality, often under considerable threat of violence. Wisely, Greener left South Carolina as Reconstruction was ending. He moved back to Washington where he served as Dean of Howard University’s Law School, but left after a few years to open his own highly successful practice on T Street. Greener was a Republican and a close friend of U.S. Grant’s. He was secretary of the Grant Monument Association and was thus largely responsible for the creation of Grant’s Tomb. He even procured funds from African nations such as Sierra Leone for this endeavor. Later he served in India, China, and Russia in the McKinley and Roosevelt Administrations. (It is always surprising to read/hear of Americans serving in such far flung regions in the nineteenth century.)

Richard T. Greener

In the earlier twenthieth century Greener had fallen into obscurity, eventually moving to Chicago. That so few know who Richard T. Greener is today is partly because his family was not there to protect his legacy. Many had changed their name to Greene and lived their lives passing in White America. Greener died in 1922.

The documents that came to light the other day were found in a derelict house in a rough neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side. A construction worker found them in a trunk in 2009 and saved them by stuffing them in a paper bag. Included are Greener’s Harvard diploma and his personal correspondence with President Grant. How these items came to be found in  a derelict home open to drug addicts is one of the story’s great mysteries. Time will tell where these items will eventually settle. Wherever they do end up, we can only hope they restore Greener to his rightful place in the pantheon of Great Americans.

(image/J.H. Cunningham for The Colored American)

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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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Charles C. Mills

IMG_0869I was in Green-Wood Cemetery this afternoon for a quick walk when I came across this headstone for one of the men from Joseph Hawley’s regiment. Hawley notes in the 7th’s regimental history that Mills had returned from recruitment duties just in time for the fighting at Pocotaligo in October 1862. Mills is mentioned again during the fighting in the Bermuda Hundred outside Richmond. There, 150 years ago this month, Mills was mortally wounded when shot in the chest.

His death must have been traumatic for all involved. According to Hawley, his and Mills’s wives, with a few other officers’ spouses, “made a social circle which formed an oasis in military life which was remembered with great pleasure in the continuous battles from July, 1863 to the close of the war.” In early January 1864 when the fighting was again about to heat up ” All the ladies, except Mrs. Hawley and Mrs. Mills returned north.” It must have been a difficult death if he held on for another six months before expiring in January 1865. I would love to know the circumstances of how he came to be buried here in Brooklyn.

Mills, Charles C

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Quote of the day

Bill Russell at the March on Washington, 1963

Bill Russell at the March on Washington, 1963

When Auerback was named coach sixteen years earlier, The Boston Globe had carried the story on the inside pages, surrounded by racing results and local high school sports scores. But the editors of the New York Times considered Russell’s hiring [in 1966] so momentous that they ran their article on the front pages, next to stories on bombing strikes in Hanoi, proposed peace talks between the United States and Vietnam, and the Ford Motor Company’s recall of thirty thousand vehicles for safety defects.

–John Taylor

The Rivalry: Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, and the Golden Age of Basketball

(image/U.S. Information Agency. Press and Publications Service.)

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Memorial Day at Cypress Hills

A few weeks ago I got to talking with a park ranger at one of the Manhattan sites about Cypress Hills National Cemetery. This person is a seasonal who does not live in New York City but is stationed here for the summer and will return to grad school in late August. He wants to make the most of his time here and is taking regular busman’s holidays to see this and that. One place on his list is the national cemetery. I hope he goes. Who knows? Maybe he already has given the level of interest he expressed.

Spread out over parts of Brooklyn and Queens, CHNC is one of the original national cemeteries Lincoln created during the Civil War. A few years back I took the Hayfoot and a friend there on a brutal summer’s day. I am glad we went but in retrospect I saw that, well, maybe it would have been better put of until autumn.

The Daily News sent a crew there over Memorial Day weekend. For me one of the striking things at the cemetery was the rostrum mentioned in the small clip. One sees this at Gettysburg, Antietam, and elsewhere and seeing one here in New York is a strange experience.

 

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Showtime plus thirty years

The Losa Angeles Forum, where Showtime happened

The Los Angeles Forum, where Showtime happened

Last night before crashing and burning exhausted I finished Showtime, Jeff Pearlman’s new book about the great Laker teams of the 1980s. Because my family roots are in Boston cheering for the Lakers would have been heresy. Thirty years later I don’t have to care. Call it the miracle of growing older.

The NBA Finals that always sticks out most in my mind was the 1984 contest between the Lakers and Celtics. By this time my family had been uprooted and marooned in South Florida for nearly a decade. Rationally or not, we saw the series as a connection to something deeper than just who would win the NBA trophy.

One must remember that this was still the period before the NBA had become the streamlined entertainment juggernaut it is today. Just a few earlier the NBA finals were not shown live on television; so inconsequential had the league become that the network televised the finals on tape delay after the late news. Read that sentence again.

Lakers vs Celtics had everything. It was East Coast vs West Coast, Bird vs Magic, the return of a historic rivalry, and yes there was a strong racial element added into the mix, though I personally never got caught up in that.

The Celtics took that series in seven games and won at home in the old dump that was Boston Garden. What I remember the most is that the following week my family and I returned to Boston for my grandparents’ 50th wedding anniversary. My grandfather picked us up at the airport later on the same day that the team had its parade. For reasons I have never understood he was curiously determined to downplay the entire thing. Because it was the pre-internet days my brother and I walked down to the corner store and bought both the Globe and Herald over the few days we were back where our roots lay.

The Lakers and Celtics played in the finals the following year and again in 1987. For me though it was never the same. The 1980s have a strong before and after element. I graduated high school in 1985; after graduation I was another young person trying to figure out my place in the grand scheme of things.

Showtime began in 1979 ran its course until Magic Johnson’s announcements that he was HIV positive in November 1991. Reading Pearlman’s excellent narrative reminded me of how long that was and what I left behind.

(image/Eddy Lambert)

 

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Spring comes to Green-Wood Cemetery

IMG_0724

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April 27, 2014 · 4:45 pm

If headstones could talk

A Civil War headstone, though not the one mentioned in the post

A Civil War headstone, though not the one mentioned in the post

I had an interesting experience this past week. The Sunday before last I was in Green-Wood Cemetery enjoying the scenery and taking photos now and again as I do. I took a pic of one Civil War headstone that struck my eye. After I got home I did a little research to find what I could on this individual. Searching one of the genealogy websites I found out he was an accomplished middle-grade officer in the 5th New York. There are many veterans of Duryees Zouaves in Green-Wood. I soon realized he was in someone’s family tree and so I emailed the lady about my pics and the records I found. I would love to share them here, but for privacy and decorum’s sake I will refrain.

Well, before I knew it I got an email back from the woman who told me she had never known her great, great grandfather had been a Civil War veteran. I found that a little odd given the man’s stature, but that’s the way it goes sometimes. I was happy to provide the information.

Now that spring is almost here I am going to get into the cemeteries of New York City in a bigger, more systematic way. The Hayfoot and I have been to a good many here and in DC, but it has always been haphazard. To a degree this was intentional: I go to Green-Wood because it is around the corner and I am trying to unwind on a weekend day. I almost submitted a proposal to the Association of Gravestone Studies conference in Indiana based on the graves of the various Roosevelts buried in the Greater New York and DC areas but decided I was not quite ready. Maybe next year.

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Unwindings

postcard of Youngstown, Ohio, c. 1910

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.

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