Here is a photograph that is fascinating on about five different levels. It is from the Fall 1925 issue of the Roosevelt House Bulletin, the public voice of the Women’s Roosevelt Memorial Association. The photo was taken on July 4, 1925 in the auditorium of what we now call the Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace. This would have been sixty full years after Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox and, as you can see, the men are all octogenarians. A few may even be in their 90s. The General Sherman Circle, Ladies of the G.A.R. organized the event in cooperation with the WRMA. The turnout was about three hundred, though I am not certain how many were CIvil War veterans. The image is not that great because it is not the original but a photo taken on my camera.
Many of the Roosevelts were involved in veterans groups. Theodore was active in the Naval and Military Order of the Spanish American War. Son Ted was actually a founder of the American Legion. Throughout the 1920s and 1930s Ted Roosevelt also came to Governors Island regularly for reunions of the First Infantry Division.
This event on the 4th of July was in support of something called Defense Day, which one of the Civil War vet attendees equated to the old Muster Day. Defense Day seems to have been something akin to the Preparedness movement in the United States after the start of the Great War but prior to American engagement in the conflict. One of Defense Day’s biggest critics was President Calvin Coolidge. Apparently it was an initiative that never got too far off the ground, which is not surprising being that most people in America and Europe were exhausted after what had transpired less than a decade before.
It is incredible to visit the Birthplace and realize you are walking in the same steps where these people once walked.
Europe as it was after being redrawn in 1919
Yesterday a friend sent me something from the Wall Street Journal. It is one of those list type things in which the Journal chronicles 100 legacies of World War One. A few of the items cannot be truly credited/blamed on the First World War. Doctors were fitting wounded soldiers of the American Civil War for prosthetic devices decades prior to 1914. It is true, however, that the science of prosthesis took a great leap forward in the 1910s and 1920s. Give the whole thing a look. Among other things the list encourages us to think beyond the minutiae of the battles–important though they are– and ask ourselves why the events of 1914-1919 are important to us today in the 21st century. I cannot think of a better lesson as the Centennial gets underway.
(image/National Archives, United Kingdom)
I received confirmation late last week that the Library of Congress will be preserving The Strawfoot as part of the LOC’s Web Archiving initiative for the World War I Centennial. The Library of Congress’s goal is to collect and preserve materials born digitally during the Centennial. So much of what is online seems transitory and impermanent. I am very excited about the 100th anniversary of the Great War and think it offers all kinds of interpretive and other possibilities. That the blog will be included in the endeavor means a lot to me. Working on the website these past 3 1/2 years has been a labor of love, with equal emphasis on both words: love and labor. It was a lifestyle change. Writing the blog has its rewards; the site might not get the traffic that some others do but it does have a regular readership.
Longtime followers may have noticed a shift of emphasis in recent weeks and months. It may seem that way but to me it is all cut from the same cloth. I have never thought of myself as strictly a Civil War guy, though the events of 1861-65 have always been a source of interest and fascination for me. I have always been more interested in the causes and consequences of the war; what came just before and after is equally important. That is why I have found volunteering at the Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace these past ten months rewarding. The Roosevelts–both side of the extended family–offer so many intellectual opportunities.
I am still plugging away on the Theodore Roosevelt Senior and Joseph Hawley biographies, still volunteering at Governors Island over the summers, still writing the content for the TRB social media platforms. There are more connections than might be apparent. For starters, General/Senator Hawley and Theodore Roosevelt knew and admired each other. I find it fascinating that the young Franklin Delano Roosevelt lost a power struggle with his boss, the unreconstructed Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels, over the naming of a new ship in 1917. Instead of Roosevelt’s choice, the destroyer was christened in honor of Confederate naval officer Matthew Maury. These types of things fall under what we now call Memory Studies, which I suppose is broader and more encompassing than just historiography. More of these types of things are going to come out here at The Strawfoot in the coming months.
(image: Theodore Roosevelt at Washington’s Union Station during the First World War, LOC)
The guns of August began pounding 100 years ago this week as one by one the countries of Europe went to war. The United States would not enter the conflict for almost another three years. Two of the biggest advocates for Preparedness before and during the war were Theodore and Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Both had spent parts of their careers as Assistant Secretaries of the Navy, and Franklin was serving in that capacity when the war began. He was in a difficult spot; as a low ranking member of the Woodrow Wilson Administration he did not have the freedom to speak the way his cousin, and wife’s uncle, did. Still FDR worked indefatigably, in that way the Roosevelts had, to help modernize the U.S. Navy, much as Uncle Ted had organized the Great White Fleet and sent it around the world a few years earlier. Naval power only became more important after the opening of the Panama Canal on August 15, 1914. Throughout the war Franklin also kept Theodore informed of the palace intrigues within the State, War, and Navy Building.
Here is an incredible image from the National Archives of FDR at the laying of the keel of “Number 39,” the ship that would become the USS Arizona. (Learn more about the image’s provenance.) This was in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, March 16, 1914, exactly one full year into his assistant secretaryship. The Arizona began its sea trials in 1916. I don’t know if ironic is the word for it but, in a twist, the Arizona would be sunk at Pearl Harbor in 1941.
The District of Columbia War Memorial
I took this photograph of the Great War Memorial a few months back. It was restored a few years ago and looks fabulous. As you can tell by the image however, it does not get too much pedestrian traffic. That it is a tad off the beaten path explains part of it. Still, that can’t be the whole reason. It is less remote than it was even just three years ago when the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial was built; one walks through this general area when passing from the Mall to the MLK statue or vice versa. Even with the extra foot traffic, people do not seem inclined to stop and look. Maybe that will change during the Centennial.
I met historian Mark Levitch at the World War One Centennial Commission Trade Show in June. Since then I have contributed a few memorials to his World War I Memorial Inventory Project with a few more in the hopper. Earlier this week Mark was interviewed by CBS News about the project. Check out the video here.
Hermann Hagedorn died fifty years ago today. The name may not ring many bells within the general populace. Hagedorn, however, was a towering figure within the world of Theodore Roosevelt memory and historiography. When the Roosevelt Memorial Association was formed weeks after the former president’s death, Hagedorn became the group’s first acting secretary. He eventually became the RMA’s executive director. Hagedorn dedicated a significant portion of his life to the Roosevelt legacy; the RMA formed in 1919 and Hagedorn was still going strong during the Roosevelt Centennial in the late 1950s.
Hagedorn met Theodore Roosevelt in 1916 when a small group of supporters were trying to convince him to make one final run at the White House. That of course did not come to pass. The son of a German immigrant, Hagedorn was born in New York City. Though the United States was not yet involved the Great War, the fighting was raging in Europe when Hagedorn and Roosevelt first met. One can see why they were drawn to each other. Roosevelt was advocating for Preparedness while Hagedorn was extolling the virtues of Americanism, especially with the German-American community.
The Men’s and Women’s Roosevelt Memorial Associations were responsible for rebuilding Roosevelt’s boyhood home on East 20th Street. As I often emphasize on tours this was a time before presidential libraries. In addition to the house itself there was, and is, a museum and substantial library on site. Hagedorn claimed in the August 1929 Bulletin of the American Library Association that officials from the New York Public Library had told him that the Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace’s collection was “the most extensive library built around one individual in the United States.” The library indeed includes a substantial collection of books and other materials. It is worth noting that the Birthplace library collected not just photographs but moving imagery as well. This was pioneering stuff in the 1920s.
The RMA and Hagedorn did a lot more than just the Birthplace though. They were responsible for constructing Roosevelt Island in Washington DC and transforming Sagamore Hill into the historic site it is today. These are just a few of their accomplishments.
Hagedorn wrote a number of biographies of Roosevelt written for children and adults. He authored his first Roosevelt biography, The Boys’ Life of Theodore Roosevelt, in 1918 while the former president was still alive. In the mid 1920s Hagedorn edited Roosevelt’s Complete Works, a substantial undertaking given that Theodore Roosevelt authored over thirty books. Some people believed that Hagedorn became too involved in the Roosevelt legacy and that he sometimes stepped over the line into idolatry. Lewis Mumford and Oswald Garrison Villard were two of Hagedorn’s harshest critics. Hagedorn did sometimes lapse into hagiography but some of the criticism was shrill and unfair.
Hermann Hagedorn accomplished many things in his lifetime. There were plays, poetry, biographies of such figures as Leonard Wood and Albert Schweitzer, and other projects over his long life. Still, he is now most associated with the life and times of Theodore Roosevelt. So much of what Hagedorn did is still here today.
I was in Green-Wood Cemetery on Sunday when I came across the headstone of Franklin P. Updike. These WW1 headstones are much rarer than the ubiquitous Civil War markers one sees so often in old garden cemeteries. For one thing, there were fewer American deaths in the First World War than there were during the Rebellion. what’s more, a significant portion of doughboys were interred overseas where they were killed.
Updike, I later learned, lived in Brooklyn Heights and enlisted in the Army a month after the U.S. entered the Great War.
Updike is somewhat unusual in that he died during the war and was brought home. Note that the headstone was ordered in April 1942, just as the U.S. was entering the Second World War.
The young private was a wagoner, that is he tended horses and carts. This was a dangerous task; the enemy understood the importance of the enemy’s transport and so did everything to neutralize–kill–it. In his Memoirs George Marshall wrote of the wagoners in his division that at certain periods “the most dangerous duty probably fell to the Quartermaster Sergeants and teamsters who went forward each night.”
The people of St. Ann’s Church held a service for Updike at Thanksgiving 1918. The war had been over for two weeks by this time. This announcement and the one below are from the Brooklyn Daily Eagle.
This afternoon on my lunch break I went to the Heights and took this photo of St. Ann’s as it is today.
The people of Brooklyn did not forget Updike. Alas I don’t believe it still exists today but they named the local American Legion Post after him. This was in January 1924, ninety year ago this year.