Remembering my Aunt Carol

Gettysburg was one of Aunt Carol's favorite places.

Gettysburg was one of my Aunt Carol’s favorite places.

My mother’s older sister died this past week and I am still trying to process it all. Some may note that Carol Zurlo was a regular commenter here on this website. My aunt was born in Washington DC in 1935, where my grandfather worked in the Navy Yard during the Depression and then throughout the Second World War. The family moved back to Boston in 1945. My own parents lived in Connecticut until we all moved to South Florida in the mid 1970s. My brother and sister and I were cut off from the extended family for the next decade and more. Remember: there was not internet, no cell phones, no text messaging, and no anything else in these years. When you were cut off, you were cut off.

Her last several years were a struggle health-wise but Carol never failed to keep in touch. And it was not just about genealogy. She had an interest in art, history, crafts and quilting, and numerous other things. She was elementary school teacher for so long that she ended her career teaching the grandchildren of some of her original students. After retirement she supervised field trips for her own grandkids’ visits to Gettysburg and elsewhere. Naturally she always filled me in about these excursions. She was also a great Boston sports fan. Over the past dozen or so years each of the four Boston teams have won at least one title. The biggest one, at least as far as my extended family went, was when the Red Sox finally broke through in 2004. I have always been thankful that everyone from these two generations lived to see it. That may sound funny, but it is no small thing.

One of the best things about moving to Brooklyn in the late 1990s is that I was able to reacquaint myself with much of the extended family. When I began tracing my family history about a dozen years ago the two individuals who helped fill in the most about their respective sides of my family were my father and my Aunt Carol. Others filled in gaps as well, and have even generously taken me to the old schools, houses, and final resting places of our relatives. My dad and aunt were the foundation though. This made sense, as they were both the oldest siblings and so had the most memory to fall back on. Now both my father and Carol are gone, but what they passed on to me has been saved.

A snapshot of Governors Island

Garden-Party-Governors-Island-e1445221745818I am sorry for the recent lack of posts. Things have been in full swing at my school. The season has ended at Governors Island but things still come through my in-box, including this photo that I thought I would share. A friend and I were looking at it yesterday and he noted how confining the ladies’ clothes must have been. This image was taken in 1911 and shows how little things had changed style-wise prior to the First World War. This is a full decade after the death of Queen Victoria and one year after the passing of her son Edward VII. One can hardly tell however that the Edwardian Age had come and gone. This scene could have been 1891 just as easily as 1911. The Great War liberated women in a number of ways, including what they wore. Manpower deficits helped put them to work in factories, which meant their clothes had to be more functional; also, shortages in steel and other raw materials made the corset impractical and soon obsolete. Goodbye whalebone, hello brassiere.

This photograph was almost certainly taken in what is now called Nolan Park on May 25, 1911 in recognition of Decoration Day. I say this confidently because there are many similar images taken on that day. This was between Leonard Wood’s stints as commander of the Eastern Department; Frederick Dent Grant was in charge. Note the black cloth hanging as if from a clothesline up top. Images like this are fascinating because we, one hundred years later, know what comes next. Three years later this world of garden fetes and genteel Decoration Days would get swept away by the calamity of the First World War.

(image/Library of Congress via History by Zim)

Sunday morning coffee

Eisenhower Farm in winter

Eisenhower Farm in winter

It is feeling more and more like fall by the day here in New York. I do miss Governors Island but at the same time I must say I have been enjoying these Sundays off. This past week marked the 125th anniversary of Dwight Eisenhower’s birth. Many forget that he was born in Texas and not Kansas. One thing that is so fascinating about that generation is the way it spanned most of the major events of the 20th century. And they did not just witness such events as the Great War, the Russian Revolution, the Depression, rises of Hitler, Stalin, & Mussolini, FDR’s New Deal, the Second World War, and Cold War, they were active participants. Ike was born during the Benjamin Harrison Administration and lived long enough to see the Beatles conquer America.

Eisenhower was in the West Point Class of 1915, known as the class “the stars fell on” because nearly five dozen graduates went on to become generals. Most of them first put what they learned in class to use on the battlefields of France. The lieutenants and captains of 1917 were the major generals of 1942. Ike of course did not go to France; he was too valuable as a trainer and organizer. He spent a great deal of time at Camp Colt in Gettysburg. That is why he and Mamie eventually bought their first and only home there. They were part of the fabric of the local community for decades, and entertained world visitors frequently as well. If you have never been to the Eisenhower Farm, make sure to visit on your next trip to Gettysburg.

Check out these great photos that Penn Live has posted in tribute. One of my favorites is the one with him and the 101 Airborne just prior to the Normandy Invasion. It is almost an outtake of the more famous image one sees all the time. It is amazing how many of photographs, especially the color photographs, appear modern. The cut and styling in the suits were timeless.

(image/Library of Congress byJack E. Boucher via Wikimedia Commons)


A quick tie story

Navy grenadine

Navy grenadine

I was at the New York Public Library doing some work today when at lunchtime I took a break and ran around the corner to the storefront of Winston Tailors: it was my goal to–hopefully–buy one of Paul Winston’s ties. The name may not ring many bells outside the world of men’s clothing but Mr. Winston’s father was the founder of CHIPP, a clothing store once on Madison Avenue across the street from Brooks Brothers. J Press was right there as well. I assume they were where they were due to the proximity to Grand Central Station. Brooks Brothers opened its flagship store at 44th and Madison in 1915, two years after Grand Central opened. CHIPP outfitted Cy Vance and John F. Kennedy among others. I read in an interview after getting home that Mr. Winston accompanied his dad on fitting trips to the Carlyle Hotel when President Kennedy was in town.

CHIPP is gone now but the family tradition continues through Mr. Winston. Now in his mid-70s, he runs his tailor shop out of the lobby of a building on 44th Street between 5th and 6th. He also sells ties through what he apparently considers an entity separate from the tailoring itself; he calls the tie business CHIPP2. When I got to the building today I could not find it, and so asked the concierge. He couldn’t find CHIPP2 in the directory and with incredible graciousness looked it up on his own cell phone and called. (I didn’t know at that moment that the tailor shop was the site too for the ties.)

I did not want any tie but was specifically looking for a navy grenadine: the most conservative of conservative neckwear. Why can’t men dress the way they did between the world wars? As my luck would have it a shipment had come in an 1 1/2 hour earlier. When I told him what I wanted, he literally went behind the counter and pulled it out of the box that the postman had delivered that morning. In other words–as he told me–had I come in at 11:00 instead of 1:00 I would not have gotten the tie. What is more, many in the delivery were pre-orders that were already spoken for. I had never met Mr. Winston before but he is clearly a witty and charming raconteur. It was so strange that I had showed just after he had received the shipment that we had a brief discussion about fate and coincidence. On the way out I thanked the building concierge once again and also shared with him that right there in the building works the man who with his father once made John F. Kennedy’s suits.

Lincoln’s chair to go under the gavel

3a52058rI noted with interest that a chair given to Matthew Brady by President Lincoln is going on the auction block later this month. I have looked at the above image along with several others and cannot make out if this is indeed the chair. This photograph here is of President Lincoln with son Tad in February 1865. It was taken at Alexander Gardner’s studio. The think is, the article says Lincoln gave the chair to Brady in 1864; by that time Gardner was no longer working for Brady. If anyone knows more, I’d like to hear it.

Anything touched by Lincoln’s hand became beatified after his assassination. People understood the significance of the moment even while it was taking place. What is fascinating is that Brady continued to use the chair in his studio to photograph subjects. Indeed four additional presidents posed with the chair in the ensuing years. One can only speculate the extent to which Johnson, Grant, Hayes, and Garfield were aware of the chair’s import. I thought at first that they were using it in tribute to the Great Emancipator, and to an extent they probably were. However, the article in the Daily Mail notes that others, including Robert E. Lee, sat in Lincoln’s seat as well. That leads one to think it was just another piece of furniture for studio use. Check out the great images here. I may have to visit the auction house before the sale on October 26 to see it for myself. I will report what I learn.

(image/Library of Congress)

Bearing Lincoln

AbeLate last week I went to the CUNY Graduate Center to hear Martha Hodes discuss her new book Mourning Lincoln. Dr. Hodes, a professor at New York University, explained that while writing her book she used the events of 9/11 as a springboard to analyze the Lincoln assassination and especially its aftermath. What she meant was that today, fourteen years after the World Trade Center attacks, the tendency is to think that there was a universal quality to Americans’–and even New Yorkers’–responses to that event. Old photographs she dug up of people congregating at Washington Square reminded her that the immediate response was more complicated than her fading memory. Such is the nature of these types of events.

The ultimate example of this phenomenon is the murder of Lincoln. Today the tendency is to believe that all Americans responded with universal grief and solemnity when nothing could have been further from the truth. Many–and not just below the Mason-Dixon line–were euphoric. This was especially true here in New York City, where Copperhead sympathies predominated throughout the war. No photographs exist of Lincoln’s assassination or the scene at his deathbed. The closest thing we have is artist Carl Bersch’s painting Lincoln Borne by Loving Hands. As far as is known this is the only rendering to have been done by an eyewitness. The provenance is unclear, but Bersch seems to have painted the work sometime later in 1865. It’s what we have.

A friend sent me an article about the ongoing restoration of the painting, which is in the care of the National Park Service. The painting has not been seen by too many people over the past century and a half, though it did go to Russian four years ago as part of an exhibit to mark the parallel lives of Lincoln and Czar Alexander II. The czar had freed the serfs in 1861 and would himself later be assassinated. I would not put too fine a point on it, but in a way Lincoln’s killing can be seen as part of the wave of political assassinations that were so common between his killing in 1865 and Archduke Ferdinand’s in 1914. Bomb-throwing revolutionaries killed Alexander II in 1881, and it was Leon Czolgosz’s shooting of President McKinley twenty years after that that brought Theodore Roosevelt to power. And those are just a few of the most prominent examples. Anyways, here is that piece from the Washington Post about the painting’s restoration. The restoration work began in August and should conclude in early 2016 with the painting going on display at Ford’s Theater.

Kansas City 1921

american legion reviewing standI came across the image above the other day via the Kansas City Star. The photograph was taken in that city at the American Legion Convention in November 1921. They are hard to make out but the VIPs on the podium are none other than General Jacques of Belgium, General Armando Diaz of Italy, Vice President Calvin Coolidge, Marshal Ferdinand Foch of France, General Pershing, and British Admiral David Beatty. The photo cuts off whatever is on the far left, which is unfortunate because everyone including the big shots are looking in that direction. Of everyone present I find Foch’s presence the most interesting; later that same month he visited the still-under-reconstruction Roosevelt House on East 20th Street here in New York City. As I always point out to people at the TRB, he was on a grand tour modeled after Lafayette’s 1824-25 visit.

I searched a few online sources to see if Ted Roosevelt was present in KC for the convention. He appears not to have been, which makes sense as he was Harding’s Assistant Navy Secretary by this time. He had been in Missouri, in St. Louis, for the Legion’s founding convention two years previously. I assume these conventions were held where they were because these cities were located in the center of the country and thus easy to get to via railroad. KC is an important American city when it comes to the First World War. Theodore Roosevelt wrote for the Star for much of 1917 until his death in early 1919. So did Hemingway until he left for Italy in early 1918. Pershing was from there, which is why the Liberty Memorial and now the National World War I Museum and Memorial are in Kansas City. I have been to the Liberty Memorial once before and would love to get back during the centennial.

(image/Kansas City Star)

TRA Boston

Nora Cordingley worked here at the NYPL in the early 1920s before taking a position at Roosevelt House in 1923.

Nora Cordingley worked here at the NYPL in the early 1920s before taking a position at Roosevelt House in 1923 and then moving to Massachusetts twenty years later.

The Theodore Roosevelt Association’s annual conference is this weekend in Boston. Alas I will not be attending this year. I was talking to a friend the other day, an individual who is quite knowledgeable about Roosevelt, and mentioned to her that Boston is an ideal place to discuss TR and his legacy. Harvard, Alice Hathaway Lee, and Henry Cabot Lodge are all big parts of Theodore Roosevelt’s story with their roots in The Hub. Working on the article I submitted last week, I came across an individual I had never heard of previously: Nora E. Cordingley.

Ms. Cordingley was a Canadian-American who ended up working at the New York Public Library in the early 1900s. In 1923 she took a job at Roosevelt House working under director Hermann Hagedorn. She was there for two full decades; when the Roosevelt Collection moved from East 20th Street to Harvard University in 1943 she moved to Cambridge along with the collection. I was at NYPL a few weeks ago and asked the reference librarian if she had ever heard of Cordingley. She had not. The ref librarian added that NYPL had a training course in the early 1900s–this presumably in the years prior to one’s receiving an MLS from an ALA-accredited school–and that Cordingley may have been here in New York to receive this education. Then, if this is indeed the narrative, after her education and training she moved on to the Roosevelt collection that the RMA was building on East 20th Street.

Cordingley was dedicated to her job. Sadly she died in the Widener Library of a heart attack in March 1951 while editing Roosevelt’s letters. These were the letters that were published in eight volumes in the 1950s under the direction of Elting Morison. Cordingley’s is a moving story that I now think about each time I look up a Roosevelt missive in the set.

Coming soon: The Wonder of It All

The North Bridge over the Concord River, Minute Man National Historical Park

The North Bridge over the Concord River, Minute Man National Historical Park

I received the good news today from the editor at the Yosemite Conservancy that the book for which I wrote a chapter has gone to the printer and will hit the warehouse in mid-October. As they said they might, the editorial people indeed changed the title; there is no official release date yet, but The Wonder of It All: 100 Stories from the National Park Service will be hitting book stores toward the end of the year. This will be the first book chapter I have gotten into print. I am very excited about it not just for that reason, but because if I do say so myself it reflects many years of dedicated volunteer work. Of course it is not only my story but that of other volunteers and the rangers at Ellis Island, the Theodor Roosevelt Birthplace, and Governors Island National Monument who work so hard to make one’s National Park Service experience rewarding. It has been my good fortune to work and volunteer with many people who have taught me so much.

I remember writing the piece last November. It was actually easy to do, as I just opened up about how and why I began volunteering the winter after I married and my father died. The draft was written, proofread and sent off less than thirty-six hours after I received the announcement seeking solicitations. Alas I have no image of the dust jacket to share now. They said they would send that as we get closer to the publication date. Remember that the focus of the collection is the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service. Find Your Park in 2016.

John Kipling, 1897-1915

What do Theodore Roosevelt, Herbert Asquith, Oscar Wilde and Rudyard Kipling have in common? They are just a few of the prominent fathers of their era to have had their sons killed in the First World War. This was not uncommon. If one visits the Union League or University Clubs here in New York, just to name one city, one see the names of the war dead from some of society’s most prominent families. Rudyard Kipling’s son was killed at the Battle of Loos one hundred years ago today. John Kipling, known as Jack in the family to differentiate him from his grandfather and namesake, was an eighteen-year-old second lieutenant in the Irish Guards fighting. It was the young lieutenant’s first engagement.

John ("Jack") Kipling died at the Battle of Loos 100 years ago today.

John (“Jack”) Kipling died at the Battle of Loos 100 years ago today.

Roosevelt and Kipling knew each other quite well and there are parallels and differences in the deaths of their sons in France. Jack and Quentin were both born in 1897, and each was the baby in his family. Like Quentin, Jack was a witty and inquisitive young man who invariably saw the glass as half full. Though they both died young and tragically there was a crucial difference between their deaths: when Quentin was shot down in 1918 the Germans gave him a full burial; Jack’s remains were not found, which caused his father no end of anguish. Rudyard Kipling did all he could to find his son’s remains–indeed he did not give up hope that Jack was still alive until after the Great War’s end–but it was all to no avail. He went to his own grave in 1936 never knowing for certain what happened to his youngest child.

In the early 1990s officials at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission announced that they were now certain Jack was interred in the St Mary’s field hospital cemetery in Loos. That seemed to end the mystery until, in the early 2000s, two scholars released their own research that brought the War Graves Commission’s findings into question. The truth is that we will probably never know for certain. Stalin’s cliché about one death being a tragedy while one million a statistic is as true as it is cynical. Kipling himself channeled his grief into his writing. Later that very year he “My Boy Jack.” The first stanza reads:

“Have you news of my boy Jack?”
Not this tide.
“When d’you think that he’ll come back?”
Not with this wind blowing, and this tide.

(image/Rudyard Kipling Papers, University of Sussex Library)


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