Sunday morning coffee

Christ Church, Philadelphia

I hope everyone’s Memorial Day Weekend is going well. I was up and out early yesterday to get the 7:17 train out of Moynihan Station for Philadelphia. I was there before 9:00 and got a coffee and croissant in the Old City waiting for the Betsy Ross House to open at 10:00. The more and more I visit Philadelphia the more I enjoy it. I pivoted to this era just five years ago. One of the maxims of his is: “Go there.” I made sure to walk the perimeter of Christ Church, which is where I took the photograph you see above. Philadelphia, or at least Historic Philadelphia, is much like Gettysburg in that people are visiting from across the country and world. Being the Chatty Cathy I am, I always strike up conversations with those around me. A family from Virginia, two women from California visiting the East Coast on a history road trip, and a visitor in the Museum of the American Revolution whose ancestor had served in Vermont’s Green Mountain Boys are just some of the figures I met along the way. I texted a relative with some photos and mentioned a close, late family member of ours who lived outside Philadelphia for much of her life. This person was a public school teacher for decades and took her classes to Independence Hall and the environs many times over the years.

Betsy Ross House

I didn’t go in, but the line for Liberty Bell was long, which was great to see. I was especially moved by the archeological site that is now President’s House. To be there for part of Memorial Day Weekend was even more meaningful. When I got home in the early evening I texted a friend who is a retired NPS ranger here in the city and asked if he knew any of the backstory regarding that project. He did, and gave me a few insights. The memory of the Revolutionary War is fascinating and surprisingly understudied. I struck up a conversation with two of the extraordinary staff at the MOAR about the historiography of Philadelphia at the local level. They recommended a few titles, but we came to the consensus that the corpus of scholarship on Philadelphia itself is surprisingly thin.

Wherever you are, go get a little history on this weekend that kicks off the unofficial start of summer.

National Hillbilly Music Day, 1953

The Jimmie Rodgers Memorial was dedicated in Meridian, MS on May 26, 1953.

Jimmie Rodgers died in New York City in 1933 and was laid to rest in his hometown of Meridian, Mississippi shortly thereafter. Americans, especially Southerners, mourned Rodgers, but given his controversial nature and the tenuous economic conditions gripping the nation when he died there was much time for elaborate displays of commemoration. That changed twenty years later when on May 26, 1953—seventy years ago today—100,000 turned out on what was dubbed National Hillbilly Music Day to dedicate the monument you see here. Rodgers was know as “The Singing Brakeman,” and indeed for time he worked the rails as a member of Local Lodge 173 of the Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen.

New York Times, May 27, 1953

I must say I came late to Jimmie Rodgers, and didn’t really get it until just a few years ago. I preferred the blue yodels as channeled through such Rodgers acolytes as Merle Haggard, whose covers paradoxically remained true to the originals while sounding more modern. Lynyrd Skynyrd, among of course many others, covered him too. I still appreciate Hag and Skynyrd’s loving homages, but have come to appreciate Rodgers on his own terms more and more in recent years as I’ve grown older. The music is just so . . . adult. It’s no wonder 100,000 people showed up. Meridian, Mississippi still commemorates the life and work of Jimmie Rodgers; the 70th annual music festival was held just a few weeks ago. Here are some stunning photos that the late Scotty Moore posted to his website in 2011 of events featuring Moore, the young Elvis, and others back in the mid-1950s. Please do click. Even better, listen to Jimmie Rodgers.

Sunday morning coffee

It is hard to believe Frank Sinatra has been gone a quarter century now. He died on this date in 1998. The late 1990s themselves feel like such a long time ago now, I suppose because they are. Here is a Sinatra’s song from one of his best and least appreciated albums, the 1967 bossa nova collaboration Francis Albert Sinatra & Antônio Carlos Jobim. It is the perfect complement to this Mothers Day. Enjoy the spring day.

Sunday morning coffee

The Capture of the Hessians at Trenton, December 26, 1776 / Yale University Art Gallery

The Morristown National Historical Park Museum and Library has posted my article about John Glover and Loyalist William Browne. I’m not going into it here, but the hows and whys of this writing project have an interesting backstory. There was even a Brooklyn connection that I didn’t quite together until starting the work. There are many themes to discuss in the choices that Loyalists and Patriots made before and during the war. I’m going to continue with this story. Above in John Trumbull’s The Capture of the Hessians at Trenton, December 26, 1776 we see Glover second from the top right. The guy got around. When the people at Morristown uploaded the article they noted that I’ll be speaking there on Saturday June 17. The talk is part of the ongoing commemoration of the park’s 90th anniversary. My talk will be based on an article I wrote for the Fall 2022 edition of The Federalist, the quarterly newsletter of the Society for History in the Federal Government. I’ll be speaking about a travel series sponsored by the Brooklyn Daily Eagle in the 1910s and 1920s in which managing editor Hans von Kaltenborn annually led groups of 40-50 New Yorkers across the country, South America, North Africa, and Europe. National Park Service sites were the primary focus of the excursions. It’s a story I had always wanted to tell. I’ll tell it again in Morristown come June 17.

Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral

A 1773 first edition of Phillis Wheatley’s Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral sold at auction yesterday for $38,175. Three hundred copies were printed in London and crossed the Atlantic in a crate aboard the Dartmouth. Incredibly, on that same voyage the Dartmouth was also carrying 114 chests of the East India Company tea that would get tossed overboard that December. Thankfully the crate containing the books were not damaged in the Boston Tea Party. Above we see the Yale Beinecke Library’s copy from that first print run. The volume that sold yesterday had once belonged to Raymond Adams (1898-1987), a University of North Carolina English professor and co-founder in 1941 of the Thoreau Society.

It is a little unclear if the particular volume that sold yesterday was aboard the Dartmouth because a previous owner at some time had Wheatley’s poems bound with a collection of prose written by a Scottish poet. Though the three hundred copies of the Wheatley book had been printed in London specifically for sale in the colonies, could the original owner have purchased a lone volume in Great Britain before the Dartmouth sailed? That’s unlikely, but given the questions regarding its subsequent binding with the second item we’ll never know for certain. Whatever the provenance we are fortunate that this particular volume, and the one we see above from the Beinecke, have survived these past 250 years.

The French Alliance turns 245

Today is the 245th anniversary of the ratification of the Franco-American Alliance. This is a First Day Cover for a stamp dedicated in York, Pennsylvania forty-five years ago today on the bicentennial of that ratification. The Continental Congress was meeting there because they were basically on the run from the British, who still controlled Philadelphia. That says something about the tenuousness of the American position three full years into the war. Here is an excerpt from the Congressional journal as posted on Yale’s important Avalon Project website. The stamp itself is an interesting piece of material culture. I was having a conversation yesterday with someone about the upcoming 250th. This person was born in the 1980s and thus unaware of the cultural significance of the 1970s Bicentennial. The stamp is a reminder that the commemorations of half a century ago stretched beyond 1976.

Duke Ellington, 1899-1974

A friend emailed last night and reminded me that today, April 29, is Edward Kennedy Ellington’s birthday. The composer was born in Washington, D.C. on this date in 1899. I think I have said this before, but I have always wondered by artists in other genres such as Matisse (1869), Picasso (1881), and Braque (1882) are still considered Modern while jazzmen also born in the nineteenth century are regarded with nostalgia. Intellectually Ellington has had more influence on me than any other creative person. The reason I say this is because I internalized something he once said about the audience never knowing how hard you work to pull it off. I don’t compare myself to Duke Ellington, but I like to think those who read my work take from it what they do without thinking about the effort on the back end. What it takes to make it happen, the reader should never know. I remember seeing “Beyond Category: The Musical Genius of Duke Ellington,” a traveling exhibit sponsored by the Smithsonian Institution, when it was on view at the African American Museum of Dallas in 1996. When I visit Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx his modest resting place there on Jazz Corner is one of the places I alway visit.

Here is a little something for your Saturday.

The Triumvirate

John Morin Scott resting place, Trinity Chuech

They have my article about the triumvirate of William Livingston, William Smith Jr., and John Morin Scott up and running at The Journal of the American Revolution. I am fascinated by the way New Yorkers have remembered and forgotten their colonial and revolutionary history and hope to delve deeper in the coming years during the 250th.