Washington mural rediscovered

I’m always a sucker for a good lost-and-found story. What makes them so great is that by definition they come as a surprise. This winter something really special resurfaced: a 1921 mural commissioned for a Trenton, New Jersey opera house of George Washington Crossing the Delaware. Funds are now being raised for conservation work, and if all goes as planned the mural will hang in the new visitor center being built at Washington Crossing State Park for the semiquincentennial in 2026. Here was see the mural as it appeared in volume one of the 1932 five-volume “History of the George Washington Bicentennial Celebration.”

Commemorating the Boston Massacre before the Revolution

image via “Paul Revere and his Engraving” by William Loring Andrews (1901)

One thing that came up repeatedly during both the dedications and small talk at Morristown National Historical Park yesterday was the upcoming anniversaries in the next few years. 2024 will mark the 150th anniversary of the Washington Association of New Jersey, who came into being in 1874 after purchasing the Ford Mansion. It was the WANJ who gave the house to the NPS in 1933. They were present yesterday participating in the events. Next year also brings the 200th anniversary of Lafayette’s 1824-25 tour of America, which I intend to write about quite a bit over the next two years. In April 2025 comes the 250th anniversary of Lexington and Concord. And of course in July 2026 is the Big One: the semiquincentennial of the Declaration of Independence. When I was researching at the Society of the Cincinnati last July I had talks with several people saying speakers were already being lined up, there and elsewhere, for all these things. I say all this because today is the 253rd anniversary of the Redcoats’ shooting of Bostonians on King Street. As we see from the broadsheet above, people were marking the anniversary of what we today call the Boston Massacre already in the years immediately after the incident. Dr. Church’s oration was three years after the massacre and nine months before the Boston Tea Party, which took place in December 1773.

Remembering Patsy Cline

It was sixty years ago today that Patsy Cline, Hawkshaw Hawkins, and others died in a plane crash in Camden, Tennessee. The first time I listened to Patsy in a serious way was one summer in the mid-1990s when, going through a tough stretch, I played one of the many anthology cd’s over and over each morning and evening after work. I have never cared for the countrypolitan style in vogue during her recording lifetime in which the labels added lush strings, backup voices, and other touches to slick the music up and make it more palatable to the respectable crowd now buying records to play on their new living room hi-fi sets. Her voice was so transcendent, however, that it rose above whatever white noise the producers surrounded it with. When one listens to Patsy Cline, the voice is all that matters. I can only imagine what it was like when she was on the road with a small band in front of an intimate audience and everything was working.

A quick internet search as I have my Sunday morning coffee shows that this sixtieth anniversary of the plane crash that took the lives of too many too soon is very much in the news. Because her most well-known songs get overplayed, here is one of her more obscure numbers.

Morristown National Historical Park turns 90

Morristown National Historical Park ninetieth anniversary celebration, March 4, 2023

I had a good time in New Jersey today at the ninetieth anniversary celebration of Morristown National Historical Park. Although we usually associate Franklin Roosevelt with the shifting focus on the national parks from the West to the East, it was actually Herbert Hoover who began the process. The lame duck executive signed the enabling legislation creating the first national historical park on March 2, 1933 in the waning days of his presidency. MORR is one of the gems in Park Service system, and spread across several locations as it is has something for everyone. Above we see the ribbon cutting that took place after this afternoon’s keynote address. The historical park is having a number of events throughout the year. In fact, on Saturday June 17 a guy with my initials will be giving a talk in the museum behind the Ford Mansion. The topic is based on an article I recently wrote about a project undertaken for a decade in the 1910s and 1920s sponsored by the Brooklyn Daily Eagle in cooperation with the National Park Service.

Tim McCarver, 1941-2023

Tim McCarver in 1965 the year after the Cardinals defeated the Yankees in the World Series

I’ve been sending and receiving many texts and emails these past few days from friends discussing the death of baseball player and announcer Tim McCarver. One of the things that touched me the most was that he died in Memphis, where he had been born and raised. To the best of my knowledge he did not live there once his long career began. I assume he returned once he knew the end was near and to come full circle. He was of course a fine ballplayer–you don’t play 20+ seasons in the Majors and win two World Series if you’re not. His biggest contribution to the game though was in the booth. Indeed he is in the Hall of Fame as a broadcaster. The closest parallel to what he accomplished would be John Madden in football. Both simplified the action on the field for listeners without dumbing it down. Fans expect the local broadcasters to be homers on some level, which is natural given that the hometown listeners are by definition the primary audience. McCarver though was unafraid to challenge and call out what he regarded as lackadaisical play. The Mets famously let him go in 1999 after sixteen season due to complaints from players. Think about that.

Some friends of mine once had a brief conversation with him at a Barnes & Noble on the Upper East Side as the they all waited in line to speak to the clerk about finding what they were looking for on the shelves. They said he could not have been more delightful. McCarver wasn’t perfect, because no one is. The tension between him and boothmate Jack Buck was sometimes palpable. And as a friend and I were saying the other day, sometimes the quips and puns were a little forced and premeditated. I suppose there’s a thin line between preparation and spontaneity. Still, as I told my friend, the occasional linguistic overindulgences were a small price for listeners to pay for everything Tim McCarver provided us.

Remember the Maine

Sailors with USS Maine, Brooklyn Navy Yard / N-YHS

A friend was in Key West on holiday just after New Years and, knowing of my interest in both cemeteries and monuments, sent me the images below of the U.S.S. Maine Memorial. That ship sank in Havana harbor on this date in 1898, 125 years ago today. Over 250 men lost their lives. I have always had an affinity for the Maine on a number of levels. For one thing, it was built at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Also, I remember taking college freshman history back in the day and our professor telling us about the study Admiral Hyman Rickover had once commissioned to get to the bottom of the sinking. Those investigators did not reach a definitive conclusion. A Historic American Buildings Report (HABS) tells us that the Maine was not memorialized at the national level until 1910, the year the ship was raised from Havana harbor. Her foremast was brought to Governor’s Island for a brief time before going to the Naval Academy. Local communities did build memorials to the Maine during and immediately following the Spanish American War. The one in Key West Cemetery was dedicated in March 1900, during which as you can see several sailors were also laid to rest. Here is a good 2015 article from the U.S. Naval Institute’s Naval History Magazine.

The Treaty of Alliance with France

1778 image based on 1762 painting by Mason Chamberlin / Philadelphia Museum of Art

It has been a long day and I don’t have the time or inclination to do a deeper dive, but I would be neglectful not to mention that Benjamin Franklin, Arthur Lee, and Silas Deane, and their French counterparts signed the Treaty of Alliance on this date in 1778, 245 years ago today. I don’t think I grasped until a fateful visit to the Museum of the American Revolution in 2017 how intertwined the world was even in the eighteenth century. We think today that globalization is new, but really each generation for centuries has had its own manifestation.

Sunday morning coffee

Basking Ridge, NJ / image via NYPL Digital

I hope everyone’s weekend is going well. I’ve been staying in and working on a writing project about which I will divulge more when the time comes. I’m having my coffee and gearing up for another day here in my little command center. I slept in today, which is rare for me. I ground out 500 words yesterday and am hoping to repeat that today. Writing is an exhausting process whose basic tenets never get easier. One thing I will say is that the piece I’m working on includes William Alexander, who among other things fought at the Battle of Long Island. Alexander died 240 years ago today on January 15, 1783 in the waning months of the Revolution. I don’t want to say more because I want to save some for the project I’m working on.

The week before the holidays I was having lunch with someone during which we were talking about what sites we may try to visit in the coming year. I even sent my friend a running list of venues potentially to explore. I don’t know what is there to see but I’m going to add Lord Stirling Park in New Jersey to my list.

Elizabeth “Libba” Cotten, 1893-1987

Of all the individuals discovered or rediscovered during the Folk/Blues Revival of the 1950s and 1960s by far my favorite is Elizabeth Cotten, who was born 130 years ago today. Ms. Cotten was left-handed and instead of restringing her guitar simply flipped it over and taught herself how to play it backward. Here is a bit more from Smithsonian Folkways. In that great Folk/Blues tradition, the article lists a different birth year. I have seen other years given in yet other sources as well. By most accounts however, including Cotten’s, she was indeed born on January 5, 1893. For one thing she played a commemorative show at Folk City in Greenwich Village in January 1983 a few days after her 90th birthday.