Saturday morning coffee

Revolutionary Summer runs through September 15 at the New-York Historical Society.

I hope everyone’s July has been going well. I’m having my morning coffee before heading off to Federal Hall in a bit. I think it’s going to be a busy one today with folks coming in to escape the heat. A friend is coming in for me to show him around, after which he and I are going to get a quick bite to eat before I go back. It will be a fun day.

A friend and I intended to visit a historic home in the Bronx yesterday but decided to pass for now with the heat wave now on. Instead we visited the New-York Historical Society to take in among other things the Revolutionary Summer exhibit. I took some pictures over the course of the day that hopefully will turn into social media posts for Federal Hall over the next week or so. We did not get to see the facsimile George Washington headquarters tent because they were not doing that this past Friday. It was just as well because that is an outdoor activity and with the temperature such as it is staying indoors was better and safer. I saw the original at the Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia last year and you could have heard a pin drop when the curtain went up. The N-YHS never fails to please and we spent many hours taking in the permanent displays, the LIFE exhibit, the show about the history of the Hudson Valley, and other things. It’s strange to have reached a point in my life where things that took place when I was a kid are regarded as “history.” Such it was with the Hudson Valley exhibit. I remember the initiatives in the the 1970s and 80s that led to the clean-up. It is so good that New Yorkers from Staten Island north up the river have been discovering their shore line again.

Enjoy your weekend and be careful in this heat.

District of Columbia Stadium, July 1962

JFK and Stan Musial meet before the start of the All-Star Game at District of Columbia Stadium, July 10, 1962.

I’m still reading the coverage about the late Jim Bouton. He led an extraordinary life. Though there was one game played yesterday, Major League Baseball fully starts its second half today with a complete schedule.

When we went to the Braves-Nationals game a few weeks back we took in some of the photographs and memorabilia on display showcasing the long history of baseball in the nation’s capital. It goes back well over a century. I don’t recall the above image being there but I stumbled across it yesterday and found it intriguing. It is John F. Kennedy and Stan Musial at the 1962 All-Star Game in the then sparkling new District of Columbia Stadium, renamed RFK Stadium after the assassination of Bobby Kennedy six years later.

From 1959-62 Major League Baseball played two All-Star Games each season. The proceeds went to the players’ pension fund. This was the first one, played on July 10, 1962. Musial had campaigned for Kennedy in the 1960 election, unlike the Red Sox’s Ted Williams, who was a Nixon man. LBJ is there in the right hand corner. From 1964-67, after the Kennedy assassination, Musial was chairman of the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports. I remember the Council vividly, and earning a patch in elementary school for doing five chin ups or what have you.

Kennedy was to throw out the first pitch. The AT BAT 24 on the scoreboard was the Pirates’s Dick Groat. Musial was forty-one years old when this photograph was taken and playing in his twenty-second All-Star Game. He came in as a pinch hitter in the sixth inning and broke a scoreless tie to give the National League a lead it would not relinquish. The Senior Circuit won the game 3-1.

Enjoy the second half.

(image/JFK Presidential Library and Museum)


Jim Bouton, 1939-2019

Jim Bouton as a Yankee in 1963

I have been texting a few people over the past hour about the death of Jim Bouton. I had read several years ago that he was suffering from a degenerative brain disease but his death, as death always does, came as a shock. His Ball Four was so much more than a “sports book” or tell-all, but really one of the great memoirs of its time. Published in 1970, Ball Four was part of the zeitgeist of the moment. As I told a friend earlier, I always loved the way Bouton stood tall against the likes of Mickey Mantle and Bowie Kuhn. At the end of the day there was nothing the Baseball Establishment could say or do. They knew it was true. And the truth has a value all its own.

I could go on talking about Bouton but instead will give him the last word. As the pitcher said in Ball Four’s closing line:

“You spend a good piece of your life gripping a baseball and in the end it turns out that it was the other way around all the time.”

(image/Baseball Digest, August 1963)

James Monroe’s Ash Lawn – Highland

Scholars at James Monroe’s Ash Lawn – Highland are incorporating the stories of the local African-American community into the history of the historic site. Many local residents descend from the original enslaved community at the Monroe estate.

One of the most fortunate things about volunteering at Federal Hall National Memorial this summer has been its broadening of my interests. The experience has less taken me in a different direction than expanded my awareness of American and even international history. This is especially true of the Revolutionary and Early American periods. I have a larger, more holistic approach to my scholarship than I did at the start of the summer, and really dating back to the beginning of the calendar year when we became members of George Washington’s Mount Vernon. Among other things I have been following the social media pages and online resources of various people and institutions with which I was unfamiliar just two months ago. One of them linked the other day to this extraordinary New York Times piece about James Monroe and the enslaved persons who lived and worked on his Virginia estate.

The parlor of Casa Bianca near Monticello, Florida. Some enslaved persons from Ash Lawn – Highland lived and worked here.

In a living example of Faulkner’s notion about the past being neither over nor past, it has developed that upwards of one hundred African Americans still live within a short distance of Ash Lawn – Highland, the 3,500 acre property Monroe purchased in 1793 while a U.S. senator from Virginia. Highland is adjacent to Jefferson’s Monticello. By all accounts as known today, Monroe did not father children in the manner Jefferson did with Sally Hemings; the Monroe connections to this local community relate to the conditions of servitude. Scholars have been piecing the history together over the past several years and adding this new knowledge to the interpretive experience at Ash Lawn – Highland, which is today owned by James Monroe’s alma mater William & Mary. The story extends further than Virginia however; to pay off debts Monroe sold some of his enslaved persons to an estate near Monticello, Florida in Jefferson County called Casa Bianca. Some of them, or more likely their descendants, showed up on census records and voter rolls after the Civil War. Read the whole thing.

(top image, RebelAt via Wikimedia Commons; bottom, State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory)

Happy 4th

Happy 4th of July. I’m having my morning coffee before heading to Federal Hall in a bit. I thought I would share these images from ninety years ago today. This is Governor Franklin D. Roosevelt at the dedication of the Tammany Society wigwam at Union Square and 17th Street on July 4, 1929. The 4th was Tammany’s biggest day of the year. Al Smith, among others, was there too, but by now Smith’s time had passed. The Happy Warrior had been a fixture at these Tammany Independence Day events for years, and was being touted by his Tammany brethren for the presidency for much of the 1920s at these 4th of July observances. Now on this Independence Day in 1929 Tammany was touting FDR as the next president, and in Smith’s presence no less. Ouch.

Tammany built this structure in the late 1920s while at the height of its power and influence. That they were forced to sell it less than fifteen years later, in 1943, demonstrates how quickly Tammany declined.

Go get some of what should be a beautiful summer day.


FDR’s Tammany Society

Franklin Roosevelt wrote this letter to the Tammany Society on July 2, 1936. It was read aloud two days later at the Tammany wigwam on 17th Street and 4th Avenue during the Tammany Society’s annual Independence Day celebration.

I came across this letter in my prep for a small talk I hope give on the 4th of July at Federal Hall about the history of Independence Day in New York City. It’s a missive from President Roosevelt to the Tammany Society in the lead-up to Tammany’s annual 4th of July event. When we think of Tammany we immediately think of Boss Tweed. In reality, Tweed was a very small part of Tammany’s long story. The Tammany Society dated back to the 1780s; it was a response to the Society of the Cincinnati, a Revolutionary War organization for officers who fought in the conflict. The organization continued for decades after Tweed’s death and would be at the height of its power in the 1920s and 1930s. Roosevelt himself had taken on, or tried to take on, Tammany in the early 1910s when he was a young state assemblyman, but soon realized the futility and so made his peace with the organization. Governor Roosevelt was there–as was Al Smith, Jimmy Walker, Herbert Lehman and others–when Tammany opened its new wigwam across from Union Square on July 4, 1929.

Now president, Roosevelt did not attend Tammany’s 1936 July 4th event. Instead he attended an Independence Day ceremony at Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello. It’s a story for another time but it’s funny how the reputations of the Founding Fathers rise and fall in relation to one another, especially Jefferson and Hamilton, who was a member of the Society of the Cincinnati. Right now Hamilton is upland Jefferson is down. In the mid-1930s however the opposite was true. Before he was all done Roosevelt would put Jefferson on the nickel and dedicate the memorial to the philosopher, secretary of state, and third president on the National Mall. Tammany men were more inclined toward Jefferson as well. Jefferson and John Adams both died on July 4, 1826, fifty years to the day after the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

Ironically the Age of Roosevelt accelerated Tammany’s decline.The Society’s influence waned when New Deal federal dollars began pouring in shortly after Roosevelt took office. Men like Fiorello La Guardia and Robert Moses found they could sidestep Tammany and get their funds directly from Roosevelt.

(source/150th Anniversary Celebration, 1786, July 4, 1936)

Henry Clay, 1777-1852

Henry Clay was one of the great American statesmen of the first half of the nineteenth century.

Here is a small story that, while I wouldn’t read too much into it, nonetheless offers a reminder of the importance of place. I was manning the information desk at Federal Hall this morning when a man came in with his two teenage sons. I asked if they were in town doing the tourist thing and the dad responded yes. The family was from Kentucky and the father was clearly an intelligent, aware fellow. It turns out he was a high school history teacher. I told him I’ve always wanted to visit Kentucky and tour Ashland, the historic home of Henry Clay. He responded that he had been there several times and that it is indeed beautiful. This led to a brief discussion about Henry Clay’s life and legacy, including his role in the struggle to save the Second Bank of the United States against the equal determination of President Andrew Jackson to quash it. Old Hickory won that struggle, and in the 1840s Martin Van Buren and James K. Polk created the Independent Sub-Treasury to carry on some of the functions of the now-gone national bank. What is now Federal Hall was the New York Sub-Treasury from 1863-1920.

An hour later I go into the room where the ranger’s desk is and ask the ranger on duty what he’s working on. He said he was writing a social media post about Henry Clay, who it turns out died on this day, June 29, in 1852. I naturally told him about the man and his family from earlier. This led to an interesting discussion on the importance of learning about and understanding the lives and legacies of the leaders who, for good and ill, gave us the nation we live in. Clay certainly fits that category.

Clay died in the National Hotel on June 29, 1852, where he lived for decades when not in Kentucky. Seen here in the early twentieth century, the National closed in 1931 and was torn down in 1942.

Later in the afternoon a couple come in and ask me and the ranger about the other NPS sites in Manhattan. It turns out the couple were from Ft. Lauderdale and are currently on an extended sailing trip across the Eastern Seaboard. They had been at sea for several weeks and had docked their boat in New Jersey for the weekend while touring New York City. They wanted to know especially about Governors Island, and so I gave them the Cliff Notes version of the island’s history. Captain Ulysses S. Grant was stationed there briefly in 1852 before his regiment was slated to sail for California via the Isthmus of Panama. In June Grant went briefly to Washington D.C. on War Department business. It was Sam Grant’s first time in the District of Columbia and his trip there happened to coincide with the passing of . . . Henry Clay, who died of tuberculosis at the National Hotel when the young captain was in town.

Go where history was made. You never know what you’ll see or hear.

(image/Library of Congress)


Summer has come full on. I was off today and had the windows open and fan on as I worked on an article I’m doing about Eleanor Roosevelt. I’ve got about 400 in the books and hope to write another 400 or so this evening before declaring victory. I would be remiss if I did not pause and note that today, June 28, 2019, is the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Versailles in the Hall of Mirrors. I don’t intend to write too much about it right now because there is already so much good reading out there today. For now I though I would emphasize the quickness and degree to which resistance to the treaty, especially its covenant for a League of Nations, had manifested itself even before the ink had dried.

Henry A. Wise Wood, the son of Civil War Era New York City mayor Fernando Wood, led the campaign against the League of Nations the very day of the signing of the Treaty of Versailles.

One hundred years ago tonight the League for the Preservation of American Independence held a rally in New York City’s Carnegie Hall. One of the American Independence League’s leaders was Henry A. Wise Wood, an engineer and inventor who had been active in the Preparedness Movement with Theodore Roosevelt and others in the Great War’s early years before American entry into the conflict. Born in 1866, Wood was the son of three-time New York City mayor Fernando Wood. The League for the Preservation of American Independence enjoyed tremendous popularity and easily filled Carnegie Hall that night in protest against Wilson, the Versailles Treaty, and prospective League of Nations. A spinout crowd gathered outside on the sidewalk. Wood asked that the spirit of Theodore Roosevelt fill the hall.

TR had died almost six months previously but almost certainly would have opposed the League of Nations. One Roosevelt who did support it was Franklin, who when he ran for the vice-presidency in 1920 advocated for the League. FDR’s position may or may not have been opportunism based on loyalty to Wilson and the knowledge that, because he and running mate Jacob M. Cox would likely lose the election, he could take a position confident in never having to carry it out. Franklin D. Roosevelt did learn the lesson of the failures of Versailles however, and when he became commander-in-chief began pushing for what became the United Nations a quarter of a century later.

(image/Library of Congress)


Captain William Wheeler, 13th New York Independent Battery

Captain William Wheeler headstone, Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetery

Captain William Wheeler as seen in an 1875 private printing of his letters

A friend took the image above on the Sunday of Memorial Day Weekend in Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetery and I have been holding on to it until today. Captain William Wheeler of the 13th New York Independent Battery was killed 155 years ago today at the Battle of Kolb’s Farm in Georgia. Frederick Phisterer informs us in his essential history of New York State in the CIvil War that Wheeler was the only officer of the 13th New York Independent Battery to be killed in the American Civil War. That is saying something: among other places the 13th fought at Bull Run, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, Missionary Ridge, Kennesaw Mountain, and elsewhere before Wheeler’s unfortunate death.

Wheeler was born in Manhattan in 1836, and his family moved to Brooklyn in 1847. He matriculated at Yale College in September 1851 and graduated in 1855. It must have been a heady time for an idealistic young man, what news about Bleeding Kansas, John Brown, and other outrages taking place almost daily in the lead-up to Fort Sumter. He enlisted immediately and lived to tell the story until Kolb’s Farm. By then a battle-hardened veteran at twenty-seven, Wheeler wrote to a friend from his unit’s camp in Cassville, Georgia on May 22, 1864 that “. . . to-day is a real ‘day of rest,’ unlike the last two Sundays, which were spent in fighting. . .” One month later to the day, he was killed. On July 17, Timothy Dwight V, a future president of Yale, delivered a sermon about Captain Wheeler at New Haven’s Third Congregational Church.

(bottom image/Letters of William Wheeler of the Class on 1855, Y.C.)

Juneteenth 2019

Citizens of Austin, TX observe Juneteenth, June 19, 1900. One would imagine these individuals remembered General Granger’s 1865 proclamation.

I was off today and spent a big chunk of the hours preparing for an event that will probably come to pass next month. If/when it does, I will write about it in this space. One of the best things about being off on a Wednesday is that this middle day of the work week is getaway day in Major League Baseball. What that means is that teams often play day games on this third day (Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday) of a series before quickly “getting away” to the next town for a weekend series. While working today I had the Astros/Reds game on. During the broadcast they mentioned that today is Juneteenth. I lived in Texas for many years and know what a big holiday this is in the Lone Star and neighboring states. Unfortunately it remained an exclusively regional affair for much of the next century; there is no mention of Juneteenth in the New York Times until 1933, and after that not until 1981. Over the past several decades Juneteenth has become more significant nationally. Awareness was aided by the 1999 publication of Ralph Ellison’s posthumous novel Juneteenth. Ellison was born in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma in 1914.

Gordon Granger, circa 1861-65

Juneteenth began in 1865 and marked the moment when on June 19th of that year Brevet Major General sailed into Galveston Bay and read his General Order #3, which began with the announcement that “The people are informed that in accordance with a Proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free.” One must remember that Lincoln’s January 1, 1863 Emancipation Proclamation only applied to slaves within jurisdictions under Federal (Union) control. General Granger spent much of the next six weeks traveling within Texas to spread the news.

Holidays have a funny way of disappearing and coming back. Here in New York we used to have Evacuation Day every November 25. Evacuation Day marked the moment in 1783 when the British, acknowledging defeat, packed up and sailed from New York Harbor back to England. Evacuation Day petered out eventually, presumably because it fell so close to Thanksgiving. It was for Evacuation Day 1883 that they dedicated the John Quincy Adams Ward statue of George Washington on the steps of Federal Hall, then still the New York Sub-Treasury. I would argue that Juneteenth should become a national holiday, or at least a national observance. It is already officially commemorated in forty-five states.

(top image/Austin History Center and the Portal to Texas History; bottom/LOC)