A Wednesday evening wind down


I just finished writing for the day. I cranked out 1000 words, to go with the 800 I produced yesterday. The goal is to write 5000 by Sunday evening. I am trying to take advantage of these winter days. In January and February one thinks spring will never come again. I am telling myself now that when it does I will be close to being done with the Civil War manuscript. I took the above image earlier today. The box set you see at the top left of the desk is the Complete Miles Davis at the Plugged Nickel 1965. I find I can’t listen to music with words when I write because the lyrics are a distraction from my thoughts. It is amazing how if you just sit down and start–50 words, 75 words–the process takes over. Tomorrow bright and early I’ll start fresh and begin the quest again to get 1000 words onto the screen.

One Tuesday in January . . .

U.S. Grant bust, Met MuseumYesterday morning I submitted a piece (to which I will link when the time comes) and then headed to the Metropolitan Museum of Art for Holiday Monday. It was not as crowded as I thought it would be. I suppose the warmer weather had people outside. I saw this bust Grant that I had not previously seen before. I intentionally left a portion of the vase in the lower right hand corner for scale. In a sense he was an opponent of the Roosevelt family because Grant ally Roscoe Conkling vehemently opposed Theodore Roosevelt Senior’s 1877 nomination to lead the Port of New York. Perhaps that partially explaining the strained relationship between their sons, Theodore Roosevelt and Frederick Dent Grant, had a strained relationship when they were on the NYC Board of Police several decades later.

It is still the intersession and I am off this week to write. The original plan was to go to Washington and work but with the inaugural taking place it seemed wiser to stay away. They say it’s going to rain today and tomorrow, which makes for good writing weather.

Taking stock of the war’s financial bill

Great War bonds poster via Imperial War MuseumBy January 1917 the Great War had been going on for 2 1/2 years. Everyone grasped the human toll after the carnage at the Marne, the Somme and Verdun. Less obvious to many was the financial cost. Estimates vary widely, which is not surprising in that most nations were hesitant to show any weakness by discussing the details. One report released the first week of January 1917 put the combined national debts of Britain, France, Russia, Germany and Austria-Hungary at $49,455,000,000. The bean counters quickly acknowledged however that even that number was low, given the extent to which internal bond drives were paying for the bullets, shells and other accoutrements of war. A separate report issued a week later put the various European powers’ war debts at $62,000,000,000, or $1,169,000,000,000. in today’s dollars.

The war of course ground on for another almost two years, and even after that there was civil war and violence in numerous regions, most obviously in Russia. War debt was a huge sticking point at the negotiations at Versailles. Even more far-ranging, the groundwork for the inflation and instability of the 1920s was already being put into place.

(image/War Loans and Savings Campaign, Home Front, UK via Imperial War Museum)

Bring on 2017

Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 25 January 1946

Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 25 January 1946

I got back from vacation today. I was actually in the Ft Lauderdale airport this morning on my way back from my destination. I had passed through it just two days prior to the events of the late last week. Lines were long in places but authorities had things in hand and moving quickly.

With the holidays now fully in the rearview mirror I am looking forward to a fun and productive 2017. I don’t want to give way too much right now, but as things move along I’ll talk more here about various endeavors I have in the works, some in collaboration with others. I’m excited and a little nervous, as if I’m working without a net. That said, I am confident that with hard work and good preparation things will work out as expected. I’m thankful I have interesting projects to work on. I thought I share the above photo of the USS New York leaving the Brooklyn Navy Yard in 1946 on its way to the 1946 atomic bomb testing in the Pacific. I find the grainy imagery to be striking. Anyways, here is to a good 2017. Enjoy these winter days.

Frederick W. Whitridge, 1852-1916

The funeral of Frederick W. Whitridge was in Manhattan's Grace Church one hundred years ago today.

The funeral of Frederick W. Whitridge was in Manhattan’s Grace Church one hundred years ago today.

Theodore Roosevelt was in Manhattan on 2 January 1917 for the funeral of his friend Frederick W. Whitridge. Whitridge had been the long serving president of the Third Avenue Elevated Line and had died on 30 December. The funeral was at Grace Church on Broadway and 10th Street. Colonel Roosevelt was a pallbearer along with Joseph H. Choate, J.P. Morgan, British diplomat Cecil Spring-Rice and others. It was fitting that Ambassador Spring-Rice was there; Whitridge, an American, was the son-in-law of British poet Matthew Arnold.

The Third Avenue El was part of New York life for decades.

The Third Avenue El was part of New York life for decades.

One can say this of anyone in any era but Whitridge’s funeral signaled an interesting before-and-after moment. Decades earlier Whitridge had been a supporter of Theodore Roosevelt Sr., coming to his aide after the powerful New York senator Roscoe Conkling blocked his appointment to the New York Custom House during the Hayes Administration. In the 1880s Whitridge was a Civil Service reformer, which is presumably where he came into Roosevelt’s orbit. As mentioned Whitridge was the president of the Third Avenue Elevated Line, one of the four commuter rails that took New Yorkers about their daily lives until being torn down after the Second World War. As leader he was charged with the thankless tasks of negotiating stock portfolios and handling worker strikes. This was no small thing: the elevated lines were part of the daily fabric of New York life and any disruption was duly noted by the public.

One person who missed the funeral was Frederick’s son, Captain Arnold Whitridge, who had been serving with the British Royal Field Artillery since 1915. Arnold was actually an American, a 1913 graduate of Yale, who was attending Oxford when the Great War broke out in summer 1914. With his father’s death he was back in the United States though not for long. When the U.S. entered the war in April 1917 he joined the A.E.F. and soon found himself in France once more.

(top image, Library of Congress; bottom NYPL)

Happy New Year

American newspapers captured the mood of early January 1917.

American newspapers captured the mood of early January 1917.

I have a candle going and am sitting here with my New Years Day coffee.

It was such a help when the Brooklyn Public Library digitized and published the first half of the BDE morgue’s run about 10-12 years ago. When they completed the second half of that project a few years later, things because even better. I always knew that the Eagle was Brooklyn’s paper of record from 1841-1955, but I don’t think I truly realized how authoritative the periodical was until earlier this past year when I began co-teaching my course and using it so heavily in the classroom. New York with its dozen or so dailies was always a newspaper town–the newspaper town–until the papers began consolidating in the 1950s. By the 80s and 90s only three were left. I suppose I always thought of the Eagle as separate from New York’s newspaper culture because Brooklyn until fairly recently was markedly distinct from Manhattan. The answer is probably not that difficult to earn, I don’t even know if they sold the Eagle in Manhattan.

In its 3 January 1917 edition the Eagle published a series of cartoons that other papers had printed in the days around the turn of the year. The one above in particular caught my attention. It may seem that 2016 with its crazy election season and so many other things was the worst of times, but for perspective  remember that a century earlier was the year of Verdun and Somme. When the new year came in 1917 there was still no end in sight for what this cartoon pointedly calls the European War. The Americans did not enter the conflict until April.

Happy New Year. Enjoy your day.

(image/Brooklyn Daily Eagle)


Looking forward at the end of the year

In doing the research for the posts this past week on the USS New York and the fleet review of December 1918 I came across sobering articles about a riot involving African-American troops from the Bush Terminal in late 1918. Really it was just one in a number of racial and other disturbances throughout the city, indeed throughout the country, during and immediately after the war. This one involved some men denied service at a saloon on DeKalb Avenue and quickly escalated into a scene with 2000 lookers-on and 150 military and civilian police. Shots were fired but no one was killed or injured. Incidents like these are part of why the Great War plays a smaller role in the imaginations of most Americans than other of our conflicts. Expectations so high in America and around the world in those heady days after the Armistice soon became mired in complexity and dashed hopes.

Brooklyn's Bush Army Terminal was integral to the war effort.

Brooklyn’s Bush Terminal was integral to the war effort.

Troops began coming home in that final week of 1918, a process that would continue in February and March of 1919. The end of our own year right now has me reflective on what happened in this heady months just after the Armistice. Temperance and suffragism were two goals of the Progressive Movement that came to fruition after the fighting stopped. What eventually came to be called the New Negro Movement was also coalescing. Scholars like W.E.B. DuBois believed that African-American soldiers returning from the Great War would comprise a vanguard that would end Jim Crow. That came partially true in cultural movements such as the Harlem Renaissance. In the meantime there were incidents like the bloody Red Summer of 1919. The relatively minor incident at a bar in Brooklyn was just a precursor. These are all topics to be explored as the Great War Centennial continues.

(image/Library of Congress)

Governor Whitman reviews the 13th

Governor Charles Seymour Whitman spoke at the 13th Armory in Brooklyn on 27 December 1918

Governor Charles Seymour Whitman spoke at the 13th Armory in Brooklyn on 27 December 1918. He had just lost a narrow race to challenger Al Smith and had asked for a recount, which was ongoing at the time.

As I said yesterday I intend to do deeper dives into the various reviews that took place in late 1918/early 1919 when the time comes. In the meantime I wanted to note the 98th anniversary of Governor Charles Seymour Whitman’s 1918 visit to the Brooklyn 13th Armory. I knew that there were parades and such in the aftermath of the Armistice, but it did not occur to me until these last few days just how ubiquitous they were. I suppose that in those heady days after the Kaiser’s abdication and Germany’s surrender that people felt that war really might have been rendered obsolete. Wilson was certainly optimistic while in Paris.

These ads ran all week in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle announcing the date change.

These ads ran all week in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle announcing the date change.

Governor Whitman of New York had lost to Al Smith in the November 5 gubernatorial race. Smith was the Democratic candidate and Seymour the incumbent Republican and Prohibition candidate. It’s almost a cartoon of late nineteenth and early twentieth century New York politics: Smith was a Tammany man and Whitman a Union League Clubber. The old and new were mixing in this period. On Memorial Day 1918 Whitman was in Brooklyn’s Grand Army Plaza for the GAR parade; a month after he was at the state GAR encampment in Ithaca. Still, his Prohibitionism and Smith’s Catholicism show hints of what was coming in the 1920s.

(images/Library of Congress and Brooklyn Daily Eagle)

The 1918 fleet review: a snapshot

The USS Arizona docking at the 96th Street pier, Thursday 26 December 1918

The USS Arizona docking at the Hudson River 96th Street pier, Thursday 26 December 1918

Happy Boxing Day, all.

In doing my research for the USS New York article I came across a trove of material relating to the dreadnoughts, the Brooklyn Navy Yard, and the political/social milieu in which these ships were built and then served in the Great War. I intend to write more about all this when the 100th anniversary of the review comes around two short years from today, but in the meantime I wanted to share this stunning image of the USS Arizona taken in the Hudson River on December 26, 1918. There had been so many parades and ceremonies in the 5-6 weeks after the Armistice, but the NYC Naval Review of 1918 stood out. There were nearly a dozen dreadnoughts and scores of accompanying others ships in New York Harbor. There was a dress parade as well.

Woodrow Wilson was not in attendance because by this time he was already in Paris. These same ships of the review had escorted him there just two weeks earlier. His Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels watched the review from the presidential yacht, the Mayflower. Daniels’s assistant, Franklin D. Roosevelt, was there too, watching from the Aztec. With his love of the Navy there was no way FDR would have missed something like this. The above photo is so great because Assistant Naval Secretary Franklin Roosevelt had attended the laying of the Arizona’s keel just a few years earlier. Obviously no one could have known at the time, but this ship went down at Pearl Harbor on another December day decades after this photo was taken.

(image by Paul Thompson via National Archives)