Alan Flusser’s Ralph Lauren

I arrived home the other day and there waiting in the vestibule was the copy you see here of Alan Flusser’s new biography of Ralph Lauren. I was surprised earlier this past week to see that the book was being released right now because I had believed it was coming out in spring 2020. There were reminders over the past twelve years that Flusser was working on a Lauren biography, little hints in interviews and whatnot that the thing was indeed coming along. Alan Flusser is where I went this summer to have my first ever made-to-measure suit made. He and the team he has gathered around him are extraordinary. Having now gone through the experience of having a custom suit made, I understand more than ever what we have lost in the over-casualization of our society. It is sobering to sit at a table and explain to other men how you want to be perceived by the world and then explore how the group of you might achieve that.

I understand that we have gained a great deal over the past half century with the cultural changes of the 1960s, and that jeans and casualwear were part of that movement. There are many things I would not want to return to, but I would submit that a return to greater public formality is something from which would all profit. This was driven home to me a few years ago when, one July, I had jury duty and in the waiting pool area of the courthouse were at least a few people–grown men in their 20s and even 30s–wearing shorts.

What makes both Flusser and Lauren unique is their understanding of tradition. The title of the book, as I take it, is a knowing play on words; the two men have never been about fashion, but style and respect for provenance. There is a huge difference. So far I have read the introduction and perused some of the sumptuous photographs of men like Fred Astaire and Duke of Windsor, two of the most photographed men of the twentieth century. This however is no mere coffee table book. In an interview I watched the other day Flusser notes that the text itself comes to 175,000 words. The text is indeed voluminous and I’m looking forward to digging in.

Veterans Day 2019

Armistice Day, Harlem 1919

I wanted to take a moment this morning to observe Veterans Day and recognize uniformed service persons past and present.

This was the scene in Harlem at 134th Street and Lenox Avenue 100 years ago today on the first anniversary of Armistice. The headlines from the newspaper of November 1919 indicate the difficulty of the peace. One newspaper headline described New Yorkers’ mood as “sober” as people gathered in churches and elsewhere to remember the living and the dead of 1914-18. All posts of the nascent American Legion in New York held events that November 11th. The mood was similar in Europe, where the French were reflecting on the negotiations at Versailles while Ferdinand Foch and others observed a mass at the Invalides. The British throughout the Empire observed two minutes of silence.


Sunday morning coffee

Here is something one does not see every day. It is a circa 1790s medal of The Society of the Cincinnati. The Cincinnati was an organization founded by American officers of the Revolutionary War in the 1780s just as the conflict was winding down. The first owner of this would thus himself have fought in the war. The “original” Cincinnati, Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus, was a Roman statesman and military leader who gave up power so as not to become a martial dictator. It was in this same spirit that George Washington resigned his own commission in December 1783.

I took this image yesterday at the Yale Art Gallery. Francis Patrick Garvan and his wife Mabel gave the medal and 10,000 other objects from the Colonial and Early American periods to Yale in 1930 in celebration of their twentieth wedding anniversary. It was the Garvan’s hope that these items be seen by as many people as possible, both via display in the Yale University Art Gallery itself and through loan to such institutions as Mount Vernon and elsewhere so that the items might, in the Garvan’s own words according to a 1938 Yale arts bulletin I discovered in JSTOR, “become a moving part in a great panorama of American Arts and Crafts.”

The life and times of Edward M. Riley

I was up and out of the house early this past Sunday to attend the Hackensack Toy Soldier show in New Jersey. One of the things that came home with me, purchased for a mere $1, is this 1956 National Park Service handbook about Independence National Historical Park. I have a number of modern NPS handbooks that I have purchased over the past several years for the Civil War sesquicentennial and War of 1812 bicentennial. Last year when a friend and I visited Philadelphia I bought The American Revolution handbook as well. The one we see here was written by Park Service historian Edward M. Riley, who authored a number of similar booklets on other sites in this period when the Eisenhower Administration was starting the Mission 66 initiative. One can actually read his tome on Independence National Historical Park online here. Yes, the scholarship moves on–we’re talking two decades prior even to the Bicentennial here–but in addition to keeping up with current progress in my fields of interest I am always intrigued by how historians in the past, in this case the 1950s, handled the topic at hand.

Ladybird and President Johnson with the Reverend Cotesworth Pinckney Lewis, November 1967. Days after this photograph was taken Riley telegrammed Johnson an apology for Lewis’s statements concerning the Vietnam War.

A Proquest search pulls up a small but interesting series of takes on Edward M. Riley’s life and career. In 1955 he had just left his position as historian at Independence Hall and was now at Colonial Williamsburg about to take part in a five-year, $500,000 project to study life in Colonial America. Clearly his mission was to do at Williamsburg what he had done in Philadelphia. In 1959 he is found still at Colonial Williamsburg, serving as director of research, and giving the government of Bermuda a trove of 650 letters related to that nation on the 350th anniversary of the founding of the Colony of Bermuda. In October 1963 Riley comes to Oyster Bay, Long Island to give a talk to raise funds for the renovation of Raynham Hall, a Revolutionary War site. That event was held at Christ Protestant Episcopal Church.

The reason I mention the location is because of the final piece that mentions Riley. In November 1967, Edward M. Riley, a senior warden in the Bruton Parish Episcopal Church of Williamsburg, telegramms President Lyndon B. Johnson an apology after the Rev. Cotesworth Pinckney Lewis challenged the president, who had been at the Virginia church’s service the week previously, from the pulpit on his Vietnam War policies. Riley’s role in the apology is unclear; the article seems to imply that the Bruton Parish leadership were sending the missive on orders from the Episcopal Church’s more senior leadership. Public pressure was certainly intense, with over 10,000 calls and letters coming in from around the world. Johnson was furious. It’s an extraordinary story and part of the life of an extraordinary historian and figure.

(bottom image/Historic Images Outlet)

Isaac Roosevelt, colonial New Yorker

Isaac Roosevelt, 1726-1794

The Journal of the American Revolution has uploaded my article about Isaac Roosevelt. I spent much of late summer and early fall working on this project and am happy with how it came out. It had been my loss goal for several years to write about Isaac and the specific “ah ha” moment came one August Saturday at Federal Hall when I was talking to one of rangers about prominent New Yorkers of the colonial, Revolutionary, and Early American periods. When we think of these eras we tend not to think of the Roosevelts, though they were very much prominent in local, national, and international affairs in these decades. That is what I tried to convey in this piece. Isaac Roosevelt was Franklin D. Roosevelt’s great, great grandfather.

I don’t want to give away too many details at the moment but I am preparing a submission to speak at a conference next year about interlocking familial aspects of the Early American and Civil War generations, focusing on one father, son, and grandson, the last of whom features prominently in my book manuscript Incorporating New York. If it comes to pass the Roosevelts, though not front and center, will feature as well. So often we hear that both sides in the Civil War, Union and Confederate, saw themselves as the inheritors of the Founders’ legacy. That is certainly true, but how and why is something we do not always hear about. We’ll see how the pitch to conference selectors goes. In the meantime, here is my biographical narrative of the life and times of Isaac Roosevelt, a founder of the State of New York, ratifier of the U.S. Constitution, and good friend of Hamilton, Jay, and others.

(image/FDR Presidential Library and Museum)

2019, put it in the books

Nationals Ballpark, June 2019

This was the view from our seats at Nationals Ballpark this past June when we saw the Nats take on the Braves in a game that ended on a sliding catch by the Nats center fielder in the ninth that saved the game. Last night the Nationals defeated the Astros in seven to give a Washington D.C. team its first World Series since the 1924 Senators. Of course the Senators were not the only game in town back in the day; the Homestead Grays played there as well–and would have given the Senators a run for their money.

I have always been entranced by baseball in the nation’s capital, an interest fueled by the fact that my mother was born there. I reached out to numerous family members these past few weeks to ask if anyone knew if our grandparents (or parents, depending on the generation) attended Senators games while living in the District during the Depression and Second World War. No one knew for sure, but alas the consensus seemed to be no. In the 1980s my grandfather also had a Redskins Starter jacket. I never knew if his interest in the Redskins came from his time in D.C., or grew from the fact that that football team played in Boston for a time in the 1930s. He and his growing family would have been living in Anacostia when the team moved from New England to Washington in 1937. My grandparents moved back to Boston in 1945 when the war ended, with three daughters all under the age of ten in tow. The family turned, or returned, its rooting interests to the Red Sox, which is as it remains today.

It was a great season and post-season and it is so good to see championship baseball return to Washington.

Rainy Sunday winding down

I hope everyone’s weekend was good. Here was the scene yesterday at Federal Hall when Charles Starks spoke about the life and legacy of George F. McAneny. Few today know who McAneny was, but the public official and urban planner was one of the most influential figures New York City in the first half of the twentieth century. Among other things he helped turn Federal Hall into a national memorial. Starks did a good job capturing McAneny’s significance. Here we see the speaker showing an image of Robert Moses and his never-built Brooklyn-Battery Bridge. The reason that project never came to fruition was in part due to McAneny, Eleanor Roosevelt, and others.

It was so good to be in front of the public again. There is nothing like that interaction with a live audience, especially a curious audience. There was a big turnout for Open House New York, with some coming from Westchester for the day to take in Federal Hall and other venues sponsoring Open House NY events in the downtown area. There were many good questions, many of which I was able to answer and some that I was not. That is always humbling. At the same time it is also unavoidable. When it comes down to it, we know very little.

Open House New York 2019

If you are looking for something to do this weekend and live in the Greater New York area note that it is Open House New York weekend. The weather will be nice and there will be a lot going on around town. I know someone whose mother is coming in from Rhode Island so the two of them can hit some art galleries that are opening their doors just for the special, annual event that is OHNY. Federal Hall itself will be open tomorrow. Yours truly will be there for at least part of the day. It will be good to be back. In what certainly will be an informative presentation Charles Starks will be speaking about George F. McAneny, one of the most important and sadly forgotten New Yorkers of the twentieth century.

Whatever you do on your Saturday and Sunday, go out and get some.

The photographers’ Great Depression

Okies in Farm Security Administration (FSA) emergency migratory labor camp, Calipatria, Imperial Valley, February 1939. This image was taken by Dorothea Lange, a colleague of Arthur Rothstein whose images are included in the current exhibit at Roosevelt House.

I’m sorry about the lack of posts recently. I have spent much of the past several weeks finishing the draft of a project that proved more difficult and time-involved that I had imagined. I submitted the draft the other day. We’ll see if comes to pass toward the end of the year. People were asking me at work yesterday what I intended to do over the three-day weekend; when they did I answered with a negative: “not writing and editing.”

Last night I went to Roosevelt House on East 65th Street for the opening of the exhibit “A Lens on FDR’s New Deal: Photographs by Arthur Rothstein, 1935-1945.” Rothstein was one of the great visual chroniclers of Depression Era America. It is not going too far to say that he, his friend and colleague Dorothea Lange, and others shaped our awareness and memory and of what the country was enduring in the 1930s and early 1940s. Part of the reason the Roosevelt Administration created the initiative to photograph the severity of the economic crisis to begin with was to press the need for its New Deal programs.

Rothstein was the son of refugees from Eastern Europe. Like so many immigrants and first-generation Americans, he was eager to make his contribution. Born in 1915, Rothstein attended Columbia University at fifteen and in the mid-1930s, just a young man in his early 20s, found himself driving across the country on dirt roads, sleeping in his car, eating off a hot plate, and shooting 80,000 images in migrant camps, farming communities, and elsewhere.

Rothstein’s daughter, Dr. Annie Segan, put the exhibition together in with her husband and the Roosevelt House historian. With over 125 photographs it is the biggest exhibit of Rothstein images to go on display in more than a quarter century. Other photographers are included as well. Many of the images were taken from tiny negatives. Rothstein’s daughter in her talk called them “picture stories.” Incredibly the trove of 175,000 images taken by Rothstein and the nearly twenty other photographers working for the Resettlement Administration (RA) and Farm Security Administration (FSA) were nearly discarded by indifferent bureaucrats in the years after the Second World War. Thankfully they were saved and are available to the public at the Library of Congress and online.

The exhibit runs into January 2020.

(image/Library of Congress)



Sunday morning coffee

Senator Hiram W. Johnson was a founder of the Progressive Party. In 1912 he ran with Theodore Roosevelt on the Bull Moose ticket against Wilson, Taft, and Debs. After the Great War Johnson helped killed U.S. entry into the League of Nations.

I’m gearing up here in my home office to get some writing done on an article. The project is taking a little longer than I wanted but it will get down in due time. The laundry will get thrown in somewhere along the way as well.

I received an email yesterday from Mike Hanlon at Roads to the Great War, who let me know that they published my piece about Henry A. Wise Wood and the League for the Preservation of American Independence. I’ll let one read the entire thing if inclined, but in a nutshell Wood and like-minded individuals such as Senator Hiram Johnson did everything in their power to kill Woodrow Wilson’s Covenant for the League of Nations.

I don’t want to go into any details here, but some colleagues and I at work received some exciting new this past Friday about a public history project for which we submitted a proposal. We heard that ours was one of the winners. Now comes the task of ironing out some logistics and putting the thing together. When the time comes, I will share more.

Enjoy your Sunday.

(image/Library of Congress)