Sunday morning coffee

I hope everyone’s Thanksgiving weekend has been restful. It has not been the holiday many of us might have liked but it’s the one we get, and for that I am thankful. I must say I have not done much other than relax these past several days, though I did work half a morning this past Friday. Life has been so stressful on so many fronts recently that it’s been good to have a bit of a respite. There has been lots of jazz and Bob Dylan on the turntable as well, which is always a plus.

I was telling someone last night: there’s Bob and then there is everyone else. Essentially I rediscovered him over these past nine months of the shutdown. At least for me Dylan has been the ideal voice for the current moment. The trick with Dylan is to not take it too seriously and understand how witty, playful, and just plain funny the guy is. I think he takes the minute parsing of his life and lyrics with more than a little bemusement, and probably contempt and derision as well. And yet within all that he’s working on about 3-4 different levels. This is not bread and circuses.

It is a glorious Sunday morning here in New York City. Under normal circumstances we likely would have gone to a museum or something today. Maybe next year. Instead I will use the day productively to gear up for the remainder of the semester, clean the house, and get in a walk at Green-Wood. Whatever you do, make the most of the remainder of the weekend and these waning autumn days.

Happy Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving in camp sketched Thursday 28th 1861 by Alfred R. Waud

I wanted to take a moment to wish everyone a happy holiday. If one feels that this year’s is not a “real” Thanksgiving because of everything going on in our world right now, it might be helpful to keep in mind that this is a centuries-old tradition and that we have observed the occasion through wars, depressions, health crises, and other calamities before. In the image above we see a Thanksgiving camp scene drawn by Alfred R. Waud in November 1861, just when it was dawning on Americans that the “ninety day war” many had anticipated that previous spring was going to take longer to resolve. As these men settled into winter quarters, they did not know what the future held either.

Remember the spirit of the holiday. If able, reach out on this day to others who you think might need a special boost. Making someone else’s day a little brighter will do the same for yours as well. Be safe and be careful. Enjoy your Thanksgiving.

(image/Library of Congress)

Remembering Lincoln at Gettysburg

Today is the 157th anniversary of President Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. It is one of our goals to visit for Remembrance Day sometime in the not too distance future. Usually when we go it is in early summer during the campaign anniversary. I imagine Gettysburg has an entirely different feel in late autumn. In challenging times it is helpful to reflect on difficult moments of the past. Today, a week before Thanksgiving, is a good time to do just that.

(image/1887 advertisement from “The Battle-field Of Gettysburg” published by the Gettysburg and Harrisburg Railroad Company)

John Birks “Dizzy” Gillespie, 1917-1993

Ooff. Long day. It was leavened somewhat when someone emailed me around noontime and told me that today was Dizzy Gillespie’s birthday. It had totally escaped me that today was the 103rd anniversary of Gillespie’s birth. In a nice piece of serendipity I was listening to Charlie Parker when I opened my friend’s message. In this case Bird was accompanied not by Gillespie but the young Miles Davis. Here is something I wrote on this date nine (!) years ago commemorating Dizzy Gillespie. My gosh, has he really been gone twenty-seven years. Though I never saw him live, I am glad I lived during his time. I stand by what I said all those years ago about Dizzy Gillespie being underrated and under appreciated despite the plaudits he received during and after his lifetime. Here is some listening for an autumn evening. . .

Yorktown, 1781-1881

This past Thursday in the early evening I attended a virtual writing event at which we the participants wrote in bursts of twenty minute increments with a brief break in between to check in on how we did. For me it was a chance to get back to my manuscript about the Rufus King family, which I had to put aside in mid-August to prepare for the academic year. I mention it because the book begins with a brief telling of the October 1881 centennial observation of the Siege of Yorktown. Cornwallis surrendered to Washington on October 19, 1781. In what seems a lifetime ago I wrote a little bit about this five years ago in August 2015, though from a different angle from which I will be focusing in the King book.

The reason I mentioned all this here is because John Alsop King, Jr., Rufus King’s grandson, was one of the leaders of the New York delegation. He was hardly unique: the grandsons of many of the leading figures of the Revolutionary War Era participated in the Yorktown observation, which proved hugely important in late nineteenth century diplomacy.

(image/Norman B. Leventhal Map & Education Center of the Boston Public Library)

Happy Canadian Thanksgiving

Today is Canadian Thanksgiving. I have always assumed that it comes six weeks earlier than the American version because the growing season ends earlier north of the border, the holiday being based on the end of the season’s harvest. For this Thanksgiving observation I thought I would share this extraordinary photograph of Canadian troops Cambrai Cathedral (Notre-Dame de GrĂ¢ce chapel) taken on October 13, 1918. As the image suggests this was in the midst of some of the hardest fighting of the Great War. This was less than a month before the Armistice though these members of the Canadian Expeditionary Force obviously had no way of knowing that at the time, 102 Thanksgiving ago.

(image/Archives of Ontario)

Fiorello La Guardia: Italian-American

Fiorello La Guardia in uniform, circa 1918

It’s a rainy holiday Monday. I am off but doing a few things in preparation for the coming week, which is filling up quickly. They posted my article at Roads to the Great War about Fiorello La Guardia, the second of two after one I did in April near the start of the shutdown. I wanted to return to La Guardia in recognition of Italian-American Heritage Month. Enjoy the day.

(image/Library of Congress)

Sunday morning coffee

This Sunday morning apropos of nothing I thought I would share this image I came across a few days ago when looking for images to share with our students. It comes from the August 1899 Elliott’s Magazine, which labeled itself “the official organ of the League of American Wheelmen.” No, I did not share this image, but found instead others that were more germane to the class itself. I love this image for two reasons: first off, I love old advertisements in general; and second, call me crazy but I also just love old hangers. Several years ago when I volunteered at a particular Park Service site there was a sturdy, wooden vintage hangar from Abraham & Straus on the clothes rack. I hazard that few who entered even knew what Abraham & Straus but to me it was a small piece of material culture from long ago. Even better, it wasn’t just for show; all these decades lates it was still doing its job: people hung their clothes on it just as the manufacturer intended. How and when did it get there, I always wondered. That people were still using it daily without a second thought was testimony to its being a Well Made Thing.

I love this particular image for a number of reasons. If one looks closely at the pants one will note that they have both side-adjustors and suspender buttons. Last week I dropped some items off at the dry cleaner for the first time in 6+ months. These included two old blankets that went unused over the summer and that I had cleaned in anticipation of fall, and the dress pants and shirts I have worn in recent weeks now that class has begun. I picked up yesterday. Even in the virtual classroom I wear slacks, dress shirt and tie. We’ll see if a coat too makes an appearance once the cooler weather truly arrives.

Wheelmen & Women, 1898

I showed this photograph to my class the other day, and also shared with some of the some of the staff and volunteers at Federal Hall and Grant’s Tomb because I knew the rangers and others would get a kick out of it. Here we see cyclists in front of the Tomb in 1898, just one year after the structure’s completion. The reason I showed it to class was because a group founded in 1880 called The League of American Wheelmen was largely responsible for the Good Roads Movement that led to better highways across the country. The group still exists 140 years later under the more-inclusive moniker League of American Bicyclists.

(image/NYPL Digital)

Thinking of Sharpsburg here in Brooklyn this anniversary

Alfred R. Waud rendering of a somewhat partially apocryphal Antietam scene

These past several days have felt increasingly like Indian summer, with cool mornings and evenings interspersed with warmish afternoons. Today, September 17, I can’t help but think of the 158th anniversary of the Battle of Antietam. The corn was tall and ready for harvest when Hooker’s First Corps came through The Cornfield at around 6:00 am with the first light. Usually on the day of the anniversary the Park Service has a number of all-day hiking tours and other events. It seems for this year they are doing a lot of virtual activities. I always get pensive around the time of the Antietam anniversary. It was the bloodiest day in American history, falls less than a week after the 9/11 commemoration, and just days before the official start of fall. Two future American presidents, Hayes and McKinley, were both there, as they had been at South Mountain.

I thought I would share another Alfred Waud image, this one too from the collection J.P Morgan bequeathed to the Library of Congress in 1919. It depicts the 14th Brooklyn, which indeed fought in The Cornfield, though I don’t think against Confederate cavalry.

Enjoy these waning days of summer, and take pause to remember the Battle of Antietam.

(image/Library of Congress)