Baseball great Harmon Killebrew has died. The slugger led the Minnesota Twins to the American League pennant in 1965. The team lost to the Dodgers in seven games. Killebrew hit 573 career home runs and is eleventh on the all-time list in that category. His home run total is even more impressive because so many of them came in the dead-ball era of the mid-to-late 1960s. Killebrew was the power hitter of the 1960s, hitting more home runs than anyone in that decade. He also had tremendous patience at the plate and led the major leagues in walks during those years as well. He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1984. The burly Killebrew was a gentle giant known for his politeness and quiet demeanor off the field. Unfortunately, he never received the recognition he deserved because he spent his entire twenty-two year career playing for small market teams.
A case involving an African burial ground in Richmond, Virginia is set to go to trial next week. The disputed site is currently a car park. According to the Examiner:
The parking lot has been a subject of contention for at least 20 years. In 1992, a local historian, did research indicating that the parking lot, then owned by VCU, was part of a larger site known historically as the Burial Ground for Negroes. Research indicates that African Americans, free and slave, had been buried in the area since the late 1700s…
…To many Richmonders, particularly African Americans, it is a battle for historical parity. Monument Ave has huge memorials to fallen Confederate heroes showcasing Richmond’s past as the Confederate capitol. Hollywood Cemetery has huge well kept graves of Confederate soldiers. Hollywood Cemetery also houses the grave of Confederate President Jefferson Davis and his family.
Having been a volunteer in museums in New York City and elsewhere I can testify that many of the most compelling exhibitions are on display in smaller, less obvious institutions. Right now such an exhibit is taking place at the Merchant’s House Museum on the Lower East Side. Over the years I had walked past the museum on my way to the subway after visiting the record stores on St. Marks Place. (That should give you an idea of how old I am.) Until last Saturday, however, I had never been inside. The museum is sponsoring New York’s Civil War Soldiers – Photographs of Dr. R. B. Bontecou, Words of Walt Whitman through August 1, 2011. Unfortunately photography was not permitted in the museum, or I would have some pictures to share. The Burns Archive, owner of the images, does have its own blog. A book is in the works. It is one thing to read that there were 10,000 casualties in this or that battle; it is another to see many of these “statistics” in flesh and blood.
This small museum is an ideal excursion when coupled with another endeavor. In our case that was the Union Square Green Market, where we got bread, cheese, and cider for lunch afterward. Visit if you can.
Works by Fletcher Henderson, Al Jolson, George M. Cohan, Eddie Cantor, Will Rogers, Alberta Hunter, Sergei Rachmaninoff, Leopold Stokowski, Arturo Toscanini, and opera stars Enrico Caruso, Nellie Melba and Geraldine Farrar are all covered, as are such original recordings as the Paul Whiteman Concert Orchestra’s “Rhapsody in Blue” with George Gershwin on piano, and Nora Bayes’ “Over There.”
Visitors to the National Jukebox will be able to listen to available recordings on a streaming-only basis, as well as view thousands of label images, record-catalog illustrations, and artist and performer bios. In addition, users can further explore the catalog by accessing special interactive features, listening to playlists curated by Library staff, and creating and sharing their own playlists.
It was on this date in 1965 that President Lyndon Johnson signed the proclamation designating Ellis Island a national monument and placing it in the protection of the National Park Service. The ceremony took place in the White House Rose Garden. Here are President Johnson’s remarks:
Members of Congress, ladies and gentlemen:
For nearly three decades Ellis Island was a beacon of opportunity, a symbol of freedom for millions.
Between 1892 and 1930, 16 million immigrants entered America through the open doors of Ellis Island. These men, women, and children from many lands enriched the American melting pot. They brought to these shores a rich variety of individual gifts, a heritage derived from the total experience of all of their many nations. They made us not merely a nation, but nation of nations.
These steerage immigrants entered into the very fiber of American life. Each made contributions to the American cause. Others achieved greatness or rose to positions of national leadership. Among those who passed through Ellis Island were such eminent Americans as Irving Berlin, David Dubinsky, Father Flanagan, Justice Felix Frankfurter, Charles A. Lindbergh, Sr., Philip Murray, Jacob Potofsky, Adm. Hyman Rickover, Knute Rockne, David Sarnoff, Spyros Skouras, Igor Sikorsky. Vice President Humphrey’s mother entered the United States through Ellis Island. Fiorello LaGuardia once worked as an interpreter there.
So we profit from the legacy of Ellis Island today in all parts of this great land of ours. Its meaning is symbolized here this morning by the presence of so many of our finest Members of Congress, nineteen of whose parents or grandparents entered the American gate at Ellis Island. Their names are Bayh, Hruska, Javits, Mansfield, Muskie, Pastore, Ribicoff, Cederberg, Daniels, Dent, Farbstein, Helstoski, Joelson, Mackay, Minish, Multer, Rodino, Pucinski, and Vanik. They all belong on a roster of honor that will someday surely be commemorated in this great national shrine.
So I am signing today a proclamation making Ellis Island a part of Liberty Island National Monument. In addition, I am asking Congress to enact legislation authorizing appropriations to. make Ellis Island a handsome shrine in the broad harbor of the great port of New York.
It is also my pleasure to announce approval of a Job Corps Conservation Center on the New Jersey shore adjacent to Ellis Island. Once this center is established, Job Corps. men will transform and restore Ellis Island and help the State of New Jersey create a new Liberty State Park in a blighted section of the Jersey City waterfront.
This exciting Federal-State project will preserve a bright chapter in American history. It will bring beauty where there is now blight. It will demonstrate at the very doorstep of our largest metropolis the opportunity that is offered us if we are wise enough to cherish our authentic historic places and accept the challenge of the new conservation.
I also hope that this Congress will draw on the lessons of Ellis Island and enact legislation to provide America with a wise immigration policy adapted to the needs of the 1960’s.
Earlier this year I sent to the Congress a proposal to replace the outdated national origins quota system. I asked the Congress to replace this worn out system with a new one, a schedule of immigration priorities based on the skills of applicants, skills that this Nation now needs, and on the existence of close family relationships between applicants and United States citizens.
This long overdue change, rooted as it is in national interests and in humanitarianism, should be enacted without further delay.
I know in my heart that the people of this Nation truly believe that every individual ought to be judged on his worth as a human being and by the contribution that he makes to his country. He ought not be judged on the church he attends, or how he spells his name, or the color of his skin. We are committed in this land to that belief and our efforts will never cease until it has really, in actuality, become a permanent fact as well as a guiding principle.
Thank you very much.
In the early decades of the twentieth century Grant’s Tomb was a rendezvous point for the young and amorous. (Really) I came across a wonderful silent film from 1904 that I thought I would share. I find it interesting not so much for the film, which is enjoyable in and of itself, but for its stunning images of the mausoleum as it was less than a decade after its dedication.
It was a thing to brood over, this war with its terrible cost and its veiled meanings, and the wisest man could perhaps do little more than ask searching questions about it.
Bruce Catton, The American Heritage New History of the Civil War
I have always been ambivalent at best about reenacting. When done well I suppose it can be a useful learning tool. A demonstration of Civil War artillery carried out by guys in jeans and sneakers would look pretty silly for one thing. Moreover, everyone deserves a hobby and a chance to relax and have fun however he or she prefers. Personally I avoid reenacting for the same reason I avoid historical fiction. The past is another place and any attempt to recreate it is futile. We should do everything we can to understand the past on its own terms; we just shouldn’t succumb to the conceit that can return to it. My biggest concern, though, is that some reenactors may be hiding behind the minutiae of camp life, clothing, and whatnot as a means to avoid the tough stuff of history. Glenn W. LaFantasie has a thought provoking piece on the subject.
I am looking forward to getting back up and seeing the just opened Overlook Pavillion, which the Park Service and City of New York have returned to its 1910 condition. The Pavillion offers grand views of the Hudson River and now includes a book store and visitor center as well.
When I give my talks at Ellis Island I tell the story of America’s immigration history warts and all. Anything less would be hagiography not history, and the twelve million brave souls who passed through Ellis Island from 1892-1954 deserve better than that. For the most part the story is one of conscientious public servants and health officials working hard and well under difficult circumstances. Processing 5,000-6,000 incoming immigrants day-after-day, year-after-year—all without the help of today’s technology—was a herculean and uniquely American endeavor for which we are rightfully proud. Today, however, is the anniversary of one of the darker moments of that history. It was on this date in 1882 that Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act. Chinese laborers had been in the United States for decades, working in mines and building the transcontinental railroad that was completed in 1869. With that project done, there was great fear that these workers might take away American jobs. The National Archives explains:
In the spring of 1882, the Chinese Exclusion Act was passed by Congress and signed by President Chester A. Arthur. This act provided an absolute 10-year moratorium on Chinese labor immigration. For the first time, Federal law proscribed entry of an ethnic working group on the premise that it endangered the good order of certain localities.
The Chinese Exclusion Act required the few nonlaborers who sought entry to obtain certification from the Chinese government that they were qualified to immigrate. But this group found it increasingly difficult to prove that they were not laborers because the 1882 act defined excludables as “skilled and unskilled laborers and Chinese employed in mining.” Thus very few Chinese could enter the country under the 1882 law.
Not a proud moment in our nation’s history, but one to remember.