I was surprised today at the number of visitors who mentioned the 100th anniversary of the start of the Great War. A lady came through whose grandfather graduated from West Point in August 1917. I did not know until she told me that the Military Academy accelerated its classes to rush young officers off to France. It shouldn’t be a total surprise though because they of course did the same thing during other wars. It is lost on us how small our standing army was prior to most of our conflicts. The man whose granddaughter was on the island today fought at Saint Mihiel.
Here are two photos of Ranger Val dressed as a doughboy which I snapped earlier today.
Fort Jay glacis
Val leading a tour within Fort Jay
Remember, Governors Island is open seven days a week this summer. I am so looking forward to being on the island for the Fourth of July this coming Friday.
The Great War Centennial begins today with the 100th anniversary of the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand. As I have stated several times over the past few weeks I intend to do a fair amount of WW1 Interp and other work on this over the next several years. I am even boning up on my French to better help myself. I know from having attended the Centennial Commission trade who in DC two weeks ago that many museums and other institutions are gearing up for this. The publishers are too. Today I began Thomas Otte’s July Crisis: The World’s Descent into War, Summer 1914. Like the Civil War, the Great War is so fascinating because it is both so close and so far away at the time. In ways we are still fighting both of them.
I am fortunate in that the two Park Service sites at which I volunteer, Governors Island National Monument and the Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace, offer numerous opportunities for such endeavors. The sites even offer opportunities for the Joseph Hawley and Theodore Roosevelt Senior books, which are proceeding apace. Over the summer I am going to share more here on the blog and Facebook page about my progress, something I have not done so much yet.
(image/the arrest of Gavrilo Prinzip after the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand, 28 June 1914)
≈ Comments Off on Congressman Cox’s Governors Island
Here is a small interesting something. I was searching another matter in the Historical New York Times earlier today when I came across the article excerpted here.
A quick search revealed that “Congressman Cox” was Samuel Sullivan Cox, a Tammany Democrat who represented the 6th U.S. District. Sullivan was originally from Ohio and as a Buckeye Congressman railed against Lincoln in a June 1862 speech entitled “Emancipation and Its Results–Is Ohio to be Africanized?” It is no wonder he eventually moved to Gotham and settled into machine politics.
Samuel S. Cox
The president mentioned is Grover Cleveland for whom Cox had served as Minister to Turkey in 1885-86. I am not sure how far Sullivan’s proposition turning Governors Island over to the New York State went, but it did not happen. (Quick history lesson: The Empire State turned Governors Island over to the Feds in 1800 when the Napoleonic Wars made European invasion of New York increasingly likely. In that decade Fort Jay was remodeled and Castle WIlliams built.)
Still, his vision for the island turned out to be prescient. It took 125 years but the Federal government returned Governors Island in 2003. Now it is jointly managed by the NPS and NYC. I saw in his obituary that Cox is buried in Green-Wood Cemetery and that there is a statue of him in Tompkins Square. Over the summer I am going to have to search these out.
Congressman Cox didn’t live to see it, but Governors Island eventually reverted back to local control.
≈ Comments Off on St. Cornelius: a very brief history
Chapel of St. Cornelius the Centurion
Early on Sunday morning I was taking some photos of Great War plaques on Governors Island when I came upon the Chapel of St. Cornelius the Centurion. It was one of those early summer mornings where the sky is bright blue and there is a hint in the air of the warm–but not too warm–day ahead. What made it all the better is that, because it was so early, the area was so quiet. The whole thing had the aura the military service personnel must have felt when they lived on the island. A few years ago a now retired veteran who returned to the island for a visit told me he was married here.
St. Cornelius is one of the island’s special spots and has a provenance few visitors to the island realize. Its architect was Charles Coolidge Haight, a veteran of the Union Army who later attended Columbia University and became one of the leading architect’s in the United States. The gothic influence was a trademark of Haight’s, which he mixed here to great effect with a military motif evident in the turrets seen on the upper right. The symbolism is fitting given that St. Cornelius was on a U.S. Army military base.
I could not take photos from inside because the doors were locked but St. Cornelius contains a beautiful stained glass window built in memorium to Winfield Scott Hancock. Hancock commanded the Department of the East from Governors Island beginning in 1878. He ran for the White House against Garfield in 1880 from here as well. In summer 1885 Hancock organized Ulysses Grant’s funeral from the island. Hancock himself died on the island just seven months later. This was all years before the chapel seen above was built.
This is actually the second St. Cornelius; the first was a wooden structure that served its purpose for decades but eventually fell into disrepair. So, a second more permanent structure was commissioned. Enter Haight. An interesting part of the story is that not only was he a captain in the Union Army, he had served in Hancock’s Second Corps. I intend to write a piece about Haight’s chapel over the summer for the Governors Island website. One thing I am curious to know is if he won this commission for his service in Hancock’s corps, or if that was just a coincidence. If and when I find the answer I will share it.
Frederick Dent Grant, who himself commanded the Eastern Department, lay in state here when he died in 1912. President Taft was one of the thousands who came to pay his respects.
I just got home from the Apple store in SOHO where I took an iPhoto workshop to brush up on my picture taking skills. I did this because at the World War I Centennial Commission trade show last weekend I agreed to participate in The World War I Memorial Inventory Project. The goal of project director Mark Levitch is to photograph and document 10,000 monuments to the Great War spread across the United States. Many are hiding in plain site.
As after the Civil War, the process of memorialization began almost immediately. Nations, states, and small towns around the globe built monuments in the 1920 and 1930s. What these all had in common is that every protagonist believed it had justice and righteousness on its side. This should not be surprising given the incredible human, financial, and material sacrifices they made. Who wants to think they sacrificed for nothing?
I intend to start off with the many World War I monuments on Governors Island. As I noted a few weeks ago there are many sprinkled across the island’s 172 acres. My goal is to do fifty, mostly in New York, over the next five years. I am not going to do the ones on New York City parks because the Parks Department has already done extensive documentation on these already. There are many in post offices, botanical gardens, and places like that. Often they are hiding in plain site.
I will not post the same images here on the Strawfoot that I submit to the inventory project, but occasionally I will take photos of the same subjects and share them here. I cannot tell you how excited I am about this.
(image/tablet for Lieutenant James Andes on Governors Island)
≈ Comments Off on WW1 Centennial Trade Show report
Yesterday I attended the WW1 Centennial Commission Trade Show. I met a lot of people who are doing some interesting things for the commemoration of the Great War. Here are a few pics from the show.
The trade show brought together museum officials, authors, and others to discuss their projects for the Centennial. Jones Day, theWashington white shoe law firm, hosted the event.
The acting chairman of the Commission spoke first and discussed the group’s strategic plan. They have obviously put a great deal of thought and energy into the enterprise. He and the other commissioners are all volunteers.
Before the trade show presentations there was a fifteen minute musical interlude by Benjamin Sears and Bradford Conner. They set a nice tone for the afternoon.
Sergeant York’s son (black shirt and glasses on right) was there with his own son and granddaughter (seated to his left).
Here are a few of the exhibits. As with the Civil War Sesquicentennial, the Great War Centennial will incorporate the changes that have taken place in historiographically in recent decades.
This is a sampling of some of the literature I gathered. I do not want to give away too much right now but I spoke to various folks about working on some projects over the next 4-5 years. I think the next few years will be fun and productive in a number of ways.
It was a special night tonight when the Library Association of CUNY (LACUNY) held its 75th anniversary party in Manhattan. I love being a librarian within CUNY and feeding off the energy of our students. Many library faculty are dynamic individuals working on some fascinating projects. The keynote speaker was Kenneth Jackson, the Columbia University historian who also once ran and turned around the New-York Historical Society. He was at the Roosevelt Birthplace a few weeks ago, although I missed him and his students by about a half hour. The rangers spoke about what a good guy he was.
One my favorite projects of his was the museum retrospective a few years ago that helped rehabilitate he reputation of Robert Moses. He spoke tonight about the sociology of cities with an emphasis on what makes New York a unique place. I was so glad they got him for the keynote talk.
This morning I received the final details of the upcoming WW1 Centennial Commission trade show. About sixty individuals and organizations rsvp’ed. I am looking forward to the presentations and hearing what people have planned for the next 4-5 years. I know I myself intend to do a fair amount with the Great War Centennial between now and the 100th anniversary of the Versailles Conference.
It is hard to believe the New York History conference in Cooperstown was a full year ago. Alas I could not attend the 2014 NYSHA conference at Marist College in Poughkeepsie, as either a speaker or attendee. Tomorrow, however, I will be tuning in to a webinar coming from the nearby Henry A.Wallace Visitor Center at the FDR Presidential Library and Museum in Hyde Park. The panelists will be discussing Imperiled Promise: The State of History in the National Park Service, the 2011 report from the Organization of American Historians analyzing the state of public history within the NPS. I have read the report and its while it lauds some NPS successes it also highlights where there might be improvement.
Tomorrow’s panel begins at 9:00 am and will focus on history at NPS sites within New York State. This is going to be an informative and lively event.
I was in Green-Wood Cemetery this afternoon for a quick walk when I came across this headstone for one of the men from Joseph Hawley’s regiment. Hawley notes in the 7th’s regimental history that Mills had returned from recruitment duties just in time for the fighting at Pocotaligo in October 1862. Mills is mentioned again during the fighting in the Bermuda Hundred outside Richmond. There, 150 years ago this month, Mills was mortally wounded when shot in the chest.
His death must have been traumatic for all involved. According to Hawley, his and Mills’s wives, with a few other officers’ spouses, “made a social circle which formed an oasis in military life which was remembered with great pleasure in the continuous battles from July, 1863 to the close of the war.” In early January 1864 when the fighting was again about to heat up ” All the ladies, except Mrs. Hawley and Mrs. Mills returned north.” It must have been a difficult death if he held on for another six months before expiring in January 1865. I would love to know the circumstances of how he came to be buried here in Brooklyn.
It is hard to believe that today is the 70th anniversary of the D-Day invasion. When I was young this was closer to current events than history, even if I did not understand that at the time. I remember meeting so many Normandy veterans in 1994 who were going to France for the 50th. Now twenty years later so many of them are gone. Here is a reprise of something I wrote to mark the occasion in 2011.
I could not let the 67th anniversary of D-Day go unnoticed. When I was younger this was a much bigger deal than it is today. It is only a bit of a stretch to say that I have measured the events of my life according to the anniversaries of the Normandy invasion. In June 1984 I was still in high school, getting ready to start my senior year at the end of the summer. Ten years later I had graduated from college, but was unsettled and still trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. By 2004 I had gone to graduate school and moved to New York City. Now I am married and in full middle age.
The arc of D-Day presidential ceremonies, or lack thereof, paints a fascinating portrait of the postwar decades. In 1954 President Eisenhower, the Supreme Allied Commander of the invasion a decade earlier, skipped France altogether and instead vacationed at Camp David. His only public comment was a small proclamation about the Grand Alliance. For the 20th anniversary Ike did record a television special with Walter Cronkite entitled D-Day Plus Twenty Years: Eisenhower Returns to Normandy. The footage of the journalist and the retired president was filmed in August 1963 and is quite moving. On June 6, 1964 Johnson, who had taken office only seven months earlier after the Kennedy assassination, was in New York City speaking to the Ladies Garment Workers Union. In the waning days of Vietnam and the Nixon Administration in 1974 Americans were too tired and cynical to care about World War 2.
Reagan’s address in 1984 remains the most memorable of the anniversaries. At Pointe du Hoc he addressed a sizable audience of veterans still young enough to travel but old enough to appreciate their own mortality. President Clinton’s address on the beaches of Normandy during the 50th anniversary symbolized the passing of the baton from the Greatest Generation to the Baby Boomers. In 2004 current events overshadowed the 60th anniversary and the ceremony painfully underscored tensions in the trans-Atlantic alliance.
Today only one person mentioned it to me. Alas we have reached the tipping point where most of the veterans have either passed on or are too aged and infirm to participate in the observance. In other words it has become part of history. Makes me feel old and a little sad.