The first film shoot

The crew posing at the end of the session

The crew posing after the session

A small group of us, some coming from Connecticut and New Jersey, were at the CUNY Graduate Center this morning for the first of our film shoots to make the WW1 documentary we are producing. We are making a 15-20 minute film in which we interview the family of a World War One doughboy and a veteran of one of our nation’s contemporary campaigns. Our subject today was Thomas Michael Tobin, an extraordinary man from Yonkers who served as a first lieutenant and was stationed at St. Nazaire for more than a year. After the war he was engaged in civic and cultural affairs for decades. He also raised five sons, all of whom went on to make their own contributions, as both soldiers and sailors in WW2 and in their professional careers. This morning we interviewed two of Lieutenant Tobin’s grandchildren on camera and spoke to a third for background. All had many insights on the man’s life and times.

Three of Lieutenant Tobin's grandchildren

Three of Lieutenant Tobin’s grandchildren

I was a little nervous going in, not knowing if we would be able to pull it off. Still, we had planned it out fairly well beforehand; it is amazing how doing the advanced prep work pays off come time. It helps also to collaborate with talented and insightful people who bring so much to what they do. I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed the session.

Searching for one doughboy’s Great War

The American Legion Monthly, November 1936

The American Legion Monthly, November 1936

It is pouring rain outside here in Brooklyn. I have spent the last hour researching in Ancestry the details of a New York doughboy. It’s the perfect research endeavor for a winter night.

I don’t want to give the biographical specifics here, but I will say that he was born in Yonkers in 1886 and went on to serve in the Quartermaster Corps during the Great War. He was in St. Nazaire when the Armistice came in November 1918. This is for a project I am working on with others in which we are making a 15-20 minute documentary to be shown this spring, summer and fall at our college and at Governors Island. Our protagonist went on to become active in New York politics, and an ally of Al Smith. He had five sons who all served in the Second World War after him. Our doughboy was apparently a formidable presence, and the family patriarch until his death in the mid-1960s. It’s really a fascinating story, and a uniquely American one.

We have our first film shoot with his grandchildren this coming Saturday. As this moves along in the coming months I will divulge more.

(image/detail from The American Legion Monthly, November 1936)

Sunday morning coffee

Edwin Forbes drawing of the January 1863 Mud March

The January 1863 Mud March as depicted by Edwin Fobes

I’m listening to Debussy as I type this. It is ideal Sunday morning music. I’m having my coffee and gearing up to write a few hundred words on the Roosevelt Sr./Olmsted/Dodge manuscript. I’ll do some tweaking and editing while I listen to the AFC title game tonight. I don’t know if this is unusual but I am writing the book in chronological order; when I began I started the monograph in the 1830s and am now up to January 1863. My story ends in 1878 with Roosevelt’s death. In a small coincidence General Ambrose Burnside’s disastrous Mud March took place 154 years ago this week, right when I was discussing it yesterday. Lincoln replaced Burnside with Hooker a few days later. The disastrous Union offensive added urgency to Olmsted and Wolcott Gibbs’s  creation of the Union League Club, which though in the works since November 1862 came into being in February.

This was a productive week. I was able to generate over 4000 words. As I mentioned in a post the other day, this is the winter when I bring it all together. I have been working on this for 3 1/2 years now, with many–many–side projects mixed in there along the way as well. The target is to finish the draft by mid spring and to not be writing new material come summer. The semester begins a week from tomorrow, and while I will be doing my usual duties I will not be teaching this term. I asked out because the idea is to cut down on the distractions. Winter 2017 rolls along.



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.