Ethel Roosevelt Derby, 1891-1977

They have my article about Ethel Roosevelt Derby up over at Roads to the Great War. Theodore Roosevelt’s younger daughter died on 10 December 1977, forty years ago this week. Ethel was vey much her father’s daughter and lived a long, full life. Of all the pieces I have written, this was one of the most enjoyable and meaningful to write.

(image/Library of Congress)

December 8, 1941

December 8, 1941: President Franklin Roosevelt appears relaxed after the pressure of having just signed the declaration of war on Japan. When he was Assistant Secretary of the Navy in the Wilson Administration Roosevelt had overseen the construction of several of the ships sunk at Pearl Harbor. Note Sam Rayburn third from the right, who maintains a serious visage.

About a decade ago during a trip to Florida to visit friends and relatives, I brought with me some then-recent New York Times clippings about the recovery following the attack on Pearl Harbor. It was a complicated months-long operation similar in many ways to the cleanup at Ground Zero after 9/11. The reason I was carrying actual newspaper clippings, as opposed to sending links right after reading them online, was because I was bringing them for a friend’s father. This was an older fellow who like many of his generation was not plugged into the internet that much. I knew however that he would appreciate the articles. He was greatly interested in American history and was himself an Armed Service veteran who had served in the Air Force a few years after the Second World War. I gave them to him at a restaurant over dinner.

Longtime readers of the blog may remember when I used to post every year on the anniversary of Pearl Harbor. As some may also remember, I said that I would stop doing that after last year’s 75th anniversary. Yesterday I waited all day for the moment when someone might finally mention Pearl Harbor. It eventually happened in a text message from my friend at about 5:00 pm. This quickly led to a back-and-forth of missives on memory and the meaning to be found in the past. As things go his father, the man for whom I had brought those clippings now a long time ago, died earlier this year. This is the first December since, well, the birth of my friend almost sixty years ago, that his father is not here for the two to commiserate on the significance of December 7, 1941. Needless to say, it made for an emotional and reflective Pearl Harbor anniversary for my friend.

(image/National Park Service)


“The universe is built not of atoms but of stories.”

Samuel R. Delany speaks at New York City College of Technology (CUNY) in December 2017

It was a special day at City Tech yesterday when Science Fiction writer Samuel R. Delany gave the keynote address at the college’s second annual Science Fiction symposium. The quote above in the title came from his talk. He told the audience that he had seen the line on a sidewalk poster in New York City about a decade ago and that it has stayed with him since.

Sunday morning coffee

Flatiron Building, December 2017

I am sitting here listening to Bill Evans with my coffee getting ready to write. The first 50 words of the day are always the most difficult. Before doing that I thought I would share the above picture that I took at 8:30 on Friday morning. That area around Madison Square Park is my favorite part of the city. Seeing the Flatiron the other day reminded me of an image (below) I showed to two English classes during our Great War module a few weeks back. This is “Britannia,” a British Mark IV used around the United States in these weeks and months for Liberty Loan drives. The image was taken on October 25, 1917 during a parade in which about 20,000 New Yorkers marched. There too that day were Mayor John Purroy Mitchel and Al Smith.

Embed from Getty Images




Found in Yonkers

Good morning, all. I know the blog has been quiet for much of this past week but there has been so much going on. This morning I emailed the draft of a small thing I wrote over these past few days. I won’t go into the details here, but will wait until it is published. I am having my morning coffee before heading to Baruch College for a library conference. I always enjoy the 69th Regiment Armory there on 25th Street as I’m on my way to Baruch. I spent the morning sending a few emails about a film showing we are having a week from tomorrow in Yonkers. I am glad we are going to the community where our doughboy, Thomas Michael Tobin, lived and built a legacy for himself and his family. Here is the flier in case one is in the New York City area next weekend.


Back to the book

I hope everyone enjoyed their Black Friday. I managed to avoid any stores today. I had planned to visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art but instead decided my time would be better spent staying home and writing. With our World War One film in the can and the semester winding down I am now focusing on my Civil War monograph. The goal is to finish the draft by January 26, the day before the start of the Spring 2018 semester. To meet that target I have to write another 10000 words. It is definitely do-able. Today I wrote 1250. I always put the date at the top of each draft and could not help but notice that the last time I put words down was August 17. Ouch. A few people were noticing. I was gently admonished by not one but two friends at work on Wednesday about when they might expect the draft to be done. I texted a friend in the late morning to tell him I was picking up the baton once again. He asked if it was difficult getting back into it. Really it was not. I sorted my papers, got a few things in order, and once I wrote those first 50 words or so it came back.

It feels good to be back in the saddle. I’m shooting for 750 words tomorrow and another 750 on Sunday. That would mean 2500+ for the Thanksgiving weekend, which wouldn’t be too shabby.

Enjoy your weekend, everyone.

(image/New York Public Library)

Happy Thanksgiving

Lt. Colonel William W. Stickney cuts the Thanksgiving cake with a Japanese sword on Guadalcanal seventy-five years ago this week. Stickney served in the Navy during World War 1. Between the wars he received his law degree. Stickney joined the Marines during World War 2 and was promoted to lieutenant colonel, commanding the 2nd Battalion, 1st Regiment, 1st Marine Division–The Old Breed–during the fighting on Guadalcanal. After the war he served several stints in the Marine Corps Reserves and eventually became a major general.

New York Times, 27 November 1942. I would love to know how this turned out. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

(images/top, USMC Archives; bottom, NYT)

When in doubt, blame Robert Moses

The powerful New York City Parks Commissioner (1934-60) Robert Moses makes a convenient foil.

Last week a friend at work brought this small blurb about World War monuments and Robert Moses to my attention. The vignette is a capsule summary of why there are so few World War Two monuments in New York City, in contrast to the significant number of memorials to the First World War. Though he does site other factors, the author in a nutshell blames Robert Moses. This led my friend and me to quip that when one wants to blame anything gone wrong in New York City, blame that once seemingly all-powerful builder and planner. Moses makes a great target; he held significant authority over huge public works projects for decades and was not afraid to use that influence. Thirty six years after his death, New Yorkers still very much live in the city and state that he gave us.

By the time Robert Moses became Parks Commissioner in 1934 New Yorkers had built hundreds of monuments large and small. Kevin C. Fitzpatrick chronicles these memorials in his recent book World War I New York: A Guide to the City’s Enduring Ties to the Great War. By the time Moses came to power the Treaty of Versailles had taken place fifteen long years previously. Gone were the romantic notions of fighting for civilization and to end war. Hitler was by now in power in Germany, and Stalin was firmly entrenched in the Soviet Union. Besides, the Depression was full on and even if people wanted to build monuments to the Great War dead there was little money to do so. When World War Two ended in 1945 Moses was adamant that there be no repeat of the cacophony of doughboy memorials we still see today in our parks. Each borough was to get one public monument. Of these, the only one actually built was the Brooklyn War Memorial in Cadman Plaza, something my students studied and wrote about last year. Whether this was good or bad depends on one’s perspective.

Moses indeed played a strong hand in all this. He had a vision for the city, state and region and wanted no obstacles that might intrude on that. Nothing would be built in his parks if he didn’t want it there. Still, the paucity of memorials was as much demographic and cultural as it was political. The soldiers, sailors and marines of 1941-45 were away much longer than the doughboys of 1917-18. When they came home they wanted to get on with their lives. There were four times more American in uniform–16 million vs 4 million–during the Second World War than in the First. They had seen killing and devastation on a scale that Americans had not witnessed in the trenches of France. Sixty million people had been killed around the world. The Second World War ushered in the Atomic Age and the Cold War. The veterans new full well it hadn’t been a “good war.” On the personal level, unlike their doughboy fathers, they had the GI Bill when they came home to attend school and get an education. Upon graduation, they had low interest loans that allowed them the opportunity to own their patch of grass in the suburbs. The question really is not why there were so few monuments built in the decade or so after the Second World War, it’s why there were any at all.

(image/New York Public Library)

New Yorkers in Uniform, this Wednesday the 15th

Should one happen to be in New York City this week you are invited to attend the showing of our World War One documentary. The event is being held at New York City College of Technology (CUNY), which is convenient to most public transportation. The program is being held in the Ursula C. Schwerin Library on the 4th floor of the Atrium. The event is free and runs from 1:00-2:30 pm. Lunch will be provided. Please RSVP to the email below or to me here at the Strawfoot.