Opening Day 2022

Menu from 1956 welcome home dinner / NYPL

I walked past what used to be the St. George Hotel yesterday during a walk in preparation for a coming class visit to the surrounding area. I refused to follow the lockout over this past off-season. However imperfect is MLB and however disappointing are the people who run organized baseball, it is always good when the game returns.

Franklin part one

Benjamin Franklin circa 1750s / NYPL

I watched part one of Ken Burns’s “Benjamin Franklin” last night and thought it was quite good. I don’t know if it is just my interpretation, but it seems that over the past several years there has been a greater seriousness and sense of urgency in Burns’s work. Absent now are the Lost Cause tinges one saw in “The Civil War” and such dramatic touches as the violins of “Ashokan Farewell.” I’m not sure if that is because Burns has matured as a filmmaker or due to our current historical moment, but either way I find it striking. I’m glad Burns made the film now, at a time when I know more about the period than I did even five years ago. I know he and his team are working on a larger project about the Revolutionary War slated for release in 2026 for the 250th anniversary.

Artistically the black-and-white engravings in the film are striking. Though I don’t know for sure, I assume the engravings were made specifically for the film. I loved that in addition to younger scholars he interviewed Gordon Wood and the late Bernard Bailyn. We have so much still to learn from the work these giants have done. I certainly do. The film does a good job of placing the colonies in an international context within the Atlantic World. Part one ends in 1774 and hints at the trouble to come between Benjamin and son William, the governor of the New Jersey colony and a Loyalist. We see hints that the American Revolutionary War was very much a civil war, and I think part two tonight will go into that.

Later this month some friends and I are going to Philadelphia on a day trip already planned several weeks ago. We booked our tickets for certain venues in advance figuring that the release of “Benjamin Franklin” would attract larger crowds, which would be good. I haven’t been to Philadelphia in a good 3-4 years–a summer or two before the pandemic–and am psyched to return.

Sunday morning coffee

Ranger Soskin receiving an award from Congressman Mark DeSaulnier, February 8, 2020

I’m having my coffee before settling in to edit a project I’ve been working on for many months now. I’m about a thousand words over the count but I’ll submit as is in two weeks and let the chips fall where they may. I’ve been getting texts from people I know whose kids go to UNC talking about last night’s game. I’m not much of a basketball guy but March (and April) Madness is always a fun thing to watch, if personally a step or two removed. They play the ACC tournament every year at the Barclays Center and the teams stay at the Marriott hotel down the street from where I work. When I see buses and team decals in the window of the lobby I know it’s the end of winter.

These past few days I have been reading of the retirement of one-hundred-year-old Park Service ranger Betty Reid Soskin. Though strictly speaking she was not a Rosie the Riveter–those particular jobs were strictly segregated, as was the military itself–she did play a role on the home front during World War II. Ranger Soskin was an institution for years at Rosie the Riveter/World War II Home Front National Historical Park in California. Here is an in depth article from 2018 that gives a fair amount of detail about her life and times. Among other things she dated Jackie Robinson, which given her rich life barely gets a mention before the article moves on. Not long ago I was on the social media feed of a historian I follow who wrote of her experience as a seasonal at the Charlestown Navy Yard, which is part of Boston National Historical Park. She spoke of doing interp on the ships, which are now museums. During her time there were still numerous veterans who volunteered aboard the ships speaking to the public. Those Navy veterans are now largely gone. Soskin’s retirement from the Rosie Riveter NHP is a similar loss.

(image/Congressman Mark DeSaulnier)


April 2, 1917

Woodrow Wilson addressing Congress, April 2, 1917 / Library of Congress

Today is the 105th anniversary of Woodrow Wilson’s address to Congress seeking a declaration of war on Germany. I was having a conversation the other day with someone about the ghosts and demons of the twentieth century returning today. It is haunting and sobering.

Terry Teachout, 1956-2022

Teachout in NYC just before the opening of “Satchmo at the Waldorf,” March 4, 2014

I read with shock and sadness this morning of the death of cultural critic Terry Teachout. I sent the news to someone this morning who emailed a few minutes later saying the he was about to send me the news when my own missive came through. I never understood why Teachout was not better known than he was. His output was prolific and his intellectual interests vast. He also had a generosity of spirit, liked artists, and wanted to see them and their work succeed creatively and financially. Among other things he gave us biographies of H.L. Mencken, Louis Armstrong, and Duke Ellington. There is also a fine anthology assembled in 2004 entitled simply “A Terry Teachout Reader.” He also wrote the successful one-man play “Satchmo at the Waldorf.” This barely touches the surface of his career. He wrote on a number of topics about which I have little interest, like the theater. Still, I almost always found myself reading until the end because the prose was so tight his wit so sharp. He suffered a great blow several years ago when his wife died. Both were too young to leave when they did. I can hardly believe we now live in a world with Terry Teachout not in it.

Boxing Day 2021

 Zoological exhibition, London 1879 / image via British Library

Good morning, all. It is a beautiful day after the light rain and overcast Christmas we had yesterday. The weather gave a nice ambiance to the day. It is less pronounced because December 26 this year has fallen on a Sunday but I have never understood why Boxing Day is not observed in the United States. Don’t get me wrong; I understand the historical reasons why it is observed in the Commonwealth and not here, but culturally it has always seemed to me a holiday we should have here. Whatever you do and wherever you are, enjoy your day.

When the NY Chamber of Commerce turned 115

“Some were eating turtle soup out of quaintly decorated bowls.” — NYT, 12/5/1883

I came across the quote and image you see above when working on a small project related to George Washington that will hopefully see the light of day soon. This extraordinary item went up for sale at auction some time recently and apparently had been in a private collection in Pennsylvania. The New York Chamber of Commerce was founded in 1768 during the colonial period. This luncheon preceded a dinner held by the Sons of the Revolution held in the same place later that very evening on what was the centennial of General Washington’s farewell in Fraunces Tavern’s Long Room.

Armistice Day 1921

image via Korean American Digital Archive East Asian Library, University of Southern California

This incredible photograph was taken one hundred years ago today on November 11, 1921. There were a number of Korean and Korean-American communities in the West in the early decades of the twentieth century and this photograph almost certainly was taken in one of those communities, probably in California. I did a shallow dive trying to learn more based on the few kernels in the image’s metadata but unfortunately could not establish anything truly definitive beyond the few nuggets already there. In the few hours remaining please do stop for a few moments and remember Armistice Day.

Why do family history?

Chapman Brothers Lithographers, Chicago 1888 / via Library of Congress

Back in mid July someone in the family, knowing that I have become something of the unofficial clan historian, emailed me asking for some details about one of our ancestors. I have been doing our genealogy for ~20 years now, my involvement often waxing and waning depending on how busy I am at work, the status of different projects, and just life in general. Recently I had gotten away from it for the better part of two years, essentially since just prior to the pandemic. Thankfully I had the answer to the question he was looking for. His query sent me down a rabbit hole and for about 7-10 days I dug further into the family history, finding things I never knew before. Genealogy is a lot of detail work in which one leaves a lot on the fall because one is not entirely certain if the piece of data is correct. When in doubt, leave it out.

I noticed on the family tree back in July that my great-grandmother was born on October 28, 1896, 125 years ago today. That was one week before the first William McKinley vs. William Jennings Bryan presidential election. She died on October 29, 1986, one day after her ninetieth birthday. If you are keeping track, that is 35 years ago tomorrow. When I noticed that three months ago I jotted it down in my daily planner and told myself I would email 5-6 people in the immediate and extended family with this information. Early this morning I did just that. My own father repeatedly told us when his health began to fail that he did not expect or want us to dwell exceedingly about him once he left this world. He emphasized that life was for the living and that we should live ours while we still can. I have taken that to heart. Still, I carry his legacy, as well as those like my great-grandmother, who I faintly remember, with me. If you have not done any of your own family history, I would encourage you to do so. What is more, I would start as soon as possible before those who might remember important details are gone. It is later than you think. Today my own work paid off when I was able to share the life and memory of someone a few of us remember from an earlier time in our own lives.