The wheels of progress . . .

I got to work yesterday morning and when I logged into my computer and checked my email noticed a message about a journal article I had submitted in December 2014. I remember trying to wrap it up before the holidays. The email had come through earlier that very morning, in between the time I checked my inbox over coffee here at home and the time I had taken the subway to the college. The message, so out of the blue, was from the editor of a journal saying that they intend to publish my submission in their next issue. Needless to say this news was as welcome as it was unexpected. Editors have a tough job and their timelines have their own logic that is unknown to the submitter. I had all but written the thing off. Even better, the editor had read the manuscript with a light hand and made some helpful suggestions, giving me the final cut if you will. He did not ask for any major revisions, add his own voice, or–way worse–turn it into something I had never written. I then sent in on to a few folks to read–it had been a while–to see if they had any thoughts or suggested revisions. They gave it the all clear.

When I got home last night I went through iPhotos and found the images I had long ago intended to submit for the project. I organized the photographs, wrote a few prospective captions, and emailed them in. I then gave the latest draft a read, incorporated the editor’s revisions, added a few of my own, and put it aside for the night to sleep on it. One thing I never do is submit anything late in the evening; one is more tired and distracted by that time than one realizes. Finally this morning over coffee I gave it one last read and emailed the article in. I don’t want to give away any details at the moment, but if the piece indeed reaches publication I will mention it here on the blog. One learns never to take these things for granted. We shall see how it goes.

“The Livest Magazine in America”

I came across this piece the other day. It is a February 1917 advertisement for Metropolitan Magazine advising subscribers, and potential subscribers, to get their accounts up-to-date before the subscription rates go up. What drew my eye was the line near the bottom admonishing: “Don’t Forget! THEODORE ROOSEVELT writes EXCLUSIVELY for the METROPOLITAN.”

Metropolitan Magazine advertisement, Brooklyn Daily Eagle Feb 18 1917

Metropolitan Magazine advertisement, Brooklyn Daily Eagle Sunday 18 February 1917

It is often lost on us that Roosevelt first-and-foremost saw himself as a writer, and not just in a theoretical sense; he relied on his writing to pay the bills, maintain a large house, and provide for a wife, six kids and growing brood of grandchildren. That said he also appreciated the power that a regular writing gig offered him in getting his views out, especially after losing the bully pulpit. Roosevelt began at The Outlook just days after leaving the White House in 1909 and by the mid-1910s was producing a monthly column for the Metropolitan. Theodore Dreiser, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Jack London and John Reed were just a few of the other contributors to what the publishers called “the livest magazine in America.”

This February 1917 advert emphasized Roosevelt’s exclusivity to the Metropolitan but actually he did not stay with the magazine much longer. Events relating to the Great War were now moving so quickly that the monthly format was no longer practical for Roosevelt. In late summer the Kansas City Star began to woo the Colonel and in early October he published the first of his weekly editorials about the war for that newspaper, with a focus on what he saw as Woodrow Wilson’s poor response to the conflict. He stayed with the Star until the end of his life fifteen months later.

(image/Brooklyn Daily Eagle)

Today in history: Colonel and Mrs. Roosevelt visit Governors Island

Civilian Plattsburgh participants march on Governors Island with broomsticks, February 1917. It is not clear from the original Brooklyn Daily Eagle caption if this image was taken the day Colonel Roosevelt turned out at Governors Island on 17 February 1917 to meet Leonard Wood and give his support to the men.

Civilian Plattsburg participants march on the Governors Island parade ground with broomsticks, winter 1917. It is unclear from the original Brooklyn Daily Eagle caption if this image was taken the day Colonel Roosevelt turned out at Governors Island on 17 February 1917.

Over the past century and a half many American presidents have visited Governors Island either before, during or after their administrations. Theodore Roosevelt visited one hundred years ago. His purpose was to meet the Commander of the Department of the East Major General Leonard Wood. Wood of course had been helping with the organization of the Plattsburg Preparedness camps that had taken place in Upstate New York over the previous few summers. With unrestricted German submarine now again a reality Preparedness was taking on increasing urgency. And so on the afternoon of Saturday 17 February 1917 Theodore and Theodore Roosevelt took the ten-minute ferry from Lower Manhattan. Roosevelt’s appearance was quite public; the former commander-in-chief received not one but two twenty-one gun salutes.

The Roosevelts had lunch with Wood and other dignitaries and watched a group of forty Plattsburg men, whom Roosevelt referred to as “rookies,” drill. The Plattsburgers apparently had been drilling most Saturdays for some time. One of the most striking things about the drill to Roosevelt was that the men had no rifles; instead they carried broomsticks as they marched. Not one to mince words, especially when given a chance to take a shot at Woodrow Wilson, Roosevelt had something to say on the matter for the assembled journalists, averring that he was “filled with wonder and shame that a great people like ours should be in such a state of unpreparedness” as the country headed toward war.

On a happier note enjoy your Presidents Day Weekend, everyone.

(image/Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 20 February 1917)


Talking about Ted Roosevelt the first Saturday in March

THRB flyer (March 4, 2017)As some know, when the Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace reopened last October I made the decision not to return on a weekly basis. The primary focus is on getting the book done. Still, I have not completely severed my ties, contributing some for the site’s social media platforms for instance. One thing I ran past the powers-that-be way back while the renovation was still going on was talking in a more formal setting from time to time. I am happy to say that today the first of those talks got the official approval. Should you happen in New York City on Saturday March 4 come out for a presentation by yours truly about the writing and publishing career of Ted Roosevelt. This is a fascinating and relatively unknown story, which begins in March 1919 with his return from the trenches of France during the First World War and ending 25 years later with his death in France during the Second. Remember, Ted’s grandparents were the homeowners of what we now call the TRB.

Grinding out these winter days

Another day winds down

Another day winds down.

My college was closed today for Lincoln’s Birthday, which because it fell on a Sunday this year we got the Monday off. I quipped to a student the other day that our 16th president was so great that we get his birthday off ever when it’s not his birthday. I am trying to make the most of these winter days. A small group of us had a productive telephone meeting this morning about this coming September’s Doughboy Day at Governors Island. Mark your calendars for September 16-17. I am involved in some aspects of this but hasten to add that others have taken the lead. I have been taking a step back from some things to work on the Roosevelt Senior book. It was also why I asked my department chair a few months ago if I could step back from teaching this semester. The WW1 documentary is the other big focus, which too seems to be falling into place. It helps when one is collaborating with good people.

Today I wrote 900 words and crossed the 30,000 barrier. I am more than half way there on the draft and feel it is coming together. Throw in doing the laundry and going into Manhattan to run a few errands and it made for a full day. My idea is to put my head down and grind things out over these winter months. I would love to get to 55,000-60,000 by Memorial Day. The days just come and go so fast and if you don’t put in the work the opportunity in that moment is just gone. It has been a lot of toil but I must say I am enjoying it.

Turning to Lincoln on the brink of war

Lincoln to Wilson, 12 February 1917: "Let us have faith that right makes might . . ."

Lincoln to Wilson, 12 February 1917: “Let us have faith that right makes might . . .”

I wrote last week of the dramatic turn in American diplomacy after the German renewal of unrestricted submarine warfare in late January 1917. Today is February 12, Abraham Lincoln’s Birthday, and as the United States drifted toward war one hundred years ago Americans took pause to think of Lincoln and his legacy. It is important to remember that this was only fifty-two years after the Great Emancipator’s death and that there were still many people living who remembered the sixteenth president first hand. That remembrance was not always positive. This was both the nadir of Jim Crowism and the High Water Mark for the Lost Cause. How the sons and grandsons of those defeated by Mr. Lincoln’s Army might respond to a draft and an overseas deployment was of concern to many. Lincoln’s oldest son Robert was himself still around and rigorously guarding his father’s legacy. The Lincoln Memorial was still five years off.

The Monday 12 February 1917 Brooklyn Daily Eagle captured the gist of prominent clergyman Samuel Parkes Cadman's talk about Lincoln and the increasing threat of war.

The Monday 12 February 1917 Brooklyn Daily Eagle captured the gist of prominent clergyman Samuel Parkes Cadman’s talk about Lincoln and the increasing threat of war.

The newspapers, pulpits, and public spaces were full of stories about Lincoln that week. The Sunday 11 February 1917 New York Times ran an article about Lincoln’s Cooper Union speech, which the presidential candidate from Illinois had given in February 1860 when it looked like America might well go to war against itself. That article was accompanied by an extended excerpt from muckraker Ida Minerva Tarbell’s ongoing biography of Lincoln. The Reverend Dr. S. Parkes Cadman of Brooklyn’s Congregational Church gave a talk that same day at a local YMCA pondering what Lincoln might do if he were in Woodrow Wilson’s place. As the Brooklyn Daily Eagle recounted the next day, Cadman concluded that he had no idea. Cartoonist Edwin Marcus captured Wilson’s plight as he sits at his desk turning the calendar from February 11th to Monday the 12th with Lincoln’s ghost hovering above. The text is difficulty to make out but it is the closing line of Lincoln’s February 1860 speech at the Cooper Institute: “Let us have faith that right makes might and in that faith let us to the end dare to do our duty as we understand it. Lincoln.” Intentionally or not, Marcus captures the loneliness of Wilson’s predicament.

(images/top, Library of Congress; bottom, Brooklyn Daily Eagle)


Taking pause on this snow day

The New York Times captured the June 1945 wedding of Theodora Roosevelt.

The 9 June 1945 New York Times captured the wedding of Theodora Roosevelt.

We are having our first snow day of the year here in Brooklyn. I got the call last night that our college was closed today. I can hear the snow trucks clearing the roads as I type this. It’s a nice little pause after the push that has been the first ten days of the semester. I intend to write 750 words today on the Roosevelt Sr. book. An interesting bit came through my email alerts the other day: this New York Times article about the June 1945 wedding of Theodora Roosevelt, daughter of Archie and granddaughter of Theodore, to artist Thomas C. Keogh. Ms. Roosevelt was a June bride but the story is more interesting than that; the wedding came just one month after V-E Day and less than a year after the death of her uncle, Ted Roosevelt. Theodora was not a war bride per se–Keogh was born in San Fransisco–but the marriage fit into the trend of quick matrimony coming as the war winded down. That is of course what led to the Baby Boom. It is interesting how this phenomenon took place after the Second World War but less so after the First. Perhaps a reason so many GIs in Europe took local brides is that the Americans had such a huge presence in England in those years prior to the D-Day invasion. So pressing was the issue that Congress eventually passed the War Brides Act in December 1945. There is a story here somewhere.

I did not know who Theodora Roosevelt was until reading this the other day. A little digging shows that she and Keogh divorced in the mid-1960s and that she remarried twice. Theodora Keogh died in 2008. This 2011 Paris Review article informs us that she was Alice’s favorite niece. Following in the great Roosevelt literary tradition Theodora was also a prolific author, in her case a novelist who authored no less than nine books. She was a quite striking woman who had the quick smile and natural grace that some in her extended family exuded with such ease.

Thinking of Mr. Donini in a post-fact world

Harlem newsstand, 1939

Harlem newsstand, 1939

Sometimes a teacher says something that he forgets before lunchtime but that stays with a student for a lifetime. This can be true even if the impressionable young person does not understand the gravitas of the statement for years. Three plus decades ago my best friend and I were sitting in our 11th grade English class when our instructor, Mr. Donini, said in passing that when we the class reached full-blown middle age newspapers as we know them would be obsolete. He was referring to the move from print to digital, and it was an extraordinarily prescient comment for a person to make in the early 1980s.

Changing the subject a little, I will point out that much of the content here on this blog comes from historical newspapers, themselves originally in print but now digitized and available online. One newspaper upon which I rely heavily is the original Brooklyn Daily Eagle, which happened to have been across the street from where I work today in Downtown Brooklyn. It was one of the great American dailies from the mid-nineteenth through mid-twentieth centuries. Last semester my colleague and I took our class on a tour of the Brooklyn Public Library, where among other things our guide took us down to see the BDE morgue, the rows and rows of file cabinets filled with yellowing clips of stories organized and classified with great attention to detail.

The reason I say all this is because in the post-truth world we live in today facts and details matter. It seems that supporting the first draft of history is more important than ever. Otherwise how will the people of the late-twenty-first and early-twenty-second centuries–our children and grandchildren–make sense of our own life and times after we are gone? How will we make sense of it? For that reason I subscribed this morning to the digital version of the Washington Post. My primary reason is to keep up more closely with current affairs, but it’s not all for that. I love DC–my grandparents lived there for a decade during the Depression and WW2, and my mother was born there–and so I registered for the National Digital + DC Edition. In this way I can keep up with the goings-on at the various museums as well as Washington Nationals baseball. Spring training does start in just a few weeks. That said, my real reasons are to better understand our current moment and to support the expensive and hard work that journalism entails.

We have become accustomed over the past 10-15 years to receiving our music, our journalism and our podcasts for free. This complacency is dangerous. I am hardly the first one to be saying this in these times, but we need to reexamine our assumptions and think harder about supporting those things that keep us plugged into our world.

(image/New York Public Library)

3 February 1917: a turning point

President Wilson speaks to Congress on 3 February 1917 announcing the severing of relations with Germany

President Wilson speaks to Congress on 3 February 1917 announcing the severing of relations with Germany

The Great War reached a major turning point in the first week of February 1917. To the horror of German Chancellor Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg, on January 31 Kaiser Wilhelm II allowed his military leadership to resume unrestricted submarine warfare against the Allies and their supporters. It was not quite the final straw for the United States; the pacifist sentiment among a majority of Americans was still too great. The New York Peace Party, for one, implored President Wilson to explore every measure for avoiding entrance into the war. Wilson was caught in the middle of several competing military and political forces, domestically and abroad. One hundred years ago today at 2:00 pm President Wilson addressed a joint session of Congress announcing the severing of diplomatic relations with Imperial Germany.

For all the talk among Preparedness advocates–not least Theodore Roosevelt–that Wilson was doing too little, the sitting president had been increasing America’s military readiness for much of the past year, especially with the appointment of Newton Baker as Secretary of War the previous March. It would take a few sinkings and the Zimmerman Telegram to finally bring America fully into the war. No one knew it at the time of course, but Wilson would address Congress asking for a declaration of war less than two months later on April 2.

(image/Library of Congress)

Living–and telling–history

Museum of Jewish Heritage, 29 January 2017

Museum of Jewish Heritage, 29 January 2017

This past Sunday morning I was at the Museum of Jewish Heritage on the Battery to see my friend Sami Steigmann participate in a ceremony to remember the Holocaust and other crimes committed in Europe in the twentieth century. Sami Steigmann was born in 1939 in Bukovina, one of those regions whose nation status changed hands numerous times in that span during and after the World Wars. The other day I wrote about the 135th anniversary of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. That may seem like ancient history, but it is incredibly humbling to meet people like Sami Steigmann, whose lives were changed through the decisions made by the leaders of the twentieth century. Sami and his parents were imprsoned in a concentration camp, where as a toddler he was the victim of medical experiments. Just typing these words is difficult.

Sami Steigmann being interview, January 2017We have known Mr. Steigmann for eight years now. I even wrote a book chapter about it that was published last year during the 100th anniversary of the founding of the National Park Service. I am glad to see that Sami is becoming an increasingly prominent national figure. Even while we are still early in the new year, his 2017 calendar is already filling up with speaking engagements. And why not? Still a relatively young man in his mid-seventies, he is uniquely positioned to tell a personal narrative of the mid twentieth century in a way that few people today can. Sunday’s event had just the right balance of seriousness and levity. There was even a young all-male song and dance troupe of boys strongly reminiscent of what one might have seen at a borscht belt camp ground circa 1955, and that’s a compliment. When it was all over I didn’t stay long. The crowd to meet Sami was so deep that I said a quick goodbye and headed out the door into the January light.