When people know of your interests in certain things they start sending news articles relating to those interests. Yesterday one came through my inbox about a dozen American American Revolutionary War soldiers whose remains were recently discovered in South Carolina. These were veterans of the Battle of Camden and likely from Maryland and Delaware. Those locales aren’t far from the Palmetto State, but to a young man who had likely never been more than 4-5 miles from the family farm it all would have all been distant and alien. For one thing, prior to the Revolution colonists paid more attention to events in London and the West Indies than they did to what was happening in the other North American colonies.
This is actually the second such story from the past year. Last August the remains of thirteen Hessians killed in the Battle of Red Bank were discovered in New Jersey. At the South Carolina battlefield, the remains of two soldiers fighting for the British—a Loyalist from North Carolina and Highlander from Scotland—were also discovered. Whether they were from the Carolinas, German principalities, France, Great Britain, the Six Iroquois Nations or somewhere else, one can only imagine what it’s like to lose your loved one so far from home. How much did the families ever even come to know?
One thing they have started doing with this more recent discoveries is taking DNA and other forensic samples in hopes of sharing the news with the descendants. Read more here and watch a brief video as well. Officials are having a ceremony this coming week. If there is coverage online, I will share it.
I am off today enjoying the waning days of spring break. The Mets are playing a get-away game this Wednesday afternoon against the Padres, which I have on the radio. I’m tidying up some notes, moving files around, and poking around in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle while listening to the game. Last week a friend and I went to Albany to take in a few museums. While there we encountered a woman working in a particular cultural institution whose family dates back centuries to the earliest days of the Dutch settlement in New Netherland. I was telling my friend that going to Albany expanded my sense of time and place for New York City and State history. In my newspaper queries I came across this fascinating small article from the February 19, 1929 edition of the Eagle in which officials gave to Governor Franklin Roosevelt deeds dating to the colonial and Federal periods for property owned in Lower Manhattan by his own Dutch ancestors. In an aside, I wrote an article about Isaac Roosevelt for the Journal of the American Revolution in 2019. I love how these things connect and wonder where these two deeds are today.
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Today is a big date in country music history: it was on April 3, 1948—seventy-five years ago—that the Louisiana Hayride debuted on KWKH out of Shreveport, Louisiana. By this time Nashville’s Grand Ole Opry was already firmly entrenched as the radio home of country & western music, which ironically created an opening for enterprising competitors. Detractors viewed the Opry as the staid powerhouse unwilling to put newcomers on the air or otherwise take risks. Opry management simply did not want to stray from the formula that had been paying dividends for so long. Radio, not television, still very much controlled the airwaves in the years immediately after the Second World War and there was no shortage of challengers to the Opry’s artistic orthodoxy. Into this breach stepped the 50,000 watt KWKH. The talent pool in the Hayride’s earliest weeks and months was somewhat weak, though Kitty Wells was a regular throughout the spring and summer of 1948. Things changed when a still relatively unknown Hank Williams made his Louisiana Hayride debut on August 7 before quickly moving on to greater heights elsewhere.
Many of the performers who graced the Shreveport Municipal Auditorium stage were mediocre at best, and Hayride shows were notoriously hit or miss. The program’s weakness however was also its greatest strength. The bean counters at the Ryman might never stray too far from the tried-and-true, but the Hayride management—with nothing to lose—was more than happy to take a chance on an unknown. The young Elvis played the Hayride numerous time. So did Johnny Cash, Slim Whitman, and scores of other innovators. Essentially anyone on the way up—or down—came through Shreveport and played the show. When the Opry let Hank Williams go due to his unreliability, it was back to the Hayride that he came. The Hayride was a weekly radio staple for a dozen years. On August 27, 1960 a pre-Hee Haw Grandpa Jones played an inspired cover of Jimmie Rodgers “Waiting for a Train” on the final night of the radio program. The Hayride did carry on in various incarnations and under different names for another decade or so, and even hosted such figures as Marty Robbins, Tex Ritter, Loretta Lynn, and the Louvin Brothers to name a few. Still, it was the period from 1948-1960 that holds the most cultural relevance.
One thing that came up repeatedly during both the dedications and small talk at Morristown National Historical Park yesterday was the upcoming anniversaries in the next few years. 2024 will mark the 150th anniversary of the Washington Association of New Jersey, who came into being in 1874 after purchasing the Ford Mansion. It was the WANJ who gave the house to the NPS in 1933. They were present yesterday participating in the events. Next year also brings the 200th anniversary of Lafayette’s 1824-25 tour of America, which I intend to write about quite a bit over the next two years. In April 2025 comes the 250th anniversary of Lexington and Concord. And of course in July 2026 is the Big One: the semiquincentennial of the Declaration of Independence. When I was researching at the Society of the Cincinnati last July I had talks with several people saying speakers were already being lined up, there and elsewhere, for all these things. I say all this because today is the 253rd anniversary of the Redcoats’ shooting of Bostonians on King Street. As we see from the broadsheet above, people were marking the anniversary of what we today call the Boston Massacre already in the years immediately after the incident. Dr. Church’s oration was three years after the massacre and nine months before the Boston Tea Party, which took place in December 1773.
It was sixty years ago today that Patsy Cline, Hawkshaw Hawkins, and others died in a plane crash in Camden, Tennessee. The first time I listened to Patsy in a serious way was one summer in the mid-1990s when, going through a tough stretch, I played one of the many anthology cd’s over and over each morning and evening after work. I have never cared for the countrypolitan style in vogue during her recording lifetime in which the labels added lush strings, backup voices, and other touches to slick the music up and make it more palatable to the respectable crowd now buying records to play on their new living room hi-fi sets. Her voice was so transcendent, however, that it rose above whatever white noise the producers surrounded it with. When one listens to Patsy Cline, the voice is all that matters. I can only imagine what it was like when she was on the road with a small band in front of an intimate audience and everything was working.
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I had a good time in New Jersey today at the ninetieth anniversary celebration of Morristown National Historical Park. Although we usually associate Franklin Roosevelt with the shifting focus on the national parks from the West to the East, it was actually Herbert Hoover who began the process. The lame duck executive signed the enabling legislation creating the first national historical park on March 2, 1933 in the waning days of his presidency. MORR is one of the gems in Park Service system, and spread across several locations as it is has something for everyone. Above we see the ribbon cutting that took place after this afternoon’s keynote address. The historical park is having a number of events throughout the year. In fact, on Saturday June 17 a guy with my initials will be giving a talk in the museum behind the Ford Mansion. The topic is based on an article I recently wrote about a project undertaken for a decade in the 1910s and 1920s sponsored by the Brooklyn Daily Eagle in cooperation with the National Park Service.