Happy Canadian Thanksgiving

Today is Canadian Thanksgiving. I have always assumed that it comes six weeks earlier than the American version because the growing season ends earlier north of the border, the holiday being based on the end of the season’s harvest. For this Thanksgiving observation I thought I would share this extraordinary photograph of Canadian troops Cambrai Cathedral (Notre-Dame de Grâce chapel) taken on October 13, 1918. As the image suggests this was in the midst of some of the hardest fighting of the Great War. This was less than a month before the Armistice though these members of the Canadian Expeditionary Force obviously had no way of knowing that at the time, 102 Thanksgiving ago.

(image/Archives of Ontario)

Fiorello La Guardia: Italian-American

Fiorello La Guardia in uniform, circa 1918

It’s a rainy holiday Monday. I am off but doing a few things in preparation for the coming week, which is filling up quickly. They posted my article at Roads to the Great War about Fiorello La Guardia, the second of two after one I did in April near the start of the shutdown. I wanted to return to La Guardia in recognition of Italian-American Heritage Month. Enjoy the day.

(image/Library of Congress)

Sunday morning coffee

This Sunday morning apropos of nothing I thought I would share this image I came across a few days ago when looking for images to share with our students. It comes from the August 1899 Elliott’s Magazine, which labeled itself “the official organ of the League of American Wheelmen.” No, I did not share this image, but found instead others that were more germane to the class itself. I love this image for two reasons: first off, I love old advertisements in general; and second, call me crazy but I also just love old hangers. Several years ago when I volunteered at a particular Park Service site there was a sturdy, wooden vintage hangar from Abraham & Straus on the clothes rack. I hazard that few who entered even knew what Abraham & Straus but to me it was a small piece of material culture from long ago. Even better, it wasn’t just for show; all these decades lates it was still doing its job: people hung their clothes on it just as the manufacturer intended. How and when did it get there, I always wondered. That people were still using it daily without a second thought was testimony to its being a Well Made Thing.

I love this particular image for a number of reasons. If one looks closely at the pants one will note that they have both side-adjustors and suspender buttons. Last week I dropped some items off at the dry cleaner for the first time in 6+ months. These included two old blankets that went unused over the summer and that I had cleaned in anticipation of fall, and the dress pants and shirts I have worn in recent weeks now that class has begun. I picked up yesterday. Even in the virtual classroom I wear slacks, dress shirt and tie. We’ll see if a coat too makes an appearance once the cooler weather truly arrives.

Wheelmen & Women, 1898

I showed this photograph to my class the other day, and also shared with some of the some of the staff and volunteers at Federal Hall and Grant’s Tomb because I knew the rangers and others would get a kick out of it. Here we see cyclists in front of the Tomb in 1898, just one year after the structure’s completion. The reason I showed it to class was because a group founded in 1880 called The League of American Wheelmen was largely responsible for the Good Roads Movement that led to better highways across the country. The group still exists 140 years later under the more-inclusive moniker League of American Bicyclists.

(image/NYPL Digital)

Thinking of Sharpsburg here in Brooklyn this anniversary

Alfred R. Waud rendering of a somewhat partially apocryphal Antietam scene

These past several days have felt increasingly like Indian summer, with cool mornings and evenings interspersed with warmish afternoons. Today, September 17, I can’t help but think of the 158th anniversary of the Battle of Antietam. The corn was tall and ready for harvest when Hooker’s First Corps came through The Cornfield at around 6:00 am with the first light. Usually on the day of the anniversary the Park Service has a number of all-day hiking tours and other events. It seems for this year they are doing a lot of virtual activities. I always get pensive around the time of the Antietam anniversary. It was the bloodiest day in American history, falls less than a week after the 9/11 commemoration, and just days before the official start of fall. Two future American presidents, Hayes and McKinley, were both there, as they had been at South Mountain.

I thought I would share another Alfred Waud image, this one too from the collection J.P Morgan bequeathed to the Library of Congress in 1919. It depicts the 14th Brooklyn, which indeed fought in The Cornfield, though I don’t think against Confederate cavalry.

Enjoy these waning days of summer, and take pause to remember the Battle of Antietam.

(image/Library of Congress)

Alfred R. Waud’s South Mountain

Village of Boonesboro–South Mountain in the distance where Burnside fought

Today is the 158th anniversary of the Battle of South Mountain, the struggle between the Army of Northern Virginia and the Army of the Potomac during the Maryland Campaign three days prior to the Battle of Antietam. When we think of visual imagery and the American Civil War we tend to think right away of Matthew Brady and other photographers. There is good reason for that, but sketch artists like Winslow Homer and Alfred R. Waud also shaped public perception. Here we see a rendering of the village of Boonsboro drawn by Waud during the fighting at South Mountain. This appeared in the October 25, 1862 edition of Harpers Weekly. Somewhere along the way J.P Morgan purchased this drawing, which in 1919 he gave to the Library of Congress with other Civil War sketches.

(image//Library of Congress)

Labor Day 1945

The surrender of Japanese Forces at Baguio, Luzon in the Philippines, 3 September 1945. This ceremony happened to fall on Labor Day.

One of the most iconic images of the twentieth century is the Japanese surrender aboard the USS Missouri on September 2, 1945, seventy-five years ago this week. Like Robert E. Lee’s surrender to U.S. Grant in April 1865 the Missouri ceremony became known as the end of the conflict, which basically it was. Still, as with Appomattox eighty years previously, there were still armies in the field that had yet to surrender there in the Pacific. Less well known in the popular consciousness is the Japanese surrender the following day in the Philippines at Camp John Hay in Baguio. General Tomoyuki Yamashita and Admiral Denshichi Okochi surrendered just after noon and were then taken to a prison in Manila. That ceremony fell on Monday 3 September 1945, which also happened to be Labor Day.

Everyone understood the historical moment that was the Japanese surrender, but the war’s end was as much a beginning as an ending. The real work, on so many levels, lay ahead; great uncertainty, and even violence, starvation and chaos, remained. In her “My Day” column that appeared the same day as the Japanese surrender in the Philippines, Eleanor Roosevelt averred that “I do not think Labor Day has ever been as important as it is this year. Ordinarily we think of this day as merely a pleasant holiday which gives us a long weekend in which to enjoy our last bit of country air before going back to work in the city. It is a pleasant holiday, but its significance is far greater than that.”

Wherever you are, enjoy your day.

(image/U.S. Naval Historical Center)


Sunday morning coffee

Embed from Getty Images


I hope everyone’s Labor Day Weekend is going well. I’m using the time to relax and catch up on a few things. This past week my colleague and I introduced our class to the New York City of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Because ours is an interdisciplinary class we divide up the elements, with broad allowances for overlap. Generally he covers the architectural and urban planning aspects and I cover the social and historical, though again there is much overlap and interconnection. We are trying to emphasize that the evolution of New York City is not just a story of steel and concrete, but of people. Our students were shocked to discover that today’s Penn Station is not the same one that existed decades ago only to be torn down and dumped into the swamps of New Jersey as scrap. It is always exciting when students learn something new.

Yesterday I was on Getty Images looking for various visuals that I might show the class this coming week to bring the story home of the dailyness that was the old Pennsylvania Station before its demolition in the 1960s. Getty is gracious in allowing individuals to use its embed feature for non-commercial purposes. The station was part of people’s lives, which many passed through in the course of their work and play. One picture I may use is the one we see here of Babe Ruth in Pennsylvania Station on February 24, 1928, presumably leaving for spring training. This of course would have been the year after the Murderers Row 1927 team. Still, the ’28 Yanks weren’t too shabby, winning 101 games and sweeping the Cardinals in the World Series.

Enjoy the rest of your Labor Day Weekend.

Tom Seaver, 1944-2020

Tom Seaver throws first pitch at City Field inaugural, 11 April 2009

I was listening to the Brewers game last night when Bob Uecker declared over the radio that pitcher Tom Seaver had died. For the remainder of the game Uecker and his boothmate, in between balls and strikes, had a discussion about Tom Terrific’s influence on the 1969 Mets, and on baseball over the course of the past 50+ years more generally. I had noted with great sadness a little over a year and a half ago when Seaver’s family announced that he had dementia and was thus retiring from public life. It was a combination of the dementia, Lyme disease, and COVID-19 from which he succumbed. I remember like yesterday when he threw his no-hitter for the Reds again the Cardinals in June 1978. It is no wonder Sparky Anderson, the Reds skipper that season, once famously declared that, “My idea of managing is giving the ball to Tom Seaver and then sitting down and watching him work.”

A friend of mine from where we grew up in Florida remembers meeting Seaver at what we used to call Little Yankee Stadium in Fort Lauderdale. (The stadium was so-named because the Yankees used to hold their Spring Training there.) Back in the day Spring Training was more laid back and one could get closer, even walk straight up to, a player waiting to get on the bus or what you. Seaver was leaning against a poll working on a crossword puzzle when my friend, probably all of twenty at the time, approached and got a gracious five minute audience with the pitcher. Seaver’s final season was 1986 when he played in Boston. His record that year wasn’t very good but I always felt he was a stabilizing force in what was a tumultuous season for the Red Sox as they closed in on the pennant. Unfortunately he got injured and so did not play in the post-season against the Mets, which would have been something.

More than just a pitcher and ballplayer, Seaver was a cultural force. There was just something about him that appealed to people’s better and wiser sensibilities. People connected with and through him. I was emailing with someone about all this today, who said that Seaver, and the Mets more generally, were the sole cultural connections he had with his father-in-law, an immigrant who’d fled persecution in Europe and settled in New York in the mid-twentieth century.

(image/Sgt Randall A Clinton USMC, via Wikimedia Commons)

Remembering the March on Washington

National Mall, Washington D.C., August 28, 1963

I am currently about 150 pages into Taylor Branch’s Parting the Waters: America in the King Years 1954-1963, the first volume in his trilogy about the United States in the 1950s and 60s seen through the lens of the Civil Rights Movement. I am currently in the chapter on the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Branch’s series has been on my radar for decades, without ever quite making it to the top of my reading list until now. There is something extraordinary when a historian researches and writes a story with such authority and grace. It is all the more rewarding, even humbling, when the subject matter is worthy of the writer’s skills.

Today is the 57th anniversary of the March on Washington. Over the years I’ve read and watched many first hand accounts of people who were there, including Bob Dylan, Nat Hentoff, Bill Russell, and Jackie Robinson just to name a few. Broadly speaking, I have always found the first half of the 1960s more socially, politically, and culturally intriguing than the second half. The later events may have been more dramatic and played out more graphically on television, but the seeds for them had been planted in the years immediately beforehand. These are events in our history that seem so far removed and yet so near at the same time.

(image/photographer Marion S. Trikosko for U.S. News & World Report, via Library of Congress)