Baseball’s brief European moment

The United States was not yet involved in the Great War when the Boston Red Sox won the World Series in 1916. Still, Canadians were playing the game overseas in military leagues. Note Babe Ruth sitting fourth from the left.

The United States was not yet involved in the Great War when the Boston Red Sox won the World Series in 1916. Still, by this time Canadian and other colonial troops were already playing the game overseas in their own military leagues. Note Babe Ruth sitting fourth from the left.

They are playing the All Star game tonight in San Diego. During the Great War the best individual players of the American League did not yet play their counterparts from the Senior Circuit in the game that traditionally marks the half way point of a season. That is probably because the World Series itself had begun only in 1903 and the game was still institutionalizing itself. Still, even though the United States had not entered the war by 1916, baseball was catching on overseas; it was the war’s second summer and Canadians had brought the game with them when they packed their old kit bags and headed off to fight the Hun. There were even military leagues comprised of Canadians and other men from the colonies playing one another.

Wounded Canadians pose in Mrs. Astor's hospital, circa 1915

Wounded Canadians pose in Mrs. Astor’s hospital, c. 1915

Men in uniform brought baseball to many corners of the globe over the course the twentieth century. The U.S. occupations of Latin and South America are what led to the rise of the Dominican, Puerto Rican and other Hispanic stars we see today. Baseball’s popularity expanded in Japan after 1945, though I hasten to add that the baseball was already going strong with the Japanese even in the 1920s and 1930s. William Howard Taft noted in the 1910s, after his presidency, that Filipinos were picking up the game during his years as Governor-General of the Philippines. Americans entered the Great War in 1917 and when they did of course brought their bats, balls, and gloves with them. Even stars like Ty Cobb ended up in uniform.

It is curious why the game did not stick permanently with Europeans after the war. Perhaps it was because the countries were too devastated and the populations of young men too damaged to take up the pastime. Or maybe cricket, soccer, cycling and the like were just too entrenched. Or maybe it was a combination of all these things. Again, I don’t know. We can only wonder might have happened to international baseball had the game not had more a fleeting moment in the sun during the First World War.

(images/Library of Congress)

Evans Road

IMG_3273Last week I posted an image of the plaque dedicated to James C. Andes on Governors Island. Yesterday I strolled down the southern part of the parade ground to take this image of the monument to Ewin V. Evans. This is just north of the Chapel of St. Cornelius. It is so quiet on the island before that first public ferry boat, and with the Manhattan skyline standing there looking like a cardboard cutout on a bright day the moment is sublime.

Like Andes, Evans was a 2nd lieutenant in the 16th Infantry Regiment. Evans was killed the day after Andrews during the Battle of Soissons. At least with the 16th, what the Army did was place a tablet on a boulder and name the facing road after said individual. It’s something that most–as in virtually all–visitors to the island walk past without realizing. From what I understand someone I know is contemplating a larger project with the various 16th Infantry and other tablets spread out across Governors Island. I do hope comes to pass. Over the rest of the summer, leading up to our World War 1 day scheduled for September 17, I am going to take a photo of as many as I can an post them here.

Evans's boulder and the road named in his honor

Evans’s boulder and the road named in his honor

Thinking of the Somme on this July day

I have been plugging away so hard on the Civil War New York book this summer that it may seem like I have gotten away from the Great War centennial. I can assure you however that that is not the case. I first saw this clip over at Kevin Levin’s Civil War Memory blog the other day and thought I would share it going into the weekend. The British have held some quite moving centennial events marking the events of 1914-18.  Of course we have been fortunate to have some memorable programs here in the United States as well, including the wonderful program held last May here in New York marking the anniversary of the sinking of the Lusitania. It will only get more intense in April 2017 when we mark the entrance of America into the war. Enjoy this brief clip, and your weekend as well.

Route 15 to Gettysburg: a Strawfoot interview

The_Penn_Motel,_U.S._Route_15_at_the_Penna._Turnpike_--_Gettysburg_Inter-change_--_5_miles_south,_Harrisburg,_Penna_(89308)Over the weekend I read a fascinating memoir called Route 15 to Gettysburg: A Journey. The author is John Thomas Ambrosi, a retired Marine Corps officer who grew up in Rochester, New York. JT has traveled the road dozens of times over the past several decades and as seen many changes both on the battlefield and along the route to get there. Gettysburg is roughly equidistant from Rochester to Quantico, Virginia, which made visiting convenient during his military years. Gettysburg still resonates with JT today and continues to play a large role in his life. What I found so intriguing was the way he incorporates the battlefield and its rich history in with other events: his growing up years, his service in Desert Shield and Desert Storm, his family history, Rochester’s changing circumstances, and all the things he has seen over the years traveling Route 15 to Gettysburg. JT recently sat down and generously answered a few questions.

The Strawfoot: Your memoir is about Route 15. Where does this road begin and end, and what has it meant to you?

John Thomas (JT) Ambrosi: A lot of my life has been spent on and around the northern portion of Route 15 in New York and Pennsylvania but Route 15 extends much farther than that. It stretches almost 800 miles from Rochester,
NY to Walterboro, SC. Because of its proximity to my home and
Gettysburg, it became a natural focus for my memoir. The road acts as
a symbol tying together my childhood in Rochester, my love of studying
the battle of Gettysburg and my career in the US Marines as I used it
to travel to and from Marine training in Quantico, VA.

When did you decide to write the book?

I had just finished up a wonderfully productive decade at a local
telecommunications firm and wanted to try something else. So, while I
transitioned, I decided to put my thoughts on paper. It was a lot of

When you were younger were you conscious of Route 15 as
a heritage tourism destination?

No. Researching for the book opened my eyes, though. Route 15
intersects with quite a few remarkable geologic and historical places
in the eastern United States.

It is almost like there are two Route 15s, one through
scenic southern Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia and another
farther north through post-industrial America. You grew up in
Rochester in the 1970s. A major theme in your memoir is how towns like Rochester went from prosperity to Rust Belt malaise fairly quickly.

It’s so true. Rochester is a much different place now than it
was in the early part of the 20th Century. There are several complex
reasons why but mostly its because of the loss of manufacturing, white
flight to the suburbs and the concentration of poverty in the center
city. You see it in a lot of places in the northeastern United
States. The city is trying to make a come back, though. There are
lots of new developments and what is particularly exciting is the
number of new residential units going up in the city. But, it’s a
long, tough row to hoe. Route 15, the northern portion anyway, tells
the tale of Rust Belt America.

IMG_2454This was also the post-Vietnam era. Did you find your
interest in Gettysburg at the time to be anomalous?

In hindsight, interest in American military history would have
been anomalous but I was too immature to think about it that way in
high school and, frankly, probably wouldn’t have cared. As an aside,
my experience coming home from the First Gulf War was accentuated by
the number of Vietnam veterans who showed up to the airport and at our
parades/celebrations because they wanted us to feel welcome back in
our country. That was simply awesome. Those guys deserved so much
and the country treated them badly. But, they put their past in the
rearview mirror and said, “Never again.”

How, if at all, did being a Marine influence your
views on Gettysburg?

Quite a bit. Being in the military teaches you not only tactics
but how to understand terrain, weather, etc. and how those factors
influence a battle. You can better understand why the decision makers
at Gettysburg did what they did. For example, why did Dan Sickle’s
decide to disobey General Meade’s orders on July 2, 1863 and push his
3d Corps out to the Emmitsburg Road? You get a different perspective
of that when you look at the terrain through military eyes.

Uniformed Service Persons are a frequent sight on the
battlefield. Indeed staff rides were a stated reason for putting Civil
War battlefields under the jurisdiction of the War Department in the
1890s. Ways of war change over time, but did Gettysburg have any
lessons for you as a Marine officer?

Absolutely. The Marines call an attack like Pickett’s Charge
the “Hey, diddle, diddle, right up the middle.” It’s one of the
simplest, and deadliest, forms of maneuver. It’s not the preferred
way to go after bad guys but sometimes you have no choice. Also,
required reading at officer training was Michael Shaara’s “The Killer
Angels.” It’s a tired and, perhaps, trite phrase but those who forget
history are indeed condemned to repeat it. The Marines do a great job
making sure their officers study the past and learn from it.

Col. Patrick H. O'Rorke memorial, on 140th NY Infantry monument (1889), Little Round Top

Col. Patrick H. O’Rorke memorial, on 140th NY Infantry monument (1889), Little Round Top

Tell us about Patrick O’Rorke and what he means to you?

A transplanted Irishman. His family made their home in
Rochester. He worked hard and got a ticket to West Point. He
excelled there and was quickly promoted after graduation. He was a
natural fit to command the 140th NYVI made up of men recruited in his
native Rochester. He and his regiment were headed out to bolster Dan
Sickle’s collapsing 3d Corps line on July 2, 1863, when the Union
Army’s Chief Engineer, seeing a bad situation developing on top of
Little Round Top, ordered him and his regiment to that peak’s defense.
It was in the nick of time too as Hood’s Texan’s were almost to the
peak. As he led the charge to repel them, a Confederate minie ball
hit him in the neck and he died on that hill. But, the 140th stopped
the attack. He is buried here in Rochester and I am a member of the
Patrick O’Rorke Memorial Society which keeps his name in the public
eye. He is a true American hero.

You were in Gettysburg the weekend after 9/11. What
was that like?

Two memories jump to the front. First, I remember the thousands
of people lining Route 15 in Pennsylvania just waving flags and
showing support for America. The second memory imprinted on my brain
is the eerie sight of contrails of jet aircraft back in the sky after
the attacks. The US had grounded all air travel for a couple of days.
But, when we arrived in Gettysburg on Friday evening the week of the
attacks, the jets traveling that particularly busy east-west corridor
painted a beautiful picture in the sky as the sun set over South

Since the publication of the book have you learned the
whereabouts of the banner from the U.S.S. Constellation?

I was serving as executive officer of the Marine Detachment on
board USS Constellation, a Vietnam era aircraft carrier. During a
visit to the Philippines, I had some local craftsman make me a banner
that we could hang in the Marine Detachment berthing. It was a
motivational piece of art quoting Henry’s band of brothers speech
before the battle at Agincourt. I never saw it again after I left the
ship and I’ve asked some of the Marines who served with me if they
recall where it went. No luck. Constellation is no longer around.
She was decommissioned and torn apart for scrap. I hope the banner is
in good hands!

Is there anything else you would like to add?

You too are a student of history and guys like me appreciate your
work in keeping people interested in it. Good luck with your work and
your blog and I appreciate you contacting me.

(images/Penn Motel by Mellinger Studios, Lancaster, PA; O’Rorke by Doug Kerr of Albany, NY, uploaded by GrapedApe; both via Wikimedia Commons; other image taken by The Strawfoot)

Happy 4th

IMG_3263I was all Gettysburg and Vicksburg at Governors Island yesterday. Hancock, the Grants, Pemberton. So many of them spent time, often significant time, on the island in the years before and after the war. Many of the visitors to the island are casual visitors who know little of the place’s history. Most perk up when you help them make a connection, especially of 4th of July Weekend. I stopped in front of the Andes plaque and took these photos of the tablet dedicated to the doughboy from the 16th regiment who was killed at Soissons in July 1918. Eventually I am going to dig deeper into this one and send it off to Mark Levitch at the WW1 Memorial Inventory Project. The 16th had strong ties to Governors Island in the decades after the Great War. They were housed in Liggett Hall and left their legacy all over the place. It was the 16th that marched through Paris on the 4th of July 1917 to Picpus Cemetery in honor the Lafayette. I did also manage to squeeze the marquis in yesterday during my tour of Castle Williams, pointing across the harbor to Castle Clinton to show the group where Lafayette was fêted by enthusiastic New Yorkers in 1824.


Remembering Elizabeth Ann Seton this Gettysburg weekend

Today starts the 152nd anniversary of the Gettysburg Campaign. Alas we did not make it down to Pennsylvania this year but the campaign is not far from my mind. I thought I would share this post from two years ago about Elizabeth Ann Seton. Visiting her home and shrine during the centennial was something special.

One of the most intriguing things about Lower Manhattan, at least to me, is its juxtaposition of the old, often very old, and the new. Judging by the photograph in the previous post, one could be forgiven for not grasping this. In the midst of all those skyscrapers, however, right there on tip in fact, is the St. Elizabeth Seton Shrine. From afar one cannot see it amidst the much taller buildings, but it is there. Here it is close up, as I took it last week. The skyscrapers are clearly visible behind it. All of this is right across the street from the Staten Island ferry.

Shrine of Saint Elizabeth Anne Seton, 7 State Street

Shrine of Saint Elizabeth Anne Seton, State Street, New York City

Saint Elizabeth was beatified by Pope John XXIII in 1963 and canonized in 1975. In fact, she was the first native born American so designated. Seton was born Elizabeth Ann Bailey in New York CIty in 1774 just prior to the American Revolution. Her family bounced around a great deal during and after the war, living in Pelham, Staten Island, and in different spots in Lower Manhattan. At one time they lived next to Alexander Hamilton at 27 Wall Street. (Hamilton is buried in nearby Trinity Church, in an unmarked grave. ) She and her husband even fêted George Washington, on his sixty-fifth birthday no less.

Legend has it that the structure above may have been a stop on the Underground Railroad, though evidence proving so has not surfaced. It was used for the Union War effort during the Civil War. Here is the plaque  on the exterior wall.

Watson House plaque

Many of these buildings were torn down in the mid-twentieth century to make way for office space. That is New York City for you.

Here are a few more details.

Seton hanging plaque

Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton

Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton

The story is more detailed than I am writing here, but Elizabeth ended up converting to Catholicism, moving to Maryland, and founding the Sisters of Charity of St. Joseph’s in Emmistburg in 1809 . She died there in 1824.

Those who know their Gettysburg Campaign may know where I am going with this. The First and Eleventh Corps both passed through Emmitsburg hurrying on their way to the battle. The Sisters of Charity, with other locals, gave assistance to the Army of the Potomac in the form of food, rest, and information about the surrounding area. Here is the view of the terrain.

View from St. Joseph's College and Mother Seton Shrine, Emmitsburg, MD

View from St. Joseph’s College and Mother Seton Shrine, Emmitsburg

One of the most touching vignettes about the Battle of Gettysburg is the death of General John Reynolds. Reynolds of course died on July 1st, killed instantly by a bullet to the head. Unbeknownst to his family until just after his death, Reynolds was secretly engaged to a woman named Kate Hewitt. He was even wearing something like an engagement ring, engraved “Dear Kate”, when he died. After his death, Kate Hewitt joined the Sisters of Charity in Emmitsburg but disappeared mysteriously three years after the war.

The Hayfoot and I had wanted to stop here for several years and finally did this past June during the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Campaign. Gettysburg itself is about 6-8 miles up the road. It is an incredible story on so many levels.

Saint Elizabeth Anne Seton's final resting place, St. Joseph’s Cemetery

Saint Elizabeth Anne Seton’s final resting place, St. Joseph’s Cemetery

(St. Joseph’s College image/Mike Rakoski, NPS)

Olmsted’s Civil War

Olmsted in 1857

Olmsted in 1857 around the time he was to begin constructing New York City’s Central Park

Today marks a unique moment in Civil War and American history: Frederick Law Olmsted arrived in Washington D.C. from New York City on this date 155 years ago today. It is interesting to note that while he was one of the few predicting a long war and not the ninety day fight many forecast, he thought his own work with The Sanitary was only going to take six weeks or so. After that he would,he believed, go back and finish Central Park. The timing, for the country if not Olmsted, could not have been better; the Central Park commissioners had just significantly cut back his authority, which subsequently freed him total on the job of the Sanitary Commission secretary. Olmsted passionately believed in Union and an end to slavery, and I have a feeling the USSC secretaryship was not the means by which he most wanted to serve in putting down the rebellion. Had his health issues not been a hindrance,he might well have served in uniform.

Olmsted stayed on with the Sanitary Commission for two years and eventually left due to burnout and endless squabbles with his superiors, something that was a pattern with the intense landscaper artist. Still in those two years he set many of the procedures and precedents that carried on through the Great War via the Red Cross, the Second World War with the USO, and really on to the present day, albeit in different ways. It all began less than a month before the First Battle of Bull Run when Olmsted stepped off that train on June 27, 1861.

A Day in the Life…

IMG_1785At the beginning of the summer I added my chapter from The Wonder of It All into Academic Works with the help of a colleague at work. She recommended to me and others that we post our efforts on social media, etc. And so I figured I would link here to “What a Day with a Park Volunteer Can Do.” Essentially it is the story of how I came to Governors Island 5-6 years back. They asked us not to use names in our submissions. Here though I can say that the volunteer in the title is the great Sami Steigmann. Sami if you are reading this: we will do that interview sometime over the summer.

Treetones: a Strawfoot interview

There is a unique and thought-provoking art installation going on at Governors Island right now called Treetones. Governors Island is a fitting place for a show using trees. Native Americans called the island Pagannack, which was a reference to the abundant chestnut trees that then covered the island. The artist of Treetones is Jenna Spevack, who generously sat down and answered a few questions.

The Strawfoot: What is Treetones?

Jenna Spevack: Treetones, is a site-specific installation on Governors Island. Hand-sewn fabric wraps, made from tree rubbings, are tied to 12 different trees on the Island. Visitors are guided by a self-directed tour map to locate and identify the trees. They may also collect bark rubbings from each stop on the tour. Highlighted species include American Elm, Red Oak, Norway Maple, Horse Chestnut and London Plane. 

IMG_3210What was the inspiration for the installation?

I started my residency at the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council’s Process Space on Governors Island in March, before the trees started to leaf out. I had visited the Island before, in the summer, but hadn’t really noticed the trees. The lack of leaves accentuated the impressive size and distinctive shapes of the tree trunks and branches. I kept coming back to older trees, in awe of the age and the variations in bark; much of it deeply fissured and rough. It struck in me a sense of mortality, of the history of the Island, of my own life. The project was a way of bringing awareness to the trees and recognizing their endurance and strength.

IMG_3213How did you choose the trees?

I spent a lot of time at the start of my residency walking and biking the island, because I was doing research for another project, Overtones. I created maps of my walks and rides- identifying interesting routes and areas. I was drawn to the larger, older trees and was fascinated by bark. I started by making bark rubbings and discovered that subtle and not so subtle differences appeared in the rubbings. I then looked up the descriptions of the bark in tree identification books and loved the poetic descriptions, many reflecting on how the age of the tree changed or enhanced the appearance of the bark. For me, the character and attitude of the tree was defined by these visual and physical textures. In the end, I chose the trees for the project for their bark and for their locations around the Island.


This is a faraway photograph of the Honey Locust one sees directly above this image.

This is a faraway photograph of the Honey Locust one sees directly above this image.

What was the process of making the wraps?

I experimented with several different types of fabric and forms. I started with very simple muslin fabric wraps and then tried much louder sequined fabric flags. In the end I found something in the middle. I created bark rubbings on strips taffeta-type fabric using gravestone rubbing wax and then sewed them into bright orange sashes to draw attention to the trees. I created small pockets in each sash to hold the paper “give-away” rubbings. These tokens include a rubbing of that particular tree, the name of the tree and a short description of the bark.

Part of the experience of making the wraps was figuring out how to create a participatory installation for the visitors. The addition of the rubbings came about somewhat by accident while experimenting sewing. I like it when the act of making informs the final conceptual aspect of the project.

Yellow ribbons are a thoughtful detail.

Yellow ribbons are a thoughtful detail.

Have you done similar installations in the past. or is this a new direction for you?

Yes, I have completed similar public art and participatory installations.

“Birds of Brooklyn,” is an on-going, community-based audio artwork that brings the sounds of Brooklyn’s endangered and bygone birds to sites around the Borough to reconnect city dwellers with the natural sounds of the area and raise awareness about declining bird populations in urban environments. It was exhibited as a special project installation at the Pulse Miami / Art Basel art fair and is currently installed in locations in Brooklyn. [ ]

“Inside Out House,” a binaural audio installation embedded with sounds recorded in woodland and quiet agricultural landscapes. Using simulated blindness to enhance the aural sense, the project aims to mimic the restorative experience of being outside in nature using auditory stimuli. Viewers are invited to enter into the darkened structure and visualize their experience by contributing a drawing to the installation. It was exhibited at the BRIC Biennial and at CR10 Gallery in Hudson, NY.

Other participatory and public art projects can be viewed on

What is you next project?

I’m working on a public audio installation, Overtones, that aims to create aural connections to natural environments through the harmonic tones generated by wind harps discreetly installed in trees and abandoned buildings. I started research for this project while at my residency on Governors Island. More information:

When and how can people see Treetones?

Treetones is installed on Governors Island until June 30th.
For more information:


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