Sunday morning coffee

One of the most rewarding things about volunteering with the Park Service, in addition to collaborating alongside the amazing rangers who work there, is meeting the public. Everyone visits a site bringing their own expectations to what they hope to get out of it. For some that means using the bathroom and leaving without saying a word, which is fine. Others however visit on some sort of mission or purpose. We had a few of these yesterday at Federal Hall. Here are two:

Two fellows came in from rural Pennsylvania in mid-afternoon. I showed them around and then got into a longer conversation with one of them. He told me had never thought much about history until earlier this year, when his sister discovered a trove of letters written by an ancestor who had served in New Jersey regiment during the Civil War. One thing led to another and after some digging he discovered that his family roots date back in the New World to the 1640s. This knowledge in turn led him to studying not just the Civil War but the Early American period. Thus he and his friend were making the rounds of various historic sites. They were on their way to Fraunces Tavern after Federal Hall.

He told me his son lives in Brooklyn and therefore he comes to the city frequently. So I quickly jotted the names of further historic sites in various boroughs he might try to see when time permits. I will never know if he follows through. Hopefully he will.

1989 presidential inaugral ticket

Later a man came in with his son and we too got into a conversation. As it turned out for decades, going back to the 1980s, he was a White House correspondent for a major newspaper syndicate. We got to talking about the evolution of the newspaper industry, which in turn led to a discussion of covering various historical events. I mentioned George H.W. Bush having been at Federal Hall in April 1989 to commemorate the 200th anniversary of Washington’s First Inaugural. The man mentioned that the event had been part of a larger project that took place over that year starting in January called “From George to George.” The retired journalist had an extraordinary amount of institutional memory.

Stories like the above are just two examples of the things one only gets from being at the place itself. People, at least some of them, come in reflective and eager to share what led them to come and experience the thing for themselves.


My summer Saturday mornings

Every Saturday morning since early June my routine is the same. During my commute I have to come to street level to change trains and when I do I stop quickly to get a few things at the green market. I say a few things because that is really all there is time for. Plus, because I’m on my way to work and then have the reverse commute later in the afternoon, I can’t be lugging too much stuff anyways. Some produce and a half gallon of cider is usually about it. Here are two pictures I took quickly this morning before hopping on the train.

The King Manor of Jamaica, Queens

King Manor, Jamaica Queens

I ventured to Queens today for a visit to the King Manor. It is part of my wider project to visit places affiliated in one manner or another with Federal Hall. The home belonged to Rufus King, one of the lesser known but well-deserving Founding Fathers. King was born in what is now Maine and fought in the Revolutionary War before serving in the Confederation Congress. He helped write the Constitution and then served in the First Congress, where he worked in the upper chamber alongside Philip Schuyler as a New York senator. His son John Alsop King took over the house after his father’s death in 1827. The name John A. King fang faintly familiar and when I got home I checked the draft of “Incorporating New York,” my manuscript about Civil War Era New York City, and realized he was a minor figure in my narrative; King the Younger was defeated by Edwin D. Morgan in the 1858 New York gubernatorial election. Until today though the name John A. King had just been a name in a history book. That’s why place is so important.

King Manor library

King Manor became a historic site in 1900, the house itself owned by the New York City Parks Department and managed by the King Manor Association. As best I can tell, this is still the arrangement 120 years on. A perusal of online newspapers shows the house was used rigorously for various things and by various organizations over the decades. This would make sense. Queens developed later than the other buroughs and there probably much less infrastructure where groups could have gathered. Jamaica was more Long Island than New York City. The Daughters of the American Revolution, for one, created a Rufus King Chapter in 1918 during the Great War that met at the spacious house. The D.A.R. met there for decades. Like much of New York King Manor struggled in the harsh years before gentrification. In 1973 some punk teenagers started a fire on the porch that almost burned down the then-almost 250-year-old house. Thankfully the custodian kept it in check before the firemen arrived and put it out.

The tour was led by an extraordinary young person who incredibly is still in high school. There is no way I could have pulled off something like that when I was that age. I asked the person when they began at the house and the answer was July, just last month. I had to ask again because I thought I’d heard wrong. The is something about watching Interpretation done well. And when it’s done by a person so young and just starting out, it is that much more incredible.


Marguerite Alice LeHand, 1896-1944

I hope everyone’s summer is going well. I know I have gotten away from the blog a bit but I have been doing some summer things. I have also been trying to finish a book chapter about Eleanor Roosevelt. It is almost done and I’ll turn it in to the editor sometime later in the week. It proved a little difficult to manage because when I stated at Federal Hall n early June I pivoted heavily to the Early American Period. I have no regrets and have learned a great deal. It has given me a more holistic understanding of American History, especially as I try to make sense of our own historical moment. Still, it has been a bit difficult moving from one era back to the other.

Missy LeHand holds up a dime given in the fight to find a cure for infantile paralysis, January 28, 1938

I did want to make certain to pause and remember one of the most important figures of the Roosevelt Era: Marguerite Alice “Missy” LeHand, who died on this day seventy-five years ago in 1944. Ms. LeHand was born in Potsdam, New York and grew up in the working-class Boston suburb of Somerville. She entered the Roosevelts’ world in her mid-20s around the time Franklin ran unsuccessfully for the Vice Presidency in 1920. Marguerite stayed on and proved invaluable after Franklin contracted polio in August 1921; while Roosevelt was seeking in vain for a cure that would never come, Ms. LeHand worked on his behalf. She was part of the inner circle, hanging out on the houseboat in Florida and settling in to her own room at Warm Springs. Ms. LeHand was a charter member of Roosevelt’s Cuff Links Gang, the small circle of early advisors during that Vice Presidential run to whom he each gave a set of gold cufflinks with his initials engraved on one and the recipient’s engraved on the other. Technically she was his secretary but she was so much more than that; when Roosevelt assumed the presidency she was for all intents and purposes the White House chief-of-staff. Had she been a man more people would have appreciated the role she played in his administration.Throughout the long administration others came and went; Marguerite LeHand stayed.

She suffered a debilitatingly stroke in 1941 just as the United States was on the verge of entering the war. FDR had little time to attend to Ms. LeHand as much as he would have liked, but he and Eleanor did make sure her needs were taken care of. She convalesced n the White House but after starting a fire with a cigarette and burning herself significantly she was sent back to Massachusetts. Eleanor Roosevelt, Felix Frankfurter, James A. Farley, and Joe Kennedy were just a few who attended her funeral.

(photograph by Harris & Ewing via Library of Congress)

New York’s Grand Procession, July 1788

New York City’s Federal Procession in support of New York State ratification of the Constitution, 23 July 1788.

In the manuscript of Incorporating New York, the book I have been writing about Civil War Era New York, I mention the July 26, 1788 New York State ratification of the U.S. Consecution. Isaac Roosevelt joined other Federalists such as Alexander Hamilton, John Jay and others in voting for the Constitution’s passage. Until this past Friday when at the New-York Historical Society, I had not heard of the Grand Procession that took place in New York City on July 23, 1788 in support of the Constitution. New York’s was not the first such procession; other locales had held them previously, some of them large, such as Philadelphia’s on July 4. New York had intended to hold its procession weeks earlier but the thing kept getting pushed back. By the time the procession rolled along on July 23 ten states had ratified the Constitution, one more than need to make it legally binding. Still, there was the significant issue of whether or not New York would join the republic.

The image we see here is from a mid-nineteenth century history book and is not entirely accurate, though they did pull a frigate called the Hamilton through the streets during the procession. We see it here passing through Bowling Green. On the left one can see the fence that is still there. On the left is Fort George, which was torn down in 1790. Cass Gilbert’s 1907 Hamilton Custom House, now home to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian, is there today. What I do not understand is the caption where it mentions the president and legislators watching from atop the fort. The First Congress would not sit, and Washington would not be sworn in as president, until April 1789. Perhaps these are the re-enactors of their time? Or maybe a projection to show what could be if New York ratifies? I do not know.

New York ratification of the Constitution was no sure thing. That is why things were dragging out for several weeks at the meeting in Poughkeepsie. This is an extraordinary moment in both New York and American history

(engraving/History of the City of New York: Its Origin, Rise, and Progress, Volume II via NYPL)

Saturday morning coffee

Revolutionary Summer runs through September 15 at the New-York Historical Society.

I hope everyone’s July has been going well. I’m having my morning coffee before heading off to Federal Hall in a bit. I think it’s going to be a busy one today with folks coming in to escape the heat. A friend is coming in for me to show him around, after which he and I are going to get a quick bite to eat before I go back. It will be a fun day.

A friend and I intended to visit a historic home in the Bronx yesterday but decided to pass for now with the heat wave now on. Instead we visited the New-York Historical Society to take in among other things the Revolutionary Summer exhibit. I took some pictures over the course of the day that hopefully will turn into social media posts for Federal Hall over the next week or so. We did not get to see the facsimile George Washington headquarters tent because they were not doing that this past Friday. It was just as well because that is an outdoor activity and with the temperature such as it is staying indoors was better and safer. I saw the original at the Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia last year and you could have heard a pin drop when the curtain went up. The N-YHS never fails to please and we spent many hours taking in the permanent displays, the LIFE exhibit, the show about the history of the Hudson Valley, and other things. It’s strange to have reached a point in my life where things that took place when I was a kid are regarded as “history.” Such it was with the Hudson Valley exhibit. I remember the initiatives in the the 1970s and 80s that led to the clean-up. It is so good that New Yorkers from Staten Island north up the river have been discovering their shore line again.

Enjoy your weekend and be careful in this heat.

District of Columbia Stadium, July 1962

JFK and Stan Musial meet before the start of the All-Star Game at District of Columbia Stadium, July 10, 1962.

I’m still reading the coverage about the late Jim Bouton. He led an extraordinary life. Though there was one game played yesterday, Major League Baseball fully starts its second half today with a complete schedule.

When we went to the Braves-Nationals game a few weeks back we took in some of the photographs and memorabilia on display showcasing the long history of baseball in the nation’s capital. It goes back well over a century. I don’t recall the above image being there but I stumbled across it yesterday and found it intriguing. It is John F. Kennedy and Stan Musial at the 1962 All-Star Game in the then sparkling new District of Columbia Stadium, renamed RFK Stadium after the assassination of Bobby Kennedy six years later.

From 1959-62 Major League Baseball played two All-Star Games each season. The proceeds went to the players’ pension fund. This was the first one, played on July 10, 1962. Musial had campaigned for Kennedy in the 1960 election, unlike the Red Sox’s Ted Williams, who was a Nixon man. LBJ is there in the right hand corner. From 1964-67, after the Kennedy assassination, Musial was chairman of the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports. I remember the Council vividly, and earning a patch in elementary school for doing five chin ups or what have you.

Kennedy was to throw out the first pitch. The AT BAT 24 on the scoreboard was the Pirates’s Dick Groat. Musial was forty-one years old when this photograph was taken and playing in his twenty-second All-Star Game. He came in as a pinch hitter in the sixth inning and broke a scoreless tie to give the National League a lead it would not relinquish. The Senior Circuit won the game 3-1.

Enjoy the second half.

(image/JFK Presidential Library and Museum)


Jim Bouton, 1939-2019

Jim Bouton as a Yankee in 1963

I have been texting a few people over the past hour about the death of Jim Bouton. I had read several years ago that he was suffering from a degenerative brain disease but his death, as death always does, came as a shock. His Ball Four was so much more than a “sports book” or tell-all, but really one of the great memoirs of its time. Published in 1970, Ball Four was part of the zeitgeist of the moment. As I told a friend earlier, I always loved the way Bouton stood tall against the likes of Mickey Mantle and Bowie Kuhn. At the end of the day there was nothing the Baseball Establishment could say or do. They knew it was true. And the truth has a value all its own.

I could go on talking about Bouton but instead will give him the last word. As the pitcher said in Ball Four’s closing line:

“You spend a good piece of your life gripping a baseball and in the end it turns out that it was the other way around all the time.”

(image/Baseball Digest, August 1963)

James Monroe’s Ash Lawn – Highland

Scholars at James Monroe’s Ash Lawn – Highland are incorporating the stories of the local African-American community into the history of the historic site. Many local residents descend from the original enslaved community at the Monroe estate.

One of the most fortunate things about volunteering at Federal Hall National Memorial this summer has been its broadening of my interests. The experience has less taken me in a different direction than expanded my awareness of American and even international history. This is especially true of the Revolutionary and Early American periods. I have a larger, more holistic approach to my scholarship than I did at the start of the summer, and really dating back to the beginning of the calendar year when we became members of George Washington’s Mount Vernon. Among other things I have been following the social media pages and online resources of various people and institutions with which I was unfamiliar just two months ago. One of them linked the other day to this extraordinary New York Times piece about James Monroe and the enslaved persons who lived and worked on his Virginia estate.

The parlor of Casa Bianca near Monticello, Florida. Some enslaved persons from Ash Lawn – Highland lived and worked here.

In a living example of Faulkner’s notion about the past being neither over nor past, it has developed that upwards of one hundred African Americans still live within a short distance of Ash Lawn – Highland, the 3,500 acre property Monroe purchased in 1793 while a U.S. senator from Virginia. Highland is adjacent to Jefferson’s Monticello. By all accounts as known today, Monroe did not father children in the manner Jefferson did with Sally Hemings; the Monroe connections to this local community relate to the conditions of servitude. Scholars have been piecing the history together over the past several years and adding this new knowledge to the interpretive experience at Ash Lawn – Highland, which is today owned by James Monroe’s alma mater William & Mary. The story extends further than Virginia however; to pay off debts Monroe sold some of his enslaved persons to an estate near Monticello, Florida in Jefferson County called Casa Bianca. Some of them, or more likely their descendants, showed up on census records and voter rolls after the Civil War. Read the whole thing.

(top image, RebelAt via Wikimedia Commons; bottom, State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory)

Happy 4th

Happy 4th of July. I’m having my morning coffee before heading to Federal Hall in a bit. I thought I would share these images from ninety years ago today. This is Governor Franklin D. Roosevelt at the dedication of the Tammany Society wigwam at Union Square and 17th Street on July 4, 1929. The 4th was Tammany’s biggest day of the year. Al Smith, among others, was there too, but by now Smith’s time had passed. The Happy Warrior had been a fixture at these Tammany Independence Day events for years, and was being touted by his Tammany brethren for the presidency for much of the 1920s at these 4th of July observances. Now on this Independence Day in 1929 Tammany was touting FDR as the next president, and in Smith’s presence no less. Ouch.

Tammany built this structure in the late 1920s while at the height of its power and influence. That they were forced to sell it less than fifteen years later, in 1943, demonstrates how quickly Tammany declined.

Go get some of what should be a beautiful summer day.