Wednesday, October 06, 2010

How a sprained ankle changed the course of history

Few know that Henry Clay Frick and his wife were to join the RMS Titanic in April 1912. However Mrs.Frick sprained her ankle while traveling on the RMS Adriatic and they canceled their voyage on the Titanic. That amazing happenstance changed everything. For had they joined the ship it is most probable that Henry Clay Frick would have been lost. If that was so there would be no Frick Museum in New York City. So in this case a sprained ankle, changed the course of history, and saved for the world a great resource that has enhanced and changed the world.

Monday, August 16, 2010

The American Half Cent (another forgotten coin from America's past)

I have been on a kind of a coin jag as of late. I have rediscovered the coin collecting of my youth. I am not really into getting every coin of this and that year, but a sampling of various types to handle my curiosity on the subject. That brings me to this small post today on Half Cents. Yes today we care little or nothing of pennies and they are small and basically useless. They are made of zinc and coated with copper to make them affordable. But still they are too expensive. Let's go back 200 plus years to when the penny was not only useful but sometimes too much money! This is why there were half cents. A Penny bought a lot in the old days. I even recall as a boy buying penny candy in the store. Bubble gum was always a Penny and a candy bar was 6 cents. The half cent was about 2/3's the size of a standard penny of the time. I have expanded this picture to let you read the back of the coin. The Half Cent was around the size of the present day quarter. They were made well into the 19th century. The example here is from 1804.
The Penny of the time was massive. It was around the size of a Half Dollar. It was hard to carry change like this around. I have included this Penny from 1803 to give you an idea of the size of these monsters. The Penny would continue on till the 1850's in this massive size.
A Penny and half in change. You can see the difference in size and once again the massive size of these coins. So while we talk about the Penny, just think what it once was, and how expensive it would be to make today, let alone a Half Penny!

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Ancient Roman Silver coins

The Roman Empire is really a road map to many other Republics that have followed. When it was young it had great power and riches. As it grew and over extended itself, it started to rot from within. The coinage of Rome is a great example. In its early days of coinage and well into the 2nd century, coins were made of gold and silver. By the later days of the empire they were cutting back on how much silver was in the coin. Eventually just coating them in silver. By the time of the end of the Roman Empire the money was as pretty much worthless as the Empire itself. Here I thought I would share a view of a Roman Silver coin, from an age so long ago.

Monday, July 19, 2010

The United States 2 cent coin 1864-1873

Few coins are as forgotten as the two cent piece minted from 1864 to 1873. It was made at the end of the civil war and was the first coin made in the United States that had the motto "In God we trust". The coin was not a massively minted coin, in fact the greatest amount of minting of these coins were in their earliest years. The two coins I put here are from 1865. So I thought it would be fun to show you a coin that is very much a forgotten piece of American history.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Why we are at war. A book of the speeches by Woodrow Wilson leading to our involvement in WWI. Printed May 1917

This book was published a month after Wilson's declaration of war.

This war to end all wars just accelerated the process for war and many wars would result from its shadows.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

The New York Weekly Museum. A forgotten newspaper from America's past.

The Weekly Museum was a weekly paper dedicated to a little bit of this and that. By the end of the Madison administration it was no more. This paper is also filled with advertisements. The one that caught my eye was an early dentistry ad of offices on 114 Broadway. This gives you a chance to see a paper few ever knew existed and far more less have ever seen.

This issue was May 5, 1810

New-York Weekly Museum was published from September 20, 1788 - April 26, 1817. It was not a heavy duty paper, it was more about stories of the area and other easy going things. While going through the paper I found this early dental ad. I thought it interesting. It advertises the offices of Nathaniel Smith on 114 Broadway.

Why are there so many ancient Roman coins?

The main reason is that they were stored in such a way that so many of them survived. There was no such thing as bank vaults 2000 years ago. So what the Romans did and sometimes before them the Greeks, was to bury the coins in massive jars till they were needed. Well, by the 4 century AD there was not too much need for the coins and of course they were forgotten. Now over the last 40 or so years there have been massive amounts of these coins found. By the hundreds of thousands to be exact.

Ancient Roman coins are even owned by your humble writer here. However they really have, and I have to admit sadly, not the greatest value. But still there is a historic thrill when you hold one in your hand. Cause you know you are touching history.

Just within the last few months 52,000 Roman coins were found in a massive jar in England. There are many more still not discovered.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

In fairness to Aaron Burr, and time to show Jefferson and Hamilton were no better!

I am really tired of the beating Aaron Burr has taken historically. He is always portrayed as the bad guy to nice guys like Hamilton and Jefferson. I am tired of this rubbish. I am not saying Burr was a saint, but he was no worse than Hamilton or Jefferson.
In fact I think he was really a better person than Jefferson in many regards. Specially a more honest one.
Jefferson was one of the worst politicians to inhabit the White House. Today we call him a saint, the only reason for that is how little people really know about Jefferson. His actions as a vice President before hand were worthy of impeachment!

Hamilton was not much better, in fact he was nearly as bad a hypocrite as Jefferson, but not quite that bad.
With Jefferson, integrity was just not one of his virtues. Hamilton was not too far behind, but with him he had the cloak of security, protected by Washington.

Burr had the misfortune of being in the way for the political egos of Hamilton, Jefferson, and too a degree George Washington. Washington was too busy finding ways to become more famous to bother with Burr. No one was in Washington's league except for Franklin.
As for Hamilton and Jefferson they crafted the stories about Burr, they equally did him a terrible disservice.
I would like Jefferson to be discussed like Burr, tear him apart some and see what a phony he was.
Hamilton became a Martyr to Burr's bullet in a duel. What he was before that bullet was something else. His career as a politician was on a fast decline, he was known for being crafty, and very loose at the mouth. He was also very emotional, and would get worked up over things and then do the most bizarre things you can imagine.

He was hated by Jefferson, and of course Jefferson was famous for hiring people to destroy you if you did not agree with HIS politics.

So Hamilton suffered under Jefferson as well, far more so than by any attack by Burr.

All of these men were equally brilliant. Yet one was attacked over and over again by the people who were equally as bad as him. Three people so very much alike. Hamilton, Jefferson and Burr. None were greater than the other, except in biased history books and letters written by them.

Do many people think of the fact that the first major politician in NYC to push for women's suffrage was Aaron Burr, the first major politician who was for freeing the slaves when Hamilton (he had a few) and Jefferson (he had hundreds of them) were having no major quarrel over it.
Burr brought in the first fresh water system into NYC, and started what would become Tammany Hall. A place for the common man that had been overlooked by Jefferson and Hamilton. He also started an early banking system for the common man. He understood long before Hamilton that in New York you had many immigrants, and the important thing to do was to make them citizens. These people who were simple would also vote for you for life. That was the beginnings of what would become Tammany Hall.

Hamilton was the one person who could really make Burr loose his cool. It lead to the duel, after too many insults had poured from the mouth of Hamilton. Burr never should have allowed Hamilton to drive him crazy. Hamilton was not the nice guy he is made into today either. He was a political animal as well and was frighteningly obsessed with Burr.

Hamilton, Jefferson, and Burr were great, good, and sometimes very bad men. Neither was much better than the other, as all of them had their hands in the political cookie jar at times.

Jefferson tried to convict Burr of plotting to create a nation in the west. He was of course acquitted as it was basically created by Jefferson to embarrass Burr.

One hardly hears of the man who was with Burr on his trip out west.

His name was Andrew Jackson. No one dares say that Jackson was trying to do what Burr was. Once it is really looked at you can see it is Jefferson at his best, doing his worst to someone.

I was wrong of Burr to challenge Hamilton to a duel, it was also wrong for Hamilton to bring trick guns to the duel as well. Both of these guys were the same, equally good and bad.

But today Burr is bad and Jefferson and Hamilton are saints..... hmmmmmmmm, History is indeed written by the winners.
So sorry for the lack of information and honesty about you Mr. Burr. Of the batch, I like you the best.

Sunday, July 04, 2010

One of the great song hits of the 20th century. "Bill Bailey, won't you please come home".

This great song was written in 1902 by Hughie Cannon (1877-1912). He was a talented song writer who sadly was also a very heavy drinker. He wrote a number of songs, but his greatest success was Bill Bailey. Due to the fact that Cannon was in pretty rough straights, he often sold the rights to all of the songs he wrote. He died in 1912 at the early age of 35 from drinking and liver failure. This early 9 inch Zon-O-Phone record from 1903 is an early example. It is performed here by Arthur Collins (1864 - 1933) Who probably made more records of this song than anyone. But who would have guessed in 1902, that Hughie Cannon's song would do so well.

Our Modern Navy 1898

This wonderful book was published in 1898, while we were at war with Spain. It is a picture book of all the capital ships in the US Navy at the time. In the book are pieces on ships, sailors, and even a piece included here on war prizes. It is a great piece of Navy history from the end of the 19th century. I have added just a few of its many pages. I think the piece on war prizes is quite fascinating.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Lecturing in Malaysia at the Garden International School 2009 -2010

Talking with the students for an hour after the lecture was over.

It has been my pleasure to now have spoken several times at the Garden International School in KL Malaysia. The students are delightful and interested in everything. It has been a great joy to be there. The faculty there has enjoyed it as well and has written about in this wonderful note. They are wonderful there, I admire the teachers there so much. It is a great school!

I am here at the school after the lecture I did in 2009 called "America between the wars" A lecture that took into account the actions and activities of the USA during the period between the world wars. It was delight to have given that one and the one I more recently gave in March 2010. What I have enjoyed here was the fact that the kids would stay for an hour after the lecture and just ask question after question. It was great to hear their young minds soaking up the information. It was great fun for me and them. This picture was taken about an hour after the lecture and there were still this many kids there asking questions. I hope to speak there in again in 2011.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Spending a day in 2000 with the great Eddie Bracken 1915-2002...What a wonderful man he was.

Listening to Nat M. Wills on a cylinder
In his den with many of his posters of his movies and other programs he had done.
Eddie Bracken signed this picture for me in 2000 when I met him at his home in Glen Ridge, New Jersey. I had contacted him to make some recordings and he was very interested and happy to get involved. We spend several hours talking and listening to him reminisce about his past and the memories of his friends.

He told me that Bob Hope's brother was to be the best man at his wedding. However, when the day of the wedding came he was too drunk to make it! So much for a best man. Bracken was a performer from the time he was a child. He performed in early silents, and he said he made 2 Our Gang films.
He was also a well known star in radio...He was the voice of Henry Aldridge....In the days of radio that show started.............HENRY!!!!!! Henry Aldridge!....and he would answer "Coming mother" in a cracked voice as he said. It was a great success and he said he was known all over for his voice. He said that even one of his big fans was none other than Al Jolson.

His many stories I have to write down as they were wonderful.

He did many movies, Hail the In the 1940s, director Preston Sturges cast Bracken in two of his best-loved films, The Miracle of Morgan's Creek, opposite Betty Hutton, and Hail the Conquering Hero. Based on the popularity of these films, Eddie Bracken was a household name during World War II.

He won an award from the Armed Services in WW2..As the best entertainer...He said that Bob Hope hated him for that! But it is true Eddie Bracken received the award...I saw it..It was massive!!!

His last movie of note wasHome Alone 2: Lost in New York..

When I saw him and listened to his many stories he signed this picture for me, It is from the movie Summer Stock. In this picture he appears with Judy Garland. He signed it...To Jack, Thanks for your visit....Eddie Bracken.

It was a great visit and I was saddened to hear of his passing two years later after a bad fall down his stairs.
As with many others who have passed through my life, I have learned a little from each....Bracken taught me much, and now when I see the Duncan Toy man in Home Alone 2, I always think of a great man and friend..

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Why does food today taste different than that in the old days?

I have often pondered this question. Food and many dishes did taste different years ago. There are many reasons for this, first off refrigeration, Pasteurization, low fat, high sugar, additives, and cooking styles. One of the great crimes committed against us historically in the taste of foods, is what we put into it now.

I always laugh when I look at an old recipe in a new cooking book. It states right off we have replaced some ingredients with a more healthy option. Right there we have destroyed the taste of what once was.

It is like taking an old car and saying we have replaced its motor and replaced it with a new fuel efficient one that makes it run better..Then I do not know what that original car was like? That is historic robbery. I want to feel how it was, sense how it was, experience how it was.
Driving in a 2010 car gives me no idea of what driving a Model T Ford was like. I have driven a Model T Ford, so believe me it is nothing like a new car.

In that thought too, in the age before Pasteurization foods tasted different. Fats added flavor, cooking long had its joys too. Now everything is so slimmed down so we think and we are healthier, are we?

The use of Lard is wonderful, it adds so much flavor to foods. I look through cook books today and no one uses it for historic dishes...Why not? I am not advocating using lard every day, but I am willing to say is healthier than a good deal of the over processed junk we eat today is. The foods of the past will never taste as they did as we have a mania to not use the ingredients that were used in the past. So if you wish to experience the taste of the past, ask the preparer to use the ingredients that were used then. You find a pleasant surprise, it tastes better than its redesigned modern equivalent.

There are many restaurants that cater to the tastes of the past, and I have not seen any of them that use all original ingredients. So we are fooling ourselves as to what the past tasted like. Bacon fat, lard, butter, and much more were used as part of the meal. It is nothing like low fat oils. Lard will make a meal, and you will once again be surprised at how good it tastes.
That is what the past tasted like. Sadly we do not eat today, cause it is not looked at as healthy. Yet we as millions go into many dreadful fast food joints and think nothing of it. Am I missing something?

To close I am reminded of an encounter between Walter Lord and Rene Harris in the last years of her life. She was a major producer on Broadway and a survivor of the Titanic. Lord was working on a book on the disaster. She was living at this time in a small room and her days of glory were long over.
He decided to bring a tin of Caviar for her. She took one taste as said "You call that Caviar?" He wrote in his notes that probably Caviar tasted different before pasteurization, and that the Caviar of 1912 was a very different dish than what we know today.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

The first biography of John Paul Jones. Analectic Magazine and Naval Chronicle July-November 1816

John Paul Jones
The Analectic Magazine and Naval Chronicle was an important magazine to express many of the issues of the day. It shared much of the recent history dealing with the war of 1812 and also dwelling into the days of the American revolution. Of course when this was published the revolution had been over for only 33 years.
So much of what they wrote about in this magazine was of relatively recent history. It is interesting to think that Franklin had been dead 26 years and Washington had been dead but 17 years when this was published. John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Madison, John Jay, John Marshall, Aaron Burr, and many other revolutionaries were still very much alive. Of that group Madison was President when it was published and Monroe would be the 5th President after him.
This magazine and this issue was very important as it contained the first biography of John Paul Jones. He had written his memoirs, but this was the first as a biography. The author is unknown. The publisher was Moses Thomas of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Here is the front page from this most early biography
Some information on this publication

Philadelphia: Moses, Thomas, 1816. Life of John Paul Jones from Vol. VIII, Analectic Magazine and Naval Chronicle, July 1816, pp. 1-29. First published biography of John Paul Jones. [Published after Jones memoirs, but nine years before Sherburne's biography.) Includes a 7-page excerpt from Nathaniel Fanning's memoir, published in 1806, recounting Jones famous battle with the Serapis. Relates Jones words exchanged with the enemy not as "I have not yet begun to fight." Rather, in response to a demand that he strike his colors, Jones is quoted as resonding, "Ay, ay, we'll do that when we can fight no longer--but we shall see yours come down first. . . ." Letters of [John] Paul Jones from the November 1816 issue, pp. 399-401. 3 letters: to the Marquis de Nieuil, to Benjamin Franklin, and to Monseigneur de Sartine.

Monday, March 01, 2010

September 4, 1882 The day downtown Manhattan was lit for the first time by Thomas Edison's light bulb.

On September 4, 1882 Thomas Alva Edison pulled a switch at the world's first commercial DC electrical distribution plant and the area around Pearl Street in lower Manhattan lit up!
The Edison team had worked out this system through the year and finally on the 4th of September it was ready! It was no accident that the power station was on Pearl Street. It was right by Wall Street and near Edison's money man. J. P. Morgan.

Morgan was much of the money behind Edison's work. In fact Edison once wrote in one of his books about Morgan and his money saying,"His word was his collateral". Truer words were never said.

The streets and offices around Pearl and Wall Streets were lit by Edison's Bamboo filament light bulbs.
All the wiring was under ground. (IT STILL IS IN NYC). From the power produced by the Jumbo generators (named for the famous elephant), Edison and his team were able to light several blocks of lower Manhattan.

It was the beginning of a new age! It all started less than 130 years ago. Not that long ago when you think about it. Think of that each time you turn on your lights and the rest of your life.
This was a city that saw once a revolution that freed them from England. This next revolution, the electrical one, freed mankind from the bondage of darkness.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Hotel Knickerbocker on Broadway and 42nd Street.

The Knickerbocker Hotel was built by the legendary millionaire John Jacob Astor the forth (1864-1912) in 1904. It was one of his many hotels in New York City. He built many and would have kept building, but he was on the Titanic and was not one of the survivors.
This was built in the heart of the theater district and home to many great singers and performers. This place was home to the great George M. Cohan (1878-1942) of Broadway fame.
It was also the home to the immortal operatic tenor Enrico Caruso (1873-1921). Another of the greats who lived there was the theatrical producer Charles Frohman (1860-1915). Sadly he would be lost in the Lusitania.
It was a hangout for many in theater. The bar downstairs was famous for not only coming up with the martini cocktail, but for having some of the finest foods ever.

The great operatic Contralto Ernestine Schumann Heink (1861-1936) She was 350 pounds of contralto and often ate her meals in the Knickerbocker. There is a great story about Caruso walking into the restaurant of the Knickerbocker and seeing Heink with a massive steak before her. He yelled "Madamme Heink are you going to eat that steak all alone?" She responded in her German-English, "No, mit potatos!"

Caruso ate most of his meals at the Knickerbocker till he and Cohan were moved out when the building was sold. It was made into an office building and all of its hotel items were moved elsewhere. One of the most famous pieces was moved to another hotel in NYC. But that will be another story.
Caruso sang from his suite in the Knickerbocker to everyone on Broadway to celebrate the end of WWI. I got to meet two people who saw that event. Helen Hayes who was there said it was the highlight of her life. It must have been something!

Today the Knickerbocker building is condos and stores. It has recently been sold, so perhaps by 2020 there will be another hotel Knickerbocker. Just like a century ago.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Remembering my friend Ray Stone on the 65th anniversary of the battle of Iwo Jima

It was my honor to know Ray. He was a gentleman, singer, actor, and a survivor of the battle of Iwo Jima. Ray rarely talked about the event, but one day over some stingers, he let go of a little bit of his memory. Ray had been born on Dec 6, 1925. His father had a mandolin orchestra and Ray was surrounded with music from his childhood. That would play a part in his later life. But the war interrupted that.

Once Ray turned 18 in December of 1943, his path was like millions of other young men of the time. That was to join the military as the world was at war. He joined the marines in 1944. He then went through the months of indoctrination and basic training. Then he and hundreds of thousands of raw green troops went on their way. Of course none of them knew where they were going. The war in Europe was closing down, but the war in the Pacific was steaming. The Japanese were entrenched on many islands and were known to fight to the last man. So it was known that fighting them would be a living hell.

Ray said that in late 1944 he was on his way to the Pacific. He was transferred from ship to ship. Finally they knew something was up in early 1945, as he and a few hundred other very unlucky souls were loaded onto a large landing craft and sailed across the ocean. There were hundreds of these massive landing crafts that were loaded with soldiers. These ships were all flat bottomed and rode the water terribly. Everyone was seasick on board. This ship and it's very sick passengers were on their way to Iwo Jima.

He said they landed and the front gate opened and all of them were feeling awful. but soon they were under a hail of bullets and everyone of them to a man forgot about being seasick. Now they were in a battle, not only to take this small island, but for their very survival. He said he saw so many of his comrades shot down. As he used to joke years later "They were trying to kill me!" It was no laughing matter as thousands of men on both sides were killed.

He recalled the two flag raising's on the mountains. He said there were big cheers each time. I had never been aware of that till he told me about the flags. The photo I had always known was of the second flag raising. Each was important, but the first flag raising and those who were involved seemed to have been overshadowed by the second. Ray was eventually shot and crawled under a tank and was in great pain. His Sargent told him to get out from there but as he was barking his order he was shot and killed.
Ray was finally taken in and recovered from his wounds. He returned to the marines and even served again as a Drill Sargent in the Korean war. The marine flag always flew at his house.

Ray had a spectacular career after this. He worked on Broadway, toured in Summer stock. Sang with the Easternaires in the Music man all over the country. In later years he married his lovely bride Mickie. It was my pleasure to know and perform with this man for many years.
Mickie told me of a incident that happened in 1995. She and Ray were touring in Washington and Virginia. They were on a bus doing tours. They found themselves in Arlington and in the shadow of the monument honoring the second flag raising of Iwo Jima. Everyone filed by, but Ray, who had never seen it before was transfixed. It had been 50 years since he saw that scene.
The bus driver started honking the horn and yelled out his window "hey get in the bus old man". Mickie glared at the driver and said "Shut up....he was there"
There was just a silence after that, and a feeling of respect. Then Ray got on the bus with the quiet dignity that always was his and was left with his thoughts.

It was my joy to know him many years and learn a lot from him. He was always concerned about Mickie as he knew that she would survive him. But this was not case. Mickie sadly left this world in 2000. Ray existed six more years.

I recall my last conversation with him. I was to meet him in March of 2006. In December of 2005 I called Ray to wish him the best on his 80th birthday. In his typical humor he said to me..."Jack, you want to know something....80 sucks!" We laughed and then he died 2 weeks later. Never got to see him that coming March. But today as I read about Iwo Jima, I think of my friend, and remember.....

Back in the days when we performed together. From left to right Me, Bill Farrazanno (top) John Murray, and Ray
The monument

Monday, February 15, 2010

Postage Currency from the Civil War 1862-1863 . All produced in New York City

This early issue was produced in the North (In NYC) during the civil war sometime between August 1862 through May of 1863. They were to use as money and designed to allow people to buy stamps as coinage was scarce at the time.

Fractional Currency notes were produced from August 21, 1862 through February 15, 1876. Lincoln's Secretary of the Treasury, Salmon Chase proposed to authorize postage stamps of some type as a new currency. Congress and President Lincoln approved the Postage Currency Act on July 17, 1862, which authorized an issue of the notes. I will be talking about the first issues not those of the post civil war period.

The first Issues became known as Postage Stamp Currency because they bore facsimiles of the then current 5 and 10 cent postage stamps. Postage Currency (first Issues) were never legal tender but could be exchanged for United States Notes (money) in $5 lots and receivable in payment of all dues to the United States, up to $5.

In the first few months of production, the sheets were perforated like stamps. These sheets were sold to banks and the public in sheets and you could tear off the notes needed with ease. The perforating machine could not keep up with the heavy demand. Therefore, the stamps were printed on plain sheets that were cut with scissors. This made for some badly sized notes.
All of these notes were produced and printed in New York City, at the National Bank Note Company. This company was located at The Merchant's Exchange Building at 55 Wall Street. The building in which they were located still stands.

This style and those of the first production run were changed in 1863 to a more colorful and better designed style to prevent counterfeit designs. As there were many problems with the size and style of these early notes. The one stamp/bill shown here is from that early period and shows Thomas Jefferson on the front on a five cent stamp of the time.
They are a rather odd and rare part of Civil war history and the early days of bill making in the United States, or what was existing of the United States at that time. One of the more unusual styles of a form of currency. And it all happened in New York.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

The other President that was buried in NYC. James Monroe (1758-1831) 5th President of the United States. Removed from NYC's Marble Cemetery in 1858

Today in New York City, there is but one Presidental grave, that of President Grant. But in the past, New York has been the resting place for another President, that is James Monroe. In this article we will share with you in story, the removal of the remains of our 5th President.

Removing the coffin from the vault
Monroe's coffin on display at New York's City hall on July 3, 1858. Before the body was taken to Virginia for burial...It must of had a rather musty smell after being in a vault for 27 years...But there seems to be no mention of it. The smell I guess was not too strong as the inner coffin was switched to a new one. The inner coffin was made of lead, and it was placed inside a new mahogany casket. But he was the only President that was laid out for public view long after his death.

President James Monroe of Virginia. The last President who was a Revolutionary War Vet

New York City's Marble Cemetery. Where Monroe was buried. Monroe was placed in a vault here after his death on July 4th 1831. He was totally broke and so it was with support that he was buried in New York.

In 1858 he was exhumed and moved to Virginia where he rests. His wife and family were reburied in the graveyard near his tomb.

A closer look at his sarcophagus in Virginia.

James Monroe, our fifth President died basically a pauper. He was living with is daughter in New York as his money situation was in terrible shape. He finally died of heart failure on July 4th 1831. 55 years after the adoption of the Declaration of Independence and five years after Jefferson and Adams.

His Presidency was known as the "Era of good feeling".In his Presidency was perhaps the greatest Secretary of State, John Quincy Adams who wrote the Monroe Doctrine.

Sadly after his Presidency his money situation grew awful. He sold his home in which his wife was buried and moved to New York with his daughter.

His funeral was of great pomp and he was laid to rest in Marble Cemetery in New York City in the Gouverneur family Vault. There he rested till 1858. When a petition from Virginia was settled and his remains were to be brought to state of his birth and most of his life. His coffin was exhumed and brought to New York's City hall where it was on display for the public to see once again the coffin, not the President. He was then put on to a barge a taken to Virginia.

There were a number of storms and it looked like what was left of Monroe was to be lost...But they made it. It is an odd thing that one of Alexander Hamilton's grand sons was part of the honor guard and was sadly washed over board during one of these storms.

Then in July of 1858 he was interred in a rather bizarre Cast Iron tomb. His wife and family were buried near to him. But his tomb was made for only one. There he rests to this day...Now in company with John Tyler, who would be buried there at Hollywood, but not honored till many years later with a marker for his tomb.

Monday, February 01, 2010

Original menu for dining in New York's Greenwich Village hot spot ..The Pepper Pot 1929

New York's Greenwich Village was a place to be in the later days of the 1920's. The Pepper Pot was one of those places to see and to be seen.
It was a restaurant, jazz and dance hall. party house, and also a place where the bohemian life of the Village could be enjoyed and expressed.

It was not cheap to dine there, but it was known for its excellent foods and atmosphere. In fact if you look at some of the prices here you will see they were quite high. Most places you could get a sandwich for twenty five cents, here it was fifty or more! It was as I mentioned before the place to be, and the place to have a heck of a good time. Of course this was in the height of prohibition, although things could be found there too to help you along too in your quest for a drink.

This menu is from 1929, just before the crash. It is a wonderful reminder of the days that used to be in old New York. The building still stands ad in a later posting we will show you what the old Pepper Pot looks like now.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Scotch, wine, gin, cider and moonshine and the White House

You know many of our Presidents drank. Some were real boozers. I figured I would write a very short bit on the ones who were moderate to heavy drinkers.

I will only list deceased former presidents. Also we had several Presidents who drank in their youth and gave it up. They will not be listed here.

Although the Presidents that drank on average have lived longer, although the odds are changing as time goes on and people are drinking less than they once did.

I will list the age of each of these Presidents. It is quite amazing how long some of them lived. What is most interesting is that the earlier Presidents seemed to live much longer and healthier lives than many who followed them. Be they drinkers or not!

George Washington. 67

Yes he did drink quite a bit. He was very fond of Madeira wines. He had a rule at his table, and that was you could drink as much as you liked as long as you remained a gentleman. He was also one of the largest producers of whiskey as well, at his farm in Mt Vernon.

John Adams. 90

He would drink a gill of hard cider every day in the morning. That equals out to about 5 ounces. He was fond of wines and drinks. He was always a drinker and his children would suffer from alcoholism. Odd thing about Adams, he drank quite a bit, smoked and chewed tobacco and still is one of the longest living of our Presidents. He died at nearly 91 years of age. The only Presidents to live longer were Reagan and Ford nearly two centuries later.

Thomas Jefferson. 83

Oh yeah.. He loved his wines and had a massive dept often do to wine bills. He drank quite a bit of it.

James Madison . 85

Yes he drank some . He would be quite quiet, till he had a few in him. Then he would become the story teller at the dinner table.

James Monroe. 73

Yes some, and still he was not very exciting.

John Quincy Adams. 80

He was quite a Drinker. Several of his brothers died of alcoholism. He was not, but was quite a heavy drinker. He was known to be cold and forbidding, but after a few glasses of wine under his belt he was a fun dinner companion. He had many fun times playing cards and having cocktails with Dolly Madison.

Martin Van Buren 79

Yes he drank. He drank more as the years progressed

Franklin Pierce. 65

One big drunk. I guess the odd times were when he was sober. He tried while President to keep his habit under control, but failed. He was a mess. There was a joke about him that stated he was the victor of many a hard fought bottle.
When he lost his bid for re-election he said, "I guess there is nothing else to do but go home and get drunk." That he did till he died.

James Buchanan. 77

Big drinker. He complained that the booze bottles were too small in the White House. He was right behind Pierce, but unlike Pierce, he could drink massive amounts of alcohol and show no signs of being drunk or affected. He would buy 10 gallons of Whiskey a week for entertaining. He was drinking heavy as the country started to fall apart in what would become the Civil War.
He left office in 1861, meeting Lincoln he said to him "Sir, if you are as happy to enter this house as I am to leave it, you are a very happy man!" He left and returned to his home and drank.

Andrew Johnson. 68

He was not too good at handling it. Specially when he was inaugurated as Vice President. He had been ill and was offered some whiskey to calm his system down and it went right to his head.
He gave a rambling, slurring speech in which even Lincoln (who was 6 foot 4 inches tall) tried to sink low into his chair not to be seen. It was a sad thing that while Johnson was not a drunk, that event convinced everyone that he was.

U.S. Grant. 63

He liked his booze. He also was not the best at handling it either. But he could every now and then get trashed.
He was no where near the drunk he has been made out to be. One of the problems with Grant was he got massive Migraine headaches and this would make him unsteady on his feet, and slur his speech at times. But the sad part of Grant was he had a very low tolerance to alcohol. He would get rather done in by just a few drinks.

Chester A. Arthur. 56

Yep, he liked his wines, drinks, cocktails in large amounts. He gained 40 pounds while at the White House.

Grover Cleveland. 70

He loved Beer! Lots of it! Soon he weighed over 260 pounds on his 5 foot 10 inch frame. He never lost his love for the beverage. As one old man said to him at a train stop..."I have never met a President before, and you are a whopper!"

William McKinley. 58 assassinated

He liked scotch in the quiet of the evening

William H. Taft. 72

Wines and scotch were his standard fair when he was not eating. He at one point weighed in at 350 pounds and got stuck in his own bathtub. That was a night he had scotch I am sure. Also got a larger bathtub!

Woodrow Wilson . 67

He liked scotch and some wines. Sometimes at parties he would dance for the crowd, only in the privacy of friends and family though. I guess this would happen after a few drinks.

Warren G. Harding. 58

He liked his booze and had it often right in the middle of prohibition! How can anyone play cards unless they have a good adult beverage in hand. Harding did not let the law bother his drinking! Nor did he bother with such trifle things as drinking while suffering with a severely and weakened enlarged heart.

Franklin D. Roosevelt. 63

He liked Martinis his way. He would always make them. Everyone to a man later said they were terrible!

Harry S Truman. 88

He liked his booze now and then specially in his Library where the boss would not see it. The boss by the way was his wife Bess. All of the booze was kept in the library where it was hidden behind his books. It would brought out at whatever time it was needed.

Eisenhower. 78

He did not drink much, but his wife Mamie (82) was quite a drinker. She was always staggering around and loosing her balance. The secret service in those days called it an "Inner Ear Infection" .....Yes the infection was 40 proof!

John F Kennedy. 46 assassinated

He would have a few drinks in the evening usually of scotch, bloody Mary's, wine. But he was also on many drugs at the time which already made him pretty high, so the alcohol just added to the effect.

Lyndon B. Johnson. 64

He liked his booze, just his heart didn't

Richard Nixon. 81

He drank scotch. During Watergate the usage went up tremendously!

Nixon was the last of the drinkers so far. But who knows in the future who will be next and what (he or she) may drink!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

The general Slocum disaster June 15, 1904...One of the worst shipping disasters in history..It was the worst disaster in NYC's history till 9/11.

The General Slocum before the terrible fire

The fire as seen through the eyes of a contemporary artist

The wreckage of the ship

Bodies that were washed up on shore...the death toll was staggering

More bodies at the hospital

A funeral procession of victims..

I have borrowed some of the information of this from the author Edward T. O'Donnell He has written a book on the disaster. It is a great book,get it!

My family knew first hand of this disaster. My Great Great Grandfather was involved in the rescue efforts in 1904. He was very much involved in the German community and was very involved with this. This was truly, outside of the World Trade Center disaster, the worst disaster to happen in New York City. It was not till the beginnings of the 21st century that the last survivor died. The disaster was in par with the Titanic, but in fact more passengers died on the Slocum than on the Titanic. Many of the deaths on the Titanic were from the crew. On the Slocum there was not much of a crew and many of them were saved. There were no rich and powerful people on the Slocum, and the lives of those on board did not make the papers ring of stories of their greatness.

That was a bad part of the Victorian and Edwardian world. In their view the rich were rich and the poor were poor and God made it that way. You were deemed important because of your money rather than who you were. But the loss of life in that sailing was truly on a scale that was beyond shocking. Over one thousand people laid dead over a senseless tragedy. It was a date the shook much of New York to it's knees, and yet now all these years later we hardly know of its existence.

Here is the sad story

Ask any New Yorker to name the city's greatest disaster before September 11, 2001 and invariably they offer the same answer: the Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire of 1911.
That tragic event garnered international headlines as 146 young immigrant women lost their lives in an unsafe garment factory. Yet even though it is certainly Gotham's most famous disaster, it runs a distant second to a much larger catastrophe which occurred only seven years earlier.
On June 15, 1904, more than 1,000 people died when their steamship, the General Slocum, burst into flames while moving up the East River. It was the second-most deadly fire (after the Peshtigo fire of 1871) and most deadly peacetime maritime disaster in American history.

The story of the General Slocum tragedy begins in the thriving German neighborhood known as Kleindeutschland, or Little Germany. Located on the Lower East Side in what is today called the East Village, Kleindeutschland had been home to New Yorks German immigrant population since they first began arriving in large numbers in the 1840s. With more than 80,000 Germans living there by the 1870s, the neighborhood lived up to its name. German fraternal societies, athletic clubs, theaters, bookshops, and restaurants and beer gardens abounded. So too did synagogues and churches. One of those churches, St. Mark’s Lutheran church on East 6th Street, held an annual outing to celebrate the end of the Sunday school year.

They usually chartered an excursion boat to take them to a nearby recreation spot for a day of swimming, games, and food. On June 15, 1904, more than 1,300 people boarded the General Slocum for a day at Locust Grove on Long Island Sound.
Shortly after 9:30 a.m., the crew of the General Slocum cast off and the ship pulled away from the pier. It chugged northward up the East River, gradually increasing speed. Hundreds of children jammed the upper deck to take it all in. Like most mornings, the river was full of boats of every description – barges, lighters, tenders, and tugs. The adults talked and listened to a band play German favorites.

Then disaster struck. As the ship passed East 90th Street, smoke started billowing from a forward storage room. A spark, most likely from a carelessly tossed match, had ignited a barrel of straw. Several crewmen tried to put the fire out, but they had never conducted a fire drill or undergone any emergency training. To make matters worse, the ships rotten fire hoses burst when the water was turned on. By the time they notified Captain William Van Schaick of the emergency a fully ten minutes after discovering the fire -- the blaze raged out of control.

The captain looked to the piers along the East River, but feared he might touch off an explosion among the many oil tanks there. Instead, even as onlookers on the Manhattan shore shouted for him to dock the ship, he opted to proceed at top speed to North Brother Island a mile ahead. Several small boats followed the floating inferno as it roared upriver.
The increased speed fanned the flames. Panicked passengers ran about the deck, unsure where to take refuge. Mothers screamed for their children, husbands for their wives. The flames, accelerated by fresh coat of highly flammable paint, rapidly enveloped the ship and passengers began to jump overboard. Some clung to the rails as long as they could before jumping into the churning water. A few were rescued by nearby boats, but most did not know how to swim and simply drowned.

The inexperienced crew provided no help. Nor did the 3,000 lifejackets on board. Rotten and filled with disintegrated cork, they had long since lost their buoyancy. Those who put them on sank as soon as they hit the water. Wired in place, none of the lifeboats could be dislodged. Even if they had, they would never have made it safely into the water with the ship chugging along at top speed.
By the time the ship finally beached at North Brother Island, it was almost completely engulfed in fire.

Survivors poured over the railings into the water. Some huddled in the few places not yet reached by the flames, too terrified to jump. Nurses and patients at the island's contagious disease hospital rushed to offer assistance. Several of them grabbed ladders being used to renovate the facility and used them to bring the survivors off the ship. Others caught children tossed by distraught parents. Within minutes, all who could be saved, including the captain and several crew, were moved away from the burning hulk.

The General Slocum left a grisly wake. The boats that followed seeking to offer assistance plucked a few survivors from the water. But mostly they found only the lifeless bodies of the ship’s ill-fated passengers. The fact that most were young children only added to the horror.
Within minutes of the tragedy, reporters from the New York World and other major dailies were on the scene. The dispatches they sent back to their newsrooms sickened many a hardened editor. Rescue workers openly wept as the corpses piled up. By the time they were done counting the bodies and tabulating a list of the missing, the death toll stood at 1,021.

With more than 1,300 people on the outing, nearly everyone in the neighborhood knew someone on the ship. As word of the fire spread, it caused panic and confusion. No one seemed to know where to go. Thousands gathered at St. Marks Church awaiting word about survivors. Thousands more rushed uptown to the East 23rd Street pier designated as a temporary morgue.
By mid-afternoon, those not yet reunited with their family members began to lose hope. Many discovered they had lost a wife or child. Dozens learned they had lost their entire families.
At the morgue policemen and Coroner's Department workers labored to lay out the hundreds of corpses as they arrived. Others were dispatched to scour the city for coffins. Wagons arrived laden with tons of ice for the preservation of the bodies. Outside hundreds of policemen strained to control the swelling crowds of relatives and friends, not to mention curiosity seekers, reporters, and undertakers.

For the next week, thousands paraded past the gruesome lineup of victims resting in open coffins. The better preserved were identified quickly. Some of the burned and disfigured were identified by their clothing or jewelry. The sixty-one that could not be identified including many of the bodies recovered days after the event -- were buried in a common grave.
Funerals were held every hour for days on end in the churches of Kleindeutschland. These tragic scenes were punctuated by the suicides of several men and women who lost their entire families in the fire.
The story of the General Slocum made headlines across the nation and around the globe. World leaders and European royalty sent money and letters of condolence to Mayor George B. McClellan and the people of St. Marks. Funds poured in from private citizens and charitable groups from Rhode Island to California.
How could a tragedy of such magnitude occur within a few hundred yards of the shores of the nation's most modern city?

In the weeks and months that followed the fire, an outraged public searched for answers and culprits. City officials vowed to conduct a thorough investigation and within weeks, Captain Van Schaick, executives of the Knickerbocker Steamboat Co., and the Inspector who certified the General Slocum as safe only a month before the fire were indicted.
Captain Van Schaick came under the most intense scrutiny. Why had he failed to dock the ship immediately after discovering the fire? Why had he instead raced upriver and allowed the fire to claim more victims? Why was his crew so poorly trained? How was it that he survived when so many others perished?

At his trial Van Schaick offered plausible explanations for his actions, but the jury was not convinced. A convenient scapegoat, he was convicted of criminal negligence and manslaughter and sentenced to ten years hard labor in the Sing Sing prison. He served three years before receiving a pardon from President William H. Taft. Van Schaick was free, but broken by the horrible tragedy and subsequent legal crucifixion, he lived out his days in melancholy seclusion.

In contrast, the officials at the Knickerbocker Steamship Company escaped with only a nominal fine. This despite the fact that the trial revealed the company had illegally falsified records to cover up their lack of attention to passenger safety.
The General Slocum tragedy left a lasting impact on New York City. First, it caused the rapid dissolution of the German enclave of Kleindeutschland. Most survivors and their relatives were unwilling to remain in a neighborhood suffused by tragedy and simply moved. The steady exodus of Germans to upper Manhattan's Yorkville begun in the 1890s now became a torrent.

By the time of the 1910 census, only a handful of German families remained in Kleindeutschland. The Slocum tragedy not only consumed 1,021 lives, but took with it an entire community as well.
Second, the General Slocum disaster brought about a major upgrading of steamboat safety regulations and a sweeping reform of the United States Steamboat Inspection Service (USSIS). One week after the fire, President Theodore Roosevelt named a five-man commission to investigate the Slocum tragedy and recommend measures that would prevent an event like it from occurring again. The commission held hearings in New York and Washington, D. C. and took testimony from hundreds of witnesses and experts.
In October 1904 it issued a scathing report that placed most of the blame at the feet of the USSIS. Dozens were fired and a complete re-inspection of steamboats ordered. Not surprisingly, the new inspections turned up widespread safety problems, from useless lifejackets to rotten fire hoses. The result was a long list of recommended reforms, including requiring new steamboats be equipped with:

fireproof metal bulkheads to contain fires

steam pipes extended from the boiler into cargo areas (to act as a sprinkler)

improved lifejackets (one for each passenger and crew member)

fire hoses capable of handling 100 pounds of pressure per square inch

accessible life boats

All were subsequently enacted, leading to dramatic improvements in steamboat safety.
Remarkably, the Slocum tragedy rapidly faded from public memory, to the point that it was replaced as the city's GREAT fire just seven years later when the Triangle Shirtwaist factory burned.
There were similarities between the two fires, both involved immigrants and mostly female victims and both aroused public wrath. But the Triangle fires death toll was 85% lower than the Slocum just seven years earlier. How then did it become the fire of fires in New York's (and the nations) memory?

Two factors begin to explain this remarkable legacy. First, there was the context. The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire occurred at a time of intense labor struggle, especially in the garment trades.
Only a year before the shirtwaist makers had staged a huge strike for better wages, hours and conditions. Now 146 of them lay dead. There was no question about who was to blame.
This conclusion was reinforced when the public learned that the factory owners had locked the exits to keep the women at their machines. Second, the onset of World War I eradicated sympathy for anything German, including the innocent victims of the General Slocum fire. By the 1920s, as the Triangle fire became firmly entrenched in the American memory, all that remained of the General Slocum fire was a small, annual commemoration at the Lutheran cemetery in Middle Village, Queens.

What became of the ship, this ship of death? It was raised, repaired and used again for the greedy owners who cared not a damn of the safety of the young children who had ridden on this ship. It became a commercial carrier of products and thankfully sank in 1911 and was seen no more.

In closing we all remember the 9/11 attacks and the horrors of that day and I hope we always do. But while we honor the memories and horror of what is today, let's not forget the horrors of the past. For we learn from them.
As sad and as bad as they are, they are teachers and speak to us over the generations.

We learn far more from our failures and disasters than we do our successes and triumphs. History is our greatest teacher.

On March 25, 2011 it will be the 100th anniversary of the Triangle fire, you will hear all about it, but sadly in 2004 we heard hardly a peep about the 100th anniversary of the Slocum.
A hundred years from now the World Trade Center will be a distant memory of a long dead New York and one of the many disasters to sadly befall us. But I would find it sad to see it forgotten. I am sure many here now reading this will say, "they will never forget". But please remember and a see how fickle our memories are. The Slocum was the worst thing to happen in New York in the 20th century, It was as bad in many ways as the Trade Center attacks, yet why do we not recall it? As I said our memories are so fickle.

Let us not forget!