Friday, November 25, 2016
"So perfect was the order of march, that entire tranquility prevailed and nothing occurred to mar the general joy..."
This was he recollection of Major Benjamin Tallmadge of the general joyousness among the crowds which greeted George Washington on his triumphant return to New York City (pictured above) on today's date, November 25, 1783."Every countenance" Tallmadge continued, "seemed to express the triumph of republican principles over the military despotism which had so long pervaded this new happy city."
New York in British Hands Since 1776
Leaving the largest city in the 13 Colonies in the hands of the British had been an especially bitter pill for George Washington to swallow. In fact NYC back then was hardly "the Big Apple" of today. It occupied in it's northern reach just the southern tip of Manhattan as far the modern day Wall Street area. Nevertheless it was the most important single port in the country. And it just stuck in General Washington's heart that he had lost it and never did manage to re-take it. His army had suffered a major defeat at the Battle of Long Island on August 26,
fondest hope of re-capturing it, New York City became the center of British planning and logistics for their war against the 13 Colonies. It was also the center of the American "Culper" Spy Ring under the leadership of the above quoted Major Benjamin Tallmadge (above) which continued to collect intelligence on British operations in the city.
The Fortunes of War Force the Brits Out
But the fortunes of war turned sharply against the Brits with their defeat at Yorktown on October 19, 1781. Yorktown was the largest single British offensive force in the Colonies, and once it had fallen all that they had left was New York City. The Treaty of Paris (signed Sept. 3, 1783), effectively recognized American Independence so on this date of Nov. 25 they moved out of the city, and at noon of that day General Washington rode in with his officers and troops in a group spreading
"It was indeed a joyful day..."
As Major Tallmadge wrote of the experience: "It was indeed a joyful day to the officers and soldiers of our army, and to all the friends of American Independence, while the troops of the enemy still in our waters, and the host of tories and refugees, were sorely mortified. The joy of meeting friends, who had been separated by the cruel rigors of war, cannot be described."
"George Washington's Secret Six: The Spy Ring That Saved the American Revolution" by Brian Kilmeade and Don Yaeger, Sentinel Publ., New York, 2013
"Washington's Spies - the Story of America's First Spy Ring" by Alexander Rose, Bantam Books,
New York, 2006
Saturday, November 12, 2016
"In America Life is golden/
In America the flowers are more beautiful/
In America life is much better/
And that's what I'm longing to be my dear..."
The above is a song which some immigrants sung
upon entering New York harbor and seeing the statue of liberty for the first time. It speaks of their hopes for a better life in a land off freedom. Ellis Island closed on today's date November in 1954. After the Statue of Liberty Ellis Island was the first view of America that most of the immigrants had. It was the main clearing house for the over 12 million people passed through it's gates in the time that it was in operation, starting in 1892.
Originally built on 3.3 Acres
Ellis Island started out quite small taking up a mere 3.3 acres of land.
Eventually it was expanded to 27.5 acres mostly by using landfill produced by the excavation of the New York Subway tunnel system.
The Six Second Physical
All immigrants to America had to pass through Ellis Island, but those in first of second class had only a brief shipboard examination. Those in third class had a more rigorous course to navigate. Upon arrival the immigrants were inspected for any visible ailments; this became known as the "six second physical." Those who failed were marked with white chalk for a full physical. Those who passed were sent to the "Great Hall" to be processed. This room (below) was a large cavernous place - 189 ft. long by 102 ft. wide with 60 ft. vaulted ceilings. The average
Ellis Island Winds Down
New legislation in the 1920's effectively ended the era of mass immigration into the United States. Thus Ellis Islands operations slowed down considerably. It was used as a training and detainment facility during World War II. But over time neglect took it's toll, and the
old Ellis Island complex fell into disrepair. It was for a time a training and deportation station for illegal immigrants and other such detainees. The last such detainee was a Norwegian merchant seaman, released in November of 1954 afterwhich the facility was closed for good. Happily, Ellis Island has since been restored as a public museum in recent years. Visitors can research through millions of arrival records to find their own family history. And this should be a useful endeavor, as it is estimated 40% of Americans can trace some portion of their heritage to Ellis Island!!
Thursday, September 29, 2016
On today's date, September 29 in 1913, the celebrated Stanley Kramer, the director and producer was born in New York City. Throughout his career, Kramer had his share of flops, but his great films tackled previously taboo subjects as racism, nuclear war,
antisemitism - always putting the problem right there in the audiences face where it couldn't ignored. Many thought that his films lacked subtlety in this respect - and he became known as the maker of "message pictures". And while his best work was often nominated for Academy Award's, Kramer never won the Oscar Statue himself.
Kramer Arrives in Hollywood
Kramer arrived in Hollywood aspiring to be a writer and signed up to MGM, working various jobs such as carpenter, scenery mover, and then wound up as an Editor for three years. He worked also for Columbia pictures, and on radio as well. But in the early 1940's he formed his own production company. His first picture there bombed at the box office, but his next one, "The Champion",
star status. Next came a string of hits, all of them hitting some nerve in American life. There was racial bigotry in "Home of the Brave" (1949). Then came the issue of disabled veterans in "The Men" (1950), and then the superb film "High Noon" (1952) which starred Gary Cooper (right) as a Marshal who finds that the town which had loved him was leaving him to face an old enemy on his own.
Kramer's Best Period = 1954 - 1961
Kramer then signed on with Columbia Pictures to make a string of films, all of them excellent. In 1954 he made "The Caine Mutiny" with Humphrey Bogart as the captain of a ship, who appears to go to pieces in a typhoon. The Court Room scene where Bogie breaks down, along with the party afterward where the attorney played by Jose' Ferrer reads them all the riot act about who really was guilty is a classic. "The Defiant Ones" (1958), dealt with racism when Tony Curtis and Sydney
"Inherit the Wind" (1960) dealing with freedom of speech and my own favorite: "Judgment at Nuremberg" (1961) which laid the question of responsibility for the Holocaust right there in the open.Spencer Tracy was in both off those last two, as were Gene Kelly in the first, and a whole raft of stars in the latter; Marlene Dietrich, Richard Widmark, Judy Garland, and Montgomery Clift to name just a few.
Kramer's Later Years
Stanley Kramer took a wild comedy turn in "It's A Mad Mad Mad Mad World" (1963, below) about a group of strangers run across an old man (Jimmy Durante) who with his dying breaths gives them the directions to a cache of gold. This launches them on a wild cross country race to beat each other to the gold. This cast was simply too large to list them all here; let if suffice to say that the main roles are played by Spencer Tracy, Milton Berle, Ethel Merman, and a completely hilarious Jonathan
Tuesday, September 6, 2016
Marie-Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier de Lafayette, more commonly known as simply the Marquis de Lafayette was born on today's date, September 6 in 1757, in Chavaniac, in the province of Auvergne in south central France, This man (left) deserves a place of honor among America's Founding Fathers for the role he played in not only securing French assistance during our Revolutionary War, but also for taking an actual combat role -- even though he presented himself to George Washington at the young age of 19.
"My heart was enlisted..."
Young Gilbert came from one of France's oldest fighting families, with ancestry dating back to the crusades and even to Joan of Arc. When his mother died by the boy's eleventh birthday, Lafayette inherited one of the largest fortunes in France. Yet this very rich young man had little taste for the life of an aristocrat; he sought military action. In 1763, he obtained a Captain's Commission in the Army. In 1775 he was having
dinner in the city of Metz with the Duke of Gloucester who spent much of the time complaining about the American Colonists and their uprising against British rule. The Duke mocked the American's nonsense about the equality of man, and people ruling themselves. And especially of their having made this George Washington their leader. This made a very ill impression on the young Lafayette: "My heart was enlisted," he later recorded in his memoirs, "and I thought only of joining my colors to those of the revolutionaries."
Lafayette Sneaks to America and Meets George Washington
But it wasn't such an easy matter just to go over to America. First of all, King Louis XVI denied him permission to go. But the defiant young officer simply ignored the King's order and left for America in early 1777. James Lovell, a Congressman saw in the 19 years old was a man
of substance and recommended him for the rank of Major General. Lafayette met Washington on Aug. 5 (right), and the two men immediately formed a strong bond. Washington had no natural son of his own so naturally he was warmed by Lafayette's enthusiasm and positive attitude for the American cause. Lafayette stood in awe of Washington: "Although he was surrounded by officers and citizens, it was impossible to mistake for a moment his majestic figure and deportment; nor was he less distinguished by the noble affability of his manner." he wrote later in his memoirs. Indeed, the two men would develop a father and son relationship during the war.
Lafayette Serves in Combat
Washington assigned Lafayette to join in a tough battle to turn the American flank at the Battle of Brandywine Creek, where he served under the command of Gen. John Sullivan's forces. Sullivan was being surrounded, and was obliged to retreat, but Lafayette distinguished himself in this action, sustaining a wounded leg. Washington sent his
own surgeons to tend to the wound telling them: "Treat him as if he were my son." Lafayette gradually became a trusted member of Washington's inner circle. He also shared in the misery of the brutal winter of 1777 at Valley Forge. The Marquis also took part in the Battle of Monmouth (June 28, 1778). After this he returned to France to take part in the organizing of troops to go to America as a part of the new Alliance between France and the new United States. Overall command of these troops was given to the Comte de Rochambeau (above).
Lafayette is There at the End
By the summer of 1781, Lafayette had returned to the U.S. and was assigned to lead troops in Virginia along with other generals such as "Mad" Anthony Wayne to attack the British foraging parties as well as their rearguard. These various raids kept the British under Gen. Lord Cornwallis from bringing the Americans to full battle until he finally withdrew to the Peninsula at Yorktown, Virginia. There Cornwallis
found himself being encircled with his back to the sea, and the combined armies of the Americans and the French. On Sept. 5, 1781 in the Battle of Virginia Capes the British fleet was decisively defeated by the French. By now the land vice was tightening. In fact, Washington's own forces linked up with those of Lafayette on Sept. 14. With his sea escape cut off, and thee French and the Americans barking at the door, Cornwallis gave up the ghost and surrendered his army on Oct. 18, 1781 at a ceremony (above) in which Lafayette gladly took part.
"Hero of Two Worlds"
Upon his return to France in January of 1782 Lafayette was hailed as a national hero, in fact "A Hero of Two Worlds" for his service to France and to America. But revolution was in the air in France of a much bloodier kind than it had been in America. With help from Thomas Jefferson - the U.S. Ambassador - He was part writer of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen. When the Bastille was stormed
Tuesday, August 30, 2016
On today's date, August 30 in 1983, U.S. Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Guion S. Bluford became the first African American to take part in a mission to space when the space shuttle Challenger embarked on its third mission, STS 8. As this was the first night lift-off of a space shuttle, it blasted off from Cape Canaveral, Florida, at 2:32 a.m.
Buford Studies and Flies Hard and Makes an Astronaut
Born in Philadelphia in 1942, Guion "Guy" Stewart Bluford II at an early age showed an interest in flight, and building airplanes. He graduated from Penn State with a degree in aerospace engineering. He joined the U.S. Air Force and got his pilot wings in 1965. He was assigned to a fighter squadron in Vietnam, where he flew 144 combat missions. Later, Guy received a master’s degree and doctorate in aerospace engineering from the Air Force Institute of Technology. There were 10,000 applicants to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's (NASA) space program, Guy Bluford wound up as one of 35 chosen to join the new space shuttle team in January 1978. And in August 1979 he officially became an astronaut with NASA.
Shuttle Mission STS 8
On mission STS-8 aboard the space shuttle Challenger, Bluford had the job of a specialist for mission. Bluford and and his crew mates (below) performed several biophysiological experiments, while successfully
operating a Canadian-built robot arm while Challenger orbited Earth 98 times over the course of 145 hours. On September 5, 1983, the mission concluded when Challenger landed at Edwards Air Force Base in California. And just as she had left, Challenger returned in a night landing. (Pictured: Seated (L-R): Daniel C. Brandenstein, Pilot, Richard H. Truly, Commander, and Guion S. Bluford, Jr., Mission Specialist. Standing (L-R): Dale A. Gardner, Mission Specialist, and William E. Thornton, Mission Specialist.) Just as with her nocturnal departure, this night landing had been a first. Guion Buford went on to participate in a total four Space Shuttle flights between 1983 and 1992. After the tragic explosion of Challenger in 1986, Buford wanted to assure that space travel would continue so his last two missions were aboard the Shuttle Discovery. By the time of this final mission Buford had logged over 688 hours in space. Guion S. Buford retired from the Air Force in 1993, and has since worked with such companies as Northrop/Grumman.
How Guion Buford Felt About Being the First African American Astronaut?
Not surprisingly, when asked this, Guy Buford felt a high degree of responsibility, not only as an African American, but also as a scientist and a space aviator:
"I felt an awesome responsibility, and I took the responsibility very seriously, of being a role model and opening another door to black Americans, but the important thing is not that I am black, but that I did a good job as a scientist and an astronaut. There will be black astronauts flying in later missions … and they, too, will be people who excel, not simply who are black . . . who can ably represent their people, their communities, their country."
Thursday, August 11, 2016
While we're all bemoan- ing the "gaffes" of Donald Trump, and wringing our hands
about all of the ruin that they portend for our country, I thought that it might do some good to mark the anniversary of another celebrated "gaffe" made by a U.S. President which left a lot of people in fits of anger, which wound up doing no real harm whatsoever. For it was today's date, August 11 in 1984 that President Ronald Reagan made his (in)famous joke about "Outlawing Russia" and "we begin bombing in five minutes."
Reagan's Actual Speech and What He MEANT to Say...
Reagan was making a regularly scheduled radio address, and he was
being checked for sound levels before he began. He had already silently read the first line of his speech which went this way:
“My fellow Americans, I’m pleased to tell you that today I signed legislation that will allow student religious groups to begin enjoying a right they’ve too long been denied: the freedom to meet in public high schools during nonschool hours, just as other student groups are all owed to do.”
Having already seen this line, Reagan decided to engage in what was to him a bit of levity. So during his few seconds of sound checking, he said: "My fellow Americans, I am pleased to tell you today that I’ve signed legislation that will outlaw Russia forever. We begin bombing in five minutes.” Although Reagan's press aides, as well as technicians and pool reporters in the room chuckled, a tape soon leaked. According
The "Joke" Gets Out and Causes a Furor
But as usually happens in campaigns, word of the "joke" did get out and raised a furor. Reagan was at the time running for re-election against former vice president Walter Mondale (below). His get tough policies visa-vie the Soviet Union were making a lot of people nervous at what seemed like the new level of confrontation. Reagan’s joke gave
a senile old man who simply didn't understand the forces he was dealing with in his pursuit of his "Cowboy Diplomacy" In fact, "russiapedia.com" has since recorded this very dark reaction:
"The moment the president's flippant remark was released, it immediately caused a stir both in the United States and abroad. Most international media responded with outrage, fearing that the joke about "outlawing" the Soviet Union had once again put the two superpowers on the verge of a third world war.
Upon hearing the news, a leading Parisian newspaper, suggested in dismay that Reagan’s jest be tested by a trained psychologists to determine whether it was “a statement of repressed desire or the exorcism of a dreaded phantom.” As the imminent danger of such a comment was obvious, a Dutch news service ironically remarked, "Hopefully, the man tests his missiles more carefully," referring to the possibility of the Soviets turning their weapons toward the US after hearing such a threat."
But the fact is that White House officials quickly assured Russian officials what was the fairly obvious fact that it had all been a minor joke, although to some a tasteless one and that no attack was forthcoming. There were reports in some papers that the Soviet Far East Army was placed on alert and that the alert was not withdrawn until 30 minutes later. But nothing came of that. 30 minutes later
everything was fine. In the words of CNN Vice President, Ed Turner, "The President is a guy who drops one-liners. In this case it was a little careless of him, considering he's hardly a neophyte.''
The careless joke that had so many pundits crowing resulted in a minor jump in the polls for Walter Mondale for a short time. But then Reagan regained the lead which he carried to a land slide win taking every state except Mondale's home state of Minnesota, and the District of Columbia. And during his second term, Reagan went on to establish the friendliest relations with the Soviet Leader Mikhail Gorbachev (above) that had ever been seen between two such leaders before. The U.S. Arms build up coupled with the close relationship wound up bringing the "Cold War" to a victorious end for the West. And in all of those world changing events, the "gaffe" about "bombing in five minutes" was little more than a foot note to be discussed by Bloggers like me!
Monday, August 1, 2016
"The Olympic games held in Berlin in August of 1936 afforded the Nazis a golden opportunity to impress the world with the achievements of the Third Reich and they made the most of it. The signs of "Juden unerwuenscht" ("Jews not welcome") were quietly hauled down from the shops, hotels, beer gardens and places of public entertainment..." - William Shirer
"almost religious event, the crowd screaming, swaying in unison and begging for Hitler. There was something scary about it; his cult of personality." - Thomas Wolfe
The Games of the XI Olympiad were opened on today's date, August 1 in 1936 in the city of Berlin, the capitol city of Germany. That nation was then governed by the murderous Nazi regime of Adolf Hitler, one of if not the foremost monster in history. And I thought that with the games of the XXXI Olympiad coming up in Rio de Janeiro in just a few days, that it might be a good idea to take a look back at what happened when Hitler ran the opening show. Because even though, as William Shirer points out the Nazis were determined to put the brightest face on their ugly regime, to many such as the novelist Thomas Wolfe, there was something scary lurking beneath.
Berlin Builds the Biggest Stadium Ever
Berlin had been chosen over Barcelona, Spain, on 26 April 1931, at the 29th IOC Session two years before the Nazis came to power. Hitler was actually indifferent to sports, so it took some convincing on the part of Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels to convince Der Fuehrer that the whole thing was worth the effort. But now that Hitler's crew had the reigns, they were determined to out-do the 1932 Games in Los
The Opening Ceremony Shows Nazi Precision
The idea of having a torch relay first came up with the Amsterdam games of 1928, but it was Nazis who came up with the idea of having the torch relay originate in Olympia and then be carried all the way to the top off the stadium wherein it would burn throughout the games.
"The Guardian", a British newspaper summarized the precision of this opening ceremony in its edition of Aug. 3 :
"The opening ceremony of the eleventh Olympic Games took place here this afternoon in the Stadium at the Reich Sports Field. It was probably the longest ritual that has ever heralded the opening of these Games. It was arranged and carried out with mathematical exactitude by the German Organising Committee, and in the course of it there were moments of beauty and significance which one will remember.
"There were others - not many of them - when one felt that the strength of German national feeling had a little outgrown discretion, but it was a memorable ceremony, immensely enhanced by the nobility of the great Stadium in which it was carried out."
The Pigeons Finish It Off by Making a Deposit on the 1936 Olympics
But the military precision of it all, the determination to glorify the Nazi
regime and Hitler himself could not control everything. One bit of pomp turned to poop as related by an athlete who witnessed it, Distance Runner Louis Zamperini:
"They released 25,000 pigeons, the sky was clouded with pigeons, the pigeons circles overhead, and then they shot a cannon, and they scared the poop out of the pigeons, and we had straw hats, flat straw hats, and you could heard the pitter-patter on our straw hats, but we felt sorry for the women, for they got it in their hair, but I mean there were a mass of droppings, and I say it was so funny…"
The Thin Veneer of Nazi Hospitality at the 1936 Olympics
Uncooperative pigeons notwithstanding the truth of this regime and it's vicious anti-semitic, anti- religious character were always there lurking, except for the more gullible observer. As William Shirer wrote:
"the persecution of the Jews, and of the two Christian Churches temporarily halted, and the country put on its best behavior. No previous games had seen such a spectacular organization nor such a lavish display of entertainment. Goering, Ribbentrop, and Goebbels gave dazzling parties for the foreign visitors .....The visitors, especially those from England and America, were greatly impressed by what they saw; apparently a happy, healthy, friendly people united under Hitler -- a far different picture, they said, than they had got from reading the newspaper dispatches from Berlin."
"The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich" by William Shirer, Simon & Schuster Publ. 1960