“Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection . . .


The mystic chords of memory,  stretching from every battlefield, and the patriot grave, to every living heart and hearthstone, all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our  nature.

The fiery trial through which we pass, will light us down, in honor or dishonor, to the latest generation. . . .We shall nobly save or meanly lose, the last, best hope on Earth.” Abraham Lincoln


Note: Our foster girl is back and off this week of school so my visits here may be sketchy at best, but wanted to take this moment to remember the  men and women like Lincoln (and the Founding Fathers who some would like to forget(?!)) who made the United States an inspiration to all lovers of freedom.

“Spend no time mourning the failures of the past. Tears make a bitter throat. Look ahead, there is more work to do.” Ely Parker


Seneca Chief Cornplanter by F. Bartoli

While working as an engineer overseeing the building of a federal customs house in Galena, Illinois, 29-year-old Ely Parker dropped in to a store and met a dissatisfied ex-military officer, Ulysses S. Grant  employed as a clerk by his father and bored out of his skull. The meeting was chance and friendly, but did not promise anything more than friendship to either of them at the time. Yet as with most people who move and strive chance meetings are the reward for hard work and determination.

Let’s go back a ways, though. One day long before Ely was a successful engineer, he was a 14-year-old Seneca boy with a Baptist father who valued classical education. A group of English soldiers mocked young Ely’s stammering attempt at speaking English. Did Ely let this stop him? Of course not. He vowed to learn the language so well he’d shame the Englishmen themselves!


Lewis Henry Morgan

Tribal elders loved his drive and his growing intellect determining one day he would represent them in their relations with the “Americans.” One such American Lewis Henry Morgan romanticized the noble savages and upon meeting Ely by chance in a bookstore begged him to join his  fraternity The Grand Order of the Iroquois in which an enthusiastic and idealistic group of young white men planned to model their lives after the Indians. Ely wasn’t offended by Morgan’s silly fraternity. Maybe Ely was bemused by Morgan’s naivete but invited Morgan to the reservation anyway. They fast became friends. Morgan learned much that helped him establish his fledgling career as an  anthropological pioneer.

But Morgan wasn’t the type to take, take, take. He helped his friend Ely gain entry into the elite, white Cayuga Academy where despite some bullying he excelled and went on to study engineering at Rensselaer Institute (RPI).

220px-UlyssesSGrant_staff_ca1865_byJAWhipple_HarvardAt the start of the Civil War Ely was told as an Indian (a non-citizen) he could not organize a unit to fight for the Union and was rebuffed yet again when he asked to join the Union army as an engineer. As luck would have it U.S. Grant was short engineers and arranged for Ely to be commissioned a captain. Ely eventually worked alongside his friend as his adjutant and then as a lieutenant colonel and Grant’s military secretary writing most correspondence for Grant and taking part in drafting the final documents for Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Courthouse (in fact the documents are in Ely’s handwriting).

Ely Parker’s life was not without controversy. He married a white woman and took the job of Commissioner of Indian Affairs when Grant became president. Although Grant’s Indian Peace Policy lessened the fighting in the west some Indians unfairly accused Ely of selling out to the white man in marriage and career. This is always the way, isn’t it? Traveling once in Ireland I came across a group of young men who bitterly accused their friends successfully living in America as sell-outs. So be it, I say.

220px-Ely_S._ParkerHeroes make lemonade.

Like Grant, Ely made and lost a fortune in the stock market and died with little money, but what a life he led! Ely Parker was a man of two worlds but saw the big picture.  Robert E. Lee at Appomattox quipped upon meeting Ely, “I am glad to see one real American here.” Ely shook the defeated general’s hand and replied, “We are all Americans.” (wiki)





James E. West: Orphan and Hero

Ogdensburg. City Hospital and Orphanage

Ogdensburg City Hospital and Orphanage [courtesy harvardartmuseums.org]

When my son was six he begged me each day not to leave him on the steps of the large Brooklyn school house. He hated his teacher. Fair enough. When the bell rang and the kindly police officer took my son’s hand and led him inside, my son looked back in panic and I’d have to turn away. I ended up homeschooling him that year but that’s another story.

When our foster kid was taken to a mental health facility after finding out her mother had given her up to the system she cried for days. We’d visit and she’d beg us to take her home. When she said “home” it was expressed with such  profound yearning and pain it was hard for us to bear. Home meant with us or with her mother or with the last foster family who decided they could keep only her siblings.

A long time ago a six-year-old boy named James E. West took his last walk with his mother. I imagine it a quiet, tense one. Maybe James sensing his mother’s anguish held her hand a little tighter. Maybe Mother didn’t say where they were going for fear that young James would make it more difficult than it already was going to be.

Coughing blood into her soiled handkerchief Mother knocked on the orphanage door in Washington and left her boy with his large, panicked eyes on the steps as she raced away, unable to look back. She died three months later of tuberculosis.

When James complained of hip pain it took a while before he was treated for a tubercular infection in the hip. It took two years (one of those years strapped to a painful leg brace intended to straighten his bones) for him to be strong enough to get around on crutches.

Most boys were loaned out to work, but poor James with his weak leg was sent to sew with the girls in the sewing room. Across the street was a real school for normal kids and James spent many a sewing afternoon gazing out in envy at the kids with books and nice coats. A friend of his mother’s made the effort to lobby for James to attend school. And so he went and excelled.

James was one of those exemplary people who when fortune smiled his way he shared it. He begged the orphanage to open its library to the children and when they said the books would get too worn out James organized the children to cover every single book. Using the money he earned sewing he offered his fellow inmates a penny for every book they read. He taught himself how to ride a bicycle, graduated high school and left the orphanage as a staff member at age 19.

James studied law and passed the bar, never forgetting the children. When Theodore Dreiser hired him to oversee The Delineator Magazine “Child Rescue Campaign”  for orphaned children James found his calling. Each issue  featured an orphan and their needs. The response was tremendous. Requests to adopt poured in. People all over the country wanted to help.

I wonder what James thought. He was no longer a child and no one had begged to adopt him yet he worked tirelessly for others. Eventually he met the likes of Theodore Roosevelt, Jacob Riis, Jane Addams, and Booker T. Washington at The White House Conference on the Care of Dependent Children. He asked this question which revolutionized the way Americans looked at child welfare: “Should children of parents of worthy character, but suffering from temporary misfortune…be kept with their parents–aid being given to the parents to enable them to maintain suitable homes for the rearing of the children?”

The question is loaded, isn’t it? Worthy character, temporary misfortune, suitable homes . . . we still struggle with the messy, horrifying realities of child abuse, neglect and poverty, yet there are little known boys and girls who rise up despite their misfortune. There are men and women who nudge the system to send a child to that school across the way.

James West gives me hope.

Essay inspired by The Rise and Demise of the American Orphanage by Dale Keiger





Henry Burden “spent a lifetime in devising means for lightening toil”

Civil War Horse who's probably in better shoes than his friend. courtesy Pinterest

Civil War Horse who’s probably in better shoes than his friend.
courtesy Pinterest

For want of a nail, the shoe was lost; For want of the shoe, the horse was lost; For want of the horse, the rider was lost; For want of the rider, the message was lost; For want of the message, the battle was lost; For want of the battle, the kingdom was lost, And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.

Henry Burden’s story and how he helped win the American Civil War starts the way all success stories seemed to start in the 19th century. Driven, hardworking, innovative and independent young men thrived under America’s young and vibrant system.

Henry  was the son of Scottish sheep farmers. At home he studied engineering, improving upon farm implements for his father until he up and moved to New York. Not a man to sit still or think small he immediately moved up the ranks at “the Townsend & Corning Foundry, manufacturers of cast iron plows and other agricultural implements, located in Albany’s south end – near today’s Port of Albany. The next year, he invented an improved plow, which took first premium at three county fairs, and a cultivator, which was said to have been the first to be put into practical operation in the country. He also made mechanical improvements on threshing machines and grist mills.” (WIKI)

Not satisfied being under anyone Henry quickly went to work building his own company across the river in Troy. Some of us are happy to have a job to go to. Henry built his job, defining it as he went brick by brick, building by enormous building.


Look for the tiny man! courtesy wikipedia

He invented things and patented them. Fascinated by not only the useful implements he made but also the tools that made the useful things he erected huge waterwheels for powering his projects (The Ferris Wheel was inspired by his massive waterwheel).

As the winds of war blew up the Hudson Henry was set with his HORSESHOE MACHINE. It is said that Henry’s 600,000 KEGS OF HORSESHOES sent south each year won the war. If we find the importance of one company  hard to believe there is evidence that the Confederacy sent special men to infiltrate the Burden works hoping to destroy the business but to no avail. Iron works were some of the first targets in a war of horses and their shoes.


The Atlanta Campaign courtesy Longhair.net

Think of the great generals astride their beautiful mounts–no horseshoes, no beautiful mounts.

Henry employed many Troy men. Mrs. Burden worried about their souls and the long walks they must take on Sundays to get to church. Upon her death Henry Burden built Woodside Presbyterian Church granting her final wish. He died a few years later having lessened the burdens of others.


What the Burden Works Look Like Today


Railroad Crush


Railroad crush: Grenville Dodge

First, let me just say that Grenville Dodge is probably one of the coolest names ever (William Tecumseh Sherman is up there, too). Maybe white men can’t jump, but this guy doesn’t get his due. Modern bitter professors like to tell us that the self-made man is a myth in America. What a pack of lies. Maybe they think they’re doing us a favor by giving us excuses to fail.

Grenville Dodge, the son of a common laborer, by the age of fourteen had already  impressed one of the best exploration surveyors in the country with his work ethic and decency. He followed this surveyor’s advice to go study engineering. By the age of twenty eight he’d explored (no rest stops, no McDonalds) a good deal of wilderness with the grand idea of building the first railroad across the country.

The Civil War interrupted his plans. Did he cry about it? No. He joined the army. Everyone wanted him–his integrity, his skill, his friendship. When Sherman needed a bridge built out of nothing, there was Dodge, when troops needed a leader to jump to the front in battle, there he was. When railroad companies begged him, after suffering injury at Pea Ridge, to quit the army and make a killing on the outside he refused. Until the war was over and he could visit the graves of his fallen comrades in peace they couldn’t budge him. When he was shot in the head (!) he insisted on staying in the army. Lincoln (another fan of his) insisted he be at least re-assigned west.

Did I mention he armed the newly freed slaves, too?

After the war did he make money at the railroads? Yes. And he deserved it–along with a lot of other men who invested their entire lives, their fortunes (such as they were) and their health into a gigantic project done with only rudimentary tools that the country clamored for but was unwilling to take a chance on. These men (and of course there was corruption) staked everything–absolutely everything on a very risky proposition–because no one else would.


Workers from Ireland, China and young veterans from the Civil War flocked to get work on the rails.

A while back I read a book The Robber Barons written by a socialist ex-patriot in the 1920’s. While I marveled at the writer’s skill it was tough going, being too acidic for my taste. So far every time I get past the Cliff’s notes version of history fed to us I uncover a messier, more inspiring version of the men who built this country. This in no way means I advocate slavery (Grenville Dodge was not a slave owner) or mistreatment of Indians (though the Indians were just as  corrupt as the rest of the human population). It just means that there were pretty admirable men in our history who are overlooked (or hidden) depriving us of the very inspiration that makes life and public service worthwhile. Thanks, Grenville!

Most of this info comes from Stephen Ambrose’s Nothing Like it in the World.


Journalists Lie?

Surely you can trust this face . . .

Surely you can trust this face . . .

Propaganda in the media is not a new thing. Bleeding Kansas. 1850’s. We like the word bleeding, don’t we? The unfolding drama of free settlers armed to the teeth by Eastern preachers versus tobacco chewing ruffians with the Slavocracy behind them. Good vs Evil on a bloody field. But not so quick.

People rushed to Kansas for the LAND. They may have taken their guns (and those of the preachers’) but hell, everyone took guns into the wilderness. And what about those ruffians? Maybe some did chew tobacco but is that a crime? Digging a little deeper one finds the occasional fanatic but common sense would have it that most people went about their business for personal gain.  In Kansas the real fight was over property claims and government jobs.

The Northern abolitionist papers knew this but they didn’t mind muddying the waters for their cause (since their cause was justified). What’s a little exaggeration and deceit?

Let’s take the “sack” of Lawrence, Kansas. Okay, it’s a little complicated here. This sacking was very minor as sacks go. The Southern ruffian side and the Free Soil side squabbled over capitols and such. They had mini-fights that went back and forth (still mostly about power and property with maybe a sheen of the slavery issue). So the ruffian side comes into town there’s a bit of property damage and very little injury to humans. Here’s the headline from The New York Tribune : “Startling News from Kansas–The War Actually Begun–Triumph of the Border Ruffians–Lawrence in Ruins–Several Persons Slaughtered–Freedom Bloodily Subdued.”*

A few days later all the New York papers made mention in small type somewhere that reports had been greatly exaggerated and “scarcely” anyone had been hurt. Imagine you’re reading the paper and imagining this:

Rape of the Sabine Women

Rape of the Sabine Women

And then there’s the story of John Brown. Before Harper’s Ferry there was Pottawatomie. Kind of rolls off the tongue doesn’t it? Can we all be honest here? The photographs of John Brown give some insight into his character (maybe a little unhinged?).

Doesn't he kind of look like a vampire?

Doesn’t he kind of look like a vampire?

John Brown is frustrated at the moderate Free Soil folks in Kansas. He joins up with one of the many local militia groups “The Pottawatomie Rifles” and heads to Lawrence only to hear that Lawrence has been “sacked.”

The following night he takes his sons and a few other men on a killing spree. Here we don’t have to imagine. There were witnesses who testified. The killers dragged prominent Pro-south men from their beds ( in front of their wives and children) and systematically sacked (or I should slaughtered) them. With sharpened broadswords they hacked their heads until their skulls split and John Brown shot one to make sure he was dead.Then for fun they stole some horses.

Okay, so after the first hacking I’m pretty sure this group of men were sickos. I can sort of understand a passion killing, but to hack  one  person then another and another before traveling to yet another man’s house for some more hacking is beyond the beyonds to me. Not so for the eastern newspapers. The abolitionists couldn’t have it. No sickos on our side, thank you very much. They whitewashed the whole deal. Eventually John Brown became a hero–even songs were written in his honor.

So I ask you is it okay to fudge the truth for a good cause?

*From  The Impending Crisis by David Potter

Self-Help Books

Harvey Cushing and his wife Kate during a rare down time.

Harvey Cushing and his wife Kate during a rare down time.

You’re good enough! Don’t worry; be happy! You’re a star! Has anyone else noticed this annoying theme in pop music? I notice it every time I drive my kids to one of the many vapid events necessary for a fulfilling childhood.

I think if I had it to do all over again I’d instill in my children a sense of mission. Happiness seekers are so . . . well, shallow.

Let’s take HARVEY CUSHING as an example. I have no idea if he was happy, but he was driven. Driven has gotten a bad rap of late. What did Harvey do? He invented modern neurosurgery is all. Oh, and all the instruments for operating on the brain. He had no time for boredom what with being “a celebrated clinical researcher, an accomplished artist, a fine writer, a passionate collector of books, a medical historian and bibliographer, and the chief founder of the Harvey Cushing/John Hay Whitney Medical Library.”

When did he have time to listen to pop music? Maybe coming from Puritan lineage gave him a leg up on the rest of us pleasure seekers. His father was strict but with a good sense of humor (are you listening fathers?) and his mother was perfect: “Bessie’s mother love was as boundless as her belief in reading, education, music, family loyalty, cleanliness, temperance, and regular attendance at the Presbyterians’ Old Stone Church….None of the Cushing children ever recorded a word of criticism about their perfectly wonderful mother.”

Harvey on a trip to Atlantic City (to study pleasure seekers?)

Harvey on a trip to Atlantic City (to study pleasure seekers?)

Maybe Harvey’s success came from never finding fault with his parents. Have you noticed how time-consuming blaming parents is? So much therapy and complaining and reliving of events! I never fell into this camp. I thought my family was exceedingly good and normal–I had a problem with me. This also was a waste of precious time–and money. It never occurred to me to take out self-help books from the library. I had stacks of good intentions and highlighted plans and prescriptions, but when my brother helped me move boxes loaded with positivity manuals he asked with not a small bit of frustration, “Will you ever be cured? Because these damned books are heavy.”

Imagine time better spent on the classics or neurosurgery. Or writing that novel or volunteering at the soup kitchen (and not just for forced community service hours–high schoolers should rebel at being FORCED).

Harvey also went off to war. He experimented with electromagnets to see if they could extract shrapnel from the brain.  As a young doctor he was mentored by another wonderful doctor named William Osler famous for saying things like: “Listen to your patient, he is telling you the diagnosis.” which seems pretty old hat after watching too many medical dramas (when I could have been establishing a library of self-help books for the public).

William Osler’s son begged his father to open some doors to get him a commission in the military (his eyes weren’t very good). His father did so with trepidation. As sad luck would have it the young man was mortally wounded and Harvey was the one to try to save him.

It must have weighed heavily on him (as it did on Dr. Osler for the rest of his life) and it is true that sitting in your basement anxiously awaiting the next superhero video game you pre-ordered allows for a certain safety, a certain escape from the terrors of realizing a wasted life and a total lack of gumption, but I thank God I threw away–yes in the regular trash without recycling–all of those damned self-help books.

A Happy Moment

A Happy Moment

Harvey contributed. He may have been blessed with genius, but it doesn’t take a brain surgeon to know that life is more than just happiness.


US GRANT: Failed President; Father Extraordinaire

Imperfect man; near perfect father.

Imperfect man; near perfect father.

“General Grant was an extraordinarily responsible and devoted father and husband. He was extremely loving and kind towards his wife and children and was always considered a hero in the eyes of his family. Perhaps General Grant was the most ethical and moral family man and U. S. President that we ever had. The recollection that his wife, children and grandchildren had of him was of the highest caliber.”

READ WHAT HIS FAMILY HAD TO SAY HERE. (Warning: It’s all very sweet) Sigh.



Goodreads Book Giveaway

Weary of Running by Adrienne  Morris

Weary of Running

by Adrienne Morris

Giveaway ends June 20, 2015.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

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