Books I’ve Known and Loved

Yes, the Irish population loved their bicycles and sewing machines, but the world loved Madame Demorest. Maybe it’s true that women were slaves to their horrible husbands  and to a society that looked upon business women with disdain in the 19th century, but Nell Demorest didn’t let that stop her. By odd coincidence she grew […]

A Noble Moment in a Man’s Life

The Grand Union Hotel speaking, but silently to a uninterested world.
The Grand Union Hotel speaking, but silently to a uninterested world.

There’s a wickedness to not exploring the past–not the past that’s contrived and shoved down your throat by a committee of people with an agenda. Go to the old buildings and listen to them speak to you. Find that little piece of a battlefield still untrammeled by suburbs. In the distance you hear a lawnmower but closer still you feel the fear and heartbreak of men in sweat-stained uniforms being carried from the field under sunny sky.

Don’t put all your faith in the snarky characterizations, the slip-shod research and self-righteous tendency to tear the noble moments of a man’s life down. We’ve all fallen and would prefer no one finds the self-pitying journal entry from 20 years ago that exposes our temptations, mixed motives and sins.

One man's love affair dismantled.
One man’s love affair dismantled.

Trash the textbooks and throw open the historical libraries to children. Let them feel the leather-bound book — pages dripping with ink and humanity. To see a general’s script is to fall in love and understand this man truly existed and thought his own thoughts–not that of a scared little college adjunct professor. I may think great things about a soldier and you may think the Indian is superior, but I say, go back and be with them. Quiet little houses and dusty old local libraries await with their treasure.

Why is it wicked to be fed your history? Because you put your trust in fallen man. I think what I think. I have an agenda so go see for yourself.

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“Saratoga is the wickedest place in the United States.” Nellie Bly

 

Enter if you dare.
Enter if you dare.

Wicked maybe, but beautiful too. Oh, for the days of such wickedness! Before the CIA promoted ugly art causing president Truman once to remark, “If that’s art, then I’m a Hottentot.”

Gambling was illegal when Mr. Morrissey, a tough prize-fighter from Troy rolled into Saratoga and set up his Gentlemen’s Club (aka casino). The Saratoga mineral springs had attracted rich Southerners before the war who liked to flaunt their wealth and Paris fashions, but after the war a more democratic crowd filled the hotels and rubbed shoulders with the wealthy. That was fine all day, but when evening came . . .

Perfectly respectable wickedness.
Perfectly respectable wickedness.

Morrissey recognized the need for gentlemen to have a luxurious place to have a bit of gambling fun and so the casino began. Nellie Bly, Spencer Trask and others bemoaned the gambling being done at the club and then at the track (Morrissey realized vacationers would get bored of mineral water before noon and needed afternoon diversion so started the races with the backing of richie-riches like Travers, Jerome and Vanderbilt ).

Okay, so drinking, drugging, betting and adultery are wicked pursuits, but the seasons at Saratoga were beautiful–as was the casino.

Exhibit 1 Beauty
Exhibit 1 Beauty
Exhibit 2 Can anything truly wicked happen in a room like this (the High Stakes Room)?
Exhibit 2 Can anything truly wicked happen in a room like this (the High Stakes Room)?
Exhibit 3 Give me gambling like this any day over the riff-raff jingle jangle Atlantic City casinos!
Exhibit 3 Give me gambling like this any day over the riff-raff jingle jangle Atlantic City casinos!

The Vanderbilts, the Whitneys, US Grant and Mark Twain ate club sandwiches (invented here so not all wicked) while they gambled the night away. That must have been fun and here’s the sideboard where the stacks of refreshments where kept ready for hungry wicked people.

Club sandwich, Mr. Twain?
Club sandwich, Mr. Twain?

But what about the wicked women? Nellie Bly found the women trashy, but they don’t look too bad to me–though maybe a little pale as they read magazines, sip tea and play tunes on the piano in the reading room of the casino (some probably fretting a small bit about fortunes being squandered up above.

Fa-la-la to hell we go!
Fa-la-la to hell we go!
The casino today still looking pretty great though no longer all that wicked.
The casino today still looking pretty great though no longer all that wicked.