Forbidden Words

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I fear the following words could not be printed in a modern history book about an American town without some debate:

“The pioneers of ’59 placed our house  on a foundation already prepared of Dutch thrift, industry and religious faith. Their children and children’s children, in like manner, added to the story, strong and beautiful, until Englewood stands today a fair edifice, harmonious in detail, into which have been built the faith, truth and ideals of the men and women of the past and of the present day as well.” The Book of Englewood, Adaline W. Sterling 1922

Ten years after its founding Englewood New Jersey had already become the home of bankers, boarding schools and active Christianity. The churches were considered the foundation stones of the city.

This was no small-minded town across the Hudson River from New York City . The writer of Englewood’s history expressed no sense of shame or embarrassment in declaring that Christian values helped build a beautiful town. Somewhere between 1922 and 2015 “Christian” and “values” have become synonymous with something akin to evil.

WHAT DO YOU THINK?

You can read what my characters think of their town in my novels: THE HOUSE ON TENAFLY ROAD and WEARY OF RUNNING.

RELATED: The Novel as Protestant Art

Brazil says, “Come down here, you rebels. We’ve got cotton to pick and slaves to pick it.”

Joseph Whithaker and wife were among the first Confederates to emigrate to Brazil where slavery was still legal.
Joseph Whithaker and wife were among the first Confederates to emigrate to Brazil where slavery was still legal.

“When the war (US Civil) ended in 1865, many former Confederates were unwilling to live under the rule of the Union. They were unhappy with the destruction of their pre-war lifestyle that included slavery. So when Emperor Dom Pedro II of Brazil sent recruiters to the Southern States of Alabama, Louisiana, Georgia, South Carolina and Texas to pick up experienced cotton farmers, many disgruntled Southerners jumped at the opportunity.

Slavery was still in existence in Brazil at the time, which greatly attracted the Southerners. Combined with their humiliating defeat at the hands of the Union, many felt that moving out of America was the only option available to them. Dom Pedro, who wanted to encourage the cultivation of cotton, made an offer they could not refuse – he offered them a package of tax breaks and grants, as well as a section of the Brazilian forest that they could call home. It was more than they could ever ask for – a chance to start over and create a new community with Southern values.” MORE at OddityCentral.com

AMAZINGLY some former slaves traveled to Brazil with their former masters: “A few newly freed slaves in the United States emigrated alongside their Confederate counterparts and in some cases with their previous owners. One such former slave, Steve Watson, became the administrator of the sawmill of his former owner, Judge Dyer of Texas. Upon returning to the USA (due to homesickness and financial failure) Dyer deeded his remaining property, the sawmill and 12 acres, to Watson. In the area of the Juquia valley there are many Brazilian families with the surname Vassão, the Portuguese pronunciation of Watson.Wikipedia

 THE LOST CONFEDERADOS  still celebrate in Brazil!

"My, y'all look just like some folks at home." (Courtesy of NotEventhePast.org)
“My, y’all look just like some folks at home.”
(Courtesy of NotEventhePast.org)

The Sorrow of Grey Areas

Beautiful Innocent
Beautiful Innocent

In the absence of God we all want perfect heroes, don’t we? We build them up and hate them as we drag them down to earth. I can’t write about characters who don’t get dragged into pits and stomped on. It doesn’t seem real to me. I can’t relate and feel the whole hero thing is a sham.

On the other hand when people struggle with an evil reality, get caught on their feelings of inadequacy and do nothing to address the evil I feel sympathetic. Some people are militant enough to watch PETA videos and give up meat (but we all know you can’t escape the grey areas even as a vegan).

And so it was with American slavery. There were no perfect heroes, but it’s wrong to say that there weren’t plenty of people who hated slavery. Here’s how a lot of Northerners handled it in their heads:

1. We are a loose confederacy of states. I’m not my brother’s keeper.

2. I know slavery is evil and we just had this Great Awakening religious revival thing and as a Christian I feel guilty.

3. Yet, the Constitution is a masterpiece, almost sacred, even. Hmm.

4. I don’t own slaves and no one in my state does. It’s not my problem and I can’t fix it.

5. Then why do I still feel guilty?

6. And why do I hate the Abolitionists?

7. I hate them because without them I can pretend that I’m innocent (since I don’t keep slaves). I just want to live my life in peace–and I have relatives down south. They don’t have slaves either.

8. I don’t hate abolitionists because I hate black people and want them enslaved. I hate them because they pick at that sore, they addle my conscience and I know they’re right . . .

9. But what’s to be done? I don’t want my son fighting a war . . . he’s so young and innocent.

10. I won’t read the papers, I won’t listen to the sermons–oh, slaves and slavery and grey areas! Damn them all to hell!

Books I’ve Known And Loved

Live fast, die young or traverse the earth slowly.
Live fast, die young or traverse the earth slowly.

Even as college students and dirty, rotten stay-outs, we poked fun at every artsy person’s need for the right hip place to be on the weekend (or any other night). We drove my father’s two-toned Oldsmobile ironically and on five dollars worth of mostly gas fumes to Hoboken. For a brief, sparkling time we were small city celebrities as publishers of a literary/art/whatever-we-wanted magazine.

Our watering-hole reviews were most appreciated by the many young engineers studying at Steven’s Tech and the artsy crowd living in the still rundown lofts on the edge of town rubbing against Jersey City. Bar owners (who also bought advertising in our magazine) were not always equally impressed.

The true hipster crowd hung at Maxwell’s. We thought them too pretentious, well-dressed and rich for our tastes (except on New Years when we went in search of cute bartenders). Like any true rebels we preferred slumming it at the other end of town where a pitcher of beer was about $7 if memory serves and pretzels were on the house.

Here we sat for hours being served by a bleach-blonde, 25-year-old lady (as 19 and 20-year-olds we considered her past her sell-by date). Only a few years later she’d have to quit with a lung ailment from too much second-hand smoke each night at the bar. By then we’d been banned from most bars and bored of the ones we still were allowed to frequent.

No one died in our circle of “rebels”–though with that big car and pitchers of drinks we were damned lucky not to have killed anyone (a vague memory of racing another crazed drunk on the road home and avoiding the police  pops into my head now and I shudder).

Our magazine wasn’t all that good in the grand scheme of things and because we were lazy our advertisers dwindled when we didn’t bother to keep them happy. As a friends group and editorial staff our egos clashed and our interests pulled us in different directions, none of us quite reaching celebrity status again–and probably that’s for the best.

And so it was for Walt Whitman and his friends group at Pfaff’s Saloon under Broadway in NYC before the Civil War.  “America’s First Bohemians”  were not very different from the legions of young people who still style themselves as unique rebels, somehow above the ordinary Joes. Maybe artists are slightly off kilter in some way, but how funny that from generation to next generation the artsy crowd keeps in line with their own stereotypes.

The seedy bars, the wasted moments, the brief brushes with greatness (or delusions of grandeur) and the inevitable maturity or quick tragic death. Walt Whitman lingered on waiting for his Leaves of Grass to catch fire in a slow, slow burn. He nursed soldiers, kept ordinary jobs and quiet romances at Pfaff’s and beyond. Not so his artsy acquaintances (for they never really were close friends).

Most of the rebel souls died of too much life. One died at war after the best of his drinking days were over, one suffered the calamity of youthful stardom and brilliance–always chasing but never catching a new success and always sinking deeper into his opium addiction. One thought she could write well, but when the first terrible reviews came in she retreated into acting only to be bitten by a theater owner’s terrier. She died a few weeks later raving mad from rabies.

Are rebels rebels if they keep the same rules and hours as the trailblazers before them? Is wearing black as cool as when Johnny Cash first did it? Walt Whitman hung at Pfaff’s but he hung back, too. He retreated to his mother’s apartment. He wore strange boots,  roguishly tilting his hat and keeping his shirt open at the neck, but in his day the stars at Pfaff’s burned quick and bright, most dying in their early thirties like ancient echoes of Jim Morrison and Amy Winehouse.

No one ever knows sitting round the sticky tables in a dark bar when their star will rise and fall. No one knows if maturity or death is better for artists and their work until everyone is dead and gone–and even then when cool people search for cool places tastes change in art.

The names of the famous 19th century actors, poets and comics are mostly forgotten. Walt Whitman’s one masterpiece hangs on. No one knows why.

“My biggest worry is that when I’m dead and gone, my wife will sell my fishing gear for what I said I paid for it.” – Koos Brandt

“In the United States, fly fishermen are thought to be the first anglers to have used artificial lures for bass fishing. After pressing into service the fly patterns and tackle designed for trout and salmon to catch largemouth and smallmouth bass, they began to adapt these patterns into specific bass flies. Fly fishermen seeking bass […]

Books I’ve Known And Loved

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What is it about disasters? We want to look away, but find ourselves absorbed in the horrifying details of a hurricane or a tornado. Our hearts go out but so does or keen and morbid interest. In general I don’t go in for disaster stories because I already live with enough irrational fear, but I like David McCullough and knew nothing about one of the most sensational stories of the 1880’s in America.

jmtmghg

I can’t say I loved this book exactly (can you love a book that gives you nightmares?). Everyone in Johnstown knew there was a dam built up in the mountains above their bustling industrial town, but the people, mostly first generation Germans, Welsh and Irish made a good living in the socially progressive city of 20,000 or so. They had big industry, stores, opera houses and churches.

In the 1860’s the dam had suffered some damage, but not enough to arouse too much concern. Even when the likes of Andrew Carnegie and friends decided the man-made lake in the mountains would be the perfect spot for summering and built a private club with mansions called “cottages” around the lake, only a few people worried about the dam.

floodYear after prosperous year passed with only the occasional joke about the dam finally breaking and then came the rainy spring of 1888. Cold and wet, some began to eye the dam and worry. The people in the valley often experienced floods on a small scale and when the clouds burst on Memorial Day weekend the people began rolling their rugs on the ground floors of their homes and businesses and moving their valuables to the attic as they’d done so many times before. But this was different.

As the torrential rains poured down, the earthen dam began to buckle. A weak spot right in its center gave way, to the horror of the men readying for a summer season of high class sport and recreation. Some brave men took to their horses and raced down to the towns in the valley warning them that the dam would fail and soon, but most people had heard these things too many times.

And so the great lake over three miles wide emptied itself into the valley within forty minutes. Entire towns disappeared–every last bit of evidence that a community existed–gone in minutes. Trees were ripped from their places, leaving once green mountainsides bald.

The people who saw the water as it made its turn into Johnstown said the water looked more like a black thundering blob of thick grinding air and soot. Indeed so many towns and people and horses and forests were crushed and roiled in the moving lake that the water became more a thick soup of death than anything like water.

jghgmgWithin about 10 minutes much of Johnstown was demolished. The landscape entirely changed. Many people raced to high ground while some survived in air pockets above the water in their flooded and now floating houses. Children, their clothing torn from them, clung to mattresses and rooftops as they flew along over the waves. Dead horses and dogs were everywhere along with tons of barbed wire produced in one of the factories.

The rubble and thunder crashed into the city’s stone bridge in such a way that the bridge held. Every bit of carnage flew up against it creating a monstrous pile of wreckage which then caught fire as night fell.

It is said that no one cried that first night, the shock being so complete. All trains, all telegraph wires and all access to food or clothing were cut off. The only light was the fire at the bridge where some people were trapped alive.

About 2200 people died in Johnstown, some bodies only being found years later down river. Entire families disappeared, orphans mourned the loss of parents and siblings and husbands missed their wives–wishing they’d done something to save them. In one afternoon everything they knew was gone.

Some insist that the big bugs up at the club could have prevented and may have callously allowed for the dam to break. I think everyone just stupidly hoped for the best. We all want what we want. We don’t want to go around thinking about dams breaking all the time. Things happen in a flash. Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done
 and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun. as King Solomon once wisely wrote.

I guess we read about disasters because we know one day our time will come. This world will be washed away even if only we die asleep in our beds. We wonder what the point is. How will we handle the nightmares that may come our way?

In the case of Johnstown, the country stopped all else and helped. Every great city sent money, food, machinery and prayers. The Pennsylvania Railroad out of Pittsburgh did nothing but bring in workers and relief for weeks. People shared. People rescued others, risking their lives– having just seen how frail human life could be dashed against the rubble. People kept going because, in the end, what else can we do?

Benny Havens Tavern~The Fun Spot for Future Officers

Oh! Don't slip!
Oh! Don’t slip!

When I was young my friends and I stole away from a high school class trip to get drinks, but this place looks like more fun! The future officers even wrote a song about it.

“No amount of rough terrain, bad weather, or strict rules, kept cadets from their favorite watering hole. Cadets, such as Custer, Poe, and Davis, would routinely risk their lives, or at least their studies, to venture down river, after having snuck off base, to go drink at the popular tavern. The cadets would sneak out of their windows after lights out and either travel through the dense forest rife with cliffs to the bar, or should the dead of winter have proven cold enough, they would have stealthily skated down the Hudson River right to Benny Haven’s.” Shane Cashman

Read the rest of the article here.

Benny Havens
Come fill your glasses, fellows, and stand up in a row.
To singing sentimentally we’re going for to go.
In the Army there’s sobriety, promotions very slow.
So we’ll sing our reminiscences of Benny Havens. Oh!

Oh! Benny Havens, Oh! Oh! Benny Havens, Oh!
We’ll sing our reminiscences of Benny Havens, Oh!

To our kind old Alma Mater, our rockbound highland home.
We’ll cast back many a fond regret as o’er life’s sea we roam.
Until on our last battlefield the light of heaven shall glow.
We’ll never fail to drink to her and Benny Havens, Oh!

Oh! Benny Havens, Oh! Oh! Benny Havens, Oh!
We’ll sing our reminiscences of Benny Havens, Oh!

May the Army be augmented, promotion be less slow.
May our country in the hour of need be ready for the foe.
May we find a soldier’s resting place beneath a soldier’s blow.
With room enough beside our graves for Benny Havens, Oh!

Oh! Benny Havens, Oh! Oh! Benny Havens, Oh!
We’ll sing our reminiscences of Benny Havens, Oh!

west point benny havens

 

Books I’ve Known And Loved

railroaded_news

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I could go on about this book FOREVER!!! If you love intrigue and corruption, avarice and stupidity all assembled in a breathtakingly well-researched and witty BIG read, then here’s the book for you. If you like flawed though strangely lovable characters, then again, here they are presented to you on a silver platter. There’s the intellectual railroad man, Charles Adams and the blustering, risk-taking old grump Collis Huntington to begin with, but it’s Richard White’s depth of knowledge and insight into humanity (about the fairest book I’ve read about anything in a long time) that steal the show.

As you know, I hate easy answers, simple villains and preachy one-sided visions of humanity and Richard keeps everyone in perspective. This is no Howard Zinn good worker vs. evil corporate manager fantasy. Everyone’s corrupt from top to bottom. Everyone’s blind to their own flaws. America’s youth and all of the waste and foolishness that came with it bursts from the pages! Yes, I adore this book.

It even explains what a short stock is in a way I understand!! Now that’s something. You might wonder if it is a depressing story (I felt like giving up on life after reading Zinn’s junk), but this book is too full of wit–as if the author has the sense of humor of someone who doesn’t expect people to be anything near perfect–just interesting.

Richard White Interview

Railroaded

Here’s Why the Met is a Treasure

Image

“Seeking to assuage the sorrow brought on by the war and to heal the nation’s fractured spirit in its wake, painters turned away from martial and political content. Responding to the assertion of women’s responsibilities after the loss of so many men in combat, artists depicted them in new roles and grappled with issues surrounding their new options. Expressing a longing for prewar innocence and the commemorative atmosphere associated with the nation’s Centennial, many painters portrayed children. And, as the agrarian basis of American life gave way to urbanization and industrialization, artists who lived, studied, worked, and exhibited their paintings in thriving cities looked to the countryside for their subjects. Painters of this era were, however, likely to show rural locales as temporary or nostalgic retreats from urban existence rather than sustainable habitats.” Weinberg and Barratt, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Follow this link for more insight into  American Scenes of Everyday Life 1840-1910. The online exhibit allows you to notice beautiful details and gain better understanding of the artists and citizens of the day and it’s just plain beautiful!

British Lady Takes on Montana and Wins

The happy, adventurous couple.
The happy, adventurous couple.

After taking in rich boarders (who often didn’t pay) and selling truckloads of vegetables Evelyn Jephson Cameron of England found a living taking pictures in Montana. After marrying her husband Ewen who her parents disapproved of they took their honeymoon in the West, 1889 and fell in love with the rough, majestic beauty of Montana and right then and there decided to relocate.

They bought a ranch with a simple three room cabin sitting on it and named it Eve Ranch. Ewen suffered doubts and wanted to go home to England when ranching turned out to be more expensive than they thought, but Evelyn was having none of it. She sent away for a camera. “She decided to wrestle with the intricacies of the dry plate glass negative, unwieldy, 5×7 Graflex camera.  She later purchased a No. 5 Kodet that was designed for 5 X 7 plates or film, as she liked the tonal quality of the plates.”

Sitting astride with friends.
Sitting astride with friends.

How many other 19th century women took photographs? How many other women bolstered their husbands’ confidence convincing them that they could make it? Why do modern day women scrapbook?

Evelyn is my new hero of the moment. I love her photos and admire her pluckiness. She was a Brit and she had a relaxed, friendly smile. She relished the idea that she was the first woman in Montana to ride astride a horse instead of side-saddle (I wonder though if little girls on the open plains and under the shadow of watchful big mountains didn’t sneak in rides astride all along).

Get on up, girls!
Get on up, girls!

Collection of Personal Photographs