The Shadows We Leave

What a strange mix of altruistic and puritanical compulsion. Spencer Trask made his fortune on Wall Street betting on the future–the future of transportation (railroads), news (he saved the New York Times from bankruptcy) and light (he invested heavily in Thomas Edison’s works). Yet the idea of gamblers roaming the streets of Saratoga Springs in…

The Fabulous Life of Champagne Charlie

Some people live large and don’t ask for permission. Charles Heidsieck. There’s your example. Champagne Charlie, as his adoring American public dubbed him, had drama in his veins like some of us have fear and loathing. His father rode before Napoleon into Russia on a white stallion to take orders for celebratory champagne (someone was…

A different kind of engineer: Boss Tweed

“It’s hard not to admire the skill behind Tweed’s system … The Tweed ring at its height was an engineering marvel, strong and solid, strategically deployed to control key power points: the courts, the legislature, the treasury and the ballot box. Its frauds had a grandeur of scale and an elegance of structure: money-laundering, profit…

“Courage mattered. Loyalty mattered. Honor mattered. Personal Pride mattered. Soldiers, and their culture, defined these as masculine values. The Gilded Age substituted gain for cause and friends for comrades.” Richard White

Charles Francis Adams, despite being considered an authority on the management of railroads couldn’t keep the Union Pacific stable as its president. One of the reasons, according to Richard White in Railroaded,  was the boys–the young men too young to have fought in the war seemed “weak, unruly, willful and hard to control.” On July…

Books I’ve Known and Loved

My heart beats a little quicker for this extremely fun and informative gem, The Look of the Old West Lieutenant John Weldon in The House on Tenafly Road took his family to a western military outpost after the Civil War and this book helped make that possible. Scholarly research is a great thing but Foster…