Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Journey to Po

The Public Library 
by Guy Wiggins (1935)
He was a master of painting New York City in the snow.
This is Fifth Avenue & 42nd Street.

I went looking for Po, an Italian restaurant on Cornelia Street in the West Village.  Turns out that it closed more than a year ago.  Like hundreds of the city’s small shops and stores, it was forced out of business by a greedy landlord – a 120% increase on the $10,000 monthly rent, the owner told a reporter.

The restaurant figures in one of my deepest clearest memories, one in which I can see all the way to the bottom of a dark primordial lake.  

It was a snowy night in February, 2015, as I sat on a Fifth Avenue bus heading downtown to have dinner with a friend.  I looked forward to the evening with great anticipation.

Traveling by bus through the snow brought my father to mind.  One of his favorite essays involved a snowstorm in which the writer also boarded a Fifth Avenue bus that lumbered downtown. 

Standing up and holding on tight, the writer unexpectedly found joy in the ride.  Evidently, in the course of most days he felt slightly mournful, as if time were passing and leaving him behind like a rock being worn away by the wind and tide.

Now on the bus, the writer had an epiphany.  Time was passing, but it was taking him with it.  His perspective changed.  Perhaps, he thought, time is a stationary place through which we all move, alone and together.    

Fountain of Time
by Lorado Taft (1920)

I remembered from college a large statue called “Time” on the campus of the University of Chicago.  There was a quotation underneath:  Time goes, you say?  Ah no! alas, time stays, we go. 

My 20-year old self had been willing to embrace this maudlin saying by an obscure nineteenth-century poet.  But now, not so much. 

I got off the bus and started to cross Washington Square Park.  There is a song, Diamonds and Rust, which Joan Baez wrote for Bob Dylan “light years ago,” she once said, after their love affair ended. 

Now I see you standing with brown leaves all around and snow in your hair
Now we’re smiling out the window of that crummy hotel over Washington Square
Our breath comes in white clouds, mingles and hangs in the air
Speaking strictly for me we both could have died then and there

Bob Dylan and Joan Baez (1963)

How stunning to hear those words as a teenager.  Now I feel grateful to have experienced such a moment, but at the age of 16 – not fully comprehending and definitely not ready for it.

Time to pick up the pace.  Around the corner lay dear delightful Cornelia Street, snowflakes drifting under the streetlamps; storefronts drawn by Beatrix Potter.

Something happened when I opened the door and stepped in:  an extraordinary feeling of well-being.  The candlelight shimmered and streamed in every direction.  And there was my friend sitting at a far table along the left wall.

I had boarded the bus just an hour earlier.  Yet it felt like a century had passed, on one hand, and just a few minutes, on the other, during the journey to Po. Gratefully, I sat down in the glow.

Left-click on images to enlarge them.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Snowy Old New York

City Watchman by William P. Chappel  (around 1870)
(Metropolitan Museum of Art)

Toward the end of his life, William P. Chappel painted scenes of early nineteenth-century New York City, which he recalled from his childhood.  The oil paintings are small, no larger than 7"x 10", and meticulously detailed.  Left-click on the image to enlarge it. 

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Louis N. Hammerling, an American Allrightnik

Louis N. Hammerling launched his magazine,
The American Leader, in 1912.

In 1908, when Louis N. Hammerling founded the American Association of Foreign Language Newspapers, he had long since persuaded his colleagues that he was Hawaiian – born in Honolulu in 1874; immigrated to the U.S. in 1886. 

Unfortunately, as Louis once scribbled in a passport application, he could not recall the name of the steamer and the point of departure.  That is because he had, in fact, emigrated from Poland in 1879 at the age of nine.

Much later, when the truth emerged, Louis explained that he thought every immigrant was allowed to choose his own birthplace upon arriving in America.  He also admitted that he perjured himself while obtaining his naturalization papers in 1901.  

Hammerling used fraudulent papers 
to obtain a certificate of naturalization 
Louis led the quintessential checkered life.  Scholars and contemporary observers have described him as charismatic, problematic, and wily; a master of fraud and intrigue, a huckster, a self-promoter, and an "allrightnik."  Allrightnik is a Yiddish word for a striver who attains success yet remains vulgar and deceitful. 

Around 1890, Louis moved to Wilkes-Barre, PA, to work as a coal miner and mule driver.  He also became editor of a local Polish language newspaper.  Soon after, he began editing the United Mine Workers Journal.  Through that connection, he met Mark Hanna, an Ohio businessman and influential politician who owned mines and was largely responsible for getting the pliable President McKinley elected.  Subsequently, Hanna introduced Louis to members of the Republican National Committee.  They hired him to manage the party’s appeals for immigrants’ votes between 1904 and 1916. 

Along the way, Louis had many ideas.  One of them was this:

By the turn of the twentieth century, the U.S. was home to at least 400 foreign language newspapers published in at least two dozen languages.  In 1908 Louis formed the American Association of Foreign Language Newspapers (AAFLN), requiring that each member-newspaper purchase a few shares in the association. 

Next, he made a match. 

American corporations, government, and political parties had spent years trying to reach the burgeoning immigrant population.  Big business had stuff to sell: thousands of retail products.  Politicians wanted to pitch the pros and cons of social movements such as Prohibition.  Electioneers and marketers were hired to corral the votes of immigrants.   

But language was a formidable barrier.

Organizing the foreign language press enabled Louis Hammerling to act as an advertising broker.  He established rates, bullied reluctant publishers, and pocketed money from unwitting parties on both sides of the fence.  He believed that advertising would help “Americanize” immigrants by tethering them to the consumer culture.   

Classified listing of foreign language newspapers
published in the U.S.
(around 1910)

Today, it is rather astonishing to scan an old directory of AAFLN members.  In 1917, the following nations were represented by one or more American newspapers:

Albania … Arabia … Armenia … Assyria … Austria … Belgium … Bohemia … Bulgaria … China … Croatia … Denmark … Estonia … Finland … France … Germany … Greece … Hungary … Iceland … Italy … Japan … Lithuania … Norway … Poland … Portugal … Rumania … Russia … Ruthenia … Serbia … Slovakia … Slovenia … Spain … Sweden … Syria … Turkey … and Ukraine, not to mention papers read by the Welsh, the Swiss, the Lettish, and Jews.  

Altogether they totaled 724 publications, 150 dailies and 500 weeklies plus magazines, published largely in Midwestern and northeastern cities.

In 1912, Louis started his own monthly newspaper, The American Leader.  In its pages, academics, businessmen, and foreign language journalists editorialized about current events.    

Robert Park, an urban sociologist who began his career as a newspaper reporter, once wrote that Hammerling “could give advertising or he could take it away.  He could promise the struggling little publisher that he would either make him or break him.”

But The American Leader (and other papers in the AAFLN) became best-known for a 1915 advertisement, written by Louis, entitled “An Appeal to the American People.”  It called for the U.S. to stop manufacturing weapons and ammunitions for the allies, and was widely regarded as pro-German propaganda.

During the early 1920s, Congress investigated Louis and others who were suspected of violating the 1918 Sedition Act.  Louis stopped publishing The American Leader and handed off the presidency of the association. 

Ultimately, he was expelled from the U. S., but not because of treason.  Rather, the government figured out that he had used false papers to become naturalized.  He journeyed back to Poland in 1924; then returned to the U.S. in 1930 and was re-naturalized legally.  

Louis married twice and fathered three sons.  Born Jewish, he converted to Catholicism but was not a religious man.

In 1935, he died after falling from the nineteenth floor of a Brooklyn apartment building. At a time when newspapers still announced suicides and even the gory details, no cause of death was given.

*Louis Hammerling led a complicated, duplicitous life.  See The Most Dangerous German Agent in America, The Many Lives of Louis N. Hammerling by M. B. B. Biskupski (2015).

NOTE: Left-click on images to enlarge them.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Leaving Lord & Taylor

Main entrance to Lord & Taylor (1914)

Goodbye to yet another great American department store.  

Lord & Taylor’s Fifth Avenue flagship palace, built in 1914 in Italian Renaissance style, closed its doors on January 2.

Soon a company called WeWork, a decidedly 21st century enterprise, will carve the space into offices and meeting rooms available to the general public.  WeWork’s design team takes itself as seriously as did the building’s original architects, the firm of Starrett & Van Vleck.

Of course, it has been many years since shoppers could take the elevator to the tenth floor and dine in the Wedgwood Room or the Loggia: a cup of clam broth, a tongue sandwich; Cantaloupe Lillian for dessert.*  

And decades have passed since a fountain and frieze of glazed terra cotta decorated the walls and ceilings of the Cut Flowers Department.**

The Cut Flowers Department was located on a second-floor balcony; the
 Rookwood Pottery Company of Cincinnati created the architectural faience.

Once upon a time the Toy Department displayed its mechanical water toys in a 7 ’x 16’ tank.  Between 1914 and 1938, the Sixth Avenue Elevated conveniently stopped just a block away from the store.

Yet even as change came to Lord & Taylor, the store had a habit of standing still.  It evoked an earlier city.

I don’t mean that the store was quaint.  Rather, it connected generations:  for us, the tail-end baby boomers, to the city where our mothers emerged from the Depression and war, and fully came of age.   

A child feels very comfortable being held by the hand as an adult knowledgeably navigates a large, old building.  Such a place was Lord & Taylor, just like Grand Central Terminal. 

Lord & Taylor (1914)

The store has a long history.  Samuel Lord and George Washington Taylor opened their shop in 1826, far downtown on Catherine Street in a neighborhood now known as Two Bridges.  French satins, Indian shawls, and the like were purchased abroad.  The merchants aimed high.

Over time, Lord & Taylor moved north to the Lower East Side neighborhood, and then to Broadway where Lincoln’s funeral procession passed its black draped building in 1865.  But the city kept moving uptown, and in 1912, the company purchased land on Fifth Avenue between 38th and 39th Street.  The new store – with 600,000 square feet of floor space, a carriage and automobile entrance, and an employees’ gymnasium – was completed in 1914. 

Lord & Taylor was designed for women but its president – no surprise – was a man, Samuel Rayburn.  In the early 1920s, he became captivated by “the Little Shavers,” a quirky collection of small male and female dolls with odd names and colorful outfits.  Hand-crafted of cloth, with painted faces, the Little Shavers quickly became a fad among women and girls alike.

Drawings of Little Shavers from an article by Elsie Shaver

Two sisters, Elsie and Dorothy Shaver, had imagined the dolls after moving from Arkansas to New York City after World War I.  Elsie turned them out and Dorothy marketed them.  That is how she met Rayburn, who soon hired her to join his staff.  Dorothy rose through the ranks, establishing the store’s Bureau of Fashion & Design in 1925.  Soon after she was elected to the Board of Directors.  And in 1945, she became president of Lord & Taylor.

$110,000 Earned by Arkansas Girl announced a New York Times headline one year later.  She was the first woman to head a major retail store.  

Dorothy Shaver, 1950s

Dorothy Shaver brought Lord & Taylor into the modern age.  She had a gift for spotting trends and shifting tastes.  During the late 1920s, she decided to introduce modern art and home furnishings.  Off she went to France and brought back furniture, rugs, silver, glassware, and paintings by Utrillo, Braque and Picasso, which were exhibited in the store.

In 1932, Shaver introduced “the American Look,” championing American designers such as Claire McCardell.  She opened branches in the suburbs, helped establish the Metropolitan Museum’s Costume Institute, and generously supported the Greater New York Fund and the Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies.

Eventually she became a vice president of Associated Dry Goods, which owned Lord & Taylor.  She died in 1959 at the age of 66.

“We came to New York on a fast-running, extra-fare train from Chicago because Elsie was in a hurry to start her career,” Dorothy Shaver once told a reporter.

“I had no thought of a career for myself, then.  I just came along for the ride, and because New York sounded fabulous and exciting.  It was, and has been, fabulous and exciting to me ever since.”

Dorothy Shaver introduced the American Beauty
rose as a symbol of Lord & Taylor

As Joan Didion reflected in her 1967 farewell to New York, Goodbye to All That:

“I still believed in possibilities then, still had the sense, so peculiar to New York, that something extraordinary would happen any minute, any day, any month.”

And the same for Dorothy Shaver as she strode through her department store, across the travertine floors edged with black Egyptian marble.

She really understood what Lord & Taylor meant to its patrons.

Lord & Taylor on Catherine Street

*Cantaloupe Lillian, named after the actress Lillian Russell, was a half-cantaloupe with a scoop of vanilla ice cream in the middle.
**The Rookwood Pottery was established in 188o by Maria Longworth Nichols, inspired by her visit to the 1876 U. S. Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia.  Many of its designs relate to the Arts & Crafts Movement.  The company is still in business.

NOTE: Left-click on images to enlarge them.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

The Love Stories of Theodore Roosevelt

Front page of the New York Times, January 7, 1919

For several decades in American politics, all roads led to Oyster Bay, N.Y.   There stood the home of Theodore Roosevelt, a sprawling wooden house with deep porches named Sagamore Hill.   

He presided over it for 33 years, even while he was off being Civil Service Commissioner, New York City Police Commissioner, Assistant Secretary of the Navy, a Rough Rider, Governor of New York State, Vice President, and – of course –a larger-than-life President. 

Just before he died, he turned to his wife and said, “I wonder if you will ever know how much I love Sagamore Hill.”

Postcard, 1890s

Theodore had purchased the land in 1880, 155 acres overlooking Oyster Bay, the same year he graduated from Harvard and married “my own sweet, pretty darling” on his 22nd birthday.  He intended to build a home for a large family.  

He hired architects to design a 22-room Queen Anne-style house, to be called Leeholm after his doll-like bride, Alice Lee Roosevelt.  But Alice died in childbirth in February 1884, after delivering a daughter whom Theodore named for her mother.  Coincidentally, Theodore’s own mother, Martha, died the same day. 

Alice Hathaway Lee Roosevelt

Grief-stricken, he left the baby in the care of his sister, Bamie, and stormed off to the Dakota Territory believing that happiness had fled his life forever. 

Before the harrowing departure, TR, as he would be known, ordered construction of the house to proceed.  But now it was to be called Sagamore Hill instead of Leeholm. 

During the next year, TR spent most of his time out west at his ranch on the Little Missouri River.  He did not wish to see the beautiful child who reminded him of the wife he had lost. He could not bear to live in the house he had promised Alice Lee.  His political future – he had been a fledgling state assemblyman – was uncertain.  

Theodore Roosevelt, Dakota Territory, mid-1880s

And yet, by late 1885, everything changed.  Incapable of living outside the arena, Theodore had moved back east, taken up residence at Sagamore Hill, and become acquainted with his precocious daughter. 

Perhaps most significantly, he and his childhood sweetheart, Edith Carow, had started to meet in secret and made plans to marry.  This caused TR equal parts of exhilaration and agony.  Notwithstanding his generally progressive outlook, he was a Victorian at heart.  In the pages of his diary, he accused himself of inconstancy. 

But he and Edith were passionately in love.  “You know all about me darling,” Edith told Theodore.  “I never could have loved anyone else.”

Edith Carow, newly engaged to TR, exuded
confidence even while dressed in an unflattering hat

They married in London in 1886.  When they returned from Europe, Edith insisted that little Alice join their family.   Five more children would follow.  They all grew up together at Sagamore Hill, when they weren’t living in Albany or Washington, D.C.

Wherever “Father” went, excitement followed: riding horses, hiking, swimming, tennis; entertaining visitors, debating, reading aloud, and mischief.   It was always “Edie,” however, at the center of his life.

The Roosevelt family, without Alice, around 1900

Many years later Alice Roosevelt reported that Edith, who could be very catty, once told her that TR would have been bored to death if his first wife, Alice, had lived.

Most likely Edith spoke the truth.  After all, she had proof.    

While Edith destroyed every love letter that passed between herself and Theodore, evidently there was one that she could not bear to burn.  It emerged from hiding during the late 1970s when the writer Sylvia Jukes Morris was researching the first scholarly biography of Edith Roosevelt.  Theodore had sent it to his wife in 1914. 

The story goes that TR, deeply disappointed by his failed Bull Moose bid for the presidency in 1912, asked his son, Kermit, to join him on an ill-considered expedition down the 950-mile River of Doubt in Brazil.  They embarked on the disastrous trip in 1913.  Battling malaria, dysentery and infection in the Amazon wilderness, Theodore at one point begged to be left behind to drink the poisonous contents of a vial he had brought along.

He wrote to Edith:

Oh, sweetest of all sweet girls, last night I dreamt that I was with you, and that our separation was but a dream; and when I waked up it was almost too hard to bear.  Well, one must pay for everything; you have made the real happiness of my life; and so it is natural and right that I should [be] constantly more and more lonely without you . . .  Darling, I love you so. . . .  How very happy we have been for these 23 years!

Of course TR did not drink the poison, but he returned to the U.S. with his body wrecked.  While he continued his interest in politics and wrote prolifically, his life quieted.  And then, in July 1918, the Roosevelts’ youngest son, Quentin, was killed in aerial combat over France.

“How am I going to break it to Mrs. Roosevelt?” TR asked the reporter who had brought the news to Sagamore Hill. 

Less than six months later, “the old lion,” as one of his sons described him, died at the age of 60.  Now nearly 100 years have passed, and the anniversary of TR’s death falls on January 6, 2019.   It will be interesting to see how the centennial is recognized.

He lived a life of intellect, sorrow, and error . . . inquiry, imagination, and more.  There is much to admire and much to criticize.  Today, some historians believe that he showed symptoms of hypomania, which explains his restlessness, recklessness, and productiveness.  

Having studied him informally for many years, I find his intense love of people and places more and more compelling.  Time and again, those deep attachments helped Theodore Roosevelt to right his own world.  Unironically they failed him -- one of the great warmongers of his age -- only with the senseless loss of his beloved son.

NOTE: Left-click on images to enlarge them.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Puzzling Out the Klan at Smith College

Smith College yearbook, 1907

The women of Smith College, class of 1907, enlisted in all kinds of activities.  Sororities, sports clubs, literary and drama societies . . .   

Also that year – just that one year – 17 of them belonged to a campus chapter of the Ku Klux Klan.

The group designed its own yearbook page with an illustration by one of the members, Elizabeth Bishop Ballard.  Like the other women, Elizabeth was born in 1885.  She liked to write poems and had contributed several to the famous children’s monthly, the St. Nicholas Magazine, when she was a little girl.

Located in Northampton, Mass., amidst the Berkshire Mountains, Smith College was founded in 1871 by a young woman named Sophia Smith who had inherited a fortune from her brother.  After much deliberation, she decided to create a women’s college that would have the distinction of not being modeled after a seminary.*

With its faculty of eminent scholars who taught the classics, the Bible, sciences, philosophy, languages, history, and economics, Smith was an unlikely place for the Klan.  Led by a progressive theologian, L. Clark Seelye, the college drew the daughters of privilege from the East Coast, Upper Midwest and Mountain States.  None of the members of Smith’s Klan chapter came from the South.  So what explains the group’s presence?

Smith College entrance, 1907

In the course of American history, the Klan was most active during three periods: during Reconstruction, which ended in 1877; during the 1920s when the organization’s resurgence was largely a reaction to immigration and urbanization; and during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 60s.

One might argue that the Klan became less active between 1900 and 1918, as reflected in an overarching decline in the number of lynchings of Southern black men during those years.  Any numerical decrease, however, would hardly indicate real change.

That is because Jim Crow – the racial apartheid laws which ensured the disenfranchisement, dehumanization and segregation of Southern blacks – was flourishing.  In the South, daily life remained brutal and fraught with terror for nonwhite citizens. 

In the North, racial prejudice was expressed less openly although it permeated daily life.  Many stereotypes originated with the educated white upper class, which popularized the degradation of black people.  Throughout the Progressive Era, books, music, film, and theater ridiculed blacks, on one hand, and romanticized the Old South, on the other.

Mass culture, starting to rear its head during the first decade of the twentieth century, perpetuated racism.

For example, during this time, fashionable reading included a trilogy that sentimentalized the Klan, written by Thomas Dixon, Jr., a North Carolinian novelist.  The third volume, The Traitor, A Story of the Fall of the Invisible Empire, appeared in 1907.  It followed The Leopard’s Spots (1902) and The Clansman: An Historical Romance of the Ku Klux Klan (1905).  The latter would be turned into a popular film, Birth of a Nation, directed by D. W. Griffith.**

Also between 1901 and 1909, President Theodore Roosevelt and his wife arranged White House performances of “coon songs.”  The German diplomat Baron Speck von Sternburg and TR’s Secretary of State, John Hay (once President Lincoln’s private secretary) were among the guests who applauded “You’se Just a Little Nigger, Still Youse Mine, All Mine,” and the like. 

Still, could the lives of the women who joined Smith’s Klan chapter contain clues to its existence on campus?

The group’s president, and probably its founder, was a New Yorker named Millicent Vaughan Lewis.  After graduating from college, she became one of the “Ladies of Grecourt,” the original Smith College Relief Unit that volunteered in the Somme during the summer of 1916.  After returning from Europe, Millicent became active in The Robin’s Nest, a home for convalescing children in suburban New York City.  She died in 1963.  

Millicent Vaughan Lewis, 1907

Ethel Mildred Baine and her husband, Charles, ran a cattle ranch in a small Arizona town called Willcox, which was established in 1880 by the Southern Pacific Railroad.   

Carmen Crittenden Mabie married an engineer, a graduate of West Point who worked for the Federal Government.  The couple died young in 1928, victims of a car accident on Highway 60 outside Encino, N.M.   
Lulu Morley Sanborn married a mining engineer, the president of his class at West Point, who had established himself as a reckless though reliable entrepreneur in Argentina, Colombia, and Ecuador.  He died in Brazil in 1958, but Lulu’s trail is cold.  It’s not even clear whether she moved to Latin America with her husband.

Nothing in particular points to why these women embraced the Klan.  I conclude that the brief existence of this campus organization reflected both frivolity and the type of rationalized prejudice toward black Americans that extended to all minority groups, and persists today.

Illustration from Thomas Dixon's
1905 novel, The Clansman

*Before 1871, all women’s colleges in the U.S. had started as female seminaries. 
**In 1915, President Woodrow Wilson screened the film at the White House.

NOTE: Left-click on images to enlarge them.