Tag Archives: George Washington

Many Great People Have Been Born on November 25

25 Nov

November 25 is a big day in the life of me. It is my birthday. I wonder who else was born on this date. Wait, I have an idea. I will look it up and write a post about it.Nov 25

1753 – Robert Townsend, one of George Washington’s spies during the American Revolution

1787 – Franz Xavier Gruber, organist who composed the music for “Silent Night”

1835 – Andrew Carnegie, industrialist who led the expansion of the steel industry

1844 – Karl Benz, inventor of the first automobile to have an internal combustion engine

1846 – Carrie Nation, anti-alcohol activist who was known for attacking taverns with a hatchet

1881 – Pope John XXIII, who obviously served as pope

1883 – Harvey Spencer Lewis, Imperator of the Ancient and Mystical Order Rosae Crucis

1914 – Joe DiMaggio, center fielder for the Yankees who hit safely in 56 straight games

1920 – Ricardo Montalban, actor known for playing Mr. Roarke and Khan Noonien Singh

1926 – Jeffrey Hunter, who starred alongside John Wayne in The Searchers 

1933 – Kathryn Crosby, actress and wife of Bing Crosby

1940 – Percy Sledge, singer of “When a Man Loves a Woman”

1944 – Ben Stein, speechwriter for Richard Nixon and later a game show host

1952 – Crescent Dragonwagon, writer who has an awesome pen name.

1960 – Amy Grant, former contemporary Christian singer who became a Country singer

1963 -Bernie Kosar, Cleveland Brown quarterback who could not get past John Elway

1968 – Jill Hennessy, actress known for roles on Law and Order and Crossing Jordan

I am stopping at that point. This list will not include anyone younger than me. It is my birthday, and that is my option.

 

 

D.C. Road Trip – A 70% Chance of Sunshine and a 100% Chance of Hills

24 Jul

In the days leading up to this trip, my wife was obsessed with the weather. She was always looking at the weather app on her iPhone and trying to figure out what climate conditions we were going to face. I reckon this was because it rained a lot when we were in Cancun.

As my wife scanned the weather, she kept saying that it was going to rain. When I asked the percentages, she said that there was a 30% chance. I replied that it meant that there was a 70% chance of sunshine. This became a running joke on the trip, but, honestly, that is the only way I know to look at it. Now, if it had been 70% chance of rain I would have been worried.

I write all of that to write this. My wife decided that the weather was too shaky to make the drive to Virginia Beach. After all, the beach is no fun if it rains. Of course, it had not rained since we left Tennessee, but that did not seem to be the point.

With that decision behind us, we proceeded with the day’s activities. We got our vehicle and took a short drive across the Potomac to Arlington National Cemetery, a place that was high on my list to visit. I had been there many years ago with my parents and remembered how inspirational it was and wanted my family to experience that feeling. I also remembered that the popular points in the cemetery were on hills. I just did not remember how steep those hills were.

After a nice little hike, we found ourselves at the Tomb of the Unknowns, the place that contains the remains of soldiers who died in battle and were never identified. They represent all of those who were lost in a similar way. While the tomb should be the focus, many people go to the site to see the changing of the guard.image-19

The monument is constantly guarded by a lone soldier, and the changing of the guard is a regimented and symbolic ceremony. As we watched the guards go through their routine, I could not get over the precision of their movements. I could also not get over the fact that someone is guarding the tomb at all times and in all kinds of weather. No matter what is going on around them, the guards never break their routine.

That made me wonder what happened on September 11, 2001. Did the guard flinch as a plane streaked toward the Pentagon just over the hill? What did the crowd watching the ceremony do? What was going trough his mind as smoke billowed over the horizon and the rest of the country was in chaos?

After the ceremony, we made our way to the grave of John F. Kennedy, which sits on another hill. This spot is also inspirational to many people, but I must confess that it did not affect me as had the Tomb of the Unknowns. Kennedy’s assassination was tragic and one of the darkest days in our history, but I have never held him in the esteem that others have. People view him as a great president, but I view him as someone who never got the chance to determine where he would rank. Would he have been a great president, or would he have had a bad second term? We will never know. I think people who go to his gravesite mourn what might have been or a lost innocence more than anything.

As we stood at Kennedy’s grave, I looked up the hill at the home of Robert E. Lee.image-22

When Lee chose to fight for the Confederacy during the Civil War, the United States military seized the property due to its commanding position over Washington, D.C. To punish Lee, they buried soldiers around the house, and that is how Arlington National Cemetery began.

Walking through the hills and dells of the cemetery was tiring, but we had one more place to visit before returning to the hotel. Along the way, we drove through historic Alexandria, Virginia and could immediately sense that this was a high rent district. The homes were well-manicured. Shops and restaurants lined the sidewalks. If we were going to eat, then this was a good place to start.

We found a place called Society Fair, and I immediately knew what this place was all about. It is one of those “lunch lady” places where women of leisure eat sandwiches and cake for a couple of hours. Of course, it does not take that long to eat a sandwich and a piece of cake. That means the rest of the time is filled with idle chitchat. The food was fine, but I could feel the testosterone dripping out of my body by the second.

Finally, we got out of there a arrived at Mount Vernon, home of George Washington. This was also a place that I definitely wanted everyone to see. Washington accomplished a lot, but nothing was more important than his management of the colonial army against the British. Walking in his footsteps is a must for anyone visiting the area.image-21

We watched a short film that had a guy from one of my stepdaughter’s vampire shows playing Washington. Then, we walked up the hill to his house. Did I mention that these guys liked living on hills? I guess it was a way to look over their vast holdings.

Anyway, Washington had a beautiful home with the Potomac River flowing behind it.image-20

The docents presented a great history of  Washington’s family and their home. However, I have a complaint about Mount Vernon, Monticello and most other plantain home I have ever seen. They still have a hard time dealing with slavery. Obviously, it is a tough subject, but, in these times, they need to go ahead and talk about the reality of it.

 

D.C. Road Trip – Protestors, Pasta and Thomas Jefferson’s DNA

22 Jul

On Wednesday, we packed up the vehicle and started toward the first historic site of the trip, Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello. The route took us on an interesting stretch through Amherst, Colleen, Covesville and other little towns. It also took us near the Kappa Sigma Museum, which my nephew and his fraternity brothers would probably find fascinating.

Finally, we arrived at our destination. With time to wait before we could enter the house, we were able to watch have lunch, go through a small museum and watch a movie about the third president. It was in that movie that I first heard something that the tour guide would later repeat. According the DNA testing and most historians, Jefferson fathered children with Sally Hemmings, one of his slaves.

That is a rumor that started during his Jefferson’s presidency and is something that I have told my students since I started teaching. However, here is what was surprising about the statement. It said “most historians.” Are there still historians out there who ignore DNA testing, the same testing that we use to convict people of murder, and deny his paternity?

Oh yeah, they also took great pains to let us know that the relationship between Thomas and Sally was long after his wife’s death.

After a while, we made it to the front porch of the house, where a kid warmed my heart. When asked what first comes to mind when we think of Thomas Jefferson, he shouted out the Louisiana Purchase. Now, that is a smart young man. When we walked through the front door, the entry hall was filled with artifacts from the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Apparently, Jefferson thought that land deal was pretty important, too.

Monticello is not a huge house, and the tour did not take long. After, my family tried their hands at writing with quills.image-12

We also walked around the yard to take a few pictures.image-11

On the shuttle back to the visitor’s center, the tram stopped at Jefferson’s grave, and I jumped out to take a quick picture. When I turned around, the shuttle was gone. Apparently, the driver was in a huge and gigantic hurry.

Washington, D.C. and our lodging for the next few days were next on the agenda. However, we saw some neat stuff along the way. There was the nicest gas station we had ever seen. It looked like a bank more than an Exxon. There were horse farms with massive amounts of fencing and large houses. There was also an interesting question from my wife.

With several presidential homes and many Civil War battlefields in the area, how did those homes not get destroyed? It is a great question that leads to the complexity of who those presidents were.

I believe the homes were spared because those men – Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, James Madison and James Monroe – represented to the United States government the ideals for which they were fighting. They were among the Founding Fathers who started a nation based on liberty and freedom.

For the Confederacy, those same men represented the plantation economy of slavery and agriculture that was being threatened by northern politicians. They were people who rose up against an oppressive government. In essence, both sides looked upon the owners of these homes as representative of what they were fighting for. As a result, neither side wanted to disrespect them by destroying their properties.

Of course, that could be totally wrong, and the houses could have been in locations that were not strategically important.

After many miles, we hit the interstate going into Washington, D.C., which looked like any other city until I realized that we were passing the Pentagon. My wife tried to explain to my stepdaughter about the building, but she said that she knew what it was. It is where they imprisoned Magneto in X-Men: Days of Future Past.

Then, the Washington Monument suddenly appeared. Now, we knew that we were in a different kind of city.

After navigating through the traffic and the pedestrians, we made it to our downtown hotel, where I promptly parked in the wrong place. Coincidentally, the people we were meeting got there at the exact same time and parked in the exact same wrong place.

We unpacked. We rested. Then, we walked a few blocks to a great restaurant called Siroc, an Italian place that was out of this world. It was a lovely evening eating pasta and duck and all sorts of things on their sidewalk patio.

Once dinner was over, we strolled a few clocks over to the White House and acted like tourists. We took pictures of the house.image-10

We took pictures of the protestors supporting Palestine. We took pictures of the Andrew Jackson statue.image-8

I have now seen the ones in Washington, Nashville and New Orleans. Monty Pope would be proud.

Despite the White House and the statue, I, for some reason, was more interested in seeing the Blair House. Harry Truman lived in it for much of his presidency as the big house was being renovated, and I always thought that made it cool. While gawking at it, my wife discovered that the gardens were donated by Jack Massey, a Nashvillian who put three corporations on the New York Stock Exchange – Kentucky Fried Chicken, Hospital Corporation of America and Volunteer Capital Corporation.image-9

It seems that Andrew Jackson is not the only Tennessee connection sitting in front of the White House.

Listeria – Inspiration Point

24 May

In the last post, I wrote about the list by True West of historic sites “that will make you weep.” That article contains a couple of secondary lists. One of those is “10 Western History Shrines That Will Inspire You.” Following are the ones that I have visited.

1. The Arch, St. Louis, Missouri – It is impressive to see. Driving into St. Louis, anyone can see that it dominates the skyline. However, I never saw it as inspiring. That could be because I have never been in it. I have been at its base and in the underground museum about westward expansion. However, my dislike of heights has kept me from going to the top. By the way, its real name is the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial.

2. The Alamo, San Antonio, Texas – In the last post, I wrote about my disappointment with the Alamo. Any place where people gave their lives is a place of inspiration. However, I cannot get over my initial feelings about the site.

3. Custer National Cemetery, Little Big Horn National Historic Battlefield – Before you get to the welcome center or the battlefield, you pass the cemetery. Like other military cemeteries, this one makes you think about all of those who gave their lives for their country. Our nation has not always gone into a fight for a just reason, but that does not lessen the sacrifices of those who served.Montana 2012 and Other Stuff 123

4. Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, Montana and Idaho – The last time I was in the park was with my dad, my brother and my nephews. We did not go into the heart of the park but walked around the Mammoth Hot Springs and the Yellowstone River. The natural wonders are amazing, and the power of the earth is inspiring. Everyone should see Old Faithful at least once.Montana 2012 and Other Stuff 275

5. The Palace of the Governor’s, Santa Fe, New Mexico – I could have been there this week but had other things to do. It is the oldest government building in the United States. Today, it is a museum, but it has witness great events in history. It has been under Spanish rule and American rule. Heck, it has also been under Confederate rule. Governor Lew Wallace finished his novel, Ben Hur: A Tale of the Christ, within its walls.SONY DSC

6. The Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco, California – My wife and I drove across the bridge on our honeymoon. It is a cool feeling to drive across one of the most famous bridges in the world. However, I did not expect all of the people walking and cycling across it. Just thinking about the power of the currents underneath is enough to inspire.image-25

8. Mount Rushmore National Memorial, Keystone, South Dakota – This is truly an amazing site. Looking up at George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln is an inspiring view. However, I cannot help but think that the Black Hills were taken from the Native Americans to get at its gold.

9. Crazy Horse Memorial, Custer, South Dakota – This one is also in the Black Hills and is the Native American answer to Mount Rushmore. Crazy Horse was a famous warrior, but I wonder what he would think about a mountain being carved into his likeness. There are no known photographs of Crazy Horse, so we have no idea if this looks like him. On top of that, they have been carving the mountain for decades, and it is nowhere near finished. When I see it, I cannot help but think that the Native Americans are getting shafted again.

There is another list called “10 Western Sites That Will Make You Misty.” Next time, I think I will skip that one and move on to another subject. I do not find it very interesting or misty.

There Is Not Much Quite Like

27 Feb

While walking on the treadmill, I started thinking about how lucky I have been. That luck has come in numerous ways, but I was specifically thinking about travel. My mind went to some of the great places I have visited and the great sights I have seen.

There is not much quite like…

drinking wine in the chateau of Inglenook Vineyards.Honeymoon 016

catching the sun set over the buttes of Monument Valley.West 2010 232

hearing the water break on the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor.

leaving an offering at the grave of Wild Bill Hickok in Deadwood, South Dakota.

watching the Potomac River flow behind George Washington’s home at Mount Vernon.

feeling the power of water rushing over Niagara Falls.

zip-lining through the trees of north Georgia.

climbing the mesa at Ghost Ranch and looking the landscape often painted by Georgia O’Keefe.SONY DSC

sitting on the porch of the Old Faithful Lodge and watching buffalo roam through the geysers.

lying in the grass of Jackson Square and eating a beignet from Cafe Du Monde.

floating down the Rhine River and looking at the castle ruins passing by.

staring at the presidential faces of Mount Rushmore.

playing Blackjack at a Las Vegas table and watching the chips come and go.

touring Graceland and seeing The Outlaw Josey Wales playing in the TV Room.

hanging out on a beach in Cancun and watching my stepdaughter play volleyball.Cancun - Volleyball

strolling through the Vatican and trying to get a glimpse of the pope.

reading a book by a pool in Costa Rica.

climbing a waterfall in Jamaica.

being mesmerized by the killer whales and bald eagles in Glacier Bay.

dancing to “Me and Mrs. Jones” in a nightclub in Chicago.

standing in silence at the bombing memorial in Oklahoma City.SONY DSC

trying to see the tops of the Giant Sequoia in California.

driving through Hereford, Texas and passing thousands of head of cattle.

betting on Jai Alai in Florida.

lounging on the couch and watching television with my wife.

Elvis Presley and the Perpetuation of a Myth

3 Dec

The other day, I mentioned that there was a semi-serious post floating in my brain. Today, I am going to get it out of there. A couple of weeks ago The Tennessean, Nashville’s daily newspaper, printed an article about an activist who was going to be speaking in the area.

In the article, readers learned that the activist had a great deal of respect for Dolly Parton because of the singer’s work to improve the lives of children and others. They also learned that she had no respect for Elvis Presley, who she saw as someone who could have done more for his times and his community.Elvis Gate

That’s fine. We all have opinions about what people should and should not be doing. Many feel that the famous have a responsibility of using that fame for the betterment of the world. Dolly does a lot, and Elvis probably didn’t do enough. However, the writer continued with her disdain for Elvis by saying that he was racist. Her proof was that he had once said, “The only thing Negroes can do for me is buy my records and shine my shoes.”

When I read it, something in the back of my mind said that it wasn’t right. I couldn’t explain what was nagging at me, but I just didn’t think that was an accurate quote. That’s when I hit Google and was directed to Snopes. According the them, Elvis never made that statement and referenced Michael Bertrand as the historian who discovered where this urban legend began.

That’s when I knew where that nagging feeling was coming from. Dr. Bertrand teaches at Tennessee State University and spoke to the History Club at our university. He and I had a great conversation about the early years of Rock n’ Roll, but this information came from his presentation to the group. He tracked the origin of this tale to a magazine article in which an anonymous person on the street said that someone told them that Elvis had said that. Through the years, many people have heard it and taken it as fact.

Why am I writing about a long dead singer being misquoted in a newspaper? Because the newspaper and the activist being interviewed should know better. (Note: While working on this post, I discovered that the quote was taken out of the original article, and a follow-up article admitted to the falsehood of the quote.) It is one thing for misinformation to circulate, but people who are trained to research and write shouldn’t go with something they think might be true.

I am also writing about it because historians have to deal with this kind of misinformation all of the time. Surely, you have heard that Catherine the Great died while having sex with a horse. It’s not true, but everyone thinks it is. You have also heard that George Washington could not tell a lie. That probably made his espionage efforts during the Revolutionary War hard to manage. That’s despite being one of the best parts of his strategy.

It is hard to get to the reality of history. It is especially hard when people have misinformation about it already in their minds. All of this is made worse when a reputable newspaper interviews a reputable activist, and they spread the misinformation further.

She is probably correct. Elvis could have done more during his life to make the world better. Instead, he fell into a life of extravagance and drugs. There are many lessons to be learned from the Elvis story but adding wrong information only makes those lessons harder to learn.

It Must Have Been the Fourth of July

4 Jul

Here in the United States, the Fourth of July is a big day. Back in 1776, there were a couple of days in the first week of July that were important. John Adams thought the Second of July would be celebrated for years to come, but we have settled on doing it two days later. Of course, other things have happened on that date. These are just a few.July 4

965 – Pope Benedict V passed away.

1054 – People in China and Arabia looked in the sky and see a supernova.

1634 – Quebec, Canada was founded. Back then, it was called Trois-Rivieres and was in the colony of New France.

1636 – Providence, Rhode Island came into existence.

1754 – George Washington surrendered Fort Necessity to the French. That was an important event during the French and Indian War.

1802 – The United States Military Academy opened in West Point, New York.

1803 – The American people learned of the Louisiana Purchase.

1804 – Nathaniel Hawthorne was born.

1816 – Hiram Walker, founder of Canadian club whiskey, was born.

1826 – John Adams, the second president of the United States, and Thomas Jefferson, the third president of the United States, passed away.

1831 – James Monroe, the fifth president of the United States passed away.

1837 – Grand Junction Railway opened between Birmingham and Liverpool.

1865 – Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland was published.

1879 – British forces captured and destroyed Ulundi, the Zululand capital.

1882 – Louis B. Mayer was born.

1902 – Gangster Meyer Lansky was born.

1903 – Dorothy Levitt competed in a motor race. That made her the first woman to do that.

1914 – A funeral was held for Archbishop Franz Ferdinand and his wife.

1922 – Lothar von Richtofen, younger brother of the Red Baron, passed away.

1929 – Al Davis, owner of the Oakland Raiders, was born.

1934 – Marie Curie, who received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry and the Nobel Prize in Physics, passed away.

1939 – Lou Gehrig told the fans in Yankee Stadium that he considered himself “the luckiest man on the face of the earth.”

1943 – Geraldo Rivera, who looked in Al Capone’s vault, was born.

1946 – The Philippines gained independence from the United States.

1966 – Lyndon Johnson signed the Freedom of Information Act.

2009 – Steve McNair, former quarterback of the Tennessee Titans, was killed.