"Sharp, quirky, and occasionally nettlesome", Walking the Berkshires is my personal blog, an eclectic weaving of human narrative, natural history, and other personal passions with the Berkshire and Litchfield Hills as both its backdrop and point of departure. I am interested in how land and people, past and present manifest in the broader landscape and social fabric of our communities. The opinions I express here are mine alone. Never had ads, never will.
This was last Friday, with the Great Falls above flood stage and the spray freezing in a glaze of ice far downstream. And these two guys thought it was a great time to run the rapids. (Click to enlarge)
My adviser in graduate school gave me some very good advice when she told me that you may never feel finished with what you write, but the time comes when it is done with you. I may have reached that place for now in this series on matters of race and memory. I certainly do not have a way of wrapping it all up in a satisfying conclusion, and it would have been hubris indeed to think that this could be done in a few blog posts, however thoughtful.
This same adviser taught me to be wary of conclusions based on partial understandings. There are too many examples of polices, programs, and strategies that fail to address the root causes of a problem by only treating a symptom, or fail to appreciate the synergy among a multitude of causal factors. Ethnicity in America is far more complex than the dynamics of black and white that I chose to write about here. The same is true at the very least for class, creed, politics and gender.
Yet it is also important to act, to make a decision and adapt in a timely fashion to new information and changing circumstances. If you do this without a framework for understanding these changes you can only muddle through. There may be significant implications for making the wrong decision, but worse still is to fail to decide at all.
There is a difference between being able to discriminate and discrimination. One may question the basis for our judgments, but not the fact that we value one thing more highly than another. Cultural sensitivity does not require that we accept human rights abuses that are the norm elsewhere. Self awareness requires facing up the legacy of such abuses at home.
I believe that people act, even if unintentionally, within an arena of choice that is unique to their experience and circumstances. The same applies to institutions, which are essentially repetitive patterns of behavior. We are not always rational actors, dispassionately weighing costs and benefits, incentives and threats: otherwise Wall Street would be a very boring place and no one would remember Shakespeare. You cannot blame externalities alone for the circumstances you face. But nor can you blame the victim while being silent about the crime and its legacy.
They tried something different in South Africa after apartheid, an experiment that has yet to run its course. The idea that truth and reconciliation was not only possible but to be actively sought and sustained is a revolutionary one. I have seen a small part of its impact and I still am left with more questions than answers. Still I believe that talking about the past and accepting our individual and collective responsibility for what we make of it in the present is a prerequisite, if we are ever to reconcile memory and denial, guilt and accountability, what we came from and what we can hope to be.
Writing this series of posts on race and responsibility came on me quite unexpectedly, and I am not at all sure where it may lead. I wanted to talk through some of what it prompts me to think and feel, and so I called my father. I wanted to ask him about one of his experiences during the Civil Rights era, when he was an Episcopal seminarian in Massachusetts and one of his activist classmates was murdered in Alabama.
Religion is not a regular topic of conversation in our family. Both of my parents came from families of faith, and yet neither my sister nor I was raised in a particular denomination, or even went to a formal church. I attended an Episcopal boarding school and a Quaker college, but in neither case were these decisions based on their religious character. Today Dad composes and orchestrates choral music that reflects a deeply individual and organic faith. I have vivid childhood memories of the Martin Luther King service he would hold in the school chapel, back in the days when he was a headmaster and before there was a National Holiday, that featured Stevie Wonder's Happy Birthday and my father's clear tenor singing Abraham, Martin and John:
Anybody here seen my old friend Martin? Can you tell me where he's gone? He freed lotta people but it seems the good they die young I just looked around and he's gone.
Dad holds a B.D. from what is now Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, but chose not to be ordained at graduation. I asked him if his choice was influenced by the death of his fellow seminarian and what he drew from that experience.
My father replied that the decision not to get ordained was made practically before he went to Seminary. While a Yale undergraduate, he studied religion and was a deacon with chaplain William Sloane Coffin, Jr. Bill Coffin was Dad's lifelong mentor, and the one who encouraged him to apply for the seminary fellowship because it offered the space to engage with the very questions of spirituality and social justice that made my father question whether he should become a minister. Dad went on to say that the murder of his classmate in 1965 "confirmed in my mind that the church had to get out of its sanctuary and that as a layman I could do more...and people should speak from the position of faith to do so."
Dad describes his own growing activism and the late night conversations with his fellow seminarians in which "we were honing our positions and our hearts on what had to be done." He remembers his classmate Jonathan Daniels as a complex man, and totally non-violent. "I was in a very different place than he was, in terms of active activism and spirituality" he told me. "In his liturgical way he could sing the Magnificat and feel as if that was his calling, a true Epiphany, and I wasn't there yet. I was studying religion rather than living it the way he was. I was much closer to the activism, on the verge, but there were too many easy rationalizations for not going down to Selma. They weren't about self-protecting - I was not as concerned about personal harm, though perhaps I should have been - but felt I had obligations at school...When he went to Selma with the 1st wave, a couple of seminarians went with him..."
Jonathan Daniels responded to Martin Luther King's March 7th, 1965 call for clergy of all faiths to come down and support their efforts of voting rights marchers in Alabama. Realizing that a brief visit by outsiders was not a sufficient expression of solidarity, he and fellow seminarian Judith Upham returned to Cambridge only long enough to request permission to return to Alabama for the rest of the semester. After taking his exams in May, Daniels went back a third time to continue his work integrating a local Episcopal church, living with a black family while he tutored school children and helped register black people to vote.
He and a group of nearly 30 protesters were arrested on August 13th, 1965 while picketing white-owned stores in Fort Deposit, Alabama. All but five juvenile members of the group were held in the Hayneville jail for a week in incredibly cramped, fetid conditions until they were released but without transport back to Fort Deposit. Daniels, along with a Catholic priest and two young black women, walked down the street to Varner's Grocery Store to get soft drinks, and were met on the steps by Tom L. Coleman, a state highway department engineer and unpaid special deputy who confronted them with a shotgun. According to one of the young women with them, Ruby Sales, Coleman shouted at them; "Get off my goddam property before I blow your goddam brains out, you black bastards!" He then leveled his shotgun at her, and Daniels pulled her aside as Coleman fired, killing him instantly. Priest Richard F. Morrisroe grabbed the other two young people and ran, taking a second blast to his lower back which critically injured him.
The killing shocked the Episcopal Church. It came two weeks after President Johnson signed the National Voting Rights Act into law, and just days after the Watts Riots in Los Angeles that officially left 34 people killed (28 African Americans), 1,072 people injured, and 4,000 people arrested. Lyndon Johnson's White House tapes record a conversation he had with his chief civil rights aide Lee White about a request for assistance to help the Daniels family bring their son's body back home to Keene, NH. My father was a pallbearer at the funeral on August 24th, and recalls linking arms along with Stokeley Carmichael.
Dad told me that he remembers preaching at chapel that fall - by then the killer had been acquitted of manslaughter - and that his sermon grew out of Matthew 10:34 "Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword." Dad called it "the hard realistic message that change would not come without sacrifice." Peace and social justice work continues to be a central part of my father's life and a formative example for my own.
This conversation was a great gift to both of us. We got into some of the racial themes I've been exploring these last few days, and particularly how we remember and internalize the past. "Memory and denial are kissing cousins", said my father. He said the words of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel are embedded in his heart:
"In regard to cruelties committed in the name of a free society, some are guilty, while all are responsible."
The difference between guilt and responsibility is a key distinction for me. I believe that is where we will pick up the thread tomorrow.
One evening around our cooking fire in southern Africa, the Environmental Shepherds of ≠Khoadi ||Hôas Conservancy got to talking about animals, and in particular the ones that we thought we most resembled. I remember that Harry chose the tiny pearl spotted owl as his personal totem, but what stands out from the rest was what the one African woman in our number had to say. Landine !Guim said she was a baboon. Had we been in America, I would have been appalled, given the horrible slur that this analogy signifies in our society. Landine surprised me with her explanation. "I am like that one" she said in her halting English, "because I am always looking under rocks to see what is there."
There are some very heavy rocks out there.
For the last couple of days, I've been looking under stones, thinking hard about how our racial values and attitudes get internalized and overcome. Does what we come from predetermine who we are or can hope to be, or are we truly masters of our own destinies? The problem with this kind of polemical choice lies in its assumptions about the nature of the problem, grounded in the old nature v. nurture dichotomy. I'm afraid a deeper understanding and any conclusion is going to require a far more complex hypothesis.
I recently heard conservative intellectual and Hoover Institution Senior Fellow Shelby Steele speaking on the radio about African American racial masking", and particularly the bargain it makes with liberal white guilt. Take a few minutes to listen.
It has been a long while since I've had my self perception on matters of race challenged so directly, and I confess there is part of me that wants to reject the message by discrediting the messenger. Shelby Steele is that most uncomfortable of liberalism's critics, a conservative African American, someone who challenges the multicultural narrative of mainstream progressives and whose motives we naturally suspect. Challenges to our deeply held beliefs and assumptions do not come from those who agree with us. They frequently come from those who once held the same beliefs, and somewhere along the way broke ranks with the dominant view.
Steele asserts that the primary focus of the civil-rights era was a legitimate quest to remove racial barriers. In the shift to the black-power era, Steele sees a paradigm shift, away from racial uplift and agency, where blacks assume responsibility for themselves, to a "race is destiny" mode. As the counterculture merged with the civil-rights movement, America was exposed for its racial hypocrisy and, consequently, lost its moral authority. Here, "white guilt" became the moral framework for America. Steele argues that liberal whites embraced guilt for two reasons: to avoid being seen as racists and to embrace a vantage point where they could mete out benefits to disadvantaged blacks through programs such as affirmative action. Steele believes blacks made a deal with the devil by exchanging responsibility and control over their destiny for handouts. He sees a deficiency in black middle-class educational achievement, further raising questions about claims of lack of equal opportunity. Despite these omissions, the cultural analysis of America's loss of moral authority for its exposed racism has resonance today.
I do not know whether I can accept Steele's premise, but I also know I cannot afford to reject it out of hand. I am going to have to engage more deeply with what he has said and written, as well as with his critics, and I am going to have to take a giant step outside my mind, gain a bit of altitude, so I can test Steele's hypothesis againsts at my own understanding and experience.
I grew up at a progessive boarding school headed by my father in the Hudson Valley of New York. The academic community that nurtured me was very non racial and yet only minimally diverse in terms of race. There was a rich life of the mind in our family, and strong examples demonstrated by both of my parents that each of us has intrinsic worth, and that one person is inherently no better or worse than another. Particularly in our formative years, my younger sister and I were treated with great equanimity, and I believe as a result developed a mutual appreciation for the talents and abilities of the other without having to compete for our parents' attention or validation.
There is no denying that ours was a priviledged upbringing. In the prep school environment, the headmaster occupies a unique social position that influences not only the economic lives but also the home lives of every member of the community. My playmates might have been the children of the maintenance staff or of senior faculty members, but though I was initially unaware of it, the fact that I was the headmaster's son was not lost on their parents. Dad and I had a heart to heart when I was nearing High School age about the challenges of being the son of the headmaster as well as a student, and it must have been a relief to him when I said the idea of boarding school sounded good to me and I was looking forward to going somewhere else.
I attended the local public school until 7th grade, when the positive benefits of being connected to people of different socio-econmic backgrounds and with deeper community roots were outweighed by a precipitous decline in the quality of the education provided. Issues of class, rather than race, were most apparent in the schools I attended, but then, there were only a couple of African American families in the towns where I grew up, and fewer than 11 black students at the boarding school I attended. This did not cause me to doubt my own values and attitudes about race until college, when one day I found myself filling out a survey that arrived in my student mailbox from a campus alliance of persons of color inquiring into my experience of racial diversity. The more questions I answered, the more uncomfortable I became, for there was little in my upbringing, in the near absense of persons of color, to suggest that my own beliefs about racial equality were anything other than empty intellectualism.
When I was an undergraduate English Major, I wrote my senior thesis on William Faulkner and an idea I had that those stories he set in the Native American past were a means of getting a fresh perspective on the all consuming issue of race in which he as a white southern male was deeply implicated. My subsequent years in Africa had that effect for me.
I made myself a promise when I decided to go to Africa after college to teach English in newly-independant Namibia. I made myself promise not to try and become a "good white man" in Africa to compensate for the painful legacy of racial injustice in my own country and my own position of priviledge within it. I also accepted responsibility not to take a tour through the lives of others, not to expect absolution or take advantage of the very flattering role that the situation offered me as a priviledged English-speaking white male to be catered to as a patron who held the keys to economic and social advantage.
It is well that I was deliberate in my approach to this new experience and the lives of people who would be impacted by that choice. For the first and only time in my life I was a minority, though one with special status and priviledge that in some ways parallels my childhood as the son of the headmaster. I was the subject of great interest but also held at a distance, with people initially wearing the mask of what they wanted to appear to me. It took months and years of shared experience living together for those masks to start to lift.
During our last years in Namibia, my wife remarked to me after a visit from officials from a development NGO to the community where we lived and worked that our African friends treated these visitors far more gently and with more open expressions of friendship than they now did with us. I replied that that was because our relationship with the community had changed, and they could risk challenging, offending and being more open with us than they could with these others.
People have many layers, of course, and wear multiple masks. Matters of race and class and gender identity coexist and play off each other. We show different sides in different situations. We are not color-blind, but can we hope to be more self-aware about what we project on others, and what we expect of ourselves? More on that in a future post.
Unlike many people, I know the names of every one of my 32 Gr-Great grandparents. Nearly all of them were in this country by the time of the American Civil War, and those who served in that conflict fought for the North - though here the exception proves the rule, as there was one Gracie ancestor with a brother who became a Confederate Brigadier, though the family was from New Jersey.
Many lines in the pedigree can be traced far deeper into the past. A significant number have been in North America for 12 generations. I know about only a fraction of the 2,048 individuals in that generation of my family tree, but what I do know presents a particular challenge when looking to the ancestral past to understand something so volatile and deeply rooted as matters of race. Proud as I am of their many accomplishments, it isn't stretching the point to say there is hardly a frontier atrocity or witch hunt in 17th or 18th century New England where I cannot place at least one of my forebears. As for race relations, there wasn't one of them in that period who existed outside of the transatlantic mercantile system that sustained our colonial economy on the lives and labor of slaves.
I take pains to confront these ancestors on their own terms, to try to understand them in the context of the times in which they lived. Even a family archive with as rich a trove of primary source material as ours only preserves what was deemed worthy of passing down. A Society of Colonial Wars claim in our files tells me much about the service record of an ancestor from Connecticut:a chaplain with two different regiments during the French and Indian War. It does not mention that he owned slaves, yet there are records for that as well. To understand that part of his past means coming to grips with slavery in the northern states, but he is not the only northern slaveholder in this family tree, and we have southern kin as well.
Reverend Jonathan Ingersoll (abt. 1713-1778), the French and Indian War veteran, was my 6th-Great Grandfather and a congregationalist minister in Ridgefield, Connecticut. The Ridgefield Historical Society reveals:
Several prominent Ridgefield families of the period were slave owners, including Congregational Church Minister Jonathan Ingersoll. Inhuman as it seems, slave transactions such as Ingersoll's 1777 freeing of twenty-year old "Cyphax" were considered property transfers and duly recorded in town land records.
In this, Reverend Ingersoll was not unique, for half the ministers in Connecticut owned slaves on the eve of the Revolution. Furthermore, Cyphax was freed the year before Ingersoll died and it is quite possible that the minister was settling his affairs. Even as a free man, Cyphax faced Connecticut's "Black Code" that made for a very precarious existence:
Discrimination against free blacks was more severe in Connecticut than in other New England colonies. Their lives were strongly proscribed even before they became numerous. In 1690, the colony forbade blacks and Indians to be on the streets after 9 p.m. It also forbid black "servants" to wander beyond the limits of the towns or places where they belonged without a ticket or pass from their masters or the authorities. A law of 1708, citing frequent fights between slaves and whites, imposed a minimum penalty of 30 lashes on any black who disturbed the peace or who attempted to strike a white person. Even speech was subject to control. By a 1730 law, any black, Indian, or mulatto slave "who uttered or published, about any white person, words which would be actionable if uttered by a free white was, upon conviction before any one assistant or justice of the peace, to be whipped with forty lashes."
The Hartford Courant maintains an on-line collection of superb resources and articles called: Complicity. How Connecticut Chained Itself To Slavery. There were more than 6,000 slaves in Connecticut by the time that my ancestor Jonathan Ingersoll manumitted Cyphax. Slavery in Connecticut lasted for over 200 years. It died a long death after the Revolution and was not fully abolished until 1848.
The Ogden branch of our family is justly proud of its prominent members who were considered among the "first families" of New Jersey at a time when that got you into the Social Register. Signers and Senators, friends of Lafayette and companions of Arnold and Burr, they lead fascinating and active lives. They also owned slaves, as did most of the principle families in Elizabethtown. In the previous generation, my ancestor Robert Ogden was presiding Justice in 1741 when 2 or 3 blacks fleeing the panic in New York which followed the Great Negro Plot were apprehended in Elizabethtown. His court formally sanctioned their execution by burning at the stake before the courthouse and local citizens were reimbursed for the cost of firewood and iron manacles they provided for the victims.
Hannah (Dayton) Ogden, widow of my collateral relation General Matthias Ogden of Revolutionary fame, and daughter of my direct ancestor General Elias Dayton, freed her mulatto slave, Michael Hardman, in 1797. He was 26 years old. I discovered this bit of family history in Theodore Thayer's As We Were -The Story of Old Elizabethtown, published in 1964 by the New Jersey Historical Society. Thayer also records that my ancestor Aaron Ogden, Governor of the State in 1812 and former US Senator and Presidential Elector, maintained a couple of slaves until he went bankrupt in the 1820s. Like Connecticut, Slavery in New Jersey was practically as old as the first English settlement and persisted until 1846.
"New Jersey's slave population, unlike that of other colonies, actually increased during the Revolution, mainly through migration from other states. But the white population increased at a much faster rate, and wages for laborers became affordable to employers, while the cost of feeding and maintaining and guarding slaves remained high. By 1786, when a ban on slave importation into New Jersey took effect, the institution was dying an economic death. The 1800 census counted 12,422 New Jersey slaves, but the white population had boomed from 1786 to 1800, increasing at a rate six times that of blacks. This is not surprising, in part because in the same year New Jersey banned importing of slaves it also forbid free blacks from entering the state with intent to settle there."
My Gr-great Grandfather Dayton Ogden (1833-1914) married Esther Gracie, the sister of the aforementioned Confederate Brigadier, Archibald Gracie (1832-1864). The Gracies were a New York mercantile family of great renown who resided in Elizabeth. Her Grandfather, the first Archibald Gracie (1755-1829), was truly a merchant prince in the late 18th and early 19th centuries:
"As cotton was becoming a staple in the transatlantic trade, Scotsman Archibald Gracie immigrated to New York after training in Liverpool, Great Britain’s great cotton port. Gracie became an international shipping magnate, a merchant prince, building a summer home on the East River before losing much of his wealth. His son and grandson left the city to become cotton brokers in Mobile, Alabama, but their family’s summer home, today called Gracie Mansion, is the official residence of the mayor of New York."
His son Archibald Gracie Jr. (1795 - 1865) married Elizabeth Davidson Bethune of Charleston, South Carolina, shown in a teenage portrait at left. Her mother Margaret Willeman (b. 1782) was a second generation German immigrant. The Willeman family came to South Carolina from Baden-Württemberg in the 1760s. Her father, Christoph Willemann (b. 1748), appears in the 1790 Census as the head of a household with 2 free white males, 3 free white females, and 57 slaves. Her Uncle, Jacob Willemann, allowed his slave Leander to buy his freedom for 900 pounds current money, or about 130 pounds sterling:
"I...do hereby declare that the said sum...was delivered to me by...Leander from time to time as Monies which he had by his great care, diligence and industry in his business Trade or occupation of a Butcher for several years passed got together and earned."
According to Against the Odds: Free Blacks in the Slave Societies of the Americas, a manumission deed from Jacob Willemann also shows that several years latter, he sold a slave Diana her freedom and that of her daughter for "the earnings and gains arising from her Labour and Industry [which she was] from time to time allowed to carry on and transact during the term of her servitude."
Elizabeth, New Jersey was also a popular summer retreat for southerners in the age before air conditioning and a number of them, including General Winfield Scott of Virginia, made their residence there. General Archibald Gracie (1832-1864) married Josephine Mayo, whose Virginia grandfather John Mayo married Abigail deHart of Elizabethtown. Another southerner who arrived in New Jersey and married more directly into the family was Frederick Beasely D.D. (1777-1845) of Chowan County, North Carolina. He was my 4th-Great Grandfather and wed the daughter of Constitution Signer Jonathan Dayton. Beasely's mother, Elizabeth (Blount) Beasely, is listed in the 1790 census as the female head of a household that possessed 20 slaves.
I am not satisfied with simply outing my slave-owning ancestors. It is too convenient to simply discredit and dismiss them as a way of distancing myself from the values and attitudes that allowed them to participate in and to profit by a racist system that countenanced slavery. It is too simple to project the expectations of the present on the past. Social change is neither quick nor self-evident...
...I remember a ride I got once from an Afrikaner farmer in Namibia. I confess I expected him to be what I had come to think of as a typical Boer, and he certainly fit the profile in his rolled knee socks and his black farm workers riding in the dust in the back of his open truck. I climbed inside and we began the customary exchange of pleasantries, but when he learned that I was living with and teaching black people his response completely put my prejudice to shame. He told me that it was very hard for an Afrikaner to go against his parents and his church, but that was what was required in a post-apartheid country with majority rule.
"Some day" he told me, "I will come home to my wife and I won't say I've invited my coloured friend and my black friend over for dinner. I'll just say it is Johannes and Erasmus. I don't want to always think about the colour. I am not there yet, but I want to be." I looked at him, there on the cusp of a strange new world, and told him I thought he was well ahead of the rest of us.
My seven-year-old daughter is learning about slavery. It is Black History Month, and her second grade curriculum focuses on the Underground Railroad. Emily is a very bright, empathetic child, and I am watching her process this information in her imaginative play at home. She talks about helping slaves escape and creates plays with her dolls that feature slaves being led to freedom. Her impulses are sweet and her sense of fairness is strong. She aligns herself with those that helped slaves win their freedom. And I wonder what else she has internalized.
Does she now think, as would never have occurred to her before, that when she sees a black person someone in their family must once have been a slave? Is she starting to see blacks as needing white assistance to win their freedom and unable to win it for themselves? Can she imagine herself as the oppressed slave, or does she default to the benign but paternal role of agent of the slave's redemption? The obvious part for her in this particular version of history is that of the good Northern white person. What will she make of the far more complex history of race relations in America that does not spare the Yankee any more than it absolves the defenders of Dixie?
I do not fault the school for its simplified, even sanitized 2nd grade curriculum. Seven-year-olds are not ready to look at burned, lynched corpses and smiling white vigilantes. But my obligation as a parent, as an historian, and as one who knows deep in his private soul that I am not free of the taint of prejudice, prompts me to listen to my daughter and offer additional information, sensitively and straightforwardly, and respect her intelligence as well as her tender years to work through what we share.
There is a Namibian proverb that goes; "You cannot smell yourself; let another smell you." We become accustomed to our stench. How do we respond when we are told that we stink? Is soap and water sufficient to cleanse the body, or is it now a reeking corpse? Or is it more the offended person's issue, a pendulum swung too hard the other way? We are on perilous ground, bad enough for adult angst, let alone a growing child.
Over the next few days, Walking the Berkshires will take a hard look at the narrative of race in our family tree and our minds today. I am not yet sure where all this may lead, but I do know that it is not enough to deconstruct the myths that we tell each other about our pasts and prejudices, but to build up a new paradigm - more honest, less damning - if we have any hope of doing better. I do not believe in original sin, though some patterns run very deep and are very hard to overcome. It does not begin or end with the sins of our fathers, nor with personal responsibility though that has its part as well. It begins by looking hard at ourselves and in some very awkward places, but it cannot end there. Most of us crave redemption, and tend to project that desire on those we have wronged, but like the song goes; "None but ourselves can free our minds."
Democrats may be trying to figure out who got more delegates on Super Tuesday, but there is no doubt who was the front-runner in our own poll. With 50% of the total votes cast, we can proudly proclaim that Thomas MacEntee has won the 13th Walking the Berkshires Family Archive Caption Contest!"
"We've switched Hal and Lois' Folger Crystals with high-octane, homemade corn liquor. Let's see if they notice!"
Well done, and congratulations to all the contestants. This picture completely cracks me up and I'm pleased that it inspired such excellent nominations.
The WASP-waisted woman was my Great Grandmother Margaret Stearns Olmsted, seen here at the tender age of 19 in 1893. I have no idea who her companion might be, nor why he felt compelled to don a skirt while hamming for the camera, but I can tell you something of the occasion, for this tintype is contained in a pale paper sleeve with these words printed on the cover:
Yes, this picture was taken in Chicago at that epic World's Fair, which reinforces a suspicion I voiced in another post about the possible souvenir origins of a pair of earrings made from a union officer's buttons. This picture was the equivalent of the "Old Tyme" costume photographs that one can still pose for today at the county fair in frontier attire or mobster glory, or perhaps it is the predecessor of the photo booth that takes four automatic images of capering couples at similar venues.
In any case, that Madge Olmsted was a hoot and full of joie de vivre. You'd never guess that her legs were not strong: the only lasting effect of childhood polio that left all but her determined parents and one very special doctor believing she would never walk. Iron braces eventually straightened her legs and spine and she miraculously gained near complete mobility. My mother reminds me that her grandmother used to call her legs "Lamey and Nursey", but she could walk unassisted until late in life.
Our winter has really been a washout for the last couple of weeks. What snow we've had has been lousy for making snow-people and often with a crust of sleet mixed in. We've had freezing rain and slush on our skating pond, and we haven't gone sledding all year. But we do have one winter treat that has long been absent from these hills but is back with a vengeance. Since the hydro-plant at Falls Village, Connecticut went to "run of river" management from a "pond and release" regime, we have gained a rediscovered natural wonder.
After heavy winter rains, the Great Falls of the Housatonic are awake and roaring.
This morning I stopped by at the head of the Falls. If this gage is any indication, it should be even more dramatic tomorrow after the snow and sleet we'll be getting tonight.
I had the distinct pleasure of hearing from the son of one of the men who served in the Pacific with my grandfather during WWII. He came across this post of mine while searching for images of Marine Air Group - 15, the unit in which my grandfather was a surgeon attached to the headquarters squadron in 1944-1945. His father was a career Marine, retiring as a Major but a 2nd Lt. at the time they were in the same outfit together. Apparently we have some of the same photographs in our respective collections that were kept by these two men, along with many other items and remembrances from their service. I look forward to sharing what we have with each other in the coming weeks, but in the meantime here are some additional photographs that belonged to my grandfather that may be of general interest.
I'm fairly certain the boxing match depicted above was on Kwajelein, while the Marines disembarking are landing on Abamama Atoll in April, 1944.
The damaged building is on Saipan, in an image made by my grandfather on a trip "up the line" later in 1944. The flooded camp is Kwajelein in late 1944 or early 1945. I do not know what storm triggered the tidal surge that would have produced such flooding, but Kwajelein has been swept completely over by such surges in the past. Others more knowledgeable than I might be able to say whether it could have been flooding associated with the Typhoon of December 17, 1944 that pummeled the US Third Fleet off the Philippines, sinking 3 destroyers, seriously damaging 9 other vessels and costing more than 800 men their lives. I suspect not, but have not been able to pin down the precise weather event that flooded Kwajelein during this time.