Final New York Memory–Borscht at Primorski’s!

Posted in Uncategorized on June 23, 2010 by cfest

Final Thoughts

Posted in Uncategorized on June 23, 2010 by cfest

There were many themes addressed as we moved through our incredibly varied sites in New York City and selected up- state areas.  However, one stood out above all the others: progress, and the price it extracts on those who embrace it in some form.

As Ed O’Donnell led us through the neighborhoods on the East Side, you were able to see how these places became actual breathing entities that took on whatever recognizable form the people inhabiting them wanted, with a heavy emphasis on the culture’s food, dress, and, in a less celebratory sense, its working conditions.  The hours and business environs were challenging to the employees; pay was a subject not be debated.  None of this, apparently, mattered.  The participants knew that if they just endured a bit longer, they and their fellow countrymen would establish a toehold in the new land, and their ultimate reward would be met down the road–to progress out of this place of bad living conditions and go somewhere better.  The lower East Side was not really made up of familiar old neighborhoods like those from whatever European or Asian land the inhabitants originated from; it was a functioning way station.

These areas were in stark contrast to the homes of great privilege in Sagamore and Hyde Park, where presumably all the needs of the dwellers were met due to the wealth of the heads of the houses.  But there was progress, as Theodore Roosevelt’s Sagamore engendered a growth in him as a father (though his wife once labeled him her “seventh” child, with his sense of decorum scarcely above those who he was assumed to be supervising).  His intellectual capacity continued to develop here as well, within his study.  Franklin Roosevelt’s Hyde Park saw this also; but his greatest growth would come as he formulated and carried out strategies that would not allow his physical incapacities to blunt a career in public service or politics.  Eleanor Roosevelt’s personal progress allowed her to symbolically (and literally) remove herself from her mother-in-law’s steely gaze to her house at Val-Kill (actually, Franklin did the same at another place on the property).  Eleanor also had the ability to remain above the seaminess  of her husband’s lack of marital fidelity while continuing to carve out her niche in the areas of worker’s rights and human rights–without a doubt a step of progress.  Here was growth by FDR, TR, and Eleanor in very different settings.

There were other, more diverse instances of progress presented during our journey, shown in the Museum of the City of New York; stories of the city’s urban planning history, chiefly orchestrated by Robert Moses, whose many successes could be contrasted with some things that didn’t work (talk to any Brooklyn Dodgers fan); the automobile’s evolving connection with New York; John Lindsey’s attempted reorganization of personal representation of various groups within gotham–an effort at progress that met with, at best, questionable results.  These examples affirm the opinion that progress is fraught with starts, stops, complications, and, sometimes, a finish that leaves place and participants in an unimproved position.

However, the most obvious example of  progression during our sojourn into the diverse environs of New York City would be Ellis Island,and, to a lesser extent, the restored examples of apartment living quarters in the Tenement Museum.  On Ellis Island exhibits, we read tales of the origins of the immigrants’ desire (or need) to relocate, the starting points of their across- the-ocean voyages (which included things as amazing as simulated living conditions they might be facing upon arrival in America), and the journey itself.  These disparate traveling groups dealt with these many challenges because the  goal of a better life was somehow in their mind’s eye. The rooms of photos and recorded oral histories then give way to the results of their searches, showing the jobs they were forced to take, as well as how some managed to progress beyond day labor or working class status to a position of middleman or shopkeeper.  The Tenement Museum was an opportunity to see the immigrants’ close quarters and lack of privacy, often using their own living space for completion of piecework to make ends meet.  These conditions certainly encouraged many to  progress beyond their lot in life to a better example of what they hoped to pass on to their children and others that followed them.

Circumstances of progress took many forms in these snapshots of New York City history.  While it may have reaffirmed and cemented some previously-held opinions on how new arrivals in this great city approached achievement of their hopes and dreams, it also provided some heretofore unknown stories of people who did not let tough obstacles get the best of them.

And, finally, rising out of a highly-publicized, emotionally-wrought hole in the ground, all of America has watched as a city shows that it will not be defeated by the attempted perpetration of a conspiracy of fear within its limits.  For many, this is the most vivid and obvious example of the undeterred strength of progress.

Day 13–Ft. Ticonderoga and Saratoga

Posted in Uncategorized on June 16, 2010 by cfest

“We are coming to a time when forts are becoming irrelevant”–Jim, our tour guide

Our trip to Ft. Ticonderoga was good not just for the information about the fort itself, but for what it actually portended for the future of the Revolutionary War, in terms of how to fight one.  About a half mile from the fort itself, General Montcalm of the French Army readied himself to fight a vastly superior (at least in size) British force about 4-5 times the size of what he had under his command.  Montcalm did have some fortifications, but still doubted he would live through the day.  However, the British apparently had only been taught one particular way of staging a battle and marched right in, line after line, and suffered huge casualties compared to the French (2000 vs. 554). This punched a hole in theory of England’s unquestioned dominance in the field of battle, and, even more important, the loss was witnessed by a few on the British side who would, in future years, be siding with the American rebellion (Ebeneezer Larned, Putnam, etc.), and saw that some change of approach might the way to go.  They would share this information with others during the Revolutionary War, and pass on the now-punctured myth of the redcoat dominance.  I remarked to our guide that often this willingness to reassess strategy had served the United States well in other conflicts, not to mention a decentralized decision-making process that has shown confidence in persons in all  ranks of the armed forces.  Ft. Tinconderoga was loaded with lots of good information in a series of rooms within the fort itself.  Jim also gave a very useful baseball analogy to the types of heavy weaponry used in and around its confines:

1)Cannon–“line drive”–usually aimed at the wall, not necessarily discharged at close range.

2)Howitzers–“fly ball”–shot over the wall, often with shells meant to explode over the air above the target, whose force will will knock down the opposing troops.

3)Mortars–“pop fly”–shells also explode in the air with same hoped-for result, though firing may be from closer range, due to the arc of the actual shot.

Jim also told us that the cannons, sent from France, were each inscribed with the motto–in Latin– “the final argument of kings”.  I’m sure this analogy will help simplify the explanation for my students (as an aside, I talked with Paul Zschokke about other examples of cannons used in battle, and he told me that at Gettysburg, untested fuse lengths on the shot fired from Southern cannons may have lessened their impact on the Union forces they were being used on in this pivotal battle–one of the many untold stories of that conflict).  Also, one of the re-enactors at the fort told me that winters here for the American troops were every bit as bad Valley Forge, when the army stayed here after marching down from Canada.  The soldiers were often reduced to eating shoe leather, with firewood being a three-mile walk from the place.  What they didn’t have was a General Washington to lend a more publicized story to their plight.

On to Saratoga.  I found Jim’s retelling–as we sat in the field–about this place being the turning point of the war to be very dramatic.  What lends even more realism to the scene is the fact that the battlefield has been left relatively untouched from what it looked like at the time of the fight,especially in terms of the ravines, rivers, and hills on the land (some trees may have grown up in the time since the engagement).  But here it was– the finest troops the British could put on the field, the kind of soldiers who had made other fighting forces run at the sight of them.  They commence the action and–the rebels don’t run.  They fire back!  And Jim explains that at that point the tide of the war changes, as the Americans–an apparently more battle-tested group of fighters–refuses to yield.  The Revolutionary War is about to take on the analogy offered by Ken Jackson earlier in this trip where he likens this conflict to the Vietnam War, in that it is a much longer, much more expensive, much more bloody engagement than the leaders had previously led their countries to believe.  Whether–when each nation, the U.S. and England, at the apparent height of their powers–began looking for some sort of face-saving exit strategy is unquestionably open to many learned historians’ interpretations.

Day 12–Seneca Falls and Erie Canal

Posted in Uncategorized on June 15, 2010 by cfest

The Women’s Right’s Museum in Seneca Falls was a worthy stop for this trip.  I asked our guide Meghan if there was a way of communicating the ideas of this place to my third-graders in a simple, straightforward manner that they would be able to grasp and understand, in terms of women’s rights and how important this topic is to them.  We felt the best approach was to present examples or situations to them that they can relate to: 1) The fact that in this time period, women were not just denied the right to vote (a concept kids this age are just starting to realize is important, even though they haven’t done it yet), but were also not permitted to attend college.  Many of these students know their parents would like them to go on to higher education, so this roadblock would be viewed by them as unfair; 2) A woman who was married or pregnant–according to the social mores of these times–she could not hold a job.  Many students know how important that second income is to their families and would not see why there was a rule like this (further, since many of them are from single-parent families, it would be interesting for them to know that their moms might not have any custody or visitation rights to them if their mom was divorced–however this may be a topic best left unexplored if it is too sensitive an issue); 3) Students would be interested to know that, under the old laws, any money their mother makes would be the possession of their father (I bet their moms would love this!);  4) A woman had to stay home until she was married.  However, given the economy, this may be a strategy many people are opting for anyway.

Our guide informed me that Hillary Clinton has visited the museum a number of times, and “…loves the whole area!”  Interestingly, she also told me Sarah Palin has also visited the museum in conjunction (which prompted one member of our group–who shall remain nameless–to assert that she had to have been lost, or had to use the bathroom), though, in her role as a National Parks Service Employee, she kept her opinion of this visit and Mrs. Palin to herself  (…take a wild guess, ladies and gentleman…).

The Erie Canal ride was fun, but I couldn’t help wondering if, in these trying financial times, the expenditures by the state to refurbish this historic site can ever be realized through the ways the river is being used at this point.  It seems that tourism would be  a drop in the bucket  on a $300+ million investment.  The visit to William Seward’s residence was enjoyable and informative. Our guide possessed such a wealth of knowledge that it was clearly a struggle for her–due to time constraints– to fit in all the things she wanted to tell us about.  It’s too bad we didn’t have a little extra time.  What I also got from this was that Seward was clearly being groomed for was the Presidency–with he himself doing some of the grooming–and it must have been crushing for him when a relatively inexperienced newcomer (who we know as Abraham Lincoln) received the nomination.

Finally, when our guide commented on the Japanese furniture as part of the pieces in Seward’s living room, I commented to the people next to me that this was not such a big deal, as I have all sorts of items on display in my living room from China…through Wal-Mart…

Day 11–Baseball HOF and Farmer’s Museum

Posted in Uncategorized on June 14, 2010 by cfest

“Any time you have an opportunity to make a difference in this world and you don’t, then you are wasting your time on Earth”–Roberto Clemente (I found this quote at the Baseball Hall of Fame in an exhibit honoring him; I have had this same quote on the wall of my classroom for the past three years)

As much as I genuinely enjoyed the Farmer’s Museum, I want to talk baseball.  The topic of “Character” and the accompanying lesson plans (Rookie Level) from the website presented to us earlier today is something I would like to use in my classroom this coming school year.

However, I want to talk about the second worst baseball promotion ever.  Some of you fans (and non-fans, for that matter) may have already heard about the Cleveland Indians’ 10-cent Beer Night.  All I can say is that that one got so out of hand some people actually may have feared for their lives.  Number 2 on the list was Disco Demolition Night at Comiskey Park in Chicago, home of the White Sox, back in 1979.  I know a lot more about this one.

Because I was there.

A local DJ named Steve Dahl had an anti-disco diatribe going on his radio show, on a rock station (FM 98).  He had already held anti-disco rallies at a few local disco clubs in the Chicago area and the response had been phenomenal.  So the White Sox promotions director thought they could get a few extra fans to a game (the Sox were terrible that year) by inviting any fan into the park who brought a disco record and 98 cents (remember, FM 98?) and all the records would go into an incinerator to be blown up by Dahl between games of a doubleheader with the Detroit Tigers.  The promotions guy was Mike Veeck, whose father, Sox owner Bill Veeck, had once staged promotions like sending a midget up to bat (he walked, by the way).  Veeck also planted the ivy on the outfield walls when HIS father ran the Cubs!  So, anyhow, my friend and I head down to the park by motorcycle with our disco records (fortunately, we took our helmets into the park, which would be a great idea because of what happened later).  We sit out in left field, and even though the place was packed, NOBODY is watching the game or reacting to it.  It was a crowd who couldn’t care less about the ballgame and were drinking prodigous amounts of beer.  In those days, there there was no limit how many you could buy at a time.  I remember a guy in line in front of me –with a real glazed look on his face–buying and stacking and carrying at least 20 beers.  The Tigers had nobody warming up in the bullpen because whenever a player stepped out to warm up (the bullpen area was near us), he would have scores of m-80 firecrackers thrown at him.  The game finally ends.  Steve Dahl comes out riding in an army jeep, incinerator in tow.  He blows up the records and huge cheering results.  And then thousands of people LEAP out of the stands onto the field!  They start tearing it apart. One of the foul poles is on fire. A big bonfire is going out in centerfield.  people are running everywhere.  Bill Veeck–THE TEAM OWNER– Actually goes out onto the field to calm things down, which is pretty brave considering he lost a leg in the Pacific Theater in WWII and now has a fake wooden one in its place!  It doesn’t work.  A door opens behind home plate. Dozens of policemen on HORSEBACK come riding towards the people to get them off the field, and they finally do leave, scattering like rats.  Meanwhile, its still crazy in the stands. People are throwing empty metal kegs out on the field or back into the stands.  My friend and I put on our helmets and slowly move out of the line of fire.  Finally, the carnage ceases, and the field is cleared (typical Sox fans–they missed taking third base).  The second game is forfeited, as the field is unplayable.  Later, as my friend and I head toward the exits, we see people actually climbing over the gates STILL TRYING to get in!  Steve Dahl lays low, though to this day he continues to be a popular Chicago DJ.  Mike Veeck was last seen running the St. Paul Saints, an independent minor-league baseball team (one of his co-owners is Bill Murray).  His dad, Bill Veeck, continued to run the Sox a few more years, adding other features such as a shower in the centerfield bleachers, as well as a barber in the same place (Veeck, by the way, was the originator of the exploding scoreboard, a piece of which is in the Hall of Fame).  And the Sox continue to lose often.

What a great time!

Day 10–Sagamore Hills and a scenic busride

Posted in Uncategorized on June 13, 2010 by cfest

While I have not done any extensive reading on Theodore Roosevelt–other than an excellent short book titled “River of Doubt” by Candace Millard, which tells the story of TR’s harrowing trip down a previously-unexplored South American river that was so poorly planned, poorly provisioned, and poorly led that it nearly resulted in Roosevelt losing his life,and at the very least, greatly affected his health in his last few years–his presidency remains, to me something of an enigma.

Roosevelt espoused and practiced an activist leadership role, not unlike his earlier governmental positions, and this ability resulted in his inevitable rise through the ranks.  Apparently, he did this so well that his success at investigating and rooting out corruption, ironically, made him then a threat to the entrenched, status quo-minded politicians of his era that he was ultimately “kicked upstairs” to the highest apparent figurehead position our country allows–Vice-President–a job once described by a high-ranking politico as “not worth a pitcher of warm p***”.  He was thought to be safely out of the way.

President McKinley’s asassination changed all that.  Roosevelt now had even more power to go after the perceived evil-doers, and as he described it, a “bully pulpit” to speak about this from.  He went after large trusts, the railroads, the food industry, and others.  He brokered international disputes, earning a Nobel Peace Prize in the process.  Roosevelt greatly expanded the areas of our National Parks system, raising the protected lands from 43 to 190 million acres during his terms of office.  He wrote numerous historical books, as well as a few accounts of personal experiences (such as his time as a rancher).    And, through it all, he maintained–at least we are told– a warm and close  relationship with his family.

However, there are some questionable actions.  Theodore Roosevelt was likely a product of his time, if not his social class, and did not demonstrate racial enlightenment for various nationalities as a whole.  His isolated attempts at this appear to be carefully staged or politically motivated, which calls into question the integrity of his actions.  Also, Roosevelt–who had fought alongside the soldiers under his command and received a Medal of Honor for his actions–engaged the United States in an international posture described by many as imperialistic, citing the inevitability and rightness of increasing the sphere of influence of A merica throughout the world, with little regard for those already populating the countries in question.  Obviously, no president does everything correctly or is immune to criticism from either side of the political spectrum.  But no evaluation of Theodore Roosevelt’s Presidency can be properly dissected without a thorough review of these areas of importance.  TR”s alleged actions against discrimination ultimately never found enough significant traction to bring about a genuine sea change in the recognition of the rights of minorities, and his veritable chest-thumping stance of America’s right as a major player on the international front may have led our into a hastened involvement in World War I, if not a diminished status around the globe as a country whose sense of fairness in dealing with lesser world powers was not be trusted, since any possible alliance wouldn’t be brokered in each country’s best interest.  This debate is ongoing and yet to be resolved.

Finally, was Theodore Roosevelt the first modern President?  The answer is yes if you are talking of the first American leader to stage-manage the United States’ initial ascent into the status of a world power.  But, the definition of modern can be viewed other ways.  Many might say Harry Truman is a better example of this appellation, as he was the first introduce a terrible weapon whose possession now by various countries immediately elevates them militarily throughout the world to a rarified status.  Some might even assert–though this is a bit of a reach in a few eyes–that Ronald Reagan could be considered the first modern president, due to the fact that he was the first president to have his off-the record musings printed by members of the press, thereby forever altering (some would say limiting) our opportunities to receive meaningful and reliable information from a sitting president, and thereby making couched phrases and political posturing more the order of the day.  I invite others to weigh in on their thoughts in this area.

Nevertheless, Theodore’s Roosevelt’s life (particularly his years out west), and his accomplishments in the areas of conservation, food safety, and philosophy towards meeting a challenge (I can draw ideas from his essay called “In The Arena”), make him someone worthy of discussion for my grade level.

Day 9–Natural History Museum and Yankee Stadium

Posted in Uncategorized on June 13, 2010 by cfest

It was extremely interesting to learn about the virulent feelings of racism in New York City during the Civil War due to its impact on their economy (38 cents of every dollar generated through the cotton industry went to some New York City business related to it).  I think few people would be aware of the city’s role as a shipping conduit between southern cotton and Liverpudlian textile mills.  Also, the variety of views about slaves seeking freedom in the north was interesting, too.  There are pieces of this I will be able to use with the third grade classes.  The notebook full of information will be extremely useful as well–particularly the CD.  I almost wish I had had this material a year ago, when I was putting together my presentation about the origins of the Civil War with my information from last year’s visit to the Lincoln Museum and Library in Springfield.  Nonetheless, I see many good ideas coming from this material.

My visit to the Natural History Museum brought back old memories of a serialized TV show I used to watch religiously in the midst of a regular cartoon hour–only this program was an actual film that had real actors.  It took place in New York City, with a bunch of kids getting in one of those boats in Central Park–just like we saw the other day–and rowing under the bridge, only coming out in a prehistoric world full of dinosaurs.  The serial was called “Journey To The Beginning Of Time”, and all my friends watched the show too, and then we would all talk about it the next day at school.  This all comes to mind because of our walking tour of Central Park, and the fact that Natural History Museum paleontologists (I’m pretty sure of this) were used as consultants for the show.  So, when I went into the museum today, I made a beeline for the dinosaur displays.  Any extra informationI can glean from these exhibits will certainly be shared with my students, who generally cannot get enough information about dinosaurs (I have one student who discusses facts about velociraptors virtually every day).  It’s always interesting  to me that with the wealthof knowledge available about dinosaurs, there is still no agreement about the color of the skin on these gigantic reptilians, since there is no old skin to draw from that has survived.

The ballpark experience was a fantastic way to end our stay in the city, and a nice segue to the beckoning Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.  My ticket for a seat behind the right field foul pole may not have been as good as I had hoped, but it was awfully good considering I acquired it online (with great help) last night.  I am not a big Yankee fan, but I always respect them.  They are the standard against which all other teams are measured, no matter how you feel about them. Tonight, they had the luxury of sitting the highest-paid player in the majors (Alex Rodriguez) and still winning (actually the one person I cheer for on the Yankees is their manager, Joe Girardi, a baseball player from my old school, Northwestern).  No matter–there is always something thrilling about sitting in a packed house, with everyone anticipating a certain pitch, a certain play, or the arrival of a certain player into the game–such as Mariano Rivera, an absolute lock for the Hall of Fame, as is Derek Jeter, and likely Andy Petitte.

I just wanted to add a few thoughts about the Grateful Dead exhibit.  As an attendee of 10…or 11 (use your own imagination as to why I don’t remember how many) shows, I can say I enjoyed this band immensely, and the crowds were always unique.  They used to come into Chicago when I was back in college and play three nights in a row, so you always knew you would see at least one show.  They would also do the same in Wisconsin, at a venue just over the Illinois border.  I am under no illusions that these guys were just peace and love hippies, though they did have an open additude towards their fans (i. e., allowing taping of their shows without a hassle, for example).  They were also shrewd businessmen, as Ed O’Donnell pointed out as well.  When The Dead told their fans to give them their addresses to tell about future gigs and band news, they were setting up a rock-solid data base to market their recordings and various paraphrenalia.  And people bought into it bigtime.  In fact, as the exhibit states, ‘…in 1993 they sold 1.7 million tickets, and by the early 1990’s The Grateful Dead were the #1 touring band in the United States.” 

Did I mention how awesome the music was too?  My favorites were “I Know You Rider” and “I Need A Miracle”.