Sunday, December 31, 2006

Which Presidents Have Lain In State?

As I watched the President Ford State Funeral last night, I kept hearing commentators mention that Ford was the eleventh American President to lay in state.

Who were the other ten?

They are:

Abraham Lincoln - April 19, 20, and 21, 1865
James Abram Garfield - September 21, 22, and 23, 1881
William McKinley, Jr. - September 17, 1901
Warren Gamaliel Harding - August 8, 1923
William Howard Taft - March 11, 1930
John Fitzgerald Kennedy - November 24 and 25, 1963
Herbert Clark Hoover - October 23, 24, and 25, 1964
Dwight David Eisenhower - March 30 and 31, 1969
Lyndon Baines Johnson - January 24 and 25, 1973
Ronald Wilson Reagan - June 9, 10, and 11, 2004

Who decides if a president will lay in state? One site notes, "Law enacted in 1923 after the death of President Harding provides that every president is entitled to a state funeral and to have his body lie in state. However, the law also provides that the decision as to whether this entitlement will be accepted is left to the family of the late president with input from congressional leaders. President Nixon's family (like those of Presidents Wilson, Coolidge, Franklin Roosevelt, and Truman) chose not to accept the honor. "

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Gerald Ford, Ordinary? Hardly!

I am pleased to present this guest post by my wife, Julie Lorenzen.
I just watched the American State funeral service for Gerald Ford, this night of December 30, 2006. I saw the black suits, the stoic, sad first lady, the flag-draped casket surrounded by white flowers and uniformed military personnel. I watched with mild interest, the ruckus around a fainting 84-year-old man and the short delay it caused as formally attired Emergency Medical Personnel rushed to help.

But more importantly, I listened. The most important message that came across was that Gerald Ford was the sort of man the United States needed at the moment he became the 38th President of the United States. Honest. Trustworthy. “Gentle but firm” one eulogist said. Three men gave eulogies. Vice-president Cheney spoke last. “He did not work it, he just worked,” Cheney said about Ford and the lengthy political career he embarked upon.

The adjective that stood out amongst those used to describe Ford, was the word “ordinary.” I don’t know who said the word. I believe it was a commentator on an ABC affiliate channel who was speaking as people left the service. Anyway, the point is, someone called Ford an “ordinary man who lived an extraordinary life.”

Ordinary? A man who played center for a University of Michigan football team which won a national championship is not ordinary. Anyone who follows college football has an idea about the kind of commitment, talent and teamwork it takes to be an individual voted most valuable player on a national championship team.

But ordinary? A man who manages to escape being swept off a ship during a typhoon in World War II is not ordinary. Being a 93-year-old World War II vet is also not an ordinary feat.

Further, a man whose only political aspiration is to be Speaker of the House is not ordinary. He never asked to be president. He was asked to be vice president, agreed and ended up being a president. He was the only president out of the 43 presidencies who was not elected to the Executive Branch. He was hand-picked by his predecessor.

It is a schmaltzy time when someone like Gerald Ford dies. We, the writers, reporters, commentators, all want to do him justice. We try to be poetic. Sometimes, the people watching or listening or reading, even though they may respect the honored person, get a bit tired of hearing puffed-up adjectives and the same sentimentalities over and over.

We keep hearing how Gerald Ford restored confidence in the presidency after Richard Nixon resigned. It’s almost a clich├ęd thing to write about at this time. I was too young to remember when Ford took over for Nixon. But that was the aspect of Ford’s life that the media has chosen, perhaps rightly so, to use to define the man who led the country for just under nine hundred days. An ordinary aspect of an ordinary man’s life? Not at all.

Ford seems to have been the type of man who would have appreciated the word ordinary being used to describe him. It is a humble, modest word used to describe a humble, modest man. But Ford was not ordinary. He was an extraordinary man who lived an extraordinary life. An ordinary man is one who sits in his chair and watches the news instead of being part of it, as Gerald Ford was tonight. I can only assume that what the commentator meant by calling Ford ordinary was that the former United States president did not have the golden aura of inapproachability about him that someone would say was extraordinary.

By Julie Lorenzen

Friday, December 29, 2006

President Ford's Tree


We’ve heard about President Ford’s integrity. His stellar athletic career has been discussed, his Congressional record, and the fact that he served as President and Vice-President without having one single American vote him into office.

We’ve heard numerous discussions regarding his pardon of President Nixon and debated if President Ford made the correct decision. The effect the pardon had on Ford’s subsequent election loss to President Carter has been discussed ad nauseum.

I’ve neither heard nor read anything within the last few days that discuss an event that is known, but is rarely dealt with in the realm of historical “Monday morning quarterbacking”. I’m a little mystified by it. For a couple of days during August, 1976 our nation stood toe-to-toe with an enemy who had attacked two of our soldiers without provocation resulting in President Ford staring down the gunbarrel of World War III erupting in his face, and it was all over a tree.
The story should really begin with a little background. Technically the Korean War has never ended. While there was an armistice agreement in 1953, a formal peace treaty was never signed. The demilitarized zone or DMZ is, according to a 2003 report by CNN, the most heavily fortified border in the world. Troops including members of the North Korean army have been facing down members of the South Korean armies, U.S. soldiers and other members of the United Nations forces for fifty-six years.

Since the Armistice was signed there have been numerous punches and jabs by both sides. By 1976, members of the Korean Peoples Army had made numerous attempts to grab United Nations command personnel in order to kidnap them. In his online article titled The Forgotten DMZ, Vandon E. Jenerette recounts some of the situations that arose during the 1960s.
In complete contrast to the eminent danger the DMZ area poses it is one of the most unplanned protected natural environments in the world. No humans can be found along the 155 mile long DMZ, but plenty of rare plants and animals are abundant.

Americans that serve along the DMZ are assigned to the United Nations Command Security Force in the Joint Security Area. In fact, the Joint Security Area, or the JSA, is the only place in the DMZ where the two sides meet up, hence the name Joint Security Area. One famous landmark in this area is the Bridge of No Return, so named because once South Koreans crossed the bridge during the early days of the armistice they would not be able to return. In the 1970s it was common for troops from either side to actually enter the DMZ zone, however, they were not allowed to carry any type of gun.

On August 18, 1976 members of a Joint Security force made up of American and South Korean troops entered the area to take care of a 100 foot Poplar tree that blocked the view between two United Nations command checkpoints.

The group was confronted by members of the Korean Peoples Army. Their leader was a man the members of the detail were familiar with. He was constantly provoking the U.N. and South Korean forces and had earned the nickname “Lt. Bulldog.”

Though “Lt. Bulldog” told the detail to stop cutting the tree, one of the Americans, Captain Arthur G. Bonifas told the tree cutters to stick to their job, and they continued.

More members of the KPA showed up with clubs and crowbars. Eyewitness reports state that the KPA commander, “Lt. Bulldog”, took off his watch, mouthed the words “kill them”, and gave the American Bonifas a karate chop killing him instantly.

The second American officer, Lt. Mark T. Barrett was also killed along with four Koreans. Several other members of the detail were injured.

When this matter was discussed within the confines of the executive branch of our government it is said Henry Kissinger favored bombing North Korea at that point, but President Ford authorized a calmer response which was dubbed Operation Paul Bunyan. Aptly named, don’t you think?

So why did Ford decide to follow the course he did? One of my sources reminds us that the United States was at a very low point due to the pullout from Vietnam. As a nation we weren’t feeling very proud of our actions on the world stage at that time. It was decided that a little “shock and awe”, 1970s style, would be a better course of action.

As Ford ordered Operation Paul Bunyan into action the nation went to DEFCON-3, which means “an increase to force readiness above normal”. What resulted was one of the largest military buildups on the peninsula by the United States since the end of the Korean War in 1953. The USS Midway was positioned off the coast of Korea and B-52s begun military exercises in South Korea for the first time since the end of the Korean War.

On August 21, 1976 a convoy of 23 vehicles filled with American and South Korean soldiers entered the DMZ. In one vehicle a 16 member team of U.S. Army engineers were packing axes and chainsaws. As they began to cut the tree other vehicles in the convoy positioned themselves along the road and blocked the bridge. In another vehicle, sources explain a 30 man platoon was armed with pistols and ax handles. A 64 man team from the South Korean army was armed with clubs along with their expertise in Tae Kwon Do. Once all the trucks were in place sandbags were thrown out to reveal M-16 rifles and M-79 grenade launchers hidden underneath.

The men on the ground were also supported by 20 utility helicopters, 7 Cobra attack helicopters, B-52 bombers, F-4 fighters, and F-5 fighters from the South Korean army. Numerous artillery supports was ready along the DMZ.

A source indicates there had been approximately 3,500 armistice violations by North Korea, but they have only apologized three times. As an after result Kim Il Sung agreed to split the JSA down a central line though he complained through the whole incident stating Ford had cooked up the whole episode to help him win the upcoming election looming ahead in November. Since August 21, 1976 soldiers of either side have not entered the DMZ at will.

I hope I’ve whetted your appetite for more information about this tense time in American History. Please visit the site I mentioned before as well as this
very informative site that contains still pictures of the actual attack and pictures of Operation Paul Bunyan underway. There are also links to personal journals and writings by soldiers who participated.

All presidents make thousands of decisions….good ones and poor ones. Though it was basically a spitting match that resulted in two unnecessary deaths and could have escalated into something more, President Ford kept his head and remained strong in a difficult situation.

Fillmore House Museum


You can browse through the Fillmore House online! The Fillmores lived here (East Aurora, NY) from 1826 to 1830. Take some time - the site includes articles and a lot of pictures.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Good Bye, Mr. Ford

To continue with EHT's post on Gerald Ford, I have to admit I was even behind her! I was out of town for the holidays and so didn't realize anything had happened until last night when my husband caught part of a new story when checking his email.

Some Ford articles from the current plethora:

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

The Death of a President



My son came in last night and told my husband and me about President Ford passing away. I was totally unaware even though I had been on the Internet all evening doing this and that. He was 93, our oldest living president, and he had been ill for sometime. He passed away at his home in Rancho Mirage, California.yesterday.

Though I was born during the Kennedy administration, was a toddler during Johnson, and remember most of the end of Nixon’s presidency, President Ford was the president I most remember as a young person. In October I wrote this piece for him that appeared at History Is Elementary and here at American Presidents.

He was a very interesting and honest man. We will be learning many more things about him over the coming days. One of the most interesting facts about our 38th president is that he served as president and vice president but was never elected by the people.

President Bush’s statement regarding Ford’s death can be seen here and the Ford Presidental Library site can be found here.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Woodrow Wilson’s Childhood Home


Thomas Woodrow “Tommy” Wilson lived in Augusta, GA for ten years. His boyhood home is now a museum. You can take a preview tour of the house on the web. Here are a few pictures from it to entice you:
The Presbyterian Manse that Tommy Wilson lived in from 1860-70.
Tommy Wilson’s room
Dining Room with the original table and chair from when the Wilsons lived here.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

The Day Hinckley Shot Reagan

The day was Monday, March 30th, 1981. I was eleven years old and a fifth grader at Webster Elementary School in Scotch Ridge, Ohio. School was out for the day and I was in soccer practice as a proud member of the Webster Cosmos.

One of the other soccer players came up to me and said, "Did you hear the good news?"

I replied, "No."

"Someone shot the President!" He exclaimed.

He continued, "Did you hear the bad news?"

I shook my head in the negative.

"The President is still alive!"

I was in a highly skeptical mood. I had trouble fathoming that the President had been shot. However, rumors continued to spread all over the soccer field about the botched assassination attempt. Some of the stories were wild. In one version, a man had jumped out of a car and fired a machine gun at President Reagan and was then killed by the Secret Service.

My Mom came to pick me up after practice. I had a lot of questions. She informed me that President Reagan had indeed been shot. However, she assured me that there had been no machine guns involved and that the failed assassin was still alive and in police custody.

Throughout the evening, all of the channels (all four of them!) showed footage of the assassination attempt over and over again. I sat watching the TV with a mix of shock, fear, and excitement. I felt relieved by the constant assurances from my family that the President was going to be OK.



What actually happened? Wikipedia has a good account. It notes, "The Reagan assassination attempt occurred on March 30, 1981, just 69 days into the United States Presidency of Ronald Reagan. While leaving a speaking engagement at the Washington (D.C.) Hilton Hotel, President Reagan, and three others, were shot and wounded by John Hinckley, Jr., who had previously stalked President Jimmy Carter and had a history of mental illness. As Reagan walked out of the hotel's T Street NW exit toward his waiting car, Hinckley emerged from the crowd and fired a Rohm RG-14 .22 cal. revolver six times at him. The gun, a Saturday night special that cost US$25, was manufactured by Rohm Gesellschaft, a West German company, and assembled by its American subsidiary, R.G. Industries, Inc. It was loaded with six Devastator bullets that were designed to explode on impact, though all failed to do so. Reagan, White House Press Secretary James Brady, Secret Service agent Timothy McCarthy, and District of Columbia police officer Thomas Delehanty were wounded. Hinckley was quickly subdued by the Secret Service. The entire incident was captured on video by television reporters."

Reagan quickly recovered. Reagan spoke several famous lines at this time including to his wife, "Honey, I forgot to duck" and to the surgeons at the operating table "Please tell me you're all Republicans."

I also remember the fascination I had with Hinckley. My eleven year old mind could think of few things more evil that trying to kill the President of the United States of America. My Dad was very vocal. He repeatedly offered the opinion that not only should Hinckley be executed but that he would indeed fry in the electric chair in fairly short order.

The next day at school, my class talked a lot about the assassination attempt. A lot of students were upset about it. No one was joking about it anymore and I heard no more comments about it being a bad thing that Reagan survived. I asked my teacher (Mrs. Schnicker) about Hinckley and why he did it. She had no answers but she also shared the opinion that Hinckley would probably be executed.

Hinckley was never executed. In fact, after a trial he was actually acquitted of all charges by reason of his insanity. In retrospect, this seems more reasonable to me now. Trying to kill the President to get the attention a famous actress is indeed lunacy. However, the acquittal seemed very unfair and wrong at the time it happened.

I am very thankful that there have been no further incidents of an assassin harming a President since that day. I hope I never have to explain to my sons why such an event has happened. I do not think I would do well at answering those kind of questions. As it is, that March day over 25 years ago is forever etched in my mind. I think of it every time I watch a soccer game or whenever I hear about Hinckley in the news.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

The Death of Warren Harding

The Crime Library debates the death of Warren Harding. Beginning with background on Harding, the report goes on to discuss four possible causes of death. There was never an autopsy done on Harding so there has always been some speculation surrounding his death. And Americans love a good mystery!

Natural Causes
The article begins with the fact that Harding did not take care of his health. He was a prime candidate for a stroke. It goes on to say that “there were clear indications that Harding had coronary artery disease.” The article also notes that nothing was done to deal with this fact – it went untreated.

Negligent Homicide
Harding has two main doctors at this time. Sawyer, who was his main doctor, was into homeopathic medicine and folk remedies more than any scientific medicine. Boone, the other doctor, was progressive and scientific, but seldom given any credence. Sawyer’s treatment of Harding was “at best, contrary to the best medical practice, and, at worst, bizarre.” The official cause of death was a stroke, but it was only Sawyer who really seemed to believe that. The article states that:
A reasonable conclusion is that Harding was a victim of negligent homicide. The case for this is strengthened by Sawyer's strange behavior at the time of Harding's death. One might reconstruct those last moments in the hotel room in San Francisco as follows: Sawyer, having given Harding another powerful dose of purgative, propelled the president into cardiac arrest. Alarmed at the result, he rushed from the sickroom to get a counteracting stimulant, but returned from his own room too late to save Harding.

Even if this scenario cannot be proved, it is clear that Sawyer was guilty of horrendous malpractice, both in diagnosis and treatment. It is reasonable to conclude that Harding, who might have died sooner or later from a heart attack, was a victim of negligent homicide.

Suicide
There were many rumors about suicide. Harding was certainly worried about impending problems and challenges to his administration. The article notes that “there were times during the Western trip when Harding was visibly depressed.” But the author notes that:
While one of the rumors floating around after Harding's death was that he committed suicide to avoid impeachment and disgrace, there is little likelihood that he was driven to such an act by ingesting poison. It seems an unlikely method to choose to take one's life, even if he had been clever enough to select a means that would mimic "natural causes." Harding might have been corruptible, but he was not so clever and devious.

Murder
There were also many rumors about the possibility of murder floating around. While at first unformed in 1930 a book was published to formalized some of the rumors:
In 1930, the amazing Gaston B. Means published a book entitled The Strange Death of President Harding. It is difficult to determine whether this book contains accurate information or whether it is pulp fiction at its worst. Means cast himself as the hero, a private investigator who can accomplish anything a client requested. The fact that he was working for the F.B.I. under the disreputable William Burns contributes to the unsavory nature of the Department of Justice under Daugherty's leadership…. Means, recently released from a federal prison in Atlanta after serving a sentence of two years for graft, was not a very credible witness.

Means gives two motives for Florence Harding to murder her husband. The first was to keep him from the scandal that was coming and the second was revenge for his latest affair. The second is not hard to toss out because Florence Harding had weathered many worse affairs than this one. But her husband’s reputation was very important to her and could give her a credible motive. But the article goes on:
Nonetheless, for all of the storm clouds hovering around Warren Harding in August 1923, he was still popular and beloved. One gets the impression that rather than hurrying Warren into the Great Beyond in order to protect his good name, the Duchess would have found a way to weather the storm.

So what does the Crime Library conclude about Warren Harding’s death?
The most likely hypothesis about Warren Harding's death is that put forth by Carl Anthony. Warren Harding was a victim of medical neglect, or, to be precise, of negligent homicide. Considering the strange mix of folk medicine and evolving science at the time, that is not a very remarkable fact. Whatever one's view --- critic or apologist --- a significant mystery remains. How did Warren Harding die? Any conclusion must be murky because evidence is either lacking, or, when available, contradictory. Is this simply a case of a genial mediocrity who didn't know how to take case of himself, and paid the price with a stroke? Or is it something more sinister --- a gullible politician who became aware of what was going on around him, and had to be silenced?

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

The 100 Most Influential Americans

The December 2006 issue of Atlantic Monthly has an article which attempts to rank the 100 most influential Americans in history. Not surprisingly, 17 American Presidents made the list. These are:

1. Abraham Lincoln
2. George Washington
3. Thomas Jefferson
4. FDR
10. Woodrow Wilson
12. Ulysses S. Grant
13. James Madison
15. Teddy Roosevelt
17. Ronald Reagan
18. Andrew Jackson
21. Harry Truman
25. John Adams
28. Dwight Eisenhower
44. LBJ
50. James Polk
55. John Quincy Adams
99. Richard Nixon

Strangely, Franklin Pierce and James Buchanan did not make the list...

From an abstract of the article:

Who are the ­most influential figures in American history? The Atlantic recently asked ten eminent historians. The result was The Atlantic’s Top 100—and some insight into the nature of influence and the contingency of history. Was Walt Disney really more influential than Elizabeth Cady Stanton? Benjamin Spock than Richard Nixon? Elvis Presley than Lewis and Clark? John D. Rockefeller than Bill Gates? Babe Ruth than Frank Lloyd Wright? Let the debates begin.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Have You Received Your Christmas Card From the White House Yet?


I haven’t. Many people have received one, though, and many are not happy. This Washington Post column bemoans the fact that the word “Christmas” is not included in this year’s message being sent to 1.4 million addresses.

This article from U.S. News and World Report shows an image of this year’s card, and discusses the fact that it’s a Hallmark. However, Hallmark has printed the cards for many years going back at least as far as the Eisenhower card from 1960.

Calvin Coolidge began the tradition of sending greetings from the White House in 1927. So many folks wanted the card President Coolidge finally had it printed in the newspaper.

By 1931, President Hoover was sending personal photos to family, friends, and staff.

Hoover Christmas Card

The Roosevelt’s continued this tradition throughout FDR’s presidency.

Roosevelt Christmas Card

By the 1950s the sending of Christmas greetings had greatly expanded to include American ambassadors, members of the Cabinet and Congress, foreign heads of state and government officials. It was during Eisenhower’s term in office that the Presidential Holiday Greeting became the official White House Christmas card per the White House website.

If you get your hands on an official White House card you might just want to hang onto it whether you like the image or not and whether you agree with the verse. Some older cards are worth a bit of money. This website wants $995 for the 1960 Eisenhower card.

One of the prettiest cards, in my opinion, is the official White House card sent by President Johnson in 1967. Over 2,600 cards were sent that year.

Johnson Christmas Card

In 1992, President and Mrs. Bush utilized the National Tree on their card decorated with red, white, and blue lights.

Bush Christmas Card


You can see more images of past White House cards here.

Friday, December 15, 2006

JFK assassination through Mrs. Johnson’s eyes

In the course of the Warren Commission’s investigation into JFK’s assassination, they took testimony from everyone - even Lady Bird Johnson. I find this a fascinating "other" look at the JFK assassination.

Mrs. Johnson recorded that at first she thought the sounds she heard were firecrackers, not shots: “There had been such a gala air that I thought it must be firecrackers or some sort of celebration.” The reaction of the Secret Service alerted her to the fact that something was really wrong. She went on to say: “I cast one last look over my shoulder and saw [in the president's car] a bundle of pink, just like a drift of blossoms, lying on the back seat. I think it was Mrs. Kennedy lying over the president's body ... .”

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Furnishings, Personal Objects, and Portraits of a President

The University of Mary Washington has a James Monroe Museum Memorial Library. One of the online exhibits is Furnishings, Personal Objects, and Portraits of a President.

When James Monroe was the US Minister to France in the late 1790s, he purchased a suite of Louis XVI furniture. You can see the secretary to the left.









This quilt was pieced by Maria Monroe Gouverneur (Monroe’s daughter). She began the quilt prior to Elizabeth Monroe’s death in 1830, but never finished it.







This tiara was Elizabeth Monroe’s. It is unsure how Mrs. Monroe purchased this piece, but it probably originally belonged to the Bonaparte family.



This is Elizabeth’s Necessaire Kit and probably was inherited from her family. The kit was for holding personal care items.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Gettysburg's Good News

Gettysburg's Good News. A recent issue of US News & World Report has this article by Gabor Boritt. It is based on a full length book of the same name. I found this article very thought provoking.

From the site:

GETTYSBURG, JULY 4, 1863. Dreadful silence. It rains. People crawl out of their cellars, blinking in the gloomy light, trying to find their neighbors, food, news-life. The battle is over, but the smell of putrid animal flesh mingles with the odor of human decay. It extends into the spirit of the people. War had come to them. Now it had gone and left the horror behind. No toasts are offered today, no fireworks, no parades, no services in the churches filled with grievously wounded men.

But Sally Myers, 23, full of life, forges ahead. The sun comes out, and the schoolteacher writes in her diary: "I never spent a happier Fourth. It seemed so bright." The Union had retaken the town. A soldier will later add: "The Glorious Fourth and we are still a Nation, and shall most likely continue to be for centuries to come." Prof. Michael Jacobs of Gettysburg's college comes out of his house on Middle Street with his son Henry. So do others. A band marches down Baltimore Street, fife and drum breaking the noxious grip of stillness. People move toward the square. Life begins again.

It is Independence Day, after all, the day of victory in 1776, four score and seven years ago. The armies are leaving. But the wounded and dead remain, on the fields, in houses, in barns, and in hospital tents. Twenty-one thousand wounded; perhaps 10,000 dead.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Can you order the US Presidents?

Want a fun little game? Try putting all the US Presidents in order! I managed it - can you? It gave me something to do besides grade and take finals!

You can also contribute your own timeline game if you want.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Thomas Jefferson’s Cheese

To continue my last post, Thomas Jefferson received one very interesting gift. He was given a huge piece of cheese. The cheese was over 4 feet in diameter and weighed (cured) 1235 pounds! That’s a lot of grilled cheese sandwiches!

This huge cheese was made by the citizens of a small farming town in western Massachusetts to “commemorate Jefferson’s long-standing devotion to religious liberty and to celebrate his recent electoral victory over Federalist rival John Adams.”

So what did Jefferson think of this cheese?
According to press accounts, Jefferson personally received the cheese on New Year’s morning. Dressed in his customary black suit, he stood in the White House doorway, arms outstretched, eagerly awaiting the cheese’s arrival. The gift was received with cordial expressions of gratitude and exuberant cheese-tasting. The cheese-makers heralded their creation as “the greatest cheese in America, for the greatest man in America.”

On a similar note, Jefferson is sometimes reputed to have invented macaroni and cheese.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Presidential Libraries and Their Role in the Writing of History

The newest issue of The Chronicle of Higher Education has an article titled Presidential Libraries and Their Role in the Writing of History. If you are not a Chronicle subscriber, the link will not work as a subscription is required to view this article online. Benjamin Hufbauer gives his views on presidential libraries.

In short, he is no fan of them. He questions the ability of president's to be able to control and design their own libraries. He wrote, "The biggest problem is that they get to control how the museums describe their lives and the events in their presidency. The archives are very important, of course, and many books are written from them. But the museum presents a kind of propaganda to the public."

He also describes the building of presidential libraries as egotistical. He wrote, "My impression is that these presidents are obsessed with these things. Their egos are far beyond what a normal human being can imagine. ... They feel this is the way to put in marble and concrete their greatness. Most of them are thinking of it all the time."

So, how valuable are presidential libraries? As a librarian I like the idea. As a fan of presidential history, I like them as well. Is it a problem if the libraries represent the desires of the presidents? Does a conflict of interest exist that makes the libraries less useful than they could be? Since presidents can not control what will be written in the history books, is it OK for them to control what is in their own presidential library? These are some good questions and I do not have the answers.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Gifts Fit For A....President!

NARA has a lovely online exhibit called Tokens and Treasures that showcases various gifts to our Presidents. Every president has received gifts and today the President receives up to 15,000 a year! Early America tried banning foreign gifts, but this prohibition proved impossible to uphold. The exchange of gifts between nations is an integral part of diplomacy. This exhibit features gifts given to Presidents Hoover through Clinton.

So the fun part...what are these gifts? Let's take a look at some of them (and then you go browse the rest!). The gifts range from simple to ostentatious, from personal to representative, from handmade to perfect. Some gifts came in sympathy, in friendship or with thanks while others came in protest.

This is a needlepoint pillow made for President Hoover by an anonymous donor in honor of his love of fishing.

President Kennedy received these miniature rocking chairs in honor of his use of a rocking chair to combat back pain.

President Ford received many service medals from Vietnam veterans in the mail as a protest of his offer of amnesty to draft dodgers.

This Desert Storm chess set was made by Mr. Kellogg of North Carolina while his nephew was held captive in Iraq. After the war ended and his nephew came home, he sent it on to President Bush.

I chose to focus on personal gifts here, but the exhibit also features some state gifts, such as a glass mosaic from Pope John Paul II to President Clinton. Go browse this fun and interesting exhibit!

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Sarah Polk

Does this look like Sarah Polk to you? I am now officially "Sarah Polk" at the National First Ladies Library as my costume is finished.

In honor of that, let's talk about Sarah! She was extremely well-educated and as she had no children, she become an assistant to James. She helped him with his speeches, clipped pertinent newspaper articles for him and generally provided him a sounding board. She was one of the most involved political spouses of her time.

Sarah was a very strict Christian, forbidding hard liquor and dancing at the White House (very much in contrast to the galas of her predecessor, the very young Julia Tyler). She refused to allow any business to be conducted on Sunday and even would turn away foreign dignitaries if they arrived on a Sunday.

When James left office in 1848, they headed home to retirement. James would die just months later, but Sarah lived another 42 years. She witnessed the Civil War, which she chose not to take sides in. She received both Union and Confederate officiers on her property, but Polk Place was considered neutral ground. She also later entertained the Hayes and the Clevelands.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Abraham Lincoln Research Site

Abraham Lincoln Research Site. Do you know a lot about an American President? If so, do you want to go online and take reference questions about him and answer them for free from whoever submits them? If so, you may find this site of interest.

Roger Norton has had this site on the web since 1996. He writes, "I am not an author or an historian; rather I am a former American history teacher who enjoys researching Abraham Lincoln's life and accomplishments. If you have a specific Lincoln question that you would like me to research for you, please e-mail me using the link near the bottom of the page. I cannot answer broad questions, only very specific ones. I will try to find the answer and get back to you as soon as I possibly can."

The site itself has a ton of information on Abraham Lincoln. The three main sections of this website are the Abraham Lincoln Research Site, Abraham Lincoln’s Assassination, and the Mary Todd Lincoln Research Site. The site is well documented with references to dozens of print resources.

Go ahead and look around. It is a nice place to visit. However, I do not think I am going to follow in Norton's shoes. Unless you stop by the Reference Desk at my library, I am not going into the Presidential reference question for fun game. But I do admire Mr. Norton for doing so and I hope he is answering lots of Lincoln questions.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Martin Van Buren: He's So K-E-W-L

As technology races ahead in order to make our lives easier we are forever realizing there are trade-offs for a less complicated life. While email makes it possible to directly contact most anyone we must also put up with infuriating and at times comical email spam that fills our inboxes with ads for viagra, tales of lost Iraqi gold, or an invitation to join in on Nigerian banking intrigues. Desktop computers have led to working at home, instant publishing, and numerous ways to organize our lives. On the flipside desktop computers have opened up a portal to a den of inequity of pornography, gambling, and thievery which penetrates our humble homes and has a huge effect on business productivity. Cell phones have aided us enormously regarding safety and instant contactibility. The downside….instant contactibility. Cell phones are a curse and a God-send at the same time.

One of the problems we are seing more and more in education are the increased use of cell phones among our students at all grade levels during the school day. There are reports even parents do not hold sacrosanct instruction time and ring up their child when the whim strikes. Cell phones can be used to contact one another between classes, in class, and after school. Text messages can be used without the phone being detected at all. There are reports that cell phones at school have been used to bully other students, as cheating aids, and serve as disruption during instructional time. Text messaging has a language all its own. Short-cuts, half-spellings, and abbreviations abound. Now we are finding text messaging style is infiltrating our language arts classes, and there is a real concern text messaging will interfere with formal writing skills.

Just look at how the beauty of written prose can be changed through text message speak. Taken from Wikipedia look at this “translation” of William Shakespeare’s DreaA Midsummer Night’s Dream:

If we shadowes ave ofendd. Thnk bt ths & al is mnded. That u ave but slumer’d ere; whiL thse visNs did appr; & this wk & idel theme; no mre yEldN bt a dream. Gentles, do nt reprehNd; if u pardon we wil mend; & I am honst Puck;

While we can decypher and “get through it” something is lost.

Interestingly enough abbreviated language is nothing new. How many times a day do you use the abreviation OK? We tell people we are OK when they ask how we are. We exclaim “OK!” when students finally seem to “get it”. We use OK at the end of question where we want some type of affirmation. Don’t bang on that desk again, OK? Complete the assignment and turn it into my box, OK?

So just how does the abbreviation for OK fit into a post regarding a past president and relate to text speak in the twenty-first century?

Stay with me while I connect the dots, OK?

During the 1840 presidential campaign supporters for Martin Van Buren wanted to come up with a catch phrase….a gimmick that would be catchy and stick in the minds of voters. Groups of supporters in Van Buren’s hometown, Old Kinderhook, New York, formed “OK Clubs” to support their hometown boy. Townspeople would get together and shout, “Martin Van Buren---he’s OK!”

Abbreviated expressions were used in Boston newspapers as early as 1838 and by 1839 had spread to New York and New Orleans. In a series of articles published during 1963 and 1964 in the journal, American Speech, professor Allen Walker Read asserts Boston newspapers, in an attempt at satire, referred to the local swells as OFM (our first men). They also used NG (no go), GT (gone to Texas), and SP (small potatoes). For those that were "abbreviation challenged" the papers would provide the real meaning in parentheses much like I have done here. Read further advised many of the abbreviated expressions were misspelled. Apparently this was intentional and was considered quiet humorous. Read gave these examples: KY (know yuse), KG (know go), and NS (nuff said), and completed his article with numerous cites to back his work.

My personal favorite is TBFTB which stands for “too big for their britches”.

In fact, the abbreviation for OK is also an attempt at humor and is misspelled. OK stands for “all correct”. The misspelling derives from the “a” being replaced with “o” and the “c” being replaced with “k”. In the places where OK was used the explanation in parentheses was “oll korrect”. Another version of OK was OW (oll wright).

Somehow OK just has a better ring to than OW. That’s an abbreviation I’m glad didn’t stick around. It does make sense to me, however, that Van Buren’s supporters would take advantage of a common trend at the time and use the double meaning for OK to refer that Van Buren was an OK guy and that he was their man from Old Kinderhook.

The irony of the matter wasn’t lost on Van Buren’s opponents either. They took advantage of the tendency to misspell the abbreviations and began a nasty rumor stating “OK” began with Andrew Jackson who was all but illiterate. Other rumors involving Andrew Jackson mention he picked up the saying “okeh” from a Choctaw Indian derivative and passed it along. Another story is during his court days Jackson had a habit of writing OK on documents to mean “oll korrect”, however, this is stretching things a bit since it has since been determined he wrote OR for “order recorded” on documents.

Reinterpretation of the slogan by Van Buren’s competition was also given such as “Out of Kash, Out of Kredit, and Out of Klothes.”

The media today is repeatedly accused of being biased against Republicans, however, newspaper columnists in the 1840s also participated in presidential attacks as they took to referring to Van Buren as “Oll killed”, “Orfully Konfused”, and “Often Kontradicts”. These altercations of the abbreviation OK only led to it being known nationwide.

There are at least eight or nine other stories about the deriviation of OK including that it came from the Greek language, a German general who fought with Patriots during the American Revolution signed documents with OK to stand for “Ober-Kommando”, and the company who supplied biscuits to the army was O.Kendall & Sons, and they stamped OK on each biscuit.

It’s amazing to me there are so many stories about a simply little abbreviation that is used millions of times every day worldwide.

I’d just like to think that a president who most Americans know little about had something to do with it…..OK?