Saint Louie

We’ve been to and from St. Louis many times, and we always try to see something new en route or while we’re there (along with McKay’s in Nashville, of course – that is a staple!).

This time we stopped at the George Dickel Distillery in Tullahoma, Tennessee. I had visited the Old Bushmills Distillery in Northern Ireland and was keen to learn how American whiskey was different from Irish. (Answers: the composition of the mash, the state of the aging barrels, and in Tennessee, the Lincoln County Process.)

In St. Louis itself we got to see the refurbished and newly-reopened Museum at the Gateway Arch. It’s larger than the previous one, and deals with westward expansion in more detail and from a greater variety of perspectives. There’s also some good background on the arch itself, and no longer an animatronic Red Cloud.

The City Museum is like nothing you’ve ever seen. It occupies the former International Shoe Company building and is constantly colonizing new areas of it. The “museum” aspect consists largely of architectural detailing (I was pleased to discover the St. George pictured above), recovered nineteenth-century trash, a large insect collection, and other found objects; these are interspersed throughout an artificial cave system, a ten-story spiral slide, a ferris wheel on the roof, giant ball pits, skateboard ramps, a miniature train for people to ride, a space for circus performers, welded creations to climb on, and much, much more, all eccentrically decorated. As you can probably surmise, the museum appeals mostly to children, although it is fun for anyone to visit; what I like about it is that it’s dark and mysterious, even slightly sinister, an exciting contrast to much of the pabulum served up to kids these days.

Our event took place at the Contemporary Art Center, which we had never before seen. It’s what you’d expect: a brutalist building, with installation art like that depicted above (Jacob Stanley, TIME). It’s worth a visit, and it’s free.

At the St. Louis Science Center we saw a traveling Smithsonian exhibition entitled “Destination Moon: The Apollo 11 Mission.” The showpiece is the actual Columbia capsule that took Armstrong, Aldrin, and Collins to the Moon and back; this was accompanied by Aldrin’s helmet, a part of one of the Saturn V engines that Jeff Bezos fished out of the Atlantic, and other such objects. I especially liked all the Space Race newspaper headlines, videos of Kennedy speaking to Congress and giving his “We choose to go to the Moon” speech at Rice, and the midcentury-modern living room that you entered through (although I doubt that the television depicted above was all that common in middle America!).

On our way back, we stopped at something called the Arant Confederate Memorial Park, an SCV project situated beside I-24 just outside Paducah, Kentucky. This has appeared recently, and advertises itself, like a car dealership, with a massive flag. But the Battle Flag is not the only one on display: as you can see in the photo above, there are other ones, including all three national flags of the CSA, and the Bonnie Blue Flag.

The flag I was most curious about (as I had never seen it before): the flag of the Orphan Brigade, a Confederate brigade recruited in Kentucky (so-called as Kentucky was not really a member state of the Confederacy).

The flea market next door was festooned with American flags, and I can’t help but think this was some sort of a riposte to Arant Park.

Nelson’s Pillar

The most distinguishing feature of Trafalgar Square in London is Nelson’s Column, put up in the 1840s to commemorate Admiral Horatio Nelson, the victor (although fatal casualty) of the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. At that historic encounter, the Royal Navy defeated a combined Franco-Spanish fleet, thereby reasserting British control of the seas and foreclosing the possibility of a Napoleonic invasion.

Nelson’s Column, Trafalgar Square, London, June 2018.

Unfortunately for the Irish, it also foreclosed the possibility that the French would liberate them from the British, as Theobald Wolfe Tone and Robert Emmet had hoped. The local authorities thus erected a pillar to Nelson on Sackville Street in Dublin in 1809, in celebration of this triumph of the British Empire.

Nelson’s Pillar, Sackville Street, Dublin, c. 1830. Wikipedia.

You could climb up it for a view of the city, but aesthetically it tended to dominate the street, and not in a good way, at least according to several people quoted in an interesting book I bought at the Hodges Figgis bookstore in Dublin.

As the twentieth century wore on and Ireland gained more and more independence, the prominent place of Nelson’s column in Dublin seemed anomalous, especially as it was right next to the General Post Office, the headquarters of the rebels during the Easter Rising of 1916. Some people were determined to do something about this deplorable situation, and in 1966, just prior to the fiftieth anniversary of the Rising, two IRA members managed to plant a bomb halfway up the column, which exploded and brought the top half crashing down into the street. The cover photo Fallon’s book illustrates their handiwork. The Irish Army then demolished the rest. Spokesmen for the IRA disclaimed the action, saying that they were interested in the actual governance of Ireland, not in symbols of the previous regime, although apparently President Éamon De Valera telephoned a newspaper and suggested a headline: “British Admiral Leaves Dublin by Air.”

I was interested to discover that, since 2003, the Nelson Pillar has been replaced with something designated the Spire of Dublin, a stainless steel pin-like monument that extends 120 feet into the air. This was part of a redevelopment for O’Connell Street (as Sackville Street was renamed in the 1920s); it is generally seen as a monument to the “Celtic Tiger” boom years of the 1990s and 2000s.

Spire of Dublin, O’Connell Street, Dublin, May 2018.

Sanctioned or not, blowing up pillars then became somewhat of an IRA tradition. Here is an engraving of “Walker’s Pillar” as it appeared in the 1830s, overlooking the walls of Londonderry. George Walker was an English soldier and Anglican priest who was killed at the Battle of the Boyne, when the Protestant William III defeated the Catholic James II, and secured Protestant supremacy and continued Protestant settlement of Ireland.

Walker’s Pillar, Londonderry. Nineteenth-century engraving. Ebay.

And here’s what it looks like today: nothing more than a plinth, with the remains of a paint bomb thrown at it for good measure. The IRA blew up the column in 1973.

Plinth of Walker’s Pillar, Londonderry, Northern Ireland, June 2018.

Interestingly, this custom was not shared by the members of the Front de Liberation de Québec, who left the Nelson Column in Montreal in its original state.

Nelson’s Column, Montreal, 2005. Wikipedia.

Lottie Moon

I have discovered that the Baptist missionary Lottie Moon, the subject of our Confederate Heritage Month post last April, has a Cartersville connection! From a monument on West Cherokee Avenue:

Although missionaries are not exactly fashionable these days, being seen as the propaganda arm of Western imperialism, this is not exactly true, and some of the stories of such women as Lottie Moon, Amy Carmichael, Mary Slessor, or Gladys Aylward are truly inspiring examples of courage, self-sacrifice, and the achievement of actual good, and not just through conversion to Christianity. Slessor, for instance, promoted women’s rights and rescued numerous unwanted children in Nigeria.

A Topical Post

My general feeling about Confederate monuments remains the same: just leave them alone, and put up other monuments to current heroes as a riposte.

Philadelphia

Happy to have experienced Philadelphia for the first time this summer. Unfortunately, we did not get to spend too much time there, but we did get to see the two biggest historical attractions: the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall. As a bonus we got to learn something about Benjamin Franklin.

The Liberty Bell, so-called from the 1830s, was cast in London for the legislative building of the Province of Pennsylvania (now designated Independence Hall). The idea is that the bell was rung to announce the adoption of the Declaration of Independence, although there is no documentary proof that this actually happened. Its distinctive large crack developed some time in the early nineteenth century, rendering it unringable – but granting it a great amount of what Stephanie Trigg would call “mythic capital.”

You get to see it in the Liberty Bell Center, run by the National Parks Service, located across the street from Independence Hall. Annoyingly, you have to pass through an airport-level security checkpoint to get in, but the NPS does give you information about the object’s history and its place in the American psyche – it used to go on tour throughout the country, and in the nineteenth century became a symbol of the desire for liberty by African-Americans and women, in addition to being reproduced countless times in various media.

UPDATE: I just received this in the mail:

Also, I saw these at a local supermarket:

Here are a couple more:

Independence Hall isn’t quite as well-known a symbol as the Liberty Bell, but it certainly has been influential architecturally (see buildings at Dartmouth, Berea, Mercer, Rust, Dearborn, etc.)

The building’s original function was as the seat of the colonial legislature of the Province of Pennsylvania. The first floor housed the supreme court on one side, and the legislative chamber on the other. It was in the latter of these that the Second Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence (July 2, 1776), and members of the Constitutional Convention drafted the Constitution in the summer of 1787.

Our NPS interpreter (a recent Temple University BA in English) explains the room’s history.

A fun fact: the Declaration of Independence was printed before it was handwritten. The representatives spent two days debating what exactly they were going to accuse George III of before sending it to the printer on July 4 (the reason that this date now marks Independence Day); they regathered in August to affix their signatures to a manuscript copy, which is now on display in the National Archives in DC.

(Related: the first printer of the Declaration was John Dunlap; in 1777 Congress commissioned Mary Katherine Goddard of Baltimore to print a new edition [the “Goddard Broadside“] including the signatories’ names; she boldy printed her own name at the bottom.)

Walking down the street afterwards we were accosted by Ben Franklin (a.k.a. actor Rick Bravo), with whom we had a good chat.

He enjoined us to visit his house further down the street. Not much of it still exists, although a “ghost house,” designed by architect Robert Venturi, now outlines where it once was, with concrete hoods that allow you to view the foundations of the original structure.

On the west side of this “Franklin Court” is the Benjamin Franklin Museum, a brutalist structure put up for the bicentennial in 1976. The National Parks Service has recently redone the exhibits, and they provide an informative and interactive view of Franklin’s career. To the north end of the court is a print shop (one of Franklin’s jobs was as a printer), where NPS employees will demonstrate the use of an eighteenth-century printing press. An adjacent working post office (Franklin served as the first Postmaster General) will allow you to send letters with specially designed cancellation marks.

Benjamin Franklin’s Autobiography is now on my reading list for the summer.

Vimy Ridge

The Battle of Vimy Ridge, which took place 100 years ago this coming week, represented an allied victory over the Germans during the First World War. In particular, according to Canadian historian Pierre Berton, it marked the moment when Canada “truly emerged as a nation” – the four Canadian divisions coming together to take a fortified knoll outside Givenchy-en-Gohell and capture some 4000 prisoners. Wikipedia suggests that the nation-building story only came about during the latter part of the twentieth century (i.e. during the 1960s, when the Liberals were trying to downplay Canada’s British connection). Be that as it may, it is clear that the battle, as a rare victory in an otherwise disastrous and pointless war, has become important to Canada’s psyche. The British commanding officer, Field Marshall Julian Byng (elevated to the peerage in 1919 as Baron Byng of Vimy) was appointed Governor General of Canada in 1921, and Vimy Ridge was one of the eight sites granted to Canada for the construction of memorials; Walter Seymour Allward’s winning design was opened by King Edward VIII in 1936.

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Wikipedia.

And check out the Vimy 100 page at the National Post, whose current top story relates the news that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and 25,000 other Canadians are headed to France for ceremonies marking the centenary.

UPDATE: Dartblog covers Vimy Ridge also. Check out the photo of the current $20 bill and the link to Coach’s Corner.

UPDATE: This morning I discovered my Vimy pin. These appeared in the wake of the refurbishment of the monument in 2007.

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Gift of Ron Good.

I also noticed that Mike Babcock was wearing one last night as his team made the playoffs for the first time since 2013. (I don’t know why he wasn’t smiling more).

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Apparently the Vimy pin is now “April’s poppy,” according to the Vimy Foundation website. It proceeds to explain that:

The four coloured boxes represent the four Canadian divisions which fought together for the first time on April 9, 1917 at the Battle of Vimy Ridge. The red represents the First Division, the dark blue the Second Division, the grey-blue the Third Division, and the green the Fourth Division. The order of the ribbon’s colours (left to right) reflects the positioning of the four Canadian Divisions facing the German defences on the day of the battle.

MLK Day

In honor of Martin Luther King Day, a photograph of the MLK statue in Washington DC which I took last November:

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Here are some photos of the MLK National Historic Site in Atlanta, with Ebenezer Baptist Church (the third photo shows the sign on the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church located not far away). I took these on MLK Day ten years ago.

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And here is another image of the great man, in the National Museum of African American History and Culture, which I also got to see in November:

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The Museum, by the way, is wonderful. I was very lucky to get to see it. It is on the Mall near the Washington Monument; it opened in September and is hugely popular – so much so that you can only order tickets online, or so the security guard kindly explained to me when I asked about getting in. As chance would have it some people overheard my question and gave me an extra ticket that they had.

The building, by architects Philip Freelon, David Adjaye, and Davis Brody Bond, takes the form of an inverted bronze step pyramid and is meant to evoke a Yoruban crown. It provides the museum’s logo.

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Scanned from a postcard purchased in the gift store.

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The history galleries are in the basement; there was a long line for this so unfortunately I had to pass it by, even though history is what we’re all about here. Instead, I visited the top two floors, which contain the culture portion of the museum. Extensive exhibits deal with African-American musicians, actors, athletes, artists, soldiers, and others, and African-American organizations like churches, newspapers, HBCUs, the Prince Hall Freemasons, and the National Pan-Hellenic Council. It’s enlightening, infuriating, and uplifting all at once, and I highly recommend it if you’re in DC. Just be sure to order your tickets ahead of time.

Stone Mountain

Yesterday I finally had the chance to visit Stone Mountain, a large granite monadnock formation to the east of Atlanta. In terms of sheer natural beauty it rivals Ayers Rock or Devils Tower; you can take a cable car to the top and explore the ethereal moonscape while admiring the distant Atlanta skyline.

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But this is not the primary significance of Stone Mountain. Carved into the north face is the world’s largest bas-relief sculpture… of the Confederate heroes Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee, and Stonewall Jackson, all riding their favorite horses (Black Jack, Traveller, and Little Sorrel, respectively). I’m afraid that for my visit the sun was in exactly the wrong position for photographs, so I am reduced to reproducing Wikipedia’s:

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This sculpture, which measures some 76 by 158 feet, dates from 1916 and, after many fits and starts, was finally completed in 1972. It is faced by a long, gently sloping lawn (where the people are sitting in the picture above); this is lined with memorials to the thirteen states of the Confederacy, and at the top, facing the sculpture, is Memorial Hall, which houses the Discovering Stone Mountain Museum. This museum deals with Stone Mountain and its surrounding community throughout history, including Indian occupation, the arrival of European settlers, the Civil War, granite quarrying in the nineteenth century, races to the top of the mountain in the twentieth century, the bicycling events of the 1996 Olympics, the politics and production of the sculpture itself, and yes, the founding of the second iteration of the Ku Klux Klan on the top of the mountain on November 25, 1915. Almost needless to say, this was designated as a “dark chapter” in the Mountain’s history; it was nice, though, that they acknowledged it, rather than pretending it didn’t happen.

But it seems that Stone Mountain wants to live down its Confederate associations as well. No, they’re not prepared to blow up the monument, as some have requested. But there’s more to the park than the sculpture, and very little of it is Confederate. You can visit the Great Barn, ride the Scenic Railroad, or enjoy the Yogi Bear 4-D Adventure (this is all provided by Herschend Family Entertainment, which has been contracted by the state of Georgia to run the place). Although it’s clear that the whole thing was once intended to be the “Southland’s Sacred Mount” – somewhat like the Voortrekker Monument in Pretoria, South Africa – and apparently the Stone Mountain Memorial Association retains the right “to reject any project deemed unfit,” they don’t seem to have any qualms about allowing the Laser Show Spectacular, projected after dark and only on certain nights onto the side of the mountain with the carving, accompanied by music and fireworks, or Snow Mountain, a series of slides and ramps on the lawn facing the sculpture, that will be covered in artificial snow for sledding come wintertime. Even the gift shop is completely devoid of Confederate memorabilia. Instead, there’s lots of American patriotism on display:

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And, on one postcard, even the sculpture itself has been defaced with a US flag, something unthinkable at one point.

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I honestly don’t know whether to laugh or cry. I don’t care much for the Lost Cause stuff you sometimes find around here, but if you’re going to have a memorial… man, have some respect!

A website entitled Shades of Gray: The Changing Focus of Stone Mountain Park has more information.

Farley Mowat

My hometown of Port Hope, Ontario has had a number of notable residents, among them Joseph Scriven (author of the hymn “What a Friend we have in Jesus”), artist David Blackwood, impresario and explorer William Leonard Hunt (the Great Farini), and author Farley Mowat, who died in 2014. I remember seeing Mowat around town, and everyone knew the story about him mooning the guests at a banquet, by means of illustrating that no underclothes were worn under a kilt. Now Chris Robert, a high school teacher of mine, sends me images of a monument constructed to honor Mowat and moved this past weekend to its current site on the east bank of the Ganaraska River. You can see Port Hope’s town hall in the background.

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Photo: Chris Robert

Why an upside-down boat, you ask? Well, this is a reference to Mowat’s book The Farfarers (1998), which impressed the Port Hope Friends of Farley Mowat. From the plinth:

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Photo: Chris Robert

I had never heard of this before, and I confess that the passive-voice construction “are believed” in the first paragraph made me suspicious (Wikipedians will automatically insert a superscripted [by whom?] whenever they find stuff like this). Moreover, there is a long tradition of imagining the arrival of pre-Columbian explorers to the Americas for various reasons – is this just the latest example? Who were these people, and what exactly did Thomas Lee discover on the Ungava Peninsula?

I do not have a copy of The Farfarers to hand, although you can look inside the book at Amazon. According to the summary at Wikipedia, Mowat claims that even before the Vikings, settlers from the island of Orkney, chasing walrus ivory, reached Iceland, then Greenland, and then arctic Canada. Mowat calls these settlers Albans, after “Alba,” a Gaelic name for Scotland, and believes they were the descendants of the prehistoric inhabitants of the British Isles, pushed to the fringes by Celts and then Romans. Thomas Lee was an archaeologist at Laval University; his excavations on the Ungava Peninsula uncovered stone building foundations that Lee thought were temporary shelters built by Vikings around the year 1000, the same time as their settlement of L’Anse aux Meadows in Newfoundland. Lee also found a stone landmark that he dubbed the Hammer of Thor on the assumption that it too was Viking, although it could simply have been an Inuit inukshuk. So it seems that Mowat was reinterpreting Lee’s data – Lee did not originate the theory of the Albans.

Thus, it probably comes as no surprise that the editors of Canadian Geographic designated The Farfarers as “highly speculative” and noted that “no professional archeologists are known to share Mowat’s theories.” Stuart Brown of Memorial University noted the “small problem” of a complete lack of “reasonably compelling evidence,” with the book being “entertaining as fiction, [but] far from convincing as fact.” As much as I hate to run down a hometown hero, these assessments are probably accurate. Mowat did indeed have a reputation of never letting the facts ruin a good story. I recall a 1996 cover story in (the now sadly defunct) Saturday Night magazine, with Farley Mowat as Pinocchio.

farleymowatsatniteReporter John Goddard investigated the research and composition of Mowat’s bestselling book Never Cry Wolf, and discovered quite a few things that he simply made up.

As a historian, I confess that I cannot approve of this schtick….

A Grim Centenary

July 1 marks the centenary of the first day of the Battle of the Somme, the Anglo-French attempt at breaking through the German front during the Great War, near the River Somme in France. The offensive lasted until November of 1916, and made no appreciable gains in territory – at a cost of well over one million casualties.

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Wikipedia.

Depicted is Edward Luytens’s Thiepval Memorial to the Missing of the Somme, dedicated by the Prince of Wales in 1932.

MORE: From the Telegraph: “Somme ‘Iron Harvest’ will take 500 years to clear, say bomb disposal experts on centenary of bloody battle”