The Rise and Fall of Confederate Memorials

Copyright Adam Fagen

Copyright Adam Fagen

It’s been a momentous month in the long, sad history of race relations in the United States.  In the aftermath of the tragic killings of nine black parishoners in Charleston’s Emanuel AME Church, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley called for the removal of the Confederate flag from the grounds of the state capitol on Monday.

“For those who wish to show their respect for the flag on their private property, no one will stand in your way,” Haley said. “But the Statehouse is different, and the events of the past week call upon all of us to look at this in a different way.”

On Thursday, Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley ordered four Confederate flags be taken down from a Confederate memorial at his state’s capitol.  Throughout the U.S. South, protests to Confederate memorials seem to be growing louder by the day.  Students at the University of Texas at Austin continue to protest the statue of Confederate President Jefferson Davis on that school’s campus.  Yesterday in Richmond, Virginia’s Hollywood Cemetery, where Jefferson and 28 Confederate generals were laid to rest, Davis’ monument was vandalized.

As many of you who follow my blog regularly already know, I’ve spent the past few years working on the documentary Dixie, which chronicles the history of protest surrounding the South’s anthem.  One of the most glaring realizations I came to during filming was that the specter of the Confederacy is still very much alive in modern America–and these battles have been fought generation after generation.  The Lost Cause, the name given to the religion-like devotion displayed by proceeding generations of southerners towards their Confederate ancestors, is still alive and well.

One of the most visible symbols of the Confederate legacy stands in the heart of the United States.  In Washington D.C.’s statuary hall stands a1931 Henry Augustus Lukeman sculpture of Jefferson Davis, donated by Mississippi.  Each state in the Union is allowed two statues in the hall.  In all, 11 of the 100 people featured in the hall have ties to the Confederacy.  Just the idea of a Davis statue in Washington D.C. was enough to cause protest in the early 20th Century.  In 1910, after hearing that such a statue was being discussed, Union veterans protested the move.  Members of the Grand Army of the Republic post in Tiffin, Ohio, petitioned congress to stop the move.  Protesting Confederate symbols goes back even earlier.

The June 18, 1902 issue of The New York Times features a lengthy response to an addresse given by Charles Francis Adams to the Phi Beta Kappa Society at the University of Chicago.  Adams, who commanded the 5th Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Cavalry during the Civil War, said that someday Americans would have a calm, academic approach to Civil War history.  He told the Phi Beta Kappa Society that someday Confederate General Robert E.  Lee might even have a monument in Washington D.C. overlooking the Potomac.  The Times gave a definitive response:

“The treason of the Southern rebels in which Lee became a reluctant accomplice was entered into to defend and establish the right of succession and slavery, twin curses to the country which could never be safe from destruction until they were destroyed.”

The article continued:

“The success of their cause would have yielded at the very best two nations doomed to be forever second-rate and endangered by mutual hate and jealousy.”

Thes battles have happened before and they will, no doubt, happen again.  As Americans, we live with the ghosts of the Civil War in a myriad of ways every day.  As new battles over Confederate imagery are waged, how we fight those battles becomes as important as why we fight those battles.  If we are a noble people, if we are the sons and daughters of strong, resilient slaves, of gallant southerners, and idealistic northerners–if we are the nation of Lincoln offering ‘malice towards none,’ then the solutions to these divisive symbols can be found through reason and understanding.  Maybe reasoned debate outlasting violence isn’t a lost cause.

150 Years Later: William Seward’s Very Bad Week

Copyright Andrew B. Conrad

Copyright Andrew B. Conrad

The Civil War Sesquicentennial is coming to a close.  Much as the assassination of Abraham Lincoln came to symbolize the end of the Civil War, so too does the remembrance of Lincoln’s death provide a capstone to the anniversary observances of America’s bloodiest war.  The impact of Lincoln’s death has been discussed by various media outlets, including this month’s National Geographic.  Lincoln’s assassination was just one cog of a wider plan to kill the president, vice-president, and secretary of state in one night.  When his would-be assasin cam knocking on his door, Secretary of State William Seward had already had a rough week.  Seward, a native New Yorker, is immortalized in this prominent statue in New York City’s Madison Square Park.  Seward, a staunch abolitionist who came close to receiving the Republican nomination for president instead of Lincoln in 1860, is said to be the first New Yorker honored with a statue in the city.

Seward’s bad week started during a carriage ride on April 5 on Vermont Avenue in Washington D.C. with his daughters. The carriage door was not tightly closed and kept flying open.  The coachman dismounted to shut the door and the horses began to run away with carriage.  Seward attempted to jump from the carriage and rein in the horses, but the heel of his shoe caught the carriage and threw him face-first onto the ground.  By the time the carriage was stopped, with the girls safe and sound, Seward was being carried home with a broken arm and a broken jaw.  The broken jaw required a metal splint and bed rest for a number of weeks.

On the evening of April 14, a man arrived at Seward’s home on Lafayette Square.  The man claimed to be from the pharmacy with medicine that needed to be delivered to Seward himself.  The butler let the man into the house, at which point he made his way upstairs and forced his way into Seward’s bedroom.  The stranger was on no errand of mercy, he was Lewis Powell, a former Confederate soldier wounded at Gettysburg.  Powell was stopped by Seward’s son and Assistant Secretary of State, Frederick, who refused to let the man come any closer.  The would-be assasin carried a 1858 Whitney revolver and fired it at the young Seward.  The revolver misfired, but Powell managed to club Frederick over the head and advance into Seward’s room.  The revolver was damaged beyond repair, however, so Powell drew a silver handled Bowie knife and sprang on the defenseless secretary of state, slashing at his throat and face.  The splint kept the blade from cutting Seward’s jugular, thereby saving his life.

Sergeant George F. Robinson and Seward’s son Augustus, himself an army officer, attempted to pull Powell off of Seward.  Seward by this time was on the floor behind the bed where Powell could not reach him.  Powell stabbed Robinson, Augustus, and Seward’s 20-year-old daughter, Fanny before Augustus managed to draw his pistol.  Powell bounded down the steps and headed for the front door.  A telegraph messenger named Emerick Hansel,, in the wrong place at the wrong time, arrived as Powell was making his escape.  Powell stabbed Hansell in the back, causing him to fall on the floor.  Powell yelled “I’m mad!  I’m mad!” before running outside to his getaway horse.

Having been abandoned by his co-conspirator, David Herold, Powell was left in a Washington D.C. he knew very little about.  He wandered the city for a few days before being captured.  He was executed in July.  Powell had not managed to kill anyone, but the consequences to the people involved were devastating.  Seward carried the scars of the attack on his face for the remainder of his life.  Frederick remained in a coma for two months as a result of the revolver blow to his head.  Seward’s wife, Frances Adeline, believed her son Frederick would die.  Her heightened state of anxiety is believed to have contributed to the heart attack that killed her in July.  Emerick Hansel, the unfortunate telegraph messenger, remainder paralyzed for life after the attack.

Seward continued as secretary of state for Lincoln’s successor, Andrew Johnson.  In 1867 he successfully negotiated the purchase of Alaska from Russia for $7.2 million–2 cents per acre.  The decision was known as “Seward’s Folly” at the time, but Seward correctly realized it was his greatest achievement, but that it would “take the people a generation to find out.”  Alaska became a state in 1959.

The Madison Square Park sculpture was made in 1873, the year after Seward’s death, by New York sculptor Randolph Rogers.  More than 250 subscribers, Ulysses S. Grant among them, contributed to the monument’s $25,000 cost.

Bannister and Landy: The Miracle Mile

Copyright Don Janus

Copyright Don Janus

Yesterday, May 6, marked the 60th anniversary of the first sub four-minute mile in recorded history. British runner Roger Bannister set the record in 1954, during a meet between the British Amateur Athletics Association and Oxford University at Iffley Road track in Oxford. Bannister set a British record in the 1500 meters at the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki. He finished a disappointing fourth at those games and briefly considered retiring from running. It was then that he decided to become the first man to run a sub four-minute mile.

The four-minute mark loomed large in the minds of distance runners in the period following World War II. Up until that point, the world record had been broken fairly consistently. The disruption in training caused by the war, however, left Gunder Hägg of Sweden as the record holder from July 17, 1945 onward. Bannister was not the only man with a legitimate shot at breaking the four-minute barrier. Australian John Landy and American Wes Santee both recorded times of 4:02 in 1953. In fact, Landy broke Bannister’s record in June 1954 with a time of 3:57:9. This week’s monument, photographed by Don Janus, encapsulates the rivalry between Landy and Bannister. Specifically, it pays homage to the Aug. 7, 1954 race between the two men during the British Commonwealth Games in Vancouver, Canada. It was the first mile race where two runners finished in under four minutes. It was also the only time the two men raced against each other. Bannister, lagging behind, used a burst of speed during the last 90 yards to win the race. The sculpture depicts the moment Bannister, on the left, passed Landy as Landy looked over the wrong shoulder for his competitor.

The bronze statue was created by Jack Harman, based on a photograph by Vancouver Sun photographer Charlie Warner. The statue was created in 1967 and stood in front of Empire Stadium, site of the race, until the stadium was demolished in 1993. It now stands at the Pacific National Exhibition, an area in Vancouver that hosts a 17-day summer fair annually. Upon seeing the sculpture, Landy joked: “While Lot’s wife was turned into a pillar of salt for looking back, I am probably the only one ever turned into bronze for looking back.”

Bannister, 85, and Landy, 84, have both gone on to do much outside of the sports realm. After breaking the world record, Bannister had a distinguished 40-year career as a neurologist. He was knighted in 1975. Landy, a noted naturalist, has written two books on natural history and was a distinguished public speaker for many years. In 2001, he was appointed Governor of Victoria, Australia, serving until 2006.

The world record in the mile continued to fall three or four times a decade until July 7, 1999, when Hicham El Guerrouj of Morocco set the mark at 3:43:13. After nearly 15 years, that mark has yet to be broken.

The Fate of Offensive Georgia Statue Hangs in the Balance

Copyright Peter Radunzel

Copyright Peter Radunzel

What do you do with a memorial to someone you don’t want to memorialize anymore? If recent military history is any indication, you topple the monuments to the old ways as soon as possible. What happens when the revolution is one of the mind? What happens when the hearts and minds of a country change, rendering the ideals and values a memorial stands for obsolete? In the case of Thomas E. Watson, photographed here at the Georgia State Capitol, your statue gets moved.

Watson was a Georgia politician, first elected to the state legislature in 1882 at the tender age of 26. The young Watson proved to be an idealistic champion of reform, fighting unsuccessfully against the corruption rampant among railroad companies in the state. In 1890, he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives as a Democrat. His crowning achievement during his time in Congress was authoring the bill that made Rural Free Delivery a reality. RFD created the system of roadside mailbox delivery from the U.S. Post Office still used today. prior to that time, residents of rural communities had to collect mail in the nearest town. Watson soon threw his allegiance to The Populist Party, a short-lived third party collection of reformers hostile to a national bank, railroads, and wealthy elites. In 1896, he was the Populist Party’s candidate for Vice-President, receiving 217,000 votes.

After his time in Congress, Watson began a lucrative career newspaper publisher. As his personal wealth grew, his political views began to shift. Gone were his agrarian and socialist sympathies. He was still the Populist Party standard-bearer, however, being nominated by the party for President in both 1900 and 1904. His views became increasingly anti-Catholic, even going so far as to call for the re-creation of the Ku Klux Klan. In 1913, Watson advocated the lynching of convicted Jewish-American factory superintended Leo Frank for the murder of a 13-year-old female factory worker named Mary Phagan. When prominent citizens of Marietta, Georgia did just that in 1915, Watson lauded the act in the pages of his newspaper.

Watson died in 1922 at the age of 66. Ten years later, a statue was dedicated to him near the entrance to the Georgia State Capitol. According to news reports of the time, thousands were on hand to see the unveiling of the statue. The likeness stood there, fist defiantly raised, for 83-years. The statue was moved in November 2013 after a prolonged effort on the part of activists to have the statue taken down. Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal (R), said the move was done for safety reasons while repairs were being made to the steps of the Capitol. Removal of the statue was done when state offices were closed as part of the state’s late observance of Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s birthday.

The odyssey of Watson’s statue does not seem to be quite over, though. The statue was moved across the street from the Capitol to Talmadge Plaza Park. The park’s prominent location in downtown Atlanta has left some residents and activists calling for the statue to be boxed or destroyed outright. Where Watson will end up is anybody’s guess.

The Perils of Primavera

Copyright Ben Rimmer

Copyright Ben Rimmer

Florence was the first city of the Renaissance. It was from the heart of that city that the flowering of arts and literature took shape and spread throughout Europe. It is the city where Leonard da Vinci and Michelangelo did some of their best work. It is no surprise, then, that art is built into the very foundations of the city. Such is the case with the Ponte Santa Trinita and the four statues of the seasons that have watched over it since 1608. One of these statues, pictured above in a photo by Ben Rimmer, was Primavera, or Spring by Pietro Francavilla. Summer and Autumn were created by Giovanni Caccini and Winter by Taddeo Landini. The sculptures have lived a perilous existence, due in part to the location of the Ponte Santa Trinita itself.

The Ponte Santa Trinita, Italian for “Holy Trinity Bridge,” spans the Arno river and was built in 1567. The bridge is itself is a work of art, involving three flattened ellipses and making it the oldest elliptical bridge in the world. The four statues were commissioned to celebrate the Grand Duke of Tuscany Cosimo II de’ Medici’s wedding to Maria Magdalena of Austria. World War II proved almost lethal to the four statues. In August 1944, Allied forces pressed deeper into Italy. As the Germany army retreated, four of the five bridges spanning the Arno were destroyed. Only the Ponte Vecchio was spared. Art critic Emilio Lavagnini said the destruction of Ponte Santa Trinita was the most important piece of architecture destroyed by the war in Italy.

Restoring the bridge and the damaged statues took years after the close of the war in 1945. Piece after piece of the bridge and statues were dredged from the river. Architect Riccardo Gizdulich studied had handmade chisels produced to construct the bridge in much the same way Bartolomeo Ammanati had constructed it in 1569. Stone from the same quarry was used to piece the bridge together. Art historian Bernard Berenson raised money abroad for the construction, though the bulk of the project was paid for by the Italian government. Primavera was headless for many years. It was rumored that an American GI had stolen it. It was not until 1961 that her head was found in the Arno and put back in its rightful place. Let’s hope she keeps it for at least another 400 years.

The Myth of Abner Doubleday and Baseball

Copyright Scott Nelson

Copyright Scott Nelson

Baseball season is in full swing here in the United States, despite the chilly weather we’re still seeing in the northeast.  This week, we celebrate that great American tradition by paying homage to Abner Doubleday.  For many years, Abner Doubleday was considered the inventor of baseball.  That story is pure legend.  The truth of his life, however, is much more interesting.

Doubleday eventually found himself on administrative duty in Washington.  He was a staunch supporter of Abraham Lincoln and rode with him on the train to Gettysburg, where Lincoln delivered The Gettysburg Address, one of the key speeches in American history.  After the war, Doubleday commanded troops in Texas and San Francisco, where he eventually became president of the American Theosophical Society, whose members included Thomas Edison.  He spent much time writing, eventually penning two major works on the Civil War.

Doubleday’s connection to baseball  comes from a 1907 report claiming Doubleday invented the sport in a cow pasture in Cooperstown, New York in 1839.  In the years leading up to the report, a vicious debate raged in the United States on the origins of baseball.  Had baseball been invented in the United States or was it a variation on a British game called rounders?  National League president Abraham G. Mills and Chicago Cubs president Albert Spalding certainly didn’t want to believe the game was British.  Sportswriter Henry Chadwick, a native of Britain, believed the game had indeed evolved from rounders.  He outlined similarities between the two games in a 1903 article.  A commission was formed to research the truth–a committee of men handpicked by Spalding.

Enter Abner Graves, an engineer told the Akron Beacon Journal in 1905 that Doubleday had invented the game.  Graves said he saw Doubleday diagram the game of a baseball field.  Spalding wrote to Graves asking for proof.  Graves told Spalding that no copies of the diagram survived and that almost all of the players were dead.  He did, however, send Spalding a diagram he claimed looked just like the one Doubelday had drawn up.  That was enough for Spalding, the 1907 report by Mills gave Doubleday–and America–credit for inventing the game.

There are some problems with that version of history.  Doubleday wasn’t in Cooperstown at all during 1839.  He was a cadet at West Point–a first year cadet, to be exact, one who would have rarely been given leave.  Doubleday left a prodigious body of written work, with only one mention of baseball–in 1871.  Graves, if he did see the diagram, would have been five in 1839.  Graves was also committed to an insane asylum as an old man.  Mills’ bias was obvious, too.  Remember the Theosophical Society?  Mills donated money to the organization.

Despite evidence to the contrary, the myth is resoundingly resilient.  The National Baseball Hall of Fame was built in Cooperstown, New York in 1939, site of Doubleday’s mythical first game.  In 2010, Tim Arango of the New York Times revealed that Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig had written a letter, satating: “I really believe that Abner Doubleday is the ‘Father of Baseball’.”  History is forgotten, but myth dies hard…especially when there is money to be made.

This week’s statue was photographed by Abner Doubleday’s 5th great-grand nephew, Scott Nelson.  The statue stands on Reynolds Avenue.  The statue stands nine feet tall on an eleven foot tall granite base.  The sculptor was John Massey Rhind.  It was dedicated on September 25, 1917 by the State of New York.