Insta-Millard: Resuscitating Liberty after climate change hit

May 7, 2014

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If the photo didn’t exist, you wouldn’t believe it: Abraham Lincoln and Fidel Castro

October 11, 2013

This popped in over the Twitter transom yesterday:

I don’t recall having seen the shot before. But Alex Selwyn-Holmes at Iconic Photographs posted a very complete story about the picture in 2009.

Fidel Castro at the Lincoln Memorial, 1959.  Photo by Alfredo Korda

Fidel Castro at the Lincoln Memorial, 1959. Photo by Alfredo Korda

Between April 15 and April 26 1959–a few months after he took power in Cuba–Fidel Castro went to the United States, invited by the American Society of Newspaper Editors. In one of those forgotten episodes of the Cold War, Castro went to the US for loans. Castro hired one of the best public relations firms to present his new government. Castro answered impertinent questions jokingly and ate hot dogs and hamburgers. His rumpled fatigues and scruffy beard cut a popular figure easily promoted as an authentic hero.

Read the whole story at Iconic Photographs.

In 1959, Castro’s forces had recently ousted Cuban president (and dictator) Gen. Fulgencio Batista.  Under Batista Cuba was very much a playground for America’s rich, and a steady supply of cheap sugar and good cigars.  In the musical play and movie, “Guys and Dolls,” the character Sky Masterson gets a date with a Salvation Army-style preacher woman, to win a bet.  When she finally consents (after he offers to fill her mission hall with reprobates in need of salvation), she asks what time she should be ready for dinner.  “Noon,” Masterson replies.  They are to fly from New York to Cuba for dinner, and return by the next morning.  Cuba’s reputation as hangout for American mobsters came honestly.  (“Guys and Dolls” opened on Broadway in 1950, and the movie hit theaters in 1955. That was the heyday of the Douglas DC-6, which is what a gambler probably would have flown from New York to Havana at that time, flying in to what is now Jose Marti International Airport.)

In contrast to the playboy mobsters, Cuban people tended to lead very bleak lives.  Sugar and tobacco farming did not make Cubans rich; processing of sugar was done by large international corporations.  Cuban cigars, recognized for quality, tended to be cheap, and tobacco farmers and cigar makers employed thousands of underpaid Cubans.  Cuba’s Havana nightlife seemed reserved for the wealthy, which usually meant foreign tourists, and not Cubans.

Castro’s revolution succeeded partly because of that rift, and Castro promised to turn things around for the masses of Cuban people (promises yet unkept).

For 11 days in 1959, Fidel Castro fascinated the U.S.  He spoke to the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, and to the American Society of Newspaper Editors. (His UN speech and famous hotel stay, in which he plucked and cooked chickens in his New York Hotel room, came the next year).  Castro ate hot dogs, and laid a wreath in the tomb of George Washington. At one point Castro was introduced in the audience of the “Ed Sullivan Show” as “the George Washington of Cuba” (this trip?)  But in Washington, Castro ran into Richard Nixon’s anti-Communist paranoia when seeking aid from the Eisenhower administration.  Without help from the U.S., Castro took offers of assistance from the Soviet Union who were anxious to have a friend and ally in the Americas, close to United States territorial waters.

Would Castro have cozied to the U.S. instead of the U.S.S.R., had the U.S. offered aid.  Most  historians think Castro’s communist path was already set when he visited the U.S.

This photo makes one wonder.  Certainly it was good public relations, for Castro to be seen paying homage to Abraham Lincoln.  Was it more than just a propaganda photo?

It’s a fascinating photo.

What do you think?


O, say! Does that woman’s lamp still burn beside the golden door?

September 12, 2010

Liberty stands gazing out at about 265 feet* above the water of New York Harbor, a fixture there since construction in the 1880s.

The Statue of Liberty Enlightening the World was a gift of friendship from the people of France to the people of the United States and is a universal symbol of freedom and democracy. The Statue of Liberty was dedicated on October 28, 1886, designated as a National Monument in 1924 and restored for her centennial on July 4, 1986.

The Statue of Liberty has been a fixture in the U.S. and American psyche, too.  Excuse me, or join me, in wondering whether we have not lost something of our former dedication to the Statue of Liberty, and the reasons France and Americans joined to build it.

Poem-a-Day sent Emma Lazarus’s “The New Colossus” out this morning (Poem-a-Day is a wonderful service of the American Academy of Poets — you may subscribe and I recommend it).  There it was, waiting for me in e-mail.   My students generally have not heard nor read the poem, I discover year after year —  some sort of Texas-wide failure in enculturation prompted by too-specific requirements of federal law and state law, combining to make a slatwork of culture taught in our classrooms with too many cracks into which culture actually falls, out of sight, out of mind; out of memory.  I fear it may be a nationwide failure as well.

Have you read the poem lately?  It once encouraged American school children to send pennies to build a home for the statue.  Today it wouldn’t get a majority of U.S. Congressmen to sign on to consponsor a reading of it.  Glenn Beck would contest its history, Rush Limbaugh would discount the politics of the “giveaways” in the poem, John Boehner would scoriate the victims in the poem for having missed his meeting of lobbyists (‘they just missed the right boat’), and Sarah Palin would complain about “an air-bridge to nowhere,” or complain that masses who huddle are probably up to no good (they might touch, you know).

Have you read it lately?

The New Colossus

by Emma Lazarus

Liberty Enlightening the World; French: La Liberté éclairant le monde - Wikimedia Commons image

Liberty Enlightening the World; French: La Liberté éclairant le monde - Wikimedia Commons image

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

AAP makes poems available for iPhones, too, and you can see how it appears, phrase by phrase.  “The New Colossus” takes on more of its power and majesty delivered that way.

Is the Academy of American Poets playing politics here?  It’s September 12.  Yesterday many Americans took part in ceremonies and service projects in remembrance of the victims of the attack on the U.S. on September 11, 2001.  In much of the rest of America, there is an active movement to nail shut the “golden door,” to turn out a sign that would say “No tired, no poor nor huddled masses yearning to breathe free; especially no wretched refuse, no homeless, and let the tempest-tost stay in Guatemala and Pakistan.”

Would Americans bother to contribute to build a Statue of Liberty today?  Or would they protest against it?

Does that lamp still shine beside the golden door?

Stereoscopic image of the arm and torch of Liberty, at the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia

Stereoscopic image of the arm and torch of Liberty, at the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia; Robert N. Dennis Collection, New York Public Library. The arm was displayed to encourage contributions to the fund to build a pedestal for the statue, from private donations.


*  I’m calculating Liberty’s gaze at about 40 feet below the tip of the torch, which is just over 305 feet above the base of the statue on the ground.  The base is probably 20 feet higher than the water, but this isn’t exact science we’re talking about here.

How will you celebrate James Madison’s birthday? What happened to James Madison Week at JMU

March 14, 2010

James Madison joined the world on March 16, 1751.  Tuesday is the 259th anniversary of his birth.

James Madison University, appropriately, made hoopla during the whole week in 2009.  What about this year?

Exhibit: Creating the United States”James Madison, David Edwin engraving after Thomas Sully Portrait - Library of Congress

David Edwin (1776–1841). James Madison, President of the United States. Engraving after painting by Thomas Sully. Philadelphia: W.H. Morgan, ca.1809–1817. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (107.01.00)

The Culpepper, Virginia, Star-Exponent, said there will be celebrations at Montpelier, Madison’s mountaintop home a short distance from Charlottesville.

James Madison’s Orange County home offers free admission all day Tuesday in honor of the fourth president’s 259th birthday.

Born 1751 at Port Conway in King George while on a visit to his grandmother, Madison was raised at Montpelier, the oldest of 12 children. He is buried on the grounds of his lifelong home in the family cemetery, site of a special ceremony in honor of his birthday March 16 at 1:30 p.m.

Former Deputy Secretary of Education Eugene Hickock will deliver remarks at the cemetery along with Quantico Marine Corps Base Chief of Staff Col. Thompson Gerke, who will lay a wreath on the fourth president’s grave on behalf of President Barack Obama. Numerous other groups will also honor Madison by placing wreaths on his grave Tuesday.

The U.S. Marine Corps has a long-standing tradition of attending the annual birthday ceremony because of Madison’s connection to the naval force’s founding. As Secretary of State under Thomas Jefferson, Madison recommended sending a squadron of naval ships to fight pirates off the coast of Africa, ultimately leading to their demise by 1805.

As president, Madison again called on the Marines to lead the nation during the War of 1812.

Nice of the Marines to show.  Nice of President Obama to send a wreath.  Maybe we can understand why Republicans wish to avoid any celebration of Madison.


Happy birthday, Wolfie!

January 27, 2010

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart came into the world on January 27, 1756 — younger than Franklin, younger than Madison barely.  I try to keep his life chronology in relation to U.S. history.  Mozart died on December 5, 1791, the day the Bill of Rights was ratified.

Our local classical station, WRR-101.1 FM promises appropriate playing of his music, even taking requests with that modern device, the internet:

Listen to WRR, Classical 101.1 as WRR plays works exclusively by Mozart, born Jan. 27, 1756. All your favorite symphonies, concertos, opera overtures and chamber works by this musical titan will be spotlighted.

Something from Mozart you’d like to hear? Share it with us at and we may add it to the birthday celebration!

Personally, I hope someone plays one of Mozart’s two works for glass harmonica.  Dr. Franklin’s musical invention has a small repertoire, but a solid one, considering Mozart’s contribution.

Mozart’s stock rose in the 1990s with the production of the play and movie Amadeus! I like to think it rose at least partly because people like his music, too, as this essay suggested way back then:

Turn your channel to PBS, where Hugh Downs or Peter Ustinov is narrating a Mozart special. Turn to one of the commercial channels, and Mozart’s Piano Concerto K. 466 and “Little” G Minor Symphony K. 183/173dB are selling MacIntosh computers, Don Giovanni gives class to Cheer laundry detergent, The Marriage of Figaro hawks the Sirocco automobile, the Requiem’s Lacrymosa seemingly sanctifies Lee Jeans, and another piano concerto (K. 482) perks Maxwell House coffee. The recovery of a Mozart symphony, even if juvenilia, receives front-page coverage from The New York Times. Dealers and collectors will go to any extreme for a piece of the action; Mozart autographs sell at the same prices as fine paintings, and dealers in one case dismembered the “Andretter” Serenade K. 185, retailing it piecemeal for greater profit. The Marriage of Figaro and Don Giovanni now rival the box-office receipts of La Boheme and Madame Butterfly.

So, what will you do to celebrate?

In a chldren's play, every one but his sister has forgotten Mozart's birthday.  Photo by Chalemie

In a chldren's play, everyone but his sister has forgotten Mozart's birthday. Photo by Chalemie

Invite others to celebrate, too!

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Sources: Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, and Trial

November 28, 2009

More than just as tribute to the victims, more than just a disaster story, the Triangle Shirtwaist Co. fire, and the following events including the trial of the company owners, lay out issues students can see clearly.  I think the event is extremely well documented and adapted for student projects.  In general classroom use, however, the event lays a foundation for student understanding.

A couple of good websites crossed my browser recently, and I hope you know of them.

Cartoon about 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, New York Evening Journal, March 31

1911 cartoon from a New York paper shows the owners dressed in dollar bills, holding shut the door that barred the safe exit of so many women during the fire. Courtesy UMKC Famous Trials site; New York Evening Journal, March 31, 1911

Events around the fire illuminate so much of American history, and of government (which Texas students take in their senior year):

  • Labor issues are obvious to us; the incident provides a dramatic backdrop for the explanation of what unions sought, why workers joined unions, and a sterling example of a company’s clumsy and destructive resistance to resolving the workers’ issues.
  • How many Progressive Era principles were advanced as a result of the aftermath of the fire, and the trial?
  • Effective municipal government, responsive to voters and public opinion, can be discerned in the actions of the City of New York in new fire codes, and action of other governments is clear in the changes to labor laws that resulted.
  • The case provides a dramatic introduction to the workings and, sometimes, misfirings of the justice system.
  • With the writings from the Cornell site, students can climb into the events and put themselves on the site, in the courtroom, and in the minds of the people involved.
  • Newspaper clippings from the period demonstrate the lurid nature of stories, used to sell newspapers — a working example of yellow journalism.
  • Newspapers also provide a glimpse into the workings of the Muckrakers, in the editorial calls for reform.
  • Overall, the stories, the photos, the cartoons, demonstrate the workings of the mass culture mechanisms of the time.

Use the sites in good education, and good health.

Historic winds of December

December 17, 2008

In English, it’s just one letter difference between “winds” and “wings.”  An encore post, commemorating one historic event from December 17 involving both winds and wings:

December 17, written in the wind

Wright Bros. flyer at Kittyhawk, first flight

Photo from Treasures of the Library of Congress; “First Flight” by John T. Daniels (d. 1948); this is a modern gelatin print from the glass negative.

Ten feet in altitude, 120 feet traveled, 12 seconds long. That was the first flight in a heavier-than-air machine achieved by Orville and Wilbur Wright of Dayton, Ohio, at Kittyhawk, North Carolina, on December 17, 1903.

From the Library of Congress:

On the morning of December 17, 1903, Wilbur and Orville Wright took turns piloting and monitoring their flying machine in Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina. Orville piloted the first flight that lasted just twelve seconds. On the fourth and final flight of the day, Wilbur traveled 852 feet, remaining airborne for 57 seconds. That morning the brothers became the first people to demonstrate sustained flight of a heavier-than-air machine under the complete control of the pilot.

No lost luggage, no coffee, no tea, no meal in a basket, either.

Resources on the Wright Brothers’ first flight:

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