Listen as Two WWI Veterans in their 90s Sing Songs from the Great War
Sheet Music for "Over There"
One of my favorite research projects by a history student at Eastern Washington University was an interview Ted Kisebach did in 1985 with Weldon and Walter Armfield, Spokane brothers who fought together in World War I. In an article based on his research, Kisebach wrote:
"Locating a surviving veteran of World War I is an increasingly difficult task today, nearly seven decades after the "doughboys" first set foot in France. A veteran of the American Expeditionary Force, in good health and sound memory, is a valuable historical asset. So it was exciting to find 93 year-old Weldon 'AImy' Armfield living at the V. A. Hospital in Spokane, Washington. When complimented on his remarkable recollection of the past, Weldon replied that his brother, also a veteran living in Spokane, had an even better memory. He added that Walter, 95, was his older brother!"
At the time I edited a periodical called The Pacific Northwest Forum
at Eastern Washington University. Kisebach was enrolled in a class called "Historical Writing and Editing" in which students learned digital publishing by working together on various theme issues. In this case, our theme was "Pacific Northwesterners in World War I," and Ted contributed a wonderful article titled, "Weldon and Walter Armfield: Two Spokane Veterans and a Diary
." (Click title to see full text.)
Recently with the help of research assistants Lacey Sipos and Gave Rose I have been finding and digitizing photos and tape recordings I made years ago. One is a photograph of the Weldon and Walter:
Weldon and Walter Armfield, Spokane, 1985
Photo by Bill Youngs
I also found and digitized a recording I made when I joined Ted Kisebach one afternoon to interview the Armfields. The high point of the meeting came when Weldon and Walter, both accomplished singers, sang from memory songs that they had first learned during the war.
They told us that they had first heard the famous World War I song, "Over There," while attending a concert at the Hippidrome, a huge theater iin New York City, during their basic training in 1917. In this sound clip they sing "Over There." Notice that they also discuss whether to sing in unison or to harmonize, and they recall that when they heard the song at the Hippodrome, a model troop ship was pulled onto the stage.
The Hippodrome in New York City:
Weldon and Walter first heard "Over There" performed on this stage in 1917.
Ted Kiseback's article continues with this passage describing the Armfield brothers' embarkation for France -- and a song they learned along the way from black soldiers on board the vessel.
After December 9 there is a break in the diary, which was packed away for the sea voyage. The Armfields remembered the journey that began when they left Camp Mills. At Hoboken, New Jersey they boarded the USS Lincoln, a troop ship that was converted from a captured German cruiser, the Prince Eitel-Frederick.
Their convoy left New York harbor with the cruiser USS (10) Carolina as escort. They zigzagged to avoid V-boats, and soon reached the gulf stream. It had been bitter cold in New York, but now the men could sunbathe on deck. Though it was December, no lights were permitted after dark; so supper was served at 3 p.m. You didn't get hungry till later, recalled Weldon. Luckily he was assigned to KP duty during the entire voyage, and swiped food to share with his pals on deck after dark.
The trip took two weeks, and to pass the time the troops would visit with other soldiers from around the country who were also on board. The Spokane boys met a black troop from Alabama who were going over to be stevedores in Brest harbor. These men sang wonderfully well, especially this catchy tune:
I don't bother work, work don't bother me, That's why I'm as happy as a bum can be.
I eat when I can get it, I sleep most anywhere, As long as I can see the sun, I don't care ...
The troops of Company I liked "I Don't bother Work" so well that they made it their theme, singing it as they travelled France. The Armfields could sing the song from memory 68 years later.
The Lincoln arrived in Brest December 27, but the ship was too large to dock. The men waited on board until December 31, when a smaller vessel could pick them up. The captain of this lighter was British, and he told them, "Awfully nice of you fellows to come over here, but you're too late. It's over, we're beaten." Walter was the 76,671st of an eventual two million American soldiers to arrive in France. Looking back from today, the Englishman's pessimism seems unfounded.
Almost seven decades years later the brothers remembered the words and lyrics to "I Don't Bother Work." Notice that they begin their rendition by discussing whether to sing in unison or with one singing tenor and the other the melody.
In France Armfield brothers were stationed near the front and endured many artillery barrages including one that sent a shell through the roof of their hut without drawing blood. Neither was injured in the fighting, but naturally they were glad to hear of the Armistice ending the war on November 11, 1918. Ted Kisebach writes: Weldon Armfield's diary "shows us the unglamorous part of war normally ignored by larger scale history: endless drilling and details, long train rides in box cars, and ubiquitous rumors that are spread around to pass the time. The sad part was counting up the fallen comrades who never made it back. But to be part of great events is surely memorable, and it was gratifying to watch the Armfield brothers' faces light up as they recalled their war experiences."
You can read more about the Armfields by clicking here to go to Kisebach's article, "Two Pacific Northwesterners in World War I
." But first listen as the brothers sing a famous World War I song of longing for the return home: "Keep the Home Fires Burning."
How Ethan Allen "Justified" the American Capture of Ticonderoga During the American Revolution
The American Revolution was only three weeks old when Ethan Allen and Benedict Arnold led a small force of volunteers in an attack on one of the mightiest British fortresses in North America, Ticonderoga. Located on Lake Champlain the fort had played a strategic role in the previous French and Indian Wars. Although it was located far from Boston, the focal point of the war in Spring, 1775, the Patriots realized that Ticonderoga's cannon would be a valuable prize for the American forces.
At dawn the Patriots brushed past the solitary soldier guarding the gate, and awed the sleepy Ticonderoga garrison without firing a shot. In one of the benchmark episodes of the Revolutionary War, Ethan Allen, leader of Vermont's "Green Mountain Boys," confronted British Lieutenant Jocelyn Felthan, demanding the surrender of the fort.
I've always loved this scene: there is Feltham, caught with his pants down -- literally, breaches in hand looking out at a crowd of American soldiers already inside his fort. An authoritarian British soldier, Feltham demanded better credentials than mere force. And the interesting thing is that Allen respected his demand. He could easily have said, "by the authority of cold steel and hot lead!" But like his British adversary, he embraced in a certain orderliness in politics. What to do?
Believing in natural rights, he could not say, like Monty Python in The Holy Grail, "The Lady of the Lake, her arm clad in the purest shimmering samite held aloft Excalibur from the bosom of the water, signifying by divine providence that I, Ethan Allen, am empowered to demand your surrender."
And so he offered up the "The Great Jehovah and the Continental Congress." And he added the phrase, "The authority of the Congress being very little known at this time." In other words, he might have simply claimed the power of Congress, but it being new, he reached into his pocket for a trump card, God!
The cannon at Ticonderoga would soon be on their way to Boston, carted along by a force led by Henry Knox, the future American Secretary of War. They would add "authority" to the American claim to Independence during the years ahead. And also the name of "the Great Jehovah" would be invoked often during the Revolution.
Amira Willighagen, "Holland's Got Talent," and Life's Wondrous Surprises
A few weeks ago I posted a blog on "Oh, the Joy!" or "sublime moments
" in American history, in which I offered up the arrival of Lewis and Clark at the Pacific Ocean as an example of such events, and wrestled with the wider meaning of sublime moments. This evening a nine-year-old girl on a talent show in Holland led me deeper into this subject. And yes, Holland today, is a long way from my central topic in my blog, American history. But sometimes we learn about past feelings and events through contemporary examples. So, bear with, watch the video, and then please do return to this post....
Did you experience as did the judges something completely unexpected and beautiful in this performance? I surely did, and I am as astonished as they were. Apparently young Amira Willghagen never had formal training as a singer and just learned on her own by watching YouTube instructional videos. This evening I've watched her sing again and again, and each time I listen and watch, the experience resonates with "sublime moments" in American history. In Amira's singing and in each of these historic moments, life yields something unanticipated -- impossible even, and yet real and astonishingly beautiful.
Here are some of those resonant, sublime moments, posted here in the past or the subject of future posts.
1. Lewis and Clark reach the Pacific and embrace a more inclusive democracy:
(from an earlier blog post
"One of my favorite moments in American history is embodied in a simple phrase recorded by William Clark in 1805 shortly after he and the Corps of Discovery reached the Pacific: 'Ocean in view! Oh! The joy!' After two years of hard travel across inland America, Lewis and Clark had reached salt water. There were many reasons to rejoice at that moment. They were the first to cross the continent through American territory. They accomplished the task without hostilities with any Native American peoples. They lost only one man during the crossing. And then in a single moment their success was assured. Making the event even more wondrous, as if in confirmation of the kinship they had experienced on the crossing, the expedition members voted together on November 24, 1805, in deciding where to locate their winter camp. In this case the “they” was not only free white males, as was the customary electorate in the United States at that time, but it included the Indian woman Sacajawea and William Clark’s slave, York. In their moment of triumph, they set an example in democracy not known to the nation as a whole until more than a century later."2. In a refugee camp, after World War II, a Jewish orphan sings a song for Eleanor RooseveltIn this passage from Eleanor Roosevelt: a Personal and Public Life, the great lady has just finished work in London at a session of the newly founded United Nations. Her assignment had been refugees, and typical of her approach to life, she was not content to study the problem from afar. She must visit actual camps across the channel:
Of the several refugee camps that Eleanor toured the most memorable was Zilcheim, a Jewish camp outside Frankfurt, where the refugees had built an earthen hill on top of which they placed a stone monument "To the Memory of All Jews Who Died in Germany." As a young woman Eleanor had disdained Jews, but her attitude had changed with her personal growth. Her journey into humanity made her more sensitive to the needs of women and blacks and taught her to recognize the dignity and the suffering of Jews in America and abroad. At the beginning of the war, she had urged Franklin to receive more Jewish refugees into the United States. Now she was standing among the survivors of the holocaust.
Eleanor could see grief in the faces of the men and women in the Jewish camp; each "seemed to represent a story more tragic than the last." An old woman who had lost her family knelt in the mud before Eleanor and threw her arms around her legs. "Israel," she murmured, "Israel, Israel." A boy of twelve approached Eleanor. He had wandered into the camp holding his younger brother, about six, firmly by the hand. He did not know his own name, or where he lived, or what had happened to his parents. "He was just there," Eleanor wrote, "taking care of his younger brother." He wanted to sing for her, and so she and her guides stopped to listen. Then standing in the mud of the dirty refugee camp the orphan raised his small head and sang" A Song of Freedom." For a moment all the world was that small boy, and "no one listening could speak." Eleanor, who had been an orphan when she was twelve, with a younger brother, in a place that was not home, listened intently to the song that was sung for her....
3. Well, come to think of it, there is no third example, not now.
Instead I'll leave this rumination about a nine-year-old Dutch girl in Holland and a twelve-year-old Jewish boy in Germany, separated by more than 60 years, known to us in entirely different circumstances, but alike in their surprising appeal to our hearts. There are many moments like these in American history and beyond. We only need to look for them.
I received a letter today with a quotation from Eleanor Roosevelt. As a major fan of our greatest First Lady, I was pleased to see her quoted in the as-yet-unidentified mail. Then I turned the image over, and here is what I saw:
"Holy Smokes!" as I wrote on my Facebook page, "Strangest ever use of an Eleanor Roosevelt quotation." I might have said "tackiest." That transition from "tomorrow is a mystery" to "pre-paid cremation" is bathos incarnate -- from the sublime to the ridiculous. Not that death, certainly, and cremation, possibly, do not await all of us.
Eleanor Roosevelt, I thought, must be turning in her grave. And emphatically she was NOT cremated, and so she could do just that.
Prompted by friend and colleague Larry Cebula, I decided to look up the passage. "Is that even a real quote," he asked. I found that in their book Grandmére, two of ER's grandchildren say that this passage is often wrongly attributed to her. Another source attributes to quotation to Joan Rivers.
So fie on you, Popular Culture. Please leave Eleanor Roosevelt alone, and do not trivialize her legacy!
But wait. There is another side to this, a reminder of a sometimes-forgotten facet of Eleanor's public stance. During her life time her quotations often appeared in advertisements -- in fact, she delivered them herself, on radio and later on television, no less. While First Lady she was a spokes person for Simmons Matresses. Given that First Ladies before her tended to avoid the radio all together, this was a bold -- and controversial -- innovation.
It helped that Eleanor took the payments she received for these appearances and turned them over to charity. But there is a deeper message in her wading into American life in this way. Here is a woman who was accessible -- who went down mine shafts to see coal miners at work and mixed in with ordinary Americans at every chance. Such advertisements were not a break from her persona, but rather they were consistent with it. Take a look at this YouTube video of ER promoting margarine after World War II, when it was just becoming popular. I'll bet that the woman in this add would chuckle at the attributed quotation hawking pre-paid cremation. When you mix in with popular culture, you never know what will happen.
Reflecting on a National Anthem in the Cheney Palouse
All photos photos on this page are of the Cheney Palouse.
Photos by Bill Youngs
In my United States history class a few days ago I described the dramatic origins of "The Star-Spangled Banner." During the War of 1812 lawyer and poet Francis Scott Key was confined on a British ship that was bombarding Fort McHenry, outside Baltimore. As bombs and rockets literally burst through the night, there was no guarantee that the flag would last for long: only a few days before the British had marched through Washington, D.C. Watching anxiously, Key jotted down the notes for for the song that became the National Anthem. That honor did not come, however until more than a century later in 1931. In the mean time and to this day other songs, along with "The Star-Spangled Banner" have also struck responsive cords with "We the People."
One of these, "America the Beautiful" or simply "America" was written in 1893 by Katherine Lee Bates, an English Professor at Wellesley College. She had seen much of the country during a recent trip to Colorado, and she is said to have composed "America" while looking over the countryside from Pike's Peak.
O beautiful for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain!
God shed His grace on thee,
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!
Over the years her song has sometimes been promoted as a second National Anthem. This passage from the Wikipedia article on "America the Beautiful
" provides a succinct summary of the discussion:
At various times in the more than 100 years that have elapsed since the song was written, particularly during the John F. Kennedy administration, there have been efforts to give "America the Beautiful" legal status either as a national hymn, or as a national anthem equal to, or in place of, "The Star-Spangled Banner," but so far this has not succeeded. Proponents prefer "America the Beautiful" for various reasons, saying it is easier to sing, more melodic, and more adaptable to new orchestrations while still remaining as easily recognizable as "The Star-Spangled Banner." Some prefer "America the Beautiful" over "The Star-Spangled Banner" due to the latter's war-oriented imagery. Others prefer "The Star-Spangled Banner" for the same reason. While that national dichotomy has stymied any effort at changing the tradition of the national anthem, "America the Beautiful" continues to be held in high esteem by a large number of Americans.
Well, "high esteem" expresses my own affection for "America." During 15,000 miles of recent travel by RV and motorcycle, criss-crossing the United States, I have been impressed again and again with the beauty of the country -- to the point sometimes of a lump in the throat. My reaction is emotional as well as cerebral, a powerful sense of beauty as a spiritual force. "America" captures that spirit. How wonderfully the song shifts in those final lines to the kinship of the people of the land: "Crown thy good with brotherhood, from sea to shining sea."
So much for words. While walking on a country road in the palouse near my home in Cheney, Washington, I felt that beauty in simple things: thistles beside the road, cultivated fields, groves of trees, farm steeds, a flock of birds, the setting sun and the rising moon. Here is how "America the Beautiful" looked in my neighborhood last Friday evening:
A History Lesson Amplified with a "Quizlet"
Pine Tree by Walden Pond
Photo by Bill Youngs
One of my favorite developments in American history is the evolution of a deep-seated and formative love for wilderness. During the recent government shut-down, one of the most-lamented results was the temporary "loss" of our national parks. We were the first nation in the world to establish a national park -- Yellowstone in 1872. And some writers and film-makers have called the parks "America's best idea."
But love of the natural landscape was not always present in American history. The first pioneers viewed forests in terms of board feet of lumber, wolves and bears as pests, and the Grand Canyon as an unfortunate obstacle to travel through the Southwest. Before a movement for wilderness preservation could grow, some Americans needed to celebrate forests, wildlife, and geological features for their own sake -- and needed to realize that "progress" threatened these natural wonders. Some of the forerunners of the explicit wilderness preservation movement of the late nineteenth century, began with subdued language, with laments that were all the more powerful for their expressions of personal sorrow at assaults on the natural world.
One such lament was written at mid-century in the journal of Henry David Thoreau. In this post, I will experiment with a two-part lesson. First let's see what Thoreau has to say. And then through the use of one of my favorite learning-aids, a "Quizlet," we'll review his little essay with a set of five flash cards designed to bring out the main points in his journal entry.
Here's Henry David Thoreau's account of the felling of a single pine tree:
Tuesday, Dec 30th, 1851
This afternoon being on fair Haven Hill I heard the sound of a saw-and soon after from the cliff saw two men sawing down a noble pine beneath about 40 rods off. I resolved to watch it till it fell-the last of a dozen or more which were left when the forest was cut and for 15 years have waved in solitary majesty over the sproutland. I saw them like beavers or insects gnawing at the trunk of this noble tree, the diminutive mannikins with their crosscut saw which could scarcely span it. It towered up a hundred feet as I afterward found by measurement-one of the tallest probably now in the township & straight as an arrow, but slanting a little toward the hill side. -its top seen against the frozen river & the hills of Conantum. I watch closely to see when it begins to move. Now the sawers stop-and with an axe open it a little on the side toward which it leans that it may break the faster. And now their saw goes again- Now surely it is going-it is inclined one quarter of the quadrant, and breathless I expect its crashing fall- But no I was mistaken it has not moved an inch, it stands at the same angle as at first. It is 15 minutes yet to its fall. Still its branches wave in the wind as if it were destined to stand for a century, and the wind soughs through its needles as of yore; it is still a forest tree-the most majestic tree that waves over Musketaquid. - The silvery sheen of the sunlight is reflected from its needles-it still affords an inaccessible crotch for the squirrel's nest-not a lichen has forsaken its mastlike stem- -its raking mast-the hill is the hull. Now's the moment-the mannikins at its base are fleeing from their crime-they have dropped the guilty saw & axe. How slowly & majestically it starts-as if it were only swayed by a summer breeze and would return without a sigh to its location in the air-& now it fans the hill side with its fall and it lies down to its bed in the valley from which it is never to rise, as softly as a feather, folding its green mantle about it like a warrior-as if tired of standing it embraced the earth with silent joy. - returning its elements to the dust again-but hark! there you only saw-but did not hear- There now comes up a deafening crash to these rocks-advertising you that even trees do not die without a groan. It rushes to embrace the earth, & mingle its elements with the dust. And now all is still once more & forever both to eye & ear.
I went down and measured it. It was about 4 feet in diameter where it was sawed-about 100 feet long. Before I had reached it-the axe-men had already half divested it of its branches. Its gracefully spreading top was a perfect wreck on the hill side as if it had been made of glass-& the tender cones of one years growth upon its summit appealed in vain & too late to the mercy of the chopper. Already he has measured it with his axe-and marked out the mill logs it will make. And the space it occupied in upper air is vacant for the next 2 centuries. It is lumber He has laid waste the air. When the fish hawk in the spring revisits the banks of the Musketaquid, he will circle in vain to find his accustomed perch. - & the henhawk will mourn for the pines lofty enough to protect her brood. A plant which it has taken two centuries to perfect rising by slow stages into the heavens-has this afternoon ceased to exist. Its sapling top had expanded to this January thaw as the forerunner of summers to come. Why does not the village bell sound a knell. I hear no knell tolled-I see no procession of mourners in the streets--or the woodland aisles- The squirrel has leapt to another tree--the hawk has circled further off-& has now settled upon a new eyre but the woodman is preparing to lay his axe at the root of that also.
Now here's the Quizlet, which may help you appreciate Thoreau's passage more fully. I hope this works!
A Film Wherein a History Professor, Way out West...
Struggles to Learn Patrick Henry's Great Speech
From the Film: Photography by Cory Carpenter and Jake Shelley
I like to learn speeches, documents, and poems by heart to "pull out of my hat" while teaching American history. A couple of days ago I talked about and "channeled for" Patrick Henry and his "Liberty or Death" speech, delivered on the eve of the American Revolution. (See previous post
I first memorized the speech way back in 1976 as part of a Bicentennial TV documentary done by historians of the Revolution in Washington State. I've delivered it from memory in class and for friends many times, but I've grown a bit rusty, and this fall I "cheated" and used notes for some of the speech. That afternoon after class while taking a walk through the rolling wheat fields outside of Cheney I practiced the speech in my mind over and over. And that is when the theme of this little film came to mind.
Yesterday, I ventured out onto a wheat field road with two students, Cory Carpenter and Jake Shelley, to make this little film about the trials and triumphs of putting the memory to work on a famous speech.
Click below to see the film.
Go ahead. Click on it.
It only runs for three minutes, and it's free!
Eleanor Roosevelt from Conception to Early Childhood
Eleanor Roosevelt in 1889 with her father, Elliott
Photo Source: Wikipedia Commons
Eleanor Roosevelt was born on October 11, 1884. On the anniversary of her birth, it is worth remembering that she was the most influential of all American First Ladies and the person who chaired the committee that drafted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. But in this post I want to travel back to Eleanor's childhood and even further back to the time of her conception. In my book, Eleanor Roosevelt: A Personal and Public Life,
I was intrigued by the little girl who became the Great Person.
I'm posting here two passages from the book as well as readings of those passages by Donata Peters from the audiobook of Eleanor Roosevelt.
In the first passage we look at the world into which Eleanor Roosevelt was born. While researching this section of the book, I rooted through old newspapers and magazines to find first-hand accounts that would give me information on weather, ships, buildings and other features of the world of Anna and Elliott Roosevelt, Eleanor's parents. They were recently married, and Eleanor was born less than a year later.The World into Which Eleanor Roosevelt was Born:
Anna Hall Roosevelt, Eleanor's Mother
Source: New York Historical Society
Donata Peters reads the passage below:
The week of January 6, 1884 brought winter to New York. An ocean steamer came into port from the icy North Atlantic, her sides covered with a frozen waterfall of spray, her ice-coated rigging sparkling with rainbow colors. On the streets omnibus drivers shivered in the open air beneath blankets, overcoats, caps, and mittens. Newsboys poorly clad, some wearing carpets, sacking, or newspapers bundled around their waists for insulation, danced the sailor's hornpipe for warmth while waiting for the wagon with the five o'clock edition.
Anna and Elliott left no written record of their activities during the week of January 6, 1884. But the weather must have drawn them out to enjoy sleigh-riding on colder days, and pressed them closer to the fire in the evenings. They had been married for six weeks and had begun to know one another as lovers. Anna may have been frightened by the strangeness of sex - Victorian women were not expected to enjoy love as unabashedly as their great-granddaughters of a century later. But physical contact must have extended the personal intimacy of previous months, and during the winter of 1884 they conceived their first child.
The days grew longer. Crocuses and sweet-smelling hyacinths pushed through the ground. On Bedloe's Island an army of Italian workmen raised blocks of stone onto a huge pedestal. For eight years there had been stories about a gigantic statue coming to New York from France. Curiosity had turned to skepticism, but now the platform made tangible the promise of a figure representing liberty soon to grace the harbor.
In June the muggy heat of summer enveloped New York. Anna and Elliott attended horse shows and polo matches, visited friends on the Hudson, and vacationed in Newport. In that favored place they sipped tea with the Vanderbilts and dined aboard the Morgan yacht. Anna's pregnancy was beginning to show, and during the summer she and Elliott began to feel the child's movements. As the days shortened and the time for Anna's delivery drew near, the young couple's anticipation was tainted with fear. Children were still delivered at home in the 1880s, and death in childbed was common. Only a few months before, Elliott's sister-in-law, Alice Roosevelt, had died after giving birth to a baby girl.
On October 11 Anna's frame was wracked with pain. Elliott must have waited apprehensively outside the room where his wife, attended by a physician or midwife, struggled with the delivery. Elliott may have heard frenzied movements and a baby's cry. Finally he was told: he was the father of a baby girl, and mother and child were doing well. Relieved, he was allowed to see his daughter, soon to be known as Eleanor. He called her" a miracle from heaven."
The infant Eleanor was probably turned over to a wet nurse, for children of the upper classes were usually not nursed by their own mothers. A few days later she was clothed in a long white christening dress and baptized. Elliott's brother, Teddy, was her godfather.
On the day when Eleanor Roosevelt was born the Civil War was only two decades past, Custer's defeat at the Little Big Horn had occurred only eight years before, and the last Indian Wars had yet to be fought. There were no automobiles and few telephones or electric lights, and New York was a city of five-story buildings lit by gas. A schooner coming into New York would have found a harbor full of sails. Fishing sloops darted across the bay; majestic iron ships under billowing canvas glided on the breezes; and flat side-wheeled ferry boats crowded with horses and carriages paddled back and forth between New York and New Jersey. Manhattan appeared as a wedge of land in the emerald waters of the bay. On the waterfront a latticework of timber, the spars of ships, framed row upon row of warehouses, stores, and office buildings. Flat facades of wood and brick rose to five stories above the water as far as the eye could see.
The City of New York (1884)
Hand-Colored Lithograph, Currier & Ives
Eleanor's Fourth Birthday: "I love everybody, and everybody loves me."
Before Eleanor Roosevelt’s twelfth birthday she would suffer the loss of her father, mother, and a baby brother. But from what we know, her early childhood was happy. The passage below describes her fourth birthday and the birth soon afterwards of a baby brother, named after her father.
Donata Peters reads the passage below:
Eleanor was confident of her parents' love. In the mornings she came to her father's dressing room and chattered to him and danced in circles. Then he complained that she made him dizzy and tossed her high in the air. She called herself "father's little golden hair." As Elliott tucked her into bed on the night of her fourth birthday, she told him, "I love everybody, and everybody loves me." Such a cunning, funny little tot, Elliott thought.
On October 1, 1889, when Eleanor was nearly five, Anna gave birth to a second child, Elliott, Jr., who was nicknamed Ellie. Eleanor learned about her new brother while visiting her grandmother at Tivoli. Undeterred by this possible rival, she dictated a letter to her father. What did her brother look like, she asked. Some people said a bunny, others an elephant. She hoped he did not cry, but if he did, she advised, Elliott should have the nurse "give him a tap, tap." She closed, "I love you very much and mother and brother too if he has blue eyes."
Eleanor Roosevelt, on the right, with Elliott, and brothers, Hall and Elliott, Jr.
One of my favorite ways of teaching history is to role play historical characters . At various times I have been "Rev. Youngs" preaching a Puritan sermon to my students, Andrew Carnegie describing the steel magnate's fabulous career, and "Uncle Bill" debating the merits of Woman Suffrage with his anti-suffragist niece "Nancy" -- played by a teaching assistant. Today I did my best to channel for Patrick Henry so that I could enable my students to hear him deliver his powerful "Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death" speech, which he delivered in Virginia on the eve of the American Revolution.
The picture below is me channeling for Patrick Henry. And below that is the link to the YouTube video of the "lesson."
I would tell you more about Henry's speech, but I want you to look at the YouTube video below for that information. In class today (October 10, 2013) one of my students filmed my introductory lecture and my rendition of the speech. I had delivered it many times before, but never seen myself on film as I was delivering it. Was I too mild and beseeching during much of the speech, I ask myself. Should I have hammered away more consistently at my fellow Virginians to make my points? How did Patrick Henry himself deliver the speech? Every time I "play" Patrick Henry, I use a slightly different approach.
One thing I do know is that I especially appreciate my students when I deliver the speech. They really listen carefully, which is always gratifying for a teacher.
One thing I must confess is that I muffed my lines this time in several places. Sometimes I deliver the talk entirely from memory, and sometimes I use a cheat sheet, as I did today. I'm going for memory next time, but that takes a lot of practice. I'd better get started.
Here is the YouTube video with the Patrick Henry "lesson" and speech. James Myers, one of my students in the class did the camera-work.
A colonial American Captivity Narrative from Metacom's War
Title Page of the 1773 Edition of Mary Rowlandson's Captivity Narrative
(See note below on the authenticity problem posed by this image.)
On the tenth of February 1675, came the Indians with great numbers upon Lancaster: their first coming was about sunrising; hearing the noise of some guns, we looked out; several houses were burning, and the smoke ascending to heaven, and There were five persons taken in one house, the father, the mother and a sucking child, they knocked on the head; the other two they took and carried away alive. There were two others, who being out of their garrison upon some occasion were set upon; one was knocked on the head, the other escaped; another there was who running along was shot and wounded, and fell down; he begged of them his life, promising them money (as they told me) but they would not hearken to him but knocked him in head, and stripped him naked, and split open his bowels. Another, seeing many of the Indians about his barn, ventured and went out, but was quickly shot down. There were three others belonging to the same garrison who were killed; the Indians getting up upon the roof of the barn, had advantage to shoot down upon them over their fortification. Thus these murderous wretches went on, burning, and destroying before them.
So begins one of the most famous and engaging accounts written by any of the scores of European-Americans who became captives in the Indian wars. Mary Rowlandson was the wife of the minister of the frontier town of Lancaster, Massachusetts, when the town was attacked in 1675 during Metacom's War -- known also as King Philip's War. Her description of what it was like to live through a surprise attack on a small town brings the reader as close to that event as any such account in American literature. Her images are unforgettable: For example:
• Sheltered behind a hill and a barn they shot upon her house "so that the bullets seemed to fly like hail. "
• The Indians next set fire to the house in which she and other towns folk were seeking refuge. "Now is that dreadful hour come, Rowlandson writes, "that I have often heard of." They must die by fire in the house or rush outside and die by gun or spear.
Some in our house were fighting for their lives, others wallowing in their blood, the house on fire over our heads, and the bloody heathen ready to knock us on the head, if we stirred out. Now might we hear mothers and children crying out for themselves, and one another, "Lord, what shall we do?" Then I took my children (and one of my sisters', hers) to go forth and leave the house: but as soon as we came to the door and appeared, the Indians shot so thick that the bullets rattled against the house, as if one had taken an handful of stones and threw them, so that we were fain to give back.... But out we must go, the fire increasing, and coming along behind us, roaring, and the Indians gaping before us with their guns, spears, and hatchets to devour us.
"Out they must go," and out they did go. During the next few moments Rowlandson's brother-in-law was shot dead, her nephew suffered a borken leg and was "knockt" on the head, and her sister was struck by a bullet, "and fell down dead over the threshold." Mary herself suffered a flesh wound, the bulled passed through her and "through the bowels and hand of the dear child in my arms."
Mary Rowlandson reports that in the past, when thinking of captivity, she had thought, "I should chose rather to be killed by them than taken alive." But the "glittering weapons so daunted my spirit," she writes, "that I chose to go along with those (as I may say, ravenous beasts." More than a dozen of her neighbors lay bleeding on the ground "like a company of Sheep torn by Wolves." Rather than lie among them, she chose to take her wounded child and follow obediently into captivity. During the next two weeks her Indian captors carried her by twenty "removes" from one campsite to another, as English soldiers mounted ineffective campaigns to conquer the Indians. Finally, after enduring fatigue, hunger, cold , the death of her injured "babe," she was ransomed and regained her freedom.
A few years later she wrote a book about the event, in order, as she said, "that I may better declare what happened to me during that grievous Captivity." The book was an immediate best seller in colonial New England and remained one of the most popular books in early America. It tells in vivid detail about a series events in the New England wilderness, and it also provides abundant information about the customs of her Indian captors.
Of the many books I have taught in my university courses, Mary Rowlandson's Narrative
is one of my favorite -- despite the fact, or perhaps because
questions exist about the authenticity of the book. Scholar's (and students) ask, can we trust a description of the Indians that is filtered through the lens of Puritan prejudice? Could Rowlandson actually remember all the details that she supplies in the book? Did the ministers who likely assisted her in developing the narrative for publication -- did they coax her to write it in a way to serve their religious and cultural sensibilities? We know that the image on the 1773 edition of the book (which was first published in 1682) falsely shows Mary with a gun. She can hardly be blamed , however, for that image, which was published long after her death. But were there other errors in her account for which she was consciously or unconsciously responsible?Classroom Detective Work: The Mary Rowlandson "Lesson Plan"
One of my favorite moments in teaching Rowlandson's Narrative came in a class where several students in succession castigated her for her critical attitude toward the Indians. They argued that from the beginning she showed her prejudice by referring to the Indians as "wolves" and "beasts." After listening patiently, one student said, "You know, she had just lost her sister and many friends, she was injured, and she was carrying her wounded child. She was having a bad day."
Of course, there is a larger question than whether or not Mary Rowlandson was justified in her hostility to the Indians -- an attitude which, by the way, she did moderate sometimes during her ordeal. But the real question is whether we can trust the information she presents about Indian behavior and practices while she was a captive. Did she, intentionally or not, twist the facts?
I was preparing to discuss Rowlandson in tomorrow's graduate class when Clio, the god of history, provided one those strokes of good fortune that sometimes enrich the historian's craft, I was listening to a TED talk and happened unexpectedly on two excellent prompts for our discussion of Rowlandson's narrative.
1) The first is from a talk by Scott Fraser, who is billed on TED as "a forensic psychologist who thinks deeply about the fallability of human memory." He describes a case where five witnesses incorrectly identified a drive-by shooter, resulting in the man's wrongful incarceration for murder. In Fraser's talk, "Why eyewitnesses get it wrong," he describes how concrete conditions, such as poor lighting, and our own imperfect memories lead us to "get it wrong" when we try to remember the details of a traumatic episode. "The brain abhors a vacuum," he says. It "fills in information that was not there." Amplifying this point Scott argues, "All our memories are reconstructed memories. They are the product of what we originally experience and everything that's happened afterwards."
-- Applying these observations to Mary Rowlandson's captivity, my students and I will be asking whether there is any evidence that in her "reconstructed memories" she did indeed fill in information about her captivity "that was not there" during the real adventure.
2) The second TED talk, "The Fiction of Memory," dovetails nicely with the first. Presenter Elizabeth Loftus, a psychologist who studies memory, is interested, like Scott Fraser, in the "fallability of human memory." But she focuses not so much on the brain's own weakness as on the ways that others can influence someone's memory. As a result of "memory-manipulation" people can be made to remember things that did not happen or remember them "differently from the way they really were." Loftus like Fraser describes a criminal case where inaccurate memories, in this case "implanted memories" led to the conviction of an innocent man.
-- As we analyze Mary Rowlandson's account of her captivity, we will be considering the possibility that some of the narrative may bear the marks of descriptions or conclusions that may have been implanted by friends and advisors after her "redemption" from the Indians.
Tomorrow my students and I will be embarking on a journey to explore of events that happened 338 years ago and that continue to tease our memories even today.
I'll be reporting on our explorations in a few days.
In the mean time:
1) if you would like to read Mary Rowlandson's Narritive
I suggest going to the Project Gutenberg eBook
site to see the full text, except for the introduction.
2) To view Scott Fraser's TED talk, click on this title: "Why eyewitnesses get it wrong
3) To see Elizabeth Loftus's TED talk, click on this title: "The Fiction of Memory
4) To learn more about TED talks, in general, go to the home page here
By the way there are now more than 1500 TED talks on line, and the TED stands for Technology, Entertainment, and Design. I just learned that myself.