Thursday, December 31, 2009

We’ll Take a Cup of Kindness Yet, for Auld Lang Syne

In just a few hours, we’ll all be getting ready to make and probably break New Year's resolutions (will this be the year I give up Diet Coke?), drink some champagne and watch the ball drop. Ever since New Year's Eve in New York City’s Time Square has been televised, people in the streets and those of us at home traditionally hear “Auld Lang Syne” play at midnight. As we attempt to sing along (does anyone really know all the lyrics to this song?), it might be interesting to think about how the song became a part of New Year’s Eve celebrations everywhere, and especially those in New York.

The song was first published by the Scottish poet Robert Burns in 1796 in a book entitled Scots Musical Museum. Scott reportedly copied the song down after he heard it sung by an older Scottish man. The term “Auld Lang Syne” translates to “old long since” or “times gone by”. I always think of this song as one of the most popular standards that no one really knows the lyrics to. Check out different versions of the lyrics to Auld Lang Syne here. The song became a central part of New Year’s celebrations in New York City due to the efforts of a Canadian bandleader named Guy Lombardo.

Guy Lombardo grew up in Canada where he heard “Auld Lang Syne” sung by Scottish immigrants. When he formed his dance band, His Royal Canadians, the song became one of their standards. Guy Lombardo and His Royal Canadians played the song at midnight at a New Year’s eve party at the Roosevelt Hotel in New York City in 1929. “Auld Lang Syne” has been a part of New Year's eve in New York City ever since.

Here is a 1945 recording of Guy Lombardo and His Royal Canadians performing “Auld Lang Syne.” Happy New Year to all my readers!

[Image via 1231]

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Empire State of Mind - The New Netherland Project

Check out this great article in the NY Times on an ongoing project to preserve the history of the New Netherland colony (which included modern day New York). It’s interesting to hear about the care and preservation of such crucial documents. In 1911, a fire where the papers were housed nearly ruined the collection. Had the fire ruined all of the collection, we would have lost a crucial window into life in early American history.

To find out more about the New Netherland Project, visit their website.

[Image via binghampton]

Monday, December 21, 2009

Suspicious Minds: The King in the People’s House

Today marks the anniversary of one of the strangest meetings ever held in the White House. On December 21, 1970, Elvis Presley met with President Richard Nixon. The meeting was the result of a letter written by Elvis Presley to President Nixon in which he suggested he be made a “Federal Agent-at-Large” in order to help fight the drug culture and “Hippy Element” in American society. The irony of Elvis offering to help fight a war on drugs is easily seen in light of the nature of his demise (I say this as a fan).

In his meeting with Nixon, Elvis presented the president with a Colt 45 pistol and pictures of his family. According to accounts of the meeting produced by staffers shortly after the visit, Elvis told Nixon that he wanted to infiltrate youth culture and combat some of the anti-American sentiment that he felt was on the rise. He stated that he believed that the Beatles were responsible for much of the anti-American sentiment. At the end of the meeting, he hugged Nixon and told him he supported him. Oddly enough, of all the photocopy and reproduction requests received by the National Archives each year, the photo of President Nixon and Elvis’ meeting receives the most requests. That is, more people request a copy of this photo than reproductions of either the Bill of Rights or the Constitution.

Visit the National Archives site to check out Elvis’ letter to the president, as well as photos of their meeting and other related documents.

[Image via tvland]

Thursday, December 17, 2009

If Only I was Named after a President...

Cool NY Times photography project on people (men) who share names of former presidents. The namesakes are posed in famous presidential poses to very cool results. Check it out.

This Land is Your Land...Unless You're Japanese in America in 1942

On December 17, 1944 the U.S. Army announced it would be ending its policy of holding Japanese Americans in internment camps, allowing “evacuees” to return home.

President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 on February 19, 1942 which began the process of rounding up 120,000 Americans of Japanese heritage to be funneled into camps (Executive Order 9066). These Americans were sent to “relocation centers” in California, Idaho, Utah, Arizona, Wyoming, Colorado and Arkansas.

The call to push Japanese Americans into internment camps was fueled by farmers who competed against the Japanese for labor, politicians who catered to anti-Japanese constituencies, and the panic that resulted from the attack on Pearl Harbor. At a time when Norman Rockwell was painting his “Four Freedoms” the American government was denying basic freedoms to thousands of its own citizens.

In 1988, Congress passed legislation which repaid the remaining 60,000 camp survivors reparations of $20,000.00 each. I doubt that made any great difference to the survivors, who lost something in those years that can never really be quantified, namely, their dignity.

For more information on Japanese internment, including the condition of the U.S. camps and legal challenges to internment, click here.

For information on a PBS documentary on the subject, and more information on the camps, click here.

[Image via]

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Boston Tea Party….No, Not the Fox News Kind

December 16, 1773 marks the anniversary of the Boston Tea Party.

In the years following the Seven Years War (or French and Indian War), some colonists became suspicious of the British, thinking they were attempting to subvert their liberties. These suspicions were further aroused by the passage of acts which imposed new taxes on the colonies; the Sugar Act, the Quartering Act, the Stamp Act and the Townsend Act. The Townsend Act placed a tax on British tea, paper and glass. Patriots like Samuel Adams, John Otis and John Dickinson protested this tax claiming “no taxation without representation.” The Townsend Act was repealed in 1770, but a tax on tea was retained to show that parliament believed it had the right to tax the colonies, even though no members of the colonies were represented in parliament.

With that background in mind, some colonists continued to protest British practices, and attempted to show their fellow colonists that the British were chipping away at their liberties, and violating English law in the process. Sometimes these methods of protest took strange turns. In one incident, a British custom vessel called the Gaspee ran aground off the coast of Rhode Island. Since the vessel had stopped several colonial smuggling ships, a group of colonists were quick to destroy it. A group dressed as Native Americans quickly boarded the ship. They ordered the crew off and then set the ship on fire. The British attempted to arrest those responsible in order to put them on trial in England.

The most famous of these incidents, however, was the Boston Tea Party. Colonists in Massachusetts and elsewhere who opposed the taxes boycotted British tea. Instead of British tea, they drank smuggled Dutch tea, or none at all. Parliament passed the Tea Act in 1773 to lower the price of East India Trading Company tea to make it lower than Dutch tea, even with the tax. The colonists still weren’t buying. Before a ship of British tea could be brought to shore, Boston colonists dressed as Native Americans boarded the ship and dumped 324 chests of tea into the harbor. Some praised the “tea party” as a defense of liberty, others were critical of the destruction of private property.

Here is Sesame Street’s interpretation of the “T” Party. Enjoy!

[Images via steadyhabits]

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

I bought a magic goose from a jolly farmer/ This goose laid Barack Obama - A Short History of Presidential Poems

Here's a great article from the NY Times about the ways in which presidents have been immortalized in poetry, from the days of George Washington to today. Most school children growing up became familiar with Walt Whitman's ode to Lincoln "Oh Captain, My Captain," but this article sheds light on poetic tributes to some lesser known presidents. Reading this article may even inspire you to try your hand at some presidential poetry. Let me know what you come up with.

[Image via drakesbooks]

Glenn Miller Disappears...

During the era of World War II, Glenn Miller and his band were one of the biggest musical acts in the world. He famously wrote such songs as “In the Mood” and “Moonlight Serenade” and was in high demand from the years 1939-1944. With the onset of the war, Miller disbanded his act and joined the army. He was put in charge of a band of service members whose job it was to entertain the troops. On December 15, 1945, Glenn Miller was ordered to fly from London to Paris to join his band. Miller was to lead his band in a performance for the opening of a new allied headquarters in Versailles. In the company of two crew members, Glenn Miller boarded a single engine plane to fly across the English Channel and was never seen again. His disappearance has become the source of much controversy and mystery.

Here is the BBC announcement of Glenn Miller’s disappearance.

There have been numerous explanations of Glenn Miller’s disappearance in the years since the end of the war. One explanation, generally acknowledged by the British military, is that Miller’s plane was probably struck down by friendly fire. When British bombers were returning home, they had to dump whatever bombs they had left over the channel in order to land safely. Some have argued that a fleet of English bombers were returning from an aborted air raid on Germany the same night that Glenn Miller and his crew were flying out from London. Since Miller was flying in a single engine plane, he would have been flying much lower than the bombers, putting him in harm’s way when the bombers dumped their unused bombs over the channel. Read more about this theory here.

Another theory suggests that Glenn Miller and his crew went down off the coast of France. Read more about this theory here.

For more information on Glenn Miller’s disappearance check out this site.

Take a listen to some of Glenn Miller’s best known songs including “Moonlight Serenade”

[Image via wikimedia]

Monday, December 14, 2009

Lin-Manuel Miranda + Hip Hop + Alexander Hamilton = Awesomeness

Here is Lin-Manuel Miranda paying tribute to our nation's first Secretary of the Treasury. He is performing a cut from his upcoming concept album about the life of Alexander Hamilton entitled The Hamilton Mixtape. Miranda performed this song at the White House Evening of Poetry, Music, and the Spoken Word on May 12, 2009.

[Image via Berkeley]

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Remember the Ladies (especially Abigail Adams)

Interesting new biography of one of America's most famous women.

Check out the NY Times review

of "Abigail Adams," by Woody Holton here.

[Image via womrath]

Sarah Palin and William Shatner...Poets?

There has been an ongoing segment on the Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien which features William Shatner doing a dramatic reading of Sarah Palin’s Going Rogue. This past week, Sarah Palin surprised William Shatner after one of his performances with a dramatic reading of his autobiography, Up Till Now. Check it out.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Sam Kashner on The Death of a President Politics & Power:

Here's an interesting article on the publication history of William Manchester's The Death of a President. At first, the Kennedy family commissioned the book to be the definitive history of the assassination, and then Jackie changed her mind. Curiously, the family that once encouraged the project then made every attempt to stop it.

Sam Kashner on The Death of a President Politics & Power:

[Image via cocoposts]

Thursday, December 10, 2009

President Obama Accepts Nobel Peace Prize

On December 10, President Barak Obama joined Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson as the only sitting United States presidents to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize while in office. The announcement of the award, given for "extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples” has been widely criticized as code for not being George W. Bush. President Obama acknowledged these criticisms in his acceptance speech, as well as the irony that he is the Commander in Chief of a nation with two ongoing wars being awarded a prize for peace. Read the full text of his acceptance speech here.

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

[Image via nydailynews]

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Bruceeee at the Kennedy Center Honors

Bruce Springsteen was honored Sunday night at the Kennedy Center Honors along other major contributors to American culture (Robert DeNiro, Mel Brooks, Dave Brubeck and Grace Bumbery) Read a summary of the ceremony at Rolling Stone’s website.

In honor of Bruce receiving what Jon Stewart called a “rainbow dreamcatcher,” Rolling Stone has some cool Springsteen focused online exhibits. One allows visitors to see artifacts from Bruce’s career. Another shows vintage photos of Springsteen. If that’s not enough, visitors can also see all of Bruce Springsteen’s Rolling Stone covers.

[Image via]

More Rolling Stone articles/photos in commemoration of John Lennon's Death

Check out more of Rolling Stone's coverage of John Lennon from his days with the Beatles through his solo years.

I Heard the News Today, Oh Boy….John Lennon Murdered in NYC

It doesn't seem right that the man who gave us "All You Need is Love" and "Give Peace a Chance" met with such a violent end on December 8, 1980. John Lennon was a man whose music came to embody a generation as a member of the Beatles. After the break up of the Beatles, he made several solo albums and adopted a new hometown, New York City. After the birth of his son Sean in 1975, he retired from public life to be a stay at home dad. In 1980, he re-emerged with a new album called Double Fantasy about his life with wife Yoko Ono and son, Sean.

On December 8, 1980, the fantasy of John Lennon’s life came to an abrupt end at the hands of Mark David Chapman. Earlier in the day, Chapman waited outside of Lennon’s apartment building, the Dakota, to get an autograph. That evening, he returned and shot Lennon in cold blood with a .38 caliber revolver. After shooting Lennon, he waited for police to arrive as John Lennon lay dying nearby. He was sentenced to twenty years to life. In 2000, he was denied parole. At his hearing, the New York State prison officials explained their decision saying, his “vicious and violent act was apparently fueled by your need to be acknowledged.” He continues to live behind bars at Attica Prison in New York State.

After his death, John Lennon was honored around the world, and people gathered outside the Dakota to listen to his music in a candlelight vigil. Here is a clip of a crowd singing some of his songs during a candlelight vigil.

Here is John Lennon performing “Imagine” at Madison Square Garden in 1972.

Read an interesting article about John Lennon in the December 1980 issue of New York magazine.

Here is a very candid 1970 interview with Rolling Stone founder and editor Jann Wenner. The interview took place soon after the Beatle’s break-up, and John Lennon sounds bitter in his comments about his fellow Beatles. He would reconcile with Paul McCartney before his death.

[Images via eightiesonline and unfogged]

Monday, December 7, 2009

Collection of celebrity letters relive Pearl Harbor news :: CHICAGO SUN-TIMES :: Nation

Collection of celebrity letters relive Pearl Harbor news :: CHICAGO SUN-TIMES :: Nation

This is a very cool story about an 83 year old veteran named Clifford Barrett who spent many years collecting a very specific autograph collection. Looking for more than just autographs, Barrett wrote a fairly random group of celebrities to find out what they were doing when they heard the news about the attack on Pearl Harbor. Barrett heard back from a wide group of Americans including Arnold Palmer, William F. Buckley, Jr., Lyndon Johnson, George H. W. Bush, Walter Cronkite and numerous others in his 66 letter collection. Reading different people's responses to the same event shows, among other things, how we all can think differently about the same historical event. It is a very interesting project with very cool results.

A Day That Lives in Infamy: The 68th Anniversary of the Attack on Pearl Harbor

On the morning of December 7, 1941, Japanese aircraft launched a surprise attack on the American base at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. The first wave of Japanese aircraft hit Pearl Harbor at 7:51 a.m. The shocking attack nearly devastated the American navy, as nine ships were destroyed and 21 were severely damaged. The most awful losses that day were not measured in steel tonnage, however, as the attack also resulted in an incredible loss of human life. Specifically, the attack resulted in 2,350 casualties.

I was not alive during the attack on Pearl Harbor, but I think all of us who witnessed the September 11th attacks can relate to the feeling of panic that rises when Americans are attacked on our own soil. Today, I am thinking of those who served our country during World War II, including my grandfather, and all those who have continued to serve our country. I honor you today and everyday.

Here is some footage of the attack on Pearl Harbor.

The site of the attack, which includes the final resting place of the U.S.S. Arizona, is now part of the National Park Service. Check out the park's website for more history of the attack and information about the preservation of Pearl Harbor.

[Image via rememberingpearlharbor]

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Pearl Harbor and Teddy Roosevelt

An interesting article on the diplomatic roots of Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor in today's NY Times. Specifically, it examines President Teddy Roosevelt’s conduct during the Russo-Japanese War and how it influenced Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. The article is written by the son of one of the men who famously raised the American flag at Iwo Jima. What do you think?

[Image via pictureshistory]

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Happy Days Are Here Again! The End of Prohibition

For most of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, many people believed that one of the greatest threats to society was the consumption of alcohol. Men and women of different origins and creeds stood united by the belief that society's ills were caused by alcohol consumption. They thought that if the United States could prohibit the sale of alcohol, then crime, drunkenness, domestic violence and corruption would all magically disappear from society. Many religious groups used the fervor normally reserved for their faith to tell the world about the evils of alcohol. Check out this 1920s era prohibition meeting which warns that alcohol has the power to, among other things, entice young girls into honky tonks.

Due to the devoted efforts of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union and other groups, prohibition became a reality in 1919 with the passage of the 18th amendment to the Constitution. However, the twelve years of prohibition merely drove the production and consumption of alcohol underground, allowing organized crime to flourish. Crime was on the rise and the government had to struggle to reign it in. All the advocates of prohibition never saw that coming. The women’s groups that had once worked to end the sale of alcohol eventually reconsidered and formed groups that called for the amendment’s repeal. Their efforts carried greater weight as they had gained the right to vote in the years since the passage of prohibition. When Franklin Delano Roosevelt ran for president on the Democratic ticket in 1932, he ran on a platform that called for the repeal of prohibition. Beginning in 1933, the states began to ratify the 21st amendment which repealed the 18th amendment. The amendment was fully ratified on December 5, 1933. Check out this newsreel from 1933 which boasts that the repeal of prohibition will create new jobs, a particularly enticing idea during the Great Depression (and now).

This is not a date that I think of often, but there is a group out there looking to make December 5th, or Repeal Day, a national holiday. You can check out their site and take a look at their reasoning here.

Happy Repeal Day!

[Images via blogadilla, blogcdn and winedude]