On February 9, 1942 crowds gathered at New York City’s pier 88 to witness a spectacle. The largest ocean liner in the world was on fire. Fire fighting efforts successfully contained the fire after five and a half hours of effort, but the effort was in vain. Five hours after the flames were out the stricken vessel rolled onto its side and settled on the bottom of the Hudson.
The S.S. Normandie was a star crossed ship. Intended to be the pride of the French people, she was designed to be the height of shipbuilding technology and modern culture. Her first class passenger spaces were decorated in the trendiest Art Deco style and filled with luxuries. The radical new hull design, with a subsurface bulb beneath a clipper bow, and long, sweeping lines lent her previously untouched speeds while requiring far less fuel. She even had one of the earliest radar sets ever used by a commercial vessel, in order to improve the safety for her passengers. Continue reading
Snazzy musical numbers, snappy dialogue and souped-up friction between bureaucrats and scientists make Atomic: The Idea that Shook the World a sizzling treatment of the history of the Manhattan Project.
Leo Szilard is not the best-known maker of the Atomic Bomb but his dramatic story highlights the high-pressure situation from 1936 to 1945. The play’s run off-Broadway at the Acorn Theater ties to a surge of public interest in the Cold War era. This week is the 75th anniversary of the August 2, 1939 Einstein-Szilard letter to Pres. Roosevelt alerting him to the necessity to move quickly to beat the Nazi regime to the development of an awesomely powerful new weapon. Continue reading
The famous Riddle of the Sphinx asks, “Which creature has one voice and yet becomes four-footed and then two-footed, and finally three-footed?” To which Oedipus answered: “Man, who crawls on all fours as a child, then walks on two feet as an adult, and then as an elder uses a walking stick.”
This is what crossed my mind as I came across a small sculpture of Franklin D. Roosevelt as the Sphinx, with cigarette holder and all, at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library and Museum gift shop. I’d often find myself browsing the store during breaks from my research there, but the oddity of the sculpture stuck with me as I was unable to answer the riddle of FDR as Sphinx until reading Roosevelt’s Second Act: The Election of 1940 and the Politics of War (Oxford Univ. Press, 2013) by Richard Moe. Continue reading
There is a special group of people who are remembered by a society. These are the fallen, those who die in battle on behalf of something larger than themselves. In the Bible there is an infrequently used term “nephilim” from the verb “to fall.”
Based on the archaeological evidence, the Nephilim appear to have been part of group who were remembered in Canaanite societies in the Middle and Late Bronze Age (second millennium BCE). These fallen warriors were remembered in feasts and stories just as warriors who have fallen in battle are still remembered today. It’s part of the human experience. Continue reading
The Cayuga Museum of History and Art, in Auburn, NY will host an opening reception for its major new WWII exhibit on Friday, May 23 from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m. Auburn at Normandy: the 299th Combat Engineers and Local Stories of WWII tells the story of a large group of Auburn men who served together throughout World War II in the storied 299th Combat Engineer Battalion. Continue reading
Cemeteries were segregated in America until the mid-20th century. Even black veterans of America’s armed conflicts were dishonored when buried. Today, Mount Moor Cemetery stands as a monument to the twisted logic of racial discrimination. But the cemetery of approximately 90 veterans and civilians also serves as a symbol of perseverance and defiance.
The gravestones at Mount Moor endure, despite the initial efforts of the developers of the Palisades Mall to obliterate the burial ground. Continue reading
A little-known forest retreat called Brandreth Park has several unimpressive dwellings and sparse communication with the outside world. Yet back in the dark days of World War II generals Eisenhower, Marshal, Patton and others in the American military headquarters of England and Europe felt it necessary to keep their lines of communication open and flowing with one of its residents, Major General Fox Conner, U.S Army, Retired.
It’s safe to say that most Americans have never heard of Brandreth Park or of this soldier who never served in WWII but who nonetheless contributed to the victory over Germany. Those who do remember Conner, consider him “the man who made Eisenhower”. Continue reading
Author Kenneth W. Rendell has gathered 50 of the most important and iconic documents of World War II in Poltics, War, and Personality: Fifty Iconic World War II Documents that Changed the World (Whitman Publishing; 2014).
With the assistance of more than 150 archival images and photographs, Rendell tells the stories of these documents which foreshadowed, announced, or altered the course of war. The book features a foreword by the late John S.D. Eisenhower, son of Dwight D. Eisenhower. Continue reading
Much of the time spent honoring past members of the military is focused on heroes, or those who died in battle. It’s certainly appropriate, but often lost in the shuffle are individuals who survived unscathed after serving with great distinction. An excellent North Country example is Robert Haggart, who made a career of military service, was known nationally, commanded tens of thousands of men, and was responsible for training vast numbers of naval recruits.
Robert Stevenson Haggart was born in April 1891 to Benjamin and Annie (Russell) Haggart of Salem, New York, in Washington County. After finishing school at the age of 17, he received an appointment to the US Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. Continue reading
The Center for Public Scholarship at The New School in New York City is hosting a free public event celebrating the University in Exile, on Thursday, January 30, 2014.
The University in Exile was created by The New School’s first president, Alvin Johnson, as a haven for scholars whose careers and lives were threatened in Germany in 1933, when the Nazi Party came to power and acted to expel all Jews and political opponents from German universities. Continue reading