Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Visiting Savannah

For any of you who have followed my tweets over the last week you would have discovered quickly that the "Traveling Historian", namely me, had been in Savannah, Georgia. There is such a rich history throughout that city I could not help but enjoy every single moment I was there. I could write for hours on every element of history, architecture, and people that enrich the beautiful three square-mile area. My wife and I stayed in the heart of the historic downtown district which I would recommend as a must to anyone visiting. We decided that walking everywhere would be the name of the game and it was well worth the pains I current have in my feet. Twenty-four majestic squares truly define what Savannah is like which is a leisurely, inviting atmosphere. Each square is its own miniature park, memorialized to an individual who played an important role in Savannah and/or our nation's history. My favorite square to visit was Johnson Square. In the center was a memorial to the great general of the American Revolution, Nathanael Greene. Originally buried in Colonial Park Cemetery his remains were moved to there current location in the center of Johnson Square. Only one block over is Reynolds Square which I also enjoyed. It pays tribute to John Wesley who unsuccessful started a ministry there in the 1730s, before returning to England.

The architecture of these homes, which do not just line a single street or two like most cities, are gorgeous and permeate the city giving it an old charm that immediately takes you back to the nineteenth century when Savannah enjoyed the height of its prosperity. There were so many beautiful homes on so many streets that it is difficult to identify a single one. However the Olde Pink House stands out the most to me not so much for its design but the history behind it and now the food that is served in it. It is one of the oldest homes in the city and at one time housed the headquarters for General Sherman and the Union Army when they captured Savannah during the Civil War. Today it is the home of one of the best restaurants in the country. After our meal at the Olde Pink House, my wife and I could not stop talking about the magnificent food that we ate there along with the lovely atmosphere. I would be remiss if I were not to give a shout out to our other two favorite eateries we visited which was Mrs Wilkes Boarding House and Wiley's BBQ (just outside Savannah's downtown historic district, make sure to say hi to Janet for me). Both of these places were excellent and must be visited. A couple tips, when visiting Mrs. Wilkes, it is lunch only, eat a light breakfast and get in line at 10:30am, no exceptions. As for Wiley's, be prepared to eat, and then eat, and then leave with even more and by the way it's hard to find so keep looking.  

Overall our experience was wonderful and there was so much more we saw and even more that we missed out on. For anyone that is looking for a quaint getaway, enjoy a bit of history, and eat really good food then I highly recommend visiting Savannah.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Our Nation Divided: Hopefully This Celebration Will Go Better

One Hundred and Fifty Years and a fortnight ago Abraham Lincoln was elected as the 16th President of the United States of America and sparked the biggest conflict in our history. Celebrations will be seen throughout our country over the next four years, memorializing the lives and stories of that great war between the states. This won't however be the first time that the country has attempted to celebrate the Civil War. We can only hope that it goes much better than the last time in the 1960s. This blog will celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Civil War over the next four years however I first suggest reading about the government's attempt at commemorating the 100th anniversary and how badly it failed.


In addition to reading this blog you should check out the The New York Times. They have created a Civil War blog that will talk about what was happening each day during the Civil War. They started it on November 8, 2010 celebrating the 150th anniversary of the Lincoln's election. It's been pretty interesting reading. For those Civil War lovers out there you should check it out.


Thursday, November 11, 2010

From My Library: "No Ordinary Joes" by Larry Colton

I was in bed a couple nights ago and as I started to continue my reading of this book my wife was astounded at how quickly I was moving through it. Overall I have never been a fast reader, usually taking weeks to read through a book. It was only within 5 days that I was nearing the end of this magnificent story. Every free moment I had over this last week I spent reading this book, No Ordinary Joes.

Based on the true story of four submariners during World War II and the bond as well as experiences they shared together. It starts by briefly telling of their childhood, the tragedies that most of them went through, and each ones experiences during the Great Depression. Each one takes about where they were during the attack on Pearl Harbor and where they started off in the Navy. It then leads all of them into how they ended up together on the USS Grenadier. A United States submarine fighting in the Pacific theatre. During one of her runs after all four men were on board together the sub was hit and permanently damaged by a Japanese plane. They ended up being forced to surrender and taken into Japanese territory where their imprisonment and torture began. The book focuses in here on how each of the four men coped with their situation. How they handled the beatings, their attitude toward a lack of food and hatred toward the Japanese people, and most importantly what was it that they focused on for two and half years that kept them going and refusing to give up. Then the final pages of the book take us to their life after the war. How each of the man's expectations for when they would get home turned into a disaster. And finally where they ended up in their old age. Who these men actually married, compared to who they thought they would marry while in prison, and what they did with their lives. Most importantly is how they learned to cope with the horrifying memories of their imprisonment in Japan during World War II.

I can not say enough about how this book was written and how well the story comes together. I was concerned at first about trying to follow the lives of four men but Colton does a masterful job at connecting their experiences to how they handled life in the Navy, life in prison camp, and life after the war. Based on the amount of physical, emotional, and mental abuse these men went through while in prison, it is a miracle that any of them survived the entire ordeal. One of the men, Chuck Vervalin reflected upon "what allowed some men to keep going, whereas others gave up? No simple answer emerged. Some men said it was religion that kept them going. Some said it was focusing on home and loved ones, while others contended that it was easier for single guys because they didn't have a wife or children to worry about. Some thought it was easier for married because they had somebody waiting for them at home, and they could escape to thoughts of being together again. Chuck concluded that whatever it was, he had to believe that life was still worth living and that he needed something to focus on, even if it was hatred of his captors (244)."

I highly recommend this book and not just for the World War II buff. It should be read by everyone who enjoys reading a good story. I even commented to a few people how I think this would make an excellent film someday. The book opened my eyes to elements of the Pacific Theatre of World War II that I never realized. Elements of the war I never would have considered as important. And most interestingly for me was learning about the culture of the soldiers that were fighting the war. What they did day to day and how they went about doing it. This book is without question a must read.

Colton, No Ordinary Joes: The Extraordinary True Story of Four Submariners in War and Love and Life, 2010.
This book was provided to me for review by Inkwell Management. There was no expectation by Inkwell on how and what I wrote. I just simply loved this book.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Celebrating Veterans Day... 11/11

"I have today signed a proclamation calling upon all of our citizens to observe Thursday, November 11, 1954 as Veterans Day. It is my earnest hope that all veterans, their organizations, and the entire citizenry will join hands to insure proper and widespread observance of this day. With the thought that it will be most helpful to coordinate the planning, I am suggesting the formation of a Veterans Day National Committee. In view of your great personal interest as well as your official responsibilities, I have designated you to serve as Chairman. You may include in the Committee membership such other persons as you desire to select and I am requesting the heads of all departments and agencies of the Executive branch to assist the Committee in its work in every way possible.

I have every confidence that our Nation will respond wholeheartedly in the appropriate observance of Veterans Day, 1954."


The White House
October 8, 1954

These are the words of President Eisenhower commemorating a special day in our nation's history where we honor our veterans. The men and women of this country you choose of their own free will to serve in the military and defend this country's liberty and freedom from all who may fight against it. First and foremost I want to say thank you to anyone of you who are reading this who have served in the Armed Forces of the United States.

I would love for everyone to take the opportunity to check out the wealth of information found at Military.Com in reference to celebrating veterans day. If you do not have a direct opportunity to take part then there are many ways in which you can get involved through the website. It gives you ways to celebrate in your area, opportunities to donate your money or time to veterans, ability to hire a veteran for your workplace and much much more. I hope you all have the opportunity to check it out and celebrate this day in some way.

Monday, November 8, 2010

In the Mind of Those at the Constitutional Convention

Little is actually known about what happened in the summer of 1787 in Philadelphia, PA as men from around the country gathered to decide the new direction for our federal government. Due to the secrecy of the meeting only a few letters and the notes of James Madison remain as our window into the proceedings that took place at the Constitution Convention. This meeting sprung to life from the complete failures of the first system government for the United States, the Articles of Confederation. Something had to be done to right these wrongs so the United States could have a bright and prosperous future. One small glimpse into this monumental event comes from a letter written by George Mason to his son around the time the convention was supposed to have started in mid-May 1787.

Travelling to anywhere in the United States was not only time consuming but borderline dangerous. It can also be very expensive to do so in a safe manner and Mason’s travel was no exception. Once he and his Virginian brethren arrived they stayed at the Indian Queen located on Fourth Street where, according to Mason, they were “very well accommodated, have a good room to ourselves.” In addition their servants and horses were well taken care of but their overall fees excluded “club liquors.”

By the time George Mason had arrived in Philadelphia he stated that he could only identify that Virginia and Pennsylvania were “fully represented.” There were a couple delegates from New York and the Carolinas however the rest were still absent. Everyone, except Rhode Island had agreed to come to the conference but with busy schedules and long trips it was taking time. According to Mason that did not stop the Virginia delegates from getting things started. The group would meet two to three hours a day. Occasionally they would converse with delegates from other states but the overall goal of the Virginians was to gain a full understanding and possible consensus on the new form of government. After speaking with various individuals Mason concluded that,  
“the most prevalent idea in the principal States seems to be a total alteration of the present federal system, and substituting a great national council or parliament, consisting of two branches of the legislature… with full legislative powers upon all subjects of the Union; and an executive: and to make the several States legislatures subordinate to the national.”  - George Mason to George Mason Jr, May 20, 1787.

It is interesting to see how the consensus among some of the delegates at the start involved throwing out the Articles of Confederation. Mason also identified major elements of the federal government’s structure that will eventually be included in the Constitution such as a strong legislature, bi-cameral, and an executive branch. He knew that it would not be the final say or even go unopposed because smaller states or industrial locations might not see it the same. Mason understood the importance of this convention and that the “expectations and hopes of all the Union centre in this Convention. God grant that we may be able to concert effectual means of preserving our country from the evils which threaten us.”    


Saturday, November 6, 2010

History Links: The Online Library of Liberty

I stumbled across this website a short time back while trying to search for primary sources in the eighteenth century. It is the Online Library of Liberty sponsored by the Liberty Fund. The focus of the Liberty Fund organization and its library is based on individual liberty and preserving it in our day and age. Their entire library can be viewed by using PDF (which is how I recommend), HTML, or many other options that work best for you. This is an excellent source for the individual attempting research on early America or simply the casual historian who wants to understand more about the Enlightenment and its writings. I highly recommend making the Library of Liberty your first destination in seeking quality primary sources for free. Below is just a small example of the offerings which the online library provides.
  • The Federalist Papers
  • Plato's Republic
  • Gibbon's Decline and Fall
  • John Locke's Two Treaties
  • The Divine Comedy
  • The Writing of Karl Marx
  • The Correspondence and Public Papers of John Jay
  • The Complete Works of John Adams
  • ... and so much more

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Idioms from the Eighteenth Century

This article from Colonial Williamsburg is an eye opening looking at sayings and phrases that came about during this time period. The article explains the origins of such words as:

* Egad
* Blockhead
* Sleep Tight
* Powder Room
* Kicking the Bucket

I highly recommend reading this... http://history.org/Foundation/journal/Summer02/puttin_on_the_dog.cfm

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Conceding Defeat...

Few that lived through the event can forget the drama that entailed during the 2000 election for President between then Governor George W Bush and Vice President Al Gore. At midnight, on November 8th Vice President Gore placed a phone call to Governor Bush stating, “We gave them a cliffhanger” and thereby conceding the race for President. However as election results in Florida continued to change so did the possible outcome. At 2:30am, Gore placed another call to Bush stating that his margin for victory in Florida was “too close to call” and that he wanted to wait it out. Bush, shocked to say the least at this point stated “You mean to tell me, Mr. Vice President, you’re retracting your concession?” In which Gore responded, “You don’t have to be snippy about it.” Although rarely involving so much drama the concession call to the winner has been apart of the pantheon of election races for quite some time.

It’s a ceremonial moment more than anything in which the losing candidate has an opportunity to show the quality of their character in a moment which would be devastating. As far back as the election of 1860, Stephen A. Douglas conceded the election Abraham Lincoln stating “Partisan feeling must yield to patriotism. I’m with you, Mr. President, and God bless you.” The call, or in this case letter, gives the public an opportunity to see our great democracy at work and make some attempt at uniting the people who voted against the winner to rally behind them. Some candidates even try to give words of encouragement hoping to portray a sense of unity and hope in the candidate that is now representing them. “The people have made their choice and I congratulate you. That you may be a servant and guardian of peace and make the vale of trouble a door of hope is my earnest prayer. Best Wishes, Adlai Stevenson,” which was sent to Dwight D Eisenhower after his victory in the 1952 Presidential election.

This call would have to be one of the toughest things a candidate does during the election. After months and months of spending money, time, and personal exhaustion to win the race, you have to admit defeat directly to your opponent. The majority of the time it is to the person, from your perspective, which has been running your name through the mud, telling near lies about your record, and misleading the public about how you want to do your job once elected. As Election Day is here it is more than likely that these calls will be made everywhere whether the candidate wants to or not but in the grander scheme of things it shows our civility and how our democratic system is still running strong.   

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