Thursday, November 22, 2012

The Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade

Turkey, mashed potatoes, casserole (the kind depends on the family and region), stuffing, cranberry, and rolls are just a few of the Thanksgiving Day foods that we have come to know and love. Along with visiting family, watching movies, playing games, and hunting we have numerous traditions that we take part in and for many watching or attending the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is a part of their Thanksgiving Day festivities.
In the 1920s Macy’s Department Store in New York was mostly employed by first generation emigrants who loved America but were accustomed to big celebrations and parades in Europe and wanted to put together such a celebration parade for the holiday season. In 1924 Macy’s and its employees fashioned together three floats (The Old Lady in the Shoe, Miss Muffet, and Red Riding Hood), invited four marching bands, and walked with animals from the Central Park Zoo and the employees dressed as clowns, cowboys, and knights to entertain the crowd. It was unknown how popular the Macy’s Parade would be, originally called the Macy’s Christmas Parade, however to everyone’s surprise nearly 250,000 people lined the streets from Harlem to the Macy’s Department Store off 34th street in Manhattan. Due to its popularity that first year the parade has been held every year since except for 1942-1944 due to World War 2.
The parade itself has been a fluid event ever since 1924; for instance the iconic large balloons that are synonymous with the parade were not introduced until 1927. Goodyear Tire and Rubber in Akron, Ohio helped replace the live animals with large animal-shaped balloons starting with Felix the Cat. After the 1928 parade the balloons were released into the sky with a tag on the balloons indicating that for anyone that returns the balloon to Macy’s they will receive a prize. This stunt did not work out like they had hoped when out of the five balloons that were released in 1931 three landed in Long Island with one being torn to pieces by neighbors fighting for the prize, one landed in the East River and another floated out to sea. Then in 1932 one of the balloons nearly killed a pilot when it caught on his wing and sent him into a tailspin. After this the balloons were no longer released into the air at the end of the parade. By this time nearly 1 million people were lining the streets of New York to watch the parade and something new was needed to entertain people, so in 1934 celebrities started to become an integral element of the show to entertain the crowd. Now every year the hottest singers and Broadway shows perform for the crowd along with celebrities who appear on floats throughout the parade.
Understanding history is about understanding the impact something has on something else. I am always fascinated to discover how something becomes a part of a culture. Although it may not be completely true today Denny’s has been viewed by many as the All-American diner and synonymous for American restaurants. The question I ask is how that happened (something I answered in a previous blog)? The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade was clearly growing in popularity throughout the 20s and 30s and the lull of World War 2 showed further how much it was missed when upon its return in 1945 the crowd reached over 2 million enthusiastic New Yorkers. However, why didn’t parades in Philadelphia, Detroit, or elsewhere reach the same level of cultural significance that the Macy’s Parade has reached? We can actually thank George Seaton for that. In 1947 Seaton wrote and directed the movie “Miracle on 34th Street” and in that movie the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade was highlighted and even showed actual footage from the previous year’s parade, couple the popularity of that movie with NBC’s first television broadcast of the parade in 1948 and you have a cultural icon being born.
I have to be honest I do not watch the Macy’s Parade every single year however it is not difficult to know how culturally significant the parade has been over the last 85+ years. Every year this time we know one thing is certain and that is the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is on and if we watch the excitement will slowly build as the parade ends and Santa Claus says hello to everyone and rings in the Christmas season. To everyone out there I wish you a Happy Thanksgiving and a very Merry Christmas.       

Friday, November 16, 2012

History of Denny's Restaurant

There are few restaurants national that can be considered American staples, restaurants in which everyone knows about and everyone has visited at least once in their lives. Denny's is one of those All-American restaurants. Recently they have been in the news because a major Denny's franchise owner in Florida stated he will be forced to increase his prices due to ObamaCare legislation that will go into effect January of 2014 (dailymail). How did this restaurant become such an icon in American history to the point that you consistently see them in movies and TV shows as a place where everyday Joe's eat?

After moving from Buffalo, New York, Harold Butler started a simple donut shop in 1953 with the idea of providing good coffee and donuts 24 hours a day. Originally called "Danny's Donuts" the location did very well very quickly and Harold started to open additional locations in 1954 under the revised name of "Danny's Coffee Shop." As the business grew so did his customers' desire for expanded menu options which is why Butler started including sandwiches and various entrees beyond just the donuts. In 1959 they had expanded to five locations however there was a growing confusion among customers between their coffee shops and a "Coffee Dan's" in the same area. It was decided that a change was needed so that same year Butler changed the name to "Denny's Restaurant" and the donuts, the foundation of Butler's original location, were removed from the menu. Their focus was on simple American food and coffee offered 24 hours a day. The question still remains, how did this small chain restaurant in California spread around the country in popularity and become that national icon it is today? The answer is the national highway system.

As the automobiles popularity grew in the twentieth century the idea of roads that stretched across the country grew with it. Although a few interstate highways were created such as the Lincoln Highway, there was nothing that truly connected the country. President Eisenhower saw the value of a national highway after being in Germany during World War 2 and utilizing the autobahn. Not only would it help the country grow and connect but Eisenhower saw the benefit of easily transporting military supplies and men across the country in the event of war. In 1956 the National Interstate and Defense Highways Act passed which funded projects all over the country to build the massive interstate system that we know today. Butler was one of the first to see the potential of using these new interstate highways and created a  business model of building his restaurant along these roads, catering to travelers 24 hours a day. It is rare to find major chain restaurants today that are not built along or near a major interstate highway. Denny's pioneered the national chain restaurant by placing their locations along these interstate highways (Retail Merchandiser). 

With the famous Grand-Slam breakfast, free meals on your birthday (which eventually ended in 1993), All-American meals, their great locations and low prices by 1981 Denny's grew to over 1000 locations and  solidified their place as an American institution.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Veterans Day Speech: President Ronald Reagan

My words will never be good enough to convey the honor and gratitude I have for the veterans of the United States of America. All I can do is hand that responsibility over to others who have better talents than I do, and there is no one better than President Ronald Reagan...

"A few moments ago I placed a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and as I stepped back and stood during the moment of silence that followed, I said a small prayer. And it occurred to me that each of my predecessors has had a similar moment, and I wondered if our prayers weren't very much the same, if not identical.
We celebrate Veterans Day on the anniversary of the armistice that ended World War I, the armistice that began on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month. And I wonder, in fact, if all Americans' prayers aren't the same as those I mentioned a moment ago. The timing of this holiday is quite deliberate in terms of historical fact but somehow it always seems quite fitting to me that this day comes deep in autumn when the colors are muted and the days seem to invite contemplation.
We are gathered at the National Cemetery, which provides a final resting place for the heroes who have defended our country since the Civil War. This amphitheater, this place for speeches, is more central to this cemetery than it first might seem apparent, for all we can ever do for our heroes is remember them and remember what they did -- and memories are transmitted through words.
Sometime back I received in the name of our country the bodies of four marines who had died while on active duty. I said then that there is a special sadness that accompanies the death of a serviceman, for we're never quite good enough to them-not really; we can't be, because what they gave us is beyond our powers to repay. And so, when a serviceman dies, it's a tear in the fabric, a break in the whole, and all we can do is remember.
It is, in a way, an odd thing to honor those who died in defense of our country, in defense of us, in wars far away. The imagination plays a trick. We see these soldiers in our mind as old and wise. We see them as something like the Founding Fathers, grave and gray haired. But most of them were boys when they died, and they gave up two lives -- the one they were living and the one they would have lived. When they died, they gave up their chance to be husbands and fathers and grandfathers. They gave up their chance to be revered old men. They gave up everything for our country, for us. And all we can do is remember.
There's always someone who is remembering for us. No matter what time of year it is or what time of day, there are always people who come to this cemetery, leave a flag or a flower or a little rock on a headstone. And they stop and bow their heads and communicate what they wished to communicate. They say, "Hello, Johnny," or "Hello, Bob. We still think of you. You're still with us. We never got over you, and we pray for you still, and we'll see you again. We'll all meet again." In a way, they represent us, these relatives and friends, and they speak for us as they walk among the headstones and remember. It's not so hard to summon memory, but it's hard to recapture meaning.
And the living have a responsibility to remember the conditions that led to the wars in which our heroes died. Perhaps we can start by remembering this: that all of those who died for us and our country were, in one way or another, victims of a peace process that failed; victims of a decision to forget certain things; to forget, for instance, that the surest way to keep a peace going is to stay strong. Weakness, after all, is a temptation -- it tempts the pugnacious to assert themselves -- but strength is a declaration that cannot be misunderstood. Strength is a condition that declares actions have consequences. Strength is a prudent warning to the belligerent that aggression need not go unanswered.Peace fails when we forget what we stand for. It fails when we forget that our Republic is based on firm principles, principles that have real meaning, that with them, we are the last, best hope of man on Earth; without them, we're little more than the crust of a continent. Peace also fails when we forget to bring to the bargaining table God’s first intellectual gift to man: common sense. Common sense gives us a realistic knowledge of human beings and how they think, how they live in the world, what motivates them. Common sense tells us that man has magic in him, but also clay. Common sense can tell the difference between right and wrong. Common sense forgives error, but it always recognizes it to be error first.
We endanger the peace and confuse all issues when we obscure the truth; when we refuse to name an act for what it is; when we refuse to see the obvious and seek safety in Almighty. Peace is only maintained and won by those who have clear eyes and brave minds. Peace is imperiled when we forget to try for agreements and settlements and treaties; when we forget to hold out our hands and strive; when we forget that God gave us talents to use in securing the ends He desires. Peace fails when we forget that agreements, once made, cannot be broken without a price.
Each new day carries within it the potential for breakthroughs, for progress. Each new day bursts with possibilities. And so, hope is realistic and despair a pointless little sin. And peace fails when we forget to pray to the source of all peace and life and happiness. I think sometimes of General Matthew Ridgeway, who, the night before D-day, tossed sleepless on his cot and talked to the Lord and listened for the promise that God made to Joshua: “I will not fail thee, nor forsake thee.”We're surrounded today by the dead of our wars. We owe them a debt we can never repay. All we can do is remember them and what they did and why they had to be brave for us. All we can do is try to see that other young men never have to join them. Today, as never before, we must pledge to remember the things that will continue the peace. Today, as never before, we must pray for God's help in broadening and deepening the peace we enjoy. Let us pray for freedom and justice and a more stable world. And let us make a compact today with the dead, a promise in the words for which General Ridgeway listened, “I will not fail thee, nor forsake thee."
In memory of those who gave the last full measure of devotion, may our efforts to achieve lasting peace gain strength. And through whatever coincidence or accident of timing, I tell you that a week from now when I am some thousands of miles away, believe me, the memory and the importance of this day will be in the forefront of my mind and in my heart.
Thank you. God bless you all, and God bless America."

Veterans Day National CeremonyArlington National Cemetery
November 11, 1985

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Today in History: U.S. Marine Corp founded

As November 1775 began, the colonies of America were in rebellion. Although the organization was a little scattered and independence was not yet declared one thing was apparent, we were at war against our mother country England. With the Continental Army commanded by George Washington it was clear that we were going to have to take the battle to the high seas as well. On November 9, 1775 the Second Continental Congress convened with the Naval Committee about the idea of sending an amphibious expedition to Halifax, Nova Scotia. The intent was to take control of British military posts in Canada and thereby weakening their position in North America as well as seek out military supplies for the Continental Army. In order to accomplish this task the Congress agreed, on November 10, 1775, to commission two marine battalions in aiding in this expedition. It was from these two battalions of Continental Marines that the US Marine Corp was founded.   

Today we commemorate the greatness that is the United States Marines. Typically the first in and last out these men and women have been the backbone of the United States military and pivotal to military victories over the last 237 years. With Veterans Day tomorrow, I just want to say THANK YOU to every Marine who is serving or has served their country proudly and honorably. You are the front line for the defense of liberty and freedom in this country and we are all forever in your debt. 

Monday, November 5, 2012

Our Nation Divided: Lincoln Relieves McClellan

Over the last year and a half we have been celebrating the 150th anniversary of the Civil War. As reenactors and festivals take place all over the east coast we should be reminded of the impatience that many were feeling in the mid-nineteenth century with the toll the war had taken up till that point. Many in the country, including prominent leaders, assumed this conflict between the states would end only in a matter of months. This frustration was apparent with President Lincoln and his aggravation with General George McClellan.

As a West Point graduate and veteran of the Mexican-American War, McClellan was a nature choice to be the Commander-in-Chief of the Union army after Robert E Lee declined. As the war started he worked diligently at training a very green army into a well trained and organized military unit. However his greatest skill turned into his greatest weakness as it seemed all McClellan wanted to do was train his men. When it came to meeting the Confederacy on the field of battle he was always hesitant, reserved because he always felt he lacked the proper intelligence. In reality there were numerous moments in which the Union army had an advantage and held back, resulting in losing the battle. Since the majority of the public had expected this conflict to end in a matter of months the fact that it was now nearly 17 months it meant everyone, including Lincoln, was growing impatient.

McClellan did not show a lot of respect for Lincoln and his authority as President, in fact he felt it was his place to make decisions that were outside his authority. In a letter to Lincoln, McClellan wrote:
“This rebellion has assumed the character of a War: as such it should be regarded; and it should be conducted upon the highest principles known to Christian Civilization. It should not be a War looking to the subjugation of the people of any state, in any event. It should not be, at all, a War upon population; but against armed forces and political organizations. Neither confiscation of property, political executions of persons, territorial organization of states or forcible abolition of slavery should be contemplated for a moment. In prosecuting the War, all private property and unarmed persons should be strictly protected; subject only to the necessities of military operations. All private property taken for military use should be paid for or receipted for; pillage and waste should be treated as high crimes; all unnecessary trespass sternly prohibited; and offensive demeanor by the military towards citizens promptly rebuked. Military arrests should not be tolerated, except in places where active hostilities exist; and oaths not required by enactments -- Constitutionally made -- should be neither demanded nor received. Military government should be confined to the preservation of public order and the protection of political rights.” – July 7, 1862
McClellan is making decisions that are the responsibility of the President's, with the opinions of a politician, instead of as a general who is meant to be taking orders and concerned with winning a war. Things could have changed in September 1862 when Lee and his forces went on the offensive and attacked Union territory. The two forces met at Antietam in Maryland where McClellan had the superior numbers and eventually drove Lee out of Union territory. The problem is yet again McClellan failed to close the deal and utilize those superior numbers he consistently had over Lee. By most accounts McClellan had the opportunity to destroy Lee’s army and possibly end the conflict but failed to put his reserves into action which allowed Lee and his men to escape back into the South and fight another day. So despite McClellan keeping Lee out of the North he showed his reservations in making the tough decision that could have possibly won the war. Although this “victory” gave Lincoln the ability to write the Emancipation Proclamation it further added to the idea that McClellan did not have the stomach to finish this war out like it needed to be.  

As predicted the Union army fell silent after Antietam and Lincoln did not hesitate to show his anger. 
“Yours of yesterday received. Most certainly I intend no injustice to any; and if I have done any, I deeply regret it. To be told after more than five weeks total inaction of the Army, and during which period we have sent to that Army every fresh horse we possibly could, amounting in the whole to Seven thousand nine hundred and eighteen, that the cavalry were too much fatigued to move, presented a very cheerless, almost hopeless prospect for the future; and it may have forced something of impatience into my dispatch. If not recruited and rested then, when could they ever be? I suppose the river is rising, and I am glad to believe you are crossing."  - Oct 26, 1862
 Even Mary Todd Lincoln chimed in on this issue in a letter to her husband stating, “Your name is on every lip and many prayers and good wishes are hourly sent up, for your welfare -- and McClellan & his slowness are as vehemently discussed. Allowing this beautiful weather, to pass away, is disheartening (Nov 2, 1862).” Although I would doubt his wife’s influence had any bearing on Lincoln’s final decision to remove McClellan he nevertheless pulled the trigger and relieved him of his command on November 5, 1862.

The public, as well as the White House’s frustration that the war had not ended at this point seemed to be focused upon McClellan. His lack of execution and inability to defeat the Confederacy, despite having superior forces at every turn, was reason many in the country were fed up and Lincoln realized he needed a change if this rebellion was going to be defeated. This act by Lincoln was a major turning point in the Civil War because without his removal of McClellan there is a good chance that Lee would have continued to have his way with the Union army. It’s even possible to consider that the Confederacy would have been victorious in the end through a war of attrition which ironically is how the Union army ended up winning in the end. 
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