Metro Reaches Tysons Corner . . . Finally

Guest post by Zachary M. Schrag

Measure twice, cut once, is good advice for carpenters and tailors. It’s even better advice for transportation planners, whose decisions can shape metropolitan regions for generations. This Saturday, July 26, officials will inaugurate the first stations on the Silver Line, an addition to the Washington Metro rapid transit system. In doing so, they will help rectify the biggest mistake made by the system’s planners nearly half a century ago.

For the most part, Metro’s planners did a remarkably good job of measuring and cutting. The five lines they created collect commuters from parking lots, bus routes, and neighborhoods throughout Washington and suburban Maryland and Virginia and deliver them to such major employment centers as the Pentagon, Southwest D.C., and Farragut Square.

Metro has attracted investment to previously declining parts of the region, most notably Washington’s downtown east of 15th Street. Once home to vacant buildings and porn shops, the area is now the location of a new convention center and sports arena as well as thriving office buildings, shops, restaurants, and condominiums. Montgomery County, Maryland, and Arlington County, Virginia, also designed their zoning to encourage dense growth near Metro stations, so that parts of those counties have become models of transit-oriented development. In Arlington, automobile traffic on key roads has actually declined even as population and employment have soared.

Moreover, some of the most frustrating gaps in Metro coverage were beyond the power of transportation planners to address. In particular, National Park Service intransigence about Rock Creek Park helped doom plans to serve Adams-Morgan, now a lively district of restaurants and bars that could use better transit service.

But planners did make one great mistake in failing to route Metro to Tysons Corner, a district defined by the intersection of three major highways in Fairfax County, Virginia. To be sure, Tysons wasn’t much to look at in the mid-1960s, when planners pulled out their colored pencils. But by 1965, the county had rezoned the area to allow for a regional mall, while planning staff called Tysons the “gateway to Washington for the jet-age” and the “crossroads of the county,” with the potential for up to 85,000 jobs. It could have been an ideal place to build rapid transit, letting the boom town grow up around Metro.

Instead, county supervisors routed Metro’s Orange Line to serve the small but existing, communities of Vienna and Fairfax City, to the south of Tysons Corner. These mostly residential communities rejected plans for dense development, which went to Tysons instead. So rather than combining those complementary machines—the subway and the skyscraper—Fairfax essentially gave its residents a choice between driving to the Metro station near Vienna or driving to work or shop at Tysons.

That will change at noon on July 26, when the first Silver Line train rolls east from the Reston-Wiehle Station, making four stops in Tysons before joining the existing Metro system in Arlington. Now, developers will have incentives to build their office towers and apartment buildings within an easy walk of stations, and commuters to some of the 100,000 jobs in Tysons will have an alternative to the clogged roads of the district. Fairfax County is encouraging more people to live in Tysons, with Metro as part of the lure. One may even start to see people walking to work as both apartments and offices cluster near the new stations.

All of this will take time. Arlington’s Orange Line stations opened in 1979, yet some lots within walking distance of the line are only now being developed. If you really want to understand the significance of Saturday’s ribbon-cutting for Tysons Corner, check back in the year 2050.

 

Schrag_The Great Society SubwayZachary M. Schrag is a professor of history at George Mason University, and author of the book, The Great Society Subway: A History of the Washington Metro.

Leave a comment

Filed under Current Affairs, D.C., Railroads

The problem of undocumented immigrants is not new

Guest Post by Ronald H. Bayor

The nation is presently watching the Mexico–U.S. border and obsessing over the issue of illegal immigration. The topic of undocumented immigrants, however, is not a new one. With the passage of largely ineffective state laws in the nineteenth century excluding certain immigrants because of disease, criminal background, or other problems, America began to witness the appearance of those entering the country regardless of restrictions.

Official federal control of immigration began in 1875 with a Supreme Court ruling and then with the systematization of the process by the opening of Ellis Island in 1892. Neither stopped the many immigrants who entered unlawfully. Immigrants barred from entry managed to evade exclusion by bribing immigration officials or ship captains, arriving as ship stowaways, using false papers such as citizenship documents, hiding previous criminal behavior, forging medical records, or traveling as first-class passengers who were given only cursory examinations. The U.S. never had a foolproof system for capping entry.

Rather than Hispanics from Latin America, those illegally entering the U.S. were comprised of various European nationalities. Western hemisphere immigrants were exempt from any restrictions and entered as non-quota immigrants until the 1965 immigration act. Their labor was essential to American agriculture. Asians, however, faced early and severe restriction starting with the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act. But that law and its successors failed to provide a barrier, as the Chinese used various techniques, including purchased citizenships (known as “Paper Sons”), to secure entry.

In the 1920s, when immigration legislation establishing quotas was introduced, the key issues concerned nationality and race. According to the pseudoscience of eugenics, some immigrants were of “better stock” than others and would add, not detract, from the nation’s biological health. Southern and Eastern Europeans and Asians were considered to be detrimental to the country. Assumptions based on stereotypes held that these immigrants would become charity cases, were not as mentally or physically fit, were prone to crime and disease, and represented the dregs of the world, “the wretched refuse” of other shores. With quotas came more attempts to enter the U.S. illegally.

Immigrants in 1902 in a detention pen on the roof of the main building. Detention meant that something was wrong and could lead to days or months in unsanitary and crowded quarters, as well as deportation.  Courtesy of Library of Congress, LC-USZ62-116223.

Immigrants in 1902 in a detention pen on the roof of the main building. Detention meant that something was wrong and could lead to days or months in unsanitary and crowded quarters, as well as deportation. Courtesy of Library of Congress, LC-USZ62-116223.

The system changed over the years due to the need for workers at various times, and in the post-World War II era, foreign policy pressures forced the end of unequal nationality quotas. America usually needed the skills and workforce that immigrants provided, and the immigrants longed to start a new life in the U.S. Eugenics became discredited after the Nazis used these false theories to create the horrors of the Holocaust. But stereotypes about immigration prevailed. Undocumented or illegal immigration concerns in present times became sharply refocused on Hispanics coming from Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador rather than on the previously despised European groups. While many object to the illegal status of these immigrants, suggest building a wall or fence along the U.S./Mexican border, and want to deport those already here, the illegal issue has historically been complex. People’s personal preferences and racial attitudes influence their reaction to immigration more than the letter of the law. During the 1980s, white immigrants from Cuba found more acceptance as new arrivals than black immigrants from Haiti. If German, British, or Norwegian immigrants sat on our border yearning to enter, the storm of protest against illegals of these nationalities would hardly exist, especially if children were involved. In the 1990s, for example, Congress passed temporary legislation allowing larger numbers of Irish to arrive.

The issue then is not just illegal entry but who enters. Although the U.S. has an immigration system based on attracting people with particular skills and enabling family reunification, exceptions have always existed, including classification as non-quota refugees. And those children on the border now could easily fit the legal definition of refugees and enter as humanitarian cases.

The reasons for entry, legal or illegal, over the years have remained the same: immigrants come to this country fleeing wars, crime, a poor economy, class restrictions, and lack of opportunity. As one Colombian immigrant, who arrived undocumented in 1980, said, “We were just immigrants looking for freedom.” He found opportunity and success. While nobody supports open borders without any regulation, immigrants, even those who came illegally, have provided the U.S. with a constant flow of the skills and the ambition needed to create future growth and prosperity.

bayorRonald H. Bayor is a professor emeritus of history at Georgia Institute of Technology. His most recent publication is Encountering Ellis Island: How European Immigrants Entered Americapublished by Johns Hopkins.

 

1 Comment

Filed under American History, Current Affairs, Politics

Shall we take the ferry to Nantucket to visit the Folger Shakespeare Library?

Guest post by Stephen H. Grant 

North and west facades of the Folger Shakespeare Library the year before it opened (Folger Shakespeare Library).

North and west facades of the Folger Shakespeare Library the year before it opened (Folger Shakespeare Library).

It was not a foregone conclusion that the Folger Shakespeare Library be built two blocks from the U.S. Capitol. Hidden away among Folger papers as I scoured in the library’s underground vault during the research phase of Collecting Shakespeare: The Story of Henry and Emily Folger, I found a small undated note with ten possible sites for the Folger in alphabetical order written in co-founder Henry Folger’s meticulous clerk’s hand.

Nantucket was included because the Massachusetts island off Cape Cod had been home to the Folger tribe since surveyor and court clerk Peter Foulger arrived from Norwich, England, in the 1660s. In Moby Dick, Herman Melville wrote of “Folgers and harpooners,” as Henry’s grandfather, master blacksmith Samuel, fashioned cutting-in spades for the whaling trade. Henry’s Uncle James, after leaving Nantucket to seek his fortune in California during the Gold Rush, founded Folgers Coffee. Ever the businessman, oilman Henry calculated that a plot of land on Nantucket would cost $25,000.

Brooklynite Henry Folger eyed the lavish home at 1015 Fifth Avenue, which was owned by Jay Gould’s granddaughter, as well as the one next door belonging to socialite Edith Clark. These Manhattan properties each required an outlay of $550,000, Folger figured. Exerting the most pressure was Stratford-upon-Avon; if successful, this faraway lobby would have meant repatriating to British soil the Shakespeare treasures acquired largely at auctions in England. Folger also declared, “I have been importuned by several Colleges and Universities to locate my library of Shakespeareana with them, but I have never felt disposed to consider the suggestions.”

Diagram in Henry Folger’s hand of four possible library sites on Capitol Hill (Folger Shakespeare Library).

Diagram in Henry Folger’s hand of four possible library sites on Capitol Hill (Folger Shakespeare Library).

“I finally concluded I would give it to Washington; for I am a patriot,” Folger affirmed. Before WWI, Washington was a sleepy southern town. Contributing to the literary and cultural enhancement of the political capital appealed to the Folgers. Perhaps without fully realizing the extent of their gift, the Folgers, in their quiet way, were responsible for an uptick in America’s reputation and prestige: the moment of arrival for the young country on the world scene as Europe’s equal, and, in some respects, superior.

Secrecy was a practice Folger applied to his real estate acquisitions as well as to his book buying. In 1918 he wrote to a land speculator known for his clandestine purchases asking him to “inquire very cautiously” about four locations on Capitol Hill. One, noted on city maps as “future gov’t building,” would become twenty years later the Supreme Court; that was a non-starter. A second became the Lutheran Church of the Reformation across 2nd Street NE from the Court on East Capitol Street. A third eventually became the Madison building of the Library of Congress. The Folgers decided on one of the most opulent blocks on the Hill: an assemblage of fourteen redbrick Italianate rowhouses known as Grant’s Row (no relation to the author). It cost Folger $317,000 and took him more than eight years to buy the properties on the 200 block of East Capitol Street SE. Henry Folger’s name appeared on no document related to the transaction: as a result, virtually no one knew he had become the owner.

In mid-January 1928, the Folgers read with horror a Washington Post article that a bill pending in Congress had identified Grant’s Row and the lot to the south for a Library of Congress annex. With trepidation, Henry wrote Herbert Putnam, the Librarian of Congress, “Should I give up the thought of making Washington the choice for a location [of my Shakespeare library]?” Without hesitation, an elated Dr. Putnam agreed to have the bill modified so that the annex would spare the Folgers’ property but occupy the remaining portion of the two lots. A wise Congress recognized the numerous benefits of having a private specialized library across the street from a public general library.

Grant’s Row, the fourteen redbrick rowhouses built by Albert Grant and which were demolished (Library of Congress)

Grant’s Row, the fourteen redbrick rowhouses built by Albert Grant and which were demolished (Library of Congress).

The Folgers would endow the library, build a decorative façade on its north side, and “dedicate this remarkable collection to the culture of the American public.” Both House and Senate passed the modified legislation unanimously. President Coolidge signed the bill (Public Law 70-453) into law on May 21, 1928.

It is especially appropriate in 2014—the 450th anniversary of Shakespeare’s birthday—to celebrate the world-class Folger Shakespeare Library and its founders, who eighty-two years ago defined the purpose of the research library: to “give generations to come a better working knowledge and understanding of the literary works of the seventeenth century.”

grant.collectingStephen H. Grant is the author of Collecting Shakespeare: The Story of Henry and Emily Folgerpublished by Johns Hopkins. He is a senior fellow at the Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training and the author of Peter Strickland: New London Shipmaster, Boston Merchant, First Consul to Senegal.

Meet Steve at Washington’s Politics and Prose Bookstore during his book talk and signing on July 26 at 6:00 p.m.

 

 

 

 

1 Comment

Filed under Biography, Regional-Chesapeake Bay, Literature, American History, Libraries, Book talks, Washington, D.C., Shakespeare

The Press Reads: Why Mars

lambrightOur summer Friday series on the blog, The Press Reads, features short excerpts from recent JHUP books to whet your appetite and inspire timely additions to your summer reading list. With a nod to the 45th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing on July 20, this week we offer a selection from W. Henry Lambright’s Why Mars: NASA and the Politics of Space Exploration. The author is a professor of public administration, international affairs, and political science at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University. His books include Powering Apollo: James E. Webb of NASA and Space Policy in the Twenty-First Century, both published by Johns Hopkins.

Beginning with NASA’s establishment in 1958, the space agency looked to Mars as a compelling prize: the one place besides the Moon where robotic and human exploration could converge. Over the years, the human space venture to Mars remained a dream. It remained on NASA’s agenda, but always on a distant horizon. NASA’s Mars robotic program—the focus of this study—has now been actualized, marking one of NASA’s greatest achievements. What has been the nature of NASA’s Mars exploration program? How was it created and sustained? How has it adapted to scientific findings and shifting political winds? What have been the barriers to the program? How was opposition countered? Where is the program going? These and other questions have not been answered adequately in the existing literature. Most writing about Mars deals with specific missions and emphasizes the technical aspects of exploring the planet. The people, institutions, politics, and policy behind the technical exploits get relatively little attention. NASA’s role, although mentioned, is seldom addressed in depth. What is significant is that the missions form part of an ongoing government effort that has lasted over half a century and promises to extend indefinitely into the distant future. Mars is a federal program, but it is also a destination, a place and a magnet for the human imagination. For advocates of robotic and human Mars exploration—who seem often to disagree as much as they agree—it is a great quest, a difficult and noble journey into the unknown.

Mars exploration has evolved from the Mariner flybys of the 1960s, which provided the first blurred glimpses of the Red Planet, to orbiter and lander missions in the 1970s. Later, in the 1990s, NASA created machines capable of  not only landing but also roving the planet. The Clinton administration in 1996 set as a national goal that NASA embark on “a sustained program to support a robotic presence on the surface of Mars.”2 By the early  twenty-first century, NASA was building an intricate infrastructure on Mars, a technical system involving orbiters, landers, rovers, laboratories, and communications systems. NASA, moreover, had company on Mars, as  other nations sent their own devices. The names of the machines have become well known not only to scientists but also to the public over the years: Mariner, Viking, Pathfinder, Mars Global Surveyor, Spirit, Opportunity, Phoenix, MSL with its Curiosity rover, and others. With modern technology, citizens on Earth can participate in an epic adventure and explore Mars through robotic machines of incredible capacity. These machines extend human senses of sight, sound, and touch across millions of miles. They have taken NASA, America, and the world to a period that John Grotzinger, chief scientist of the MSL, called “the golden era of Mars exploration,” a time of “extended, overlapping, and increasingly coordinated missions.”

The evolution of the program has not been all positive. Nor is the future certain. There have been expensive failures amidst the successes. There have been ebbs and flows in scientific and public enthusiasm, heights of exultation, depths of despair. Between Viking in 1976 and Mars Observer’s launch in 1992, there was a long gap in exploratory missions; in addition, Mars Observer was dubbed a $1 billion failure. But NASA maintained the quest for Mars in the 1990s and into the new millennium. That it did so was not easy. It was a test of scientific, bureaucratic, and political resilience. The key issue in understanding the Mars exploration  program is one that is generic in American democracy: how to maintain a long-term, large-scale, high-risk, and expensive federal research and development program in the face of competing scientific, bureaucratic, and public priorities and ever-changing political winds.

Leave a comment

Filed under American History, Current Affairs, General Science, History of science, History of technology, Politics, Popular Culture, Space exploration

Visiting 1814 sites on the Mississippi and upper Great Lakes

Guest post by Carl Benn

The bicentennial of a number of War of 1812 battles that took place on the Mississippi River and across the upper Great Lakes occurs this summer. Naturally, some are being commemorated by volunteer groups, museums, and heritage organizations, often within the context of larger programs and exhibits exploring the western frontiers of the Anglo-American confrontation. Their efforts are important. They provide opportunities for those who care about the past to share their expertise and enthusiasm with the public. They also allow museums and heritage sites to communicate their distinctive ways of interpreting the past, based, to a large degree, on material culture and a sense of place. In the process, their labors enhance historical understanding, enrich the cultural life of their communities, and engage tourists and other visitors to their localities.

Fort Mackinac

Fort Mackinac

At the beginning of the 1814 campaign two centuries ago, the British occupied Fort Mackinac at the head of Lake Michigan (having captured it in 1812) as well as the strategic fur trade village of Prairie du Chien on the Mississippi River, far to the south in today’s Wisconsin. This vast region’s native population generally had allied with King George III. For many aboriginal people, the United States represented grave threats to their independence, well-being, and ways of life. After several years of low-level violence between natives and newcomers beginning around 1808, fighting escalated with the coming of the Anglo-American war in 1812.

British soldiers and sailors, local militiamen, and First Nations warriors along the Canadian-American border did far better in 1812 and 1813 in turning back the armies sent against them than most observers had expected. In the west, the capture of Mackinac not only gave the British control of the upper Great Lakes, but allowed them to supply native peoples along the upper Mississippi. They even continued to do so after losing control of Lake Erie in 1813 because they were able to utilize alternative communications links along old fur trade routes that ran northwest and north from Montreal and Toronto to Lake Huron and then to points west and south.

The first major move by the United States to reassert its authority on the Mississippi River in 1814 resulted in victory. On June 2, a force aboard a flotilla of gunboats from the American stronghold of St. Louis seized Prairie du Chien, meeting little resistance upon its arrival. Recognizing that the loss of the village could be fatal to their interests, the British dispatched an expedition south from Mackinac and, aided by hundreds of warriors, besieged and captured the newly constructed American fort there between July 17 and 21. Immediately afterwards, the famous Sauk war chief, Black Hawk, attacked and defeated American gunboats south of Prairie du Chien at Campbell’s Island on the Mississippi (near today’s Rock Island, Illinois). Meanwhile, to the north, British soldiers and First Nations warriors won a battle over a combined American army and navy force on August 4, 1814 that had sailed north from Detroit to retake Mackinac. The next month, the British and natives captured two schooners that their enemies had deployed to contest control of the upper lakes. The last major action on the Mississippi front that year occurred on September 5, when another flotilla of American gunboats came under attack at Credit Island (in today’s Davenport, Iowa). Again, Black Hawk was present as a senior military leader; the commanding officer of the opposing force was future president Zachary Taylor. The warriors won the battle, and Taylor retreated down the Mississippi. Thus, 1814 closed with the First Nations and the British retaining control of the northerly reaches of the Mississippi River and the upper Great Lakes.

One of a number of events planned by the ever-active Wisconsin Historical Society for this summer is a battle reenactment and encampment at Prairie du Chien on July 19 and 20 at its Villa Louis Historic Site. Farther north, there will be the recreation of the Battle of Mackinac two hundred years to the day—and at the same location—of the August 4, 1814 confrontation. This is just one of a wide range of programs at Mackinac State Historic Parks, where visitors also may explore a rich collection of fortifications and other heritage sites spanning the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries at the head of Lake Michigan. Across the border in Ontario, where the War of 1812 enjoys greater public interest than it does in the United States, several sites are offering programs this summer along with their regular exhibits, including Fort St. Joseph, located south of Sault Ste. Marie, the Nancy Island Historic Site at Wasaga Beach on Georgian Bay, and the old Royal Navy base nearby at Discovery Harbour in Penetanguishene.

fort madisonBeyond special events, the museums and parks throughout the old western theater of the War of 1812 also interpret its course (and many other absorbing histories) for the enlightenment of visitors. One of the numerous examples of small sites is an early-1900s memorial to the 1814 Battle of Campbell’s Island, which in itself is an interesting cultural artifact that speaks to the sensibilities and aesthetics of the time of the war’s centennial a century ago. Not far away, a 1916 replica of a blockhouse stands on Arsenal Island in Rock Island, Illinois. It resembles one built one hundred years earlier at Fort Armstrong as part of the American effort to dominate native affairs on the Mississippi within a few miles of Black Hawk’s village of Saukenuk. Unfortunately, the blockhouse often is overlooked because of the greater attractions of the neighboring Rock Island Arsenal Museum. Alternatively, visitors may enjoy the nearby nature preserve of Black Hawk State Park in Rock Island along with its Hauberg Museum, dedicated to indigenous history. About ninety miles to the south is the reconstructed Old Fort Madison, in the Iowa city of the same name. That post came under native attack during the war—with Black Hawk present—and is a focal point for the reenactment community of the area as well as an attraction for both residents and visitors. Beyond these events and sites, other historical societies at the state, county, and municipal levels have been organizing lectures and events, presenting web content, and building awareness. By sharing the region’s War of 1812 heritage during the bicentennial years, these organizations look back to an important period in North American history when natives and newcomers confronted each other over the future of the upper Mississippi and Great Lakes regions. Combined with their programs and exhibits, there is much to explore for people wishing to “visit” the 1814 Lake Michigan and Mississippi River campaigns and the great range of other histories that these organizations preserve and interpret for everyone’s benefit.

bennCarl Benn is the author of numerous works on the War of 1812 and First Nations history, including Native Memoirs from the War of 1812: Black Hawk and William Apess, published by Johns Hopkins University Press. He is a professor of history at Ryerson University in Toronto.

Leave a comment

Filed under American History, The War of 1812

How to write an epitaph

Guest post by Michael Wolfe

wolfeWe were honored this spring when Michael Wolfe’s wonderful book, Cut These Words into My Stone: Ancient Greek Epitaphs, made the long list of nominees for the 2014 PEN Literary Award for Poetry in Translation. We were thrilled in June when the book landed on the short list of five nominees.  To celebrate this good news (and pass the time while we await the announcement of the award recipient on July 30), Michael and the JHU Press are hosting an  “Epitaph Writing Contest” on Goodreads.  For the next several weeks, intrepid memorializers may submit their epitaphs on Michaels Goodreads page. Michael will select his favorite epitaph of the week, and the JHU Press will be pleased to send the weeks winner a copy of Cut These Words into My Stone. Later in August, the JHU Press Blog will publish the winning epitaphs with appreciative comments from Michael. Below are his indispensable tips for writing a timeless (and award-winning) epitaph. So, get writing (and remembering)!

 

Four Tips for Writing an Epitaph:

Epitaphs are among the oldest examples of writing in the world, and the form remains popular today. As long as we honor our dead, epitaphs will always be an important way to celebrate their lives. When writing your epitaph, keep in mind that:

1)    Epitaphs are short and concise.

2)    They convey a strong feeling.

3)    Often, someone is speaking in the first person (a relative, a friend; the deceased.)

4)    The writer should think about who is being addressed (for example, a passerby.)

Some Thoughts about These Tips:

Short, concise, and pithy” - Many epitaphs are just one or two lines long. Even those with four or six lines are still short. This limitation can be beneficial. It gives you a chance to sum up a person’s life in just a few words, to give it shape and express real emotion. An epitaph often contains the name of the deceased. Sometimes it includes their hometown and perhaps a reference to their age (old or young):

                          After many good times with friends his age,

                          Riding horses and playing ball,

                         Here he is, back in the earth he sprang from,

                         Twenty years old, his parents’ pride, Wayne Henry.

Some epitaphs also mention a person the deceased has left behind . . . a relative or friend:

                        Jean’s friends will mourn her, her husband too

                        And three small children, but no one knew

                        Her from start to sudden stop, the way her father

                        Knew her and her mother.

The feeling” - An epitaph may be celebratory or tragic. It is usually heartfelt:              

                           Billy fought three tours in Iraq.

                           When he signed up for more, we begged him not to.

                           Now he and his new friends are underground.

An epitaph may also be humorous:

                        Dr. Marcus was a terrible physician.

                        His final patient was a marble statue.

                        He wrapped its broken arm in gauze

                        And prescribed two aspirin just before he died.

                        This morning they couldn’t find a pulse.

                        Now we are carting the statue to the graveyard.

Or it may be ironic:

                        Phillip was an actor all his life.

                        He won awards in comedy and drama.

                        On stage he died a thousand times,

                        But never quite like this.

The best epitaphs are not overly sentimental or unbearably sad. An epitaph is a chance to sum up a life and express deep feelings. An epitaph is a genuine expression.

Who is speaking the epitaph? - Most good epitaphs have a voice. The epitaph may be spoken by a loved one or a friend, a parent, an employer, a neighbor, a fellow soldier, maybe the owner of a horse or dog or other pet, etc.:

                        Maria’s parents put up this stone,

                        Weeping with every letter as we wrote it.

Or it may be the voice of the deceased:

                        After drinking a lot, eating a lot,

                        And speaking badly of everyone,

                        Here I lie where I was born,

                        Alfred Stearn, in a Mississippi bayou.


Who does the epitaph address?” - Some epitaphs make a general statement to the world:

                        Here lies Thales of Miletus. He invented astronomy.

                        His name will be written in the stars.

Or:

                        Here lies the poet Robert Frost.

                        He had a lover’s quarrel with the world.

Some epitaphs address a passerby:

                        Stranger, if you pass this grave don’t smirk

                        Because it only holds a dog . . .

Some epitaphs speak directly to a loved one:

                        You were my wife. If now and then,

                        You find yourself with time to kill

                        From raising our children and entertaining friends,

                        Come visit me some afternoon, and stay an hour

                        So we can talk. And if you want, bring flowers.

Good luck in the Epitaph Writing Contest!

 

wolfe photos.com comp.inddMichael Wolfe is a poet, author, documentary film producer, and president of Unity Productions Foundation, a nonprofit media organization. Wolfe is the author of many books of verse and prose, including Cut These Words into My Stone: Ancient Greek Epitaphs, now available from JHU Press.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Ancient, Ancient, Awards, Poetry

Batting gloves, Phooey!

Guest post by Mike Gesker

Happy All-Star Break!

Yes, fans, it’s time for the annual Mid-Summer Classic. In the enlightened days before the reign of commissioner Bud Selig, prognosticators would use the event as a fairly reliable oracle for predicting the eventual pennant winners in each league.

All-Star_Game imageNow, in Bud “Dr. Faustus” Selig’s Brave New Baseball World, there are fifteen teams in each league, chopped up into three divisions of five teams each. Instead of beating nine other clubs (as you had to do between 1961–1969 in the Junior Circuit and 1962–1969 in the Senior Circuit), you must achieve more victories than only four other teams. Even then, you still have a chance to get into the playoffs through the devil’s bargain of the“Wild Card,” which sends one-third of the teams in each circuit to the Promised Land. Rest in peace the sanctity of the 162-game season. In other words, if your favorite team has a bat boy, a tarpaulin, and a wacky, wild, Sasquatch-sized, dancing, prancing mascot, you have a darn good chance of getting a ticket to the post-season prom.

Selig diminished the joy of the All-Star even more when he imposed inter-league play throughout the entire season. Because there are fifteen clubs in each league, there is at least one National League team playing an American League squad every day. One sweet festive gala tucked nicely in the middle of the season was not enough for the Milwaukee car dealer.

 Better Dead than Redleg

The history of the Mid-Summer is peppered with madcap misadventures and missteps. From 1959–1962, two All-Star games were played, weeks apart. A portion of the extra flow of cash from the gate and broadcast revenue was meant to help ballplayers’ pensions and youth baseball.

In 1937, the great Dizzy Dean took the mound for the National League at Griffith Stadium in Washington, D.C., with President Franklin D. Roosevelt in the stands. Earl Averill of the Cleveland Indians lined a shot off Dean’s foot, and when someone inquired if the toe was fractured, the sage of the Gas House Gang said, “Fractured. Hell, the damn thing’s broken!”

And controversy surrounded the 1957 All-Star Game because of a heavy voter turnout that would make both Democrats and Republics green with envy. It seems Queen City residents, inspired by a vigorous campaign waged by the Cincinnati Enquirer, took ballot box stuffing to a new, but very legal high—or low, depending on your allegiance to fair play.  Commissioner Ford Frick called it an “overbalance of Cincinnati votes,” meaning that the National League team had a starting lineup brimming with seven Redlegs: Catcher Ed Bailey, Shortstop Roy McMillan, Third Baseman Don Hoak, Second Baseman Johnny Temple, and outfielders Gus Bell, Wally Post, and Frank Robinson, who had garnered the most tallies on the ballot. The only regular Redleg started not selected was First Baseman George Crowe, who was black and finished behind the great Stan Musial.

After this travesty, Frick transferred the solemn and sober responsibility for All-Star voting to the players, managers, and coaches starting in 1958.

Speaking of Redlegs, the baseball world lost a good pitcher and a great writer last week when Jim Brosnan passed away. Do yourself a favor and track down his two classics, The Long Season and Pennant Race.

The unabashed curmudgeonly tone to this essay is inspired by a faded cartoon stashed among my favorite observations on American life. A grumpy old man who could have been a Fred Mertz brother is nestled in his favorite dreadnought-sized leatherette chair watching a ballgame on his TV and snarling at the screen, “Batting gloves, phooey.” My sentiments exactly, Fred. By the way, the irascible William Frawley, who played Mr. Mertz, loved his New York Yankees so much that he had it written into his I Love Lucy contract that if his beloved team made it to the World Series, he would be given time off to see the games. Mr. Frawley was able to exercise that option seven times during the 1950s Yankee dynasty days.

So speaking on behalf of the loyal minority who firmly believe that the only two true improvements baseball has made since 1901 are integration and batting helmets: here are a just five of the most recent alarming and egregious crimes against our National Pastime thanks to Bud and his gang of marketers:

The All-Star Game hats: Even the rascally witches in Macbeth stirring up trouble would blush as this marketing scheme. The MLB geniuses conceived a special cap in recognition of the 1970s-style caps worn by a few teams that change their logos just about every election year. This is the model that looks like the child safety caps on prescription bottle: “Align the white portion of the cap with your nose for correct compliance with MLB rules and regulations.” But that’s still not enough for the dark princes of marketing. There’s still a lot of real estate on those New Era beauties, so there’s a special commemorative All-Star Game logo on one side of the hat. The back has the official MLB logo, which leaves another full quadrant of territory on the skull to exploit. Personally, I’d love to see the time and temperature flash across that area, or run a pipeline to carry precious tar sands to the Gulf.

The Orioles 60th Anniversary Patch: It’s bigger than many home plate umpires’ strike zones.

No More Pajama Parties: Let’s adapt the same draconian “Voter-ID” measures that the Republicans wish to impose in polling places, and make all players display their socks before entering the field of play. The names of two of the clubs are White Sox and Black Sox. How do we know? Bud, I’m begging you to initiate an immediate ruling that all players meet the stellar standards of future Hall of Famers Jim Thome and Ichiro Suzuki. Show us your socks, or be subject of another favorite G.O.P. doctrine, and face deportation.

Managers’ Muumuus: What in the heck at major league managers and coaches wearing these days: short sleeve garbage bags? They look like a Mama Cass ensemble. Do they even go to the trouble to assign the skipper and his coaching staff numbers anymore? Why bother, they’re covered by Hefty bags.

R.I.P. Sharpie the Gillette parrot: Is Duck Dynasty so popular that it would inspire grown men to sport a beard worthy of the Smith Brothers in the heat and humidity of a major global warming event? Enough with the House of David reenactments. Matthew Brady is no longer available to snap your photo. As they used to say in the Army, “Stand a little closer to that razor, soldier!” Look sharp. Feel Sharp! Where’s Noxzema’s sumptuous Swedish siren when we need her to coo “Take it off. Take it all off!”

And that’s not to mention: Designated hitters, phooey. Wild card races, double phooey. World Series games at night, phooey, phooey, phooey!

Gesker comp3**-A.inddBaseball fan Mike Gesker is the author of The Orioles Encyclopedia and the Emmy award-winning producer, director, and writer of Maryland Public Television’s Baseball, the Birds on 33rd. He is a writer-editor for Catholic Relief Services and freelance writer whose work has been published in the Baltimore Sun, Sport magazine, and the Army Times.

 

 

 

 

 

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized