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October 20, 2020

Researchers share stories of Ohio Jewish Civil War soldiers

“A new project sheds light on the lives and experiences of Ohio’s Jewish Civil War soldiers, aiming to share stories and history that have likely been forgotten through generations.

The Shapell Roster: Jewish Service in the American Civil War, is the first comprehensive, national data archive documenting Jewish soldiers who served in the war, according to the Shapell Manuscript Foundation’s website. A virtual program focusing on Ohio soldiers was presented in conjunction with the Columbus Jewish Historical Society Sept. 13, where researchers from Shapell and CJHS shared some interesting findings from their work thus far.

“Adrienne Usher, director of the Shapell Roster, said building the roster started with inspecting a previously created roster by Simon Wolf, a prominent Washington, D.C.-based lawyer and social justice advocate who published the book, The American Jew as Patriot, Soldier and Citizen in 1895. Wolf, who was born in Germany and immigrated to Ohio, compiled the book about Jewish service in American wars to refute anti-Semitic claims that American Jews are not patriotic.” – read more here.

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The USS Cricket. Credit: "U.S. gunboat Cricket." [Photographed between 1861 and 1865, printed between 1880 and 1889]. Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress, Washington, DC. LC-DIG-ppmsca-34013.
September 11, 2020

Lee Rothschild: 15-Year-Old Escapes Into the US Navy

“I met some one [sic] who talked to me about the navy. This man took me to a recruiting office on the levee. I was asked my age and I said I was 15. I recall that this man said to the recruiting officer that ‘It was all right. He is 21.’ After some formality which I do not recall, I was taken to the receiving ship which was tied to the wharf, I think, on the Ohio shore. Within the first hour, someone called out ‘Fresh Fish’ at me and I was in a fight.”

Leopold, or “Lee,” Rothschild was already familiar with battles and adversity before he joined the US Navy at only fifteen, and was immediately jumped by his fellow sailors. Born in Sien, Prussia, Lee’s mother died before he was three years old, and his father left him and his siblings with relatives, to build a new life and family in America. In 1863, at fourteen, Lee made the journey to America too, all by himself. He attempted to live with his father and that new family in Pittsburgh, but the transition was rough, and teenage angst turned Lee into a runaway. And, like so many runaways before him, Lee found his place in the Navy.

Lee’s story is another new discovery by The Shapell Roster Project, and his name will now be added to the ranks of Jewish sailors who fought to save the Union during the Civil War. Read more of Lee’s story.

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August 27, 2020

Harry Truman’s Post-Presidential Recollections

Harry Truman was “one tough son-of-a-bitch of a man,” according to General Harry Vaughan. Vaughan would know. He served alongside Truman in France during WWI and also in the White House. But Truman had a vulnerable side, too. These seven letters, which span the period between Truman’s final days as president in January 1953 and the domestic and international turmoil of the early 1960s, reveal an unknown personal side to Truman. The letters were all written to Dean Acheson, Truman’s trusted Secretary of State. The two developed a close friendship during their White House years, and maintained a regular correspondence during Truman’s post-presidential years. In May 1971, more than eighteen years and scores of letters later, Acheson wrote his final letter to Truman, wishing his friend a happy eighty-seventh birthday. Truman would pass away the following year.

The modest, straight-talking Harry Truman took on the “terrible responsibilities” of the presidency after Franklin Roosevelt’s death in April 1945. It was baptism by fire for Truman. He had to navigate the final months of WWII and make the decision to use atomic weapons against Japan. After narrowly defeating Thomas Dewey in the 1948 election, Truman chose not to run for reelection in 1952. His approval rating was low and he withdrew his candidacy after losing the New Hampshire primary. Truman’s post-presidential years were marked by financial hardship, which inspired Congress to finally pass legislation to provide a pension for past presidents. Truman also faithfully campaigned for Democratic candidates.

These letters clearly communicate one element of Truman’s personal life – his love for history. He found great value in applying the lessons of the past to the problems of the present. He was an expert in presidential history, and referred to past presidents often in these letters. The writer and humorist Mark Twain is usually credited with the clever observation that “history doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes.” These Truman letters illustrate the rhyming nature of history. They touch on topics – such as racial tension, conflict on the Korean Peninsula, sour relations with Russia, biased newspaper coverage, and partisan politics – that are still relevant today, though in different contexts.

Truman continually feuded with the Kansas City Star for its pro-Republican coverage and often derided columnists who wrote unflattering accounts of his presidency. He almost certainly would have used the phrase “fake news” if it was popular at the time. Instead, he went as far as to call many in the media “prostitutes of the mind,” in a famous letter from December 1955.

While bemoaning negative newspaper coverage, Truman, less than a year after leaving office in 1953, wrote of recent editorials that “if it weren’t tragic it would be the best comedy in history… I’ve read the press on Washington, Jefferson, Adams, Jackson, Lincoln, Cleveland, Teddy R., Wilson and F.D.R. and there seems to me to be no parallel” In another letter, Truman reviews his presidency and compares himself to Andrew Jackson, Abraham Lincoln, and Grover Cleveland – presidents who took decisive action and employed the full power of the Executive to handle domestic and international crises. He also compliments his good friend Acheson for being an extraordinary secretary of state, and compares Acheson to Thomas Jefferson and William Seward, who served George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, respectively.

Truman wrote in his memoirs, “My debt to history is one which cannot be calculated. I know of no other motivation which so accounts for my awakening interest as a young lad in the principles of leadership and government.” With little formal education, Truman was self-taught from voracious reading: in 1962 he wrote to Acheson about his childhood experiences reading books from the library: “Our public library in Independence had about three or four thousand volumes, including the ten encyclopedias! Believe it or not I read ‘em all… Maybe I was a damphool [damn fool],” Truman noted, “but it served me well when my terrible trial came.”

Read more in this selection of post-presidential correspondence between Truman and Acheson.

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Department of the Interior. Bureau of Pensions. Case Files of Approved Pension Applications of Veterans Who Served in the Army and Navy Mainly in the Civil War and The War With Spain ("Civil War and Later Survivors' Certificates"): Nos. SC 9,487-999,999, 1861-1934. Textual Records, ARC Identifier no. 300019: Records of the Department of Veterans Affairs, 1773-2007, Record Group 15. National Archives and Records Administration, National Archives Building, Washington, DC.
August 13, 2020

Archaic German Manuscripts, Jewish Civil War Soldiers, and a Professor of English in North Dakota

With his unique skill set and being a professor of English and German, Jim Simmons’ contributions to the Shapell Roster research have been essential in understanding Jewish Civil War soldiers’ history.

Jim Simmons grew up in Cumberland, Maryland, a city with a substantial German-speaking population. When Jim’s grandmother was growing up in Cumberland in the 1890s, all of her classes, except for English, were taught in German. When it was time for Jim to go to college, he attended Davis and Elkins College, across the state line in Elkins, West Virginia, where he majored in German. He continued his education in North Dakota, where he obtained a Masters in German and later a PhD in English. 

Dr. Simmons spent his career teaching English at the college level in North Dakota, South Dakota, Illinois, and Mississippi. He is currently retired and living in Fargo, North Dakota, where he teaches ethics, cheers on the local junior hockey team, does a great deal of reading (in English and German), and volunteers for the Shapell Roster translating German documents. 

Most of the documents that Jim has translated for the Roster are from the pension records of soldiers. He has translated letters written by German doctors attesting to the medical condition of Civil War veterans, and court documents supporting the claims of a widow who returned to Germany. Without his help translating, the Shapell Roster research team would not understand the meaning of the documents we have acquired written in the unique German script used before WWII. 

Thank you, Jim Simmons, for sharing your time, knowledge, and skill with the Shapell Roster.

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Regimental Colors of the 16th O.V.I. Courtesy of the Ohio History Connection, image # p267401coll32_10019.
August 13, 2020

Little Phil: The Heroism and Hard Luck of a Civil War Soldier

“Philip Friedberger…was a boy of remarkable grit, whilst six footers were falling by the wayside, ‘Little Phil’ (as we called him) never left the ranks, his grit never forsook him… He was the best soldier in Co. I. Do his widow justice & do it quick.” – Samuel L. Montgomery, Late Sergeant;Company I, 16th Ohio Infantry. 11 May 1898.

The anguished – though not entirely rare – story of Philip Friedberger, a Private in Company I of the 16th Ohio Infantry, was recently uncovered by the Shapell Roster researchers. For the first time in the public record, Private Friedberger will be counted as a Jewish soldier who served in the Civil War. 

A German immigrant, Friedberger made his way to Wooster, Ohio, and by November 1861 he committed to supporting the Union cause for what would end up a three-year-long enlistment. He was an exemplary soldier with a strong reputation. After the war, he settled in Uniontown, Alabama, where he married into a family of Jewish Confederate veterans, the Unger family. Friedberger’s post-war life appears to have been marred with declining health and financial misfortune, ending tragically in 1879. While in a hotel in Greensboro, Alabama, Friedberger overdosed on morphine. It was unclear whether this overdose was intentional or not. 

Read more of Philip’s story.

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July 26, 2020

Watch: The Hebrew Union Veterans Association & Shapell Roster Webinar

The National Museum of American Jewish Military History and the Shapell Manuscript Foundation invite you to join us as we explore the progenitor of the Jewish War Veterans of the U.S.A. – the Hebrew Union Veterans Association, in the context of the Shapell Roster of Jewish Service in the American Civil War. We will discuss the origins of the organization, talk in detail about the lives of some of their members, and explain how the Shapell Roster research team has discovered the service history for several of the soldiers. Have your questions and comments ready for the Q&A at the end! Chartered by an act of Congress in 1958, the National Museum of American Jewish Military History, under the auspices of the Jewish War Veterans of the U.S.A., documents and preserves the contributions of Jewish Americans to the peace and freedom of the United States, educates the public concerning the courage, heroism and sacrifices made by Jewish Americans who served in the armed forces, and works to combat anti-Semitism.

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Dr. Richard Kane
July 2, 2020

Shapell Roster Contributor, Richard Kane of Wisconsin

Having enjoyed Civil War history for years, when Richard Kane retired from medicine in 2014, he decided to pursue a unique activity: researching Jewish Civil War soldiers from his home state of Wisconsin. He quickly discovered that the few lists of Jewish soldiers in Wisconsin were not accurate. Thus started his work to uncover and verify soldiers’ service, a welcome contribution to local history.

Jonathan Sarna, Professor of American Jewish History, connected Richard with Adrienne Usher, Director of Research for the Shapell Roster. Kane specifically addresses his interaction with Adrienne: 

“I want to thank her and her team for providing me with some names that I didn’t have and for helping me to verify the Jewish identity of a few soldiers that I strongly suspected of having Jewish heritage. In return, I have shared a dozen or so names of Jewish soldiers that they did not have, from Wisconsin and elsewhere.”

Adrienne recommended that Kane go to Jewish cemeteries to look for soldiers’ graves, a great way to discover additional soldiers. Walking through a cemetery with his wife Diane on a beautiful Wisconsin day has proved to be a relaxing activity for the couple, and has been rewarding for his research project. “My wife likes to tease me,” he says, “saying that, ‘I am spending my retirement looking for dead people.’” 

Kane’s research is particularly challenging, due to the small number of Jews who lived in Wisconsin before the Civil War. Of an approximated Jewish population of about 2,600 in 1860, he estimates that about 150 Jews from Wisconsin served in the Civil War. “They are so rare that finding someone can be quite exciting,” he says. As this topic has not been previously investigated, he enjoys uncovering hidden clues and being able to add to the body of Civil War research. 

Thank you, Dr. Richard Kane, for your research and contributions. 

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June 3, 2020

Webinar: Discover Hebrew Union Veterans Association & Shapell Roster

The National Museum of American Jewish Military History and the Shapell Manuscript Foundation invite you to explore the Hebrew Union Veterans Association. We will discuss the origins of the organization, talk in detail about the lives of some of their members, and explain how the Shapell Roster research team has discovered the service history for several of the soldiers. Have your questions and comments ready for the Q&A at the end!

To reserve your spot, register for the webinar at the link.

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US Cabinet Secretary George Cortelyou
May 10, 2020

US Cabinet Secretaries – George Cortelyou

In September of 1901, on the grounds of the Pan-American Exhibition in Buffalo, two shots rang out. President William McKinley, mortally wounded, fell into the arms of his private secretary, to whom he spoke the famous words, “My wife, Cortelyou, be careful how you tell her.” This was probably the most dramatic moment in US Cabinet Secretary George Cortelyou’s public service, if not his life. Though he is mostly associated with McKinley’s assassination, there is far more to Cortelyou’s legacy. Having served under three presidents directly, Cortelyou’s roles were precursors of what would become the duties of Chief of Staff and Press Secretary. But Cortelyou managed to be quite more than the sum of even these two monumental roles.

George Cortelyou was born in New York City in 1862. After attending George Washington University and Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., he worked as a school teacher and principal in preparatory schools. He became a stenographer and entered public service in 1889 as a private secretary to various public officials.[1] In 1895, the Assistant Postmaster General was so taken with his private secretary that, when President Grover Cleveland approached him in search of a chief clerk, he immediately recommended Cortelyou.[2]

Within two years, Cortelyou managed to prove himself invaluable to the President. Upon Cleveland’s departure from the White House in 1897,  Cleveland told the incoming McKinley that if he wanted “things to run smoothly around here, my advice is to keep Cortelyou.[3] McKinley took that advice, and Cortelyou soon went from assistant presidential secretary to McKinley’s main Cabinet Secretary. 

Cortelyou and McKinley established a relationship with the press that laid the foundation for future administrations. They met with the press personally and cultivated not only their goodwill but kept them updated by sharing presidential statements and establishing a press office inside the White House.[4]

Cortelyou’s practical approach extended beyond his relationship with the press. He had a well-founded concern for McKinley’s safety, considering that America had lost Presidents Garfield and Lincoln to assassination as recently as 1881 and 1865, respectively. Perhaps more on his mind was the recent assassination of Umeberto I of Italy in July of 1900. Cortelyou urged President McKinley not to attend the very public Pan-American Exposition, going so far as to cancel McKinley’s appearance at the Exposition twice, only to be ignored both times. Following McKinley’s assassination, Cortelyou asked for congressional funds to increase the security for his next boss, Theodore Roosevelt. Though there was an attempt made on Former President Roosevelt’s life as he campaigned for a third term in October of 1912, Cortelyou’s initiative had a lasting impact on the protocol for keeping the most powerful person on earth safe.

Cortelyou worked for Cleveland for two years, and four for McKinley. But it was with Theodore Roosevelt that he enjoyed the most intimate relationship and under whose auspices Cortelyou fulfilled his powerful and numerous potentials, enacting change that would have a lasting impact on the office of the presidency, as well as the nation.

When Roosevelt took over McKinley’s term upon the latter’s assassination, he not only retained Cortelyou, but charged him with reorganizing the Executive Mansion. It was at this time that Roosevelt gave it the official name of “The White House,” and even had the letterhead changed. Roosevelt, the scion of a powerful business family, wanted the White House to run with the same kind of efficiency. Cortelyou obliged and wrote protocols for how White House staff were to conduct themselves and fulfill their responsibilities. He even insisted that at the end of every workday, all desks would be cleared of paper. He also completely overhauled the chaotic travel protocol for the President. 

Cortelyou was far more to Roosevelt than a clerk or private secretary. He became one of Roosevelt’s most trusted advisors. In fact, Roosevelt created a cabinet position for Cortelyou, and appointed him the first United States Secretary of Commerce and Labor in 1903 in order to control the excesses of big businesses. The following year, Cortelyou left his cabinet position to run Roosevelt’s successful reelection campaign. Cortelyou went on to serve as Postmaster General in 1905 and Secretary of the Treasury, where he presided over the Great Panic of 1907.

Not many people manage to occupy as many powerful positions as Cortelyou did in his lifetime. But this is not what made Cortelyou remarkable. Most people are lauded if they impact one aspect of government. George Cortelyou managed to improve the way multiple aspects of the presidency and the United States are run. Cortelyou’s overhaul of White House staffing and presidential correspondence enabled the president to be more efficient. His allocation of congressional funds and the doubling of secret service agents made the office of the presidency safer. Cortelyou’s inclusion of a press office in the White House during the McKinley administration made the president more accessible and the office more transparent and accountable to its citizens. His invention of the press release during the Roosevelt administration allowed the president to get ahead of leaked reports and to influence his image in the media.[5] It was during Cortelyou’s tenure as Secretary of Treasury from 1907 to 1909, that Cortelyou established his most far-reaching legacy where the American people are concerned; Cortelyou began to advocate for a central banking system, which ultimately led to the establishment of the Federal Reserve in 1913.

After his service as Secretary of Treasury, Cortelyou worked for the Consolidated Gas Company until 1935. He passed away in 1940 at the age of 78 leaving behind a wife, two sons, and two daughters. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt attended the wake, as she was best friends with Lilly, Cortelyou’s wife.

Manuscripts from George Cortelyou:

President McKinley’s Secretary Cancels McKinley’s Engagements “Owing to Mrs. McKinley’s Serious Illness”

McKinley’s Last Tour: Cortelyou Thanks the Mayor of San Francisco for His Help

George Cortelyou also remains enshrined in another piece of history. This clip is the first video ever taken of a president. McKinley and Cortelyou are reenacting the moment where Cortelyou informs McKinley of the latter’s Republican nomination for President in September of 1896.

 

[1]  “George B. Cortelyou, Financier, 78, Dies.” The New York Times, October 24, 1940, p. 25

[2] https://www.whitehousehistory.org/a-place-of-peace

[3]  Ibid

[4] For more on the modernisation of the presidency with regard to the press, see Ponder, Stephen. “The President Makes News: William McKinley and the First Presidential Press Corps, 1897-1901.” Presidential Studies Quarterly, vol. 24, no. 4, 1994, pp. 823–836. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/27551327. Accessed 20 Feb. 2020.

[5] For more on Cortelyou’s general innovation and  impact on the press during the McKinley administration, see List of McKinley Firsts

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April 23, 2020

Watch: Jewish Confederate Soldiers – Georgia

Jewish Service in the American Civil War: The Solomons Family, originally from South Carolina moved to Savannah before the Civil War, and brothers Abraham Alexander, Lizar, Joseph M., and Moses Joseph all served in Georgia regiments; Louis Merz of West Point, GA, who died during the Battle of Antietam in 1862; Anselm Sterne, also from West Point, who survived the war and was an active member of the United Confederate Veterans; and Joseph Byron Canman – a Union ancestor in the family tree of one of the members of The Jewish Genealogical Society of Georgia (JGSG).

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Detail: Lieutenant Archibald Butt in 1909. Image: Library of Congress.
April 12, 2020

Titanic Victims – Archibald Willingham Butt

If the presidential election of 1912 was not the most dramatic in American history, it was certainly one of the most personal. President William Taft, the incumbent Republican, sought reelection against the Democratic Woodrow Wilson, as well as Theodore Roosevelt who freshly formed the Progressive/Bull Moose party. Roosevelt had mentored Taft and chose him as his presidential successor, only to become displeased when Taft began to assert himself. By the middle of Taft’s term in office, the relationship between Roosevelt and Taft was rapidly deteriorating, with both men publicly attacking the other’s character as well as policies. In 1912, Roosevelt put the nail in the coffin of the friendship, and ran against Taft.

Archibald Willingham Butt, known as Archie Butt, a man who served as an aid to both Presidents Roosevelt and Taft, and whom both considered a dear friend, bore the brunt of much of the row between the two men. Both Taft and Roosevelt confided in him about the souring of their friendship. By 1910, Butt was exasperated, and confided to his sister-in-law that the tension between Roosevelt and Taft caused him to throw up his hands. “They are now apart and how they will keep from wrecking the country between them I scarcely see. Possibly, it may land a good Democrat in the White House which may bring back sanity to the people….Damn politics anyhow.”[1] Ultimately, Roosevelt’s party split the Republican vote and handed the White House to Wilson – the first Democrat since Grover Cleveland had won his second non-consecutive term nineteen years earlier, in 1893. In other words, Archie’s prediction had been spot-on. 

Butt had worked his way up from a poor, unprivileged life in Augusta, Georgia, to become one of the most beloved figures in Washington, D.C.. Born in 1865, less than half a year after the Civil War ended, Butt had the military in his blood. His grandfather (also Archibald Butt) had served in the Revolutionary war, during which Archie’s great-grandfather also served as a lieutenant. His uncle was Confederate General William R. Boggs. When Archie was fourteen, his father passed away, and Archie had to work to support his family. Butt eventually became a journalist, and in 1895 was appointed as the first Secretary to the US Ambassador to Mexico, where he continued to write for several American newspapers. At the height of his journalistic career, the Spanish-American War broke out in 1898. Feeling duty-bound and proud of his military pedigree, Butt enlisted in the US Volunteers and was commissioned as a lieutenant. Butt was a quartermaster and established himself as a capable logistician, eventually joining the US army and serving in the Philippines, Washington, D.C., and Cuba.

President Theodore Roosevelt had also served in the Spanish-American  War, and his exploits as head of the Rough Riders had practically catapulted him into the presidency. Roosevelt had read several of Butt’s military reports concerning the husbandry of animals in the tropics, and had been so impressed that he asked Butt to become his military aide in 1908.[2]

Butt managed to keep up with Roosevelt’s rigorous physical activities, and became not only a valued adviser, but a cherished friend. The following year, Taft succeeded Roosevelt, and Archie  was asked to stay on as an aide to the President. In 1911, Butt was promoted to Major in the Quartermaster Corps.

Seven months before that fateful election, on March 3, 1912, Archie Butt, at the behest of President Taft, travelled to Europe for a few weeks. According to some, Taft was concerned for Butt’s health. According to others, Archie had needed a break to decide between which of his two friends he would support for president in a few short months. Butt’s sense of duty compelled him to cancel the plans, and only at Taft’s insistence that he go, did he depart. Archie, cognizant of the impending elections wrote that he was “hesitating about the wisdom of going,” and that he couldn’t “bear to leave him just now. I can see he hates to see me go and I feel like a quitter in going.” Less than a week after he expressed his hesitations, Archie set off with his companion, the artist Frances Millet, with whom he shared a mansion in DC’s Foggy Bottom neighborhood.

After six weeks in Europe, Butt boarded the Titanic in Southampton and Millet met him aboard in Cherbourg later that day. The pair planned to return to their Washington home, where Butt had political business waiting for him, and Millet, as the Vice Chairman of the American Commission of Fine Arts, was due to help finalize the Lincoln Memorial design phase.  Both Butt and Millet perished on the ship, the only known US officials among the Titanic victims to do so. Butt was probably the single most widely mourned victim on the Titanic, as he was one of the most beloved political figures in the US at the time. The 1997 film Titanic, which received critical acclaim for its painstaking historical accuracy, depicted numerous famous people, such as John Jacob Astor, but Archie Butt is nowhere to be seen. Indeed, some accounts have Astor and Butt last seen together before the ship went down. 

Roosevelt mourned Archie’s death, saying “Major Butt was the highest type of officer and gentleman. He met his end as an officer and gentleman should, giving up his own life that others might be saved. I and my family all loved him sincerely.”[5] President Taft was devastated. He felt Butt’s loss as if he had lost a younger brother. The following month, at Butt’s memorial service in Augusta, Taft nearly broke down twice, cutting his remarks short. 

In October of 1913, a fountain was dedicated to both Butt and Millet – an unusual and progressive monument in the “don’t ask don’t tell” Gilded Age. As neither of Archie’s friends were elected president the year before, the fountain was dedicated without ceremony. 

Two years to the day of the Titanic disaster, in April of 1914, Taft dedicated the Archie Butt Memorial Bridge in Butt’s hometown of Augusta. The bridge was the first memorial for the Titanic disaster, and it remains the only one in the state of Georgia. Taft, who used to golf with Butt regularly, stayed at a golf resort in Augusta ahead of the ceremony. He eulogized Butt as a hero (see image and transcription below.)

Taft’s remarks certainly encapsulated Butt’s gallant side, and the way nineteenth century historical figures tend to be remembered. And indeed, there can be very little remembering of Roosevelt or Taft without remembering their Presidential aide Butt: every definitive biography of either president relies heavily on Archie Butt’s letters.[6] Departing from Taft’s rather formulaic description of Butt, Ross Snellings, founder of the The Butt Memorial Bridge Legal Defense Fund, reminds us how Archie’s friends would have remembered him:  “When they turned on the lights [on the Butt Memorial Bridge] for the first time, they remarked ‘Well, it’s going to be just like old Archie: lit every night.’”

Transcript:

Taft’s Tribute to Butt.

Welcomed Hero’s Death on Titanic, Ex-President Says at Memorial.

Augusta. Ga. April 15. – Simple but impressive exercises attended the dedication here to-day of the Butt Memorial Bridge, erected as a tribute to the memory of the late Archibald Willingham Butt, aid to Presidents Taft and Roosevelt, who perished in the Titanic disaster on April 14, 1912. Ex-President Taft, a delegation of Masons, and member of the Butt Memorial association participated in the services. Mr. Taft, the first speaker said:

“I like to think of him as the best type of the new South. Archie went to his death in a great disaster. We do not know the details, but we know that women and children were rescued and he went down with the ship. When I heard that many were lost I know that Archie would never return. He would have selected no other death has he been given a choice.”

 

 

[1] Skipper, John C. Roosevelt’s Revolt: The 1912 Republican Convention and the Launch of the Bull Moose Party. McFarland, 2018, p. 6

[2] https://timesmachine.nytimes.com/timesmachine/1912/04/16/100530255.pdf

[3] Taft and Roosevelt: The Intimate Letters of Archie Butt, Military Aide, Vol. 1, Doubleday Doran and Co., 1930, p. 851

[4] https://blogs.weta.org/boundarystones/2018/02/14/sympathy-mind-which-most-unusual-two-men-titanic

[5] Buffalo Evening News Buffalo, New York 20 Apr 1912, Sat  • Page 8

[6] Wilkes, Jr., Donald E. “On the Titanic: Archie Butt.” The Athens Observer. April 28-May 4, 1994, p. 6. Accessed on 9 March, 2020

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Detail: President John F. Kennedy delivers his inaugural address after taking the oath of office on Jan. 20, 1961. AP.
April 17, 2020

“Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.”

Most Americans know three of them by heart; short phrases that have come to define an age and a speaker. “Nothing to fear but fear itself” spoke Franklin D. Roosevelt, and “with malice toward none,” Lincoln said in his second inaugural address. John F. Kennedy, born just one year before the Great Influenza plague of 1918, uttered the third such phrase at his only inauguration, and it is, in popular memory: “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.”

Today, Americans are hearing an echo of Kennedy’s words. They are being asked, once again, to do something for their country. Facing a deadly infectious disease sweeping the globe – one without, yet, a cure – medical personnel are being asked to leave their homes and travel to hotspots to help. Everyone else is being asked to not travel, and to help by simply staying put. It hardly sounds like a clarion cry, but edicts not to leave home, or engage with others – except masked, and at a distance – are in fact calls for patriotic sacrifice, poignant for a culture that so prizes personal freedom. If one does not live a normal life today, then others may live a normal life later. Mundanity and tedium are now the difference between life and death, for oneself and others; for a neighbor, and fellow citizens across the entire country. This terrible moment is felt by many, to be just a little akin to the days when JFK announced those most famous words. Read more here.

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Detail: Mark Twain reading and lounging, circa 1905. Wikimedia Commons.
March 23, 2020

Historical Reads for Self-Isolation | COVID-19

With the outbreak of the Coronavirus, or COVID-19, the world currently finds itself in a pandemic of proportions rarely seen before. Our daily lives have altered to the point where some day, this will be taught as a history lesson. Most of us find ourselves social distancing, if not in self-isolation or quarantine. Amidst the isolation, many are turning to books as a form of comfort, engagement, and growth not offered to us by TV. As these are historic times, perhaps some historic figures from our Collection can offer some guidance on what to read.

Mark Twain struggled to narrow down his favorite authors at the request of a correspondent. For those embarking on the daunting task of homeschooling, Twain recommended the same books for boys and girls (with the exception of substituting Tennyson for Crusoe for girls.) Third on Twain’s list is a book written by a friend of his which Twain himself published a few years earlier, and to this day has never gone out of print: Grant’s memoirs

Upon leaving the White House in 1909, Theodore Roosevelt embarked on an African safari. He could not leave without packing some reading material, and brought no less than 59 books, weighing in at nearly 60 pounds. Roosevelt had the volumes bound in pigskin to protect them from the inevitable “blood, sweat, gun oil, dust, and ashes” to be expected on a hunting expedition in the African wilderness – and which did, indeed, stain Roosevelt’s now-famous portable library. Though Twain didn’t think much of Roosevelt (he called him a bully and a ruffian, to be precise), the feeling was not mutual, and in addition to the predictable classics, the former president made sure to pack some Twain for his journey.

Twain was also Harry Truman’s “patron saint” in literature.” In 1911, when he was twenty-seven years old and running his family farm, Truman used his own money to purchase a twenty-five volume set of Mark Twain’s works for the princely sum of $25 – roughly $680 in 2020. Though Truman was the only 20th century president without a college education, he read (by his estimation) all of the books in his local library, and the Old and New Testaments three times before he was fifteen years old. He even read Cato’s agricultural treatises and implemented the Roman senator’s methods on his 20th century Missouri farm, with much success and even acclaim from neighboring farmers. Truman was particularly drawn to biographies of famous generals (Robert E. Lee and Hannibal were favorites) and world leaders (especially Andrew Jackson.) His preference was prescient, and when he unexpectedly found himself at the helm of the most powerful military in history amidst the biggest war known to man, his reading, he said, prepared him for his “terrible trial.” 

If you would like to read some of the books mentioned here by Twain, Roosevelt, and Truman, the following is a partial list (the entire list of books for Roosevelt’s pigskin library is available here). Luckily, most of these titles are available online:

 

Historic Reading List

The Bible (Roosevelt, Truman)

John Milton, Paradise Lost (Roosevelt)

Shakespeare (Twain, Roosevelt, Truman)

Samuel McChord Crothers, Gentle Reader (Roosevelt)

Grant’s Memoirs (Twain) 

Mark Twain, Huckleberry Finn, Tom Sawyer (Roosevelt, Truman)

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Ralph Waldo Emerson (detail.) Ralph Waldo Emerson / L. Grozelier 1859 ; lith. by L. Grozelier Boston. Library of Congress.
March 1, 2020

National Grammar Day: Mark Twain on Ralph Waldo Emerson: His Grammar is Like Gravel in Bread

What could be more appropriate to read on National Grammar Day (March 4th) than Mark Twain criticizing Ralph Waldo Emerson’s grammar? Though Twain was a little harsh writing about Emerson (who had been dead for four years,) Twain did respect Emerson, and had occasion to visit him a few times. Emerson, for his part, found Twain entertaining, and especially enjoyed The Innocents Abroad.

Excerpted from Twain’s original manuscript:

Dear Mrs. Benjamin :

You are right — it is from Emerson, grammar & all : a selection of my wife’s, who has been an Emersonian devotee all her life.  I do not mean that the grammar is not correct, I merely mean that in one place it all at once arrests the flow of your serenity for a moment, like gravel in the bread.

To read the complete original manuscript: Mark Twain on Ralph Waldo Emerson: His Grammar is Like Gravel in Bread

More on Twain and Emerson’s history: Mark Twain bombs in history’s first roast

 

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Details, from left: Willie Lincoln, Calvin Coolidge Jr., Benny Pierce.
February 24, 2020

Tragedy in the White House: U.S. Presidents Who Lost Children

On February 24th, President Abraham Lincoln sent word to his wife Mary’s friend, Senator Charles Sumner, requesting his presence. Mary was inconsolable; only four days earlier, on February 20th, 1862, the Lincolns’ son, Willie Lincoln, age 11, passed away in the White House. The 24th was the day of Willie’s funeral.

While a surprising number of presidential families have suffered the loss of a child, those who went through this tragedy while serving in office is much smaller. This collection explores how presidents and their families endured this pain while serving the country, and after.

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Camille Pissarro. Self-portrait. 1898. Sammlung Vogel Collection, New York. The Yorck Project, Wikimedia Commons.
January 21, 2020

Camille Pissarro and the Dreyfus Affair

The French Impressionists were a tight-knit group of artists centered in Paris in the latter part of the nineteenth century. Though there were other factors which contributed to their parting of ways, the Dreyfus Affair seemed to signal a point of no return for this once-intimate group of painters. Camille Pissarro (1830-1903) was the only Jewish artist in this small circle of Impressionists. Like many assimilated French Jews, Pissarro did not attribute much importance to his Jewish identity; his mother, though, was of a different opinion, and refused to speak to Pissarro’s non-Jewish wife.[1] The Pissarro family was traditional enough that a letter survives from Pissarro’s father asking him to join the family for the meal before the High Holiday of Yom Kippur, and when his father died, Pissarro expressed himself in traditional Jewish mourning liturgy.[2]

It wasn’t just Pissarro’s parents who tried to remind him of his Jewish identity. In an 1882 letter, Pissarro observed that despite the lack of any Biblical themes in his work, critics insisted on comparing him with the deeply Catholic Jean-François Millet, whose work was influenced by the Old Testament: “For the Hebrew that I am, there is very little of that in me; isn’t that funny?”[3]

Long before the Dreyfus Affair – in which a Jewish army captain was framed for treason – fractured French society to the point where even artists and writers were divided amongst themselves, Pissarro’s colleagues and friends exhibited  tinges of anti-Semitism. In 1882, Pierre-Auguste Renoir refused to be part of an exhibition because he didn’t care for the socialist politics of his fellow-exhibitors. He wrote to the organizer saying that he did not want to be a “revolutionary. To stick by the Israelite Pissarro, that’s Revolution.”[4] 

A decade later, and about three years before the Dreyfus Affair rocked France, there was an Impressionist exhibition in 1892, at which Pissarro was on the receiving end of some anti-Semitic bile from none other than Renoir’s younger brother. Pissarro wrote to Monet of the abuse, mentioning the allegations that he was “a prime schemer without talent, a mercenary Jew, playing underhanded tricks.” Though Pissarro assured Monet that he would ignore the absurd comments, and that his main concern was the discord being sown amongst the Impressionists, he clearly cared enough to mention it. He even went so far as to ask Monet, “Is it because I am an intruder in the group?”[5]

A few years after Pissarro’s letter to Monet, in September of 1896, Pissarro wrote a letter of thanks and encouragement to a young literary critic and anarchist named Bernard Lazare, also an assimilated Jew, who had just written a pamphlet on anti-Semitism.[6] Lazare was one of the first to recognize not only the widespread anti-Semitism in French culture, but also that Dreyfus was innocent. By November of 1897, two months before Émile Zola published  J’Accuse, Pissarro was already convinced of Dreyfus’s innocence.[7] 

In January of 1898, Major Ferdinand Walsin Esterhazy, who had sold military secrets to the Germans and framed Dreyfus for treason, was found innocent in a closed military court. It was in response to this miscarriage of justice, that Émile Zola dropped the bombshell known simply as “J’Accuse,” published in Georges Clemenceau’s L’Aurore on the 13th of that month. In his full page open letter to the French government, Zola accused the army of framing Dreyfus and of a massive coverup. Zola called for the case to be reopened. Though he was found guilty of criminal libel and forced to flee France to avoid jail time, Zola’s article galvanized the pro-Dreyfus camp (known as the Dreyfusards), mobilizing them as a political force to be reckoned with. Monet, who had been acquainted with Zola for nearly thirty years, immediately signed the “Manifesto of the Intellectuals” petition in support of Dreyfus. Days after Zola’s letter appeared in L’Aurore, Pissarro asked that his name be added to the petition, as well. Two months later, Pissarro agreed to be part of a committee to award Zola with a medal. When Renoir was asked to sign a pro-Dreyfus petition, he promptly refused, and disparaged Zola.

In January of 1898, the same month in which Pissarro requested to join the petition, he had his last encounter with Degas, who had remained cordial, if not distant from Pissarro for much of that decade. By the time Degas stopped speaking to Pissarro, Degas had become wildly anti-Semitic, and that January, famously threw a model out of his studio for expressing doubts as to Dreyfus’s guilt. That year, Degas and Renoir began to refuse to greet Pissarro on the street.[8]

The relationship between the artists never improved. When Pissarro died in 1903 at the age of 73, Degas did not attend the funeral, telling Pissarro’s son that it was due to illness. Privately, he wrote something entirely different to his fellow anti-Dreyfusard friend, the painter Henri Rouart:

So he has died, the poor old wandering Jew. He will walk no more, and if one had been warned, one would certainly have walked a little behind him. What has he been thinking, since the nasty affair, what did he think of the embarrassment one felt, in spite of oneself, in his company? Did he ever say a word to you? What went on inside that old Israelite head of his? Did he think only of going back to the old times when we were pretty nearly unaware of his terrible race?[9]

Here, Degas pinpoints the Dreyfus Affair as the turning point for Pissarro’s colleagues becoming more conscious of Pissarro’s Jewish identity, and in turn the rupture the Affair caused amongst the group. Overall, this was emblematic of most of French society, which was split between Dreyfusards and Anti-Dreyfusards. Sadly, Pissarro died three years before Dreyfus was reinstated to the army in 1906, under George Picquart, the Minister of War. Picquart was notably the anti-Semitic colonel who, nevertheless, bravely uncovered the scandal against Dreyfus and went to prison for following the evidence. Picquart had been appointed by the new prime minister, the publisher of Zola’s “J’Accuse”: Georges Clemenceau. In a sense, Pissarro had just missed his Dreyfusard colleagues’ victory in the battle for justice.

[1] Stephanie Rachum, Camille Pissarro’s Jewish Identity, p.11

[2] Ibid, p. 10

[3] Ibid, p. 12

[4] Nord, Philip. “The New Painting and the Dreyfus Affair.” Historical Reflections / Réflexions Historiques, vol. 24, no. 1, 1998, pp. 115–136. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/41299109. Accessed 21 Jan. 2020, p.126

[5] Rachum, p. 12

[6] Ibid, p. 18

[7] Rachum, p.21

[8 ] Rachum, p.24

[9] Ibid, p.24

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Quaker City passengers, August 1867. (Photo by William E. James, courtesy of Randolph James.)
January 16, 2020

“Not So Innocent Abroad” – Jewish Review of Books

Diane Cole describes her experience visiting “the remarkable exhibit ‘ark Twain and the Holy Land, on display at the New-York Historical Society until February 2, 2020. It celebrates the 150th anniversary of the 1869 publication of Twain’s second book, The Innocents Abroad, or The New Pilgrim’s Progress, the author’s wry-eyed travelogue of the five-and-a-half-month luxury steamship cruise that would carry him and his fellow shipmates across the Atlantic Ocean, through the Mediterranean Sea, and on to its ultimate destination, the Holy Land.”

“Although relatively few readers today would rank this volume [Innocents Abroad] as their favorite among Twain’s works—that honor would more likely go to The Adventures of Huckleberry FinnLife on the Mississippi, or The Adventures of Tom Sawyer—it was, in fact, his bestselling book over the course of his lifetime and remains one of the bestselling travel books of all time. In achieving literary fame so early in his career—his only previous book was The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County, and Other Sketches—Twain jumped onto his own trajectory of authorial celebrity, his name (or pen name, his birth name being Samuel Langhorne Clemens) recognized throughout the world.” – Diane Cole, Jewish Review of Books

Click here to read the full article.

View the digital exhibition here.

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View of Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives in 1841. Courtesy of Dahesh Museum of Art.
December 25, 2019

“The Twain Shall Meet” – The New York Jewish Week

“The artistic pursuits of Mark Twain, the great American writer and humorist, and Emma Lazarus, the first important Jewish American poet, are celebrated, respectively, at the New-York Historical Society (NYHS) and the American Jewish Historical Society (AJHS). Both exhibitions creatively bring archival materials to the public.

While I haven’t been able to verify whether Lazarus and Twain actually met in person, it’s clear they moved in similar 19th-century New York social circles, and they shared an interest in Palestine.” – Sandee Brawarsky, The New York Jewish Times

Click here to read the full article.

View the Twain exhibition here.

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Joe Rubinfine and John Sellers.
December 11, 2019

SMF Mourns the Passing of John Sellers and Joe Rubinfine

This fall we sadly lost two people who were influential to the Shapell Manuscript Foundation.

JOHN R. SELLERS

A great Lincoln scholar is gone. Our colleague John R. Sellers, long the Historical Specialist on the American Civil War and the Lincoln Curator at the Library of Congress and, for over a decade, the Director of the Shapell Roster Project of Jewish Soldiers in the Civil War, died this Fall, at age 85.

The enormity of his loss is only magnified by the modesty of his nature. In his own eyes, he was simply “the reference person for Lincoln.” In the eyes of everyone else, he was a leading expert on all facets of the most popular and compelling president in US history.

As the Library of Congress’s Lincoln Curator, John was responsible for its 2009 landmark exhibition “With Malice Toward None: The Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Exhibition”, featuring the greatest assemblage of objects from the  LOC’s Lincoln collections in history. The Shapell Manuscript Foundation was honored to have been invited by John to add to the exhibit some 18 of its own Lincoln treasures.

John was also a renowned authority on the Civil War, the U.S. Constitution, the U.S. Congress, 18th and 19th century military history, and 14 U.S. presidents from 1848 to 1900. With all that he knew, he was generous and welcoming. Generations of historians, biographers, collectors and curators, are yet grateful for his remarkable collegiality.

And, too, on a very personal note: we know that gentlemen exist, because John Sellers existed.

The Shapell Manuscript Foundation

John Sellers. Photo by Alex Wong.

 

JOE RUBINFINE

The Shapell Manuscript Foundation mourns the passing of Joe Rubinfine, a quiet and dignified individual who was known throughout the autograph world as one of its leading dealers. Joe handled some truly exceptional material over the years, both privately and through his always wonderful and highly anticipated catalogs. His integrity, too, was unmatched. It was my good fortune to have benefited from his great taste in manuscripts and his gifted knowledge of history.

Benjamin Shapell.

Joe Rubinfine

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General Lew Wallace. Photo taken by Matthew Brady between 1861 and 1865. Library of Congress.
December 5, 2019

The Author of Ben-Hur, the Book that Healed a Nation

General Lew Wallace had a long and storied career, though few people outside the circle of Civil War scholars might have heard his name in our era. He is perhaps best known as the author of Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ; a novel, though seldom read in our time, was the most popular book of the nineteenth century, second only to the Bible. Today, at best, it evokes a vague sense of a 1950s film adaptation and a remake in 2016. 

Born in 1827 to the future Governor of Indiana (his mother would die when he was seven), Wallace led a life that saw him cross paths with Abraham Lincoln, William McKinley, James Garfield, William T. Sherman, Ulysses S. Grant, Benjamin Harrison, Rutherford B. Hayes, Theodore Roosevelt, Billy the Kid, and numerous other luminaries of the nineteenth century. He was at various times a copyist, a lawyer, a senator, a soldier, an artist, a musician, a luthier, an ambassador, and, most famously, a general, and an author. 

Ben-Hur, Wallace’s second book, was the most widely read novel of the nineteenth-century, dethroning Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin. It has been argued that it acted as a national salve after the Civil War. Whereas Uncle Tom’s Cabin divided the nation, Ben-Hur united it.[1] Ben-Hur helped form a cultural bond in the Reconstruction era between the North and the South, between the modernization of America and its traditional values, and between the ever-widening gap between the sacred and secular in America. Wallace himself, in his journey from disgraced Civil War general to popular novelist, embodied his book’s message of redemption, as well as the American dream of rags to riches.

Grant, who was Wallace’s commanding officer during the Civil War and was responsible for scapegoating Wallace for the heavy casualties at the Battle of Shiloh, devoured the novel in a thirty-hour sitting. Jefferson Davis, the former Confederate president, had his daughter Varina read the Tale of the Christ to him from 10pm until daybreak, both of them so enraptured by the story as to be oblivious to the passage of time.[2]

Like Grant and Davis, President Garfield could not get enough of Wallace’s writing, and woke up at 5:30 one morning to finish it in bed. That same afternoon, Garfield, a former professor of literature and fellow Civil War veteran, wrote a letter to Wallace expressing his appreciation for Ben-Hur, and soon after asked Wallace to be ambassador to the Ottoman Empire. Garfield’s  motivation was literary, rather than political: he wanted Wallace to be able to research a sequel in the Levant when his duties as ambassador weren’t pressing. Wallace served in this capacity from 1881-1885. Garfield’s sequel came in the form of Wallace’s The Prince of India, published in 1893, but sadly, twelve years after Garfield’s assassination.[3]

During his time as Minister to the Ottoman Empire, Wallace did take the opportunity to travel extensively in the Levant and the Holy Land. He was quite pleased with his initial geographic and topographic research on the Holy Land, which he had undertaken in various American libraries; so much so, that he wrote that he didn’t feel he had to change any details in Ben-Hur.[4] During his appointment, Wallace also worked to help Jewish refugees who were fleeing pogroms in Russia and Romania resettle in Syria, which he achieved due to his friendship with Sultan Abdul Hamid II. Grant, who had traveled to Constantinople in 1878, was also struck by the number of refugees, many of them Jews fleeing Bulgaria. Wallace was in turn, a celebrated figure in nineteenth-century Jerusalem, whose Jewish inhabitants compared him to David, and called him “the Nobleman and Prince,” in this “Song of Praise” written to welcome Wallace to the city.

Though Wallace enjoyed much success as a writer, he was still haunted by his unfair legacy at Shiloh until he died in 1905. Wallace’s Ben-Hur continues to have a lasting impact on American culture, in the form of inspiring biblical epics that are perennially produced in Hollywood. The phenomenon of Biblical Blockbusters, ranging from The Prince of Egypt to Noah, to The Passion of the Christ is a quintessentially American phenomenon, and has its roots in Wallace’s Ben-Hur.[5]

[1] MILLER, HOWARD. “The Charioteer and the Christ: Ben-Hur in America from the Gilded Age to the Culture Wars.” Indiana Magazine of History, vol. 104, no. 2, 2008, pp. 153–175. JSTOR, p. 155, www.jstor.org/stable/27792886. Miller also discusses how Ben-Hur

[2] Slate.com: The Passion of Lew Wallace

[3]  The book has nothing to do with India, but it is based on the old anti-Semitic  trope of the Wandering Jew. An odd choice for a man who helped Jewish immigrants.

[4] https://www.ben-hur.com/susan-and-lew-in-israel/

[5]  Miller, p. 175

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George J. Adams, member of the Latter Day Saint movement's Council of Fifty and founder of the Church of the Messiah. c. 1841. Library of Congress.
November 12, 2019

Mark Twain and the Adams Colony

American colonists followed preacher George J. Adams from New England to Ottoman-ruled Palestine on a messianic mission to prepare the Holy Land for the return of the Jews. “We are going to become practical benefactors of the land and the people,” Adams stated, “to take the lead in developing its great resources.” A year after arriving, some of these impoverished colonists wanted a ticket home. It was at that moment that author Mark Twain came to town while on a five-month pleasure trip through Europe and the Middle East. Read more

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October 25, 2019

Exhibition Opening: “Mark Twain and the Holy”

On display until February 2, 2020

The Shapell Manuscript Foundation and the New-York Historical Society celebrates the 150th anniversary of one of the best-selling travelogues of all time with a new exhibition in New York, Mark Twain and the Holy Land, on view October 25, 2019 – February 2, 2020. This exhibition traces the legendary American humorist’s 1867 voyage to the Mediterranean and his subsequent 1869 book—The Innocents Abroad, or The New Pilgrims’ Progress—through original documents, photographs, artwork, and costumes, as well as an interactive media experience.

In 1867, Samuel Langhorne Clemens (1835-1910)—known professionally as Mark Twain—departed New York harbor on the steamship Quaker City for a five-and-a-half-month excursion, with stops in Europe, the Mediterranean, and the Holy Land. Known at that point for his biting satire and humorous short pieces on California and the West, Clemens had serendipitously discovered a “pleasure cruise” to Europe and the Near East, and successfully inveigled his way onto the journey with an assignment from the San Francisco newspaper Alta California. Twain was to supply the paper with weekly columns about the trip and his fellow passengers. When he returned to New York and then to Washington, D.C., he began reshaping those columns and other notes made during the trip into a book, The Innocents Abroad (1869). It was this work that catapulted Twain to national fame, selling more copies during his lifetime than any other book he ever wrote.

Benjamin Shapell, President of the Shapell Manuscript Foundation, remarked that “musing about the voyage in a passage later published in Innocents Abroad, Twain so aptly noted: ‘Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindednes.’ That his travelogue espoused such a liberal sentiment while at the very same time also exposing the deep closed-mindedness of his fellow shipmates is the very reason why Twain’s biting perspective comes across as so fresh to us even today. We are pleased that the New-York Historical Society has brought together these rare manuscripts and artifacts, bringing Twain’s lively, influential, and singular experience to life.”

It took Mark Twain and his publisher a good two years to bring Innocents to fruition in 1869, but once in print, its success was immediate. Twain’s scabrous humor found an eager and receptive audience, well documented in contemporary reviews on display in the show. Innocents undoubtedly contributed to the vogue for traveling to the Holy Land, and the exhibit features letters by such notables as President Ulysses Grant, Gen. William T. Sherman, and Theodore Roosevelt, each of whom journeyed to Palestine. 

Mark Twain and the Holy Land introduces visitors both to a young Mark Twain on the eve of celebrity and to Palestine in the 19th century, captured by artists, writers, and photographers.

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Mark Twain, circa 1872, from American Portraits. Wikimedia Commons.
September 29, 2019

Mark Twain’s Journeys in the Holy Land – Days 13,14,15; September 29th-October 1

(skip to Journal entry)

Mark Twain’s travel journal entries for his last few days in the Holy Land are rather brief, and so we’ve transcribed the full text below.  The time was spent in Jerusalem, Ramle, and Jaffa. It’s two days before he departs that he notices a discrepancy in his dating of the entries. From the Holy Land, Twain would continue onto Egypt, and ultimately return to New York by way of Bermuda.

We hope you’ve enjoyed this journey with us through Twain’s travel notes. Check back soon, as we’ll be sharing more great Twain articles in anticipation of the opening of the exhibition, Mark Twain and the Holy Land, at the end of October.

Regarding the date listed in the journal, see here.

Excerpted from Mark Twain’s Notebook 9:

Sept 28 – Went all through the Holy Sepulchre again.

Saw the rock faces in a wall on Via Dolorosa that cried Hosanna! when Jesus passed.

Visited the Fountain of Hezekiah, where David saw the mother of Solomon bathing.

Went to the Pool of Bethesda again for water.

Got a branch from the Cedar of Lebanon planted by Godfrey de Bouillon, first King of Jerusalem about 1085 to 1099.

28 or 29

Went out by the Damascus Gate 3 PM & left for Ramleh – reached there at 8 PM. or 9. Tall, handsome Crusader’s tower. This is the valley of Ajalon, where the moon stood still.

Next morning – Sep. 30 – rode 3 hours in a gallop to Joppa – where timber for Solomon’s temple was landed

Jonah sailed from here on his mission.

Visited house of Simon the Tanner where Peter had the vision of unclean beasts.

Napoleon took this place once.

Oct. 1. – Sailed for Egypt.

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Aerial photograph of the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem. Andrew Shiva, Wikimedia Commons.
September 28, 2019

Mark Twain’s Journeys in the Holy Land – Day 12, September 28th

(skip to Journal entry)

Mark Twain and his Quaker City companions spent another full day touring Jerusalem, recalling many biblical events and stories from the old and new testaments, and from Muslim tradition as well. There is also mention in his journal of the crusades, in referring to Godfrey of Bouillon. The group enjoyed vast views across the land when they reached the top of the Mount of Olives and were able to take in the Jordan valley, the Dead Sea, the Mountains of Moab, and many more landmarks. Read excerpts below.

Regarding the date listed in the journal, see here.

Excerpted from Mark Twain’s Notebook 9:

Jerusalem.

Sept. 27 – …passed Jaffa gate… crossed Hinnom Valley…. climbed the Hill of Evil Council.

….Saw where the altar of Moloch stood…. drank at Job’s well (near Sultana’s).

….The King’s Gardens all along – & the King’s well. Passed by he curious old Village of Siloam….

Virgin Mary’s Fountain.

Proceeded to the Garden of Gethsemane….

Turned up to left, past St Agnes & Virgin Mary’s Tombs & ascended to top of Mount of Olives

….saw plainly the Jordan, its valley, the Dead Sea & the Mountains of Moab.

….abreast of the Damascus gate (north), came to the noblest stateliest tree in Palestine – Godfrey de Bulloigne’s tree where he camped….

Went through the Via Dolorosa.

This video shows aerial views from the Old City of Jerusalem. Check out youtube for some great 4K and drone videos across the city and the country:

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Church of Nativity, Bethlehem. Mohammada Atta, Wikimedia Commons.
September 27, 2019

Mark Twain’s Journeys in the Holy Land – Day 11, September 27th

(skip to Journal entry)

On this day, the Quaker City group returned to Jerusalem, via Bethlehem, stopping at the Milk Grotto, Convent of the Nativity, and Rachel’s Tomb. The rest of the day was spent back in Jerusalem, a two hour journey north from Bethlehem. Once there, Twain stopped in at the Mediterranean Hotel and then visited the Western Wall. A day filled with major historic and biblical sites.

Regarding the date listed in the journal, see here.

Excerpted from Mark Twain’s Notebook 9:

Bethlehem.

Sept. 26 – Got up at 3 AM & traveled 2 1/2 hours… got to the enclosure of olive trees where the angels announced the birth of the Saviour to the Shepherds…..

Milk Grotto.

Then to the convent of the Nativity…. Lunched there & left. – 2 hours to Jerusalem. On the way, visited Rachel’s Tomb (authentic.)

In Jerusalem breakfasted at noon at the Mediterranean Hotel…

….Went to the Jew’s wailing place alongside the old wall of Solomon’s Temple… Many Pharisees, with a curl forward of ear.

Another part of the Temple wall, where Dr. Robinson discovered the spring of the arch which Solomon built to connect Zion Hill with the Temple…. stones are 20 feet long & 5 or 6 thick. How did they haul them with camels & jacks.

Retired to our tents outside the Damascus Gate.

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Dead Sea, Israel, 2017. Ido Avramasko, Wikimedia Commons.
September 26, 2019

Mark Twain’s Journeys in the Holy Land – Day 10, September 26th

(skip to Journal entry)

Twain’s Quaker City group traveled south along the Jordan River, arriving at the Dead Sea. His horse apparently knew better than him; Twain upset the animal when he tried to bring it into the Dead Sea water, while he himself ended up with a blistered face and salt covered hair.

The water of the Dead Sea is not drinkable, being more than 9 times as salty as the ocean. With a high mineral content, the water can be beneficial for the skin, and the sea has been the site of health resorts reaching as far back as the time of Herod the Great. The area is also sunny year round with dry air. Having formed as part of a rift, the surface of the sea and its shores are over 1,400ft below sea level, the lowest land elevation on Earth. It’s a must-see natural wonder if you’re ever in the area.

Regarding the date listed in the journal, see here.

Excerpted from Mark Twain’s Notebook 9:

Dead Sea.

Sept. 25 – Visited ancient Jericho & the Foundation of Elisha.

…. As usual, got up 2 hours too soon (at 2 AM) & at 4 had traversed the plain of Jericho & arrived at the

River Jordan,

….Then rode 2 hours to the Dead Sea, & took a long bath. Face blistered and hair filled with crystalized salt. – Took a horse in & he upset.

….Rode 5 1/2 hours through frightful heat, over the roughest mountain scenery, and arrived at last, brimming with gratitude, at the prodigious Covenant of Mar Saber.

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Quarantal Monastery of Jericho, 2012. Tamar Hayardeni, Wikimedia Commons.
September 25, 2019

Mark Twain’s Journeys in the Holy Land – Day 9, September 25th

(skip to Journal entry)

Leaving Jerusalem and heading toward the Jordan Valley, the landscape became more bleak and the temperature rose. From his journal, it seems Twain was continuing to become more disenchanted with the region as he wrote, “No Second Advent – Christ been here once – will never come again… I have only one pleasant reminiscence of the Palestine excursion -time I had the cholera in Damascus.”

Regarding the date listed in the journal, see here.

Excerpted from Mark Twain’s Notebook 9:

Sept. 24 – Left Jerusalem at 8 AM….

Village of Bethany.

….Over mountain saw Jordan Valley, Mountains of Moab & Dead Sea

Modern 2d Jericho.

8 Arched aqueduct…

Ancient Jericho.

Many ruins still there (arches, of course), & mosaics in the brook.

….Priest only entered Holy of Holies once a year & then sent a scape goat through Golden Gate to wilderness…

….God protect the relics of Jerusalem when our tribe get there.

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Via Dolorosa, American Colony Jerusalem, 1919. Hand-colored photographs were created by the photographers of the American Colony Photo Department, located in Jerusalem. Founded in the late 1890s by Elijah Meyers, the photo agency was headed during its heyday (ca. 1903-1933) by Lewis Larsson, whose staff photographers included Erik Lind, Lars Lind, Furman Baldwin, and G. Eric Matson.
Taken from the American Colony Jerusalem Collection at the U.S. Library of Congress.
September 24, 2019

Mark Twain’s Journeys in the Holy Land – Day 8, September 24th

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A day full of visiting the most enviable and coveted sites to see in Jerusalem. The list of the places Mark Twain and the Quaker City travelers encountered surely speaks for itself.

Regarding the date listed in the journal, see here.

Excerpted from Mark Twain’s Notebook 9:

Sept. 23. – Visited the Mosque of Omar….

Great Rock of Abraham’s Sacrifice (authentic) Cords of pillars & sculptures from Solomon’s Temple (authentic)….

Got some pieces of the old Temple.

….Place where they tie rags to let Mahomet know they have been there.

Mosque El Aksa.

….Walls full of relics of Solomon’s Temple plastered in for preservation – Christians would steal & take home. Thank the Mohammedans.

Beautiful old inverted pillars.

Underneath are the old monstrous arched pillars & foundations of Solomon’s Temple, preserved excellently by the ruins that lay upon them so long…. and the subterranean way of the Pool of Siloam discovered by Dr. Robinson.

Palace of Caiaphas

Pool of Bethesda.

The Gate Beautiful

and

Seat of Judgement

…. Doorway to Pilate’s House.

Place where Christ sat when people said His blood be upon us & upon our children….

Via Dolorosa….

Dives House

Lazarus House

House of Dog Moreover

Tombs of the Kings

Quarries under the City.

CALVARY.

Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

…. Place where Helena found the Cross

….Navel of the world in the Greek Chapel, where Adam’s dust came from.

….Crown of thorns.

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Jerusalem Old City Walls. Eitain Ferman, Wikimedia Commons.
September 23, 2019

Mark Twain’s Journeys in the Holy Land – Day 7, September 23th

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Having woken the previous day at 1:00am to spend it traveling across northern Samaria, and only reaching camp at 7:00pm, it’s understandable that there is some confusion of dates, per what Twain has recorded, in his travel journal. It appears, that waking at 2:30am, Twain mistakenly recorded the day again as “Sept 22.” Toward the end of his stay in the Holy Land, he noticed the discrepancy and adjusted the date accordingly before setting sail to Egypt on October 1st.

Excerpted from Mark Twain’s Notebook 9:

Sept. 22….

Shiloh,

where the ark of the Covenant rested 300 years…

Beth-el

(House of God) Scene of Jacob’s Ladder Dream – nothing left now but a shapeless mass of ruins.

Villages of

Ramah,

Beroth & Mount Nebo-Samuel

where Prophet Samuel is buried….

Fountain of Beirah.

– very ancient….

All the way to Jerusalem, rocks -rocks – rocks. Roads infernal. Thought we never would get there.

Arrived at last…

bits of ruin scattered everywhere, and the ground thick with Mosaics.

Could recognize the Tower of Hippicus

Tower of Antonio

Mosque of Omar

Damascus Gate

Mount Olivet

Valley of Jehoshaphat

Garden of Gethsemane

Mount Moriah

….Loafed all afternoon in the Mediterranean Hotel.

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A view from Wadi Kana, Samaria; Israel National Parks and Nature Reserve. Jamie Levavi, March 2018.
September 22, 2019

Mark Twain’s Journeys in the Holy Land – Day 6, September 22th

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From 1:00am to 7:00pm, Twain and his Quaker City companions found themselves traveling through northern Samaria. He notes its distinct terraced hills, which can be traced back to biblical times, and where then farmers and vintners continued to use and maintain these agricultural tracts through the millennia to today.

Like much of the Holy Land, Samaria is home to many notable biblical sites and filled with archaeological treasures. It is not uncommon that when ground is broken, builders come upon ancient olive and wine presses, or the remains of ancient villages and homes. Careful steps are then taken to preserve these discoveries either by the archaeological or nature authorities.

Excerpted from Mark Twain’s Notebook 9:

Sept. 22 –
Left Genin at 1AM. Some time before daylight, passed near another place where Joseph’s brethren pitted him.

Samaria.

About noon after passing over a succession of mountain tops (saw Mediterranean Sea 40 miles distant) & many Biblical cities (in which the inhabitants looked savage & would have liked to throw stones (women & babies with elaborate coin headdresses,) we came to the singularly terraced hills which shewed that we were out of Galilee & into

Samaria.

Climbed a hill… where the good Samaritan (the only one that ever lived there) dwelt…
….It is rough stone mud hovels & camel dung, as usual.

Tomb of St John
Nabulous.

Or Shechem. Lunched there at 2 P.M.
Ebal on the left (hill of cursing) & Gherison on the right (hill of blessing)…
Ebal is cultivated with grapes – scattering olives on the other- disproves the enthusiasts who say the accursed mountain is barren & the other blooming.

Joseph’s Tomb
and
Jacob’s Well

Both well authenticate…

Camped at 7PM at an Arab Village – Lubia (Libonia of the Bible). Tents behind. Slept on the ground in front of an Arab house.

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Ein Dor. Ein Dor Museum of Archaeology.
September 21, 2019

Mark Twain’s Journeys in the Holy Land – Day 5, September 21th

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Today’s entry from Twain might find Star Wars fans momentarily confused and smiling. At 7:30am, the Quaker City group broke camp and “galloped across the Plain of Esdraelon to Endor…. the fierce, ragged, dirty inhabitants swarmed.”

The Plains of Esdraelon are today more commonly called the Jezreel Valley, and the local pronunciation and modern spelling of Endor, is Ein Dor, now a kibbutz. Biblical references to the Jezreel Valley, where Ein Dor is located, include major battle scenes. In Christian eschatology, part of this valley is to be the site of a great end of days battle between good and evil – perhaps another similarity to not be lost on Star Wars fans, as Endor was the location of the great battle between the light and dark sides of the Force.

But returning to Twain’s own epic adventures, he cannot help but repeatedly note how “rusty” and “nasty” the local conditions are throughout his journal. Though familiar through the bible, The Holy Land seemed to appear like another world to Twain, with it’s drastically foreign culture, extreme topography, and unusual customs; including women with tattooed faces, which he also notes more than once in his notes.

Excerpted from Mark Twain’s Notebook 9:

Sept. 21 – …galloped across the Plain of Esdraelon to Endor

the rustiest of all, almost – a few nasty mud cabins, – many caves & holes in the hill from which the fierce, ragged, dirty inhabitants swarmed. Pop. 250.

The Witch’s Cave

…. Endor is a fit place for a witch…. Next, to Nain… still smaller town…. place shown where corpse was passing through city wall when Chirst resurrected it.

Shunem,… where woman built shanty on wall for Elisha & he raised her dead son.

Next to Ancient Ruined Castle

celebrated in the Crusades… where Napoleon won a splendid victory over the Syrians (Turks).

City of Jezreel,

on the hill, where Ahab King of Judah lived in splendor with his awful heifer Jezebel…

Fountain of Jezreel,

Where Gideon slipped up on the Midianites & Amalekites with his 300 who lapped like dogs….

This Esdraelon is called the battle-field of the nations. 11 separate and distinct nations have fought in it…. Assyrians & Persians, the Jews & Gentiles, Crusaders & Saracens, Egyptians, Turks, Arabs, and Franks….

Next to

El Genin, where we are camped.

Women tattooed on arms, hands, chins, lips, & sometimes cheeks.

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View of the Church of the Annunciation as seen from the Salesian Church, Nazareth. Wikimedia Commons.
September 20, 2019

Mark Twain’s Journeys in the Holy Land – Day 4, September 20th

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This day, Twain’s traveling group was accompanied by a man whom Twain described as “a pirate… if ever a pirate dwelt upon land.” This tall Arab man armed with a large silver scimitar was hired to guard the group from Bedouins who allegedly took pleasure in killing Christians.

Together the caravan rode to Mount Tabor, a green landmark that Twain enjoyed after trotting through what he considered monotonous desert landscape. The group climbed to the summit of the mountain with sweeping views of the region while they discussed Christ’s transfiguration that took place on the mount. After, they took a two-hour ride to Nazareth via narrow and rocky roads. “All distances in the East are measured by hours, not miles,” Twain observed.

Excerpted from Mark Twain’s Notebook 9:

Sept. 20 – Bathed in Galilee before breakfast. Passed through the strange old town (beautiful porphyry columns with flutings almost worn away. ) Had a wretched looking scalliwag imposed upon us for a guard by the shiek…

Mount Tabor.

Transfiguration.

….New convent & ruins of an old one built by the Crusaders. Saw XX* in it. Also ruins of Joshua’s time.

….

Then came to Nazareth, where Christ lived & carpentered till 30 of age (not allowed by Jewish law to teach sooner.

Glass windows, – some 2-story – many shops – many cone-shaped mud hovels; – camels & fantastic Arabs & dirty children – all around, the hills that were familiar to the eyes of Jesus -…. Saw the grotto of the Annunciation…. Grotto where lived Joseph Mary & infant Christ –

Workshop of Joseph & Jesus….

Synagogue where Jesus taught & from which Jews took him to throw him down the mountain, when he “passed from their presence”.

Fountain of the Virgin.

*This is Mark Twain’s usual symbol for crosses.

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Sea of Galilee, 2014. Zachi Evenor, Wikimedia Commons.
September 19, 2019

Mark Twain’s Journeys in the Holy Land – Day 3, September 19th

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September 19th was a busy and full day for Mark Twain in the Holy Land. Rising at 7:00am, he and his travel companions arrived to Joseph’s Pit by 10:00am. This site is fabled to be that where Joseph’s brother’s stripped him of his multicolored coat and sold him to merchants;

“And there it will remain until the next detachment of image-breakers and tomb-desecrators arrives from the Quaker City excursion, and they will infallibly dig it up and carry it away with them,” Twain lamented in Innocents Abroad. The same pit still serves as a tourist destination in Emek Dotan.

It’s notable that in his journal, Twain sums up the group’s experience of attempting to sail the Sea of Galilee as “Tried to get a boat and didn’t.” This incident is later developed in Innocents Abroad, describing the pious Quaker City excursionists attempting to haggle with a sailor, who, offended at being rebuffed for his asking price, sailed off and did not return;

“Well, there was nothing to do but just submit and forego the privilege of voyaging on Gennesaret,” Twain lamented, “after coming half around the globe to taste that pleasure.” With no other boats nearby, the pilgrims mounted their horses and road to Magdala (near the present-day town of Migdal). “Magdala is not a beautiful place,” Twain observed. “It is thoroughly ugly, and cramped, squalid, uncomfortable, and filthy.” There, they visited one notable dwelling: a ruin that was rumored to be the home of St. Mary Magdalene. After Twain’s companions collected parts of the front wall as souvenirs, they continued to Tiberias where they spent the night.

Excerpted from Mark Twain’s Notebook 9:

Sept. 19 – Left our cap by he Waters of Merom at 7AM. The Arabs threw stones into the camp last night and tried to stampede the horses.

…came in site of the

Sea of Galilee

Lake Genessareth,

Sea of Tiberias.

….examined the arched pit called

Joseph’s Well,

where his brethren threw him. Then over a horrible rocky, barren desert (like Nevada,) skulls with scattering goats & shepherds… & past

Safed,

…Bethsaida

from which Christ sent his disciples in a boat, after the miracle of 5 loaves & 2 fishes….

We descended to the sea at

Capernaum

Christ’s dwelling-place….

Tried to get a boat and didn’t.

Took a bath.

….crossed a long, rich, oleander plain… to the birth-place of Mary Magdalene – the rattiest, rustiest dirtiest little collection of mud hovels, tattooed women & sore-eyed children in Palestine.

Tiberias

…another nasty mud hovel village full of Arabs, Jews & Negroes.

…. for 300 years it was the metropolis of the Jews in Palestine. It has been the abiding place of many famous and learned Jewish rabbins.

The

Warm Baths

2 miles below are mentioned by Pliny.

….

Splendid stars – when blue wave rolls nightly on Galilee.

We have seen no country between here & Damascus capable of supporting any such populations as one gathers from the Bible. The people of this region in the Bible were just as they are now – ignorant, depraved, susperstitious, dirty, lousy, thieving vagabonds.

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Image: Tel-el-Kadi; site of Dan, source of the Jordan River, between 1890 and 1900. Library of Congress.
September 18, 2019

Mark Twain’s Journeys in the Holy Land – Day 2, September 18th

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While Twain’s descriptions of his Holy Land travels on September 18th start at “the largest fountain in Syria…. the banks of the stream are bordered thick with oleanders…” they quickly become more stark. The group continues on to rocky roads, encounters some local living conditions, a swamp, and finally “Lake Hula, or the Waters of Merom of bible fame.”

Excerpted from Mark Twain’s Notebook 9:

“Sept. 18. – Broke Camp at 7.15am… came to the Hill ruins & fountain of Tel’ el Kadi (Dan.)

“Dan. …a lot of Danites from Sodom, 600, came over, like a pack of adventureers… & lived there… till Abraham hazed them in after times.

We traveled a long stretch (4 miles) of miserable rocky road… over half-green half-rusty country full of fine sheep, bulls of Bashan, and Bedouin Shepherds. The Bed’s… scorn to live in houses. Saw their tents…. riding 2 hours along a vast green swamp that occupies the whole width of the Valley, we camped at last at a fountain & mill well down abreast of Lake Hula…

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View at the remnants of the Tempel of Pan with Pan's cave at the background. The building at the slope of the cliff is the grave of Nebi Khader. Image: Gugganij, Wikimedia Commons.
September 17, 2019

Mark Twain’s Journeys in Palestine – Day 1, September 17th

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On September 17th, Mark Twain rode into the Holy Land with a caravan of eight Quaker City passengers.

“The scenery of the Bible is about you – the customs of the patriarch are around you – the same people, in the same flowing robes, and in sandals, cross your path,” Twain described in The Innocents Abroad. “And behold, intruding upon a scene like this, comes this fantastic mob of green-spectacled Yanks, with their flapping elbows and bobbing umbrellas!”

Some of the “incorrigible pilgrims” that were his travel mates, he sadly reported, vandalized sites in order to bring home some Holy Land souvenirs. “They have been hacking and chipping these old arches here that Jesus looked upon in the flesh,” Twain verbally scolded. “Heaven protect the Sepulchre when this tribe invades Jerusalem!”

All snark aside, Twain was aware that he was entering the Holy Land and the experience moved even this highly sarcastic writer. “It seems curious enough to us to be standing on ground that was once actually pressed by the feet of the Saviour,” he concluded that day. “I cannot comprehend yet that I am sitting where a god has stood, and looking upon the brook and the mountain which that god looked upon, and am surrounded by dusky men and women whose ancestors saw him, and even talked with him, face to face, and carelessly, just as they would have done with any other stranger.”

Excerpted from Mark Twain’s Notebook 9:

“Holy Land.”

“Sept. 17. – Edged in to the Holy Land proper, to-day….”

“climbed… 1,000 feet high, which overlooks the ancient city of Cesarea Phillippi, Dan, & the great plain wherein are visible some little stream – sources of the Jordan. The mountain is in the Bashan & is covered with olives groves & the oaks…. It is crowned with the grandest old ruined castle… 1,000 feet long by 200 wide… walls and turrets have been from 30 to 60 feet high… dressed stone masonry with beveled edges… grand portcutllis… vaults, arches, dungeons… goatherd lives there now.”

“Banias.”

“This place – where we are encamped, is beautiful with olive groves, & the fountain which is the main source of the Jordan – we washed in it & drank of its waters. The fountain comes from a great grotto where the Greeks (& the Romans after them), worshiped the god Pan (hence the name, Panias)… At the same place, Herod the Great erected a marble temple to commemorate the visit of Caesar Augustus…”

“Cesarea Phillippi”

“This and Banias are one….Hoof-prints deep in old rocks. This is the first place we have ever seen, whose pavements were trodden by Jesus Christ. Here he asked… Peter who he took him to be… & Peter’s confident answer elicited that famous sentence upon which all the vast power & importance the Church of Rome arrogates to itself is founded: “Thou art Peter & upon the Rock… what thou shalt bind upon the earth shall be bound in heaven….” and near here… some caim that the Savior’s Ascension/Transfig took place.”

“Lake Hula – or the Waters of Meron.”

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“Kefr Hauwar” Howard Crosby Butler Archive, Department of Art and Archaeology, Princeton University. http://vrc.princeton.edu/archives/items/show/46801.
September 16, 2019

Mark Twain’s Journeys in Palestine – September 16th

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In 1867, Mark Twain was on assignment from a San Francisco newspaper. He would depart New York Harbor on the steamship Quaker City for a five-and-a-half-month excursion, with stops in Europe and around the Mediterranean. This would be the first organized tourism trip of its kind in American history. During this time, he would send back humorous, revealing, and opinionated weekly reports to be published in the newspaper’s columns, documenting his travels, famous sites he visited, and the local inhabitants. The columns and notes from his travel journals would soon after be published as The Innocents Abroad or The New Pilgrims’ Progress. The book was an instant success, catapulting Twain to national fame.

As part of our celebration of the 150th anniversary of the success of his 1869 publication, we’ll be sharing daily excerpts from his travel journal – “Notebook 9” – documenting Twain’s time spent in the Holy Land. Soon to follow, the exhibition Mark Twain and the Holy Land will open at New-York Historical Society; you’ll be able to view the Shapell Manuscript Foundation items from the exhibition here.

Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or right here to get a daily dose of Twain in the Holy Land.

Excerpted from Mark Twain’s Notebook 9:

SEP 16…

Nimrod’s Tomb. 4,000 years old. The first King.

Camped at an Arab village (Kafir Something),* where Nimrod he Mighty Hunter, the builder of Babylon & the Tower of Babel lies buried. He was a fine old Sport & a great linguist.

*Kefr Hauwar

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Mark Twain Signed Photo by Abdullah Frères in Constantinople, c. 1867. Shapell Manuscript Collection.
September 15, 2019

Forbes: Mark Twain’s ‘The Innocents Abroad’ Celebrated In New York

“A new exhibition that will celebrate the 150th anniversary of ‘one of the best-selling travelogues of all time’ is set to open at the New-York Historical Society in New York.

“Mark Twain and the Holy Land will highlight American humorist Mark Twain’s 1867 voyage to Europe, the Mediterranean, and the Holy Land, and his subsequent book—The Innocents Abroad, or The New Pilgrims’ Progress.  The show will introduce visitors to a young Twain on the eve of his celebrity and to Palestine in the 19th century, according to the New-York Historical Society, which organized it in partnership with the Shapell Manuscript Foundation.

“Original documents, including manuscripts, journal entries and letters by Twain, will be on view from October 25, 2019 through February 2, 2020.”

Read the full article by Tanya Mohn in Forbes here.

Shapell Manuscript Collection documents, items, and objects from the exhibition will be displayed online with the opening of the exhibition in New York, so check back soon. In the meantime, the Mark Twain Collection can be viewed here.

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Adrienne Usher, Director of Shapell Roster Research.
September 15, 2019

Director of Roster Research, Adrienne Usher, Presents: Mining Civil War Pension Records for Jewish Soldiers

Director of Shapell Roster Research, Adrienne Usher, will be presenting a selection of beautiful, unique and exciting genealogical treasures her team has discovered in the Civil War Union Pension Records from Jewish soldiers. These include dates and locations for births, marriages, and deaths; addresses, occupations, photographs, maps, drawings, letters, certificates and physical descriptions. Learn how to access these rich resources, find out more about the Shapell Manuscript Foundation’s endeavors, and discover how you can participate in the project.

The presentation will take place at Congregation Beth Emeth, Herndon, VA. Click here for more details.

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Image: Zvi Hirsh Heller (aged 15) of Petach Tikva studied at the Hebron Yeshiva. He was a victim of the 1929 Hebron Massacre and died of his wounds in hospital in Jerusalem. Rechavam Zeevy, Wikimedia.
August 29, 2019

A Presidential Response to the 1929 Hebron Massacres

In August 1929, following inflammatory sermons and inciting rumors, pogroms were instigated in which Arabs slaughtered Jews in British Mandate Palestine. The Hebron Riots of 1929 – part of the Palestine Riots of 1929 – sent shock-waves around the world, and ended centuries of continued Jewish presence in Hebron. Americans were particularly aghast as newspapers reported that a number of those massacred were students from New York and Chicago. Americans campaigned for the government to intervene on behalf of the Jewish Americans and their property in Palestine.

This letter from President Herbert Hoover is in answer to one such missive, where he manages to respond, yet says very little.

 

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Netanyahu holding a cabinet meeting commemorating Ben-Gurion's passing Image: Koby Gideon, Government Press Office.
July 15, 2019

Netanyahu to Make History as Longest-Serving Israeli Prime Minister

Benjamin Netanyahu made history in the past when he became the youngest Israeli prime minister, and the first to be born in the independent State of Israel. This week, on July 20, 2019, Benjamin Netanyahu will make history yet again by becoming Israel’s longest serving Prime Minister. Until the 19th of July, Israel’s first prime minister and founding father, David Ben-Gurion, will have held the record, serving a cumulative total of thirteen years and twenty-seven days. Like Ben-Gurion, Netanyahu was also elected to four terms, three of them consecutive.

In this summer of 1963 letter, written after resigning as prime minister for the second time, Ben-Gurion –  gifting himself an additional two years on top of his thirteen served – shares his insights about the appropriate length for a prime minister to remain in power. 

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Prisoner of war tents run right up to the deadline demarked by the low fencing. Image: Library of Congress.
July 8, 2019

The Word ‘Deadline’ has a Horrible Origin in Civil War Prisons. Via: We Are The Mighty

Excerpt:

“…the original deadlines existed in Civil War prisons…. officers would build rough wooden fences 10-20 feet high to contain the prisoners.

But, of course, a healthy man can typically climb a 10-foot fence. And, working as teams, troops could fairly easily clamber over 20-foot fences as well. So prison commanders built positions for sentries to watch the prisoner population, and the sentries typically had orders to kill any man attempting to escape.

Well, to ensure that the sentry would have time to shoot a man or raise the alarm before the prisoner got away, the camps put in something called a ‘deadline.’ This was a line, usually literally made on the ground with fencing or some type of marking, that prisoners would be killed for crossing.”

Read the full article here.

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Council of Four at the WWI Paris peace conference, May 27, 1919. British Prime Minister David Lloyd George, Italian Premier Vittorio Orlando, French Premier Georges Clemenceau, U.S. President Woodrow Wilson. Image: U.S. Signal Corps, Wikimedia Commons.
June 28, 2019

Treaty of Versailles Centennial: June 28, 2019

Exactly 100 years ago today, on June 28, 1919, the Treaty of Versailles, the primary treaty which officially ended World War I, was signed by Germany and the Allies. President Woodrow Wilson was instrumental in negotiating the treaty, as well as in conceiving of the League of Nations, the intergovernmental organization meant to maintain world peace. The United States Congress, which was growing increasingly isolationist, had no interest in ceding power to join the League of Nations, and ultimately refused to ratify the treaty. 

These two letters by Wilson, just a few years apart, are strikingly different in tone. In the first, Wilson is desperately mounting the campaign to garner Republican votes in favor of the treaty. In the second, an ailing former President Wilson, explains that he cannot read or speak too much of the war because he is “too much affected and upset by it.”

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April 18, 2019

1865-1956: The Emotional Aftermath on Witnesses of Lincoln’s Assassination

The assassination of Abraham Lincoln left deep scars on the American psyche and people, who had just been traumatised by four years of Civil War. The devastation also left Mary Todd Lincoln a widow, scarcely three years after the death of their second son, Willie. Mary, who had been holding hands with the president when he was shot, was never the same. But what about the other people present and witnesses to the assassination? What emotional wake did it leave in their lives?

There were only four people in the presidential box at Ford’s theatre on the night of the assassination; Abraham Lincoln, Mary Lincoln, Major Henry Reed Rathbone, and his fiance, Clara Harris. Well known is the fate of the President and the First Lady, but what of their companions?

Rathbone, who tried to apprehend Booth, was stabbed in his arm to the bone by the assassin. Despite sustaining a serious injury, Rathbone managed to pull Booth’s coat, as the latter escaped by jumping twelve feet from the box to the stage. Rathbone’s persistence may have caused Booth to break his leg when he landed awkwardly on the stage. By the time the numerous physicians who were tending to Lincoln got to Rathbone, he had lost a lot of blood due to a severed artery. Although Rathbone did physically recover, his mental health deteriorated over the years. He and Clara Harris married, and in 1882, President Chester Arthur appointed Rathbone the US Consul to Hannover, where his mental health deteriorated even further. The following year, Rathbone tried to attack his three children, and fatally shot his wife in the head as she protected them. The children were sent to live with Clara’s brother, William Harris, in the USA. Their father died in an insane asylum 28 years later, in Hildesheim, Germany.

Many of the physicians who cared for Lincoln left eyewitness reports and medical summaries of the events of the night, including his personal physician, Dr. Robert King Stone.  

The youngest eyewitness to the assassination was a five-year-old Samuel J. Seymour, who sat on his godmother’s lap in the balcony across from the presidential box. He recalls Lincoln slumping over, as well as Booth jumping to the stage. That night, “I was shot at 50 times, at least in my dreams–” and, Seymour goes on, “I sometimes still relive the horror of Lincoln’s assassination, dozing in my rocker, as an old codger like me is bound to do.”

You can see Seymour appearing on a a game show called I Have a Secret in February of 1956, less than two months before he passed away at the age of 96.

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The image of a black hole captured by the Event Horizon Telescope. Photograph: EHT Collaboration.
April 11, 2019

Historic Week for Space Exploration

This will be an epic week to remember for space and science enthusiasts. In the past 7 days, three monumental events have taken place:

On April 5th, the Japanese space probe Hayabusa2 dropped explosives on asteroid Ryugu. “Mission scientists plan to execute the final major step of the mission. They will lower the probe right into the crater and collect a sample. This will be the second sample collected from Ryugu: Hayabusa2 already touched down on 22 February, and collected some of its space dirt after kicking it up with a bullet.” (Scientific American)

On Wednesday, Aprill 10, the first images of a black hole were released. The magnificent international coordination and success centered on the “Event Horizon telescope (EHT), a network of eight radio telescopes spanning locations from Antarctica to Spain and Chile, in an effort involving more than 200 scientists.” (The Guardian)

Today, April 11, Israel is expected to join the United States, Russia, and China as one of the only countries to land a spacecraft on the moon. The Beresheet spacecraft is scheduled to land at 10:30pm Jerusalem time. “Once it lands safely on the Moon, the spacecraft will photograph the landing site and snap a selfie. Its key scientific mission, however, is to measure the Moon’s magnetic field as part of an experiment carried out in collaboration with Rehovot’s Weizmann Institute of Science.” (Jerusalem Post)

These inspiring efforts to extend humanity’s reach into space remind us of how far we’ve come. These manuscripts from those brave enough to be sent into space, and the leadership behind them, reveal part of the history and sacrifice that’s been made to come so far.

Left: MIT computer scientist Katie Bouman with stacks of hard drives of black hole image data. Right: MIT computer scientist Margaret Hamilton with the code she wrote that helped put a man on the moon.
(image credit: @floragraham, twitter.)

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Image: Theodor Herzl on the ship-deck as it arrives at the shores of Jaffa at dawn. October 26, 1898. The Herzl Museum, Wikimedia Commons.
April 8, 2019

National Library of Israel Features Theodor Herzl Postcards

In October 1898, Theodor Herzl arrived in Jerusalem, to work toward furthering his initiatives to create a Jewish state. While in Palestine, he met with the German Emperor, Wilhelm II, twice; once near Holon, and a second time in Jerusalem. During his journey, he regularly sent letters and postcards home. The National Library of Israel houses this collection, and highlighted here are the postcards Herzl sent to his daughter, Paulina.

You can view more of Herzl’s postcards and photographs here, and read his letters about creating a Jewish state in our Theodor Herzl Collection.

 

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Image: detail, by Sally Deng
February 5, 2019

The New York Times: Why You Should Dig Up Your Family’s History – and How to Do It

Jaya Saxena describes the experience of  tracing her family history as more than just digging up facts – but as uncovering “the myths that are a part of the story of yourself, whether you like them or not. Learning your history is forced reckoning, asking you to consider whose stories you carry with you and which ones you want to carry forward.” Teresa Koch-Bostic, the vice president of the National Genealogical Society explains, “I think it appeals to people who love an intellectual pursuit, because that’s really what it is…. It’s solving a puzzle at the highest level, and the benefit is that you get to find out about your family.”

Read more in the New York Times article “Why You Should Dig Up Your Family’s History – and How to Do It” by Jaya Saxena

 

 

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Harold Holzer, Historian and Lincoln Expert.
January 31, 2019

Historians Explain Why We Collect Manuscripts

People who are interested in history collect manuscripts because they want to know what somebody was really like. When you look at a letter, you’re looking at what was going on in a person’s life – what did this feel like to the person experiencing it at that time – and before you know it, you have a whole world coming alive.

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Northridge earthquake. United States Geological Survey.
January 17, 2019

25 Years Since the Northridge, California, Earthquake

Natural disasters do not discriminate. These letters about the impact of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake are recalled today on the 25th anniversary of the more recent Northridge earthquake, and following this exceptionally difficult year for Californians.

“We have the dreadful news that an earthquake has almost destroyed San Francisco.  The wires are down, and it is difficult to get accurate information…. It is impossible, however, to hear anything, and we are in the dark.” – William Howard Taft, Secretary of War. April 18, 1906.

Secretary of War William H. Taft Reports That San Francisco is Almost Destroyed in the Earthquake

Mark Twain on the San Francisco Earthquake and a Picture He Cannot Get Out of His Mind

Jack London, Hit Hard By the San Francisco Earthquake

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Image: Alfred Dreyfus. Circa 1894. Aaron Gerschel, Wikimedia Commons.
January 14, 2019

Inspirational Letter from the Wrongly Imprisoned Alfred Dreyfus

This shockingly inspirational letter from Alfred Dreyfus was written shortly after he was wrongly convicted of treason and degradated in a public military ceremony. Writing to his sister and brother-in-law, he tells them of his suffering; not of the conditions he is subjected to, but the suffering and pain in being so powerless to prove his innocence. Despite this weighing heavily on him, he tells them his “pure and clean conscience will give [him] superhuman strength,” and he will clean his name “from the stain that has been inflicted upon it unjustly.” He exhorts them to “not bow your head, but to keep it higher than ever” as he will also do.

Not losing faith, he is sure that “with all of our combined efforts, our wills focused into a single one, we will succeed” in revealing the truth and clearing his name. Read the full transcript of this stirring letter and view the original papers here.

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December 31, 2018

The President’s Bodyguard: Mick McElkenny

Mick McElkenny was a bodyguard to JFK during the president’s visit to Ireland in 1963, just months before his assassination in Dallas, Texas. Mr. McElkenny is the subject of the documentary, “The President’s Bodyguard.”

“Mr McElkenny recalled a story JFK told about how life could have taken a very different path if his Irish ancestors had not set sail for America. ‘He told one about if his grandfather hadn’t left New Ross in Co Wexford that he would have been working over in the factory in New Ross,’ he laughed.” – Read more: http://www.irishnews.com/news/northernirelandnews/2018/12/27/news/john-f-kennedy-and-lord-mountbatten-s-bodyguard-recalls-shock-at-assassinations-1516296/

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Director of Digital Projects, Jamie Levavi.
December 9, 2018

Welcome to the New Home of the Shapell Manuscript Foundation

We’re excited to welcome you to the new online home of the Shapell Manuscript Foundation. We’ve added multiple features and tools that will facilitate educators, researchers, and history enthusiasts in discovering and organizing their resources and interests.

In preserving, researching, and digitizing thousands of original manuscripts, we look forward to sharing this collection with you.

The Shapell Manuscript Collection is a private holding of primary source documents relating to various events and historic figures in American, Jewish, and Holy Land history from the 19th and 20th centuries. Included in the collection are signed documents, photographs, rare books, and other artifacts. It is particularly rich with items from the American Civil War era, Abraham Lincoln, John F. Kennedy, and Israeli leaders.

In addition to a focus on world-renowned individuals, the collection frequently relates to the history of Jewish American life. These manuscripts explore such topics as the lives of Jewish soldiers during the American Civil War, and reveal aspects of American Jewish influence and contribution to society.

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Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas.
September 2, 2018

The 2018 Mid-Term Elections: Where the Debates all Started

It is to be supposed that the 2018 mid-term elections will be fraught with controversy, and
some anguish. The recent past will be raked over; accusations lobbed; the word
“unprecedented” exhaled as commonly as breath. None of this, however, is new to American
elections. In 2016, so much candidate verbiage was expelled and expounded
in so many primary and general election debates, that any reasonable person might well have
assumed “Debate” was a weekly television series. Now, with the advent of the Labor Day
holiday, traditionally marking the “official” start of the campaign season, that live program,
after a two year hiatus, is back. But how it came to be made, and become as much a part of
the American election cycle as ballots themselves, is the story told here. It began, humbly, with
Abraham Lincoln.

The Lincoln-Douglas Debates – In a Prelude, Lincoln Shadows Douglas Around Illinois

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U.S. President Ronald Reagan waves just before the attempted assassination on Monday, March 30, 1981. In raincoat is secret service agent Jerry Parr, who pushed Reagan into the limousine. Wikimedia Commons.
August 22, 2018

Jerry Parr: The Man Who Saved Ronald Reagan

At 2:35 pm on March 30, 1981, seventy days into his presidency, Ronald Reagan exited the presidential limousine, buttoned his suit jacket, walked 45 feet towards the George Washington Hospital Emergency Room, and promptly collapsed. Five minutes earlier, six shots had rung out, and unbeknownst to himself nor his security detail, one bullet had ricocheted off the limousine, flattening into a disc, and then entered Reagan’s chest as he had lifted his arms instinctively upon hearing the shots. The bullet had lodged itself in Reagan’s lung, less than an inch away from his heart, in the moment that the Special Agent in Charge threw him into the limousine. In the tumult after the shooting outside the Washington Hilton Hotel, the seemingly unscathed Reagan was set to head back to the White House. Yet within 80 seconds of the shooting, one man overrode that decision; making Reagan the fifth president to be shot and the only to survive it. That man’s name was Jerry Parr, and the story of his journey to becoming the head of the Secret Service and saving Ronald Reagan’s life is as cinematic as it was serendipitous.

Jerry Parr’s interest in a career in the secret service was ignited, when, as a boy, he saw the 1939 film Code of the Secret Service several times. The nine-year-old Parr knew he wanted to be just like agent “Brass” Bancroft, played in the film by Ronald Reagan. Reagan called the film the “worst picture I ever made,” even remarking that “never had an egg of such dimensions been laid.”  Amazingly, forty-two years later, Parr, now Special Agent in Charge, would find himself saving the life of the man who had inspired that dream: the President of the United States.

Parr was born in 1930, and grew up during the Depression with an unemployed alcoholic father (who took him to the movies), and a life further interrupted by his mother’s subsequent two marriages to abusive men. Though born in Alabama, he spent most of his turbulent childhood in Florida, and after struggling through high school, Parr took a job with Florida Power and Light, becoming a lineman. This job was highly dangerous and required quick-thinking; Parr, who survived several near-death incidents on the job, served as pallbearer for eight of his colleagues.

Parr became the first member of his family to attend university when he moved to Nashville in 1959 and enrolled at Vanderbilt. It was the same year he married Carolyn Miller, who would later become a judge. By the time Parr graduated in 1962 with a degree in philosophy, he was a father. Later that year, a recruiter for the Secret Service came to town, and Parr, having experienced serious occupational hazards as a lineman, was undeterred by the risk involved in becoming an agent; at 32, he was the oldest rookie in his class.

Parr served in the Secret Service for twenty-three years, protecting presidents, vice presidents, and over fifty foreign heads of state. At the time of John Hinckley’s attempted assassination of Ronald Reagan, Parr, fifty at the time, was Special Agent in Charge and Head of the White House Detail, and supervised over 100 agents a day. For some inexplicable reason, on March 30, 1981, Parr decided to ride with the president.

During his tenure as Assistant Director of the Secret Service, Parr began a Master’s program in Pastoral Counseling, and eventually founded the Festival Church after his ordination in 1989. In his written statement of the assassination attack, Parr wrote “while I went in with a Democrat and out with a Republican, it didn’t make much difference to me—they were both Presidents of the United States.” In a twist of Reagan being Parr’s boyhood hero, written at the top of  Parr’s accounting of the Reagan assassination attempt, Reagan inscribed “Jerry Parr is my hero!” Parr died in October of 2015 of heart congestion in a hospice near his home.

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President Ulysses S. Grant. U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing, Wikimedia Commons.
August 14, 2018

The 150th Anniversary of Ulysses Grant’s 1868 Election Year

It’s hard to keep up these days with who is shouting what. Not gone entirely unnoticed, however, is the disquieting rise of an old contagion thought, in the United States at least, long extinct. Whether chanted in torch-lit marches, argued on college campuses, or broadcast by fringe candidates in local political races, antisemitism is back in the news.  That “It Could Happen Here”, and did, is the subject of this letter about the worst blemish in the life of the Union’s greatest commander. When, in an 1862 order, General Ulysses S. Grant ordered that all Jews living in Tennessee, Kentucky, Mississippi ,and parts of Southern Illinois, vacate, within 24-hours, their homes and businesses and leave, forever,  the area of his command, he promulgated the most sweeping, and shocking, anti-Jewish regulation in American history. Here, writing six years later – and eagerly pursuing the presidency – Grant sought to explain his notorious “Jew Order” to the man, in fact, who inspired it: his father.

Running for President, Ulysses S. Grant Tries to Lose the Antisemite Label Engendered to Him During the Civil War By His Infamous “Jew Order”

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Nirit Shalev Khalifa
August 21, 2017

U.S. Policy in the Middle East is (Much) Older Than You’d Expect

U.S. presence and diplomacy in the Middle East, specifically the Holy Land, goes back much farther than you’d expect. You can listen to curator Nirit Shalev Khalifa and Dr. Ron Bartour discuss this topic with Gilad Halpern. Discover more on this topic at our online exhibition, Dreams and Diplomacy in the Holy Land: American Consuls in Jerusalem in the 19th Century.

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April 30, 2017

Mary Benjamin – Famous Autograph Authority

Mary Benjamin is known as perhaps the most famous manuscript dealer of the twentieth century. That she’s the only woman on (and at the top of) the list of foremost autograph dealers is dwarfed by her widely respected authority. For decades, Benjamin practically singularly set the market value of autographs of presidents, poets, and prominent figures. Famously, she once snorted with disdain when a supposed autograph of George Washington was announced at an auction. With her photographic memory, she could tell instantly if a signature was real or forged. The auctioneer wasted no time and immediately withdrew the item from the sale. Mary Benjamin, who died in 1998, is certainly a personality worth reading more about for those interested in collecting. For her detailed obituary in the New York Times, click here.

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January 16, 2017

Lincoln and the Jews – Book and Exhibition Reviews

Lincoln and the Jews: A History illustrates how President Abraham Lincoln – perhaps best known for his efforts in abolishing slavery – intended to secure equality and freedom for all Americans, including another growing minority group in Civil War-era America: the Jews. Read the reviews and discover the story at our online exhibition or purchase a copy of the book.

Reviews

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March 26, 2015

Honest Abe and the Children of Abraham

“Abraham Lincoln and the Jews don’t exactly go together in the popular imagination like bagels and lox. While Lincoln has been championed as a Moses leading African Americans out of slavery, the 16th president’s ties to the Tribe have not been well examined or even clearly acknowledged.” – Emily Shire, The Daily Beast. (more…)

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July 28, 2014

Theodore Roosevelt and Grandsons

Theodore Roosevelt is pictured holding grandson Kermit Roosevelt, Jr., and again alongside grandson Richard Derby, Jr. These photographs date from 1916. (more…)

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July 17, 2014

50 Children

“The new book, ’50 Children’ tells the remarkable story of two Philadelphia-area Jews who, at the dawn of World War II, went to extraordinary lengths fighting red tape on both sides of the Atlantic to save the lives of children on the brink of the Holocaust in Europe.” – Jordan Hoffman, Times of Israel (more…)

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March 26, 2014

Anne Frank Family Album at the Anne Frank Fonds

This month marked the anniversary of the death of Anne Frank.  She would have been 84 years old had she lived to today.  Looking for a way to mark this tragic event, I came upon a site where photographs of the Frank family are displayed.  These images of intimate family life brought home for me the terrible tragedy Otto Frank faced, and very much how the mind cannot fathom the atrocities and tragedies that consumed Europe and European Jewry during WWII and the Holocaust. (more…)

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February 25, 2014

Beautiful Historic Photographs from 1862-1924

Be prepared to take some time to stroll through these nostalgia-inducing photos. Shorpy.com is a vintage photography blog that digitally enhances photographs acquired from a variety of sources, including the Library of Congress and National Archives.  The clarity of the images is particularly impressive. Most of the photographs on the website date to the early twentieth century.  I highly recommend visiting their site to enjoy the photographs in their full-size glory. (more…)

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Robert Huston Milroy. Photograph: Matthew Brady. Library of Congress.
November 19, 2013

Lincoln’s Eloquence

Lest anyone think that Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address – delivered 150 years ago, today – came out of thin air, one has only to look at the wonderful, if weary, elegance of his 25 words written to General Robert Huston Milroy on October 19, 1863, just one month prior. Whether a warm-up to narrowing down his thoughts in a short, concise, and understandable manner, or merely a discrete example of the same,  Lincoln was capable, we see here – be it in a national address,  a debate, or on a simple card –  of a literary brilliance unsurpassed by any other American president and barely, by any other American, period. This, then, is perhaps the best presidential short composition ever.

Lincoln Would be Glad to See General Milroy, “Were it not that I Know he Wishes to Ask for What I Have Not to Give”

 

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Carte de Visite of John Wilkes Booth. Black & Case of Boston. Wikimedia Commons.
September 17, 2013

An Assassin Prepares

Famous people, as a general rule, do not become assassins. The man who shot Abraham Lincoln point-blank in the back of the head, however, was the most popular actor of his time. Yet John Wilkes Booth, for most of the Civil War, did not see himself in the role of assassin, but spy.  At twenty-six, he was rich, handsome, adored – and a secret Confederate agent. Here, writing 150 years ago today, Booth works behind the scenes to appear in Washington, at Ford’s Theatre – an appearance which would prove but a rehearsal for the role in which he is still reviled:  assassin.

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May 29, 2013

JFK’s 1944 Flight Logbook

The man who, for an entire generation, embodied youth and vigor, would have been 96 this year. At 43, he had been the youngest man elected President; at 46, the youngest to die in office, assassinated. But Jack Kennedy never expected, one way or the other, to live long. In chronic pain, suffering a myriad of illnesses, he had received the last rites of his Church three times before he was 40 – and that wasn’t counting the near-fatal sinking of the legendary PT-109 in World War II. Perhaps that was why he lived so fearlessly, intensely, joyously – and fast. He wanted to do everything, and he did – all of it, well. He could even fly. This war-time flight logbook, virtually unseen, is thought to be the only proof of this hitherto-unknown fact. Lieutenant Kennedy, USNR, it is noted, soloed once – on his 27th birthday. He is not known to having piloted an aircraft ever again.

John F. Kennedy’s 1944 Flight Logbook

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July 10, 2012

Jewish Participation in the American Civil War

John R. Sellers discusses Simon Wolf’s original research and roster of Jewish soldiers and the Shapell Manuscript Foundation’s efforts to review and expand upon Wolf’s original work regarding Jewish soldiers who fought in the American Civil War.

Jewish Participation in the Civil War – by John R. Sellers

Learn more about the Shapell Roster here.

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