Sunday, May 29, 2011

Gearhart, Oregon. Memorial Day 2011

The first thing you need to know about Gearhart is that you don’t go there to persevere or be resilient.  That’s for up the road, in Astoria, where the coming and going of salmon, trees, tourists, ethnic groups, the economy, all require a lot of attention to detail and anxiety.
Gearhart was built so that perseverance and resilience would not have any particular role in daily life. Gearhart is a friends and family place with lots of cooking and wine and plenty of sleep.  The dog is always wet in Gearhart. 
That doesn’t mean Gearhart lacks a larger context.  The great sailors, Vancouver, Gray, Juan de Fuca, sailed by and the courageous explorers walked along its beaches, they just didn’t stop.  Lewis and Clark chose Seaside to get their salt, even though it was a couple of miles further down the beach.  A single Gearhart citizen died in a war, the one in Vietnam, and a small plane fell out of the sky on a foggy August morning in 2008 and killed three children as they slept and as others in their group were getting newspapers and lattes.  That’s partly why I am writing this on Memorial Day.

Today’s Gearhart owes its life to good times in Portland where the economy was throwing off a lot of cash at the close of the 19th century.  State sponsored tourism followed this new wealth.  St. Louis first, then Portland, celebrated the centennials of Lewis and Clark at each end of journey and hoped the payout would be in recognition and tourism.   

All this cash made a broader cohort of people willing to invest in the interesting idea of leisure time and there were plenty of places along the Oregon coast where leisure was for sale. 

Just about all resorts at the turn of the century were destination resorts, so a hotel was an important necessity.  The first hotel in Gearhart was built in 1890 and stood just off the town's main streets.

A second hotel, far grander, rose about a mile away and closer to the ocean in 1910.  By 1915, both had burned to the ground.  Gearhart held its breath for eight years, but in 1923, a new hotel finally came out of the ground.  It was demolished in 1973 to make way for a concrete hulk for tourists Gearhart people soon began calling Attica. 

Early Gearhart was a place where many families spent the full summer.  Women and children stayed for weeks at a time and the men came back from Portland over the weekends.

This was a novel way of living, the world moving fast enough to make available this remarkable mobility to more people.  For five bucks and over five hours, the train would bring you to the Gearhart Park Station, in the center of a recent clear cut.   People called it the Daddy Train. 

A boardwalk near the station led to the hotels, the beach, the boarding houses, camp grounds or to the homes along Ocean Avenue, known as Gin Ridge.  One of those boarding houses was run by James Beard’s mom, who cooked the food while James waited tables or helped in the kitchen.  Beard’s ashes were spread over the Gearhart beach in 1985.  Their personal house still stands on E Street.  In fact, you can rent it out.  When the Beards were in town back in the 1920s, there were about 120 permanent residents, swelling to 1000 or so during the summer.  

The golf course opened in 1892 and was among the first in the western United States.
Comparing some of the old photographs with the new, you can see some of the old holes.  Today's 18th , for example, has been the last hole of one of the nines for at least 100 years and compares happily with the look and feel of today, from 120 yards out.  The new hotel, built in 2001 after another fire destroyed the Sand Trap Bar, the last remaining building from the grand hotel era, is about 145 yards out.
These lifeguards staffed the pool in 1936.  Look at those kids! This is a portrait of the greatest generation before the people in it knew what they would be asked to do.  That’s a second reason for writing this on Memorial Day. 

Unlike most in the country, this generation in Gearhart enjoyed mostly unfettered access to their coast.  The beaches in Oregon are public and it was the first state to make them so.
Governor Oswald West was a Democrat, a populist, a prohibitionist.  He also had a beach cabin down the road at Cannon Beach.  He took office in 1911 and knew in his heart that big business and big money would do their damndest to lock out the public from their beach birthright. 
So here, in his own words, is what he did.  “So, I came up with a bright idea.  I drafted a simple, short bill declaring the seashore from the Washington line to the California line a public highway.  I pointed out that the state would come into miles and miles of highway without cost to the taxpayer.   The legislature took the bait hook, line and sinker.  That’s how we made the beaches public.”
However, another generation had to do a bit more to make the beaches truly public.  West had protected the wet sand, but the dry sand portion was left vague in law.  That kind of adverse possession worked well, in part, because everyone knew there would be hell to pay for the first developer to claim the dry sand.  Finally, down in Cannon Beach, the owner of the Surfsand Motel put out his fence on the beach and said it was for the benefit his guests alone, and the fight was on.

Ancil Payne, who was then Station Manager at Portland's KGW-TV, lit a fire with a television editorial.  As he reached its conclusion, Haystack Rock, the Cannon Beach icon, came on screen.  Then a fence appeared across the beach in front of Haystack Rock and Ancil growled: 

"If you don't want this to happen to our beaches, then write the Highway Committee."

A whole bunch of people did.  Ancil is a third reason for writing this on Memorial Day.

Tom McCall was governor in 1967 and, along with his sidekick, State Treasurer Bob Straub, led the great fight for the beach.  A bill was drafted to give the state control over the dry sand, but there was was no consensus on how to actually set the line.  A further problem was that the Oregon State Highway Committee, which had the bill that would fix the Surfsand monstrosity, was heavily weighted with coastal legislators, a status quo lot, who were determined to bottle up the legislation.    

This portrait of Governor Tom McCall is a remarkable thing and guaranteed to bring tears to an Oregonian of a certain age.  It is in a Renaissance style but documents a very humble thing, an act of political salesmanship.  McCall went on a beach tour during the debate, telling beach residents that they had nothing to fear, that they could actually see where the line of public ownership would be drawn. 
Now hung, life size, in the state capitol building in Salem, the painting captures the symbols that framed the beach debate.
Look at the location of Tom’s right shoe, the water lapping at it, exactly at the high tide line, Oswald West’s previous line of public ownership.  Off his right shoulder is a steel rod, exactly 16 feet high, the developing consensus in Salem of how many feet above the high tide line public ownership should exist.  McCall would have a staffer stretch a string tied to the top of the pole eastward until it hit land.  That line was the where the public interest would prevail over the private.  Behind his left shoulder is a helicopter that he used on a dramatic beach tour, hop scotching along the entire coast to show what public ownership would be like – exactly where the line would fall, erasing fear and uncertainty in Cannon Beach, Newport, Brookings, Gearhart.
The artist, Portland's Henk Pander, has McCall's right hand reaching out toward you, as if he is saying,  “Welcome to Oregon.”

Monday, May 23, 2011

R. H. Thomson, meet Mayor McGinn

Seattle started boring another tunnel last week, one of two tubes that will go through Capitol Hill and link up at the excavation next to Husky Stadium, where trains and buses will soon head off in all directions.  The city, finally, is on a roll with its transportation projects. 

The Capitol Hill rail tunnel follows a burst of tunneling activity in Seattle and, indeed, around the world.  Tunnel technology has changed.  As it becomes harder to put structures on top of the earth, it has become easier to build them below.   

The next tunnel in line is the second tube of the University of Washington bound tunnel.  The third tunnel is the one that will dominate our summer discussions, the bored tunnel beneath downtown that seeks to erase the scar of the viaduct from Seattle’s waterfront and take the clutter, noise and traffic away from the city's front porch.

University of Washington
Reginald Heber Thomson, the city surveyor in the 1880s and city engineer from 1892 to 1912, the man responsible for the location and function of most everything that counts in Seattle, would not have described it exactly that way. R.H. Thomson was not a metaphor kind of guy.  He was a builder, borer and sluicer of the first magnitude and did not get overly fussy about making a mess.  His busy hand sculpted the city as we see it today – The Denny Regrade and Harbor Island, West Point Sewage Treatment Plant, the Hiram Chittendon Locks, the canal connecting Lake Washington and Lake Union – as well as the institutions that provide functionality to the city like the Cedar River Watershed and its regional delivery system, the first City Light powerhouses on the Cedar, the Port of Seattle. 

He is our Robert Moses.  Nobody can or will touch the enormous physical contributions he made to his city, yet he has nothing of any consequence named after him.  He is just the caboose of a hyphenated north end middle school, Broadview-Thomson, and is mostly remembered as the namesake of the R.H. Thomson Freeway, a giant concrete enemy-of-the-people project that would have gone from Renton to Lake City.  Think you like big transportation projects?  Try liking this one, as described by Historylink:  

“…from Renton through southeast and central Seattle, and north through the Washington Park Arboretum, linking to SR520 and I-5.  The highway would then dip under the Montlake Cut and re-emerge near University Village with a link to an east-west expressway on NE 50th before proceeding north to Lake City.  Voters approved the project in 1960 and turned it down in 1972.

But, I digress. 

City of Seattle
The central waterfront was a different proposition in the early 1900s.  Ships and goods landed there, were handled by people, animals, rail cars and wagons.  It was noisy and scary, the sounds of heavy equipment amplified by the wooden planks over which they banged and rumbled.  If you were to be crushed by heavy equipment, Railroad Avenue, as Alaska Way was then called, was the most likely spot. 

Minnesota Historical Society
In the midst of the Railroad Avenue mayhem, was where James J.  Hill, the owner of the Great Northern Railroad, wanted to locate his terminal.  Hill had the idea of a long pier that would bring his Great Northern trains directly to the ships.  However, Engineer Thomson was having none of it and worked on a plan that would put the tracks Hill needed on recently reclaimed, city-owned land around Dearborn Street, south of the downtown.    Hill wanted his terminal to be as close to the city as the shack he had at today’s Second and Columbia streets, but ultimately, with Thomson's advice, settled on property just off South Jackson Street. 

Thomson knew the railroad business, having laid out the route of the Seattle, Lake Shore and Eastern Railroad over Snoqualmie Pass and constructed bridges and terminals in Spokane.  Hill respected his expertise.  Now that Hill knew where his railroad would touch down, he turned to building the tunnel skirting the central waterfront that Thomson had convinced him he also needed.  It is one of the most enduring pieces of the city’s infrastructure.

City of Seattle
Shovels and young men were the core technologies of tunnel building in April of 1903.  There were 350 of the latter who deployed first at the north end and shortly thereafter along the south end, at 4th and Washington, of the mile long tunnel.  A fast digging pace was 18 feet a day, moderated by hard clays and the discovery of an ancient forest that reduced the daily pace to 12 feet. 

They dug about 125 feet below the ground amid great competition between the night crews and the day crews.  In October, 1904, they broke through.  While modest today, this tunnel was ambitious for its time and was, at 28 feet high and 30 feet wide, the tallest and the widest.  They used a lot of concrete.  The walls were between four and a half and five and a half feet thick.  It has proven remarkably resilient, standing up to 15 or so notable earthquakes that have occurred in the Puget Sound over its lifetime. 

The waterfront grew into a gentler space after the Great Northern Tunnel.  Much of the cargo supporting America's greater role in the world moved to the north at Piers 90/91.   Thomson's effort to spur commercial growth in the city's downtown by removing Denny Hill and placing the spoils in the tide flats south of the downtown, created Harbor Island.  It was an ideal platform for the transformative transportation technology developed for the Department of Defense during World War II, standard-sized, intermodal steel containers.  Equally at home at sea, on rail cars or on trucks, these containers were best served by lots of open space, which Harbor Island offered. 

The tunnel ultimately had a major role in turning the hostile, noisy central waterfront into a place of rest and retail, marred in the fifties by the construction of the viaduct.

If only shovels and men could fix the tunnel issues facing our community today.   King County Superior Court Judge Laura Middaugh ruled last week that voters can have another pass at the bored tunnel issue, but, according to the judge, the execution of this franchise will bring little clarity:

"Is there going to be a tunnel or not? This doesn't resolve that. What happens if the state wants a tunnel and the city doesn't? I have no idea who controls that. By allowing that to go to the voters, that doesn't resolve any of the issues." Middaugh said in the Seattle Times.

Meaningless votes have highly meaningful consequences.  We are headed, under the inept and myopic administration of a mayor who as a candidate told a fundamental untruth to get elected, into a miasma of public confusion and civic disappointment.  There will be a vote in August of 2011, followed by the continued construction of the project.  The governor’s race, as it plays out in Seattle in 2012, will be about the tunnel, as will the Mayor’s race in 2013.  So, with all the big things we have to do, we are focused corrosively on a single transportation project for the next several years.

The politics of transportation in Seattle have gradually changed as the motivations of the players have changed.  The great freeway fights of the 60s and 70s in which citizens brought down the R.H.  Thomson and the Bay freeways, and nearly sunk the second I-90 bridge, were dominated by neighborhood groups, both those directly affected by the project and people in other neighborhoods who found solidarity with them, fearing their house would be next.  The environmental component of those opponents was smaller, less focused.
Today's opposition is firmly led by the environmental groups whose motivations are rooted globally, far from the neighborhood.  If anything, the neighborhood angle, energized by the 70,000 people who have moved downtown since the R.H. Thomson project went down, are leading the pro-tunnel crowd.  The motivator for this political alteration is climate change.  Now, it is not enough to bemoan the parking, exhaust fumes and asphalt paving brought by the car, but rather its contribution to global warming.  This fact makes for a harder dialogue.  A transportation philosophy that demonizes the car at the expense of other public goals in combination with a vote that provides only rhetorical direction is a lousy way, R. H.  Thomson might of said, to run a railroad.

All you ever wanted to know about the R.H. Thomson Freeway
The lie the mayor told
The centennial of the Port of Seattle
Gunnar Lotsberg knows everything about tunnels

(Note. In the Summer and Fall of 2011, Seattle voters gave the meaningless vote some real meaning, giving tunnel supporters a 60-40 margin over those who do not want to build the tunnel.   In the Fall of 2011, voters defeated an initiative that would have stopped light rail going across Lake Washington on the I-90 bridge, and made it impossible to use tolls collected on one project on other projects in the Puget Sound.  R. H.  Thomson would have been proud.)

Monday, May 16, 2011

Civil War Memoir of Thomas Jefferson Hampson, May 1861

Thomas Jefferson Hampson sitting with his family and his
wife Alice Elmira to his left, with little Elmer, "Cot" on  his lap.
This photo coincides with the the time he was writing his 
account, about 1910.  My mom is the little girl on the right. 

We resume today the story of Thomas Jefferson Hampson, my great grandfather, who enlisted in the Union Army after the shelling of Fort Sumter.  In April, we used his unpublished memoir to tell the story how the news of the attack came back to Farmers College in Cincinnati, Ohio and the mad rush across the Ohio River to Cincinnati where he and his good friend Jack enlisted.  The piece concludes with their heady trip by rail through cheering towns to Carlisle Barracks in Pennsylvania. 

Home to today's Army War College, Carlisle is one of the oldest military installations in the United States.  It was founded by the British in 1754 as a garrison to support British troops in the French and Indian War.  General Braddock, supported by Colonel George Washington's Virginia Provincials, would have walked through Carlisle on their way to the humiliating defeat by the indians.  During the revolution, Carlisle was used for many purposes, including housing captured British troops and German merceneries.   

President Washington would return at the beginning of his second term to personally review 14,000 troops assembled to suppress the Whiskey Rebellion.  Washington proposed Carlisle for the new military academy but lost out to property along a bluff above the Hudson, West Point. 

There would have been about 800 new recruits at Carlisle when Hampson and Jack arrived. Training is not quite the operative word for what was happening there.  Just three weeks after arrival, they were outfitted and on their way west to Kansas, then Missouri and some of hardest combat of the war.  That will be our next post the second week in June.  In 1863, Carlilsle was burned to the ground by General JEB Stuart during the Confdederate invasion of the North that ended at Gettysburg. 

Carlisle Barracks became home to the famous Carlisle Indian Industrial School as territorial wars in the west wound down.  Brigadier General Richard Henry Pratt saw the school as an alternative to incarceration and, In 1879, the first class arrived for three years' of study, later extended to five.  The purpose was to move young native men and women through the cultural membrane at Carlisle into American agricultural and industrial society.

Young Tom Terino, Navajo, is shown when he arrived in 1883 and when he left in 1886.

Perhaps the most accomplished athlete in American history went to school at Carlisle.  Jim Thorpe, Sac and Fox, created a legend playing football there, as he ran, largely unimpeded, across the fields of the Ivy League schools the Carlisle Indians played.  He was the decathalon champion in the 1912 Stockholm Olympics.  Lewis Tewamina, Hopi, was another great athlete from Carlisle.  He won silver in Stockholm at 10,000 meters.

Charles "Chief" Bender, Chippewa, Hall of Fame pitcher for the Philadelphia Athletics was another.  My cousin, Tom (Thomas Jefferson Hampson, natch) completed the Carlisle circle when he married into the Bender family.  Over time, the athletes at Carlisle were a source of significant monies to the school's mission.  "Pop" Warner, among other famous sportsmen, coached there.  The school closed in 1918.

The boys from Cincinnati had a tough introduction to Carlisle.  The food was dreadful, their bed a few sticks and loose straps and they promptly get into a fight with the sergeants in charge of their barracks.

Their light punishment for insubordination and fighting tells us they were clearly the kind of recruits the country wanted at the front. 

As before, the spelling and grammar come directly down from Thomas Jefferson Hampson.  There are a couple of good ones.  Unsavoury stands out, anticedent, sargeant, comrads.  How about "conflab?"  And, there is the devil himself, Lucifor. 

By the time he was writing this in Bonanza, Colorado, the semi-colon was losing its allure as a punctuation tool.  The new telegraph and the insistent newspapers of the time favored shorter sentences with the nice, full stop provided by the period. 

Hampson was having none of that.  If it is good enough for Farmers College, it apparently is good enough for Bonanza, Colorado. 

"The Captain"
Thomas Jefferson Hampson
Chapter Three, Carlisle Barracks

Our enlistment dated May 21, 1861.  We were domiciled at Uncle Sams barracks at Carlisle, the general rendezvous for the regular army.  When we arrived at Carlisle, there were, at the time, about eight hundred other recruits, awaiting assignments to their respect regiments.  I must say that they were a motley crew, of every nationality, good, bad and, indifferent; youngsters just out of school, middle aged men.  They came from every walk of life; some refined and genteel.  Others rough, and course, of doubtful pedigree, and had their anticedents been traced, it would have led to unsavoury places. 
We were marched down to our quarters and shown where we were to hang up for the night.  We arrived at 5 o’clock, tired, hungry, and dusty after our long ride in the cars.  When Jack and I inspected the rough, dirty bunks that were to hold our tender bodies during the night, with only two miserable thin blankets to cover us, our minds went back home with a rush, and visions of soft feather beds rose up before us.  All the luxuries of a comfortable and pleasant home danced in dazzling brightness before our eyes, mocking us in our dire extremity.  Jack looked at me, I at him.
“Well, I’ll be damned!” exclaimed Jack.
“Here too!”  said I.
Another blank stare at each other, another silence, broken only by the deep, deep sigh that seemed to come up from our boots.
“Where are the pillows?” asked Jack.
“Damfino!” replied myself.
An old soldier passing at that moment heard Jack’s question about the pillows, and advised him to use his boots as a pillow.
“I would like to use them to kick that lying recruiting sargeant who told us about the fine accommodations we would find at this measly old barracks,” replied Jack, indignation getting the better of his judgement.  He raved and tore around like a mad man.  I guess he was a mad boy.
“Well, Jack,” I said, “maybe they did not know that two such illustrious guests were coming, and failed to prepare suitable apartments.”  For I began to take a philosophical view of the matter and came to the conclusion that in as much as we had run up against a hard proposition, the only thing for us to do was to make the best of the bargain. 
Discovery at the Mess Hall
About this time, the keeper of our ward announced that supper was ready, to go down and fill up, then probably we would feel better.  Accordingly, we went down to the dining room to partake of the feast.  Here another painful surprise awaited us.
Four long tables were set.  The dishes consisted of two tin plates and cups of the same material.  The bill of fare consisted of cold boiled side meat, hard tack, and coffee.  One glance was enough to cause our stomachs to rebel.  Jack turned to a fellow sufferer sitting alongside of him and asked if that was the kind of stuff Uncle Sam proposed the defenders of the nation eat. 
“Well, it is this or nothing,” he replied.
“Well, then, nothing goes, and so do I,” and he got up from the table with a big disgust on.  He started out of the room and I followed.  When we got outside of the building here another staring match occurred.  Silence again held sway – we were too full for utterance.  Not full of grub, but indignation. 
Jack broke the silence at last and came near breaking my heart at the same time by beginning to talk about college and good times there, our home, and mothers…
Then I decided to tease Jack a little asking, “How is your patriotism now, Jack?”
“Oh damn your patriotism!  I wish I was home!”
I could see he was taking his discomfort more to heart than I was, and let him along to struggle with his great trouble.
The next morning we were up quite early with aching bones, the result of sleeping on hard bunks.
Trouble with the Authorities
At nine o’clock we were ordered to report at the surgeon’s office for a medical examination.  The surgeon complimented us by saying that were the best built recruits he ever saw.  After that ordeal had been passed through were marched down to the commissary department to draw our uniforms.  After putting them on, we felt that we were, in fact, U.S.  soldiers.
After putting the uniform on, the sargeant came around distributing to each man a leather collar to be worn around the neck, according to army regulations to keep our head up so that when were marching and drilling, we could not look down at the ground or at the heels of the men marching ahead of us.  The idea of wearing a leather collar like a dog!  We did not propose to have such an indignity thrust upon and refused point blank to put them on.  The sargeant informed us that he would have to report us for insubordination to the commanding officer.
We informed him that we were from a military college and knew how to hold our head up, and could drill as well as he could.  This information seemed to surprise him, and he informed us that if we were good drilled men, we could be excused from wearing the obnoxious collar.  He also informed us that our knowledge of military tactics would take us out of the ranks in short order, and he gave us a squad of men to drill.
We were then marched down to the barracks and turned over to the tender mercies of the Irish sargeant that had charge of our ward.  He was an overbearing brute; making himself as offensive as possible, ordering us around very much the same as an overseer on a southern plantation would a gang of slaves.  In each of our bunks we found a bed tick and a yellow slip which articles the sergeant bade us to take down to the Cavalry stables and fill with straw. 
Jack was somewhat slow in getting his tick out of the bunk when the sergeant told him to hurry up or he would smash his head.  This was more than Jack could take.  He informed the sargeant that it was a game two people could play and whenever he felt like smashing a head to sail in.
To have his authority questioned in this manner aroused the sergeant, and he proceeded to put his threat into execution instantly and making a rush for Jack, he endeavored to land a knockout blow.  Right there was where he made a grievous error.  Jack weighs 175 pounds, strong as an ox, and was well up on the art of self defense.  The way he doubled that Irishman up was a sight worth seeing.
He literally mopped the floor with him and the sergeant lustily called for help.  The sargeant of the next ward came running to his assistance but as I was Jack’s chum, I did not propose to see Jack doublecrossed.  As the other sargeant ran up to Jack, I smashed him in the jaw and laid him out on the floor.  He concluded that he had enough about that time.  Then the guards came on the scene and stopped the fight.  Jack and I were, of course, marched before the commanding officer for an examination.  After hearing both sides of the story, he ordered us back to the barracks, saying in the meantime he would consider whether he would have us court marshaled, hung, or shot…
I detected a merry twinkle in his eye during the examination that made me think he enjoyed the sargeants discomfiture, and felt as if he deserved all he received at the hands of Jack.  Consequently, I did not anticipate any harsh sentence, and subsequent events justified my opinion in that respect. 
After the fracas, Jack and I went down to the straw shack and filled our ticks with visions of a comfortable bed floating before us. 
That afternoon we were assigned to companies.  Jack and I both going into Co.  A to be drilled until such time we would be sent to our regular regiments at the front, where we would see active service. 
One good result of our mix-up with the sargeant was that it established our reputation among our comrads in arms, and that was that we did not propose to be run over; also we were amply able to take our own part, and if anyone was desirous of a scrap we would at any time accommodate them.
We knew, of course, that the affair with the sargeants would call for some sort of punishment, but as to the nature of the punishment we were unable to determine and did not allow ourselves to worry about it!  The only thing we were worrying about that particular time was grub; both of us being accustomed to good living, being blessed with a good able-bodied appetite, it was a hard struggle to come down to army rations.
Getting the Awkward Squad
The next morning we all turned out to the first regular roll call.  Jack and I stood side by side in the ranks.  After that ceremony was over we were held in ranks to hear general orders No.  1, read by the orderly sargeant.  After several had been read, he called my name.  “Punishment for fighting, drilling the awkward squad for five days. “  Jack’s name was called – he was to do police duty for two days.  He gave me a punch and whispered, “What do you think of that, old boy, only two days in the service and promoted already.”  Poor boy!  Little did he or I know what police duty meant in a military sense.  Before the days was over were enlightened in that respect – a rude awakening!
Our drill hours were from 10-12 o’clock.  The Awkward Squad was turned over to me, and I was cautioned to keep them away from the companies drilling on the parade ground.  Well, if ever a squad of men deserved the name given them that one did.  They were the most awkward squad of men I ever saw; it was torture trying to teach them anything, I put them through their paces.  When the bugle sounded the recall, I started them toward the barracks; being up the adventure, I was coming toward a man trundling a wheel barrow.  I thought I recognized Jack and in a few moments we met.  Sure enough the wheel barrow pusher was Jack – Jack was the man between the handles of the barrow.  For the life of me, I could not understand why such an indignity should be put upon a newly appointed police officer.  A guard was with him to see that he did his duty.  “Well,” I thought, “if that is police duty, I don’t want any line of military duty”
That night Jack and I had an indignant conflab.  He did not know that police duty meant going around cleaning up the grounds surrounding the officers quarters, and any other dirty work the guard in charge of the prisoner ordered him to do.
Jack was mad all the way through.  He was proud as Lucifor, of a wealthy family and accustomed to have servants wait on him.  The idea of gathering up the slops from the kitchen of men who in the civil life he would not have recognized as an equal, he was humiliated to the extreme. 
His pride had received a severe shock.  All night he lay awake planning a deep and deadly revenge upon those who were responsible for his humiliation.  He could not make up his mind whether he would murder all the officers, set fire to the barracks, run off by the light of the moon, or desert.  Poor Jack!  He had a hard lesson ahead of him.  Then he was given an awkward squad. 
That squad of men could make more blunders in five minutes that mine could in two hours;  after seeing them drill for five minutes, I was glad I did not take him up on the bet he tried to make.
After all, we had great sport out of our Awkward Squads.  When our five days were up, we were given men to drill who had pride enough to try to learn Military Evolutions. 
In 1861, drilled men were scarce, and anyone who could drill men had a pull.
Jack and I had made up our minds to attend strictly to business and avoid trouble with our comrads.  Then things began to get better – we got along all right.
Next installments will include the trip to Kansas and Missouri in June, several skirmishes there culminating with the first major battle in the west, Wilson’s Creek, in August, where Thomas Jefferson Hampson is seriously wounded, left for dead, captured by the confederates and imprisoned in the Greene County Courthouse in Springfield, Missouri.
He will escape, in October, a 19 year old young man weighing just 80 pounds.  He will heal, regain his weight, rejoin the army as an engineer, and serve until the war is over.   

Read more about Thomas Jefferson Hampson
What soldiers ate and how to cook it for your own soldier.
Terrific page about Carlisle Indian Industrial School
Charles Bender's stats

Monday, May 9, 2011

Failure and Redemption in Astoria

Astoria is the oldest city west of the Rockies and celebrates its bicentennial, beginning with its opening ceremonies on May 21, with re-enactments, tall ships, lectures, a celebratory ball.

Later, in August, the British Lord Astor of Hever, John Jacob Astor the VIII, will visit and be joined by the Burgermeister of Astoria's German sister city -- I'm not kidding here -- Walldorf.

The real brand of Astoria is Lewis and Clark, whose bicentennial celebration was six years ago.  But the colossal business failure suffered by the German immigrant clerk who became America's richest man had a role in keeping the Pacific Northwest of this country out of British hands.  Along with real estate, John Jacob Astor built a business trapping and trading in furs across the northern tier of America and soon came up with an idea that would have him utterly dominate the global fur business. 

Before the Europeans came to North America, estimates suggest that the continent was home to 400 million beaver.  In many places, beaver pelts were used as money.  Hudson's Bay Company records at the end of he 17th century show that a beaver pelt would buy a pound of tobacco, a one pound kettle, four pounds of shot or two hatchets. 

It was truly a global business as beaver was equally prized in Europe as it was in China.  It was one of the few things the clever animal could not adapt to.  As early as 1830, the beaver had disappeared in Ohio and was quickly disappearing in the Great Lakes region.  When Astor thought about it, the western part of North America was the Saudi Arabia of beaver.  Astor would be the first global business to locate in Oregon. 

Astor would dominate the market by superior logistics stemming from a chain of trading posts across the country supplied from a port on the Columbia River.  Six years after Lewis and Clark vacated Fort Clatsop, Astor sent the Tonquin, under the command of Jonathan Thorn, to establish his Columbia footprint.   

Thorn was a one of a number of poor personnel choices for the mission.  Astor hedged his bet with a overland team headed by Wilson Price Hunt with the idea that they would arrive at the same time and immediately have the logistics in place to compete against the great Canadian trappers. 

Thorn orders three reluctant crew members into the
Columbia River bar saying:  "How can your cross the
ocean and still be afraid of the water?"  The men are lost.

Astor also saw this as another step in the ocean to ocean destiny of America and hired one of the most famous writers of his day, Washington Irving,  to make sure that his market share of history would be assured as well.

All of this unravelled over three years.  The arrogance of Thorn led to the death of all on board when the Tonquin's crew was murdered and the ship blown up.  Hunt's overland component lost all its supplies and arrived, starving, after 18 months.  The British won the war of 1812 and promptly occupied the defenseless fort.  Under the British flag, the other partners, Canadians all save Hunt, turned against Astor and sold his company to the Northwest Fur Company, its Canadian competitor. 

The entire story, minus most of the cheating, conniving and mean spiritedness of Astor's team, is displayed on the Astoria Column, a symbol of this city's ups and downs and of its perseverance and resilience.  It flourishes today, like the town, because it just wouldn't fall in on itself, or have its lovely images blasted away by Pacific storms without working for their renewal. 

We can thank two people in particular for this lovely monument.  First, Ralph Budd, the youngest man ever to run a railroad.  He was CEO of the Great Northern Railway where he would build the Cascade Tunnel, nearly eight miles long and still the longest railroad tunnel in the country.  He was among the most able men of his time and his considerable energies powered a weakness for Lewis and Clark.  In tribute, he set out to build 12 monuments to their journey, concluding with the Astoria Column in 1926 at trail's end. 

The Column, built in 1926, would be decorated by a diorama picturing the history here at the mouth of the Columbia -- the natives, the discovery of the river by Captain Gray, the Voyage of Discovery, the failure of John Jacob Astor’s company, the coming of the railroads, all set on Astoria’s highest point. 

The art spun around the concrete tower was applied with an Italian plaster technique that was not compatible with the massive weather of Astoria.  The images began flaking off as soon as they were installed.  In three years the Pacific storms had essentially blown the images off the column's concrete.    I remember vividly seeing it at two different times.  Once in 1952, after one of its gaudy, colorful and ineffective repairs, it glowed at this child with a powerful and lasting iridescence.  Seeing it again about 1980.  It was a metaphor for that time in Astoria.  Fished out.  Logged off.  Out of breath.  The images barely visible.
The Column in 1983

Budd's partner in keeping the remarkable images on the structure is Jordan Schnitzer, whose family started in the scrap metal business underneath Portland’s Ross Island Bridge and moved to real estate and art, good preparation for the risky business of Astoria Column saving. 
After a conversation with Astoria's mayor in the mid-eighties, Schnitzer founded the organization that gave the 125 foot column a toothbrush level cleaning only to find that perhaps 20 percent of the art existed below the dirt and grime.  They then hired a big time restorer, Frank Preusser of the Getty Museum, with restorations of the Great Sphinx and Ankgor Wat in his resume.  Where images did not exist, Preusser followed the original scratch lines of the first artist, Attilo Pusteria.  

Here was a miracle.  It was if the scaffolding went up not only around the column, but around the city as well.  The coming bicentennial of the Lewis and Clark expedition began a toothbrush level clean up and shape up of Astoria.  When the scaffolding came down, the city was celebrating itself and its triumph as much as the the courage and resilience of the great expedition.  

The changes in the column reflect the changes in the city.  Full of charm, food and its own energy, it has faced down the recession better than the state in which it resides.  Seeing the city today is to see the crisp outlines on the column.  Its desperation of 30 years ago replaced with the realities of its purpose and the firming up of its confident place along the great river.

There is nothing that Astor, Lewis or Clark or anyone else could have done that this lovely city has not done to, and for, itself today.

Close ups of artwork

Monday, May 2, 2011

A New York State of Mind

"Son, where you headed?" 

It wasn't a question I expected to hear walking up the street toward the park but it did come from a police officer and he had stopped the car and leaned toward me through the open passenger seat window of his car.

I walked between two parked cars and stepped toward him in the street, a twenty year old boy in New York for the first time with a sweated through shirt.

"Just going up to Columbia through the park," I said, pointing to a thin strip of green a block or so in front of us, the buildings of Morningside Drive perhaps 100 yards from the edge of the park and a hundred feet above us.

"Hey, I'll give you a ride," the officer said.  "Going up there myself."

I got in, a little puzzled, but decided to think of this as a good thing.  After a day of walking in New York, I was pooped.

It was the end of summer of 1963, the street was in Harlem and the park was Morningside Park, a greenbelt that separates the plateau on which Columbia University sits and Harlem. 

I remember the incident in a couple of ways.  One story is the naive Oregonian in New York, walking into a tough place that chewed up and spat out dufuses like him.  Another was the sensitive and knowing cop who never mentioned the reason why he offered the ride, just chatted about where I was from and where I was going and how come they would name a Division One football team after a Duck. 

Whatever the narrative, it was probably a good thing he picked me up.  I was grateful in the way people are grateful when they are a little embarrassed alongside the thankful part. 
Recently, in the city to see my grandkids, I headed back to Morningside Park to complete the journey I'd started and to learn about the park I never got to use.  It's a steep trail, and as I hit the halfway point on yet another switchback I paused for breath and thought it would be cool if someone came by and gave me a ride, like in a passing golf cart.

Morningside Park is one side of a narrow, five block wide tilting plateau that pokes up a hundred feet above Harlem to the East and 140 feet above the Hudson River to the West.  The park runs 13 blocks along the Harlem hillside.  It has a history of fits and starts and bad breaks.  The New York Parks Board had trouble deciding on a plan for the property.  Starting in 1871 through 1880 it rejected everything.
North end of Central Park
with Morningside Park to
the left and above.

Among its rejections was a plan from the designers of Central Park, Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, whose northern boundary of their great work is a couple of blocks away at 110th street.

Instead, the board hired a designer named Jacob Mould to rework what Olmsted/Vaux had provided.  He concentrated on the upper part of the park, developing the impressive masonry wall that encloses Morningside Drive running along the top above the rocky and dry soil that tumbles down to Harlem.   

However, Mould died in 1885 before it was all finished and the board had to come back to Olmsted/Vaux to complete the work.  Vaux was the lead and finished the work ten years later, counting it among the best things he ever did.  Vaux drowned the next year.
In time, the park traded in its recreational and contemplative function to become a firm dividing line between the swells on top of the ridge who could afford to go to Columbia and the poor at its bottom who had nowhere to go.  By the late fifties, it was better known for drugs and muggings and as the center of a big time community fight, one in a series of great battles on the Columbia campus and in Harlem during 1968, when Columbia University started building a new gymnasium on the south end. 

In 1983, fifteen years later, the chain link fences still stood around the excavation site scar.

However, a young man named Tom Kiel, a Columbia University undergraduate, formed an organization called "Friends of Morningside Park" and began negotiating a better outcome for the grounds and its neighbors

His was one of the many acts of civic heroism that ended the Great Crumbling of New York to be replaced by its Great Renewal. 

Six years after "Friends" came to life, the foundation site had become a waterfall and a pond.  Many other improvements followed, one of them a memorial to then Doctor Kiel, for whom Thomas Kiel Arboretum now stands near the old gymnasium construction site. 

Kiel had died in a bicycle accident in Australia. He was 36.

Following the park south, the north end of Central Park, at 110th street, is also a place of lovely renovation.  The original Olmsted/Vaux plan had called for a formal arboretum to be the centerpiece of this section, but it never happened. 

Instead, a clunky greenhouse structure, filled with exotic plants and specimens dominated the north end until it deteriorated and was torn down. 

Like all good renovations, this one went back to the roots of the original Olmstead design and surfaced English, Italian and French formal gardens.  It is a quiet and more compact space than almost any other place in the park.  In one of its chapels, a couple is getting married, tucked between flowering trees and with just enough room for the officiant and them. 

One more park has stolen my heart, a playground at 5th Avenue and 3rd Street in Brooklyn.  It is where the Revolutionary War almost came to an end with Washington's capture and the utter destruction of the Continental Army just seven weeks after the Declaration of Independence. 

During the Battle of Brooklyn, the British Army surprised and mauled the Americans throughout the day of August 27, 1776.  As the Americans retreated from what is now Prospect Park, another Olmsted job, toward Brooklyn Heights, they encountered an artillery position that was set up in and around what is now called the Old Stone House, a position that controlled the retreat route.  Out of options, a group of four or five hundred Americans from Maryland and Delaware fought the 2,000 British and Germans commanding the house and fields around it.

It went on for most of the day at a cost of 250 American lives.  What those lives purchased was enough time for a few thousand men to scramble through the swamps along Gowanus Creek to Brooklyn Heights and then cross over to Manhattan Island to fight another day.  This was America's Dunkirk.

Why this house stands is an equally perilous story. Inhabited on and off, a regrading of Fifth Avenue buried the bottom part of the house, allowing just the top half of the house to poke out.  Later, it was razed. 

But during its time, it held great significance as the clubhouse for local sports teams in the 1890s, including the Brooklyn Bridegrooms, the professional baseball team that ultimately became the Brooklyn Dodgers. 

Fortunately, the stones of its reconstruction were buried in place and they now embrace its remarkable history once more. 

Friends of Morningside Park Website

The Battle of Columbia University, 1968

Cool Guide to Central Park

Old Stone House Website

Timeline: From Bridegrooms to Dodgers

Team Roster and Stats: 1890 Bridegrooms' Season