Posts Tagged: Not So Recent History

The Grim American History Of 'The Bicentennial Minute'

On July 2, 1776, in a letter to his wife Abigail, John Adams wrote: This second day of July 1776 will be the most memorable epocha in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated as the Day of Deliverance by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations from one end of this continent to the other from this time forward forever more.

As it turned out, Adams was nearly right about this, [...]


You Won't Believe These Seven Amazing Papal Elections

The Cardinals of the Roman Catholic Church are gathering, right now, to start the process of electing the next pope. Exciting stuff, eh? No, not really, to be honest! What will almost certainly happen is that this group of old ecclesiastics, all of whom were chosen by one of the last two popes, will be shut up in the mildly cramped but relatively posh digs of the Apostolic Palace, and will take a few days, tops, to come to a consensus on who the next pope will be. Maybe the winner will be a surprise, and maybe the conclave will end on the first vote for once, or will extend [...]


The Mystery Of The 1969 Naked Esquire Photo Shoot

It sounds preposterous, and it is. But the story of Esquire's grand plan to shoot a bevy of distinguished men and women in the altogether is, so far as I know, true. Here's the first paragraph of the unbylined, unheadlined story from the February 1970 edition of The Los Angeles Advocate:

Amazing! But how is it possible there is no record of these scandalous plans, save for a microfilm'd squib in a West Coast gay rag? (Go ahead and look. You will find nothing.) Before consigning this to the realm of the urban legend—albeit a legend that no one seems to know—I ran it by Gerald Clarke, Capote's [...]


The British Invasion… Again: The Mystery Of The Missing Marylanders' Grave

Day five in a series exploring how the trail of the Battle of Brooklyn would pass across modern-day New York. Shown in photo, a potential burial site of the Maryland regiment, near the intersection of 3rd Avenue and 8th Street, that went uninvestigated when it was recently dug up.

The day after the battle, there are dead and wounded all around: 1,000 American soldiers in the woods and the fields all around what is today Park Slope and Greenwood Cemetery, all along the Shore Road that is today in the vicinity of 3rd Avenue and 3rd Street, as well as Pep Boys, Hotel Le Bleu and J.J. [...]


The British Invasion… Again: Scouting The Old Locations

Day two in a series exploring how the trail of the Battle of Brooklyn, beginning with the British landing on August 22, 1776, would pass across modern-day New York. Shown above, the hills of Greenwood Cemetery.

In the lull before the battle—the first battle of the Revolutionary War, the 236th anniversary of which is coming on August 27th —it made sense to go out and look around, like a scout. A general on the side of the Americans would have used this time to survey the landscape, to traverse the hills and woods of Brooklyn and into New York (here are the receipts Washington sent to congress [...]


John Adams, The Lovable Schlub In White Tights

Sarah Marshall and Amelia Laing are reading their way through biographies of all the presidents, in order. This time up, it's John Adams and the books discussed are David McCullough's John Adams and John Ferling's John Adams: A Life.

Sarah Marshall: In the first installment of this series, Amelia and I talked about George Washington, and we both came to the conclusion that, despite the insights a biographer can afford us, it's still hard to see him as a man rather than a symbol. No matter how many self-questioning diary entries we read, we can't quite forget the image of the giant in buff and blue. Not so, [...]


Huzzah, George Washington, Secret Basketcase And First President

Many years ago, Sarah Marshall and Amelia Laing went to high school together. They laughed, they cried, they wore regrettable outfits to underage dance clubs. They traded books, sweaters, and anxieties, and somewhere along the way they took AP US History together, and learned, all told, surprisingly little. Now, as they make their way through a different but equally ridiculous phase of their lives, they have set out to remedy this oversight by reading biographies of all the presidents, in order. It's going to get hairy around Harrison.

This time up, as an accompaniment to Presidents Day weekend, it's George Washington, and the books discussed are David McCullough's 1776 and [...]


The British Invasion… Again: After The Battle

The final installment in a seven-day series exploring how the trail of the Battle of Brooklyn would pass across modern-day New York. Shown in photo, the Watchung Mountains.

It's over. The Battle of Brooklyn is done, or at least it was on this day 236 years ago, with the Americans momentarily out of reach of the British, having evacuated to the island of Manhattan.

The British were shocked. "In the Morning, to our great Astonishment, found they had Evacuated all their Works on Brookland and Red Hook, without a Shot being fired at them," a soldier wrote. Earl Percy wrote to his father, the Duke of Northumberland, [...]


The British Invasion… Again: The Battle Begins

Day four in a series exploring how the trail of the Battle of Brooklyn would pass across modern-day New York. In photo here, the blueberries represent the American side, the cherry tomatoes, the British.

You don’t hear a lot of Monday-morning quarterbacking as far as the Battle of Brooklyn goes. The battle was a loss, but let’s face it: the odds were never good for the Continental Army, and there are not a lot of ways it could have played differently. Sure, there was a general who got sick and had to be replaced at the last minute on the American side, and maybe that was a [...]


The British Invasion… Again: Landing In New York

The British invasion began on this day in 1776. For the next couple weeks, Robert Sullivan will be considering how the trail of the Battle of Brooklyn would pass across modern-day New York.

Say the Revolutionary War had never happened back in 1776. Say the British and the American colonists had been able to keep their relationship patched together for another 236 years, puttering along like an old car. Say things were at last things coming to a boil—perhaps due to some remark made by Bob Costas during the Olympics, or due to a break in the Murdoch phone-hacking scandal. Say the British were at last about to invade. [...]


Cannibals And Cat Women: How A Creepy Classic Radio Program Came To Be

Delivering scares, according to Wyllis Cooper, was a matter of "raiding the larder." His radio program "Lights Out," which premiered in 1934 on NBC station WENR in Chicago, aired at midnight, specializing in tales of the horror and supernatural. Food, pots and cutlery provided sound effects for a wide range of disturbing acts from Cooper's scripts, including breaking bones (cracking spare ribs), burning flesh (frying bacon), severed appendages (chopping carrots and cabbages), being murdered (stabbing raw pork), cannibalism (eating spaghetti), and so on. Cooper, a former advertising copywriter and continuity editor for CBS and NBC, ran the show for two years, exiting for a career in Hollywood (to write such [...]


How To Give Birth To A Rabbit

Mary Toft was 23 when she gave birth to her first rabbit. Other rabbits—six, seven, eight of them—followed. It was 1726. Toft lived in Godalming, a small rural town in Surrey; news of the births skipped its way to London, and the king's anatomist was dispatched to investigate. He was unimpressed with Mary, describing her as "of a very stupid and sullen Temper." Nevertheless, after witnessing a rabbit birth himself—the 15th!—he returned to London convinced of the extraordinary, preternatural nature of the births. (And why not, amazing things happen to stupid country people all the time: they're sold magic beans, they haul talking fish out of the water, they give [...]


The British Invasion… Again: The Amazing Evacuation

Day six in a seven-day series exploring how the trail of the Battle of Brooklyn would pass across modern-day New York. Shown in photo, morning on Gowanus Bay.

On the American side, 2,000 rebels were killed, wounded or captured. On the British side, only a few dozen were dead. And so, back up on the Heights of Brooklyn, a mile's stretch of water from New York, the Americans began the evacuation.

It would be over by dawn, and, until dawn, only the Americans will know. The British line that comes upon the last boats leaving will see a tall red-headed officer push off towards the island [...]


The British Invasion… Again: The General And The Moose

Day three in a series exploring how the trail of the Battle of Brooklyn would pass across modern-day New York.

On August 24, 1776, there is not a lot going on fighting-wise in Brooklyn.

There are skirmishes amongst the woods and the farms where the British have landed, but Washington still has not figured out how huge the British landing is. He has sent General John Sullivan over to Brooklyn, a general who will be captured when the Battle of Brooklyn begins and will have a controversial record there after, despite several victorious battles after the crossing of the Delaware. Sullivan would wreak havoc on Native American settlements [...]