Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Jack and Jackie Wed, Sixty-Five Years Ago

John F. Kennedy, the U.S. Senate's most eligible bachelor, and twenty-four-year-old Jacqueline Lee Bouvier were married sixty-five years ago today in Newport, Rhode Island.  

The wedding ceremony at St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church was filled to capacity and attracted a large crowd of onlookers.  The reception for 1,200 guests was held at the expansive Hammersmith Farm, where Jackie grew up.  Among the guests was Vice President Nixon, who entered Congress with Kennedy in 1947.  There was huge media coverage of the event, including a front-page story in The New York Times.  Mr. and Mrs. Kennedy honeymooned in Acapulco.   

The photo here of the newlyweds includes Charlie Bartlett on the left; he introduced his old buddy Jack to Jackie at a dinner at his Georgetown home in 1951.  Behind the bride is twenty-one-year-old Ted Kennedy.  JFK's college roommate and old friend Torbert Macdonald, who would be elected to Congress the following year, is on the far right. The photo, from the JFK Library, is of unknown origin.

Sunday, September 2, 2018

"Grief": The Clover Adams Memorial

The highlight of my day was a visit to a cemetery to become reacquainted with the most haunting memorial in Washington, D.C., that of Marian “Clover” Adams.

Although she was a prominent nineteenth-century Washington socialite and fine photographer, Clover Adams is known today largely because of her unique grave marker.  The wife of a noted historian and scion of a great American political family, she committed suicide in 1885.

The monument that marks her burial site was designed by the sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens and commissioned by her husband, Henry Adams. The large enshrouded bronze is located in Rock Creek Cemetery, and is arguably the most noted individual sculpture in the nation’s capital.

Distraught over his wife’s death, Adams could not bring himself to mention her in his important autobiography, “The Education of Henry Adams.”  He also is buried there.

Saint-Gaudens was the pre-eminent sculptor of his time.  In addition to the Adams Memorial, also known as “Grief,” he is remembered for the famous Robert Gould Shaw Memorial, celebrating the Massachusetts 54th regiment of the Civil War, and the design of a twenty-dollar gold coin, which many consider to be the finest American numismatic piece.

Another famous person associated with the Adams Memorial is Stanford White, the New York architect, who designed the granite plot. 

Probably overlooked by most tourists—it certainly is off the beaten path and is actually a little challenging to find—“Grief” is art at its finest:  beautiful, evocative and thought-provoking.  

For years, Eleanor Roosevelt would visit the memorial as a source of solace for the travails of her life.

Clover and Henry Adams and their friends Clara and John Hay and geologist Clarence King all lived together in a large, combined house, which is now the Hay-Adams Hotel in Washington, D.C.  There is a legend that Clover Adams roams the halls of the hotel today.

An excellent book on the Adamses and their housemates is told by Patricia O’Toole in The Five of Hearts: An Intimate Portrait of Henry Adams and His Friends, 1880-1918.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Jacqueline Kennedy Visits South Asia

The White House announced yesterday that the current first lady would embark on a trip to Africa in October, her first independent foreign trip while in office.  

There have been a number of memorable overseas tours by first ladies, but certainly one of the most notable was that of Jacqueline Kennedy’s official visit to India and Pakistan in March 1962.

The trip started with a motorcade amid a huge, tumultuous crowd in New Delhi.  She visited historic sites, hospitals, sailed on the Ganges River, rode an elephant, and mingled with Peace Corps volunteers.  In Pakistan, she visited the Northwest Frontier, including Peshawar and the Khyber Pass (I was there in the 1970s and it was rugged even then).  She also rode a camel, which—like the elephant ride in India—received extensive media coverage.

She made a huge impression on Indian Prime Minister Nehru and Pakistan President Ayub Khan.  President Khan, who was feted by the Kennedys at an unprecedented dinner at Mount Vernon in July 1961, presented her with a horse, Sardar, which was later transported to the United States.

It was a smashing goodwill trip for Mrs. Kennedy, the administration and for U.S.-South Asia relations.

Photo of Mrs. Kennedy in front of the magnificent Taj Mahal in Agra, India; credit:  Cecil  Stoughton.  White House Photographs.  John F. Kennedy Public Library and Museum, Boston.  It is in the public domain.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

The Bicentennial of Maria Mitchell's Birth

Today marks the bicentennial of the birth of the distinguished astronomer Maria Mitchell.  Mitchell, born in Nantucket, discovered a comet in 1847 and was lauded at the famous Seneca Falls Convention the following year.  She was a longtime, influential faculty member at Vassar College and was a woman’s pioneer in a number of prestigious academic societies.  

This medal was released to honor her as a member of the Hall of Fame for Great Americans, to which she was elected in 1905 along with two other female teachers, Mary Lyon and Frances E. Willard. 

The Hall of Fame of Great Americans, located in New York City, was once a big deal.  Complete with an outdoor courtyard of busts of the honorees, it was  owned by New York University and is now part of the Bronx Community College.  The colonnade was designed by the great architect Stanford White. 

But politics and biases entered in the selection process and, over the years, funds were lacking to run and maintain the program and site.  There have been no selections for decades.

Still, as a boy I was riveted to reading the list of honorees that was posted annually in the almanac.  It seemed to me, as a precocious historian, that these people were, indeed, the “greatest” Americans.  Some  were, but others are rather obscure today. 

Anyway, three cheers for Maria Mitchell, who certainly was deserving of being identified as a great American.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Clement Biddle (1740-1814) and Me

The Library Company of Philadelphia, a research library established by Benjamin Franklin in 1731, has a unique shareholder program in which supporters can purchase the original subscription which belonged to a member in the eighteenth or nineteenth century.  I am a shareholder, and my share was originally owned by Clement Biddle.

The share, number 150, was issued to Biddle on April 6, 1769.  Biddle (1740-1814) fought in the Revolutionary War and was at the battles at Brandywine and Germantown in Pennsylvania and Monmouth in New Jersey.  He eventually served the Pennsylvania militia as quartermaster general.  He became Pennsylvania’s first United States Marshal in the new government.

His share was subsequent owned by four other Biddles in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and then by Alexander D. Wainwright, a bibliophile and Princeton University librarian, whose share was acquired in 1969.  Wainwright was an avid collector of Thomas Wolfe material.  I have biographical information on all the previous shareholders.  My share was issued on March 27, 2018.

This is a fantastic fundraising program by a historic library and it is administered in a way that creates a connection with specific supporters from the past.  I am delighted to be part of this effort and this library.