Saturday, April 21, 2018

John Muir: Master Interpreter Of The Natural World

Today marks the birthday (1839) of the great American naturalist and conservationist, John Muir. Through his personal efforts and the movements he supported with such fervor - he founded the Sierra Club - we can enjoy the spectacular wildness that is Yosemite National Park. His efforts also help establish the national park movement that today provides us with more than 400 units administered by the National Park Service. And modeled after the national park idea, there are more than 6500 state parks and thousands of local parks and preserves to enjoy. Although Muir focused on the preservation of wilderness his work provided a structure for cultural resource preservation and management. That movement originated largely with Civil War commemorations late in the 19th century and accelerated through the benevolence of industrialist including Henry Ford (The Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation and Greenfield Village) and John D. Rockefeller Jr. (Colonial Williamsburg). 

[John Muir, seated, reading a book]
John Muir, seated, reading a book                                                             ca. 1912 May 29

Muir was a wanderer both physically and emotionally building upon his studies in botany and geology as he traveled. In 1868 he saw Yosemite Valley for the first time and soon realized he had found his calling in the world of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. This is how he described the revelation in his autobiographical notebook:

There are eight members in our family....All are useful members of society - save me. One is a healer of the sick. Another, a merchant, and a deacon in good standing. The rest school teachers and farmers' wives - all exemplary, stable, anti-revolutionary. Surely then, I thought, one may be spared for so fine an experiment.
. . . 

... the remnants of compunction - the struggle covering the serious business of settling down -gradually wasted and melted, and at length left me wholly free - born again! I will follow my instincts, be myself for good or ill, and see what will be the upshot...As long as I live, I'll hear the waterfalls and birds and winds sing. I'll interpret the rocks, learn the language of flood, storm and the avalanche. I'll acquaint myself with the glaciers and wild gardens, and get as near the heart of the world as I can.

Muir lived to see the creation of Yosemite National Park in 1890 and the consolidation of control of the park - California had retained management of the Yosemite Valley and Mariposa Grove in 1906 - by the federal government in 1906. Two years following his death in 1914 Congress created the National Park Service to manage the preservation and use of the growing number of natural areas under federal jurisdictions. 

To learn more about John Muir. Visit the John Muir Exhibit at the Sierra Club website. Yosemite National Park also has a fine tribute to Muir at this link.


Photos and Illustrations:

Monday, April 16, 2018

Remembering Charlie Chaplin: The Little Tramp

If you took a photograph of the "Little Tramp" to almost any corner of the world touched by Western culture, chances are, someone would recognize it. That's a powerful statement given that the character hasn't appeared in a film for over seventy years. Greatness persists. And so it is with Charlie Chaplin, born on this date in London in 1889.

In his 88 years, he graced the world of entertainment as a performer, director, producer, businessman, and composer. His concern for everyday people and their often difficult lives was a common theme in virtually all his films as well as his private life. Such humanitarian sympathies led him to ally with well-known leftist in the U.S. and eventually leave the country in the early 1950s'. Through it all, his endearing, bumbling, yet refined, tramp brought laughter and awareness to millions.

Take some time today to visit Chaplin's official site. The biography page is especially useful, providing information about nine "masterpiece features" and a complete filmography. Chaplin has three films on the American Film Institute's Greatest Films of All Time list. They are: City Lights (1931) at #11, The Gold Rush (1925) at #58, and Modern Times (1936) at #78. It's important to keep in mind that Chaplin was the director, producer, writer, star, composer, and editor for all of these films except Modern Times, edited by Willard Nico.

My personal favorite among all of his films is The Great Dictator(1940). Interestingly, this film was Chaplin's first "talkie." In it Chaplin portrays two characters, the "Little Tramp" variation of a Jewish veteran of World War I attempting to reestablish his life as a barber, and Adenoid Hynkel, dictator of Tomainia. Any resemblance between Adenoid Hynkel and Adolph Hitler is completely intentional. The film is a masterful piece of political satire made as an appeal to Americans and their leadership to wake up to the threat of Nazi Germany. It's often cited as the finest example of the use of ridicule in film in the twentieth

Here are two clips from The Great Dictator. First is the famous "globe scene," and second, "Benzino Napaloni - played to ridiculous perfection by Jack Oakie - meets Adenoid Hynkel at the train station."

A day without laughter is a day wasted.
                                                                           Charlie Chaplin 

Saturday, April 14, 2018

President Lincoln's Assassination

Today marks the 153rd anniversary of the assassination (1865) of President Abraham Lincoln at Ford's Theatre in Washington. He was taken across the street to the home of William and Anna Peterson where died shortly after 7:00 a.m. the following morning. The theatre remained closed for over a century. It reopened in 1968 as a performance venue and national historic site that included the Peterson House. Today it is owned by the National Park Service and operated through a partnership agreement with the Ford's Theatre Society.

Ford's Theatre 514 10th Street NW, Washington, DC

President Lincoln and his son, Tad. February 5, 1865

For more information on this event, the place where it occurred, and its impact on the American experience explore the Ford's Theatre National Historic Site web page.


Photographs and Illustrations:
Ford Theatre photographs, Ford's Theatre National Historic Site
Lincoln photograph, Alexander Gardner. Abraham Lincoln with his son Tad (Thomas), February 5, 1865. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (140) Digital ID # cph-3a05994

Thursday, April 12, 2018

FDR: A Good Neighbor In Warm Spring Passes Away

Seventy-three years ago today, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt died in Warm Springs, Georgia. It was a place and community he had come to love over the twenty years since his first visit there to treat his polio. William Katz, one of the most literate polymaths and   participant-observers of our American experience said this about Roosevelt on his blog, Urgent Agenda, in 2011:

Roosevelt, of course, was the only American president to be elected for more than two terms. He had just started his fourth when he died. He was succeeded by Harry S. Truman who, contrary to political myth, was not an obscure former senator from Missouri, but a prominent former senator who'd been on the cover of TIME in 1943.
One can debate Roosevelt's policies, but he was, as Ed Murrow described him, the central pivot of 12 years of American history, leading the nation through the Depression and World War II. He is considered by most historians one of the great American presidents, often ranked third behind Lincoln and Washington. His policies did not end the Depression, but Roosevelt gave Americans a sense of hope and a sense that he cared, and that he understood the impact of the economic disaster on the ordinary American.

FDR invented the modern presidency, for better or worse. He was the first to use mass media, addressing the nation frequently by radio in his fireside chats. He was the first to fly to a political convention. And he became an internationalist in an age of isolationism. He was not a great intellect, nor was he impeccably honest (to put it mildly), but it is hard to think of American history without him. He had the sense to appoint Republicans to high positions to help fight World War II, symbolic acts that established, at least for a time, a bipartisan foreign- and defense policy. His bond with Winston Churchill during World War II was one of modern history's great partnerships.

The decision, in 1944, to replace the naive left-wing vice president, Henry Wallace, with Harry Truman on the Democratic ticket was an act of political genius, although the Congressional leadership probably had more to do with it than Roosevelt himself. And that act, based on Truman's actual performance in the Senate, demonstrated the enormous value of listening to people who actually know a candidate for high office. It was a far cry from today's "democratic" primary system, where people vote for candidates who may have little actual experience, and who have not been examined by those who understand the pressures of the presidency.

It's remarkable to think that in 1944 the Democratic Party had on its ticket Roosevelt and Truman, two men later seen as great presidents. Compare please to today.

The Little White House, Warms Springs State  Historic Site, Georgia

For more information on the Little White House and Warm Spring State Historic Site, go here and here.  Readers who enjoyed the insight of William Katz can read his blog here.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Martin Luther King Jr: Fifty Years After Memphis

More about this day, the man, and his legacy can be found here.


Photos and Illustrations:
Photo portrait; By Nobel Foundation ( [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Monday, April 2, 2018

Emmylou Harris: The Show Goes On

Harris at Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival in San Francisco, 2005

Emmylou Harris, my "sweetheart of the rodeo," was born on this day in 1947. She played many of the local clubs and coffee houses in metro DC when I was there around 1970.  It was impossible not to see and hear the advertising for her performances in and around Bethesda, Chevy Chase and Silver Spring. Unfortunately, I never  found myself in the audience. Eventually, she moved to Los Angeles to work with Gram Parsons and his band, The Grievous Angels. When he died in 1973, she was devastated, but carried on Parsons's search for the fusion sound he called "cosmic American music." Two years later, with the release of her album, Pieces of the Sky, she was on her way. The sound Harris and Parsons produced in their short time together would have a significant impact on decades of folk, rock, and country music to follow.

Here is the song she wrote with Bill Danoff as a tribute to Parsons:

Harris's career as a songwriter and entertainer just seems to keep going and going without an end in sight. I say, "Let it go!"

Power Line's cultural beacon, Scott Johnson, wrote a fine post on Harris a few years ago. Access it here to enjoy more music, lyrics, and information. 

Photos and Illustrations:
By Yogibones from (optional) (Flickr) [CC BY 2.5 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Easter 2018

The Angel Rolling Away the Stone from the Sepulchre         William Blake, ca. 1808

Easter Changes Everything!


Photos and Illustrations:
Blake image,, Victoria and Albert Museum, London