Creepy history, Criminals, Museums, Pop Culture

The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death.

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Original publish date:  July 12, 2018

Recently I was fortunate enough to take a tour of an American treasure housed within the Maryland Medical Examiner’s Office in Baltimore, Maryland. What, you ask? An American treasure in a medical examiner’s office? Yes dear reader, let me share with you a story about the coolest display you’re ever likely to find in any government office, anywhere. This is the story of the “Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death.” On the fourth floor, room 417 is marked “Pathology Exhibit” and it holds 18 dollhouses of death. These meticulous teaching dioramas, dating from the World War II era, are an engineering marvel in dollhouse miniature and easily the most charmingly macabre tableau I’ve ever seen.

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Frances Glessner Lee

These dioramas were created by Frances Glessner Lee (1878–1962) over the course of 5 years between 1943 and 1948. Glessner Lee was a pioneer in the burgeoning field of forensic science and a trailblazer for women’s rights. She used a sizable inheritance to establish a department of legal medicine at Harvard Medical School in 1936. She donated the first of the Nutshell Studies in 1946 for use in lectures on the subject of crime scene investigation. Glessner Lee named her studies nutshells because they were designed to “convict the guilty, clear the innocent, and find the truth in a nutshell.” She instructed her students to study each scene methodically by “moving the eyes in a clockwise spiral” before drawing conclusions based on visual evidence. Crime-scene investigators had 90 minutes to study each diorama.
I was fortunate to have Bruce Goldfarb, Special Assistant for the Office of the Chief M.E., as my personal tour guide. Bruce, a former EMT, newspaper writer and accomplished author many times over, knows more about the Nutshell Studies than any one else in the Clipper City. “There are 18 dioramas in our collection and another is housed in a museum in Littleton, New Hampshire.” Bruce says, “Glessner Lee was an heiress to the International Harvester fortune and a dedicated model-maker. Each diorama cost as much to make as a full sized house.” Each model cost about US$3,000–4,500 to create which, when calculated for inflation, translates to $ 40,000 to $ 60,000 today.

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Photo by Rhonda Hunter.

Each exquisitely detailed miniature diorama (1 inch equals 1 foot or a 1:12 scale) depicts a different true crime scene and are so well done that they are still used for forensic training today. Bruce explains, “These are not famous crime scenes. They are local scenes chosen by Frances to tell a story using composites of actual court cases. They are designed to teach young investigators how to examine and preserve a crime scene properly.”
11-11-28 Nutshell StudiesHoused in impressive looking wood and glass locked cases, they are not unlike the ancient penny arcade mechanical machines recalled by every baby boomer’s childhood. Except these scenes are populated by dead bodies, gruesome instruments of death and startling realistic blood spatter patterns. The scenes take place in attics, barns, bedrooms, log cabins, bathrooms, garages, kitchens, parsonages, saloons, jails, porches and even a woodman’s shack. Sometimes, it’s easy to determine the cause of death, but look closer and conclusions are tested. There is more than meets the eye in the Nutshell Studies and any object could be a clue. Every element of the dioramas-angles of minuscule bullet holes, placements of window latches, discoloration of painstakingly painted miniature corpses-challenges the powers of observation and deduction.
99percent_5Bruce says, “Look at the miniature sewing machine (about the size of your thumbnail) it’s threaded. There is graffiti on the jail cell walls. The newspapers (less than the size of a postage stamp) are real. Each one had to be printed on a tiny press, the newsprint is immeasurably small. The Life magazine cover is accurate to the week of the crime. The ant-sized cigarettes are hand rolled and burnt on the end. Amazing!” Bruce, who came to the M.E.’s office in 2012, says that although he’s been over every inch of each diorama, he is still making new discoveries.

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Bruce Goldfarb and Alan E. Hunter

Bruce credits a recent exhibition of the Nutshell Studies at the Smithsonian for reinvigorating interest in the displays among the public. The dioramas were exhibited at the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian’s American Art Museum in Washington, DC from October 20, 2017 to January 28, 2018. When I asked if they would ever be put on public display again, Bruce answers quickly, “Never. That is the last time they will be available to the general public. This is a classroom, not a gallery. The studies won’t leave this room again.” He continues, “The Smithsonian people really helped in our preservation efforts. They had expertise far beyond our knowledge.” Bruce especially credits Smithsonian conservator Ariel O’Connor for her expertise, “Ariel is the only woman to have entered the Apollo 11 capsule and only the 6th person overall. She was lowered Tom Cruise / Mission Impossible style into the capsule to retrieve a bag left under the seat by Neil Armstrong.”

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Frances Glessner Lee’s diploma.

As informative as Mr. Goldfarb is on the dioramas, his eyes really light up when it comes to the artist. He explains “Lee was the first female police captain in the U.S. and is considered the mother of forensic science.” Lee’s original commission as captain hangs nearby on the wall. Bruce delights in telling the story of how a woman co-opted traditionally feminine crafts to advance the male-dominated field of police investigation and to establish herself as one of the founders of “legal medicine”, what we now call forensic science. “These studies are not puzzles waiting to be solved. They are designed to teach police officers to handle, observe and assess crime scenes. Frances wanted the investigator to get a sense of who these people were by deciphering the residual clues found in the surroundings.”
primary_298The Nutshell Studies made their debut at the homicide seminar in Boston in 1945. It was the first of it’s kind. Bruce says, “Frances’ intention was for Harvard University to do for crime scene investigation what they had done for their famous business school. When Frances died in 1962, support evaporated and by 1966, the department of legal medicine at Harvard was dissolved.” When asked how the displays made the trip from Harvard yard to Baltimore, Bruce states, “That’s a good question. When Harvard planned to throw them away, longtime medical examiner Russell S. Fisher brought them here in 1968. Fisher was a legend and a former student of Frances Glessner Lee. Fisher was one of the doctors called in to examine John F. Kennedy’s head wounds.”
Each study includes a descriptive crime scene report placard (written by Lee to accompany each case) containing a general outline of the crime, parties involved and date. But the solutions remain a secret. One such placard reads: “Robert Judson, a foreman in a shoe factory, his wife, Kate Judson, and their baby, Linda Mae Judson, were discovered dead by Paul Abbott, a neighbor.”

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Photo by Rhonda Hunter.

One model shows farmer Eben Wallace hanged in a hay-filled barn. One depicts a man shot to death in a log cabin, another shows a charred body in a burnt home, another, a body splattered face-down on the sidewalk outside a three-story apartment complex and still another reveals the decomposing body of “Mrs. Rose Fishman,” found in a pink bathroom in 1942. The scenes are accurate to the tiniest of details, including the appropriate lighting. “Frances was very ingenious in her lighting choices. There were no LED lighting options available. She used turn signal bulbs, Christmas tree lights, flashlight bulbs, anything she could find. Sometimes it came down to the color of the bulb or a particular paint color to achieve appropriate mood lighting.” says Bruce. “The blood pools and spatter are actually finger nail polish, which took us forever to figure out.”
While perusing these fascinating dioramas, it’s easy to forget where you are. Researchers who work in the $43 million Forensic Medical Center call the state-of-the-art facility the “Bat Cave.” It is the largest free-standing medical examiner’s office in the country and home to some 80 full-time employees, many of them pathologists, who analyze death in minute scientific detail, much like the Nutshell Studies themselves. Here, the state of Maryland learns the facts behind thousands of deaths each year.

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Bruce Goldfarb

I inform Bruce that the last time I was in Baltimore was on April 15, 2015 during the 150th anniversary of the Civil War. It was 3 days after the tragic death of Freddie Gray that sparked Civil Rights protests in the city and all across the country. My visit this time came just 3 days after the Capital Gazette newspaper shootings in Annapolis. Bruce pauses, shakes his head slightly and says, “Yes, we were very involved in the Freddie Gray incident and we’re working on the Capital Gazette shootings downstairs right now.”
In a typical summer, the M.E.’s office receives 13 to 18 bodies each day (more than 8,000 per year). It is the sole medical examiner’s office for the entire state. Homicide accounts for about 14 % of deaths, suicide for 12 % and accidents for 27 %. The first floor of the building serves as a garage that can be transformed into a mass casualty center. A large classroom on the fourth floor, with banks of desks and communication connections, can become an emergency command center during disasters. It’s like a hospital where patients are getting a physical exam, one day too late.

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Each investigator is given a penlight to examine the diorama closer.

Bruce says the Nutshell Studies are an integral part of the M.E.’s popular 5-day homicide seminar every April. The seminars are limited to 90 people and are routinely filled to capacity. He reveals that the courses are likely to be expanded this October. “The seminars are not pass or fail, they are designed as a team exercise. Each team member is paired up with strangers. They are conducted the same way that Frances did them back in 1945. Each graduate receives a ‘Harvard Associates in Police Sciences’ diploma and a class photo. Historically, police officers and journalists do well.” Bruce says with a wry smile.

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Photo by Rhonda Hunter.

However, the Nutshell Studies are not the only visual aids created by Frances on display in the M.E.’s office. The walls of the entryway to room 417 are lined with 48 incredibly realistic looking bullet wound patterns and the conference room has 3 life-size heads with bullet wounds, slashed throats and a reconstructed face. Cases contain cremated remains, shoes worn by people struck by lightning, exploded oxygen tanks and even a motorcycle helmet from a crash victim who died in an accident. But wait, there’s more.
Bruce asks, “Would you like to see the Scarpetta House?” Accompanied by official tech advisers Kris & Roger Branch and my photographer wife Rhonda, I answered “Absolutely” even though I had no idea what lay in store for us. Bruce explains that the Scarpetta house is an enclosed space decorated like a typical model home complete with a swing set and wooden deck “outside”, a furnished living room, bedroom, bathroom, kitchen and laundry room “inside.” It was donated by novelist Patricia Cornwell and the facility is named after Kay Scarpetta, Cornwell’s medical examiner heroine. Her books, including 24 novels in the Scarpetta series and 2 non-fiction books on Jack the Ripper, have sold more than 100 million copies worldwide.

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The Scarpetta House.

It should come as no surprise that the Scarpetta house is incredibly accurate in every detail. Cigarettes on the kitchen table, cereal boxes on the counter, trash in the trashcans: it looks like someone just stepped out to get the mail. Bruce notes that a few years ago, the M.E.’s office used bloody mannequins to recreate death scene scenarios for investigators to solve, but now they use live volunteers to portray the dead.
“We have local makeup artists with ‘Special FX’ experience from TV and movies come in to apply the Moulage make-up. And they look very realistic. We’ve even had some celebrities come in to portray dead people. It’s like a bucket list thing with them.” Bruce continues, “Last year my brother came in and portrayed a suicide victim. His family asked him not to take the makeup off when he was finished so they could see it. I drove him home (in the passenger seat) with a gunshot wound (complete with dripping blood) to the right temple. I even pulled in to the 7-Eleven and parked. Nobody even raised an eyebrow. He warned me that if I got pulled over for speeding, he was gonna play dead and let me explain it.”
I must admit that by this time in our visit, the investigation bug had bitten our little group. The four of us were now spread out in the Scarpetta house in search of our own clues. And although the facility had been cleaned up after last Spring’s class departed, upon closer examination, blood spatter evidence remained in those hard to reach places found in normal household scenarios. For example, the space between the toilet & sink, the bathtub grout and that pesky space between the fridge and the cabinet. Rhonda notes that there was no toilet paper in the bathroom but the empty roll remained on the holder. “That is a crime in itself,” she states. While in the kitchen, Bruce pauses before saying, “Oh yeah, don’t open the fridge” before walking out of the room. Although tempted, we took his advice and left it alone without ever knowing exactly what was inside of it.

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Photo Courtesy Forensic Medical Center State of Maryland. 

Viewing the Nutshell Studies in this information age of virtual reality, it becomes easy to appreciate them as works of art and popular culture over and above their importance as forensic tools. Lee’s hyper-real dioramas are designed to re-train people to see. It becomes obvious that Frances Glessner Lee’s genius for story telling by using simple materials was both exacting and highly creative in her pursuit of detail-knitting tiny stocking by hand with straight pins, writing minuscule letters with a single-hair paintbrush, and crafting working locks for tiny windows and doors. Exacting details, easily overlooked.
What may be most overlooked in her dioramas is the subtle social commentary found within these complex cases. Her subversive velvet touch challenges the mores of femininity, questions domestic bliss and upends the traditional ideals for dollhouse miniature modeling, sewing, and other crafts considered to be “women’s work” back in the day. Often, her models focus on society’s “invisible victims” and feature victims (women, the poor, and people living on the fringes of society) whose cases might be overlooked or tainted with prejudice on the part of the investigator. She wanted trainees to recognize and overcome any unconscious biases and to treat each case equally, regardless of the status of the victim.
So much of today’s culture is digital, and the Nutshell Studies are three-dimensional. You can’t really understand it from a flat page; you have to see it to believe it. And if that isn’t enough, Bruce Goldfarb is in the final stages of a book about Frances Glessner Lee. “Why not? I know her as well as anyone and it’s a story is worth telling. ” Bruce says. I’m sure that Bruce’s book will sum it up quite nicely…in a nutshell.

 

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Alan E. Hunter and Bruce Goldberg.  Photo by Rhonda Hunter.

 

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Photo by Rhonda Hunter.
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Hollywood, Indianapolis, Pop Culture

The Emperor Jones.

Emperor Jones poster

Original publish date:  September 9, 2011            Reissued: July 5, 2018

It was Wednesday night March 16, 1921, St. Patrick’s Day Eve, and Indianapolis was stretching the boundaries of the cultural heartland. That is, with the help of recent Pulitzer Prize winning playwrite Eugene O’Neill. The state and nation were in flux; World War II was still fresh in the hearts and minds of Americans (the United States officially declared peace with Germany in August of that year), newly minted President Warren G. Harding had been in office less than two weeks, and the Indiana Ku Klux Klan was officially chartered by the state. Worldwide, Adolph Hitler assumes leadership of the Nazi party, Albert Einstein wins the Nobel Prize in Physics, and 5 million people die in the Russian Famine brought on by the Russian Civil War.

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Original membership card from 1915-16 to The Little Theatre in Indianapolis.

Out of this atmosphere and into the footlights of the Little Theatre in Indianapolis stepped “The Emperor Jones”, an expressionist play by Eugene O’Neill featuring a controversial unlikable black protagonist in the lead role. The play tells the story of Brutus Jones, an African-American train porter who kills a man, is sentenced to prison, escapes to a Caribbean island, and cons his way to the Emperor’s throne. The story is told from the prospective of Jones himself in a series of eight acts that are written in flashback style and scripted in the vernacular of Jim Crow America in a decidedly unflattering colloquial tongue. So dominant is the lead character, that scenes two thru seven feature only Rufus Jones himself speaking in a rambling retrospective of his two year sojourn to the top.
The play had premiered off Broadway in 1920 and was so well received that it eventually had to be moved to a larger theatre on Broadway to accommodate demand. It was Eugene O’Neill’s first critical and financial success and is credited with launching the future Nobel Prize winner’s career. While there can be no doubt that Eugene O’Neill took daring chances with his plays that would ultimately change the face of American theatre, we must also tip our cap to the “Little Theatre” of Indianapolis for the risks assumed by staging this one-time performance.
“The Little Theatre Society” was founded in the Fall of 1915 to showcase productions by American and European authors / playwrites heretofore unable to garner recognition by mainstream producers. The Society was unique in that it had no theatre of its own. During the earliest years, plays were performed in the sculpture court of the John Herron Art Institute. Although beautiful, the acoustics were poor and the venue could only seat 200 guests. Soon, performances were soon moved to the Masonic Temple. The Temple was beautiful and could seat 1,000 guests, but the stage was shallow and there were no dressing rooms. Each member of the society paid a $ 5 annual membership fee which entitled them to 12 tickets for every performance. Members could use the tickets themselves or sell them to the public at an average cost of between twenty-five and fifty cents each.
According to the Society’s literature, their purpose is to: “encourage the production of new plays, plays which cannot be produced by commercial stage, either because of their content or lack of commercial possibility-in short, to encourage all community endeavor of an original character in the field of the theatre.” The Little Theatre Society was among the first to shine a spotlight on Hoosiers Theodore Dreiser and W.O. Bates. Other productions included George Bernard Shaw, Booth Tarkington, Jack London, Oscar Wilde, William Butler Yeats, George Ade, Meredith Nicholson, and James Whitcomb Riley. And that was just in the Theatre’s first two years.
z 6b90f7f2801f80121cede26010e5597dWith the choice of O’Neill’s work, “The Emperor Jones”, the Society was taking an enormous risk if only for the fact that it required an elaborate stage for a one night performance. And then there was the Klan. The KKK was growing by leaps and bounds despite the fact that it had just been formally recognized in the state that same year. Soon, one third of the native male white born citizenry of the state would belong to the Klan. This was a play solely centered around a strong, murderous black man in a position of absolute authority in production in the principally white governed center of the WASP-ish Midwestern cornbelt.
On the contrary, in defiance of its cornbelt stereotype, the Little Theatre Society was chartered for just such bold experimentation and modeled after such avant-garde venues as the Moscow Art Theatre, the Abbey Theatre of Dublin, the Manchester Players in England and Théâtre Libre in Paris. Local critics, like Walter D. Hickman of the Indianapolis Times, applauded the company’s brave undertaking immediately: “Last night at the Masonic Temple, an Indianapolis audience witnessed for the first time a local presentation of The Emperor Jones. No legitimate theatre in Indianapolis would ever think of presenting this play…the title role was played by a local negro educator, Mr. Arthur T. Long…Mr. Long dominated every scene last night and gave to the role the great beauty of expressive inflection which the part demands. I forgot that a local man was playing the role and I surrendered myself to the grim tragedy which was unfolded on the Masonic stage. A grim tragedy told in a volcanic way.”
300px-Poster-The-Emperor-Jones-Marionettes-1937W. F. McDermott, drama editor of the Indianapolis News, wrote this about Long: “a colored actor, played the role of the emperor with several moments of great naturalness. He was able to portray the negro fear of “ha’nts” with unusual power.” But McDermott was less kind to the playwrite, “O’Neill writes darkly of brooding, inscrutable fate; of black and stormbound heights, of man, stripped savage and terrified; of man tragically at odds with his environment and foredoomed.”
However, it was the local black owned press that was perhaps hardest on the production, routinely denouncing O’Neill’s work for its stereotypes in the form of the backwards (certainly by today’s standard) dialog. Although groundbreaking when viewed within the context of the time, today, O’Neill’s so called “Negro plays” are seldom performed nowadays because of their perceived negative stereotypes. Much the same as Mark Twain’s historic works have been routinely revised and censured by modern day pundits. In truth, racial issues were never O’Neill’s focus. His aim was the human soul in its tragic destiny. His ultimate goal was to provide opportunities in mainstream theatre for talented black actors. Eugene O’Neill was the son of James O’Neill, an actor whose “Romeo” character was described as the best ever, making him one of the countries first matinee idols. O’Neill was determined to revolutionize what he called the “hateful theater of my father, in whose atmosphere I had been brought up.”
z the-emperor-jones-b2skuw13.znxPerhaps the most unusual feature of the Indianapolis production was the choice of the lead actor chosen to portray Brutus Jones. Arthur Theodore Long was born on December 31, 1884, the son of Henry and Nattie (Buckner) Long in Morrillton, Arkansas. According to the 6th edition of “Who’s Who in Colored America (1941-1944)”, Long graduated from Sumner High School in St. Louis, Missouri in 1904. He entered the University of Illinois at age twenty and earned a BA degree in 1908. Arthur then went on to further his education at both Indiana and Butler universities. He then studied at the University of Chicago, presumably in pursuit of his master’s degree. Long earned teaching credentials in history, civics, English, music and mathematics.
In 1909 Long was hired to teach at I.P.S. 26 (one of the “colored schools”) in Indianapolis. There he served as assistant principal (1910 to 1915) and as principal (1915 to 1923). Long served as principal at a high school in Crawfordsville and later as a supervisor for principals in Indiana. Long then took a similar position at Lincoln School in Trenton, New Jersey, where he served for a decade. Wherever he went, Arthur T. Long promoted the arts (dance, music, and drama) and was described by people who knew him as a “tall, light skinned serious minded disciplinarian who liked to play the piano for the students in the mornings.” In good weather, he often lit up the school playground at night to stage impromptu school productions featuring black heroes like Frederick Douglas, Booker T. Washington and Benjamin Banneker. Long left his position in Trenton in November of 1933, just two months before his fiftieth birthday and was never heard from again.

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Playwrite Eugene O’Neill

What became of O’Neill’s social masterpiece, “The Emperor Jones?” Although it struck the theatre world like an electric shock nearly a century ago, it is relatively forgotten today. Personally, I believe it to be as socially relevant today as it was when it made its debut back in 1920, regardless of color. The story could easily serve as a parable for many of the problems facing every facet of today’s society. O’Neill’s Brutus Jones is a desperate man facing a hopeless situation who is thrust into an opportunity he sees as his only chance at survival. He arrives on an isolated island and is immediately elevated to a position of authority and power by the island’s uninformed, superstitious inhabitants. In time, he abuses his position, becomes careless and is punished (in this case killed) by his “subjects” who have caught on to his game.
Is this not unlike today’s ninety-day wonders: rookie corner drug dealers who operate freely and undetected for brief periods of time with more money than they can spend and more friends than they can count before law enforcement catches up to them? Or perhaps a modern day investment banker or securities trader spending the money of trusted friends and clients for his own whims before he is discovered and prosecuted? Both of these examples speak their own language and justify their own actions in the same coarse way as Eugene O’Neill’s Brutus Jones did all those years ago. Although you can easily look up “The Emperor Jones” on the web and decide for yourself, its unlikely that you’ll be seeing it on Broadway anytime soon. But, like me, you can take pride in the fact that nearly a century ago, a brave little theatre troupe in Indianapolis had the guts to stage the saga on St. Patty’s Day eve when other, allegedly more “Cosmopolitan” cities wouldn’t touch it.

Art, Civil War, Gettysburg, Museums

General James Longstreet at Gettysburg. Part III.

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Gettysburg Longstreet Monument Sculptor Gary Casteel and Alan E. Hunter.

 

Original publish date:  June 22, 2018

Any student of history knows that Gettysburg was the turning point of the Civil War. Up until 2:00 pm on July 3rd 1863, when General James Longstreet ordered General George Pickett out of the woods along Seminary Ridge, the South still had a chance. Pickett’s charge would fail miserably and less than 2 years later, the war for Southern independence was over. But the battle to restore both men’s reputations had just begun. As detailed in parts I and II of this series, that battle was waged by the General’s widows and would last well into the 20th century.

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Longstreet and his former Union adversaries in Gettysburg.
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Enlargement of the William Tipton image. Civil War commanders (from left)
Joshua Chamberlain, Daniel Butterfield, James Longstreet and one-legged Dan Sickles
 pose in Gettysburg on July 3, 1888. Sickles lost his leg at Gettysburg on July 3, 1863.

After the General died in 1904, his widow Helen Dortch Longstreet, known as the “Fighting Lady,” spent the next half century fulfilling a promise made to her husband that “in the future, so long as I shall live, whenever your war record is attacked, I will make answer.” In 1939, as the founder of the Longstreet Memorial Association, she arranged to have a statue of her late husband placed at Gettysburg. The proposed Longstreet memorial would be created by sculptor Paul Manship and a scale model of the statue was unveiled at the site dedication event in July, 1941. The sample statue featured General Longstreet on a horse (with one foot up) urging his men forward with a wave of his hat held in his outstretched arm. At 12 feet high and 12 feet wide, it was placed atop a base of red marble and would be surrounded by stone seats for viewing.

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1940 Paul Manship model of James Longstreet Memorial at Gettysburg: never placed.

However, after a photo of the proposed statue was published in a local newspaper, the National Park Service wrote a letter to Mrs. Longstreet voicing a concern: “There is one feature that has caused considerable local comment and one I feel to be of sufficient importance to be called to your attention…The position of the horses’ feet in each of the existing equestrian statues now in the park tell a story. This fact is widely known and has become one of the items of which the visiting public likes to check. 1. Both feet of the ground: Rider died in action. 2. One foot off the ground: Rider wounded in action. 3. All four feet on the ground: Rider unscathed. As far as I have been able to determine this uniformity of position is but a happenstance. However, it is true within the park.”

 

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Helen Dortch Longstreet

Mrs Longstreet replied: “This will thank you warmly for your constructive criticism of the model of the proposed equestrian statue of General Longstreet for the Gettysburg field. I am forwarding it to Mr. Manship, the sculptor, who will, I am sure, will appreciate it as sincerely as I do. I know it is Mr. Manship’s intention to make the Longstreet Memorial the noblest on the Gettysburg battlefield and to correspond in every respect with the magnificent memorials already there.” And that is where the question remained until December 7. 1941. The bombing of Pearl Harbor changed everything and put the brakes on the Longstreet memorial plans at Gettysburg.

 

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Helen Dortch Longstreet (center) at the original site set aside by the National Park Service for the Longstreet Memorial, October 27, 1939. Park Superintendent James R. McConaghie (left of Mrs. Longstreet) and sculptor Paul Manship (right of Mrs. Longstreet). Little Round Top can be seen behind them.

With the coming of World War II, raising funds to build the Longstreet monument seemed pointless in the face of homefront shortages and War Bond fund raising rallies to fight the Axis. After the war, interest for Civil War monuments evaporated. Although Mrs. Longstreet’s efforts to raise funds for her husband’s monument continued, her health declined rapidly. By the mid-1950s, Mrs. Longstreet developed “mental problems” and in 1957 she was placed in Central State Hospital in Milledgeville, Georgia. She remained institutionalized there until her death on May 3, 1862. Three years later the Soldiers and Sailors of the Confederacy monument would instead be placed on the original ground selected for the Longstreet memorial.

 

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Helen Longstreet (left) with actress Mary Pickford and UCV Commander Julius F. Howell at the Gettysburg groundbreaking ceremony for the Longstreet equestrian statue on July 2, 1941. National Park Service Dr. J. Walter Coleman is at the left.

The Longstreet memorial remained forgotten for the next 30 years until pop culture and history collided to rekindle the legend of General James Longstreet. Ken Burns 1990 PBS documentary miniseries on the Civil War changed everything. Suddenly the Civil War was brought to the forefront like never before. Then came the 1993 movie Gettysburg which detailed the complicated men and ideals of this highly misunderstood period of American history. One of those most affected by the tarnished legend of Longstreet was a Sanford, North Carolina state forestry service heavy-equipment operator named Robert C. Thomas.
Thomas was moved to action after reading a 1990 book, “Lee’s Tarnished Lieutenant: James Longstreet and His Place in Southern History”, written by Dr. William Garrett Piston, editor of North and South magazine and Professor at Southwest Missouri State University . Thomas shared the book with fellow Civil War enthusiasts and together they decided that Longstreet’s time was overdue. In June 1991, Robert & Joe Thomas, along with Ray King, Bill Bates and Sion Harrington formed the Longstreet Memorial Fund Committee. This band of dedicated activists began selling mugs, T-shirts, tote bags, pens and cross-stitch portraits of the general at re-enactments across the country to raise funds for a proper monument to honor General James Longstreet. Gettysburg sculptor Gary Casteel was enlisted to craft a monument for placement in Pitzer Woods on Confederate Avenue on the battlefield.

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The former Hall of Presidents & First Ladies Museum-Now Gary Casteel’s Studio.

As fate would have it, during a late April trip to Gettysburg, I happened across the studio of Mr. Casteel. My habit is to wander the battlefield on early fog wrapped mornings before the tour buses role in while my wife Rhonda sleeps in. Last year, the Hall of Presidents and First Ladies wax museum was closed and all of the figures were sold off. The 363 lots sold in a January 2017 auction for a total of $217,409. If you’re interested, as am I, the average cost of a wax president was $3,088 while the average cost of a wax first lady figure was $437 proving that the wage gap transcends the pages of time. The top three highest-selling presidents were Abraham Lincoln ($9,350); Teddy Roosevelt ($8,800); Ulysses S. Grant ($6,820). Mary Todd Lincoln sold for $990 while Rosalynn Carter hammered down at a mere $247.50.
While relaxing atop my sunny perch on the Hancock equestrian monument base (across from the Evergreen cemetery gatehouse) I noticed that the old wax museum had undergone a facelift. So I wandered over to take a peek at the new digs and quite happily stumbled across the studio of none other than Gary Casteel, the sculptor of the Longstreet monument. i could hardly contain my excitement. I had heard stories about that monument for years since it’s 1998 installment and unveiling and immediately altered my travel plans in hopes of meeting this accomplished artist. It was well worth the wait.
Rhonda and I ventured over to the studio (at 789 Baltimore St. in Gettysburg) and much to my amazement, we were greeted by the artist in the flesh. Gary Casteel is the epitome of a southern gentleman. He speaks in measured tones that bespeak his West Virginia birthright. When I hear a West Virginia accent, I think of General Chuck Yeager. Tom Wolfe said it best in his book “The Right Stuff” when he described it as: “a particular drawl, a particular folksiness, a particular down-home calmness” that seems to draw the listener in and immediately put them at peace. Phrases like “Oh my” frame words like Riv-ah, He-ah and Nev-ah to form sentences with genteel insight rarely heard in Hoosier land.

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Sculptor Gary Casteel in his Gettysburg studio.

Classical music fills the air of Gary Casteel’s studio and adds to the importance of the moment. Gary’s studio, adjacent to the entrance to the National Cemetery, is sparkly clean and meticulously organized. Not at all like certain media portrayals would lead you to believe an artist’s studio should look like. There is no tortured artist at work here my friends. This is the workplace of a practiced hand that is straight as a preacher and as long a memory. One look at Gary’s work and that attention to minute detail is easily discerned. Although his work appears effortless, it is obviously the result of decades of difficult training and practice.
Gary Casteel grew up in the coal mining region of West Virginia and resolved early to become a sculptor while attending grade school there. Contrary to the stereotypes of the region, from an early age, he listened to classical music on the radio, devoured the works of William Shakespeare and idolized Michelangelo. In Gary’s own words, “through marriage, divorce, military service, occupation transfers, relocation, business ownership or family strife, I stayed true to my commitment to become a sculptor.” The Longstreet commission was the culmination of a lifetime dream for sculptor Casteel.
“My point of view has always been that heroes are larger than life. They are to be physically and mentally looked up to.” says Casteel. “In my youth, I was reared with ideals of heroes such as Davy Crockett, Daniel Boone, Robert E. Lee, George Patton. Now as a middle aged man with more than half a century of experience, living in an age of of hero deterioration and downfall, I choose my Icons with more wisdom. Longstreet, the General, was larger than life.” Gary Casteel decided that the memorial to Longstreet should be larger than life as well.
Unlike most monuments at Gettysburg, Casteel’s Longstreet rests at ground level and is not perched upon a lofty pedestal. The General is shown astride his favorite horse, Hero. Longstreet is pulling hard at the reins as Hero’s hooves dig into the soft Pennsylvania soil. The General’s attention is directed towards the copse of trees, the focal point of attack, mere moments before his troops would emerge from the treeline behind him. The field has become known as Pickett’s Charge and the copse of trees is forever referred to as the high water mark of the Confederacy. General Longstreet’s steely gaze is forever fixed on the target his men would never attain and one he never believed was attainable in the first place.

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Jamie Longstreet Paterson-The General’s Granddaughter at the dedication.

Longstreet's grandaughterI asked Mr. Casteel if it was true that Longstreet’s granddaughter attended the unveiling ceremony. He answered quickly, “Oh yes. Jamie Longstreet Paterson attended the dedication ceremony. We brought out a ladder and she climbed up to get a better look at the General. I was worried because she was 67-years-old but more worried when she started to cry,” said Gary. “I thought, oh my, we may have a problem here. When she came down, I realized they were tears of joy as she said, ‘I never thought I would look him in the face’.” Sculptor Casteel’s Longstreet memorial was one of the last monuments erected at the Gettysburg National Military Park. It was dedicated on July 3, 1998, the 135th anniversary of the end of the battle of Gettysburg. Jamie Paterson Longstreet died six years later on August 4, 2014.
IMG_3339It should be noted that Casteel is not only an accomplished sculptor, knowledgeable historian and well versed art scholar, he has deeper personal roots in the Civil War and Battle of Gettysburg itself. Casteel says that his own family had two ancestors -brothers in fact- who actually fired at each other from opposing sides during the Battle of Gettysburg. “I call him Uncle Bill and he placed his rifle against that stone wall and fired our way from right over there” as he points out his studio window. Casteel is currently hard at work on several pieces for the proposed National Civil War Memorial. “Did you realize that there is no national monument to the Civil War?” he asks.

 

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Me inside Gary Casteel’s studio.

z 31398193_1822681077763147_4410866842453671936_nGary guides us to a loose leaf binder containing images of the large sculpture medallions he has created for the museum. Lincoln, Lee, Jefferson Davis, and John Wilkes Booth are just a few of the completed images resting on the drying racks in the back of Gary’s studio. Gary remarks, “I asked Ed Bearss (Chief Historian Emeritus of the National Park Service), who serves on the museum board, why there was no plaque for Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain (Hero of Gettysburg’s Little Round Top) in the selection. He responded, ‘Gary, no one ever heard of Chamberlain before Gettysburg or afterwards for that matter.” Yes, talking with Gary Casteel gives new perspective to an old subject and promises to make a visit to his studio an unforgettable memory.
If Longstreet had died in battle, he undoubtedly would have been placed among the South’s greatest heroes, with monuments located everywhere he led men into battle. But after the death of Lee in 1870 and Pickett’s death five years later in 1875, Longstreet became the living scapegoat for the South’s defeat at Gettysburg. Gary Casteel’s statue has helped alter that view. Sometimes all it takes a new perspective from an old school craftsman to help cast things in a new light.

 

Abe Lincoln, Civil War, Gettysburg

The Confederate Monument Debate. Ad Infinitum.

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Protesters in New Orleans Louisiana. May 16, 2017. Photo by Matthew Hinton

Original publish date:  August 17, 2017

There has been a lot of talk lately Confederate Civil War monuments and what they stand for. In fact recently, several of those monuments to rebel leaders and soldiers toppled by protesters and removed in the dark of the night by officials. My wife and I traveled to Gettysburg 2 to 3 times every year and a fairly wear out my Facebook friends with the many pictures I post from that famous battlefield. The monuments on the Gettysburg battlefield had escaped the relevant racial scrutiny and have often been viewed as untouchable and different from the ones being protested across the nation until last week when the debate hit the pages of the Gettysburg compiler newspaper.
Scott Hancock, an associate professor of History and Africana studies at Gettysburg College, says it may be time to question the Confederate monuments on the Gettysburg battlefield. “As an African American, I’m glad for one that we seem to have a broader public movement consensus of people that want to get the history right,” Hancock said.

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Scott Hancock, associate professor at Gettysburg College.

Hancock explained that, in the last decade or so, a majority of historians have concluded that slavery was the central issue of the Civil War. As a result, the monuments dedicated to the Confederacy and Confederate figures represent a “narrow, twisted version of history,” Hancock said. For some, the Confederate monuments on the battlefield help tell the full story of the Battle of Gettysburg. If nothing else, Hancock’s story begs the question: Is there a difference between Confederate monuments found in public parks and those found on battlefields? What about Confederate monuments in cemeteries?
The root of the question may be historical context. Should Confederate soldier’s sacrifices, and in many cases their deaths, be recalled and remembered at the spot of their struggle? In my opinion, the battlefield monuments to both sides speak to all who view them. Not only do they represent the soldiers that fought there, they are also valuable pieces of public art. Often, they are made of stone native to that soldier’s state or placed upon a sacred spot of battlefield relevance.

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Abraham Lincoln at Gettysburg.

One need only look as far as Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg address to understand why those monuments are placed there. Lincoln said, ” Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate—we can not consecrate—we can not hallow—this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
To most Americans that should be reason enough to leave the Confederate Civil War monuments found on battlefields in cemeteries in place. The question is not only consigned to the Gettysburg battlefield however. Indianapolis, although never the scene of a major Civil War battle, has monuments to Confederate dead as near as Garfield Park and Crown Hill Cemetery. Undoubtedly, the question of whether or not they should remain there will be debated soon.
The argument as to whether these monuments are part of our cultural landscape will most likely continue. As for their presence on battlefields and in cemeteries, these site-specific memorials were designed to be educational markers to interpret history. From Professor Hancock’s perspective is it appropriate to have markers of any kind honoring the Confederacy placed on public land and maintained by public money? For the record, that debate goes on within the Hunter household. But, I guess I’m just a late stage baby boomer who grew up during the Cold War and who is proud to have been born during the centennial celebration of the Civil War. So I guess it’s a generational thing.
I’m not prepared to make a personal political statement in this article but I did want to share an item from my collection that I feel speaks to the issue from a different perspective. Among the many collections I obsess over is my gathering of items of all sorts relating to the battle of Gettysburg. One such item is a set of documents I bought several years ago from January 1903.

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One is a two-page handwritten document on legal sized paper from the Grand Army of the Republic (G. A. R.) Headquarters post Bradberry Pennsylvania near Philadelphia dated January 28, 1903. The official resolution document reads: “Whereas the War of the Rebellion is over, and its memories alone remain. Among these memories none are more sacred or vivid than the three days fight on the Battlefield of Gettysburg. We remember the invasion of our soil by the Army of Rebels under the command of General Robert E Lee. Three days we fought the faux under the command of one who had sworn to support the Constitution and Sons of Our Country. Who had been educated at the nation’s expense, and honored by all the people: yet who in the hour of the country’s need proved himself an Arch Traitor.
What Gettysburg is we and our comrades have made it. The glory, the fame, the sentiment and reverence that cluster around that historic field, is all ours, and that of our fallen comrades. And whereas, it is proposed to erect a monument on the field of Gettysburg to the memory of this traitor Gen. Robert E Lee, at the joint expense of this Commonwealth and that of Virginia.
Therefore resolved, that we appeal to the Senators and Representatives of Pennsylvania in General Assembly met to defeat this insult to the memory of our dead comrades not only of Pennsylvania but of the whole country; as well as to those who survive, who gave the best efforts of their youth, to drive from Pennsylvania’s soil, the rebel hordes under the command of the Rebel General, to whom it is now proposed to honor.

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Resolved. That Thomas V. Cooper, a comrade of this post in presenting this bill and favoring its passage, voices but one comrade and does not speak for post-149. Resolved. That a copy of these resolutions under the seal of the post attested by the commander and adjutant, be sent to the Senate and House of Representatives of the State: and a copy of the same, sent to Headquarters of This Department.” The document is signed by three members of the post, (Thos. J. Dolphin, O. F. Bullard, & James H Worrall) All of whom I’m sure our former Union soldiers.

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The other is an 8.5 x 11 handwritten letter dated January 29, 1903 on the ornate letterhead of the “Headquarters John A Koltes Post No. 228 Department of Pennsylvania, G. A. R. Keystone Hall, 835 North Second St., Philadelphia” the letterhead features an image of the G.A.R. soldier’s badge at the top. The letter reads: “To the Officers and Comrades of Bradford Post No 149 Department of Pa. G. A. R. Comrades! The following resolution was unanimously adopted at a regular slated meeting of the above named Post, and I take pleasure in transmitting a copy thereof to you as directed. Namely, that we heartily congratulate our brave comrades of Bradford Post No 1494 the action they have taken so far regarding the erection of a memorial statue to Robert E Lee on the Battlefield of Gettysburg, through the apparent willingly given assistance of one of those members, Representative Thomas V Cooper, and we hope and earnestly trust, that in future Bradford post will endeavor and use the utmost ability to defeat said Thomas V Cooper for any further public position of honor or trust whatsoever. Resolved that a copy of this resolution be transmitted to Bradford Post No 149. Daniel L Hornick Commander.”
The letters illustrate that this debate was going on 40 years after the close of the Civil War and was being waged by the soldiers who participated in it. Think about the strife and turmoil that must’ve been swirling within the walls of this lodge as they protested the placement of the statue to the Rebel General they fought so bravely against. The ex-soldiers were so vehement in their opposition that they were willing to take on one of their most accomplished lodge members, Senator “Red Headed and Hopeful” Tom Cooper.

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Senator Thomas Valentine Cooper 1835-1909

Cooper served as a delegate to the 1860 Chicago Republican Convention and played a pivotal role in the nomination of Mr Lincoln. At the outset of the Civil War, Thomas helped organize Company F of the Fourth Pennsylvania Regiment and later enlisted in Hartranft’s Company C, 26th Regiment, serving three years in the Army of the Potomac. He mustered-out at Independence Hall, June 14, 1864, having served in 13 major engagements, including Second Bull Run, Chancellorsville, Fredericksburg, Gettysburg, the Wilderness, and Spotsylvania Court House. Thomas represented Delaware County in the State House of Representatives, 1870-72, and was elected to the state Senate in 1872. He served 17 consecutive years in the upper house. Cooper was a Mason, a member of the Bradbury G.A.R. Post . Cooper died in his home on December 19, 1909 after a freak fire engulfed his room, most likely, the result of an ash falling from his trademark cigar. Cooper had as much right to protest the placement of the Robert E Lee statue as anyone. His patriotic credentials were unquestioned. Yet he supported the placement of a Confederate monument on a battlefield he risked his life fighting on.

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The Virginia Monument at Gettysburg.

Despite the Bradford Post’s attempt to thwart the placement of the Lee Monument at Gettysburg, the iconic landmark was indeed placed there in the days just before World War I. The Virginia monument, located on West Confederate Avenue, was the first of the Confederate State monuments at Gettysburg. It was dedicated on June 8, 1917 and unveiled by Miss Virginia Carter, a niece of Robert E Lee. It is the largest of the Confederate monuments on the Gettysburg battlefield, a fitting tribute for the state that provided the largest contingent to the Army of Northern Virginia, its commander, and its name. Lee’s figure, topping the monument astride his favorite horse, Traveler, was created by sculptor Frederick Sievers from photographs and life masks of the general. He even went to Lexington, Virginia to study Traveler’s skeleton, preserved at Washington and Lee University. The monument stands 41 feet high. The statue of Lee and Traveler stands 14 feet high. The total cost of the monument was $50,000. Virginia contributed over 19,000 men to the Army of Northern Virginia at Gettysburg, the largest contingent from the twelve Confederate states. Almost 4,500 of these – almost 1 out of 4 – became casualties, the second highest state total at Gettysburg.
When it comes to the battlefield, Hancock pointed out that, while most of the park’s monuments and markers were constructed in the late 19th and early 20th century, several Confederate memorials were erected in the 1960s and 1970s. Hancock points out that many of those monuments to the Confederacy were erected before, during and after the civil rights movement and deserve particular scrutiny “because of the social and racial context of the time.” Hancock singled out the Confederate monuments along Confederate Avenue, in particular that of Mississippi, which was erected in the early 1970s. The monument speaks of Mississippians fighting for the “righteous cause” and “sacred heritage of honor.”
Voices on both sides of the issue will certainly attempt to add clarity in the days ahead. For instance, former Martin Luther King Jr. right-hand man, UN representative under Jimmy Carter and Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young recently said, “I think it’s too costly to continue to fight the Civil War.” Condoleezza Rice, former Secretary of State under George W. Bush, said this: “”When you start wiping out your history, sanitizing your history to make you feel better, it’s a bad thing.” The debate promises to continue. But let’s not forget this is a debate that has been going on for over 150 years now.

Civil War

General James Longstreet at Gettysburg. Part II.

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Original publish date:  June 15, 2018

Confederate General James Longstreet’s reputation was thrown under the bus by the widow of his former friend, General George Pickett. It was Longstreet who ordered Pickett forward at Gettysburg, in what has become known as “Pickett’s Charge.” The incident is widely acknowledged by historians as General Robert E. Lee’s biggest tactical mistake of the Civil War. Pickett’s widow, LaSalle, considered it her mission to resurrect the damaged career of her slighted husband. Sadly, she did it at the expense of James Longstreet.

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General James Longstreet and his bride Helen Dortch Longstreet

LaSalle (aka “Sallie”) spent the decades following her husband’s 1875 death (by scarlet fever) writing, speaking and creating an idealized version of “her soldier” as the ideal Southern gentleman. Her campaign to sainthood for General Pickett began when she published the book “Pickett and His Men”, a history of her husband’s military campaigns in 1899. She also published 2 other books, The Heart of a Soldier, As Revealed in the Intimate Letters of Gen’l George E. Pickett (1913) and Soldier of the South: General Pickett’s War Letters to His Wife (1928). All 3 works projected Pickett as a figure cloaked in “Lost Cause” mythology.
20070103000545!James_Longstreet_later_lifeHer efforts worked and today, Pickett is widely remembered as a tragic hero of the disastrous charge at Gettysburg that bears his name. Rather than place blame at the feet of the South’s “Marble Man”, Robert E. Lee, LaSalle shifted blame to James Longstreet. Her effort was well received by the purveyors of the Lost Cause and Pickett’s reputation was posthumously restored.
l1But General Longstreet had a secret weapon of his own: his young bride, Helen Dortch Longstreet. The General married her in 1897 in a ceremony at the governor’s mansion in Atlanta. She was 34 and he was 76. She would outlive her husband by 58 years, passing away in 1962 during the National Centennial Celebration of the Civil War. By the time of her death, she had accomplished more than most any other woman of her era and helped restore her husband’s legacy along the way. And I have the letters to prove it.
As detailed in part I of this series, Confederate General James Longstreet was an important figure in American military history. He was pivotal in every battle he participated in (which includes most of the important battles of the Civil War) and was one of the first to question the wisdom of strategies and leaders that shaped the course of the Great Rebellion. He was present when hostilities ceased at Appomattox and was one of the first of the Rebel leaders to reintegrate into the Union. While disappointed by the outcome, he was quick to recognize the results of the struggle. For his reluctance to embrace the “Lost Cause” and refusal to “wave the bloody shirt”, Longstreet paid a high price.
IMG_9766Longstreet served in a variety of government positions after the war, including ambassador to Turkey and as a Federal Marshall. He served as a railroad commissioner and spent his final years trying to refute continued attacks on his character raised by his former friends and brothers in arms who labeled him as a traitor to a failed ideal. His 1896 memoirs, a labor of five years titled “From Manassas to Appomattox”, he attempted to set the record straight.

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Widow Longstreet at the General’s Grave.

Longstreet’s final years were marked by poor health and partial deafness. By 1902 he suffered from severe rheumatism and was unable to stand for more than a few minutes at a time. By January 1903, his weight dropped from 200 to 135 pounds, cancer developed in his right eye, and he underwent X-ray therapy in Chicago to treat it. He contracted pneumonia and died in Gainesville, Georgia on January 2, 1904, six days before his 83rd birthday. Longstreet outlived most of his contemporary detractors, and was one of only a handful of Civil War Generals to live into the 20th century.

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Helen Dortch Longstreet

For the next 58 years, Helen Longstreet worked tirelessly to rebuild the General’s tattered legacy. She wrote “Lee and Longstreet at High Tide” in which she stated that “the South was seditiously taught to believe that the Federal Victory was wholly the fortuitous outcome of the culpable disobedience of General Longstreet.” Regardless, white ex-Confederates could never forgive his postwar racial and political treason, so they trashed his wartime military record. Helen determined that her husband would not become a scapegoat for the Lost Cause. Widow Longstreet’s idea for the big “get even” was that the best revenge was success. Both the success of the General and that of her own.
Helen Dortch Longstreet earned the nickname of the “Fighting Lady” for being a champion of many causes including environmental preservation, physical fitness, women’s rights, civil rights and as a Confederate memorialist. She was the first woman to run for public office in the state of Georgia and was thereby instrumental in breaking down the prejudice against women holding high political positions. She was the driving force behind the creation of a state park at Tallulah Gorge. She opposed a plan by Georgia Power to build a series of hydroelectric dams along the Tallulah River. Although unsuccessful, her campaign was the first conservation movements in America championed by a woman.

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1949 letter on Longstreet Memorial Association letterhead.

Originally, my personal interest in the widow Longstreet was directly tied to her husband’s exploits at Gettysburg. That all changed several years ago when I came across a trio of letters written by Mrs. Longstreet. I was astonished to find these letters were dated 1949-51, nearly half a century after General James Longstreet died and 90 years after the Civil War began. How could this be? I began to research Helen Dortch Longstreet and discovered what an amazing woman she was. These letters were written just before and shortly after Mrs. Longstreet ran an unsuccessful write-in campaign for governor of the State of Georgia against Herman Talmadge in 1950. Her main complaint? Blacks were not allowed to vote in the primary.
The first letter, dated May 16, 1949, is on the ornate letterhead of the “Longstreet Memorial Association” that was “Organized on the Gettysburg field by Veterans of Longstreet’s command during the seventy-fifth anniversary celebration of the battle” in 1938. Association member names are listed at the side and include 20 Governors (there were only 48 states at the time and Indiana’s Clifford Townsend is among them), College / University Presidents, Congressmen, Senators and military officers. The letter was written to Col. Carl W. Breihan of Lemay, Missouri. Breihan, a former St. Louis County Police Commissioner, was recognized as an authority on outlaws Frank and Jesse James and the Younger brothers and author of 12 books on Wild West anti-heroes including Jesse James, Billy the Kid and Quantrill’s Raiders.
Widow Longstreet writes, “I think of nothing during the day, but plans for raising money for the Longstreet Monument and I dream about it at night.” Mrs. Longstreet details her plan to raise funds for the monument by awarding a new 1949 Kaiser-Frazer automobile to the “prettiest girl in the County whose citizens make the largest contribution to the Longstreet Memorial Association in proportion to population.” Mrs. Longstreet states, “I thought this would cause the ordinaries to contribute and to appeal to their friends for contributions…I would risk my life on the bet that this plan will prove a glorious success.” Mrs. Longstreet’s ambitious plan included buying 48 Kaiser-Frazer cars (at $ 2,000 each) on credit to be awarded in all 48 states.
IMG_9769The letter continues, “The auto dealers will pay more attention to the plan if presented by a young, vigorous, intelligent gentleman like yourself, than by an old woman….I could never make them understand that behind the wrinkles and gray hairs the vigor and enthusiasm of youth still lives…When the monument stands finished on the field of glory, Carl W. Breihan, more than any other person in the world will deserve the credit.” She added the postscript, “I went on a little speaking trip to Cleveland, Ohio and received such an ovation, I may run for President.”
IMG_9767The next letter is in the form of a press release. Dated Feb. 26, 1951, it mentions the unveiling of a marker at General Longstreet’s South Carolina birthplace that likely includes excerpts from her planned speech at the ceremony. “I would send a message to Stalin’s Red Divisions wherever they march today-American soldiers wrote across the pathway of the stars, from ’61 to ’65, that Americans surrender only to Americans….Americans want PEACE and FREEDOM for ALL MEN. AMERICANS ABHOR WAR; but if war is forced upon us we have the power which will exercise to WHIP THE WORLD…At the birthplace of an American soldier whose grip never relaxed, whose guns never ceased to thunder, we strike a note which will reverberate against the stars.”

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The third and final letter was written on New Years Eve of 1951. It is a typed letter on the ornate letterhead of the “Physical Culture Hotel” in Dansville, New York. Again written to Mr. Briehan, it reads in part, “My great loneliness and longing for ‘the touch of a vanished hand and the sound of a voice that is stilled,’ seem greater than I can bear at Christmas.” The letter mentions the Longstreet Monument briefly but is mostly devoted to finding Briehan an editor for his first book (The Complete and Authentic Life of Jesse James 1953). In my opinion, the letterhead speaks more about the widow than does the text.
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IMG_9772The Physical Culture Hotel, founded by former professional wrestler and magazine mogul Bernarr MacFadden, began life as the “Jackson Sanitorium” (founded in 1854), a health spa credited with inventing granola and launching the Kellogg cereal company. The Hotel was a pioneer in the use of hydrotherapy but also emphasized recreation and social activities such as swimming, sunbathing, tennis, and dancing. McFadden and his hotel were on the cutting edge of the physical fitness movement in America and at age 88, Helen Dortch Longstreet was right in the center of it. To me, this letter is emblematic of the widow Longstreet. She was ahead of her time, unpredictable and most of all, she never gave up.
Riveter-LongstreetFurther research reveals that, during World War II, Mrs. Longstreet was a Rosie the Riveter assembling B-29 bombers at the Bell Aircraft plant in Atlanta. She explained, “I was at the head of my class in riveting school. In fact I was the only one in it.” She worked in the factory for two years, refused to join the union, never missed a day of work or showed up late for a shift. Widow Longstreet told Life magazine reporters, surprised to find a Civil War General’s widow alive and well and working for the war effort, “I just want to build bombers to bomb Hitler.”
Mrs. Longstreet had been a Progressive Party member who had supported Theodore Roosevelt for President as a delegate to the Progressive Party convention in 1912. With her spirit of progressive political activism reinvigorated, Longstreet spent the next 50 years trying to resuscitate her husband’s wartime reputation. Not only did she organize the Longstreet Memorial Association, she created both the Longstreet Memorial Exhibit at the New York World’s Fair in 1939 and at the Golden Gate Exposition in San Francisco in 1940. In 1947, she became the first woman to have her portrait placed in the Georgia State Capitol. By 1956, Helen Longstreet was suffering from deteriorating mental health. She was placed in the Central State Mental Hospital in Milledgeville, Georgia in 1957, where she remained until her death on May 3, 1962. She is buried in West View Cemetery in Atlanta.

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Helen Dortch Longstreet

And what became of her husband’s chief detractor, LaSalle Corbell Pickett, wife of General George Pickett? She died on March 22, 1931, having outlived her husband by more than 55 years. But she would not rest in peace. Richmond, Virginia’s Hollywood Cemetery declined to allow her to be buried next to her husband. That was until Pickett’s grandson, Lieutenant George E. Pickett III, threatened to have his grandfather disinterred and moved to Arlington National Cemetery where they could rest side-by-side. Hollywood Cemetery quickly agreed to permit LaSalle’s interment there, but for reasons unknown, the request went unfulfilled.
LaSalle’s remains were cremated and interred at Abbey Mausoleum in Arlington, Virginia. Originally a mausoleum for the wealthiest citizens of Washington, DC, it went bankrupt in 1968. The structure fell into disrepair and was vandalized many times and several graves desecrated. In 1976, vandals opened and desecrated 12 coffins and 10 urns. One crypt was completely opened and the coffin left opened. Vandals placed a copy of heavy metal magazine “Circus” on the chest of the skeleton. Additionally, ashes were poured on the floor and smiley faces drawn in them.
In 1979, 45 crypts were broken into, coffins removed, and the corpses decapitated. The skulls were left perched atop broomsticks and left upright around the tomb. In the late 1980s, vandals opened urns and poured the contents onto the floor, mixing remains together and again writing in the ashes. In 1994, police discovered bloody hand prints, candles, dead cats, pentagrams, and other signs of occult worship. Two crypts were opened, the coffins placed on the floor, and the remains exposed.
z IMG_8534In 1998, the Military Order of the Stars and Bars and United Daughters of the Confederacy worked together to pay for LaSalle’s disinterment and reburial in front of the George E. Pickett Memorial in Hollywood Cemetery. Widow Pickett was buried on Saturday, March 21, 1998. She was the first woman interred in the Confederate military burial section. On July 3 of that same year, one of the last monuments was erected on the Gettysburg National Military Park. It was an equestrian statue of General James Longstreet on his horse “Hero” in Pitzer Woods on Confederate Avenue. Perhaps most astonishingly, 135 years after the battle, Jamie Longstreet Paterson, the 67-year-old granddaughter of General Longstreet was there to see it.
Next week-Part III

Creepy history, Ghosts, Indianapolis, Irvington Ghost Tours, Pop Culture

The first Irvington Halloween Festival and the law.

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Original 1946 Irvington Halloween Festival Ticket.

Original publish date:  October 16 2011

Next week, once again, Irvington will celebrate “All Hallows Eve” better than anyplace else in the Hoosier state by hosting the 65th annual Halloween Festival. Trick-or-treating, window painting, house decorating, and a costume parade down the middle of Washington Street are all cherished traditions eagerly anticipated by the participants involved. But what about that first Halloween festival back in 1946? What was that like? And most importantly, were Irvingtonians breaking the law by hosting it?
Disney Trick or treatWe’ve all heard the stories, legends and rumors surrounding that now legendary first event. It was sponsored by the Walt Disney company featuring costumed characters with a Disney based theme. The Disney folks gave away potentially priceless hand painted film production cels right here on the streets of old Irvington town. Walt Disney himself was seen walking down Audubon with Mickey Mouse at his side. It’s hard to separate fact from fiction nowadays.
However, a good place to start would be the history books. What was going on in the world back in October of 1946? Mensa was founded in Great Britain and the United Nations held its first meeting on Long Island. World War II ended a year before, yet the Nuremberg War trials concluded with the execution of ten German war criminals just two weeks before the festival. Among the adolescent ghosts and goblins wandering the streets of Irvington 65 years ago was a spectral leftover from the second world war looming menacingly over the costumed treat seekers. The specter of Sugar rationing. Really? Sugar rationing on Halloween?
When the empire of Japan conquered the Philippine Islands in the early months of 1942 the United States lost a major source of it’s national sugar imports. Sugar shipments from Hawaii had already been curtailed by fifty percent when cargo vessels typically used for transporting sugar from the islands to the mainland were diverted for use by the military. Seemingly overnight, U.S. sugar supply fell by more than one-third. To ensure adequate supplies for manufacturers, the military, and civilians, sugar became the first food item to be rationed during the war. Manufacturers’ supplies were reduced to 80 percent of pre-war levels and that percentage was further reduced over time.
On April 27, 1942, Irvington families registered for ration books at the local elementary schools. One book was issued for each family member. To prove they were serious about wartime rationing, the US Government required that these books were to be surrendered upon death of the recipient. In a drastic move that harkens back to FDR’s closure of the banks and financial institutions during the Great Depression, the sale of sugar was halted for one week to prepare for the program. During that sugarless week, to discourage hoarding, each family was required to report how much sugar they had on hand and a corresponding number of stamps were removed from the ration book.
z WWII OPA Rationing BookletA week later on May 5, 1942, every United States citizen received their much anticipated “War Ration Book Number One”, good for a 56-week supply of sugar. Initially, each stamp was good for one pound of sugar and could be redeemed over a specified two-week period. Later on, as other items such as coffee and shoes were rationed, each stamp became good for two pounds of sugar over a four-week period. The ration book bore the recipient’s name and could only be used by household members. Stamps had to be torn off in the presence of the grocer. If the book was lost, stolen, or destroyed, an application had to be submitted to the Ration Board for a new copy. If the ration book holder entered the hospital for greater than a 10-day stay, the ration book had to be brought along with them. Talk about your red tape!

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World War II War Sugar Ration Stamp.

Housewives learned to be creative, using saccharine, corn syrup, and even packets of Jell-O as sugar substitutes. Sugar beets became a staple of nearly every American dinner table. Women’s magazines featured recipes with reduced sugar or creative ingredient substitutes. “Victory Gardens” sprung up all over the cities and home canning was strongly encouraged during the war. However, canning requires sugar and to provide for this patriotic need, each person could apply for a one time only 25-pound allotment of lower grade canning sugar each year. Each local war ration board determined the quantity and season of availability based on the local harvest. A special canning sugar stamp was issued and included in the ration book. This special “spare canning sugar stamp 37” had to be attached to the government application. Problem was, that they looked exactly like the household sugar stamp and confusion reigned as many people mistakenly used the regular sugar stamp 37 in it’s place, invalidating it for normal household purchases. Did I mention the red tape?
z photo-1127-2013-conserve-sugar-posterTo make matters worse, just because you had a sugar stamp didn’t mean sugar was available for purchase. Shortages occurred often throughout the war, and in early 1945 sugar became nearly impossible to find in any quantity. As Europe was liberated from the grip of Nazi Germany, the United States took on the main responsibility for providing food to those war ravaged countries. On May 1, 1945, the sugar ration for American families was slashed to 15 pounds per year for household use and 15 pounds per year for canning – roughly eight ounces per week per household. Sugar supplies remained scarce and, just as sugar had the distinction of being the first product rationed at the start of the war, sugar was the last product to be rationed after the war. Sugar rationing continued until June of 1947, over six months after the first Irvington Halloween festival in October of 1946.
So, knowing this, can it be said that every sugary sweet handed out to euphoric trick-or-treaters in Irvington during that first festival was a violation of Federal law? Technically yes, but in reality, it might best be compared to ripping the tag off of your mattress today. Never fear, Irvington is not Australia and you are not descended from a colony of law breakers and felons. By the time of that first Irvington Halloween Festival, war time rationing was on the wane and most Americans were eager to celebrate after a long, hard fought war, too enraptured with the outcome, and their personal survival, to care much about wartime shortages. As evidence, one need look no further than the baby boomer generation, a direct bi-product of that euphoria.
z Halloween Festival (2)An argument can be made that it was events like the First Irvington Halloween Festival that kicked off the tradition of trick-or-treating as we know it today. Although the Halloween holiday was certainly well known in America before that first Irvington celebration, it was predominantly a holiday for adult costume parties and a chance to cut loose with friends playing party games while consuming hard cider. Early national attention to trick-or-treating in popular culture really began a year later in October of 1947. That’s when the custom of passing out the playful “candy bribes” began to appear in issues of children’s magazines like Jack and Jill and Children’s Activities, and in Halloween episodes of network radio programs like The Baby Snooks Show, The Jack Benny Show and The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet. Trick-or-treating was first depicted in a Peanuts comic strip in 1951, perhaps the image most identified with the children’s holiday in the hearts and minds of baby boomers today. The custom had become firmly established in popular culture by 1952, when Walt Disney debuted his Donald Duck movie “Trick or Treat”, and again when Ozzie and Harriet were besieged by trick-or-treaters on an episode of their popular television show. In 1953, less than a decade after that first festival in Irvington, the tradition of Halloween as a children’s holiday was fully accepted when UNICEF conducted it’s first national children’s charity fund raising campaign centered around trick-or-treaters.
z s-l640Most of this column’s readers are aware that part of my passion for history revolves around collecting, cataloging, displaying and observing antiques and collectibles. There exists in the collecting world a strong group of enthusiasts devoted to the pursuit and preservation of Halloween memorabilia of all types. Costumes, decorations, photographs, publications and postcards in particular. The origins of Halloween as we now know it might best be traced in the postcards issued to celebrate the tradition. The thousands of Halloween postcards produced between the turn of the 20th century and the 1920s commonly show costumed children, but do not depict trick-or-treating. It is believed that the pranks associated with early Halloween were perpetrated by unattended children left to their own devices while their parents caroused and partied without them. Some have characterized Halloween trick-or-treating as an adult invention to curtail vandalism previously associated with the holiday. Halloween was not widely accepted and many adults, as reported in newspapers from the 1930s and 1940s, typically saw it as a form of extortion, with reactions ranging from bemused indulgence to anger. Sometimes, even the children protested. As late as Halloween of 1948, members of the Madison Square Boys Club in New York City carried a parade banner that read “American Boys Don’t Beg.” Times have certainly changed since that first Halloween festival 65 years ago.
z 58bdce96102ac.imageA 2005 study by the National Confectioners Association reported that 80 percent of American households gave out candy to trick-or-treaters, and that 93 percent of children, teenagers, and young adults planned to either venture out trick-or-treating or to participate in other Halloween associated activities. In 2008, Halloween candy, costumes and other related products accounted for $5.77 billion in revenue. An estimated $2 billion worth of candy will be passed out during this Halloween season and one study claims that “an average Jack-O-Lantern bucket carries about 250 pieces of candy amounting to about 9,000 calories and containing three pounds of sugar.” Yes, 65-years ago, Halloween looked quite different than it does today. Next week, doorbells all over Irvington will ring, doors will be opened and wide-eyed gaggles of eager children will unanimously cry out “Trick-or-Treat” from Oak Avenue to Pleasant Run Parkway.
z halloween festivalCostumed kids will be rewarded for their efforts with all sorts of tribute in the form of coins, nuts, popcorn balls, fruit, cookies, cakes, and toys. As a casual observer born long after that first Irvington Halloween Festival and an active participant in the festivities that will begin next week, I’m glad that our Irvington forefathers skirted government regulations all those years ago. In fact, as a fan of all things Irvington, I’d go so far as to say that this community has played a big part in the Halloween holiday as we know it today. Because, grammar notwithstanding, nobody does Halloween like Irvington do.

 

Pop Culture

Electricity on the honor system.

Calendar

Original publish date:  April 9, 2012

An interesting item caught my eye while strolling through an antique show a couple of weekends ago. When I first saw it, I thought it was a school notebook, not unlike we all used back in the day. It is a colorful Red-White & Blue item with an image of a couple of men, one dressed in overalls, carrying an American G.I. soldier proudly on their shoulders. It has a large “V for Victory” symbol done in a stars & stripes pattern and is called a “1944 Victory Meter Reading Calendar” with the patriotic slogan “There’s a Great Day Coming. We must speed it up!! Let’s pull together and save manpower.” on front. Needless to say, I was intrigued. As I flipped through the calendar pages inside, I noticed that at the bottom of each monthly page, there was a stamped postcard attached to the bottom of each page. Each postcard is pre-addressed to the “Utilities District of Western Indiana Rural Electric Membership Corporation” of Bloomfield, Indiana and each is titled “Meter reading Post Card”.

z map_of_bloomfield_greene_inMy first thought, where the heck is Bloomfield, Indiana? Well, if you didn’t know, it is a small town of some 2,400 people located in Greene County not far from, and currently considered a part of, Bloomington. Its best known for having one of the most well preserved covered bridges in the state and for its long association with the Native American Indian tribes including the Miami, Kickapoo, Piankeshaw, and Wesa tribes. That settled, I was on to the next question. What is this thing? I’m guessing some of you already know the answer, but it was unknown to me. It is a book, distributed by the electric company to their wartime, homefront customers to read their own meters and pay the fees associated with usage based on the honor system. That’s right, the honor system. With the electric company. An Oxymoron if you ever heard one right?

z original-vintage-honor-system-lock_1_9600e42eb8c4cb9c026a128a1030ab61The customer would record the electricity their household used, pay the bill, and the electric company trusted them. Seriously? The electric company…trust you? Could that be possible? Can you imagine such a system? I gotta tell ya, when I see things like this I’m convinced that I was born in the wrong era. I must admit, I’m one of those people that believes that the World War II Generation was truly our greatest. Life was simpler, people were nicer, and businesses were staffed by friends and neighbors who were really rooting for our success. Whenever I see things like this I realize that back then, everyone pulled together to do their part. All for one and one for all. Corny, but true. I didn’t realize that this little booklet was a first generation relic of the rural electrification movement that began in 1935 as part of an effort to bring electricity, telephone and indoor plumbing to the rural communities all over the state. Something we take for granted today.

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Willie Wiredhand.

Sure, I’d seen the signs for the Rural Electric Movement, or REMC, in small rural communities all my life. These colorful signs stuck out in my mind probably because of the cartoon mascot they used called Willie Wiredhand. Remember him?  I always looked at Willie as the country cousin of that city-slicker Reddy Kilowatt. Willie had a light socket head, push button nose, and on old fashioned electrical plug as his lower torso. (In Latin America they call him “Electro Pepe.” ain’t that fun?) Turns out he was “born” on Halloween of 1950, created by Drew McLay, an entomologist turned artist who worked for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) a program of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Depression Era New Deal. Turns out, I was right about that “highfalutin” Reddy Kilowatt lightning bolt guy (created in 1926). His creator, Ashton B. Collins, felt that these FDR programs, in particular co-ops, were socialistic in nature because they borrowed money from the federal government, so he refused to let the NRECA use his “Reddy” character.

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Reddy Kilowatt

Go figure. Reddy’s creators actually sued Willie’s creators for copyright infringement but lost. That explains a lot. Turns out that rural electricity co-ops were owned by the customers who paid the bills, which surely peeved off the larger electric companies to no end. Surely Reddy’s cronies would NEVER allow their customers to use the honor system to pay their bills, war or no war. The Victory calendar pages are full of helpful tips for their rural farmer customers on every page with slogans like: “Use your electric chick brooders for Victory… Keep your milking machine clean and in top-notch working order… Be Wise-Be Patriotic-Make your electric equipment last for the duration” with talk about “Victory Gardens” and “Collecting Eggs for Victory.”  Oh, by the way, electricity was two cents an hour back then.  Yes, I was enraptured with this 1944 homefront relic, imagining the honesty and trust that must have proliferated the Era. Then I noticed, May, June, July and August’s coupon postcards were still intact and had never sent in. Surely, that was because they didn’t have air conditioning back then…right? Yeah, that had to be the reason.