Amusing the children

Here's a stark sample of ACW event reporting we see all too often:
Civil War buffs receive treat at library

Local Civil War buffs are in for quite a treat next week. Cary author Martin Husk and historian Kent McCoury will both speak Wednesday...
The "adults" will amuse the "children." The children consider it a "treat" to be spoken to by authors and historians. (Never mind that they may be authors and historians.)



Do it for Purdy

Odd that we can save a battlefield but not a battleship. Or if you prefer, cruiser.

Where are all those optimistic, tourist-magnet heritage bonanza studies when you need them?

By Edward Colimore
Inquirer Staff Writer

The old warship has been part of Philadelphia's waterfront for 50 years and left lasting impressions on thousands of visitors who heard gripping stories of its role in the Spanish-American War.

Now the Olympia - the last surviving vessel from that 1898 conflict - could face an ignoble end as an artificial reef off Cape May if a new benefactor cannot be found.
The Independence Seaport Museum and the Navy have already checked with officials of New Jersey's Artificial Reef Program on the possibility of sinking the ship, once a source of national pride.

"Another option would be scrapping Olympia," said James McLane, interim president of the museum, which owns the ship and is adjacent to it at Penn's Landing. "But the Navy has told us that 'reefing' is better because it would allow divers to go down on it and would preserve Olympia."

The museum can no longer afford the ship's upkeep, McLane said. At least $20 million is needed to tow, restore, interpret, and endow the deteriorating vessel.
"We have a couple people we're talking to who might take the ship," McLane said, "but these things don't move with great speed."

The ship will be open until the end of September, then closed while its future is determined, McLane said.

"This may be the last summer for people to visit," he said. "They should come to see it while they can."

Another former Navy warship, the Arthur W. Radford, a 563-foot-long Spruance class destroyer, will be sunk by the fall to create a reef about 30 miles southeast of Cape May.

As for the Olympia, "we recognize the historic significance of the ship," said Larry Hajna, a spokesman for the state Department of Environmental Protection. "It's not our call. It was an inquiry. The DEP is not endorsing this."

Countless tons of vessels, military tanks, railroad cars, and other materials have been reefed since the state's Bureau of Marine Fisheries began the program in 1984. The purpose is to provide a habitat for marine life, fishing grounds, and points of interest for scuba divers.

Talk of making the Olympia part of New Jersey's reef network disappoints ship supporters such as Harry Burkhardt, a merchant marine captain and steam-engine expert who is a volunteer on the vessel.

Burkhardt is president of Friends of the Cruiser Olympia (www.fotco.org), which is trying to raise money for preservation of the ship. The group got its nonprofit status this month and has begun receiving pledges and interest from individuals and corporations, Burkhardt said.

"We want to take over its ownership and operation," he said. "We have a long list of ideas, but we have to save the ship to implement them."

Burkhardt, 53, of South Philadelphia, said he would turn the Olympia into a self-sustaining museum with a living-history crew and education programs for inner-city children.

"I think what's happening is a total disgrace," he said. "The Liberty Bell has a crack in it, but we don't melt it down. The Statue of Liberty turned green with corrosion, but we don't throw it away."

The Olympia "was a symbol of America's might and freedom," Burkhardt said. "Now she's a symbol of negligence."

Concerned about the condition of the Olympia, the Navy sent a letter to the museum last May asking about plans to dry-dock the vessel for the necessary maintenance.
On the water line, small portions of the Olympia's half-inch steel hull have corroded to an eighth of an inch and must be monitored continually. Water leaks through the deck into the interior, causing further rust.

"We have cared for Olympia lovingly," McLane said. "We have put $5.5 million into it and spend money on it every day."

The Olympia was authorized in 1888 and commissioned in 1895. The state-of-the-art vessel led five other U.S. warships into Manila Bay in the Philippines on May 1, 1898, and fired shots in a battle to wrest control of that country from the Spanish.

Navy Commodore George Dewey stood on the bridge of the ship and uttered the famous words: "You may fire when you are ready, Gridley."

Under Dewey's command, the U.S. fleet destroyed 10 Spanish cruisers and gunboats in hours without losing an American life.

The Olympia spent World War I in the Atlantic Ocean, and brought remains of the Unknown Soldier home from France in 1921.

It was docked at the Philadelphia Navy Yard from 1922 to 1959, and was on display at Pier 11 at the Benjamin Franklin Bridge through the 1960s until 1976, when it was moved to Penn's Landing. Today, the vessel is the world's oldest floating steel warship.

"The Navy has been in discussions with the museum to come up with a disposition plan if they can no longer operate it," said Patricia Dolan, a Navy spokeswoman. "Any plan for disposal of the vessel - scrapping or reefing - will have to be approved by the Navy."

The thought of scuttling the naval time capsule - filled with paintings, photos, and artifacts - has raised the ire of historians.

"It will be a national disgrace and major embarrassment for Philadelphia and Pennsylvania if Olympia is disposed of by scrapping or being sunk off the coast of New Jersey," said naval historian Lawrence Burr, who has produced documentaries and written four books, including U.S. Cruisers 1883-1904: The Birth of the Steel Navy.

"Neither the Spanish navy in 1898 nor the German navy in 1917-18 was able to sink Olympia," he said. "It will be ironic if the State of New Jersey is able to sink this unique historic warship that has been in the care of Philadelphia and Pennsylvania for over 50 years, and who have benefited from its role as a tourist attraction. . . .

"If sunk, she will only be seen by a small elite who are able to dive, with the risk that she will be plundered for souvenirs," he said.

Also expressing disappointment was the nonprofit Theodore Roosevelt Association in Oyster Bay, N.Y. Congress chartered the group in 1920 to perpetuate the legacy of Roosevelt, who was assistant secretary of the Navy before the Spanish-American War and ordered the Olympia furnished with extra coal so it could be sent to the Philippines. Roosevelt resigned from his office and served as a colonel in the Rough Riders during the invasion of Cuba.

The possible sinking of the Olympia "is an outrage," said Howard Ehrlich, executive director of the association. "You would think veterans groups would get together and lobby the Navy to save the ship."

Even sinking the 5,600-ton ship would be costly. Because of the ship's 211/2-foot draft, the basin where it is berthed would have to be dredged so the vessel could be moved to dry dock. There, it would be structurally reinforced so it could be safely towed down the Delaware River to the reef location.

"No decision has been made," McLane said. "This is not what we want to do. In these tough economic times, everybody is forced to make tough decisions."

Tough economic times - but the $20 million needed to rehab the Olympia is exactly the amount allocated in the new state budget for an Arlen Specter library and a John Murtha "Center for Public Policy." And check out this roster of multimillion dollar heritage and development projects. Tastycake factory - yeah, sure.

What we have here, son, is a failure of heritage tourism.

The Olympia was enough of an attraction to draw me in the past, first visit in '72 or '73. And I hadn't even known of Gilbert H. Purdy:
Seaman Gilbert H. Purdy was a fixture in the U. S. Navy. He served in the navy before the Civil War, left the service only to fight in the artillery at the Civil War battles of Chancellorsville and Gettysburg. He rejoined the navy in time to be manning the guns of the KEARSARGE against the Confederate cruiser ALABAMA. He again left the service, only to return to serve aboard OLYMPIA at the Battle of Manila Bay.
Adm. George Dewey - was he on the Kearsarge with Purdy?
During the period 26 April 1861, until 30 August 1867, he [Dewey] had consecutive service on USS Mississippi, USS Brooklyn, USS Agawam, USS Colorado, USS Kearsarge, USS Canadiagua, and again USS Colorado. [...] Took prominent part in the operations of the West Gulf Blockading Squadron, under Admiral Farragut. First Lieutenant of USS Mississippi in attacks on Forts Jackson and St. Philip, capture of New Orleans, and Battle of Port Hudson. Commended for gallantry, judgment and skill in action between Mississippi and enemy's forts at Port Hudson, and the rescue of the crew from the burning ship when set on fire by the enemy's shot. Participated in attacks on Fort Fisher, 24-25 December 1864 and 13-15 January 1865.
Dewey and Purdy make quite a pair. They were stellar Civil War veterans with remarkable records. If we're not going to do this for Dewey, can we do this for Purdy?

Or shall we celebrate the Sesquicentennial with a reef?

Painting top: Purdy, standing, talking to salts on the SS Mohican, 1888. Purdy here is 60 and it's 10 years to go before his (and Dewey's) battle at Manila Bay.

(Hat tip to honorable Mishiko San.)


Collecting images

If the Lincoln business is history, this makes no sense.

If the Lincoln business is a cult, this makes plenty of sense.

People interested in familial images have lost the thread. They are in reliquary territory.

Shown: reliquary of Charlemagne. He was historical and he was cultic.

They didn't have photographs back then but they did the best they could.


Rufus Barringer

General, brother-in-law to the famous (x2), Republican, ostracized Presbyterian: who remembers Gen. Barringer?

Heritage tourism for realtors

Mitch Hagmaier writes from Pennsylvania:
I had a guy try to sell me a house by claiming that the space under his detached garage might have been an Underground Railroad hidey-hole. I told him that somebody across town had already gotten ahead of him & put up a plaque on their alleged UR station-house. I didn't buy the house in the end, but it had more to do with the disastrous state of its foundation than the root cellar he was on about.
As every school child in America knows, slaves often stole the master's automobile and then hid under free state garages. A recent study shows master preferred Packards where slave ownership was 100 souls or fewer. On the really large plantations, master drove the Duesenberg.

p.s. I think the guy with the plaque risked scaring buyers with potential historical property restrictions.


It's official: he's a "rock star"

Aside from Larry Tagg, rock stars have little to do with history. The columnist may be doing Bearss a disservice here.


Stand by for bad history - or not

The McChrystal affair had me quaking in my ACW boots. Expected that hack newspaper writers would lie in wait behind every bush to whack me, an innocent newspaper reader, with their half-baked McClellan firing memes.

Surprisingly, the cop who kept order was none other than Goodwin, driving the NYT patrol car. She's not an honest cop, but her baton seems to have kept the riffraff in line.

AP juiced her stuff up:

Abraham Lincoln swallowed the preening and nasty behavior of the North’s top general, George McClellan, which historian Doris Kearns Goodwin pointed out included references to Lincoln as “the original gorilla.”
ABC chose a pensive, biblical image, the ghost writer for Stephanopolous blogging thus:

But my hunch is that Doris Kearns Goodwin has the most influential take of the day. She asks “what would Lincoln do?” The answer? Turn the other cheek to McChrystal’s “insolence” and focus on the task at hand: fighting this war.
The analogy at hand now becomes that of Truman/MacArthur, "the firing of McClellan" having been taken off the table by this "eminent historian."

Don't buy stock in the "trials of Lincoln" meme; you would never want to work for the man. This is, however a step up from the super-compressed GBM firing image most Americans seem to carry around with them.

A couple of words are also in order about the NYT piece. Forgive me, if you know this already:

(1) There were no "breaches of protocol." As Tom Rowland pointed out 15 years ago, the only evidence we have that Lincoln was once snubbed by a retiring McClellan is John Hay's word - nothing else.

(2) The term "original gorilla" was a Stanton catchphrase for Lincoln. It's use, if ever it was used by McClellan, would be an ironic allusion to Stanton's measure of the man. Trouble is, there is no evidence McClellan ever used the term publicly or in correspondence with his wife. It is scrawled in a notebook.

(3) All of Goodwin's "bad behavior" examples relate not to behavior but to sentiments discovered in a notebook. "McClellan's behavior" is a durable construct fabricated to serve wartime political purposes.

I don't think a prizewinning author could understand such distinctions but I hope the readers of this blog do.