Monday, October 31, 2011
Armistice Day and the First Unknown Soldier
This year the holiday known as Veterans Day will be observed on Friday, November 11th.
First proclaimed in 1919 by President Woodrow Wilson to be celebrated on November 11th as a holiday called Armistice Day, it marked the cessation of hostilities between the Allies and Germany in the First World War. Signed in a railway car at Compiègne, France, the armistice had taken effect in 1918 at “the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month." In 1954, the name of the American holiday was changed to Veterans Day. In the British Commonwealth, Armistice Day became Remembrance Sunday and is celebrated on the second Sunday in November. Armistice Day (Jour de l'Armistice) remains the name of the holiday in France and Belgium.
Although the date is still widely observed in countries that participated in the First World War, many are unfamiliar with its origins.
The U. S. in the First World War When the U.S. declared war against Germany on April 6, 1917, its army was on a par with that of Chile, Denmark and the Netherlands. All four countries shared 17th place among nations in terms of army size. By the standards of the armies fighting in Europe, the U.S. Army was unimpressive not only in size but in training. It was led by elderly officers who had achieved fame as Indian fighters and were close to retirement. Few of the 5,000 officers and 120,000 enlisted men had ever fired a shot in anger.
The country also had a National Guard consisting of some 80,000 ill-trained and poorly equipped officers and enlisted men, many of whom regarded it as a social organization.
By the time of the Armistice, the United States had mobilized and trained 58 divisions, 43 of which had been shipped overseas. Twelve of the latter divisions were not active combat units but were used to provide replacements in France.
American divisions numbered about 27,000 soldiers, twice the size of British, French or German divisions--mainly because of a lack of trained junior officers.
Two out of every three American soldiers who reached France took part in action of some kind. In addition to the threat of being smashed and ripped apart by shrapnel from an incoming shell or cut down by merciless machine-gun fire, the average "doughboy" was perpetually at the mercy of the elements, the mud and the degradation of living in rat-infested tunnels and trenches into which poison gas could seep.
His diet was unhealthy and his body was unwashed. Grime and filth were everywhere, along with the stench of rotting dead bodies and ubiquitous "cooties"--the body lice that infested his clothing.
Nevertheless, high-spirited American soldiers provided the fresh enthusiasm and surge of power needed by the battle-weary French and British troops to break the German defenses of the Hindenburg Line. The process of turning America's paltry regular army into the strongest army on the European continent had been remarkable. Through careful planning, sheer determination and hard work this country’s small combat force grew tremendously. At the Armistice, a total of 1,962,767 American troops were in France. In the 200 days between April 25, 1918--when the 1st Division entered the front line to relieve the battered French First Army near Cantigny--and the Armistice on November 11th, American forces participated in 13 battles as part of six major campaigns. In the 19-month period between the declaration of war and the armistice, the United States went from a nation whose tiny army was unready for battle to a world power. It also paid a high price: 53,402 battle deaths, 63,114 other deaths and 204,002 wounded. The number of combat deaths includes 4,452 who were counted as missing in action and whose remains were never found or could not be identified. One of that number rests today beneath a white marble tomb in Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia. This is his story.
The idea of a symbolic burial honoring a single unknown soldier of the First World War originated in Europe. In 1920, the British interred an unknown "Tommy" in Westminster Abbey to represent the hundreds of thousands that had perished in that conflict. Similarly, the French honored an unknown "poilu" at the Arc de Triomphe in Paris.
The First Unknown Soldier
By 1921, America had still not formally honored its war dead. As early as 1919, when Brig. Gen. William D. Connor, commanding general of American forces in Europe, first learned of the French plans, he proposed a similar project to the U.S. Army's chief of staff, Gen. Peyton C. March.
General March was not enthusiastic about the proposal, thinking it premature. Although the French and British had a great many unknown dead, he felt that the American Army's Graves Registration Service would eventually identify almost all American unknowns.
He had been told by the Quartermaster General that less than two thousand American dead were still unidentified, and these were being studied. General March's concern was that haste could result in the selection of a body that might later be identified. In addition, he said, the United States had no suitable national monument like Westminster Abbey or the Arc de Triomphe.
On December 21, 1920, Congressman Hamilton Fish, Jr., of Putnam County, New York, introduced a resolution in Congress calling for the return of the body of an unknown American soldier from France for burial with appropriate ceremonies in a tomb to be constructed at the Memorial Amphitheater of Arlington National Cemetery. The Fish proposal attracted broad support from both parties in the House, from Gen. Pershing, veterans' organizations and the press.
The New York Times later reversed its previously supportive position on Arlington, arguing that the rotunda of the Capitol would be a more appropriate site. "All America finds its way to the Capitol, many Americans never go to Arlington, which being a military cemetery by dedication, can hardly be the ‘Westminster Abbey of America's heroic dead.'" The measure was signed into law in the waning days of the Wilson administration. Congressman Fish wanted ceremonies to be held on Memorial Day, but Secretary of War Newton D. Baker thought the date was premature. The Congressman tried again through the newly appointed Secretary of War, John W. Weeks, who replaced Baker after President Warren G. Harding took office.
Weeks also rejected Memorial Day and opted for a ceremony to be held on Armistice Day, November 11, with the selection of the Unknown Soldier to be carried out on October 24.
.Four unidentified bodies were exhumed, one from each of four American military cemeteries, Aisne-Marne, Meuse-Argonne, Somme and St. Mihiel, and were taken by truck to the city hall at Chalons-sur-Marne, where American Quartermaster Corps Major Robert P. Harbold, chief of field operations, awaited them. The War Department took elaborate measures to prevent any possibility of identification at some future date of the military cemetery from which each had been exhumed.
The outside of the building had been draped with French and American flags. Inside, the halls and corridors were ornamented with potted palms and more flags. A catafalque--the stand on which a casket is placed--had been set up in the main hall. Another room was decorated to hold the caskets of the four unknown soldiers, and a third room was prepared in which the chosen Unknown Soldier would be transferred to a casket shipped from the United States. French troops carried the four shipping cases from the trucks into the city hall. The four gray steel caskets were then removed, set on top of the shipping cases and draped with American flags. Six American NCOs arrived from American occupation headquarters in Coblenz, Germany, to serve as pallbearers.
Acting on Major Harbold's orders, French soldiers rearranged the caskets so each rested on a shipping case other than the one in which it had arrived. Now there was little chance that anyone would know the cemetery from which the unidentified remains came.
The selection ceremony was not scheduled to take place until the following day. At 11 o'clock on the morning of Monday, October 24, a large group was waiting, including officers of the French and American armies, and local officials. A French military band in the courtyard played Chopin's doleful funeral March,
Originally, a commissioned officer was intended to make the selection, but the plan was changed when the Americans learned that the French had used an enlisted man to choose their Unknown Soldier. Major Harbold selected Sgt. Edward F. Younger, one of the men who had arrived from Coblenz, to perform that duty.
Sergeant Younger had fought in four of the American offensives and wore two wound stripes as well as the Distinguished Service Cross, the second highest military decoration awarded for extreme gallantry and risk of life in combat. He entered the room where the four caskets lay in state, carrying a spray of pink and white roses, presented by a Frenchman who had lost two sons in the war.
Slowly circling the four caskets three times, he paused, laid the flowers on the second coffin from the right and saluted smartly. Sergeant Younger later recalled that he had a feeling that the dead soldier he chose was someone he had known. “I walked around them three times. Suddenly I stopped. It was as though something had pulled me. A voice seemed to say, ‘This is a pal of yours,’“ he said. “I still remember the awed feeling I had, standing there alone.”
Immediately after the selection was made, the six American pallbearers raised the casket onto their shoulders and carried it to another room where the body was removed from its steel coffin by senior officers and placed in an ebony casket inlaid with silver. It bore the simple phrase "Unknown, but to God."
Draped with the Stars and Stripes, the casket containing the Unknown Soldier was carried to the lobby of the city hall, where it lay in state with the spray of roses atop the casket. The steel caskets of the other three unknowns were returned to shipping containers and taken by truck to the Meuse-Argonne American Military Cemetery for immediate reburial.
The body Sgt. Younger had chosen as the Unknown Soldier lay in state for several hours, watched over by a small contingent of American and French soldiers. After brief tributes by the mayor of Chalons-sur-Marne and other officials, the casket was placed on a flag-draped gun caisson drawn by four jet-black horses. Escorted by French and American troops, the cortege moved along the Rue de Marne to the railroad station as a French military band played the funeral march from Peer Gynt.
Dismounted French cavalry lined the route to the station. Still bearing the spray of roses, it was lifted aboard a special train for the journey to the port of Le Havre, by way of Paris. The train left Chalons-sur-Marne at 4:10 p.m. and arrived in Paris about three hours later. After ceremonies in Paris the next morning, the special train left Paris in midmorning and arrived at Le Havre about 1:00 p.m. A procession took the body from the station to the Quai d'Escale, where the American cruiser Olympia was waiting, the entire ship’s company lining the rails. Launched in 1895, the Olympia, Admiral Dewey's old flagship at the Battle of Manila Bay in the Spanish-American War, was capable of doing only 20 knots. Reverently, as Chopin’s funeral march was played again, the casket was placed on the flower-bedecked stern of the Olympia for the voyage back to America. Escorted by the two-year-old American destroyer Reuben James (which would later be torpedoed by a German U-boat in October of 1941 before the U.S. declared war on Germany), and eight French naval vessels, the Olympia put to sea. As the cruiser cleared the harbor, it received a 17-gun salute from a French battleship and another as the escorting French ships dropped astern outside French territorial waters.
The Unknown Soldier was at last on his way home.
Appendix: The Human Cost of America's Participation in World War One
The following table shows the numbers of dead buried in the eight World War One American Military Cemeteries in Europe. Each cemetery has a chapel on whose walls are inscribed the names of those who were missing in action or whose remains could not be identified. As the numbers of living World War One veterans and their next-of-kin dwindle, these cemeteries attract fewer visitors each year. The graves, marked by white marble crosses and Stars of David, are carefully tended.
Among the 136,516 Americans who died in the 19 months that America participated in the First World War, 4,452 were declared missing in action; their remans could not be identified or were never found. The next-of-kin of 101,143 dead servicemen chose to have their remains returned to the United States for burial. The next-of-kin of 30,921 war dead elected to have their remains buried in Europe.
A Directory of First World War American Cemeteries in Europe
The following information is from the American Battle Monuments Commission:
Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery
Romagne-sous-Montfaucon (Meuse), about 160 miles from Paris
14,246 graves; 954 MIA
Oise-Aisne American Cemetery
Fere-en-Tardenois (Aisne), about 60 miles from Paris
6,012 graves; 241 MIA
St. Mihiel American Cemetery
Thiaucourt (Meurthe-et-Moselle), about 20 miles from Metz
4,153 graves; 284 MIA
Aisne-Marne American Cemetery
Belleau (Aisne), about 60 miles from Paris
2,289 graves, 1,060 MIA
Somme American Cemetery
Bony (Aisne), about 100 miles from Paris
1,844 graves; 333 MIA
Suresnes American Cemetery
Suresnes (Seine), 5 miles west of Paris
1,541 graves, 974 MIA, or lost or buried at sea
Flanders Field American Cemetery
Waregem, Belgium, 46 miles west of Brussels
368 graves; 43 MIA
Brookwood American Cemetery
Brookwood, England, about 28 miles from London
468 graves; 563 MIA, or lost or buried at sea
Editor’s Note: This is the first part of a two-part series on the Unknown Soldier.
Labels: Unknown Soldier
Monday, October 24, 2011
Why We Do What We Do on Halloween
Halloween! It is still a time when ghosts and goblins walk. Once it was a rowdy time for letting loose, for marking the end of the fruitful year and the beginning of winter.
A time to howl, to rage, to scream. To raise the dead and frighten the living long into the dark October night and beyond.
A time for raising hackles and goose bumps. A time when the cemetery on the hill in every town or village became the haunt of ghosts and goblins.
Of all the holidays we observe today, none has a stranger history than Halloween, whose obscure past holds the meanings of its curious rites and customs. Called Halloween because it is the eve of All Hallows Day, it marks the beginning of a solemn period in the religious calendar.
Halloween's roots lie shrouded in the mists of history. Born in prehistoric new year observances in Ireland and Scotland, Halloween is about death and people's attempts to understand death and control it. Even today during this holiday, we joke about death, mock it and fear it.
In the Celtic calendar, the first day of the new year was celebrated around the first of November. The Celts called this holiday Samhain (pronounced "Sow-en"), meaning "summer's end."
Two chief characteristics of ancient Celtic Halloweens were the lighting of sacred bonfires and the belief that this was the one night in the year when ghosts wandered about.
Interestingly, the festival finds parallels in the seasonal holidays of other cultures and religions, including the Jewish autumn festival of Sukkoth. Halfway around the world in India, at around the time of Halloween, Hindus celebrate Diwali, their five-day New Year holiday,
For rural dwellers, Samhain marked the beginning of the winter half of the year. Unharvested crops--corn, hay, potatoes, turnips, apples--were gathered and stored. Cattle and sheep were returned from distant pastures where they had been brought during the summer to fatten. Excess animals and those too weak to withstand the rigors of the hard days ahead were slaughtered.
As in many other early cultures, Celtic society was highly structured. In addition to the Druids (the religious intelligentsia), the hierarchy consisted of a warrior aristocracy (called the Fianna), outcast warriors, bards, brehons (lawyers), historians and other specialists, and landholders. Laborers, whether freeborn or slave, were at the bottom.
To make this rigid stratification of society tolerable, it was useful to have an interval when order and structure were erased, and people could let off steam, however briefly. Samhain, which lasted for three days, was such a period.
A Time of No Time
The Druids had a lunar calendar of 13 months of 28 days each, plus one extra day to make 365. From this comes our expression, "a year and a day."
The day before the extra day was the last day of the old year; the day after was the first day of the new year. The day between the years thus was a special day—literally, a time when time stood still, when people could act foolishly.
Men and women cross-dressed. House gates were unhinged and suspended in trees. Owners found their livestock wandering in neighbors' fields.
Such mischief had a deeper meaning. The Druids believed that during these three days the veil between this world and that of their ancestors became thin. It was a magical period when the dead could revisit the living, and the future could be foretold through divination and prophecy.
Instead of being feared, the departed were regarded not as the dead but as living spirits of loved ones. They were seen as repositories of the ancient wisdom of the clan--sources of guidance and inspiration to be honored and feasted.
The new moon (the time when the moon is virtually invisible) determined the timing of Samhain. During the dark of the moon, people believed it was easier to see into the other world.
Fire, being a customary way of warding off evil spirits, played an important role in Celtic life. Samhain was one of the four great "fire festivals" of the Celts. On this night all hearth fires in Ireland were extinguished. A new sacred fire was rekindled at Tlachtga, near Athboy in County Meath, 12 miles from the seat of the Irish kings at Tara. Runners with torches then carried this new flame and relit hearths all over Ireland, symbolizing a fresh start for the new year. In Ireland and Scotland, Samhain was a time for traditional divination games about love and marriage, employing nuts or apples. People also went from house to house during Samhain. Failure to provide food and drink would result in practical jokes being played on the householder.
One popular divination game, "bobbing for apples," called for young unmarried persons to try to bite into an apple floating in a tub of water or hanging from a string. The first person to bite into the apple would be the next person to marry.
Fairies--the "Sidhe" (pronounced "shee"), rather than witches and goblins--dominate Irish folklore. Although invisible, fairies are always about. Not as malevolent as witches, they can play tricks on mortals, although sometimes they are generous and helpful.
One never throws dishwater or kitchen slops out of a house without first warning the fairies who might be passing and would resent being drenched.
Pope Boniface IV introduced All Saints’ Day in the seventh century to honor all the saints. Initially observed on May 13, it was moved to the first of November in the next century by Pope Gregory III in an effort to replace Celtic pagan rites with the liturgy of the church. It also was known as All Hallows Day.
October 31 became All Hallows Eve, and November 1, All Saints Day. November 2, became All Souls Day, when prayers were to be said for souls in Purgatory. In spite of these formidable surrogates intended to displace the three-day Samhain period, the old pagan practices persisted.
Halloween's Traditions Merge
The earliest settlers of the American colonies were mostly English, and Halloween was not among the traditions of the mother country. Instead, the colonists observed Guy Fawkes Day on November 5, an English holiday resembling Halloween.
For his role in the failed 1605 "Gunpowder Plot" to blow up the House of Parliament, Fawkes was quickly tried and hanged. His plan had been to kill the first Stuart King, James I, son of Mary Queen of Scots. To mark the event, the date of Fawkes’s arrest was made a day of thanksgiving still celebrated in Britain.
For weeks before November 5, British children prepare masked effigies of Fawkes (called "Guys") from old clothes stuffed with newspapers. These are set out on street corners, and passersby are asked to give "a penny for the Guy."
The night of November 4 is known as “Mischief Night” when children are free to play pranks on adults--and on each other. Finally, on the night of November 5, celebrants burn the effigies in giant bonfires and set off fireworks.
When successive waves of rural Irish immigrants arrived on these shores beginning in the 1840s, they brought with them their traditional Halloween customs.
Young girls remained indoors and played parlor games foretelling the future. Bands of boys roamed outdoors, where their ritualized pranks were often attributed to spirits abroad in the night. And the New World's large pumpkins proved easier to carve into candle-lit jack-o'-lanterns than the traditional turnips of the old country carved and filled with glowing coals.
Even as celebrated today, Halloween is essentially still a Gaelic holiday that found a place in the American calendar of holidays.
Oddly, two rituals of early America's Halloween spread to other holidays: Election Day and Thanksgiving. To celebrate election victories, it became a custom to light towering bonfires. The practice eventually died out, probably because the chief fuel for such bonfires--discarded wooden barrels and crates--was no longer widely available. In New York, Thanksgiving Day was marked by public begging, a forerunner of trick-or-treating. Called "ragamuffins," children dressed in old clothes or costumes asked passersby on the street, "Anything for Thanksgiving?" This ritual, too, has vanished from the Thanksgiving holiday.
The Holiday Turns Ugly
For crowded urban dwellers, Halloween in the 20th century evolved into an outlet for letting off steam destructively. Mischief, once limited to rural pranks--overturning outhouses, removing gates, soaping windows, or switching shop signs--turned nasty.
In the grinding poverty of the Great Depression, willful and malicious destruction of property became widespread. Even acts of cruelty to animals and people were reported.
Neighborhood committees, community organizations and the Boy Scouts mobilized to organize safer Halloween observances and offer alternatives to vandalism. School posters of the 1930s advocated a "Sane Halloween."
To discourage destructiveness, children were urged to go from door to door and ask householders and shop owners for treats. Surprisingly, the earliest use of the phrase "trick-or-treating" dates only from the early twentieth century.
Immensely popular, these so-called "beggar nights" spread across the nation. The standard demand of "trick or treat" was soon incorporated into the vocabulary of Halloween, and the holiday became tame and commercialized.
Not much steam is let off, however, when tiny tots in plastic dime-store costumes shuffle from door to door and mumble "trick or treat," especially when a treat is almost always guaranteed.
Window painting of Halloween motifs replaced the soaping or waxing of windows with candles. A giant step forward in artistic expression and creativeness perhaps, but not one calculated to relieve primal adolescent pressures.
The Roots of Trick-or-Treating
Today's custom of trick-or-treating has a complex history. During the Middle Ages children wearing masks would go "souling" from door to door and ask for soul cakes. These were flat, oval shortbread cookies made with currants, and flavored with cinnamon and nutmeg.
The more soul cakes each beggar received, the more prayers that would said for the donors' deceased relatives. Because participants wore masks, they were called "mummers" (from momeur, Old French for "one who wears a mask").
Also during the Middle Ages, parading, singing and dancing by costumed and masked mummers became popular in the British Isles at Christmas and May Day. One familiar character in many celebrations was the Hobby Horse--the figure of a horse worn attached to the waist of a mummer. Mumming is an ancient custom still associated with various holidays. In parts of Canada, for example, it continues at Christmastime. Our house-to-house Christmas caroling may be a vestige of Christmas mumming. Mumming is a feature of the New Orleans Mardi Gras (French for "fat Tuesday"), the day before Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. In Philadelphia, mumming is the centerpiece of a New Year's Day celebration in which elaborately costumed revelers dance and parade to the accompaniment of marching bands featuring stringed instruments.
Playfulness Gives Way to Mayhem
Halloween still has its dark side. Beneath today's comparatively bland holiday festivities lurks a wild and wonderful night of letting go. But, as if responding to a dormant folk memory, an ugly tradition has resurfaced, largely in cities. A throwback to the dangerous urban Halloween celebrations that led to trick-or-treating, mean-spirited outrage and property destruction have again been substituted for Halloween's earlier playful pranks.
In community after community, mayhem has supplanted mischievousness. Cemetery headstones are overturned or smashed. Indelible spray paint substitutes for easily removed shaving cream. Discharge of firearms replaces traditional noisemakers. Roadside mailboxes are vandalized or destroyed. Windows are broken, and automobile tires punctured or slashed. So serious has the situation become, some communities declare a Halloween curfew for those under 18 unaccompanied by a parent or guardian.
The destructiveness takes especially virulent forms in big cities with decaying neighborhoods. During the 1980s and 1990s in Detroit and Camden, N.J., two cities with high rates of poverty and crime, the night of October 30th was called "Devil's Night," a time when anything goes.
Dozens of houses--not always empty or abandoned--were torched by roving bands of looters or arsonists. The ability of firefighters to keep up with so many mindless random acts was strained. Entire city blocks were vulnerable to destruction.
Cities responded by razing empty buildings, towing abandoned cars, removing discarded tires and limiting sales of gasoline. Accelerated neighborhood awareness campaigns and watchful volunteer patrols during what is now called "Angel's Night" have reduced the number of incidents, but the fires of resentment still smolder.
Monday, October 17, 2011
Those Were the Days, 4: A Toast to Taverns
Taverns played a little-known but vital role as a center of community life in Colonial America. By definition, they offered food, alcoholic drink, and often overnight accommodations for a price, serving both the local citizenry and travelers.
Early settlers were mostly British, and the public house was one of the many long-standing traditions directly imported to the colonies from the mother country. Following British custom, they were originally called “ordinarys.”
The name was adopted because, in the parlance of the time, a dinner there was an “ordinary"--a prepared meal open to the public offered at a set time for an established price. The public quality of the ordinary meal declined with time. By the end of the 17th century, “tavern” had replaced “ordinary” as the name for a public house.
Not merely a place where food and drink were dispensed and lodging was provided, the early American tavern filled many needs, eventually becoming the hub of the community. Stagecoaches stopped at taverns, linking backwoods settlements with the outside world. Residents learned the latest news from letters and newspapers delivered at taverns.
As well as being the community's drinking place, the tavern was its hotel and restaurant. It was also the town hall, assembly room and courtroom. Itinerant actors used its public rooms as a theater. Its bulletin boards posted lists of jurors, announcements of public auctions and legal notices, plus offers of rewards for runaway slaves or bond servants, and lost animals or other property.
One fact overlooked by historians is that taverns were the seedbeds of the American Revolution, places where British tyranny was condemned, militias organized and independence plotted. Patriots regarded public houses in front of which liberty poles were erected as the nurseries of freedom. The British called them public nuisances and hotbeds of sedition.
After the Revolution, a large part of the American population was on the move--in stagecoaches and Conestoga wagons, on horseback, and even on foot. Taverns became the hostelries for travelers and boarders, even though the bedding was not changed regularly and strangers might have to double up in the same bed.
The first post offices were in taverns, with the tavern keeper serving as the community's postmaster. Delivery of mail to a tavern was informal. Hugh Finlay, Surveyor of the Post Roads, who developed colonial postal services in New England
, complained in 1773, "Letters are thrown down on a table in a Tavern or Coffee House for every man to pick out his own."
When no newspapers were included in a mail delivery, letters filled with gossip, news and information inevitably became objects of extreme curiosity. The law and common practice ("Touch not, nor look upon the Books or Writings of anyone . . .") stipulated that mail was private. But when letters, a relative rarity, lay on a tavern side table for days, some patrons simply could not resist unfolding them and reading them aloud to listeners eager for news.
Taverns often served as churches for religious services. Even after a church had been erected, worshipers could be found in the tavern thawing out after long Sunday services in unheated churches or meeting houses.
“Entertainment” was the byword of tavern keeping. Public house proprietors were licensed "to keep an ordinary for the entertainment of travelers and strangers," and their signs were embellished with that word. Today we associate the word entertainment with amusement, but its meaning in the 17th and 18th centuries was maintenance or provisioning, and pertained exclusively to eating, drinking and lodging.
Food at taverns was frequently mediocre. Choices were limited, and prices were unpredictable. Breakfast at eight was substantial and usually included ham or salt fish accompanied by coffee or tea and slices of toasted bread spread with butter.
The main meal of the day was dinner, served between one and three. Supper, usually cold, was a light meal at nine. Meat, heavily salted for preservation, was the mainstay of tavern fare.
Food at Thomas Allen’s tavern in New London
included locally available farm products and seafood—lobsters, salmon, eels and oysters--from Long Island Sound. His cellar bulged with stores of ham or bacon, smoked and pickled tongue, salt pork, crackers, butter, coffee, apples and sugar.
In the 18th and 19th centuries, drinking was the most popular of tavern recreations. Annual per capita consumption of distilled spirits reached 3.7 gallons by the time of the American Revolution. By 1830, thanks to the wide availability of cheap whiskey, consumption climbed to 5.2 gallons--nearly triple today's figure.
Local courts established prices for alcoholic beverages, with legally required price schedules posted in each licensed tavern. Standardized measures were also a requirement for each tavern keeper, a practice observed in England
. The size of each metal measure was stamped on the handle and ranged from a gallon down to a nip.
Rum was the most popular distilled liquor, widely served in taverns and sold in an assortment of measures. The most expensive rum varieties were imported from the West Indies
. Jamaican rum was especially prized. Rum was also fermented and distilled locally from molasses imported from the same source. In 1770, the colonies imported four million gallons of rum and distilled another five million gallons.
Plain rum, drunk straight, was the drink of the working classes. Grog--rum and water—was originally the daily ration of British sailors, and grog shops became synonymous with the lowliest of taverns. Rum was also the main ingredient of punch, described by one writer as "a very good, pleasant and healthful drink."
A popular beverage routinely served at tavern events ranging from political gatherings to men's club meetings, punch was made using rather pricey ingredients: the rinds and juice of imported lemons, limes and oranges, mixed with rum and white or brown sugar. Punch was served warm and sold in taverns by the bowl, which was passed around from guest to guest at each table.
Wine, imported from Spain
, was also served in taverns but it was not widely available outside of cities. Like punch, consumption of wine was limited to the affluent. Brandy was usually imported, but local varieties were also sold, made from peaches, apples or cherries.
Toddy, a mixture of wine or beer sweetened with sugar and flavored with nutmeg, was also dispensed by the bowl. Flip, served in a mug, pitcher or glass, was strong beer with rum and sugar or molasses added. Cheaper fermented beverages made locally were also available. Apple cider was sold by the jug, pint, pot or pitcher. Beer was either imported from England
or locally brewed.
Tavern accommodations were not only communal but uncomfortable. Sleeping was not the intimate and private act it is today. It was common to put beds in every room of a house, and this practice carried over to the public rooms of taverns. Rural taverns were usually small residences converted into inns in which the barroom and public rooms included beds.
Even after bedrooms for travelers separate from the public rooms were added, it was the usual practice for paying guests in taverns to share sleeping quarters, sometimes the same bed. In winter, two or more in the bed was not only practical but generated warmth. Regular bathing was not a common habit, and sheets were not changed frequently and laundered. Toilet facilities were primitive. Most taverns kept chamber pots in the bedrooms or had outside privies.
Although dancing was forbidden in strict New England, country dances derived from folk traditions brought to the New World
by early settlers were popular. Formal dances requiring skill and training soon became part of colonial life. Taverns, which were larger than most domestic structures, were the ideal sites for such dances. Dancing masters, often French immigrants, conducted classes and arranged balls in taverns. Women were generally excluded from tavern life with the exception of such occasions as dances and other public entertainments.
Games were brought to early America
by English and Dutch settlers. Cards, backgammon, passage (a game played with three dice), chess, checkers, and ninepins were popular tavern recreations. Colonial laws in New England
regulating taverns prohibited game playing and gaming.
Gambling and drunkenness were condemned by civil and religious leaders.
When the Dutch briefly recaptured New Amsterdam
in 1673 from the British, they forbade gaming, card playing, and ball playing, and rolling nine pins on the Sabbath. A century later, the New York Assembly passed laws to "restrain disorderly and unlawful gaming houses and prohibited billiard tables, shuffleboards and games of chance.”
Other forces also brought about changes in taverns. One was the separation of the bar from the tavern, thus altering its character completely. From the time of the earliest colonial regulations, the two had been inseparable, and no one could sell liquor at retail without making provision for travelers.
By the 1830s, some states permitted taverns to operate without lodging facilities. Another change was the disappearance of the common dining table with its standardized menu and fixed eating hours. With the barroom and restaurant severed from the tavern, its character became completely different.
A network of post roads once linked distant parts of the country, making it possible for widely separated friends and relatives to correspond regularly. Swift stagecoaches offered the means of moving mail and passengers from place to place. And taverns provided centers of hospitality, friendliness, news, laughter, and entertainment. For post roads, stagecoaches and taverns, it was a symbiotic relationship of mutual dependence and benefit.
In the 19th century, railroads supplanted post roads, inevitably causing the demise of roadside taverns. The workaday post roads are barely discernible now. Their speeding stagecoaches have long since vanished. And today's hotels and motels are pale imitations of the warm, convivial taverns of two hundred years ago when a welcome was extended to all.
To these shadowy reflections of simpler days when this country was young and full of hope, I hereby propose an extravagantly sentimental toast--and a fond farewell.
Tuesday, October 11, 2011
Louis A. Brennan: A Life in Full Color
How does one begin to recreate the life of a polymath and many-sided friend? Once his was a household name recognized by newspaper readers in Ossining, Croton and Cortlandt. Today he lives on in the memories of those who knew and loved him. But our numbers are legion.
There were several Lou Brennans. One was the author who could create stories that laid bare the secrets of small town life or explore the culture patterns of the Iroquois in novels.
Another was the self-taught archaeologist and teacher who could make the past come alive for a classroom of students, for readers of his nonfiction books or for an enraptured audience at a Rotary meeting.
Still another was the dedicated journalist who reported on local affairs and activities without fear or favor, a fierce fighter for principle no matter whose ox was gored. Louis Arthur Brennan, the oldest of the five children of Edward Brennan and Gertrude Sherer Brennan was born in Portsmouth, Ohio, on February 15, 1911.
Portsmouth, a thriving manufacturing and railroad center, was the seat of Scioto County. In 1927 a million-dollar suspension bridge across the Ohio River linked it to South Portsmouth, Kentucky.
It would have been difficult for a youth growing up in the valleys of the Ohio and Scioto rivers to remain unaware of abundant reminders of Ohio's first inhabitants.
Known as mound builders, and generally agreed among archaeologists to have been early American Indians, they left behind countless earthworks as forts and mounds.
Young Louis became fascinated with the mysterious mound builders and with their descendants, the Miamis, Shawnees, Wyandottes and Mingos. Doomed from the start, Ohio's Indians had no defense against the land-hungry whites who swarmed into their lush valleys. By the mid-19th century, their bones, tools and weapons were all that was left in the bottom lands where they had lived and raised corn, beans, squash and pumpkins for centuries. His interest in archaeology was to remain with Lou Brennan for the rest of his life.
After attending Holy Redeemer elementary school and high school, he left for South Bend, Indiana, and Notre Dame University on an academic scholarship. Majoring in English, he graduated magna cum laude in 1932.
Another honor came his way that same year. Anthologist Edward J. O'Brien selected Lou's short story "Poisoner in Motley" for inclusion in his annual short story collection, Best Short Stories of 1932.
Twenty-one-year-old Louis Brennan was now in distinguished company. Among the works of the 25 authors represented was William Faulkner's "Smoke" and Morley Callaghan's "The Red Hat." Other well-known names included in that year's collection were Whit Burnett, Erskine Caldwell and Manuel Komroff.
In 1932, the country was in the throes of the Great Depression, and work of any kind was hard to find especially for an English major. Bread lines were common, and homeless veterans sold apples for five cents on street corners. Evictions were an everyday occurrence that left families huddled forlornly on the street amid their possessions. Lou took what jobs he could find. In Cincinnati, Ohio, he became assistant area director for the National Youth Administration (NYA), a New Deal "alphabet agency" providing jobs for young people. Later he was a projects manager for a Cincinnati firm of architects and engineers, Grunkmeyer and Sullivan Associates.
Lou Brennan married his childhood sweetheart, Margaret Pirron of Portsmouth, in the chapel of Notre Dame University in 1936.
In the early 20th century, the river that had brought commerce to Portsmouth became a menace with its floods. Portsmouth constructed a mammoth floodwall of reinforced concrete extending three miles along the Ohio River and raised it in stages to control a 62-foot stage of the river.
This should have been high enough--but the flood that inundated the Ohio and Mississippi valleys in January of 1937 broke all previous records and reached a height of 71 feet. Flood waters surged through the city causing extensive loss of life and property. The Brennans' daughter Ann was born in that year. That epic flood and the floodwall would later play a role in a Lou Brennan novel.
A War Intervenes
When this country entered World War II, he joined the Navy, rising to the rank of lieutenant and commanding a gunboat in the Pacific. After the costly 1943 landings at Tarawa showed the need for close fire support for troops on beachheads, the Navy designed the LCS(L)-class gunboat. In Navy parlance, the letters stood for Landing Craft-Support (Large).
Displacing 383 tons, with a length of 158 feet and draft of about six feet of water, these ships provided close fire support during assault landings. They bristled with weapons--naval guns, rockets and machine guns. The most heavily armed vessels in the war, they boasted more firepower per ton than any ship in the U.S. Navy.
Leading all other landing craft in an assault, they attacked the beach in a line, firing rocket barrages at 1,000, 800 and 500 yards. Next they opened up with their 3-inch bow guns. A few hundred yards off the beach, they turned and ran broadside, remaining close to the shore to give withering fire support to the troops pouring ashore from infantry and tank landing craft.
At Okinawa they had additional duties, screening vessels at anchor from suicide boat attacks and intercepting kamikaze planes targeting ships on radar picket duty. Because they carried excellent fire fighting equipment, these highly maneuverable gunboats could aid other ships damaged by enemy action.
Separated from the Navy after the war with a Bronze Star for valor, Lou Brennan returned to the Portsmouth area and bought a small farm. His intention was to combine farming with income from his writing. He soon discovered there was comparatively little time for anything else after he completed the farm's chores.
Unsuccessful at getting his work published, he took the advice of his literary agent who suggested that he "get off the farm and do some serious writing." At the urging of his brother-in-law, Frank Nulty, who lived in Ossining and with whom he had roomed at Notre Dame, he headed east with wife and daughter. To be near the New York publishing scene, the family bought a house on Hamilton Avenue in Ossining in 1948.
Journalism and a Literary Career
Lou became editor of the New Castle News, published in Chappaqua, the following year. Only one copy of that tabloid-size weekly survives in the archives of the Chappaqua Historical Society: Volume 6, Number 6, dated December 1, 1950. Leverett S. Gleason, a highly successful publisher of comic books, was the publisher of the newspaper. This issue contains 20 pages and sold for five cents. The front and back pages are on heavier glossy stock and the inside pages are on ordinary newsprint.
Lou Brennan desperately wanted to become a published author, continuing to write in his spare time. In 1953, Random House published his first novel. Titled These Items of Desire, its setting was the small city of Riverside, Ohio--a thinly disguised Portsmouth.
Reviewer M.P. McKay in Library Journal identified it as a first novel, calling the characters "well drawn" and the story "well told," thus assuring that the book would be bought by librarians.
In the New York Herald Tribune Book Review, F.H. Bullock remarked, "The materials of These Items of Desire, if generally on the sordid side, are unfailingly interesting and human."
Writing in The New York Times Book Review, reviewer James Kelly was unstinting in his praise: "Lavish is the word for Louis A. Brennan's first novel. He has ransacked a full cupboard to bring us this high-fidelity tale of love and life in a medium sized Ohio town. As a sweeping, sprawling reportage of civic divertissements and interior pitched battles between the sexes, These Items of Desire joins Sherwood Anderson's Winesburg, Ohio and John O'Hara's A Rage to Live in a growing American tradition. Call it a sermon on love or a handbook on man-woman behavior, it adds up to a big important novel. Mr. Brennan would be hard put to make his second a better one."
After the New Castle News folded in late 1952, Lou Brennan occupied himself with writing, and completed three novels. The 1953 reviewer's prediction about a second novel proved true in 1955 with Masque of Virtue, also set in mythical Riverside, Ohio. Reviewers were not quite so loud in their praise; Lou always attributed this to the severe cuts the publisher insisted be made in the manuscript.
Two other novels followed More Than Flesh in 1957 and Death at Flood Tide in 1958. The latter was a murder mystery in which the Portsmouth floodwall and a massive flood play a role.
In 1957, he landed a job as a reporter on the Croton-Cortlandt News. Founded in 1894 as the Croton Journal and later named the Croton-Harmon News, the paper was purchased impulsively in 1952 by Albert Granovsky, a successful manufacturer of furniture and bedding. Mr. Granovsky, who immediately listed himself on the masthead as editor and publisher, was a person of impressive accomplishments.
Born in Fall River, Massachusetts, in 1896, he graduated from Harvard in three years. After receiving his degree in 1918, he enlisted in the U.S. Army and became an aviator. He later admitted that--in the air or on the ground--he had a terrible sense of direction. After the war, he became a buyer at Macy's in New York City.
In 1923, he started his own bedding and furniture factory, and developed and gave the name to the studio couch and sofa bed. Joan Yanowitch, one of Mr. Granovsky's two daughters, now living in Scarsdale, recalls the day that her father announced the news. "It was on the patio of the family home on Teatown Road in Ossining. He called the family together and said, 'I just sold my business and bought a newspaper!'" The paper's name was soon changed to the Croton-Cortlandt News to reflect its broader news coverage.
In Lou Brennan, the fledgling publisher had found a seasoned professional journalist who put his stamp on the paper and made it lively. His reportorial beat was the village of Croton and the town of Cortlandt, with occasional forays into the affairs of Ossining when journalistically appropriate. He was tireless in his coverage of town and village meetings, including those of the often-overlooked planning boards and zoning boards. Nothing happened locally that escaped his notice.
Although Lou Brennan was nominally a reporter, his name did not appear on the masthead for many years. Bylines were not used, yet his vast contributions to each issue are evident in news stories and editorials written in his characteristic style.
He had many admirers among newspaper readers for his relentless coverage of local affairs and pursuit of the truth. These same qualities annoyed others who preferred to remain outside the harsh spotlight of a Lou Brennan story. During his tenure, the Croton-Cortlandt News won many awards in various categories from the New York Press Association.
The paper sold for ten cents and appeared every Thursday. Of a page-size called "broadsheet," it was printed on a flatbed press at the County Press in Croton. The building and many others, including those along one side of Riverside Avenue, were later demolished to make way for the divided-lane Route 9 expressway.
The change turned out to be a mixed blessing. Although through traffic bypassed Croton, the new highway effectively gutted and destroyed Croton's commercial center known as the "Lower Village."
Besides his work as a journalist and novelist, Lou Brennan continued his interest in archaeology, conducting "digs" at local Indian sites his practiced eye spotted easily. In 1956, he published his first archaeological report, "Two Possible Coeval Lamokoid Sites near Ossining." Over the next 26 years, 53 other meticulous articles of professional quality would be published.
His first popular book about archaeology, No Stone Unturned: An Almanac of American Pre-history, appeared in 1959. In it, Lou Brennan undertook to demolish the once-standard belief that man was a very late comer to the Americas--Mongolian offshoots who traveled via the Aleutians and arrived here in much the same condition in which the first European arrivals found them.
Supported by new carbon-dating techniques, the Brennan thesis was that man indeed had crossed by the Aleutian chain, but early enough to hunt mammoths and avoid the short-faced bear. Any accomplishments in weapons, pottery and weaving were of local invention and occurred on this continent as early as anywhere else.
Writing in The New York Times Book Review, George Gaylord Simpson, a respected paleontologist, recorded, "Brennan's book on prehistoric man in America is not another popularization of the romance of archaeological discovery. It is a popularization, and it is romantic, but its romance is that of prehistoric man himself, and its theme is a polemic more than an exposition. He conveys to the reader an exciting sense of the humanity of the ancestors of our Indian neighbors. This is the great value of his book, and it deserves high praise."
British archaeologist Ronald Jessup's review in The Saturday Review of Literature commented, "It is far from easy reading despite touches of dry humor, but it is well worth the effort. Brennan's theories are carefully presented, though the diffusion-by-migration experts will not like him at all. But, as the author rightly says, archaeology is not a case of mere argument. We dig to look and learn."
In 1959, Lou Brennan assumed the unpaid editorship of the New York State Archaeological Bulletin, transforming it from a mimeographed newsletter into a respected scientific journal. He would continue as editor until the day he died. In those 24 years, he produced three issues a year without missing a single deadline.
In 1962, Lou Brennan began teaching archaeology at Briarcliff College, where he founded the Center for Archaeology and Hudson River Prehistory. It later was accorded academic status and became a department of the college. Lou Brennan's title was Research Director and Adjunct Professor of Archaeology, a post he retained after Pace University bought ailing Briarcliff College in 1977.
Later renamed the Museum and Laboratory for Archaeology (MALFA), the Center moved to the restored Hopkins mansion at Muscoot Park. For administrative reasons, the name was changed to Material Archives and Laboratory for Archaeology without affecting the acronym. It is now headquartered at Croton Point in the Nature Center--the former park superintendent's residence at the northern tip.
To fill a gap in the literature of archaeology for young adults, Lou Brennan wrote The Buried Treasure of Archaeology, which appeared in 1964. Praising it in The New York Times Book Review, E.B. Garside wrote, "Though designed mainly for young people this book can be read with enjoyment and profit by adults." Enthusiastic' best describes Mr. Brennan's evocations. The author, having a genuine passion for his subject, is able, to a considerable degree, to humanize his remote peoples. A book of solid quality." He called it "a survey of the key historic finds written with a force and assurance out of a fund of knowledge."
Lou Brennan was named editorial chairman of the Bulletin of the Eastern States Archaeological Federation in 1969. It bothered him that the organization had no professional journal to match the quality of American Antiquity. Published by the Society for American Archaeology, the publication tended to favor the American Southwest, Mexico and Central America. Four years later, the first issue of Archaeology of Eastern North America, or AENA, appeared under his editorship. He was working on the eleventh annual issue when he died in his sleep during the night of March 17, 1983, at the age of 72.
He was survived by his wife, Margaret ("Peg," to her friends), a daughter, Ann Calam, of Cortlandt, two sons, Edward, of Gardiner, N.Y., and Matthew, of Ridgefield, Conn., and three grandchildren. Peg Brennan died on December 16, 2006, at the age of 91.
Archaeological societies have not forgotten him. In 1984, the Lower Hudson Chapter of the New York State Archaeological Association honored him by changing its name to the Louis A. Brennan Lower Hudson Chapter. In 1998, the Eastern States Archaeological Federation created the Louis A. Brennan Publications Award, a monetary grant for publishing special reports, monographs or journals in archaeology. When the award program was announced, one member remarked, "Lou really saved ESAF by setting up AENA."
Editor's note: This is the first of a two-part series on Lou Brennan.
Labels: Louis A. Brennan
As I Remember Him: An Appreciation of Lou Brennan
Editor's Note: These pages previously recorded the bare bones of Lou Brennan's biography. It was replete with facts any competent researcher could uncover in the public record. But no mere biography, however detailed, can capture the man. This is an attempt to flesh out a portrait of him.
After several years of living in Turkey, my family and I arrived in Croton. Turkey is one vast archaeological treasure trove whose prehistory had fascinated me. I determined to find out more about Westchester's past.
I met Lou Brennan through a book, one he had written. It was No Stone Unturned: An Almanac of American Pre-history, and it was breathtakingly fascinating.
Here was scientific information written in prose honed to a dry, hard brilliance. His style was clear, reasonable, free from flamboyance and unobtrusively studded with appropriate scientific references.
When I learned from the book that the author was also a Croton journalist who lived in Ossining, I made a point of introducing myself to him at a village meeting.
"You can't miss him," someone told me. ""Lit or unlit, a pipe is always in his mouth."
As in his book, he was in person every bit as delighted to impart his excitement with prehistory in the same effortless way and to express his sense of wonder about uncovering the past.
Not long afterwards, on Croton Point my son found an Indian arrowhead, symmetrically beautiful and surprisingly wide--almost an equilateral triangle. We took it to Lou for his identification."That's a 'Manlius broad,'" he said. "It's not originally from this area." He went on to explain how it had been fashioned in the Mohawk Valley and had probably been traded to the Kitchawanck Indians in our area.
Magically, he created for us a vibrant picture of Indian life as it must have been along the Hudson before the white man came peopling the landscape with Stone Age flesh-and-blood human beings. His breadth of knowledge was awe-inspiring.
Lou Brennan was a born teacher who almost missed his calling. I think his proudest days came when Briarcliff College, and later Pace University, added him to the faculty as Professor of Archaeology.
Unburdened by the doctrinaire training and authoritarianism of the professional archaeologist, Lou Brennan was at liberty to speculate and comment in admirably lucid fashion about the fascinating subject of archaeology.
Lou, the Writer
Lou's writing style had a disarming quality, couched as it was in simple, clear, everyday English. Yet the subtlety of thought was such that readers would find themselves reading slowly and luxuriatingly--savoring the pleasure of a work whose style was polished and whose insights were deep.
In 1975, as a book publisher, I brought out a collection of nonfiction articles about angling and commissioned Lou Brennan to write a contribution for the volume, The Angler’s Bible. He titled the piece "How Primitive Man Fished" and began it this way:
"No human aim or endeavor has so stimulated the mind of man, since man had a mind, to the heights, and depths, of its cunning as the capture of fish, lots of fish, a particular species of fish, or even, as with Moby Dick, a special fish.
"Of course, Moby Dick was a whale, and whales are mammals--but that is a biologist's point of view. Whatever lives in the waters of the earth and gets about them by means of fin and tails falls under the jurisdiction of the Guild of St. Peter, the oldest profession--masculine, that is."
He went on to introduce a favorite thesis: "The first men to arrive in American from Asia 40,000 years ago, give or take 10,000 years, had to have been fishermen, perhaps of no great skill but certainly of long experience. In lifestyle they were beachcombers, drifting slowly southward along the Pacific shoreline from where Asia and Alaska were once connected by land to, eventually, South America, sustaining themselves almost entirely on the fruits of the sea."
It was vintage Lou Brennan, calling into play his skills as a writer. He captured the reader's attention with an intriguing “lede”(in the spelling of journalists) and then tinctured the piece with delightful tidbits from his vast store of arcane knowledge. He later wrote other pieces for me on how primitive man hunted and used the atlatl, an ingenious spear-throwing device for a companion volume on the shooting sports.
Lou, the Archaeologist
Entire books have been written describing the aims and objectives of archaeology. Lou Brennan dug, of course, as other archaeologists do, because he was a dedicated scientist. But he also dug out of pity and humility, that the past might live again and be understood, giving meaning to the present and offering hope for the future.
Thanks to Lou Brennan's industry and astute interpretative powers, much that would have been lost to us in this fast-developing corner of Westchester has been salvaged from oblivion. With his uncanny knowledge of Indian habits, his eagle eye could spot with unerring accuracy aboriginal village sites and their rubble pits--the "Croton Dumps" of prehistory.
Archaeology was his way of settling the debt that we of the present owe to the unknown peoples of the past who have gone before and who, by the very fact of being here, have imperceptibly changed the way of life and environment we know today.
We of today draw our conclusions from accidentally encountered artifacts--curiously touching evidence of their presence: a perfectly crafted arrowhead, pristine as the day it was lost; a child's treasured bright garnet bead; a well-worn needle of deer bone. We study these and learn much from them; still we can only wonder about the hopes and dreams of those whose hands touched them long ago..
Once there were Indians all over this place. Yet the northeastern United States presents special problems for archaeologists in deducing its complex history. The ice sheets of the last glaciation, with changes in sea and river levels, and highly acidic soils, have destroyed the kinds of artifacts that survive in other areas. The resulting archaeological record is often fragmentary and always complicated.
Thanks to the largely unsung detective work of the Lou Brennans of archaeology, these shadowy peoples of the past have been given a measure of form and substance for us. If we glean anything from archaeological research, it is that we are all in this together.
Lou's interests were not confined to prehistoric archaeology. At the suggestion of the Tarrytown Historical Society, he excavated the ruins of the gambrel-roofed Requa cottage. Located on the property of the General Foods Technical Center in Tarrytown, it was the only intact tenant farm of the early colonial period to be excavated in the lower Hudson Valley.
Lou managed to bridge the gap between professional, academically trained archaeologists and avocational archaeologists, and deplored the alienation that sometimes permeated their relationships. He often pointed out that trained nonprofessionals did much of the work of digging and made up most of the membership of state archaeological societies.
Always questioning and speculating, Lou's enthusiasm to unravel the secrets of the past were infectious. For his Saturday "digs," he assembled a devoted band of acolytes of diverse backgrounds to whom he taught the painstaking techniques of digging, sifting, sorting and interpreting finds. One improbable but dedicated digger was a steelworker who spent weekdays perilously teetering on the skeletons of Manhattan skyscrapers.
Lou, the Person
Lou was an exceedingly modest human being who considered all human beings absurd, including himself. As a journalist, he was not above having his little joke. News items--or even gossip--too hot to handle in traditional fashion made their way into a highly individualistic column bylined "Audax." Many readers assumed the name had its roots in audire, the Latin verb "to hear" or "to listen."
Lou never explained its derivation, but anyone familiar with Latin would recognize audax as the third declension adjective meaning "bold, daring, courageous--even reckless or rash." From it, we get the English words "audacious" and "audacity." And bold, daring and courageous the column was, often treading on local corns.
It is interesting to trace the growing presence of Audax on the Croton-Cortlandt News. A June 20, 1957, article entitled "Factional Fights" was signed with the cryptic word "Audax," presumably to show that it was opinion and not reportage. In November, an article was headed, "Audax Explains All." The next month articles titled "Audax Speaking" appeared. The last issue in 1957 carried greetings to Audax's sources: "Happy New Year from Audax to the boys on the corner, the boys in the backroom and the girls on the backyard fence."
Once the weekly Croton-Cortlandt News was put to bed, Lou could relax. Wednesday nights were given over to bridge. Lou and wife Peg and Hamilton Avenue neighbors Realtor Albert Schatz and his wife, Liz, would alternate in hosting games at their respective homes. The Brennans had introduced Al, then a TV producer, to Liz in 1954. Additional bridge games were also held Saturday nights following dinner together.
Lou was a lover of the works of the Bard of Avon and actively promoted Croton's annual Shakespeare Festival directed each summer by teacher Fred Blais. That familiarity with the Bard was once demonstrated for Liz Schatz. Searching for the source of a Shakespeare quotation, she mentioned a couple of the key words.
"Lou identified the quotation as being in Act Two Scene One of As You Like It," she told me. "Off the top of his head, Lou proceeded to recite the entire scene, leading up to the quotation I was seeking:
"Sweet are the uses of diversity,
Which, like the toad, ugly and venomous,
Wears yet a precious jewel in his head;
And this our life, exempt from pubic haunt,
Finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks,
Sermons in stones, and good in every thing.
I would not change it."
Lou not only named the players and the background of the action, he identified the setting as the Forest of Arden--in reality the same Ardennes forest through which German troops and tanks came crashing in 1944's Battle of the Bulge.
In his newspaper editorials and in person, Lou was a fierce, emotional champion of the causes in which he believed, one of which was education reform. The late Perry Crawford recalled for me that when he was the head of Croton's Board of Education, Lou was a frequent visitor to his home to discuss issues.
"He would always sit in the same armchair in our living room. Occasionally, to make a point he would vehemently pound on both arms of the chair with clenched fists. My wife became so concerned about the ability of the chair to withstand such onslaughts she quietly substituted another chair before his next visit."
Sally West, on the staff of the Croton Free Library, recalled Lou's empathy with children. When she was a Cub Scout den mother, her cub pack became interested in local Indian lore. A friend suggested Lou Brennan as a source.
"He was wonderful," Ms. West recollected. He had a vast knowledge and suggested many sources. The resulting report on Indian sign language was a great success."
When Crotonite Evelyn Frankel's son Paul expressed an interest in archaeology, his father, Robert, arranged for Paul to accompany Lou on a dig in Montrose. The first Saturday went swimmingly. Paul found some squirrel bones among the refuse in an Indian kitchen midden and was allowed to keep them.
Now bitten by the archeology bug, the eager ten-year-old Paul turned up again a week later. This time he made another find, but Lou had to explain to him that the objects were valuable.
"They have to go to the MALFA museum collection."
Paul's response was final. "Well, if I can't keep what I find," he said, putting down his trowel, "I'm not going to dig anymore."
I would occasionally join Lou on a dig--more as an observer than as a participant. One Saturday, hoping to stimulate my son's interest in archaeology, I brought him to a dig at Twombly's Landing, the site of the present-day Eagle Bay condominiums. By mid-morning, son Jeff's interest had flagged.
Lou had made an interesting find: tiny flakes of flint no bigger than fingernail clippings. Apparently these were the byproducts of the making of small arrow points for shooting birds. He had painstakingly arranged them in a line on a long two-by-six plank. Just at this moment, my son jumped on the end of the plank like a circus acrobat. The tiny flakes of sharp stone flew up in the air in all directions.
I would have forgiven Lou had he exploded. Instead, he just bit down harder on his pipe. With a pained expression on his face, he began to look for the tiny flakes all over again.
After Croton-Cortlandt News publisher Albert Granovsky fell and broke a thighbone in 1972, he sold the paper to John Mullen, publisher of the Putnam County Courier. Lou continued on as editor.
Lou's last journalistic hurrah, however, came on November 15, 1973. In a note on the editorial page of the paper, now tabloid sized, at which he had so long labored, he said farewell "after seventeen tumultuous, eventful, historic and satisfying years."
He wrote: "The temptation to grow maudlin about this long association with a fascinating, unique, attractive and genuinely lovable community should be resisted. As a reporter and editor I have never been maudlin, because I really don't know how to be.
"Let this be said in parting: I never had an enemy I didn't like, and I never had a friend with whom I did not, on occasion, differ. I have been enormously enriched by my intimate contacts with a variegated and vital population.
"Memories will not dim as I go on to what, as everyone must know by now is my first love, archaeology." Then he added, "But I'll be seeing you."
The Croton-Cortlandt News continued publication until 1984, when it gave up the ghost. After a two-year gap in locally reported news, Croton's Charles Nelson began publishing The Gazette in October of 1986.
A Last Goodbye
I can still see him as he was at our last meeting just before he died: alive, lusty, vibrant and excited about his teaching career at Pace University. It was just before St. Patrick's Day. He had dropped in at my home on Ridge Road to report on his progress on the next book he was writing. It was to be an account of how mankind had spread around the globe from early beginnings in East Africa. I had convinced him to write a book proposal for such a book, and Macmillan had snapped it up.
We drank beer and nibbled cheese together while he described his recent activities. He was excited about the coming of spring, for it meant that archaeological digging could resume. The book was going well. And he had just planted peas in his backyard, an annual rite performed by gardeners in the Northeast around St. Patrick's Day.
As we talked, I reflected that he was an anachronism in modern garb. His sinewy frame and Celtic visage called for leather and buckles, a basket-hilted broadsword at his belt, and a pair of dragoon pistols in his jackboots.
The board at which we sat was properly bare and brown. But it was a Victorian cottage pine table in our modest kitchen. It should have been a stout oaken tavern table washed by the slops from heavy pewter tankards and worn smooth by muscular sword hands.
There would have been a huge fireplace and fire over which a dripping roast turned on a spit. To match his always-spirited conversation, Rabelais and Villon would have been our tablemates.
Although neither of us knew it, it would mark our last goodbye. In the final week of his life, he addressed two historical society meetings in Tarrytown and Ossining on successive nights. At the Ossining meeting, he became particularly nostalgic, harking back in his anecdotes to his years in Ohio. After returning home, he complained of indigestion but attributed it to a hurried dinner of a sandwich and a beer.
Charon, the aged boatman, came for Lou and ferried him across the Stygian river while he slept that night of March 17, 1983--St. Patrick's Day, of all days. I am sure Lou was at the bow of the vessel looking for a promontory on which earlier arrivals must have camped.
A week after his death a memorial was held at the Briarcliff campus of Pace University in the very building where he had begun his teaching career. Friends, former students, archaeologists--both professional and amateur--and those who knew him only from his writings came from as far as Maine and the Carolinas in a touching tribute.
No Grave Marker
L. Scott Bailey, publisher and editor of the hard-cover magazine Automobile Quarterly, for whom I once worked, used to call me "Tombstone." The attribution came from my habit of beginning research about a historical figure by visiting that person's grave. The editor thought it peculiar of me to be "communing with the dead," but he misunderstood my motive. Gravestones are an ideal starting point, for they often contain information not available from other sources.
Had I wanted to begin these reminiscences with a pilgrimage to the grave of Lou Brennan, however, I would have been disappointed. There is no grave, no marker, no stone monument. A dedicated scientist and educator to the end, he willed his body to medical science. It was a characteristic Lou Brennan gesture, and says almost everything there is to know about this wonderful guy.
It is now nearly 30 years since Lou Brennan left us, the voice of reason that was his stilled forever. The sentient humanism of his writing has been sorely missed, lo these many years. His like will not pass this way again.
I append a bibliography of Lou Brennan's books. It is my sad duty to report that although his nonfiction works are widely available, not a single Lou Brennan novel is to be found in any library in Westchester.
The manuscripts of his novels were donated to the library of Ohio University at its Portsmouth campus. His archaeological manuscripts were given to Seton Hall University, whose Museum and Department of Archaeology have long specialized in the early inhabitants of the Hudson and Delaware rivers.
It has not been easy to grow accustomed to Lou Brennan's absence. No synthesizer has come along in the book world to take his place in communicating the oneness and uniqueness of human history. It is as if a mighty tree has gone down with a great shout upon the hills, leaving a lonesome and empty place against the sky.
A Louis A. Brennan Bibliography
These Items of Desire. New York: Random House, 1953.
Masque of Virtue. New York: Random House, 1955.
Tree of Arrows. New York: Macmillan, 1964.
An Affair of Dishonor. New York: Dell Publishing Co., 1955.
More Than Flesh. New York: Dell Publishing Co., 1957.
Death at Flood Tide. New York: Dell Publishing Co., 1958.
The Long Knife. New York: Dell Publishing Co., 1960.
No Stone Unturned: An Almanac of American Pre-history. New York: Random House, 1959
The Buried Treasure of Archaeology. New York: Random House, 1964.
American Dawn: A New Model of American Prehistory. New York: Macmillan, 1970.
Beginner's Guide to Archaeology. Harrisburg, Pa.: Stackpole Books, 1973.
Artifacts of Prehistoric America. Harrisburg, Pa.: Stackpole Books, 1975.
Labels: Louis A. Brennan