Archive | April 2020

Book Review: The First Conspiracy

I recently read The First Conspiracy: The Secret Plot to Kill George Washington, by Brad Meltzer.  I’ve only recently started reading more about the Founding Fathers, and learning more about the Revolutionary War.  Did you know that in 1776 there was a plot to assassinate George Washington?

The First Conspiracy: The Secret Plot to Kill George Washington

Records are incomplete, both because of the fact that this occurred almost 250 years ago, as well as what was likely a desire to keep it quiet at the time, so as not to undermine public confidence in the Revolutionary cause.  What would happen if people found out that the Revolution’s greatest general was under threat from his own men?

The book explores the plot, the players and the investigation of the conspiracy to kill Washington, but also has a lot of great information on the climate in the United States in the early years of the revolution.  Meltzer writes about the reasons men joined the cause, and the reasons people stayed loyal to England.  It wasn’t so easy to decide where your allegiances should fall, especially considering the economic impacts of your choice.  All of that played into this plot.

The book weaves the story into an interesting narrative, culminating in the capture of those responsible and their ultimate punishment.

4 stars. 

2018 Circus Trip: Johnstown Flood National Memorial

Day 38, Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Johnstown, Pennsylvania

The previous evening, I crossed into Pennsylvania (sorry I wasn’t able to get a pic with a sign!), and discovered that Pennsylvania really LOVES its toll roads.  In the span of about 30 miles, I racked up $17 in tolls!  Ugh!  I was excited to start exploring a new state though!

I first learned about the Johnstown Flood when I read a book about the event by David McCullough about a dozen years ago.  I have always thought that this tragedy could have been avoided, and find the story pretty interesting, so I wanted to see the Johnstown Flood National Memorial.

In 1889, the city of Johnstown, Pennsylvania was a thriving community built on the banks of the Conemaugh River, just past where the Stonycreek and Little Conemaugh Rivers joined together.  The Cambria Iron Works was a bustling iron and steel mill supporting a town of about 30,000 people.  Above the city was the South Fork Dam, an earthen dam originally built by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania between 1838 and 1853 as a part of a cross-state canal system.  Once the railroads took over, Pennsylvania sold off the canal and dam to the railroad, who in turn, sold the dam and its lake to a private interest.

That private interest was the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club, a membership club for the wealthy elite of nearby Pittsburgh.  The hunt club was built near Johnstown, and members and their families could enjoy a country respite from the dirty, crowded city.  Unfortunately, over several years before the flood, a series of alterations were made to the dam which affected its structural integrity, regular maintenance was lacking, and leaks that sprang up were repaired haphazardly.

Which leads us to May 31, 1889.  During the three days leading up to this fateful Friday, there was rain.  In fact, so much rain that they estimated between 6 and 10 inches fell in the 24 hours before the dam breached.  Colonel Elias Unger, who managed the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club, lived above the dam, and recognized that it was in bad shape that morning.  He called in engineers and laborers who tried desperately to clean out the spillway, which had been clogged by debris.  They also tried to dig a new spillway to release water, but stopped when they became convinced that it would just cause the entire dam to give way.  Unger also sent a man to the telegraph station to warn communities down below of the danger, but it is unclear whether the message was received in Johnstown.  Oops.

When the dam finally breached at about 2:50 pm, more than 3.8 billion gallons of water released in a torrent downstream.  It hit several communities along its path, which suffered more or less depending on whether they had enough advance notice to get to higher ground.  One community was wiped away completely; the land where the town had been located was scoured down to bedrock.  Johnstown, about 14 miles from the dam, was hit about an hour after the dam breached, and by that time the river was carrying a huge amount of deadly debris along with it, including trees, logs, houses, locomotives, barbed wire, animals, and human victims.

The horror was unimaginable and people died from drowning, being bludgeoned to death by debris, and even being burned, as a large pile of debris got trapped by a bridge over the river and caught on fire.  Bodies were found as far away as Cincinnati, Ohio, 357 miles away by today’s roads, and as late as 1911.  When it was over, 2209 people had died, including entire families; at the time it was the largest civilian loss of life in U.S. history.

The Johnstown Flood National Memorial preserves the site of what remains of the dam and gives visitors a view of the narrow valley where the waters raged, and have continued to flood the towns below periodically (most recently in 1977).  The Visitor’s Center has exhibits on the flood, photos and artifacts that were collected from the flood waters, stories of the people who died and those who survived.  There is also a very powerful (and not suitable for young children) movie on the event; it evokes the fear that you would have felt as that wall of water crashed into town.

The Johnstown Flood National Memorial was authorized by Congress on August 31, 1964 and annual visitation of the National Memorial is approximately 112,000.

It was very interesting to see the artifacts and the movie; they also have a list of nearby sites that also relate to the flood, including the Grandview Cemetery (where most of the victims are buried) and the historic structures of the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club.  I’ll blog about those next!

 

 

 

Circus Trip 2018: McKinley Memorial

Day 37, Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Canton, Ohio

I heard somewhere that this is the largest Presidential tomb in the United States.  I tried to corroborate this with information online, but I came up empty, but having seen it, it seems plausible.  That said, I wasn’t really expecting that, since President William McKinley isn’t exactly the most famous or revered of our Presidents.

The memorial

McKinley lived in Canton, Ohio for the majority of his adult life. He served in the Civil War and participated in several battles an officer in a regiment of the Ohio volunteers; he was the last Civil War veteran president. After the war, he became a lawyer and had a robust civil and political career before being elected President in 1896.

On September 6, 1901, an anarchist named Leon Czolgosz shot McKinley at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York. He died eight days later after developing gangrene. His body was returned to Washington, D.C. to lie in state at the United States Capitol, and then he came home to be interred in Canton.

McKinley’s friends planned a memorial for McKinley and raised over $600,000 to build it in Canton’s Westlawn Cemetery.  Construction started in 1905 and was completed in 1907, the same year that Ida McKinley died.  McKinley, Ida, and their two daughters who died in early childhood were all interred in the memorial building.

And what a memorial it is!  It stands on a grass-covered hill overlooking the city of Canton, and is immense!  It was designed by architect H. Van Buren Magonigle (that’s a name you really have to grow into!) and is a huge domed pink granite building that is 96 feet tall and 79 feet in diameter. To get to the building, you must first climb up 108 stone steps that lead up to the mausoleum.  When I visited, there were quite a few joggers getting their workout in on these imposing steps.  There used to be a long reflecting pool in front of the memorial and steps, but it was replaced in  1951 by a depressed lawn.  About halfway up the steps is a bronze statue of President McKinley delivering his last speech in Buffalo, by artist Charles Henry Niehaus.

You can go inside the mausoleum and see the tomb where the McKinley family is interred, but it was already closed for the day when I visited.  It would have been neat to see!  Instead I took pictures outside, where my hair really shows how windy it was at the top of the hill that day!  The memorial is managed by the William McKinley Presidential Library and Museum – one day I’ll visit there too!

 

Happy Birthday in Heaven Biz!

Today would have been Biz’s 33rd birthday…  I still miss him, of course, but it doesn’t hit me as acutely now, a few weeks later.

A few days after Biz died, our local Humane Society started a fundraiser.  For a minimum donation of $20, you could have a portrait done of your pet by one of their volunteer artists.  The catch?  You get what you get, as the “talent” of the artists runs the spectrum, and your portrait would be randomly assigned.  In other words, it’s all in good fun and for the animals!  I made my donation, and emailed a photo of Biz that I like.

This is that photo.  I took it of him in February 2018 when we were standing outside the vet clinic waiting for them to get ready to do his dental work.  He was a bit on edge, and it was a cold, slightly foggy day, but his expression was so regal!  Even in his old age – he was 31 in this photo – he was still a beautiful horse.

Biz, looking regal before the sedative…

I received my finished portrait last week, and I was overcome with how good of a job she did!  I am so impressed at how well she captured his likeness! His curly forelock and mane hair, his white star that got bigger as he became an elderly boy, and even his slightly hanging upper lip.  It is perfect!

I’m beyond the moon to have this memento of my boy.  I hope he’s having fun playing beyond the rainbow bridge.

Book Review: The Other Einstein

The Other Einstein, by Marie Benedict, is a work of historical fiction about a woman whose story has largely been lost to time…

Mileva Marić Einstein was Albert Einstein’s first wife.  They met when they were physics classmates together at the Zurich Polytechnic, where they were both studying physics and mathematics.  She was brilliant in her own right, being the second woman in the history of the university to finish the course of study.  Marić and Einstein collaborated on several projects while they were students, and historical records show that they were equals in the scientific field, although their fellow students believed Marić’s mathematical abilities surpassed Einstein’s.  He was an attentive and passionate suitor, and showered her with love and affection during their courtship.

The Other Einstein

Things changed once she got pregnant out of wedlock with his child.  Marić returned to her family home during her pregnancy and remained there after the birth of their daughter.  She repeatedly requested that Einstein visit them, and that he marry her and make their child legitimate, but he let her down, and left her alone for several months during her pregnancy and after the birth of their daughter.  Even after she was born, he refused to marry her and legitimize their daughter; the record is unclear, and does not account for what happened to their daughter, other than the fact that she was no longer in their lives when they married.

Marić and Einstein finally married in 1903; and by all accounts, it was an unhappy marriage.  Einstein had a brilliant mind, but the historical record does not reflect kindly on his ability to maintain a kind or loving relationship.  It was his way or the highway; he expected his wife to act as a servant during their marriage, rather than a partner.  Her wishes went unheeded and her aspirations were ignored.  It is unknown whether Marić played a role in collaborating with Einstein on his theories, especially his Theory of Relativity, but it is quite possible that she was involved in his research and never received credit.  It must have been heartbreaking for her to be in love with a man who simply wanted control and submission from her, rather than a partner in life.

The book is insightful into the mind of a man who had many talents, of which his ability to treat people kindly was not one.  Over time, their relationship suffered as a result of his ongoing emotional abuse and neglect.  Her academic passions, her career and the love of her husband had all been stripped from her by the man who once swore that they were one.  They separated in 1914, and finally divorced (after the mandatory waiting period) in 1919.

This book is part love story, and part the story of an incredibly strong woman who was ahead of her time…  She had to make a choice between her career and a marriage, and in the end she got neither…  Her story is not uplifting, but relatable for intelligent, career women to this day.

4 stars. 

 

Circus Trip 2018: First Ladies NHS

Day 37, Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Canton, Ohio

After I left Cuyahoga Valley National Park, I went down to Canton, Ohio and spent a little bit of time there.

Canton is where the family home of Ida Saxton McKinley is located, the wife of President William McKinley.  The home is beautiful!  It was built in 1841 by Ida’s grandfather and modified in 1865; and remained in the family until 1919.  Although Ida and William McKinley didn’t own the home themselves, as her father purchased a home for them a few blocks south, the President and his wife spent a considerable amount of time living here with Ida’s sister and her family, 13 years in total.

This historic site is unique, because although the home is tied to a US President, it focuses on the story of Ida McKinley, his wife.  She was born in 1847; the daughter of a wealthy banker, and enjoyed a privileged upbringing.  She and William McKinley were married in 1871, and had two daughters together; sadly, both died in early childhood.  Ida was grief-stricken over the loss of her daughters and the death of her mother, which had occurred two weeks before the birth of her first daughter.  She believed that the deaths were God’s punishment of her, and developed epilepsy, which severely hindered her ability to participate in society.  Despite her health issues, McKinley was devoted to her and made accommodations for her seizures and ailments in his schedule and public appearances.

 

 

Of course, you probably know that during a Presidential trip to Buffalo, New York, President McKinley was shot on September 6, 1901 by anarchist Leon Czolgosz; he died of his wounds on September 14, after gangrene set in. Ida had accompanied her husband on the trip, but was not present at the shooting.  She held up well while McKinley fought to survive, but her health suffered even more afterwards.  She went back to the home in Canton where her sister Mary Barber and Mary’s family lived, and her sister cared for her until Ida’s death in 1907.  During that period, Ida largely spent her time in a rocking chair, crocheting slippers to give to her friends as gifts.  President McKinley, Ida and their two daughters are now interred in McKinley’s memorial monument in a nearby cemetery – an upcoming post!

 

 

The First Ladies National Historic Site is operated as a partnership between the National First Ladies Library, and the National Park Service.  There is a small visitor’s center in a nearby historic bank building and the home, which is open to the public on a tour.  The historic site has a movie about Ida Saxton McKinley and the role of First Ladies in general.  There was also an interesting exhibit on First Lady fashion, with featured dresses of several different first ladies in history.  It was interesting to see a perspective dedicated to the women who supported their husbands in their First Lady roles, as well as the women who took on their role for other family members, as not all First Ladies were spouses.

What a unique historic site!  I hope we will have a woman as President too, so we can see our first First Man!

 

COVID Diaries: Day 30

I’ve discovered that the “new normal” changes daily.  Since my last COVID update, I have “attended” another remote Board meeting, had a happy hour virtually with girlfriends, and conducted an entire consultant selection process via video conference.  I even put on a nicer sweater and top for that round of video meetings, but paired that with yoga pants and slippers.  There’s no point in getting fancy on bottom during work-from-home days…  I was happy to see the process go well though.

I’m thankful that not only am I an essential worker, but that I have the luxury to do my work from home.  I’m not worried about losing my job, or being exposed on a daily basis, or not being able to pay my bills.  I’m incredibly fortunate.  I’m tired though – there isn’t any slowing of the work I do, so I’m tired.  I don’t sleep very well either, so there’s that…

I’m disappointed by all the partisan blame game and how many people buy into it, on both sides.  I can’t say I’m surprised, because it is just a continuation of the same old, but I really wish some people would give “the other side” the benefit of the doubt.  Can’t we just believe that everyone is doing the best they can, given a myriad of problems we are facing?  Are we going to get some things right?  Yep.  Are we going to get some things wrong?  Absolutely.  There isn’t exactly a playbook for this kind of scenario – even health department officials who have spent years preparing for a pandemic are still having to make educated guesses on whether a particular measure will be effective.  Perhaps we would all be best served by letting go of our judgment and the erroneous beliefs that the “enemy” has some ulterior motive and the other side would do everything right.  Easy enough to armchair quarterback when you aren’t the one responsible for the decisions…  But that’s enough of my soapbox…

People are stressed out and grieving, and sometimes that means they react badly.  I’m no different.  I miss being around people.  I miss hugs.  I miss going out for happy hour and dinner with a girlfriend.  I miss being able to go for a weekend getaway.  I’m lonely.  People complain about being stuck at home with their kids or their annoying partner, but when you live alone, it’s hard.  What I wouldn’t give to have a in-person conversation with someone, snuggled up on the couch with a glass of wine.  It isn’t the same through a screen.  I still don’t have loads of extra time to get projects done, and I’m trying to be sensitive to all those people who are risking their safety every time someone goes into a store to buy house paint.  Especially during allergy season.  Does that cough mean I’m going to spread the virus!???

It’s ok to be grieving.  It’s ok to feel this loss, even if there are others who are sacrificing and suffering differently.

There are some silver linings to this pandemic, and I’m going to focus on those.  Here are a few:

  • My gasoline bill is waaaayyy down.  In fact I got gas a month ago, and still have 3/4 of a tank.  My commute is approximately 10 seconds.
  • I’m getting my steps in everyday!
  • I get to sleep in!  Even if I have to roll into “the office” at 8 am sharp (which I don’t really) I could get up at 7:30 and be showered and have breakfast and walk the 20 feet over to my desk!
  • I have been able to do in-depth research on my toilet paper consumption.  One roll lasts 6-7 days, in case you were wondering.
  • I’m making progress on drinking through my backlog of miscellaneous tea.  Although let’s be real, I still probably won’t ever go for the Chamomile.
  • I’m low maintenance anyway; I don’t color my hair, get manis or pedis, have my eyelashes done, get Botox, or any of the other myriad of beauty things that people are going without.
  • I don’t have to dress up!  My work is fairly casual anyway, but if I put on a decent top for the Monday night remote Board meeting, I’m set for the week!
  • Cora loves having me home.
  • I’m saving money on eating out and travel expenses.  That combined with not having my horse’s expenses anymore means I can save more for retirement – and buy low!
  • I’m safe and healthy and so is my mom!

I hope you are all safe and healthy and well.  We will get through this together, but separate!

How has your COVID experience been so far?