I wrote this on Facebook about a year and a half ago.
Thought of it today when I saw this tweet from Donald Trump Jr.
I was in Philadelphia a couple of weeks ago with AB and we went to the brand-new Museum of the American Revolution. It’s a great work of public history. Every American, and everybody else who cares about America, should see it.
The museum scrapes away the layer of inevitability and myth around our founding. Its Revolution is something that might easily not have succeeded. Or that might have succeeded but with different aims. There were deep contemporary disagreements about what kind of nation we should be. The museum puts you face to face with them.
E Pluribus Unum was an aspiration, not a fact. There was a lot of pluribus. The gentility in Massachusetts and the Oneida and frontierspeople in Maryland and the French and the enslaved Africans and their American slavemasters were different people with different interests and each had their own revolution in mind.
Somehow it came together. George Washington gets his due. The museum presents him as a real person, not just a face on the money. A person who knew that the decisions he made, in a hurry and under duress, would reverberate through the lifespan of the new country. We were lucky to have him. And yes, I choked up, seeing his tent, fragile and beaten-up and confined to a climate-controlled chamber, but somehow still here and standing.
The Haggadah tells us that every generation of Jews has to read the story of Exodus as if we, ourselves, personally, were among those brought out from Egypt. The museum reminded me of that commandment. It demands that we find the General Washington in ourselves. In each generation we have to tell the story of the American Revolution as if we, ourselves, personally, are fighting for our freedom, and are responsible for what America will be.
Because we are! We are still in the course of human events. The American Revolution isn’t over. It won’t ever be over. It’s right that we call it a “revolution” and not an “overthrow” or a “liberation.” We’re still revolving, still turning this place over, we’re still plural, we’re still arguing. We still have the chance, and so we still have the obligation, to make the lives of our children more free than our own.
Happy Independence Day.
One more from Why Men Fail:
Not even the most poorly paid shipping clerk would dream of trying to make his own shirts, and confidential investigation would probably reveal that mighty few darn their own socks. Yet the cities are full of women on march larger salaries who not only make their own clothes, but cook their own meals and do their own laundry.
So in 1927, it was more unusual to cook for yourself than it was to make your own clothes? When did that flip?
That’s the book I picked up off the shelf while working in Memorial Library today. It’s an book of essays by psychiatrists about failure and suboptimal function, published in 1936. In the introduction I find:
We see what a heavy toll disorders of the mind exact from human happiness when we realize that of all the beds in all the hospitals throughout the United States one in every two is for mental disease; in other words, there are as many beds for mental ailments as for all other ailments put together.
That’s startling to me! Can it really have been so? What’s the proportion now?
The Maryland flag is, in my opinion as a Marylander, the greatest state flag.
Ungepotch? Yes. But it has that ineffable “it shouldn’t work but it does” that marks really great art.
But here’s something I didn’t know about my home state’s flag:
Despite the antiquity of its design, the Maryland flag is of post-Civil War origin. Throughout the colonial period, only the yellow-and-black Calvert family colors are mentioned in descriptions of the Maryland flag. After independence, the use of the Calvert family colors was discontinued. Various banners were used to represent the state, although none was adopted officially as a state flag. By the Civil War, the most common Maryland flag design probably consisted of the great seal of the state on a blue background. These blue banners were flown at least until the late 1890s….
Reintroduction of the Calvert coat of arms on the great seal of the state [in 1854] was followed by a reappearance at public events of banners in the yellow-and-black Calvert family colors. Called the “Maryland colors” or “Baltimore colors,” these yellow-and-black banners lacked official sanction of the General Assembly, but appear to have quickly become popular with the public as a unique and readily identifiable symbol of Maryland and its long history.
The red-and-white Crossland arms gained popularity in quite a different way. Probably because the yellow-and-black “Maryland colors” were popularly identified with a state which, reluctantly or not, remained in the Union, Marylanders who sympathized with the South adopted the red-and-white of the Crossland arms as their colors. Following Lincoln’s election in 1861, red and white “secession colors” appeared on everything from yarn stockings and cravats to children’s clothing. People displaying these red-and-white symbols of resistance to the Union and to Lincoln’s policies were vigorously prosecuted by Federal authorities.
During the war, Maryland-born Confederate soldiers used both the red-and-white colors and the cross bottony design from the Crossland quadrants of the Calvert coat of arms as a unique way of identifying their place of birth. Pins in the cross bottony shape were worn on uniforms, and the headquarters flag of the Maryland-born Confederate general Bradley T. Johnson was a red cross bottony on a white field.
By the end of the Civil War, therefore, both the yellow-and-black Calvert arms and the red-and-white colors and bottony cross design of the Crossland arms were clearly identified with Maryland, although they represented opposing sides in the conflict.
In 4th grade, in Maryland history, right after having to memorize the names of the counties, we learned about the flag’s origin in the Calvert coat of arms
but not about the symbolic meaning of the flag’s adoption, as an explicit gesture of reconciliation between Confederate sympathizers and Union loyalists sharing power in a post-war border state.
The Howard County flag is based on the Crossland arms. (There’s also a sheaf of wheat and a silhouette of Howard County nosing its way through a golden triangle.) The city of Baltimore, on the other hand, uses the Calvert yellow-and-black only.
Oh, and there’s one more flag:
That’s the flag of the Republic of Maryland, an independent country in West Africa settled mostly by free black Marylanders. It existed only from 1854 to 1857, when it was absorbed into Liberia, of which it’s still a part, called Maryland County. The county flag still has Lord Baltimore’s yellow, but not the black.
This Father’s Day I found that, by some kind of unanticipated-gap-in-the-Red-Sea-level miracle, neither of my children had any events scheduled, so I gave myself a present and did something I’d been meaning to do for a year; take them to Dubuque.
It’s not far from Madison. You drive southwest through the Driftless Zone, where the glaciers somehow looped around and missed a spot while they were grinding the rest of the Midwest flat.
At the exit to Platteville there was a sign for a “Mining Museum.” We had about six seconds to decide whether we all wanted to go to a mining museum but that was plenty of time because obviously we all totally wanted to go to a mining museum. And it was great! Almost the platonic ideal of a small-town museum. Our guide took us down into the old lead mine from the 1850s, now with electric lights and a lot of mannequins caught in the act of blasting holes in the rock. (One of the mannequins was black; our guide told us that there were African-American miners in southwestern Wisconsin, but not that some of them were enslaved.)
This museum did a great job of conveying the working conditions of those miners; ankle-deep in water, darkness broken only by the candle wired to the front of their hat, the hammers on the rock so loud you couldn’t talk, and had to communicate by hand signals. Riding up and down to the surface with one leg in the bucket and one leg out so more men could fit in one load, just hoping the bucket didn’t swing wrong and crush your leg against the rock wall. There’s nothing like an industrial museum to remind you that everything you buy in a store has hours of difficult, dangerous labor built into it. But it was also labor people traveled miles to get the chance to do!
Only twenty miles further to the Mississippi, my daughter’s first time seeing the river, and across it Dubuque. Which has a pretty great Op-Art flag:
Our main goal was the National Mississippi River Museum; slick where the Platteville museum was homespun, up-to-date where the Plateville Museum was old-fashioned. The kids really liked both. I wanted fewer interactive screens, more actual weird river creatures.
The museum is on the Riverwalk; Dubuque, like just about every city on a body of water, is reinventing its shoreline as a tourist hub. Every harbor a Harborplace. OK, I snark, but it was a lovely walk; lots of handsome bridges in view, all different, an old-timey band playing in the gazebo, Illinois and Wisconsin and Iowa invisibly meeting across the water….
Only disappointment of the afternoon; the famous funicular railway was closed. Maybe they could have posted that on their website or something. But in a way it’s good they didn’t; if I’d known it was closed, I probably would have decided to put off the trip, and who knows if we’d ever have gone?
On the way back we stopped in Dickeyville to get gas but missed the Dickeyville Grotto; would have stopped there for sure if I’d known about it. Dinner in Dodgeville at Culver’s, the Midwest’s superior version of In-N-Out, where I got my free Father’s Day turtle. I like cheese curds and brats as much as the next guy, but I gotta say, I think the turtle is my favorite of the many foods I’d never heard of before I moved to Wisconsin.
I got a message last week from the husband of my first cousin once removed; his father-in-law, Leonard Ellenberg, was my grandfather Julius Ellenberg’s brother. I never knew my grandfather; he died before I was born, and I was named for him.
The message contained a huge amount of information about a side of my family I’ve never known well. I’m still going through it all. But I wanted to share some of it while it was on my mind.
Here’s the manifest for the voyage of the S.S. Polonia, which left Danzig on September 17, 1923 and arrived in New York on October 1.
Owadje Ellenberg (always known as Owadia in my family) was my great-grandfather. He came to New York with his wife Sura-Fejga (known to us as Sara), Markus (Max), Etia-Race (Ethel), Leon (Leonard), Samuel and Bernard. Sara was seven months pregnant with my uncle Morris Ellenberg, the youngest child.
Owadje gives his occupation as “mason”; his son Max, only 17, was listed as “tailor.” They came from Stanislawow, Poland, which is now the city of Ivano-Frankivsk in Ukraine. On the immigration form you had to list a relative in your country of origin; Owadje listed his brother, Zacharja, who lived on Zosina Wola 6 in Stanislawow. None of the old street names have survived to the present, but looking at this old map of Stanislawow
it seems pretty clear Zosina Wola is the present day Yevhena Konoval’tsya Street. I have no way of knowing whether the numbering changed, but #6 Yevhena Konoval’tsya St. seems to be the setback building here:
So this is the best guess I have as to where my ancestors lived in the old country. The name Zosina Wola lives on only in the name of a bar a few blocks down Yevhena Konoval’tsya:
Owadje, now Owadia, files a declaration of intention to naturalize in 1934:
His signature is almost as bad as mine! By 1934 he’s living in Borough Park, Brooklyn, a plasterer. 5 foot 7 and 160lb; I think every subsequent Ellenberg man has been that size by the age of 15. Shtetl nutrition. There are two separate questions on this form, “color” and “race”: for color he puts white, for race he puts “Hebrew.” What did other Europeans put for race? He puts his hometown as Sopoff, which I think must be the modern Sopiv; my great-grandmother Sara was from Obertyn, quite close by. I guess they moved to the big city, Stanislowow, about 40 miles away, when they were pretty young; they got married there in 1902, when they were 21. The form says he previously filed a declaration of intention in 1926. What happened? Did he just not follow through, or was his naturalization rejected? Did he ever become a citizen? I don’t know.
Here’s what his house in Brooklyn looks like now:
Did you notice whose name was missing from the Polonia’s manifest? Ovadje’s oldest son, my grandfather, Julius. Except one thing I’ve learned from all this is that I don’t actually know what my grandfather’s name was. Julius is what we called him. But my dad says his passport says “Israel Ellenberg.” And his naturalization papers
have him as “Juda Ellenberg” (Juda being the Anglicization of Yehuda, his and my Hebrew name.) So didn’t that have to be his legal name? But how could that not be on his passport?
Update: Cousin Phyllis came through for me! My grandfather legally changed his name to Julius on June 13, 1927, four months after he filed for naturalization.
My grandfather was the first to come to America, in December 1920, and he came alone. He was 16. He managed to make enough money to bring the whole rest of the family in late 1923, which was a good thing because in May 1924 Calvin Coolidge signed the Johnson-Reed Act which clamped down on immigration by people thought to be debasing the American racial stock: among these were Italians, Chinese, Czechs, Spaniards, and Jews, definitely Jews.
Another thing I didn’t know: my grandfather lists his port of entry as Vanceboro, Maine. That’s not a seaport; it’s a small town on the Canadian border. So Julius/Juda/Israel must have sailed to Canada; this I never knew. Where would he have landed? Sounds like most Canadian immigrants landed at Quebec or Halifax, and Halifax makes much more sense if he entered the US at Vanceboro. But why did he sail to Canada instead of the US? And why did he leave from France (the form says “Montrese, France,” a place I can’t find) instead of Poland? (Update: My cousin comes through again: another record shows that Julius arrived on Dec 7, 1920 in St. John, New Brunswick, conveyed in 3rd class by the S.S. Corsican. Looks like this ship would have been coming from England, not France; I don’t know how to reconcile that.)
In 1927, when he naturalized, Julius lived at 83 2nd Avenue, a building built in 1900 at the boundary of the Bowery and the East Village. Here’s what it looks like now:
Not a lot of new immigrants able to afford rent there these days, I’m betting. Later he’d move to Long Beach, Long Island, where my father and his sisters grew up.
My first-cousin-once-removed-in-law went farther back, too, all the way back to Mojżesz Ellenberg, who was born sometime in the middle of the 18th century. The Hapsburg Empire required Jews to adopt surnames only in 1787; so Mojżesz could very well have been the first Ellenberg. You may be thinking he’s Owadia’s father’s father’s father, but no — Ellenberg was Owadia’s mother’s name. I was puzzled by this but actually it was common. What it meant is that Mordko Kasirer, Owadia’s father, didn’t want to pay the fee for a civil marriage — why should he, when he was already married to Rivka Ellenberg in the synagogue? But if you weren’t legally married, your children weren’t allowed to take their father’s surname. So be it. Mordko wasn’t gonna get ripped off by the system. Definitely my relative.
Update: Cousin Phyllis Rosner sends me my grandfather’s birth record. At birth in Poland he’s Izrael Juda Ellenberg. This still doesn’t answer what his legal name in the US was, but it explains the passport!
I was always skeptical of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. I understand why there’s a Holocaust museum in Israel, and I understand why there’s one in Berlin, and I understand why there are memorials in the places where the slaughter was carried out. But why in Washington D.C.?
Then I went there, I got it. The reason there’s a Holocaust Museum in America is because it’s a Holocaust Museum that’s about America. The museum tells the story, as all Holocaust museums must, of the German slaughter of the Jews, and of gay people, disabled people, Roma and Slavs besides. But the focus is on what happened here in America, and what didn’t happen. The point of the museum is to ask a simple question: what is the responsibility of a rich, safe, comfortable country to the human beings being hunted down and killed outside its borders?
OK, I’ll admit it, that’s not a simple question. But it’s a question worth thinking about today.
I’ve lived in Wisconsin for more than a decade and had never heard of Joshua Glover. That’s not as it should be!
Glover was a slave who escaped Missouri in 1852 and settled in Racine, a free man. He found a job and settled down into a new life. Two years later, his old master found out where he was, and, licensed by the Fugitive Slave Act, came north to claim his property. The U.S. marshals seized Glover and locked him in the Milwaukee courthouse. (Cathedral Square Park is where that courthouse stood.) A Wisconsin court issued a writ holding the Fugitive Slave Law unconstitutional, and demanding that Glover be given a trial, but the federal officers refused to comply. So Sherman Booth, an abolitionist newspaperman from Waukesha, gathered a mob and broke Glover out. Eventually he made it to Canada via the Underground Railroad.
Booth spent years tangled in court, thanks to his role in the prison break. Wisconsin, thrilled by its defiance of the hated law, bloomed with abolitionist fervency. Judge Abram Daniel Smith declared that Wisconsin, a sovereign state, would never accept federal interference within its borders:
“They will never consent that a slave-owner, his agent, or an officer of the United States, armed with process to arrest a fugitive from service, is clothed with entire immunity from state authority; to commit whatever crime or outrage against the laws of the state; that their own high prerogative writ of habeas corpus shall be annulled, their authority defied, their officers resisted, the process of their own courts contemned, their territory invaded by federal force, the houses of their citizens searched, the sanctuary or their homes invaded, their streets and public places made the scenes of tumultuous and armed violence, and state sovereignty succumb–paralyzed and aghast–before the process of an officer unknown to the constitution and irresponsible to its sanctions. At least, such shall not become the degradation of Wisconsin, without meeting as stern remonstrance and resistance as I may be able to interpose, so long as her people impose upon me the duty of guarding their rights and liberties, and maintaining the dignity and sovereignty of their state.”
The sentiment, of course, was not so different from that the Southern states would use a few years later to justify their right to buy and sell human beings. By the end of the 1850s, Wisconsin’s governor Alexander Randall would threaten to secede from the Union should slavery not be abolished.
When Booth was arrested by federal marshals in 1860, state assemblyman Benjamin Hunkins of New Berlin went even further, introducing a bill declaring war on the United States in protest. The speaker of the assembly declared the bill unconstitutional and no vote was taken. (This was actually the second time Hunkins tried to declare war on the federal government; as a member of the Wisconsin territorial assembly in 1844, he became so outraged over the awarding of the Upper Peninsula to Michigan that he introduced an amendment declaring war on Great Britain, Illinois, Michigan, and the United States!)
Madison has a Randall Street (and a Randall School, and Camp Randall Stadium) but no Glover Street and no Booth Street. Should it?