A Student of History

September 28, 2007

The Lost Lee Trunks

Filed under: Early America,Historic Preservation — John Maass @ 1:49 pm

On October 18th, I am going to a lecture in Alexandria, Va., by Dr. Lee Shepard of the Virginia Historical Society, who will speak about the “Lee trunks.”  Apparently the lecture is sold out now, having been mentioned yesterday in the Washington Times.  From an old news release, one can get the gist of the story here about the lost trunks, a pretty neat tale…

Two steamer trunks full of travel journals, family photographs and letters belonging to Robert E. Lee’s oldest daughter have been found in an Alexandria bank vault.  The trunks, which sat in the vault for at least 84 years, are believed to have accompanied Mary Custis Lee, the last surviving child of the great Confederate commander, on her trips abroad from 1870 until the outbreak of World War I in 1914.

In 2002 the trunks were found in the silver vault of the Burke & Herbert Bank & Trust Co. on South Fairfax Street, where Miss Lee left them for safekeeping sometime before she died in 1918.  For the past three years, VHS archivists have been inventorying and cataloging the contents of two wooden trunks.  These trunks, discovered by Robert E. L. deButts, Jr., and E. Hunt Burke, contained letters, legal papers, journals, travel souvenirs, financial records, and smaller artifacts that were collected by Mary Custis Lee, the eldest daughter of General Robert E. Lee.

Examples of materials found in the Mary Custis Lee trunks include: a 1694 letterbook copy of a note from John Custis II; accounts from the 1760s and 1770s kept by George Washington concerning the his step-children; an 1824 letter from George Washington Parke Custis, the builder of Arlington House; an 1860 letter to Secretary of War, John B. Floyd, from Robert E. Lee concerning relations between Mexico and the United States; an 1872 letter from former Arlington House slave Selina Gray to Mary Randolph Custis Lee; a list of 266 African American slaves owned by John Parke Custis in 1766; and an 1863 order from Robert E. Lee, in his own hand, announcing the death of Civil War General Stonewall Jackson.

A photo of the trunks is at the VHS website, which absolutely forbids (!) anyone from posting the image on their website without specific permission, etc. 


Filed under: The world today — John Maass @ 6:26 am

The more I read the British papers on line, the more I come to see that the UK is even more PC than America.  As the latest example of their hyper-sensitivity in matters regarding non-western immigrants, there is this story about objections to a new police mascot used for school visits.  Here is a photo:

'Steve' the police mascot

Now, what is the problem with this mascot?  Too threatening to the kids? No.  Too silly looking?   No.  The problem is, he’s too white and too male.  According to one policeman who complained, the mascot fails to represent the communities he serves, and could leave Asian and women officers “isolated”.  That’s right, fellow cops–not necessarily the communities, but fellow cops–may get their feelings hurt due to the fact that this figure is too white.


The rest of this article is here.

What does ‘American’ mean?

Filed under: The world today,What is History? — John Maass @ 6:08 am

U.S. immigration authorities Thursday unveiled 100 new questions immigrants will have to study to pass a civics test to become naturalized American citizens.

Here are a few of the test questions.

According an article, “Several historians said the new questions successfully incorporated more ideas about the workings of American democracy and better touched upon the diversity of the groups — including women, American Indians and African-Americans — who have influenced the country’s history.  Immigration officials said they sought to move away from civics trivia to emphasize basic concepts about the structure of government and American history and geography.”

A related article by Monica Davey is here

September 27, 2007

Oh, say can you see?

Filed under: Early America,Wars — John Maass @ 8:26 am

The Star-spangled Banner and War of 1812 Bicentennial Commission Act has now passed both houses of Congress and awaits the President’s signature.  Here’s what it does:

Establishes the Star-spangled Banner and War of 1812 Bicentennial Commission to: (1) encourage, plan, develop, coordinate, and execute programs, observances, and activities commemorating the historic events that preceded and are associated with the War of 1812; (2) facilitate such commemoration throughout the United States and internationally; (3) coordinate the activities of the Commission with state commemoration commissions, the National Park Service, the Department of Defense (DOD), and other agencies; (4) provide technical assistance to states, localities, units of the National Park System, and nonprofit organizations to further the commemoration; (5) coordinate and facilitate scholarly research on, publication about, and interpretation of the people and events associated with the War of 1812; (6) design, develop, and provide for the maintenance of an exhibit that will travel throughout the United States during the commemoration period to interpret events of the War of 1812 for the educational benefit of U.S. citizens; (7) ensure that the commemorations provide a lasting legacy and long-term public benefit leading to protection of the natural and cultural resources associated with the War of 1812; and (8) examine essential facilities and infrastructure at War of 1812 sites and identify improvements that could be made to enhance and maximize visitor experiences.

September 26, 2007

Does this look strange to you?

Filed under: The past that is still with us — John Maass @ 7:17 pm

Related story here.

September 25, 2007

What the world is coming to….

Filed under: The world today — John Maass @ 6:29 am

CANBERRA (Reuters) – A lesbian couple in Australia are suing their doctor after they had twin girls from an in vitro fertilization (IVF) procedure when they only wanted one child.

The two women are seeking more than A$400,000 ($340,000) in damages to help pay for the cost of raising the second child, including private school fees, saying they had made it clear to their doctor that they only wanted one baby…..

For Sale: Magna Carta

Filed under: What is History? — John Maass @ 5:54 am

Sotheby’s will announce plans Tuesday to auction a copy of the Magna Carta in New York in mid-December, and estimates that the document will sell for $20 million to $30 million.

September 24, 2007

Is the South “dead”?

Filed under: The strange place called the South — John Maass @ 7:02 am

Well, if you read this opinion piece, you’ll find out about one perspective that thinks so.  Gerald Baker of thetimesonline states that the Democrats and the Republicans have abandoned the South and the values most southerners stand for, and in a sense he states that politically, the region has become less important, if not down right irrelevant.  He writes:

Dixie is in eclipse. With the Democratic victory in the mid-terms last year the leadership in Congress has passed into the hands of Westerners from California and Nevada with an agenda – antiwar, liberal on abortion and gay rights – wholly at odds with the South.

Even more striking, the Democrats look likely to nominate as their presidential candidate someone from outside the South – Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama – and, at least on current form, she or he is the firm favourite to win next year.

Denouncing the “profit mind-set”

Filed under: Simple Living,The world today — John Maass @ 6:40 am

I am always pleased when world leaders speak up against consumerism, consumption, and greed.  Although I am not in favor of any government telling people how they ought to spend their discretionary income, I do support those figures–religious, political, or popular–who will rightly pint out that our purpose on earth is not to get all we can for ourselves. 

Thus, I was quite pleased to read that on Sunday, Pope Benedict XVI (and who better?) stated in a public speech that “life was about making choices between good and bad, between altruism and egoism, honesty and dishonesty.”  Its amazing how many people forget that, and not just the Enron folks, who should be spending every day for the rest of their lives dedicated to humiliating service to others as an example.  As reported in The USA Today

Pope Benedict XVI denounced what he called the world’s “profit mind-set,” warning Sunday that money can turn people into “blind egoists” and urging the wealthy to share their riches with the poor.

As long as governments don’t get into heavy handed mandatory wealth redistribution schemes, that to me is a great idea.  Too bad so many folks don’t come to this realization themselves.  Benedict also stated that “The world’s hunger and ecological emergencies are denouncing with increasing evidence the profit mind-set, which if allowed to prevail, increases the disproportionality of rich and poor and a ruinous exploitation of the planet.  On the other hand, when the mind-set of sharing and solidarity prevails, you can correct your course and change it to a sustainable and equal development.”

September 21, 2007

New wines introduced by Wal-mart

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Maass @ 7:24 am

Wal-Mart, the world’s largest retail chain, is teaming up with the E&J Gallo Winery of Modesto, Calif., to produce (more) cheap wine. The price: $6-$8. But wine experts caution that “the right name is an important factor.” Suggestions abound including 15 possible names for Wal-Mart wine:

    15. Box O’Grapes
    14. Chateau Traileur Doublewide
    13. White Trashfindel
    12. Big Red Gulp
    11. Grape Expectations
    10. Domaine Wal-Mart “Merde du Pays”
    9. NASCARbernet
    8. Chef Boyardeaux
    7. Peanut Noir
    6. Blue Light Special Nun
    5. Chateau des Moines
    4. Martha Stewart’s Sour Grapes
    3. I Can’t Believe it’s Not Vinegar!
    2. World Championship Wriesling
    And the number one suggestion for the discount brand:1. Nasti Spumante

Sounds like we need a National Bulldozer Association

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Maass @ 7:23 am


This from the CCR website, Sept. 18th:

The US Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissal of the Center for Constitutional Rights case charging Caterpillar, Inc. with aiding and abetting war crimes and other serious human rights violations on the grounds that the company provided bulldozers to Israel knowing they would be used unlawfully to demolish homes and endanger civilians in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.

Today’s decision from a three-judge panel of the Court of Appeals found that it did not have jurisdiction to decide the case because Caterpillar’s bulldozers were ultimately paid for with money from the United States. Because of the U.S. government’s decision to grant military assistance to Israel, any decision regarding whether Caterpillar aided and abetted war crimes would impermissibly intrude upon the executive branch’s foreign policy decisions. In today’s decision, the Court did not rule on the question of whether Caterpillar aided and abetted Israeli war crimes.

Why should CAT have been responsible for this????

September 20, 2007

New Jersey: The Hitler State

Filed under: The past that is still with us,The world today — John Maass @ 6:40 pm

This is ridiculous:

U.S. District Judge Joseph A. Greenaway Jr. sided with the parents of students who want to wear Hitler Youth buttons to school to protest the school’s uniform policy.  They had been threatened with suspension by the Bayonne school district last fall for wearing the buttons. However, the judge added in his ruling that the boys will not be allowed to distribute the buttons at school.

“I’m very pleased,” said Laura DePinto, mother of one of the students. “I think it upholds the most basic of our American rights, which is to protest peacefully.”

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