Eisenhower National Historic Site (Pennsylvania)

… was designated 49 years ago today (1967). It is the only home Eisenhower ever owned.

Eisenhower National Historic Site is the home and farm of General and President Dwight D. Eisenhower. Located adjacent to the Gettysburg Battlefield, the farm served the President as a weekend retreat and a meeting place for world leaders. With its peaceful setting and view of South Mountain, it was a much needed respite from Washington and a backdrop for efforts to reduce Cold War tensions.


Eisenhower National Historic Site comprises 690 acres and includes four farms, three of which were used by President Eisenhower for his show herd of black Angus cattle. Today the farm is maintained as it was during the Eisenhower years and the President’s home retains nearly all its original furnishings. You are invited to tour the home and grounds, and take a walk to the cattle barns and skeet range.

Eisenhower National Historic Site

Benjamin Franklin

… died in Philadelphia on April 17th in 1790. He was 84.

In his twenties Franklin had written an epitaph for himself:

The body of
B. Franklin, Printer;
(Like the cover of an old book,
Its contents worn out,
and stripped of its lettering and gilding)
Lies here, food for worms.
But the work shall not be lost:
For it will, (as he believed) appear once more,
In a new and more elegant edition,
Revised and corrected
By the Author.

By the age of 84 he wished for something simpler. The marble over his grave simply reads: Benjamin and Deborah Franklin.

Information from Walter Isaacson’s superb biography of Franklin.

Martin Luther King Jr.

Lorraine Motel

. . . was assassinated while standing on the balcony outside his room at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee, on this date in 1968. He was 39 years old.

The evening before King concluded his speech with:

Lorraine Motel Balcony

And then I got to Memphis. And some began to say the threats, or talk about the threats that were out. What would happen to me from some of our sick white brothers?

Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn’t matter with me now. Because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land. And I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.

The Father of Our Country

… was born 283 years ago today on February 11, 1731*.

Gilbert Stuart, The Athenaeum, 1796 Click for larger version.
Gilbert Stuart, The Athenaeum, 1796
Click for larger version.

To describe George Washington as enigmatic may strike some as strange, for every young student knows about him (or did when students could be counted on to know anything). He was born into a minor family in Virginia’s plantation gentry, worked as a surveyor in the West as a young man, was a hero of sorts during the French and Indian War, became an extremely wealthy planter (after marrying a rich widow), served as commander in chief of the Continental Army throughout the Revolutionary War (including the terrible winter at Valley Forge), defeated the British at the Battle of Yorktown, suppressed a threatened mutiny by his officers at Newburgh, N.Y., then astonished the world and won its applause by laying down his sword in 1783. Called out of retirement, he presided over the Constitutional Convention of 1787, reluctantly accepted the presidency in 1789 and served for two terms, thus assuring the success of the American experiment in self-government.

Washington was, after all, a magnificent physical specimen. He towered several inches over six feet, had broad shoulders and slender hips (in a nation consisting mainly of short, fat people), was powerful and a superb athlete. He carried himself with a dignity that astonished; when she first laid eyes on him Abigail Adams, a veteran of receptions at royal courts and a difficult woman to impress, gushed like a schoolgirl. On horseback he rode with a presence that declared him the commander in chief even if he had not been in uniform.

Other characteristics smack of the supernatural. He was impervious to gunfire. Repeatedly, he was caught in cross-fires and yet no bullet ever touched him. In a 1754 letter to his brother he wrote that “I heard Bullets whistle and believe me there was something charming in the Sound.” During the Revolutionary War he had horses shot from under him but it seemed that no bullet dared strike him personally. Moreover, when the Continental Army was ravaged by a smallpox epidemic, Washington, having had the disease as a youngster, proved to be as immune to it as he was to bullets.

Forrest McDonald in his review of Joseph J. Ellis’ His Excellency: George Washington.

Ron Chernow was awarded the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for Biography for Washington: A Life.

__________

* By the Julian calendar, George Washington was born on February 11, 1731. Twenty years later Britain and her colonies adopted the Gregorian calendar, the calendar we use today. The change added 11 days and designated January rather than March as the beginning of the year. As a result, Washington’s birthday became February 22, 1732.

One of His 1,093 Patents

137 years ago today Thomas Edison received a patent (U.S. Patent 200,521) for the phonograph and ultimately music changed forever.

The phonograph was developed as a result of Thomas Edison’s work on two other inventions, the telegraph and the telephone. In 1877, Edison was working on a machine that would transcribe telegraphic messages through indentations on paper tape…This development led Edison to speculate that a telephone message could also be recorded in a similar fashion. He experimented with a diaphragm which had an embossing point and was held against rapidly-moving paraffin paper. The speaking vibrations made indentations in the paper. Edison later changed the paper to a metal cylinder with tin foil wrapped around it. The machine had two diaphragm-and-needle units, one for recording, and one for playback. When one would speak into a mouthpiece, the sound vibrations would be indented onto the cylinder by the recording needle in a vertical (or hill and dale) groove pattern. Edison gave a sketch of the machine to his mechanic, John Kreusi, to build, which Kreusi supposedly did within 30 hours. Edison immediately tested the machine by speaking the nursery rhyme into the mouthpiece, “Mary had a little lamb.” To his amazement, the machine played his words back to him. …

The invention was highly original. The only other recorded evidence of such an invention was in a paper by French scientist Charles Cros, written on April 18, 1877. There were some differences, however, between the two men’s ideas, and Cros’s work remained only a theory, since he did not produce a working model of it.

Source: Library of Congress

Edison with second phonograph, photographed by Mathew Brady in Washington, April 1878.
Edison with second phonograph, photographed by Mathew Brady in Washington, April 1878.

President Abraham Lincoln at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, 151 Years Ago Today

Nicolay Copy

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But in a larger sense we cannot dedicate — we cannot consecrate — we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

‘The volley fired by a young Virginian in the backwoods of America set the world on fire.’

George Washington engaged in his first military action 260 years ago today, May 28, 1754.

Washington arrived at the Great Meadows, as the Fort Necessity area was than called, on May 24. Although the meadow was nearly all marsh, he believed it “a charming field for an encounter” and ordered his men to set up an encampment. Three days later, after hearing that a group of French soldiers had been spotted about seven miles away on Chestnut Ridge, Washington and 40 men set out to find them. At dawn on May 28, the Virginians reached the camp of Tanacharison, a friendly Seneca chief known as the Half King. His scouts then led them to the ravine about two miles to the north where the French were encamped.

The French, commanded by Joseph Coulon de Villiers, Sieur de Jumonville, were taken by surprise. Ten were killed, including Jumonville, one was wounded, and 21 were made prisoner. One man escaped to carry the news back to Fort Duquesne. Washington’s command suffered only one man killed and two wounded.

Fearing “we might be attacked by considerable forces,” Washington undertook to fortify his position at the Great Meadows. During the last two days of May and the first three days of June, he built a circular palisaded fort, which he called Fort Necessity.

Source: Fort Necessity National Battlefield

The action at what came to be called Jumonville Glen sparked the world war that we know as the French and Indian War.

For his part, Washington loved it: “I fortunately escaped without any wound, for the right wing, where I stood, was exposed to and received all the enemy’s fire, and it was the part where the man was killed, and the rest wounded. I heard the bullets whistle, and, believe me there is something charming in the sound.”

The title to the post is a quotation from Horace Walpole.