Tag Archives: Presidents’ Day

Presidential Fabric

I always commemorate Presidents Day by remembering all (or many) of our presidents rather than just Washington and Lincoln: different themes each year have yielded interesting perspectives on both the institution and the individuals. This year, for instance, as I looked through several archives of textiles associated with presidential campaigns and commemoration, I was surprised to ascertain a certain focus on William Henry Harrison, not really one of our more notable presidents as he died only a month after swearing his oath. Not being an American historian, I was not aware of the coordinated tactics of the 1840 “Log Cabin Campaign” of Whig candidates Harrison and John Tyler, involving popular symbols (the log cabin and whiskey barrel), slogans (“Tippecanoe and Tyler Too”) and silk banners, which dislodged incumbent Martin van Buren. The bulk of Presidential textiles are banners, ribbons, handkerchiefs and bandanas (along with flags, of course), but I also sought out bolts of fabric which could encourage campaign creativity on the part of the constituency, and which likely ended up in quilts in the nineteenth century and on all sorts of creations in the twentieth–when first Teddy Roosevelt and then Dwight Eisenhower dominated textile tactics. In the 1950s, I believe that you could dress yourself exclusively in “I like Ike” garments: I found hats, socks, dresses, underwear, and all manner of accessories for men, women and children so embellished.

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Millard Fillmore Fabric

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Presidential Prints TR Cornell

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Calvin Coolidge Fabric

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All fabrics (Jackson, Harrison in three colorways, Grant, Cleveland fabric and bandana, TR bandana, and Eisenhower items) from Cornell University’s Collection of Political Memorabilia, except the TR pillow cover (from 1906–commemorating the signing of the Treaty ending the Russo-Japanese War, from the George Washington University/Textile Museum exhibition entitled Your Next President . .. ! The Campaign Art of Mark and Rosalind Shenkman) and the Millard Fillmore and Calvin Coolidge “swatches”, which I created myself via Spoonflower.


Ghosts of Presidents Past

When a ghost appears, you know that something is not right: restless spirits always have a mission. Sometimes it is inspiration; sometime censure, but one always has to take notice. The relationship between the dead and the living depends on the historical context but in general, the former are often demanding something from the latter: prayers, respect, fortitude, compensation, correction. Medieval people were expected to compensate, in forms of religious ritual, for the premature, unexpected, and “bad” deaths of their dearly departed, while modern people are generally expected to learn from the spectres that haunt them, in one way or another: Dickens’ Christmas ghosts being prime examples. And then there are political ghosts, who have vast powers of assessment and judgement and can be utilized as a supreme moral compass: I don’t think it will be long before we see some of these spectral appearances! Looking through some digitized periodicals in preparation for my Presidents’ Day post last week, first very casually and then more intently, I came across quite a few presidential ghosts: Presidents Washington and Lincoln are clearly the most powerful (and summoned) apparitions, but they were not the only spirits roused from the dead because of compelling earthly concerns. In this first image from Punch (a periodical which utilizes ghosts to put forth its point of view fairly often) King George III asks George Washington what he thinks of his “fine republic” now (1863–in the midst of the Civil War), to which the President can only respond “humph!”.

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Punch, or the London Charivari, January 10, 1863.

This is an unusual presidential ghost sighting; usually we do not go to “Spirit-Land” (which appears to be populated with jellyfish as well as prominent people), spirits descend down to our realm. Much more common are these pair of cartoons commenting on the contentious election of 1884 between two scandal-ridden candidates: James G. Blaine and Grover Cleveland: The Honor of our Country in Danger (again, Puck) and The Honor of our Country Maintained (George Yost Coffin, “respectfully adapted” from the Puck cartoon). The assembled ghostly presidents Washington, Lincoln and Garfield (recently assassinated so at the height of his power) are clearly the monitors of “honor”, before and after the election. The narrow winner of this contest, Grover Cleveland, clearly needs all the spiritual guidance he can get, as the ghosts of his predecessors appear regularly throughout his term(s).

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“Honor” cartoons relating to the presidential election of 1884, Library of Congress;  “The Lesson of the Past”, Puck, July 1887: Lincoln inspires Cleveland to assert “I will not fail”.

Theodore Roosevelt inspires lots of ghostly visitations too, including a whole entourage of past presidents in Puck’s July 1910 cover cartoon: “Just Luck”. Washington, Lincoln, Jefferson and Jackson wonder how did we ever run the country without him? while observing an industrious Teddy by the light of the moon. A couple of years later, however, there is a more censorious visitation by Washington when Roosevelt rescinded his pledge not to run for a third term in 1912. This Washington looks positively Dickensian!

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Just LuckcoverPuck, July, 1910; “Anti-Third-Term Principle” cartoon by Clifford Berryman, 1912, U.S. National Archives.

War-time presidents, or those on the verge of war, need lots of encouragement (as do nations), so the ultimate war-time president, Abraham Lincoln, appears behind Woodrow Wilson on the eve of World War I, and several decades later the latter returns the favor for Franklin Roosevelt. In the interim, we have a rare sighting of Warren G. Harding, wishing his successor Calvin Coolidge “Good Bye and Good Luck” and encouraging him to “write his own book”. This strikes me as a bit of over-reach for this device: did we really need to summon the ghost of Warren G. Harding?

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Ghostly back-up in 1917 and 1935, New York Times and Library of Congress; J.N. “Ding” Darling cartoon from 1923, © 1999 J.N. “Ding” Darling Foundation and Calvin Coolidge Presidential Foundation.


An Executive Mansion

For this Washington’s birthday weekend, I am thrilled to be able to feature photographs of the ongoing restoration of the Joshua Ward House, where our first President stayed when he visited Salem in the Fall of 1789. I featured the house in a previous post, where you can see historic photographs and read some of its history, but I was not able to access the interior at that time. Since then, the house has been purchased and is presently being transformed, with great attention to detail, into an inn. I have no name or link yet, but will certainly revisit this project: my strong impression is that the owner wants to pay homage to the house’s namesake builder, the worldly merchant, successful distiller, and every-hospitable Joshua Ward, and dispel its dubious haunted reputation forever. Even though it’s right around the corner from my own house, I am booking a room as soon as it is opened: the very room where President Washington slept, restored to all of its former glory.

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Washington on horseback 19th C

As I had never been in the house and long desired to, my expectations were…great, and I was not disappointed. Even in its present state, a work site, it is beautiful both in its entirety and its details. Seeing it so exposed made it even more beautiful perhaps: layers of paint being sanded off, ceilings opened to the rafters, pocked beams everywhere, doors on the floor. It seemed both vulnerable and stalwart to me, especially as I looked out the windows (of George’s second-floor bedroom, of course) and thought of all the things this house has seen: water and wharves when it was first built in the 1780s, then a filled-in busy downtown, then a huge Gothic fortress-train depot, then nothing because commercial structures blocked its view, then a notorious traffic-clogged “plaza”, now a mixed picture of preservation and poor planning. The Joshua Ward House has weathered all of these developments and is standing by, nearly fully-equipped, for future ones.

First floor: looking out at Salem; famous entrance hall and staircase; soon-to-be inn tavern room; front and back fireplaces.

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Second Floor: more of the famous staircase, Washington’s bedroom, opposite (southeast) bedroom, entrance to the back of the house.

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Through, back, up: stairs, second and third floor bedrooms, the attic.

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Details, details:

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Pieces of the past (even the relatively recent past):

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Some orientation: Jonathan Saunders’ c. 1820 map of Salem (house marked by * ) and Sidney Perley’s 1905 map, both from the Boston Public Library; the Ward House in the mid-20th century, obscured by billboards and facades, and today.

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Salem 1905 Perley

Ward House Billboards

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Presidents at Play

I was going to try to do a combined Presidents Day/Olympics post but our commanders in chief seem to prefer fishing, shooting, golf and tennis to winter sports: I found a few images of Vermonter Calvin Coolidge on skis, but on the snow-less White House lawn! We want our presidents to be sportsmen now, and so there are countless photographs of President Obama shooting hoops, President Bush (43) chopping wood, President Clinton running, President Bush (41) on his cigarette boat (an image I grew up with in southern Maine) and all of the above playing golf. Every twentieth century president seem to be an avid golfer with the exception of Teddy Roosevelt, who considered golf a sissy sport. Teddy is often considered the transitional president by “presidential historians” (I hate that media made-up term): his aggressive and very public sportsmanship made it not only acceptable but nearly necessary for his successors to be as athletic and outdoorsy as possible. I think the President as Sportsman ideal precedes Teddy by about a decade, and is illustrated nicely by an 1892 New York Times Article which compares the two candidates in the forthcoming election on their “sporting tastes” (basically hunting and fishing).

Presidents as Sportsmen

This article (published on September 11, 1892) is quite hilarious, and for the most part praises the athletic pursuits of not only Cleveland and Harrison but also presidents past, with the exception (I think) of Andrew Jackson: There is no word to show that he ever fished, and it is highly improbable that he did so. Fishing is a pastime that requires patience, and if there was one quality in the world that Andrew Jackson did not possess it was the quality of patience. With shooting it was different. That is, killing violently, and Jackson must have found excitement in it.”  Two presidents in particular, John Quincy Adams and Chester A. Arthur, are singled out for their sportsmanship:  Adams is “the great swimming president” as well as “the great pedestrian president”, while Arthur is “one of the most thorough sportsmen that has ever been in the White House.” This is the view of 1892, but there is ample evidence that both presidents were criticized for their pastimes in their own times: Adams’ fondness for billiards was an issue in the 1828 election, and Arthur the Sportsmen was the object of constant caricature a half-century later.

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Presidents at Play Arthur 1885 LC

Chester A. Arthur, the sportsman President, at bat in “The Great National Game”, 1884 (Macbrair & Sons) and “The Great National Fishing Match/The Result”, 1885 (Courier Lithograph Co.), Library of Congress.

After Arthur, and just before Roosevelt, it is President William Howard Taft who seems to have been portrayed most often as avid sportsman by the press: the sight of his imposing presence on the field–or on the slopes– must have been irresistible. Teddy’s exploits must have changed the perceptions of the presidency quite radically, in much the same way that JFK’s public passion for sport did later on:  for both men, sport was a matter of both policy and perceptions.

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Presidents as Play


Washington through British Eyes

This weekend I searched through various databases of eighteenth-century British periodicals for critical and comical images of George Washington and didn’t come up with many:  he is clearly not the American nemesis.  The British popular press blamed their own leaders for the humiliating failure of the “American War” (as well as the rest of Europe, allied with the Colonies against Britain) rather than focusing on American strengths.  For cartoon and cariacature representations, the press clung to older images of America, chiefly a young (very scantily dressed) woman and/or a native (always with feathers) American, although as the war progressed the American rattlesnake was increasingly visible.  Here are several very popular cartoons from the beginning, middle, and end of the Revolution from the British cartoon collection at the Library of Congress, with Washington nowhere in attendance:

 The Able Doctor, or American Swallowing the Bitter Draught, 1774:  British Prime Minister Lord North  forces the Intolerable Acts down a bare-breasted America’s throat while the lecherous Lord Sandwich looks up her skirt.

News from America, or the Patriots in the Dumps, 1776:  Lord North again, and a dejected (and again bare-breasted) America.

 The British Lion engaging Four Powers, 1779:  Britain facing the coalition force of a Spanish spaniel, and French cock hen, an American rattlesnake, and a Dutch pug dog.

 The Horse America throwing its Master, 1779:  King George III unseated.

 The Reconciliation between Britannia and her daughter America, 1782.

George Washington appears in only two cartoons that I could find, and only one represents him as a figure of mockery, wearing a dress and referred to as MRS George Washington while lashing  Britain (now herself a submissive woman!).  The  more common depiction of  Washington during the American War is as the dignified Commander-in-chief of the Continental Army.  Prints published from 1776 on, and especially from 1780, indicate that Washington had earned the respect of both the British public as well as that of their American “cousins”.

 The Curious Zebra. alive from America! Walk in Gem’men and ladies, walk in, 1778:  Washington holding the tail of the curious zebra, whose stripes represent the 13 colonies.

 Mrs. George Washington.  Bestowing thirteen stripes on Brittania, 1783.

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The images below are not strictly British; the first is a profile portrait that was painted by James Sharples in 1796 and copied by his wife Ellen in the following year and the second is the 1908 stamp based on this profile.  The Sharples were English painters who emigrated to America in 1794 and began a family business in which James would paint the initial portrait and Ellen would take and fulfill orders for copies.  This image, copies of which are in the collections of the National Portrait Galleries of both London and Washington, seems to have been quite popular a century ago, but we seldom see it now. Profiles are no longer popular.

 


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