March 12, 1888: The Great White Hurricane struck the northeastern U.S.

New York City, March 12, 1888
Courtesy of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association Photo Library, National Weather Service Collection

The storm lasted 36 hours with snowfall totaling over 40 inches in New York City. Temperatures were extremely low, and the wind created drifts up to the second floor of buildings, and higher. Over 400 persons, 200 in New York city, died from the surprise storm.

Scene in Norwalk, March, 1888 Permanent Collection, Wilton Historical Society

“The defining event of the era was without a doubt the blizzard of 1888. . .

In 1963, local writer Bob Carboni interviewed a number of Wilton residents who told their stories:

Clinton Seymour (1871-1965), was sixteen years old at the time and lived on Millstone Road. He recalled that the blowing snow and cold air made ice freeze over his eyes. Snow kept drifting over the top of the barn door, making the task of feeding the horses and cattle more difficult. Harry Jackson, then of Sturges Ridge and aged thirteen, remembered digging a two-hundred-foot-long tunnel through twelve-foot drifts between the house and the barn. Snow covered the apple trees in their orchard with drifts up to twenty feet deep. A tunnel was dug on Hurlbutt Street to permit traffic to pass through.

Archer Abbott remembered that the wind was so strong that it blew snow right into some houses to a depth of several feet. Tim Merwin, five years old in 1888, remembered seeing two yoke of oxen pulling a sled passing by his house with the sled runners at the level of the second story window. He also saw oxen pulling an upside down sled as a snowplow. In the Center, a tunnel was dug through
a drift on (Old) Ridgefield Road.

Main Street, Danbury, March 12, 1888
Courtesy Connecticut Historical Society

Dick Fitch, twenty-two at the time, wrote later of his trip from his house to the railroad station on Monday morning, when the storm was less than twenty-four hours old. He found the railroad crossing and the bridge (Fitch’s Crossing) blown totally free of snow. But deep drifts as he walked north past Cottage Row (partially constructed at the time). At the station, the southbound train arrived two hours late, covered with snow up to its smokestack, picked up Fitch and other passengers, and headed toward Norwalk. Less than a tenth of a mile down the track, the train ran into a big drift. All the trainmen and many passengers got out and cleared a path, and the train grunted off until it reached the next drift, where the scenario was repeated. It arrived in Norwalk two-and-one-half hours later.

Drifts on the railroad tracks, Norwalk, March, 1888
Permanent Collection, Wilton Historical Society

The next train did not run for three more days. His sister, Helen (Nellie) Fitch Sturges, wife of John Burr Sturges, kept a diary. She recorded that by noon on Monday it was impossible to reach the woodpile so in the cellar they found old pieces of a bin to burn. Her husband and son had great difficulty reaching the barn to care for the animals. Only one door of the house could be opened and the snow in front of it was five feet high. Some people actually had to exit from their second floor windows. Although the sun came out on March 14, Hurlbutt Street was blocked until March 31.”*

Old Leatherman in Wallingford, 1880s
Connecticut Historical Society

Even the Old Leatherman, a fixture of New York and Connecticut history, was reportedly delayed four days by the Blizzard of 1888. “The Old Leatherman was never a resident of Wilton, but he was an important part of the community for nearly thirty years, from 1860 – 1889. A wanderer, clad all in leather from hat to boots, and carrying a leather knapsack, he passed through Wilton about every thirty-four days on a regular route from east to west. He never spoke, but would communicate with gestures. He accepted meals from residents along his route, but would not enter a house, preferring to sit out back and eat, then be on his way. It was considered an honor to feed the Leatherman as he was very selective about where he ate.”*

*Excerpted from Bob Russell’s invaluable Wilton Connecticut: Three Centuries of People, Places, and Progress

To learn more about the Blizzard of 1888,
Click here for an account of the storm’s impact on Connecticut

Click here for a Smithsonian article about the Blizzard and New York City

Click here to learn more about the Old Leatherman

President Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms are at the heart of what it means to be an American

It’s always important to remember the ideals that have made us a beacon of hope around the world.

 

President Franklin D. Roosevelt 1933

“We look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms.

The first is freedom of speech and expression–everywhere
in the world.

The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way– everywhere in the world.

The third is freedom from want . . . everywhere in the world.

The fourth is freedom from fear . . . anywhere in the world.”

–President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Message to Congress,
January 6, 1941

 

“There is only one speech in American history that inspired a multitude of books and films, the establishment of its own park, a series of paintings by a world famous artist, a prestigious international award and a United Nation’s resolution on Human Rights.

Eleanor Roosevelt with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, November, 1945
FPG/Getty Images

That speech is Franklin D. Roosevelt’s 1941 State of the Union Address, commonly known as the “Four Freedoms” speech. In it he articulated a powerful vision for a world in which all people had freedom of speech and of religion, and freedom from want and fear. It was delivered on January 6, 1941 and it helped change the world.

The words of the speech are enshrined in marble at Four Freedoms Park on Roosevelt Island in New York, are visualized in the paintings of Norman Rockwell, inspired the international Four Freedoms Award and are the foundation for the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the
United Nations in 1948.”

Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, Washington, DC

This article is excerpted from “The Four Freedoms Speech Remastered” by Paul M. Sparrow, Director, The National Archive, “Forward with Roosevelt” blog

Click here to read the entire article and to see a new HD video of President Roosevelt giving the Four Freedoms speech.

The famous time-ball that drops in Manhattan on New Year’s Eve has its origins in the British Royal Observatory!

The actual notion of a ball “dropping” to signal the passage of time dates back long before New Year’s Eve was ever celebrated in Times Square.

The first “time-ball” was installed atop England’s Royal Observatory at Greenwich in 1833. This ball would drop at one o’clock every afternoon, allowing the captains of nearby ships to precisely set their chronometers (a vital navigational instrument).

Around 150 public time-balls are believed to have been installed around the world after the success at Greenwich, though few survive and still work. The tradition is carried on today in places like the United States Naval Observatory in Washington, DC, where a time-ball descends from a flagpole at noon each day – and of course, once a year in Times Square, where it marks the stroke of midnight not for a few ships’ captains, but for over one billion people watching worldwide.

Front page, New York Times, January 1, 1905

Revelers began celebrating New Year’s Eve in Times Square as early as 1904, but it was in 1907 that the New Year’s Eve Ball made its maiden descent from the flagpole atop One Times Square. Seven versions of the Ball have been designed to signal the New Year.

The first New Year’s Eve Ball, made of iron and wood and adorned with one hundred 25-watt light bulbs, was 5 feet in diameter and weighed 700 pounds. It was built by a young immigrant metalworker named Jacob Starr, and for most of the twentieth century the company he founded, sign maker Artkraft Strauss, was responsible for lowering the Ball.

As part of the 1907-1908 festivities, waiters in the fabled “lobster palaces” and other deluxe eateries in hotels surrounding Times Square were supplied with battery-powered top hats emblazoned with the numbers “1908” fashioned of tiny light bulbs. At the stroke of midnight, they all “flipped their lids” and the year on their foreheads lit up in conjunction with the numbers “1908” on the parapet of the Times Tower lighting up to signal the arrival of the new year.

The Ball has been lowered every year since 1907, with the exceptions of 1942 and 1943, when the ceremony was suspended due to the wartime “dimout” of lights in New York City.

This edited history of the time-ball and New Year’s Eve in Times Square is taken from the official
Times Square website.

Click here to learn more.

This unlikely trio are connected . . . Abraham Lincoln, Santa Claus and Thomas Nast

“Most people do not associate Santa Claus with war, but in fact the connection goes back to Santa’s very beginnings. Our popular image of Santa was created by cartoonist Thomas Nast during the Civil War. Nast’s first Santa illustrations, published in the January 3, 1863 edition of Harper’s Weekly, featured Santa visiting dejected Union soldiers.” *

Self-caricature by Thomas Nast, 1859.
Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.

“Nast’s work in support of the Union cause was considered highly successful; in fact, it is said that even President Lincoln appreciated the artist’s work- he supposedly commented, “Thomas Nast has been our best recruiting sergeant. His emblematic cartoons have never failed to arouse enthusiasm and patriotism, and have always seemed to come just when these articles were getting scarce.”

Santa Claus before Nast was a tall, thin man; it is Nast who made him the fat, jolly, bearded man that we have today. For Nast, Santa was something of a propaganda tool. In his famous Christmas scene, which appeared in the January 3, 1863, issue of Harper’s Weekly, Santa, in his first appearance in a Nast cartoon, is shown entertaining Union troops by hanging Jeff Davis in effigy.

Santa Claus in Camp, detail
Harper’s Weekly, January 3, 1863

But not all of Nast’s Christmas work was overt propaganda. He also shows that even in the midst of the war, there was still some joy to be found in the Christmas holiday. In the far background of this drawing, some soldiers are chasing what appears to be a wild boar, perfect for Christmas dinner, while others play games, including the time honored medieval sport of climbing atop a greased pole to claim a prize. The drummer boys in the foreground, surprised by the jack in the box, tells us that children are in this war, too. In other Christmas cartoons, he reminded readers of the harsh reality of Christmas during wartime, especially the separation of soldiers fromtheir loved ones.

Thomas Nast, perhaps the most famous of 19th Century political cartoonists, has left his mark on both American politics and popular culture. It is because of Nast that we have the donkey and the elephants as symbols for the two major political parties in the United States, it is because of Nast that we have a goateed Uncle Sam, and it is because of Nast that we have the modern Santa Claus.”

Merry Old Santa Claus
Harper’s Weekly, January 1, 1881

*The first paragraph of this article is from
The New-York Historical Society’s blog.
Click here to read more.

The balance is from an article by Niles Anderegg, “Thomas Nast and Civil War Christmas” which appears on the website of the Lincoln Cottage,
a national historic monument in Washington, DC.
Click here to explore the site.

Betts Bulletin Editor: Allison Gray Sanders

Presidential Thanksgiving Turkey Pardon

president-obama-pardons-turkeyEach Thanksgiving, the President “pardons” a hand-selected turkey (or two)! Tater and Tot, fine birds who hail from Iowa, were the participants at President Obama’s final ceremony of reprieve, November 23, 2016.
Tales of spared turkeys date back to the Lincoln days. According to one story, Lincoln’s son Tad begged his father to write out a presidential pardon for Jack the turkey, who was destined for the family’s Christmas table, arguing it had as much a right to live as anyone. Lincoln acquiesced and the turkey lived.

 

tad_lincoln_in_uniform-c-1860

Thomas “Tad” Lincoln in military-style uniform, c. 1860

john_f__kennedy_turkey_pardon

November 19, 1963: President John F. Kennedy laughs with officials at the presentation of a Thanksgiving turkey by the National Turkey Federation and the Poultry and Egg National Board in the Rose Garden of the White House on November 19, 1963. President Kennedy pardoned the turkey stating “Let’s Keep him going.” Photo Credit: John F. Kennedy Presidential Library/NARA

“Sparing the bird from a sure fate at the dinner table and ensuring the rest of its days are spent roaming on a farm, doing whatever it is turkeys love to do, is one of the more whimsical duties of the President  . . . .  You’re probably wondering: Where did this very serious business of the Presidential turkey pardon come from anyway?”

 

 

Click here to read more from the White House’s definitive history of turkey pardoning.

 

 

 

 

white-turkeyThis year, the turkeys arrived from Iowa, and relaxed at the Willard Hotel prior to the White House ceremony. To enjoy an account of their pampered upbringing and journey to the Capitol, Click here

What do a pumpkin patch, a spy, and a future president have in common?

The Pumpkin Papers

“Alger Hiss was a highly regarded adviser to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. On Aug. 3, 1948, Whittaker Chambers, a senior editor at Time magazine, told the House Un-American Activities Committee that Hiss had given him State Department secrets as a Communist underground member in Washington a decade earlier.

whittaker-chambers

Whittaker Chambers, 1948

Chambers claimed that he, in turn, passed the documents to the Soviet Union. Hiss denied everything, saying Chambers was just a casual acquaintance.

Chambers took investigators to his Maryland farm and produced a hollow pumpkin. Inside, they found microfilmed State Department documents – documents Chambers said he received from Hiss.

pumpkin-papers-alger-hiss

The hollowed-out pumpkin at Chambers’s farm that contained two rolls of undeveloped film. Chambers led House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) investigators to the pumpkin on December 2, 1948.

He also handed over typewritten copies of government documents. In the course of the trial, prosecutors produced an old typewriter once owned by Hiss and his wife; they said the typewriter was used to copy the documents, and alleged Priscilla Hiss had done the typing.

alger-hiss

Alger Hiss testifying

There was no trial for spying because the statute of limitations had expired on espionage. Hiss’ first jury deadlocked on perjury charges. At a second trial in 1950, Hiss was found guilty of lying to the grand jury when he denied giving Chambers the documents and said he had not seen Chambers after
the first of 1937.

Hiss was convicted of two counts of perjury, disbarred and thrown in jail for three years and eight months.

richard-nixon-with-microfilm

Richard M. Nixon examines microfilm

Richard Nixon, a freshman congressman at the time, rose to fame on the coattails of the scandal.

Alger Hiss died in New York City on November 15, 1996. He was 92.”

Copyright 1998 CBS. All rights reserved.

To read more about the infamous case,
Click here to connect with the CIA website

America’s First Labor Day Parade

First labor Day Parade, 1882

First labor Day Parade, 1882

On September 5, 1882, some 10,000 workers assembled in New York City to participate in America’s first Labor Day parade. After marching from City Hall, past reviewing stands in Union Square, and then uptown to 42nd Street, the workers and their families gathered in Wendel’s Elm Park for a picnic, concert, and speeches. This first Labor Day celebration was eagerly organized and executed by New York’s Central Labor Union, an umbrella group made up of representatives from many local unions.

Labor Day Parade, 1904

Labor Day Parade, 1904

New York’s Labor Day celebrations inspired similar events across the country. In 1894, Congress passed legislation making Labor Day a national holiday.

Eight-hour day banner

Eight-hour day banner, Melbourne, 1856

The Eight-Hour Day movement is part of the early history of the celebration of Labor Day in many nations and cultures.

Nowadays, Labor Day is associated less with union activities and protest marches and more with leisure.

For many, the holiday is a time for family picnics, sporting events, and summer’s last hurrah.

Text from the Library of Congress “Today in History” Archive.