Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Summer of '74

Someday he'd be known as the "Mad Monk." Someday he'd help to bring down the Romanovs, but in 1874, Grigori Rasputin was a 5-year-old peasant boy out in Siberia. Theo. Roosevelt, future President, was 16, an avid amateur taxidermist. Ex-president Millard Fillmore kicked the bucket that year, the year Laura Ingalls turned seven. Sam'l Clemens, better known as Mark Twain, was working on a ms. , "the Adventures of Tom Sawyer," and a group of genteel renegades were experimenting with the painting of light, light spilling out of the heavens onto haystacks or the facades of churches or gatherings of Parisians. The light of a sunrise, light and shadow dappling water and the French countryside.
It was in the summer of that year that an elephant was sent out to stroll from Missouri over to Illinois. Folks figured that if James Eads' remarkable new bridge could manage an elephant, then it ought to be safe enough carry a multitude of trains over the Mississippi River and so it has, all these years.
There was a White House wedding that year: President Grant, who'd weathered warfare at its most gruesome, wept as his only daughter got married in May. Nellie Grant would have cried too, had she known what a bum she was marrying, but ah well. Robert Frost, Gertrude Stein, and Ernest Shackleton were newborns that year. So was Guglielmo Marconi and before the year was over, the beautiful Jennie Jerome Churchill would give birth to the future Prime Minister of England.
Here now I've taken the scenic route to get to what I thought was well worth noting: baby Herbert Hoover was born on this day, the 10th of August, in 1874. Years ago when I was working on my presidential book Ghosts of the White House, I'd studied a bit about all of the gents who'd lived within those stone walls - or, in the case of Geo. Washington, merely visited, on the 14th of March, 1797, I believe. What a remarkable fellow Hoover was, I thought at the time, I think when I'd come across a photo of him as a young man, hale and blond and brilliant. uff da!
"He was," I wrote in Gs of the W.H., "a rich mining engineer who, during the First World War, organized a campaign to get food to [starving, wretched] people behind enemy lines. How could a brilliant, big-hearted hero like Herbert Hoover seem so helpless?" So "gloomy and uncertain." Sigh. I discovered later on, much, much later on that old Herbert Hoover was here in town, on the day I turned six years old. Harry Truman, who'd befriended HH, invited him here to Independence. All I knew was that I'd gotten the Tiny Tears doll I'd very much wanted for a birthday present. Ah well.

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