My sister came by the house the other day and passed along a sword, a family heirloom, to me. The scabbard is steel, the grip leather wrapped with wire, and the blade decorated with acid etchings. Both sword and scabbard are covered with a warm patina. The sword, as the family legend goes, belonged to an ancestor who fought in the Civil War. I was intrigued, and decided to dig deeper, to learn what I could about my family’s history and, if possible, how this sword fit into it. Continue reading “The Story of Rufus Willis Lampman”
The year was 1939 and storm clouds were brewing over Europe. With Germany becoming increasingly aggressive, Great Britain knew she would soon need a steady supply of pilots, navigators, and bombers – three crew types that required considerable time and money to train. This need would bring together two of the greatest aeronautical minds of the time and would spur the creation of the most advanced flight training device ever built.
While most people are familiar with the massive celestial mural in Manhattan’s Grand Central Terminal (I’ve done two separate articles about it myself), most don’t realize the storied railroad hub is home to another vaulted work of art. Located in the Graybar Passage, between Grand Central Market and the Graybar building, 20 feet above commuters’ heads is an oft-overlooked painting devoted to Jazz Age industry and innovation.
Even before Grand Central Terminal officially opened on February 2, 1913 New Yorkers were teased with descriptions of the starry mural that had been painted on its vaulted ceiling, with the New York Times telling of its “effect of illimitable space” and how “fortunately there are no chairs in the concourse or…some passengers might miss their trains while contemplating this starry picture.” While the effect the painting has on commuters today is the same, the mural has undergone significant change. In fact, it’s not even the same mural.
Con artists were no strangers to early New York City. At one time or another, nearly every major landmark in the city had been sold by a ‘matchstick man’ or grifter. Around the turn of the twentieth century one such fraud was successfully performed by two men who targeted an artifact of slightly less renown: The Great West Point Chain.
While nowadays it seems a foregone conclusion that the United States capital city is Washington DC, for the first 100 years of the country’s existence it was hardly so defined. The location, ten square miles straddling the Potomac River with portions in both Maryland and Virginia, was established by law in 1790 with the Permanent Seat of Government Act (legislation recently dramatized by the song “The Room Where It Happens” from the musical Hamilton), but this didn’t satisfy all Americans. Over the course of the young country’s first century, the topic of where to locate the capital would come up three more times.
While doing work for a story I stumbled upon an article that appeared in the New York Herald-Tribune on October 26, 1930 with the headline “Sunken Fort Victoria, Menace to Navigation, is Blasted Downward Into Floor of Bay”. It’s not what I was looking for, but with a headline like that how could I resist?
As you drive into the Columbus-Belmont State Park, outside of Columbus, KY, a pair of historic markers greet you. The first says that Columbus was the first town in Kentucky to be picked up and moved. The re-location happened in 1927, when the town was moved further uphill with the floodwaters of the Mississippi nipping at its heels. The second sign, somewhat older looking that the first, proclaims that following the War of 1812 Columbus was one of the locations proposed as the nation’s capitol. It was this claim that piqued my interest.
A while back I did a write-up on the Sterling Lake Mines and the Great West Point Chain that the American troops installed across the Hudson during the Revolution. While that chain gets more of the glory and glamour than most others, it was certainly not the only chain stretched across an American river. In a riverside park just north of the small town of Columbus, KY is Columbus-Belmont State Park, home to the remnants of the Confederate Mississippi River Chain.
The date was November 29, 1907. Ezra Meeker, a slight, elderly fellow whose unkempt beard was full of dust from the road, was waiting in the cabinet room of the White House for President Theodore Roosevelt. Just one month shy of his 77th birthday, Meeker had arrived in Washington DC by ox-drawn covered wagon all the way from Washington State. A man on a mission, he had already come a very long way. And he had even further yet to go.