Image result for carol of the bells peter wilhousky sheet musicwww.musicscore.com

A prolific paleontologist reflected on his mentor, Peter Wilhousky, for a 1988 issue of the New York Times Sunday Magazine.  Stephen Jay Gould and another alumnus of the New York All City High School Choir had returned to listen to the group thirty years after they’d been members (In their day, there were equal numbers of SATB and the director frowned upon rock and roll).  As they listened, there was a noticeable imbalance of male voices, with the tenors nearly screaming by the end of the number Jeanette.  More fascinating is the fact that the writer’s career path had been not in music, but in science education at Harvard.  He remembered the rigorous training and Wilhousky’s insistence on perfection.  “Fourth row, fifth seat: You’re flat.”


Peter J. Wilhousky (1902-1978) grew up in Passaic, New Jersey.  His parents had emigrated from what is now northern Czechloslovakia, and sang in the choir of SS Peter and Paul Greek Catholic Church (which in 1920 changed to Russian Orthodox).  Young Peter went to live at the school of the Russian Cathedral Boys choir as a soprano soloist.  He performed with them at the White House for President Woodrow Wilson in 1920.

After graduating from the Damrosch Institute of Musical Arts (now Julliard), he got a job teaching high school music in Brooklyn.  Gradually he built the program and became Director of Music for New York City Schools; in 1936 he trained 1500 students for a concert at the opening of Madison Square Garden.  Later he whittled the number to 250 for annual performances at Carnegie Hall.

The two songs for which he is remembered are Carol of the Bells and The Battle Hymn of the Republic.  He wrote the notes for neither, but arranged their scores with musical genius, adding English words to Carol (Schedryk), which had been composed by Mykola LeontovychHis stirring version of Julia Ward Howe’s Battle Hymn was made famous by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and is known to choirs young and old everywhere.

When Wilhousky died at the age of 76, the New York Times noted he had once played violin for Ozzie Nelson’s orchestra.  Then again, he conducted the NBC Symphony in a 1947 radio broadcast of Otello.  A versatile and accomplished artist, he left an everlasting mark on students he touched personally — in the opera, in symphonies, on Broadway, as teachers in their own classrooms, and across their daily lives.  And on all of us who ever memorized his combination of notes, dynamics, and timing for a concert.

I copied below a boys’ choir performance of Carol of the Bells.  It is a group much like the one Peter Wilhousky sang in when he was young.  Perhaps the beginnings of this song, which he would write thirty years hence, were in his mind then.










Left to Us

After Theodore Roosevelt’s brief funeral service in January 1919,  mourners followed pallbearers up a steep grade to the burial place in Oyster Bay, Long Island.  The American flag was askew on the coffin, as Theodore’s clothes often were.  Today there are twenty-six steps on the hill, one for every president until him.  Descendants say one of their uncles used to make them recite the presidents from Washington to TR as they walked up.

We toured Youngs Cemetery on the day after the annual Theodore Roosevelt Association meeting.  Theodore and Edith, as well as many of their family members, rest here.  Since it was two days after the 158th anniversary of his birth, we were able to see the wreath from the White House.  Did you know the sitting president sends one to all former presidents’ graves on their birthdays?

Close by is the first national Audubon bird sanctuary.  Theodore’s cousin, Emlen, donated fifteen acres to honor the president’s efforts in saving America’s wildlife and their habitats.  When they were boys, the two had had their own little nature collection, the “Roosevelt Museum of Natural History,” in their bedrooms.  Only it wasn’t so small, growing to about 1,000 specimens!  Now people of all ages come to enjoy the same peaceful woodsy surroundings, watch birds, and learn about things Theodore loved all of his life.  Four hundred children a month attend camps here during the summer.

We watched as a group of kids learned about turtles in the crisp autumn air.  Certainly Theodore would have liked the program when he was their age.  When he grew up, he set aside almost a quarter of a billion acres of America’s land into national parks and sanctuaries so our children, and children’s children, would be able to see them.  He left to us an amazing gift.  It is left to us to continue conserving it.

Depth of Focus


A long time ago (in college) when I had a borrowed camera on which the knobs were so hard to turn that my thumbs were always red, I learned about aperture and depth of focus.  One had to do with light and the lens.  The other was the ability to transfer an object into a sharp image on paper.

I suppose, in a general way, depth of focus could also be used to label how much a body knows about something.  For me it is the growing up years of the twenty-sixth president of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt.

I didn’t narrow to that topic at the beginning.  I was just interested in “the biggest character in American history,” as a recent biographer has described him.  I knew something of his Rough Rider personality, but not much about the rest of his sixty years, even what he’d done a hundred years ago as highest elected official in our country.

TR speaking in 1902 (www.kingsacademy.com)

After tracking the places he’d lived, people he’d known, and jobs he’d held, I asked more questions.  Why was he interested in nature?  How could he have learned so much on his own?  I looked to primary sources for answers.  Mostly, I just kept reading.

I’m still amazed at how much one can learn independently by taking the time to read (Remember the Birdman of Alcatraz?).  Reliable websites instantly cough up facts for us, but sitting down with a book and reading it from cover to cover is crucial to our understanding.  Bits and pieces add up to information.  A book adds up to a conclusion of some kind, even if it isn’t the author’s.

William Henry Harbaugh artfully tells of Roosevelt’s political life.  David McCullough reveals family and social influences on a sickly little boy who metamorphosed into a leader.  Edmund Morris meticulously chronicles his drive to accomplish, but lets you make up your mind about which factors influenced him most.  Another earlier Pullitzer Prize winner, Henry Pringle, seems to have dipped his objectives in acid wash before he started to write.

There are more who used honey.  Some were TR’s contemporaries who could call upon their own memories.  Since then others have added to the list, among them Stephan Lorant (who assembled a photobiopic), Paul Cutright, Carleton Putnam, Nathan Miller, Kathleen Dalton, and Candice Millard.  The thirty-five books Theodore Roosevelt authored himself, including his autobiography, and the subjects he chose, say a lot about him, too.

Theodore at sixteen (Harvard University photograph)

I set out to tell more about “Teedie” between the ages of eight and eighteen than they had (and came pretty close).  New leads about his boyhood friends gave me more of the story.  Isn’t that true of our own friendships?  In the Houghton Library at Harvard University I read a cache of papers from the boys’ nature club which had never been published.  I also located photographs of the house he lived in from 1872 to 1884, which no one else did.

With Theodore’s life as the connecting wire, I’ve spiraled a notebook into other worlds  — of days gone by and of the outdoors — which you can see in my blog posts.  Birds are an obvious tangent.  Due to my research, I can tell you scientific names, songs, habits, and the danger they’re in today.  Looking closely at movers and shakers of the past, particularly presidents, has been enlightening.  It is much easier to remember people and events when you have stories to go with them.

The Lilly Foundation of Indiana continues to give grant funds to teachers like me to make physical searches into all kinds of things — under the headings of history, science, art, music, literature, which also adds to the sum of understanding as we pass the experiences to others.

I discovered much about an interesting American and kept looking.  Theodore Roosevelt not my idol, but he is my hero.  Looking through any lens, we need more of those.

Field of Roses


Some have pronounced the Dutch name Roosevelt with an “oo” — but it is supposed to sound like the old-fashioned flower of its meaning, “field of roses.”  In the early 1800s TR’s grandmother, Margaret Barnhill Roosevelt, kept a big rose garden behind their mansion on Union Square in Manhattan. Her favorite, as well as that of her son Theodore, was the yellow saffronia.  The night that his son Theodore first ate supper as president in the White House, he noticed yellow roses in the centerpiece. “I believe there is a blessing connected with this,” he said to his sisters, guests at the table.


Sarah Delano R00sevelt, who married a distant cousin of TR’s, had a rose garden at her home in Hyde Park, New York, where her son Franklin’s family also lived.  Today Franklin and Eleanor’s final resting place is nearby.

 From the rose garden at Hyde Park, New York. http://www.postcardsfromthewoods.blogspot.com

Roses have played a part in history, art, poetry, literature, medicine, music, fashion, perfume and cuisine.  According to Greek mythology, blood from Aphrodite’s foot changed the white rose to red when she was trying to save her mortal lover, Adonis.  The first known painting of the fragrant blooms was from Crete in 1600 BC; Confucius wrote about roses growing in the Imperial Gardens of China.  Maybe you know some of these facts, or maybe, like me, you’re realizing them for the first time.


  • The War of the Roses, from 1455-1487, was between the House of York (white, or alba rose) and the House of Lancaster (red, or gallica rose).
  • Napoleon’s wife, Josephine, tried to create a rose garden containing all the varieties in the world.  French soldiers brought back plants from the places they’d been in battle.
  • The rosa centifolia, or cabbage rose, with its 100 petals, was believed to have been developed by the Dutch in the 17th Century.
  • The American Rose Society classifies old roses as those known prior to 1867, and modern roses after that year.
  • There are now 30,000 kinds of roses, including garden and tea varieties.




The Botanical Gardens of Norfolk, Virginia — a perfect field of roses in May.

Humor in Rough Rider’s Uniform


“Nobody ever had as good a time as I did as president,” Theodore Roosevelt reflected in 1909.  His serious side, which included negotiating peace between Russia and Japan, breaking apart trusts, and preserving the wilderness for generations of Americans, was balanced with pillow fights and outdoor adventures with his children — and boxing matches and Japanese wrestling with friends in the White House.  He often drew funny cartoons in letters he wrote to his family.

TR loved to tell stories and laugh at them.  He said, “When they call roll in the Senate, the senators don’t know whether to answer, ‘Present,’ or ‘Not guilty.'”  His eldest child was notorious for living it up, to which he responded, “I can be president of the United States or I can control Alice.  I cannot possibly do both.”

Those who served as chief of the executive branch before and after him could let their sense of humor show, too.

George Washington: When a junior officer boasted he could break a spirited horse and was thrown off head over heels, Washington was so “convulsed with laughter tears ran down his cheeks.”  He also wrote in a letter about a duel:  “They say Jones fired at his opponent and cut off a piece of his nose.  How could he miss it?  You know Mr. Livingstone’s nose and what a capitol target it is.”

John Adams: “I have come to the conclusion that one useless man is a shame, two is a law firm and three or more is a congress.”

Abraham Lincoln: “If I were two faced, would I be wearing this one?”  Lincoln’s stories were legendary — it was not always what he said but how he said it.  He was an expert mimic.  During the horrible days of the Civil War he often got relief by listening his two secretaries with knee-slapping laughter.  “Tell it again, John!” he said to young John Hay.

Calvin Coolidge: After a hostess said she’d made a bet she could get more than two words out of him, he replied, “You lose.”  He said in 1929 he didn’t want to run for president again.  There was no chance for advancement.

Franklin Roosevelt: “Twenty-two minutes,” he said, when asked what the next Fireside Chat was to be about.

 Harry Truman: “If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog.”

Lyndon Johnson made some famous analogies but that doesn’t mean they should be repeated.

Jimmy Carter: “It’s nice now that when people wave at me, they use all their fingers.”


Ronald Reagan, a natural storyteller, was the only president with a prior career in entertainment.  He poked fun at himself: “Just to show you how youthful I am, I intend to campaign in all thirteen states.”   When horseback riding with Queen Elizabeth, her mount passed a substantial amount of gas.  She apologized: “I’m sorry.”  Reagan shot back, “Why, Your Majesty,  I thought it was the horse.”

George W. Bush: “These stories about my intellectual capacity really get under my skin.  For awhile, I even thought my staff believed it.  There on my schedule first thing every morning it said, “Intelligence Briefing.”

Barack Obama: At an observance of International Woman’s Day he said, “I salute heroic women from those on the Mayflower to the one I’m blessed to call my wife, who looked across the dinner table and thought, ‘I’m smarter than that guy.'”

Some information in this post came from http://www.npr.org, http://www.revolutionaryarchive.org, http://www.alternet.org, and http://www.politicalhumor.org.

A Bully Year for Blogging

A year ago, I wrote my first blog post.

So it is fitting that this one will be about not just one Theodore Roosevelt – but several of them.  Last weekend was the second annual gathering of TR re-enactors in Medora, North Dakota.  I was invited to do a book talk as part of the program, and didn’t have to think too long about an answer.



Larry and Julia Marple, of South Charleston, Ohio, as Theodore and Edith Roosevelt.   Mrs. Roosevelt served tea and lemonade to guests in front of the Von Hoffman House, explaining etiquette of the day.

It was “dee-lightful” from beginning to end.  We learned more about phases of the twenty-sixth president’s life with enthusiasts who traveled from eight states.  The re-enactors themselves were treated to a class given by Martin Jonason, acting studio director from Fargo, North Dakota.  He designed the session to strengthen their Theodore voices, gestures, and personas.


 Mike Thompson, of San Angelo, Texas, as TR in the Badlands.  With a stunningly realistic collection of western clothing and tools, he is the author of a book about the Maltese Cross cabin.

Adam Lindquist of Lonsdale, Minnesota, as the conservationist president who toured Yellowstone and Yosemite in 1903.

Margaret Porter Griffin's photo.

Derek Evans, of Wilmette, Illinois, performed “Do What You Can, With What You Have, Where You Are.”  He began as himself, in a white shirt and dark pants, and gradually transformed into the president.

My book talk helped bolster what they already knew about TR’s childhood.  They asked good questions; it was gratifying to have my opinions of his early years valued.

Theodore Roosevelts, standing: Joe Wiegand (Solana Beach, California, the resident Theodore Roosevelt at the TRMF in Medora), Arch Ellwein (Sidney, Montana), Larry Marple, Brian Haggard (Flint, Michigan), Adam Lindquist, Steve Stark (Fargo, North Dakota), and Gregg Harris (Portland, Oregon).

In the coming year they will bring back Theodore Roosevelt for the young and old at schools, clubs, and special venues.  Audiences will get to know an American who once enlivened the country and the world, and with every performance a little more of the efforts he made to improve their lives today.


If you missed reading some of the blogs from the last fifty-two weeks, I’ll tell my favorites.  Go to http://www.amazingbirdcollection.wordpress.com or click on “View all posts by Margaret” at the bottom of this page, and the format I recently switched to will allow you to click on a picture and its title for easy access.

  • Edwardian – 6.7.15
  • Unshelved – 6.2.15
  • “What Do You Think?” – 4.2.15
  • Sunday Dinner – 1.26.15
  • The Morrises – 10.28.14
  • Fleet – 10.21.14
  • Finding Freddie – 10.9.14
  • 1861 Day – 9.26.14
  • There Were Never Such Devoted Sisters – 9.24.14
  • Reading, Writing, and Roosevelt – 8.28.14

Big Fish in a Small Pond

The Marquis de Mores was not the only celebrated person to get caught up in Dakota Territory’s wild west. In 1883, a few months after the Frenchman’s first scouting trip there, young Theodore Roosevelt stepped off the train at the depot. Planning to hunt buffalo, he too was more than a little curious about tales he’d heard.

                              Theodore Roosevelt

The Marquis de Mores

He got his buffalo, one of the last from the indigent herds, and had a small cabin built south of town named the “Maltese Cross” (he did not own the land). Investing money his father left him, he later bought the rights ($400) for a larger ranch house, the “Elkhorn,” in the river bottom to the north.  They were set up with cattle, cowboys and foremen.  The Albany assemblyman became acquainted with other ranchers, the Marquis, and the local newspaper editor before going back to his wife and his work in the east that fall.

Tragically, Roosevelt’s wife and mother died in February.  He returned to the badlands indefinitely to mourn and to oversee his ranches.  Meanwhile the Marquis was setting up a stagecoach line from Medora to Deadwood.

Both frontiersman enjoyed the wide open spaces; both had several photographs taken in western costume.  The life and its image appealed to them.  Rossevelt dined with the de Mores family, and the two twenty-five-year-olds shared leadership of the stockmen’s association.  They even traveled together to Miles City, Montana to try to form a vigilante group against cattle rustlers.  But on one occasion the Marquis reneged on a price he’d quoted for Roosevelt cattle, so they were backed up and returned to the ranch.  A surviving letter from Roosevelt sounds very much like he’d been challenged to a duel, but it never materialized.

The Marquis had other problems.  A group of men, angry at the fences he put up, ambushed him.  It ended in the death of a hunter and more than one civil trial.  De Mores was eventually acquitted of murder charges.

His business ventures slowly failed.  Eastern markets preferred corn-fed over grass-fed beef, and packing plant owners in Chicago were against the competition he posed.  In the fall of 1886, the huge butchering facilities, which had never run at full capacity, closed.  The stagecoach line had to be abandoned partly because it could not get a contract to carry the mail.  The de Mores family left for New York and, a year later, France.  After re-adapting to life in the European aristocracy, Medora and the Marquis went to India to hunt tigers.

TR’s photograph of his Elkhorn ranch house

Theodore Roosevelt returned to New York, married his childhood friend Edith Carow, and began a political career that took him to the White House.  His cattle investments failed, too, after a disastrous string of blizzards in 1887.

The Marquis tried to build a railroad in Indochina but it was blocked.  Mixed up with a questionable group of politicians, he killed another man in a duel and tried to help his homeland dominate Africa.  He was assassinated in 1896 in Tunis, the land of the Touaregs, betrayed by native guides.

Medora brought her husband’s killers to justice but wasn’t able to do the same for the government officials she felt were really responsible.  She carried on raising her three children.  In 1903 two of them accompanied her on one last visit to the North Dakota town bearing her name.  Theodore Roosevelt by then had become President of the United States, often remarking that without his experience in the west, he would not have achieved that office.

During World War I Medora turned her French estate into a hospital for wounded soldiers.  She died in 1921 at 64 and is buried in Cannes.

Tourists in Medora, North Dakota, today can see the smokestack from the burned-down packing plant, and tour the “Chateau de Mores” on a hill outside of town.  Most of Medora’s furniture, rugs, linens and china are still there — even original bottles of mineral water in the scullery.  The land where the cattle grazed is now Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

Two ambitious men once lived in the same county in Dakota Territory.  Their stories ended differently, but for a little while, they ruled the frontier they’d dreamed of.