John Hay

“. . . A little after midnight as I was writing . . . , the President came into the office laughing, with a volume of Hood’s works in his hand to show Nico[lay] & me the little Caricature ‘An unfortunate Bee-ing,’ seemingly utterly unconscious that he with his short shirt hanging about his long legs & setting out behind like the tail feathers of an enormous ostrich was infinitely funnier than anything in the book he was laughing at. What a man it is. Occupied all day with matters of vast moment, deeply anxious about the fate of the greatest army of the world, with his own fame & future hanging on the events of the passing hour, he yet has such a wealth of simple bonhomie & good fellow ship that he gets out of bed & perambulates the house in his shirt to find us that we may share with him the fun. . . . ”

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The short young man whose 1862 cabinet card showed him to be even younger was foremost a writer.  His diary entries, like the one above, and poems attest to it.  A long biography of our most revered president which he co-authored quickly sold 5,000 copies.  After becoming a top government official in later life, he must have thought himself a bad luck charm, because four chief executives whom he worked for were assassinated. He was John Hay.

John’s Uncle Milton worked next door to Abraham Lincoln in Springfield, and asked his nephew to work on the 1860 campaign.  Just a few years older than Lincoln’s son Robert, Hay became a favorite with the president-elect and was hired as a second secretary, in addition to John Nicolay.  Because there was only room in the budget for one position, his official paycheck came from the Agriculture Department.
One biographer has called him the “court jester” of the administration, as he could supply a little humor to soften the hard blows of the Civil War.  “Now John, just tell that thing again,” Lincoln said once when his young friend had brought up a joke.  They would ride together in the afternoon and dine at the Soldiers’ Home in the evening.
After Lincoln’s death Hay returned to journalism and worked for newspapers.  He married a girl from a wealthy Cleveland family, Clara Stone, and so had no financial worries thereafter.  For twenty years, with their diaries and private papers loaned to them by Robert Lincoln, he and Nicolay collaborated on the biography.  When it came out in 1895 it was sold door to door, a common practice then, and became an immediate classic.
 About the same time the ten-volume biography was published, John Hay built a mansion in Washington D.C.’s Lafayette Park at the corner of H and 16th Streets.  It was adjacent to his best friend’s place of equivalent architecture and cost.  He and Henry Adams hosted a salon of the most interesting people in the capital, including Theodore Roosevelt, who’d been a family friend to both before his fast-rising career in politics.

Hay was Secretary of State under William McKinley and was asked to remain when Roosevelt inherited the top position.  He famously referred to the Spanish-American conflict as “a splendid little war,” owing to its brief length.  The achievement he is remembered for is the Open Door Policy for all nations to trade with China.

Picture of John Hay

John Hay died in 1905 at age 66.  On the occasion of Theodore Roosevelt’s inauguration earlier in the year, he’d presented the president with a gold ring containing a strand of Abraham Lincoln’s hair.  He felt a responsibility to share what he’d experienced, stating in the introduction to Abraham Lincoln: A History, “The young men who have been born since Sumter was fired on have right to all their elders know of the important events they came too late to share.”
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At dinners at the Soldiers’ Home during the Civil War, Lincoln liked to read from Shakespeare’s Richard II.  Hay remembered that the terrible outbreak of grief and despair had a particular fascination for him:
“For heaven’s sake, let us sit upon the ground, and tell sad stories of the death of kings
All murdered from within the hollow crown that rounds the mortal temples…”
(The site of the H. H. Richardson mansions close to the White House is now occupied by the posh Hay-Adams Hotel, in which original paneling from Hay’s home may be seen in a meeting room. Theodore Roosevelt’s gold ring is on display at the Sagamore Hill Historic Site in Oyster Bay, Long Island.)

Amazing Audubon Photos

I can only guess how the judges determined the best entries for the eighth annual Audubon Photo Awards.  Over 5,000 camera bugs from 49 states and eight Canadian provinces submitted their work, some of which has been put on display at the Smithsonian Natural Museum of Natural History in Washington, DC.

The best thing to do is just sit back and enjoy them.

From top left, above, Gentoo Penguin by Deborah Albert (overall winner), Great Gray Owl by Steve Mattheis, Carmine Bee-eater by Zachary Webster (youth), Mute Swan by Christopher Schlaf, Sandhill Cranes and Snow Geese by Karen R. Schuenenmann, and Varied Thrush by Heather Roskelley.

Work from other photographers in the best 100, above: Gary Rolinette, Carole Wiley, Brian Genge, Nancy Gaudiro (my personal favorite, a duck), Ralph Ganes, and Christ Hartzell.

John James Audubon, who had to rely on watercolor paints and paper to convey his images, would surely be marveling as much as we are.

To see more, including the stories behind the photographs, locations and types of cameras used, visit

A Book Club is a Book Club



From top: Katherine Paterson, Nikki Grimes, and Kate DiCamillo.

It would be hard for an author to turn down a book signing at the meeting of the American Library Association in their home base of Chicago — maybe almost as hard as it is for a reader to turn down the opportunity to go.

Last Saturday I joined hundreds weaving in and out of the bright colors of publishing house displays where prolific writers sat greeting and chatting.  Assistants passed them names to inscribe in books while they listened to stories of how much they and their work are loved.

Katherine Paterson, whom I consider the Dean of Fiction, says that reading can be “a key to a secret garden, which if tended, will transform all of life.”  Her Bridge to Terabithia as well as Jacob I Have Loved, Newbery winners for the best in children’s literature, have helped young people accomplish that goal.  Growing up in a missionary family in China, her own work in Japan and experiences as a pastor’s wife have given her insight.  She says, “Characters walk into my imagination and begin taking over…”

Nikki Grimes’ poems and novels have earned both the Coretta Scott King and Laura Ingalls Wilder Awards.  Born in Harlem and raised in family and foster homes, Grimes says she is grateful she lived to tell about growing up.  A high school English teacher guided her to her career, and her many books include Thanks a Million, Jazmin’s Notebook, Words With Wings (poetry), and a brand new one based on Psalm 121 and illustrated by Bryan Collier, The Watch.

Kate DiCamillo thinks herself “enormously lucky” because she gets to tell stories for a living.  She has also won the Newbery Award twice, for The Tale of Despereaux and Flora and Ulysses, which, like her other books, center around animals.  They include the popular Because of Winn-Dixie and The Tiger Rising.

A series of unfortunate events led me to arrive after the line to see Lemony Snicket (Daniel Handler), had been cut off.  I’m sure if anyone would appreciate that downer, it would be him.  Up-and-coming authors who in due time will surely share honors were autographing books in other aisles.

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An unlikely speaker at the event was Sarah Jessica Parker, who introduced the first selection of Book Club Central, the ALA’s platform for reading recommendations.  She remembered the comfort of going to the public library as a child, amid her large family’s frequent moves around Cincinnati.  “We couldn’t leave the house without a book,” she said, and that nowadays she makes a priority of going with her own children to their neighborhood library branch in Manhattan.

With Parker was Stephanie Powell Watts, the author of No One Is Coming to Save Us (Ecco, 2017).  It is a “story of loss — industry, ghosts and the last of Jim Crow,” she explained.  Parker said that she appreciated getting to know characters who were unlike her and far away, which she would not have been able to do had she not read it.

Watts, a professor at Lehi University, distanced herself from the usual advice when she told the audience they don’t necessarily have to write every day.  It’s OK to think it through, perhaps even a whole book, before putting anything down on paper (the way some people clean house?).

A book club is a book club.  Readers can choose to go with a particular author, like Paterson, Grimes, DiCamillo or Watts; a genre, such as historical novel or memoir; or a recommendation from Oprah or Sarah.  No matter.  When they share good literature, they are spending time thinking, learning, and celebrating life.

Quotes are from the authors’ websites.














Gather Ye Rosebuds

In June, it’s hard to ignore the beautiful flowers synonymous with this time of year.  I gathered rose photos from several years, remembering a beautiful aunt with the same name.

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Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,
Old Time is still a-flying;
And this same flower that smiles today
Tomorrow will be dying.

The glorious lamp of heaven, the sun,
The higher he’s a-getting,
The sooner will his race be run,
And nearer he’s to setting.

That age is best which is the first,
When youth and blood are warmer;
But being spent, the worse, and worst
Times still succeed the former.

Then be not coy, but use your time,
And while ye may, go marry;
For having lost but once your prime,
You may forever tarry.

Robert Herrick, 17th Century

Step in Time

This ancient sandal was found in Oregon’s Great Basin.

When other fashion choices elude us, we can usually start with our hoard of shoes to dictate the right thing to wear.  Not so in prehistoric ages.  They were doing well to just protect their feet from the cold, wet, marshy terrain.  In 1938 close to a volcano at Fort Rock, Oregon, an archaeologist named Luther Cressman uncovered utilitarian sandals made of finely-woven sagebrush bark.  They were later carbon dated to 9,000 B.C. and remain the earliest known human footwear.

Pair of overshoes, 1550-1070 BC, Egypt, reed. From Major Myers collection. V&A: 865&A-1903

Egyptian “overshoes” from 1500 B.C. could double for small rafts on the Nile. Victoria and Albert Museum.

Looking at photos of shoes of the past is like looking at different people.  And the environments in which they lived.  In Egypt, reeds were woven into shoes.  The Japanese tied wooden clogs to their feet.

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Roman gladiator shoe from the First Century.  Museum of London Archaeology.

The Victoria and Albert Museum in London maintains a collection of 2,000 pairs of shoes which document their place in history.  Oxfords began to be laced up in 1650 or thereabouts, but received their name on campus in England two hundred years later.  The university probably will never stop the tradition since the conservative world has adopted them as its trademark (Remember the opening segment of “My Three Sons?).


Louis XIV of France decreed that no man nor woman could wear heels higher than his own five-inch high embroidered silks.  The fancy trend stopped  during the French Revolution, but later resumed.  Left and right shoes came in about the mid 1800s.


Huron moccasins of deerskin, porcupine quills and metal.  Canada, ca. 1800.

Farmers, cowboys and soldiers on the American frontier couldn’t have gotten along without their leather boots; long or short, they’ve been popular since before the Middle Ages.

The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston has these late Nineteenth Century riding boots from France on display. 

In 1917 the first Converse “all star training shoe” for basketball was advertised.  Chuck Taylor used to sell them by the boxful after his sports clinics.

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World War I seems to be the benchmark for change in shoe styles, as it was for many other things.

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1922 advertisement for saddle shoes.

Around 1935 Thomas Sperry observed his dog’s stability while walking on ice, and designed a boat shoe with grooves in the soles.  More recently there’ve been updated versions or outright copies of previous styles.  Gucci produced the loafer in 1953, but it was for formal occasions.  During the same decade, stilettos, named after a Sicilian fighting knife, became all the rage for women.

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The recent comeback of the stiletto makes this one look pretty tame.

Synthetic materials were made into cheap shoes after World War II, but also contributed to foot odor.  Rubber soles, glued instead of stitched to the uppers, have endured.

And in the future?  We can’t imagine giving up the comfort shoes which cater to baby boomers.  New Zealand company Allbirds currently touts an all-wool running shoe for men and women.  In these brand-name days, Nike, Birkenstock, Tom’s and Uggs do the talking.

There were several dozen sandals hidden in volcanic ash in the Fort Rock discovery of 1938.  The real question archaeologists have yet to answer, though, is: Were they from someone’s closet?  Or just on a clearance rack at the original DSW?

Legends of the Rock

She stood looking over the valley for more years than anyone could count.  There were several versions of her story.  But in 1976 when people thought she threatened others, she was taken from her mountain home forever.  Maiden Rock vanished in a cloud of red dust.


The Bridgers, Tobacco Roots, Crazies, and Spanish Peaks form a ring around Gallatin Valley in south central Montana.  I don’t know if this is the only place on earth entirely circumvented by mountains, but it has to be one of very few.  You look one way, turn 45 degrees, then 45 more, and keep on until you’re back to the same spot you started.  But you’ll never not see the mountains.

In the summer, wildflowers stretch from range to range.  The blossoms of yellow, blue, lavender, pink and white gave it its first name: “The Valley of Flowers.”

Maiden Rock was once a landmark towering over The Valley of Flowers at the mouth of Bridger Canyon.  Today, if you visit Bozeman’s fish hatchery, you’ll be about 100 yards away from where she used to be.  It is hard to imagine her there now, as she was for millions of years, with several Indian legends to explain her origin.  I’ll pass along the one which burns deepest in my memory.  It comes from the Blackfeet tribe, courtesy of Montana Genealogy:

There was an early tradition among the Indians of Montana that Gallatin Valley, called by them the “Valley of Flowers” was neutral ground. The name seems appropriate because of the great variety of wild flowers found on the mountainsides as well as in the valley. According to the tradition told to early pioneers by John Richau, a half breed Indian: In ages past, a band of Sioux and a band of Nez Perces, deadly enemies, met in Bridger Canyon and spent two days fighting.

While they were in deadly combat the third day, darkness over-spread the sun, and a strange noise seemed to come from the heavens. The contending warriors stood spellbound as a sweet voice was heard singing and a white flame appeared on top of the mountain, since called Mount Bridger. The flame settled on “Maiden Rock,” where the figure of a maiden was seen as the darkness disappeared. In a strange language all seemed to understand, she said, in part: “Warriors, children of the Great Spirit, sheath the hatchet and unstring the bow. Shed not the blood of your brothers here lest it mingle with yonder foaming water and defile the Valley of Flowers below. There must be no war in the Valley of Flowers, all must be peace, rest and love. The Spirit Maiden has spoken the words of the Great Spirit.” According to Mr. Richau, the truce of that day has been sacredly observed by the Indians.

The dirt road traveled by pioneers past Maiden Rock was eventually made into Highway 231.  Widened in the 1970s, by the Spring of 1976 large pieces of rock were falling onto it.  The highway was closed that summer with the decision made to blast the pinnacle down in September.  Early residents of the valley had said that in the afternoon sunlight the maiden’s face was visible.

There are at least two other legends, both saying that Maiden Rock had been a real Indian girl waiting on her lover to come back, who turned to stone when he was killed and brought to her.

But the one telling how the land between the mountains must be peaceful rings so true, I’ll go with it.  Thinking of a place with only peace, rest and love, as promised by the Great Spirit, is a great comfort.

 Photo credit: Janice Aldrow.  “Sheathe the hatchet, and unstring the bow.”

Saturday in the Park, Part 2

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We were cautioned by a ranger in the road not to stop the car, but were allowed to slow it down.  Visible among the pine trees for a moment was a mother grizzly followed by two cubs, their silver fur glinting in the sun.  I had to blink to believe I really saw them.

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Another animal I’d not seen before was the bighorn sheep.  We found some over by Roosevelt Lodge (Tower Falls), in the same area TR did in his visit in 1903.

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Bison are beautiful.  The babies like to jump and dance in the evening.

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Guess you’re never too young to play!

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A raven drops in to see the black wolf the photographers are lined up for in Lamar Valley.

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Iconic elk rest peacefully on ledges of iconic Mammoth Hot Springs.

After an expedition to Yellowstone in 1870 escorted by Captain Doane from Fort Ellis in Montana, members of Congress and President Ulysses S. Grant designated it as our first national park.  The people of the United States would now be able to experience nature in its pristine form, and look forward to their grandchildren doing the same.

In 1903 President Theodore Roosevelt made Pelican Island off the coast of Florida a national bird preserve, rapidly setting aside more than 230 million acres for national parks and monuments.  In 1906 the Antiquities Act which he and Chief Forester Gifford Pinchot plotted swiped treasure from under the noses of miners, loggers and developers before they could profit from it.  TR said the land could never be improved upon.

This Spring, the Antiquities Act is being tampered with.  Of course, they wouldn’t dare take away any land already preserved just to make someone richer.

Would they?


Look at these websites for a discussion of recent actions on the Antiquities Act of 1906: