Category Archives: History

Look What’s in the Warner Library!

Warner Library serves Tarrytown and Sleepy Hollow. There’s a big browsing section of new books added to the library collection.

(2016-07-08 001)Title: Whatever Happened to the World of Tomorrow?

Author: Brian Fies

Publication Information: New York: Abrams Comicarts, c2009

ISBN: 978-0-8109-9636-6

Library of Congress Classification: PN6727.F483

Library of Congress Subject Headings:
Technological innovations–Comic books, strips, etc.
Fathers and sons–Comic books, strips, etc.
Comic books, strips, etc.–United States

The book centers on a father and son. The timeline of father and son is distorted; the son and father age far slower than in the real world. The son is the narrator, and the book begins with them going to the New York World’s Fair in 1939 at Flushing Meadows in Queens. From here, the book walks through the decades of the 20th century, as we see the son (very slowly) growing up. He is a teenager in the 1950s through the 1970s.

What people of the time saw in terms of the advancement of science and technology–flying cars, living on other planets, super cities, etc.–would better life. It all started at the World’s Fair. Father and son, very close at that time, slowly grow apart as the 1950s give way to the 1960s and the distrust of government, which reaches a zenith with Watergate in the 1970s.

The abandonment of exploring space with the end of the Apollo Program was the most glaring error made by the United States. However, even by criticizing the Earth-centered Space Shuttle Program, author Fies reveals the advances in technology that happened from the experiments made on the shuttle missions: computers, cell phones, new appliances, medical advances, etc. So, even though the future did not look like what people in the 1930s envisioned, there have been great technological advances that subtly (or maybe not so subtly) changed our lives. None was as exciting as the flying car or living in houses in the sky a la The Jetsons, but technology nonetheless has had major impacts and has reshaped society–for better or worse.

As each decade is shown with the father-son interaction, there’s the evolution also taking place in a comic book–a comic book within a comic book (graphic novel): Space Age Adventures, starring Commander Cap Crater and Cosmic Boy. Changes in attitudes over time are mirrored here as well. For example, women begin as being visible with little or no power in a minor role and end up in important command positions.

Perhaps the most astounding–and thought-provoking–change in the comic book is the transformation that Cap and Cosmic Boy’s arch-enemy, Xandra, goes through. In the 1930s Xandra is the typical mad scientist out to conquer the world, By the early 21st century, Xandra accepts and becomes part of the status quo. In what was the final issue of Space Age Adventures, Cap confronts Xandra. Xandra tells Cap that he can become a capitalist, sell his inventions legitimately, make billions and take over the world. Infuriated, Cap tries to arrest him only to be stopped by his former allies in authority. Cap is told that Xandra has paid for his crimes and that no one who follows the law can be arrested. Even Cosmic Boy, now finding that he has groupies, decides to stay around on Earth. Demoralized, Cap returns to his Moon base. Food for thought in this world of runaway capitalism.

(2016-05-18 008)The book ends with a young girl being talked to by her grandfather–the former father–and her father–who was the son–about technology and the future. They do this from a city on the Moon.

An enjoyable book.

Gary Denis, Sleepy Hollow: Birth of a Legend

(2015-11-24 001)Title: Sleepy Hollow: Birth of a Legend

Author: Gary Denis

Publication Information: Patuxent River, MD: The Author, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-511-64546-1

Library of Congress Classification: PS2067 .A1

Library of Congress Subject Headings:
Irving, Washington, 1783-1859. Legend of Sleepy Hollow
Sleepy Hollow (N.Y.)—History
Tarrytown (N.Y.)—History

Note: I was sent a copy of this book by the author for review. I had hoped to get this review out before Halloween, but I have been swamped with school work.

This book was researched at the Historical Society. I mentioned it to Sara and she told me that Denis had come in to do extensive research. It has historical photographs and drawings to illustrate the text. This is about the background of Irving’s story, the real locations mentioned as well as the real people whom Irving might have based his characters upon. This is a book for true fans, like me,  of Irving’s story.

I had written blog entries (here, here. and here) about my search for the possible locations where the original Headless Horseman Bridge had been located. This generated a bit of interest. Denis discusses the location as well as pointing out that there were bridges built before the current bridge, constructed in 1912 with funds from William Rockefeller. Denis uses a different map than I did, but the bend in the Pocantico River that curved up and around the Old Dutch Church, is also on it, indicating that the old bridge was further east. When Route 9 was straightened, the course of the Pocantico was also changed.

Denis discusses many local landmarks, including: Andre’s tree, Sunnyside (Irving’s home), the Headless Horseman’s grave (an aerial photo with an X marking the spot where he might be buried), the mill pond at Philipsburg Manor, and mills and mill stones along the Pocantico. There are other topics discussed, among them: the Van Tassels, Ichabod Crane (the colonel whose name Irving used for his schoolmaster), Ichabod’s flight on Gunpowder, Brom Bones and the person (or persons) he was based upon, and the local families whose surnames start with Van.

This is a fun book. I enjoyed reading it. It gets you thinking about what Irving used to craft his tale, and the changes he made–which today would be called “literary license.”


Carlo Ginzburg, The Cheese and the Worms: the Cosmos of a Sixteenth-Century Miller

(2015-09-23 001)Title: The Cheese and the Worms: the Cosmos of a Sixteenth-Century Miller

Italian Title: Il formaggio e i vermi: Il cosmo di un mugnaio del ‘500

Author: Carlo Ginzburg; translated by John and Anne Tedeschi

Publication Information: Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992, c1980

ISBN: 0-8018-4387-1

Library of Congress Classification: BR877.F74

Library of Congress Subject Headings:
Friuli (Italy)—Religious life and customs
Friuli (Italy)—Civilization
Heresies and heretics—Italy—Friuli
Heresies and heretics—Modern period, 1500-
Scandella, Domenico, 1532-1601
Friuli (Italy)—Church history

Ginzburg’s book was published in 1976 in Italian and translated and published in English in 1980. He was one of the founders of “microhistory,” the analysis of one small part of a larger area, event, or individual—in this case, the life of a miller living in 16th century Fruili, Italy—that can tell us about what was going at that particular time.

Domenico Scandella, known as Menocchio, would have been yet another faceless and nameless person from the period if not for one important thing: he was put on trial for heresy during the Inquisition. The records of the court, in unusually good detail, gives quite a bit of information about Menocchio. He was married, had several children, owned a mill and rented two plots of land to farm. And he could read; the books that he either owned or borrowed that were seized from his house when arrested are listed. This is not so remarkable, since Ginzburg proves that there were schools at that time that taught elementary reading and writing, but not much. What is remarkable is what Menocchio did with these skills. He created his own cosmology.

Menocchio got into trouble because he talked about what he read which, in some cases, he didn’t fully understand because of his limited education. Nonetheless, he had his own interpretation of the world and God. His “preaching” was what got him into trouble with the Inquisition. (Ginzburg believed that Menocchio’s parish priest turned him in.) It is here that Menocchio, against the advice of his son and two of his friends, gives the inquisitor his version of the creation (which sounds closer to the Greek mythological creation than the Judeo-Christian) and theology.

All inquisitorial courts had a recorder whose job it was to write down everything that was said in the court. Thus, Menocchio’s voice is heard centuries after his death. The major problem was that Menocchio did not understand the questions being asked of him about Catholic theology, since he only had a rudimentary education. Also, he did not understand many of the parts of the books he had read and completely misinterpreted the points being illustrated. Ginzburg traces how the inquisitors caught Menocchio in traps of their invention, which caused him to become confused and then he had to try and redefine what he really meant when his understanding of the questions was limited.

Menocchio finally realized how dangerous his thinking was and, in the end, recanted everything. He first said that he thought up the ideas himself, then it was a voice inside his head and, finally, the Devil made him do it. He had been led astray. The court gave him mercy, and released him, but he was not to leave his home town and he had to wear a special garment that marked him for a heretic who had returned to the church. Both these conditions were for life. We know this because of the court records where we learn that Menocchio had been given special permission to leave the village for business, but he was never allowed to stop wearing the special insignia of a heretic reunited to the Church.

The Reformation had exploded across Europe and the Counter-Reformation was attempting to stem the tide of religious change. Two decades before Menocchio’s trial, a peasants’ uprising had brought ruin to the common people as they took sides between two nobles that led to war. No threats to the established order would be tolerated by the dominant classes. Menocchio’s recanting got him mercy once. The second time he was sentenced to death and executed after once again discussing his beliefs, which can be summarized to a “live and let live” mentality of tolerance for everyone of all faiths—Christian heresy.

The court records also talk about Menocchio’s background. He had served the local parish in charge of finances not once but twice, once before his trial and again after. He also served the town in some official capacity, so he wasn’t treated as a pariah. On the contrary, the town seemed to accept him back. He continued to function as the miller in the area until his second arrest and execution. Old, sickly, his wife and supportive son dead, and his other children estranged from him, Menocchio no longer cared what happened to himself and admitted that he was still a heretic.

One central theme Ginzburg argues is wrong is that the idea of the dominate classes’ culture “filtering down” to the lower classes (like trickledown economics), the members of which absorb it, reject it, or adapt it in some way. Ginzburg sees cultural exchange as more circular, with the lower classes having a culture that can affect the culture of the dominant classes and vice-versa. This he proves.

Ginzburg also analyzes the books that Menocchio either owned or borrowed. He goes further to discuss what other books that Menocchio might have seen, by drawing in evidence of other “heretical” books circulating in Italy at the time. Though Ginzburg cannot completely prove that Menocchio read these books, he discusses how their influence might have affected his thinking. One of those is the Koran, which had already been translated into Italian; it is not clear if Menocchio owned a copy or might have seen a copy. In any case, Ginzburg believes that the Koran would have been, for Menocchio, so far beyond his comprehension that he would not have understood most of it.

For me, the most important aspect of this book is that Menocchio is heard, centuries after his death. How many more men—and many more women—were never given the chance to be fully educated, and their voices will never be heard? Had Menocchio been from the ruling classes he would have been educated and probably become a theologian. It is only because of his extensive testimony at trial that Menocchio emerges from the darkness of the ages to become known.

The book is well-written, and is an excellent example of how microhistory can be used to help illuminate specific periods of history.



Look What’s in the Warner Library!

Warner Library serves Tarrytown and Sleepy Hollow. There’s a big browsing section of what new books the library bought.

(2015-05-27 001)Authors: Howard Zinn, Mike Konopacki, Paul Buhle

Title: A People’s History of American Empire: a Graphic Adaptation

Publication Information: New York, N.Y.: Metropolitan Books/Henry Holt and Co., c2008; 1st ed.

ISBN: 978-0-8050-7779-7; 0-8050-7779-0; 978-0-8050-8744-4; 0-8050-8744-3

Library of Congress Classification: E183.7

Dewey Decimal Classification: 973

Library of Congress Subject Headings:
United States–Foreign relations–Comic books, strips, etc.
United States–Territorial expansion–Comic books, strips, etc.
Imperialism–History–Comic books, strips, etc.
United States–Social conditions–Comic books, strips, etc.
Social movements–United States–History–Comic books, strips, etc.
Zinn, Howard, 1922- –Comic books, strips, etc.
Historians–United States–Biography–Comic books, strips, etc.

This graphic novel is based on Howard Zinn’s book, The People’s History of the United States. As Paul Buhle states in the preface, “It is intended to present key insights in Howard Zinn’s marvelous volume in light of another art form …”

This isn’t the history you learned in grade school.

The graphic novel hits key points in U.S. history, led by Howard Zinn, who is portrayed as a speaker at an anti-Iraq War rally. Zinn starts at the end of the nineteenth century, with the massacre at Wounded Knee, then goes on to discuss the Spanish-American War, and the conquest of the Philippines. The socio-economic conditions in the country at the turn of the century and how the so-called “robber barons” exploited the masses. This led to the creation of labor unions–and how the U.S. government did everything in its power to assist the capitalists against the unions.

All activities of the U.S. government are for capitalism–the military-industrial complex that Eisenhower warned of in his farewell speech. Nothing here was of any great surprise to me. There were some “Ahhhhh” moments, such as the revelation that Woodrow Wilson, in an attempt to ensure that the Entente Powers could continue to buy American-made munitions even when bank credits could not cover the cost, allowed the Federal Reserve Banks to accept “bankers’ acceptances” from them. This, according to Zinn, amounted to an act of war (p. 84). Then there was the suggestion by Zinn that the U.S. dropped the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki to quickly end the war before the Soviet Union could invade Japan. Thus, the Japanese surrendered to the U.S.

Then there’s the depressing antics of the Central Intelligence Agency in Latin America: El Salvadore, Nicaragua, etc. that merely created misery for the people in those countries. Neither the Democrats nor the Republicans differ on their foreign policy, which is done to create new markets. The Iran-Iraq War? We supplied both sides with armaments. Making money is the name of the game. Iran-Contra is covered, and the only man who went to jail (for four days) from it was sentenced for stealing a street sign (p. 230).

Perhaps the most bizarre chapter in the whole book is seven, “The Cool War.” In the 1950s, there was a concerted attempt to enforce conformity to prove that the “American way of life” was far superior to communism. However, war was declared on those who wore the “zoot suit,” a fashion statement that was seen as subversive during the war and after. There were attempts to keep apart Mexican Americans, African Americans, and White Americans as they listened to R&B and danced to it. Comic books came under fire as “subversive,” which led to self-censorship under the Comics Code Authority. “Loyalty oaths” were forced on workers in government and the private sector. It was in this atmosphere that Eugene McCarthy’s communist witch hunt thrived.

A very thought-provoking book. Zinn ends on a positive note. Things CAN be changed, as the end of the Vietnam War, segregation, and Solidarity’s eventual overthrow of the communist system in Poland, demonstrate. People can change the system for the better.

James Romm, Ghost on the Throne: the Death of Alexander the Great and the War for Crown and Empire

(2014-10-31 002)Title: Ghost on the Throne: the Death of Alexander the Great and the War for Crown and Empire

Author: James Romm

Publication Information: New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-307-27164-8

Library of Congress Classification: DF235.4

Library of Congress Subject Headings:
Greece–History–Macedonian Hegemony, 323-281 B.C.
Macedonia–History—Diadochi, 323-276 B.C.
Alexander, the Great, 356-323 B.C.—Death and burial

This is the story of what happened after Alexander the Great died in Babylon in 323 BC.

Alexander’s close cadre of friends whom he grew up with as well as conquered the Persian Empire with, quickly devolved into a group of fighting, self-serving men trying to get what they could. In the end, Alexander’s empire would be destroyed, sections of it seized by his various companions.

One man, Perdiccas, attempted to keep the empire together, and he nearly succeeded. Perdiccas had help from an unlikely ally, Eumenes, a Greek who owed his station to Philip II. Philip had elevated Eumenes from obscurity when he was young, making him the royal bookkeeper, whom he relied on to keep his house on sound footing. Eumenes continued to serve Alexander, who made him a general. What was surprising was that Eumenes was very good at military tactics, winning battle after battle.

The problem with Eumenes was that he was a Greek. Here is where modern belief and reality collide. The modern Greeks like to claim Alexander and the Macedonians as “Greek,” a tribe, like the Dorian Greeks, who just happened to not move into Greece proper but settled Macedonia. The problem with this is the historic record. Eumenes was not liked by the companions because he was not Macedonian. What becomes evident is how the Macedonians looked down upon the Greeks, which is why Eumenes was disliked.

It must be remembered that Greece had been conquered by Philip; Greek loyalty had been ensured through the destruction of Corinth and, later, Thebes. To the Macedonians, where fighting battles and waging war were signs of manhood, the Greeks were effeminate, weak: Greece was conquered, defeated, subjected to Macedonian rule. That the Macedonian aristocracy, including their own families, had adopted Greek culture and language, meant nothing to them; there was a definite disconnect in the Macedonian mind. Macedonian Alexander had spread Hellenic ideas, culture, and language, throughout his empire, thus giving rise to the Hellenistic era, where the successor kingdoms would continue to fight meaningless wars with one another.

To Alexander’s successors, Eumenes was an anathema, an abnormality that continued to flaunt his successes. Alliances changed regularly. One of the first things Perdiccas and others decided was that Eumenes had to be eliminated. However, it would not be so easy. In one of his post-Alexander battles, Eumenes fought the army of Neoptolemus, one of Macedonia’s great generals, and Neoptolemus ended up getting killed. Thereafter, the Macedonians were determined to get Eumenes, forcing the Greek to release most of his army and only taking a core complement with him to a fortress in Cappadocia, where he could hold off the attacks.

Ptolemy was the first to secure his spoils: Egypt. He killed the appointed governor and took his place, reigning as governor for several years before proclaiming himself king. This was after he had captured the body of Alexander, on its way back to Macedonia for burial, and brought it to Alexandria, where it would be on display for the next several centuries. Cassander, who did not like Alexander or his family, returned to Macedonia and seized power, marrying the unfortunate Thessalonice, half sister of Alexander, naming the city he founded after her. Cassander was responsible for the murder of Olympias, Alexander’s mother, and his son, Alexander IV. Even Heracles, the bastard son of Alexander who was living quietly in Pergamon with his mother, was drawn into the conflict, being murdered before he even got a chance to play the game.

Had Eumenes acted in his own interests, he might have ended up ruling a piece of the empire, but he was too loyal to Alexander’s family. After Perdiccas was killed, Eumenes was left on his own. Olympias was already dead, and he had no one to fight for; he was executed by Antigonus One-Eye, who became a founder of one of the five dynasties that had supplanted Alexander’s.

A good book for anyone interested in the kingdoms succeeding the one Alexander had created.

Greg King and Sue Woolmans, The Assassination of the Archduke: Sarajevo 1914 and the Romance that Changed the World

(2014-12-29 001)Title: The Assassination of the Archduke: Sarajevo 1914 and the Romance that Changed the World

Author: Greg King and Sue Woolmans

Publication Information: New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-250-05546-0

Library of Congress Classification: DB89.F7

Library of Congress Subject Headings:
Franz Ferdinand, Archduke of Austria, 1863-1914—Assassination
Sophie, Archduchess of Austria, 1866-1914
Austria—History–Franz Joseph I, 1848-1916
World War, 1914-1918—Causes

This was a very good book.

I bought it from Amazon on what was basically a whim. The Hapsburg monarchy was something that I had taken an interest in years ago, and even took a class in the empire as an undergrad. I’ve dabbled in the history, but I knew little, if anything, about Franz Ferdinand, the assassinated heir to the throne whose death set off the First World War. And what did I learn?

It seems that most historians never really took the time to know the man behind the facade. History books dismissed Franz Ferdinand as a reactionary, morose, stubborn, unenlightened man whose death started a century of wars. In reality, Franz Ferdinand was a well-educated, intelligent individual who may well have saved the monarchy had he succeeded to the throne. He knew that there was no way the empire could continue under its present organization. Surprisingly, he thought that the federal structure of the United States was the perfect model for a restructured Austria-Hungary. A federated empire of ten states with some self-autonomy and under the rule of a Hapsburg emperor. Ironically, after his death and World War I, many expressed the idea that Franz Ferdinand could have saved the empire had he succeeded to the throne.

Franz Joseph, the reigning monarch since 1848, does not appear in any sympathetic light. His wife had been assassinated, and his son, Crown Prince Rudolph, had committed suicide. He saw his nephew, Franz Ferdinand, as a dangerous element; he wasn’t sorry to see him removed from the succession. He did not like his relatives in general, and tried to keep everything as it had always was; protocol was everything, and the emperor occupied his time with trivial matters. His chamberlain, Prince Alfred de Montenuovo, was also responsible for protocol and Montenuovo used his position to tyrannize the aristocracy. However, it is made quite clear that Franz Joseph was always in charge and allowed Montenuovo his excesses. This included attempting to stop Franz Ferdinand’s marriage to Countess Sophie Chotek, since she came from a family that was not good enough to marry into the Hapsburgs.

Sophie’s family had served the Hapsburgs for at least three centuries; they were never recognized as one of the families that was “equal” to the Hapsburgs and therefore able to marry into the ruling family. The only way Franz Ferdinand could marry Sophie was to remove his children from the succession, which he did. Their morganatic marriage (a marriage of unequals) was used by Montenuovo to humiliate Franz Ferdinand by placing restrictions on how Sophie could appear and accompany him. For example, she could not sit in any of the imperial boxes at the theater and had to be seated alone, far from her husband. She could not be on the arm of her husband in any processions, and had to enter last after every Hapsburg of every rank had already processed; she was escorted into functions by one of the court’s minor officials. Twice no one was there to escort her into the function; the first time Sophie fled in shame, but the second time she walked in alone, her head held high. In horror, one of the Hapsburg archdukes rushed forward and offered her his arm–and created a scandal. But this was typical court life for Franz Ferdinand and Sophie, which is why they eventually shunned it. (Ironically, Montenuovo was the descendant of a morganatic marriage himself, but unlike Sophie Chotek, he was elevated.)

Franz Ferdinand and Sophie were devoted parents, spending far more time with their children than most aristocrats. Instead of only seeing them for a short time daily, they would spend hours with their children at a time when aristocrats allowed their nannies to raise the children. The sons, Max and Ernst, were the first aristocrats to be sent to concentration camps for their anti-Nazi, pro-Hapsburg feelings. The wars robbed the children of their inheritance; to add insult to injury, the new Austrian republican government recognized them as Hapsburgs just to confiscate their landholdings.

The assassination and how lax Austrian security was suggests that there was some conspiracy from Vienna, but there’s no evidence. What is evident is how Franz Ferdinand and Sophie loved each other and their children. He was loyal to an uncle who did not like him, and would have made a good emperor who might have saved the monarchy from ruin.

James W. Baker, Thanksgiving Cookery

(2014-03-07 004)Title: Thanksgiving Cookery

Author: James W. Baker; with Elizabeth Brabb

Series: Traditional Country Life Recipe Series

Publication Information: New York, NY: The Brick Tower Press, c1998 (2nd ed.)

ISBN: 978-18-8328303-2 (1-883283-03-5)

Library of Congress Classification: TX739.2.T45

Dewey Decimal Classification: 641

Library of Congress Subject Headings:
Thanksgiving cooking
Thanksgiving Day—History

Did you know that the 1621 celebration we base Thanksgiving on was not considered a day of Thanksgiving by the Pilgrims, but only a harvest festival celebrated with the Native Americans that was never repeated?

That’s just one of the facts this interesting cookbook has to offer. the First third of the book gives the history of American Thanksgiving and how the entire holiday originated out of the New England colonies. Several Congresses and presidents from Washington on tried to start a Thanksgiving holiday, but they were only isolated; no national holiday was started until Abraham Lincoln, and it traditionally became fixed on the third Thursday in November until FDR tried to make it the last Thursday in November in an effort to extend the shopping season for Christmas by one week.

Sarah Josepha Hale was the mover behind the Thanksgiving holiday.  She advocated for a return to a much simpler time befor  industrialization started separating parents and children. She believed that a day set aside could strengthen the family. Of course, the South resisted the holiday for years because it had been introduced by Lincoln and it had come from the New England “Yankees.” The holiday was celebrated  by custom until 1941, when FDR signed a law that officially created the third Thursday in November as Thanksgiving.

How ironic that FDR attempted to create an extra week for shopping between Thanksgiving and Christmas, and it was the REPUBLICANS who killed the idea. I think an extra week would be preferable to having people work on Thanksgiving, which started with Wal-Mart and is now copied by Target and other heartless corporates. Sarah Hale would be horrified to see what has become of her holiday. So much for the day dedicated to family and food.

The rest of the book has recipes on a traditional Thanksgiving dinner. There’s several recipes for stuffing as well as gravy. (For some reason I always have trouble with the gravy. I never make enough, and it’s usually lumpy.) It’s got everything from the turkey to the dessert. Unfortunately, no pics of the food. (I always like looking at pictures.)

A nice book about a wonderful holiday that’s being ruined.