100 years’ anniversary: James Rogers McConnell

Some members of the fighter squadron N.124, “l’Escadrille Américaine,” in May 1916. Corporal James Rogers McConnell is at the right. (Courtesy Air Force Times)

Yesterday was a solemn anniversary of sorts, covered in the Cavalier Daily (Ceremony honors 100th anniversary of alumnus’s death in WW I) and UVA Today (UVA Honors Inspiration for “Winged Aviator” Statue, 100 Years After His Death). I’ve written about McConnell before, both as student and martyr. On this hundredth anniversary of his slaughter, it seems fitting to reflect on his legacy and what he represents.

First, McConnell was at once the last and first of his kind. First because he was the first UVA student to be killed in that awful war; last because he was the last American airman killed before the United States officially entered the war April 6, 1917, just 18 days after his death. He was also effectively the last American warrior-as-adventurer, in the model of Teddy Roosevelt or the other early 20th century military leaders who held greater fame in civilian life.

Indeed, his decision to head to France, and later join the Escadrille after serving as an ambulance driver, is best read through the lens of Roosevelt as a role model. As he is quoted in the introduction to his memoir Flying for France, “These Sand Hills will be here forever, but the war won’t; and so I’m going.” But later he was converted to the belief of the absolute rightness of the French cause, and so he entered his combat role.

He was last in another way too—probably the last prominent UVA student to partake so fully of UVA’s extracurricular offerings. As King of the Hot Feet he was part of the University’s tradition of revelry; as one of the earliest known members of the Seven Society he was a founder of the tradition of more sober and secretive organizations that focused on good works.

The UVa Library has a comprehensive exhibit on McConnell’s life online, showing not only his letters home and artifacts from his plane and personal effects, but a memoir from his frequent correspondent Mademoiselle Marcelle Gúerin. Reading the material is a sobering reminder of a time when causes were just and consequences were mortal.

Twenty-five years

Twenty-five years ago this month, the Virginia Glee Club toured the South. Among other stops on that august journey, we found schlonic columns in Chapel Hill, North Carolina; sang a church service in Atlanta, Georgia; improbably survived a day off in New Orleans; and sang in the state senate chambers in Jackson, Mississippi, where a UVA Law alum named (equally improbably) Hob Bryan had served since 1984. He remembered the Glee Club and its performances of “the Ave Maria” from his graduate school days, and invited us to sing when he learned we were on the road.

Twenty-five years later, and the current group was on the road in the South once again last week. No North Carolina stops this time, but visits to Chattanooga and Johnson City, to Birmingham and Mobile, and to New Orleans, and to Atlanta to rehearse with the Morehouse Glee Club. And a return to Jackson, where Hob Bryan still serves and where the Club once again performed the Ave Maria. That’s them below.

Many things have changed in the intervening twenty-five years (though the use of the Confederate battle flag in the Mississippi State Flag is not one of them). But I find it reassuring that this group of men, this “fraternity of talent,” not only has survived but also thrives, now backed by a strong endowment and an active alumni board. I find it even more reassuring that they continue to tour and to chart their own history.

Natural Bridge, revisited

Today was the first time I had visited Natural Bridge in more than eleven years. (You can read my previous write-up.) The bridge continues to be more imposing than can be easily absorbed, as the photo above hopefully shows.

This time I walked further up the path along Cedar Creek. (I had, after all, paid my $8 for access to the trail.) I passed a reconstructed Indian village – don’t flinch, it was done sensitively – and a cave, and made my way to the Lace Falls. Seeing more of the Bridge made me better appreciate Thomas Jefferson’s pilgrimages there – and his practical desire to explore the area’s mineral resources, including opening a saltpeter mine just up the creek.

Cocktail Friday: Midwinters 1951 recipes

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I’m still working my way through the February 1951 Virginia Spectator, which has some interesting treasures beyond the Pogo-related content we wrote about yesterday. In particular, here’s a set of cocktail recommendations for Midwinters drinking, proving that straight bourbon and beer didn’t always prevail (though certainly “Mad Men” style sexism did).

In fact, as one might expect from the mid-century period, there’s no bourbon in any of these cocktails, or any dark liquor at all (aside from a little rum). None of these cocktails is fancy, but they’re mostly true to their models—with the possible exception of the fruit salad on the Zombie. Enjoy!

Martini

  • 1 part French Vermouth
  • 4 parts Dry Gin

Stir with cracked ice, strain and serve with stuffed olive.

Zombie:

  • 3/4 oz lime juice
  • 3/4 oz pineapple juice
  • 1 tsp. syrup
  • 1 oz white rum
  • 1 oz gold rum
  • 1 oz Jamaica rum
  • 1/2 oz demerara rum
  • 1/2 oz apricot liqueur

Shake violently, strain into 14 oz zombie glass, 1/4 filled with ice. Float splash of demerara on top. Spike 1 green cherry, 1 small pineapple stick, 1 red cherry on a toothpick, insert into drink, decorate with mint sprig, dust with powdered sugar.

Absinthe Drip

Pour a jigger of Absinthe into a drip glass, then place a cube of sugar over the drop hole in the upper section, pack with cracked ice, and pour cold water to fill the dripper. When all the water has dripped through you’re ready to deteriorate.

Daiquiri

  • Juice 1/2 lime
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 2 oz rum

Shake well with cracked ice and strain.

Champagne Cocktail

  • 1 cube sugar
  • champagne
  • 1 dash angostura bitters

Place sugar in glass and saturate with bitters. Pour chilled champagne over and serve without stirring.

Virginia Spectator: “February Pogo issue”

Virginia Spectator, February 1951
Virginia Spectator, February 1951

As previously mentioned, I now have my copy of the February 1951 Virginia Spectator, the “Pogo issue” of the University of Virginia student magazine that started out as the literary magazine (jointly published by the Jefferson and Washington Societies) but was by the 1950s more a college humor magazine with the occasional short story thrown in.

Calling this the “Pogo issue” is based on the incredible Walt Kelly UVa-themed cover (above) which I’ve discussed once or twice before, plus the inclusion of two articles: a biography of Walt Kelly and a discussion of the characters in his most famous comic strip. “The Land of the Elephant-Squash,” of which the first three pages are reprinted below, was later reprinted in the Okefenokee Star fanzine and in Fantagraphics reprint collections. “What Makes Pogo Tick?” is less often reprinted. Reading both, there is nothing to tie them to Virginia, but this appears to be the first time both appeared in print.

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I’ve scanned several more of the pages in the issue into this Flickr album. Enjoy…

Evaluating Paul Goodloe McIntire

Following yesterday’s link regarding the possible fate of the Confederate war statues donated to the City of Charlottesville by Paul Goodloe McIntire, I thought it might be worthwhile to dig a little deeper. Was McIntire, a huge donor to both the city and the University of Virginia, a virulent racist like composer and white supremacist John Powell

It seems many have been asking the same question, and as you might expect the evidence of his intent is a little murky. 

Let’s start with the facts. McIntire, after having made his fortune on the New York Stock Exchange, returned home to Charlottesville and started giving away that fortune. In addition to the school of fine arts, the amphitheater, and other gifts to UVA, he donated land and money for parks in Charlottesville, including two white-only parks (Belmont Park and McIntire Park). At the same time he donated the land for McIntire Park, he also donated the land for the all-black Washington Park.

Was he on the side of white supremacy? Or was he simply endowing all Charlottesville’s citizens, black or white, within the scope of the prevailing legal framework of “separate but equal”?

It’s hard to say. An article in CVille Weekly notes that “he did invite the Confederate Veterans, Sons of Confederate Veterans and the United Daughters of the Confederacy to plan the statue’s [Lee’s] unveiling.” But given the heavy concentration of Confederate veterans in Virginia, was this like inviting the Klan or only like inviting the Disabled American Veterans?

I don’t know if we will ever get a good answer on this, given that people like Ben Railton and Waldo Jaquith have been plumbing it since 2009. But it’s worth continuing to remind ourselves that many who have been held up as civic heroes were also products of their times. And, with Railton, to remember that we have many public spaces dedicated to the narrow Confederate view of history, and to call for more reminders of how life was on the other side. 

Merry Christmas from 1953

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Part of the 1953 Virginia Spectator Christmas issue (previous posts here and here) was a set of mildly off-color Christmas woodcuts showing the life of the Baron Soppenscotten, who appears to have had a good deal in common with the students at UVa during the period. This is definitely the most elaborate art published on the theme in any UVa magazine I’ve seen. And what is Christmas, after all, without a little gluttony and drunkenness? (I know: it’s Christmas.)

“… or, I saw Donner Kissing Santa Claus”

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I first wrote about the questionable treasures and pseudo-carols locked within the December 1953 “Misplaced Mistletoe” issue of the Virginia Spectator back in June, but with Christmas only a few days away it seems high time to revisit the book. Having gotten the clean carols out of the way early, here’s one of the more questionable numbers, “Sexual Misbehavior of a Female Reindeer, or I Saw Donner Kissing Santa Claus.”

…Enjoy?

I saw Donner kissing Santa Claus
It was really Mommy dressed to kill
Dear Mother looked so queer
In the costume of a deer,
With furry antlers from her front
A tail from out her rear!
Then I saw Donner licking Santa’s paws,
Mommy’s eyes just never had that look.
It wasn’t mother, costume-clad,
‘Twas Donner deer seducing Dad!
Doctor Kinsey, where in hell’s that book?

The Pogo issue of the Virginia Spectator

I’m one step further along on my ultimate UVa checklist. Last week I received my copy of the February 1951 Virginia Spectator, the one with the cover by Pogo artist Walt Kelly showing Pogo and Albert the Alligator trying to sell ice cream to all the college students and their dates trysting in the serpentine walls at the University of Virginia.

I hope I find time to scan bits of the magazine in the next few weeks.

Crosby Forrest Seafood Restaurant

We live in an odd time in which the transient leaves lasting traces. Photos linger for years online that would have moldered in shoe boxes thirty years ago. And even the smallest of businesses leaves traces—in reviews, websites, photos. But businesses and restaurants that closed before the dawn of the Web linger in obscurity, with no digital record of their existence.

I was reminded of this last night when I told my son the story of my first seafood dinner. “Grandma and Grandpa liked to go to a seafood restaurant in Poquoson, at the edge of the wetlands,” I told him, and then had to explain about what that meant. “It sat at the edge of a dock and was run by a man named Crosby Forrest. And it had a huge swordfish on the wall, and the biggest oyster shell I’ve ever seen.” I held my arms out as wide as I could to show him how big it was. “Anyway, I was probably about two or three, and they brought me to Crosby Forrest’s restaurant.”

“What kind of food did they have?” he asked.

“Oh, they had clam chowder.”

“What’s that?”

“It’s a soup with clams in it.”

“Ewww.”

“No, you’d like it. There are different kinds; here in Massachusetts they make it with milk—”

“Ewww!”

“—and in New York they make it with tomatoes, but in Poquoson they make it with broth. They call it ‘Bull Island clam chowder.’ And then they ordered some fish for me. It was flounder, and I ate the whole thing.”

“Did it have eyes?”

“Well, flounder have both eyes on the top of their head. But they took all the meat off the bone for me. They had to, because they didn’t want me to swallow a bone by mistake.”

“Was it good?”

“Yes, and I ate the whole thing.”

“Wow.”

“And then I got cranky, and Crosby told Grandma and Grandpa that I could sleep on the sofa in his office. And I remember waking up and seeing him and then Grandma and Grandpa came and took me home.”

“I wanna go to Crosby Forrest!”

“I wish we could. Crosby died many years ago, and his wife died about eight years ago. But I think the family runs a seafood store now. Maybe we’ll go there one day.”

“Yeah! I want flounder.”

I wish I had pictures of the restaurant. But apparently it met its demise before the earliest date of the digital archives of the Daily Press. And Google Image Search only turns up pictures of Bill Forrest Seafood, which is a distribution business. Still, the exterior of that business looks awfully familiar; I wonder if he took over the location of the original restaurant. I guess I’ll have to go back home and figure it out.

Viewing the mysteries

Hot Feet crown, courtesy UVA Magazine.
Hot Feet crown, courtesy UVA Magazine.

Hyperallergic: Folk art relics from the Golden Age of America’s Secret Societies (via Boing Boing). Interesting exhibit of artifacts from the Freemasons and Odd Fellows.

It made me think of some of the few artifacts that have surfaced from the University of Virginia’s secret societies. Most of them have left behind only their rings or ribbons, but a few other items of stranger affect survive, particularly from the Hot Feet.

My favorite is the crown of the Hot Feet, pictured above and worn by James Rogers McConnell, among others. Though the crown was updated by the time that Lewis Crenshaw wore it, it is still a fascinating reminder of this intersection between UVA mythology, folk art and the American tendency toward the borrowed ritual image. It would be fascinating to see if any of the other … intriguing artifacts pictured below from 1906, showing the coronation of Charles S. McVeigh outside the East Range, survive.

Hot Feet coronation, 1906, courtesy UVA Magazine.
Hot Feet coronation, 1906, courtesy UVA Magazine.

Transmigrating

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Seven years ago today, I summed up the things that happened eight years ago before that: the small amount that I could write, stunned, on September 11, 2001; my more elaborate write-up from 2002 and, after singing in the Rolling Requiem, my detailed recollections from the day; my thoughts from 2003, on the brink of invasions; my thoughts from 2008, in which I assert that in spite of the attack, we’re still here.

All of which is to say I thought I had processed and finished my grieving for the victims of that bright fall day fifteen years ago.

Then, one night this week after rehearsing Adams’ On the Transmigration of Souls, I attempted to describe Doug Ketcham to one of my TFC colleagues. And I could not speak. I was suddenly dumbstruck by the immense unfairness of what happened to him: twenty-seven years old, a rising star at Cantor Fitzgerald, who retained enough presence of mind to call his parents from underneath his desk after the first plane hit the towers to tell them that he loved them.

Doug was an acquaintance who I wish I had known well enough to call friend. Other UVa friends, like Tin Man, knew him much better. But he was a decent human being who never blinked an eye when I joined the crew that hung around with him. He made you feel less alone.

I spent some time thinking about him in our final rehearsal of Transmigration on Friday. I thought about the fact that I haven’t come to terms with his death after all these years. I thought about the fact that this anniversary still has the power to turn me somber and sour.

And then I thought about the structure of the piece. It opens with street sounds, footsteps, and then the words “missing… missing…” and the reading of names. The choir and orchestra slowly emerge from shifting tonalities to sing words, not of high poesy, but from the families of the victims, who posted them on fliers around the site of the Twin Towers in the weeks after the attack. Everyday words. “…he was tall, extremely good-looking, and girls never talked to me when he was around.” (Which could have been written about Doug.) Or the words of one woman: “I loved him from the start…. I wanted to dig him out. I know just where he is.”

It is at this moment that the orchestra gives a tremendous wrench, building in intensity and volume until at the top of the crescendo the chorus bursts into the moment of transfiguration: “Light! Light! Light!”

But after the transfiguration moment, the chorus drops away, the instrumentation drops back down, and you can hear that the voices and names are still speaking. And so it goes until the end of the work, with a final wordless tone cluster from the chorus yielding to a slendering thread of string sound, which after the thirty minutes of the piece finally resolves upward into a new major key—but not triumphantly, but so quietly it can almost not be heard.

And I think about this ending, and I think I finally understand what Adams was trying to get at. The dead are still with us after the transmigration because they always will be. It is we who must be transmigrated, who must allow ourselves to be changed, to not continue to stand, breath held, on the edge of that dreadful day. We who must resolve upward.

Bye-bye, Cavalier Inn?

UVA Today: More Green Space Planned for Ivy-Emmet Entrance Corridor. Buried in the discussion, as it was when an early version of the plans were discussed over the summer, is the proposed demolition of the Cavalier Inn.

It’s no Ritz-Carlton, or even Marriott, but I’ve long had a soft spot in my heart for the old Cavalier Inn, slightly mildewy though it may be. It’s often the most affordable, and available, place to stay near Grounds. And I find it ironic that the proposed renovations may eliminate one of the few places close enough to Grounds to comfortably walk without taking a car, in the name of “green space.”

The BOV will take up the question of whether to proceed with the plan in December. Here’s hoping that enough data accompanies that discussion—like hotel vacancy rates and walkability options for visitors to the University—to set my mind at ease.

From the sublime to the picturesque

Virginia Historical Society’s Blog: What is a sublime landscape? What is a picturesque landscape? Where are they found in Virginia? Nice survey of 19th century painting conventions and landscapes, beginning with Jefferson’s assessment of Natural Bridge as “the most sublime of nature’s works … It is impossible for the emotions arising from the sublime to be felt beyond what they are here.”