Archive for the ‘ Obscure Historical Information ’ Category

Mercié

Marius Jean Antonin Mercié was a French sculptor and painter.  I doubt many people know of him, but if they don’t know of him, they may know of or have seen his work.

He has pieces in Paris and other parts of France, but he has works in the United States as well.

So, who was this guy, and why is he important today.

He entered the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris and studied under some of the greats.  He gained the Grand Prix de Rome at the age of 23 in 1868.  The prestigious scholarship dating back to 1663 and French King Louis XIV, allowed the student to live in Rome for five years at the expense of the state!

Mercié was quite the artist and a French hero and icon.  He received the Medal of Honour as well.

His most popular work in France is his Bronze David.  The Biblical hero and shepherd boy who would become King of Israel is shown nude, standing on the head of Goliath.

He later became Professor of Drawing and Sculpture at the École des Beaux-Arts, and was honored with membership in the Academie francaise in 1891.

The awards go on and on, I’ll not belabor his accolades.

In 1891, the statue he created along with Alexandre Falguiere of The Marquis de Lafayette was dedicated in Washington D.C.

Baltimore’s memorial to Francis Scott Key was the work of Mercie as well.

But, his most famous work is one that is at the center of controversy today.  His serene sculpture of Robert E. Lee on horseback towers 60 feet above Monument Avenue in Richmond, Virginia.  Mercie won the commission and to assure a realistic result, he was allowed access to Lee’s spurs, hat, boots, and death mask.

It was unveiled in front of a crowd of nearly 100,000 on May 29, 1890.

Robert Winthrop, a Richmond architect who is one of the authors of Richmond’s Monument Avenue, said, “The South lost the Civil War in a spectacular and total fashion.  A good portion of the women in Richmond were widows at the end of the war.  It was very much an effort to remember them (their husbands), to treat them as gallant men who fought for a cause.”

Winthrop went on to compare the Lee monument to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in DC.  The Vietnam Memorial went UP before the World War II Memorial.

Winthrop said, “When you lose, you need to put the memorial UP fast. Victors have the victory.  Vietnam was more tragic than World II, we fought a long war for no return, it is similar to the situation the South was in.”

The site was offered in 1886; many were opposed as it was outside the city limits of Richmond.  The $20,000 raised to pay for the land and the work came from across the nation.  Richmond annexed the land in 1892, and it was to be part of a grand real estate development.

Hard times delayed that and the Lee Monument stood alone in a tobacco field until development resumed for Richmond’s Grand Avenue in the early 1900s.

The statue, with exquisite detail and artistic value stands today a symbol of a city which is truly a Phoenix risen from the ashes and is the focal point of not only controversy, but one of the most beautiful streets in America.

Nothing New Under The Sun…

Seems this rioting thing in America is nothing new.

I remember watching riots on television when I was a kid; Watts in 66, Chicago in 68, the list goes on.

It was nothing new then and nothing new today.

We’re pretty good at it.

On August 16, 1841, His Accidency, President John Tyler vetoed a bill which was the second attempt to Congress to re-establish the Second Bank of the United States.

When the news broke, bank supporters gathered in front of the White House and burned Tyler in effigy.

Most of the protesters were members of Tyler’s own party; the Whigs.

They were at the time the dominant party in Congress but didn’t hold a clear majority.

The first federal bank was created by Alexander Hamilton and set in place by President Washington in 1791.  It provided a repository for federal funds and issued currency.

Jefferson, who opposed a national bank and felt it unconstitutional, worked with Congress to chip away at the bank’s power.

In 1811, James Madison and Congress let the bank’s charter expire.

In 1819, Monroe’s presidency implemented a second Bank of the United States.

Congresses down the line while Jackson and Van Buren were in the White House would re-charter the bank.

Jackson would deny them as well.

Tyler, a senator during Jackson’s presidency, condemned Jackson’s attempts to nullify the bank, and called it an abuse of executive power.

But as President in 1841, faced with an economy troubled with fluctuating currency values and bank fraud, did a complete 180 and betrayed his party!

Tyler declared the bank a threat to states’ rights.

When word of his veto got out, well, as historians like to say, “the shit hit the fan.”

Supporters of the bank in Congress stormed out of the Capitol in a rage and marched to the White House.

They threw rocks, shot guns in the air, and burned the POTUS in effigy.

Rumor has it there were torches.  Some say tiki-torches…

Considered the most violent demonstration in front of the White House, the event led to the creation of the District of Columbia’s own police department.

Yeah, we’re pretty good at this.

I’ll Say This…

I am at a loss for words when it comes to the violence in Charlottesville over the last few days.  Well, not so much a loss for words, as a loss for cohesive words, words that stick together in a chain and make sense and are elegant and pithy and memorable.

I want to write a rant of epic proportion, a diatribe of disdain, but I can’t.

So I’ll say this…

I abhor violence.

I abhor the idea of White-supremacy.

I abhor supremacy ideolegy regardless of the one claiming to be supreme.

I abhor Nazism.

What happened in Charlottesville was wrong, the neo-Nazi, White-Supremacist, and any other hate monger groups on the ground clearly don’t love America, don’t love freedom, and are beyond reprehensible.

We – as in every sane person in America – are appalled by what has happened there.

Knowing how I feel about this made me wonder what the three people at the center of the controversy would think about it.

I believe Lee would be appalled.

Jackson, a devoutly religious man, would be grieved.

And Paul Goodloe McIntire would be heart-broken.

Paul Goodloe McIntire was born in Charlottesville, Virginia in May of 1860.  The war that would tear the nation apart and bring Lee and Jackson eternal fame had not started.  More than four of his first five years were consumed with war.

He grew UP there, a real Virginia child, and attended the University of Virginia for one semester. He left because he “…had to make a living.”

In 1880, he moved to Chicago, became a coffee trader, amassed enormous wealth, and bought a seat on the Chicago Stock Exchange.

In 1901, he moved to New York where he bought a seat on the New York Stock Exchange.

In 1918, even more wealthy, he retired to his beloved Charlottesville.

He spent the next 34 years of his life giving his fortune away.

A generous philanthropist, he donated to the University of Virginia heavily.  Virginius Dabney, an historian claims McIntire gave $750,000 to UVA in ‘named’ gifts as well as anonymous gifts to the school and the city of Charlottesville.

His gift of $200,000 would be used to establish the McIntire School of Commerce at UVA in 1921.

Later he would endow the chair of the school of Fine Arts claiming an explicit goal of “…enriching the Charlottesville cultural experience.”

Jefferson’s original plans for the college included a Fine Arts faculty, McIntire’s gift of $155,000 in 1919 endowed the chair.

In a letter accompanying the money, he said he hoped “…the University will see its way clear to offer many lectures upon the subject of art and music, so that the people will appreciate more than ever before that the University belongs to them; and that it exists for them.”

The McIntire Department of Music and the McIntire Department of Art were named in his honor.

He went on to donate the funds for the McIntire Amphitheatre, at the time one of only seven outdoor Greek style theaters in the US.

In 1924 he gave $50,000 toward a new facility for the University Hospital.  In 1932 his gift of $75,000 allowed for the study of psychiatry and another $100,000 went to cancer research.

The same year he purchased Pantops’ Farm for $47,500 for the school.

He donated his rare book collection to the library.

He donated close to 500 works of art to the school’s museum, and he financed the George Rogers Clark Sculpture, The Thomas Jonathan Jackson Sculpture, the Robert Edward Lee Sculpture, and the Meriweather Lewis and William Clark Sculpture through the National Sculpture Society.

The four statues were donated as works of art for the beautification of the city and came with a donation of property for use as parks.

McIntire was so generous, by the time of his death he was struggling to get by on his $6,000 a year annuity.

McIntire died in 1952, the year I was born.

Yes, he would be heart-broken to see his lovely city of Charlottesville in the grips of turmoil.  We all should be.

A House Is Not A Home…

While looking for inspiration for today’s post I stumbled upon a story about Joseph Force Crater a judge who disappeared on August 6, 1930.

He’s never been found

While that is a story, right now it’s a story for another day.  I promise, I’ll get back to it.

In researching the story I again stumbled upon a character I found far more interesting.

The oldest of nine children, Polly Adler emigrated from Russia to America at the age of 12.  On the way, near the Polish border her journey was stalled by World War I.  Eventually she was able to travel on, but her parents were forced to stay.

Imagine 12 years old, alone, on your way to America.

When she arrived, she stayed with friends in Massachusetts.  She cleaned house, attended school, and at the age of 14 began working in a paper mill.

At 15, she headed to Brooklyn, settled with cousins, and looked for work.

Right here I could go on a tangent as to just how ashamed we should be that this type of life for a child is in our past, but I’ll refrain.  I think you know how I feel.

Polly worked as a seamstress at clothing sweatshops and on occasion attended school gaining enough education to “get by.”

At 19, she discovered the theater and “theater people.”  She moved in with a chorus girl.

Polly, a vivacious, outgoing, and charming girl attracted all kinds of people.  Good people and bad people.

Through the roommate she met a local bootlegger who offered to supplement her income if he and his girlfriend could use her place for assignations.

It was at this moment she became a madam.

Realizing there was money to be made and there was a way out of the sweatshops, she opened her first bordello in 1920.

Her backer and protector was Dutch Schultz, a mobster and associate of Lucky Luciano.

The bordello was in the Majestic at 215 West 75th Street and had been designed by Schwartz and Gross who designed apartments in Morningside Heights and 55 Central Park West, which you would know if you saw it;  it’s the Ghostbusters Building.

215 had hidden stairways, hallways, and escape routes.  It also had a slew of famous patrons:  Peter Arno, Desi Arnaz, George S. Kaufman, Dorothy Parker !!, Milton Berle, and Hizzonor, New York City Mayor Jimmy Walker.

Some believe that Judge Crater, mentioned at the beginning of this increasingly enthralling post, died at Polly’s Majestic Bordello.

Polly, believing that any press was good press, worked to attract publicity!  She dressed flamboyantly, made grand appearances at clubs while she was followed by her bevy of bordello beauties.

She also bribed anyone who would take it and offer protection.

In the 1930s, she was subpoenaed to appear as a witness in front of New York’s Hofstadter Committee.  Know as the Seabury investigations, it was a joint committee formed by the New York State Legislature which investigated corruption in New York City.

Polly, no patriot, and fearing for her life, headed to Florida where she hid out with “friends.”

After being ratted out by a terrified crook back UP in NY, she was taken into custody, hauled off to New York where she refused to give UP any names.

She retired from the bordello business in 1944.

At the age of 50 she went to college, wrote a bestselling book along with Virginia Faulkner.  It was called A House is Not a Home.

The book changed facts, ignored facts, and rearranged facts.

You might say, it was full of alternative facts.

Either way, it was a hit.

And it later became a movie starring Shelly Winters as Adler.

In the book and film, Adler is a poor Polish immigrant, works in a sweatshop, loses her job after her boss blames her when she’s is sexually assaulted by a co-worker, and moves in with a friend.

Her apartment is in a building owned by a gangster, he likes her friends, and he pays her to get them to go out with him.

One thing leads to another, and voila!, Polly is a madam.

Along the way, she meets Mr. Right, a musician who has no idea she’s running a whore house.  He fall in love with her, asks her to marry him, she confesses her profession telling him that she can’t drag him down, he says he can live with it, but she feels it’s for the best that they not see each other again.

The movie was bigger than the book and won an Oscar for Edith Head’s costumes.

It also produced a song we’ve all heard a million times.

A House is Not a Home was written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David, and has been recorded by Anita Kerr, Stevie Wonder, The Marbles, Dusty Springfield, Barbra Streisand, Ronald Isley, Luther Vandross,  Lynne Arriale, Aretha Franklin, Marcia Hines, the Steps, and Japanese reggae artists, Reggae Disco Rockers.

But it was first recorded by Dionne Warwick for the film, which is of course, my favorite version since Dionne Warkick’s self titled anthology was the first album I ever bought when I got my first ever stereo!

So, from there to here…enjoy Dionne’s version…

Polly died of cancer in California.  She left behind her mother, a brother, and supposedly a little black book…but just like Judge Crater, no one’s ever found it!

Happy Monday!