Last year I had written about an opportunity to go behind the scenes to see some of the Smithsonian’s 9/11 collection. Link here. Our tour guide, who was a curator but did not collect for this particular event, briefly touched on the mental and emotional impact experienced by those brave souls who did curate the sites, working among the rescue workers in an attempt to make sense of the event and find a way for future historians to tell the story, while no one yet understood what exactly that story was.
We always remember the first responders, and rightly so, from the firefighters to the National Guard to the chaplain who died giving last rites to victims. As an historian and someone whose livelihood exists behind the scenes, I don’t want to forget the people who operated in realms not often considered, from the museum curator who couldn’t do her job to a trucker whose interview I heard on the radio last week. The trucker’s cargo was empty body bags, and he had to drive to New York to deliver them. Yikes.
“9/11 Living Memorial,” Jerusalem, Israel. Made from recovered steel
It’s hard to express this year’s feelings on today. Searching for pictures to use made me realize what an international event it was, even before the War on Terror began. It has become both more global and more individualized as I look at the pictures and see both large groups involved, whose individual members all have a story. The trick is not forgetting either the group or the person as this event has been seminal on both an individual and a global level.
Image Source: 9/11 Memorials around the world
To quote the Alan Jackson song, where were you when the world stopped turning, that September day?
Melbourne was supposed to be next, but today snuck up unexpectedly fast and I wanted to get some thoughts out On This Day.
I had the recent great fortune of going on a behind-the-scenes tour of some of the 9/11 section of the Smithsonian’s American History museum. The curator-tour-guide was talking about the curating challenges that this particular event presented and how they ended up focusing on the stories of the people involved – the victims, the responders, ordinary Americans. Anything too close to the ongoing(?) wars in Afghanistan and Iraq would tread dangerously political terrain far outside the Museum’s purview. One of the 9/11 curators, Peter Liebhold, wrote up something on the museum’s website about the challenges of curating for this event:
This week marks the one year anniversary of this blog! Hooray!! It’s been a great (and busy!) year and I’m looking forward to see what the next year brings.
It’s your birthday! Time to party!
The only time you’ll see George Washington and twerking in the same caption.
(…because I didn’t have time to draw a birthday themed Thing, you get a celebratory doodle from last year)
The boring part of this post is to say that it was originally formed in honor of George Washington’s birthday. His birthday (February 22) was first celebrated in 1880 and it became a national holiday around 1885, which was later moved to the 3rd Monday of February. And somewhere in there, somebody noticed Lincoln had a birthday around the same time, but technically the holiday is supposed to celebrate ALL Presidents, even the ones you didn’t like and/or didn’t vote for. (Cuz that’s the beautiful thing about Democracy inAction!)
The interesting part of this post actually made my nerd self really happy. I had to work today and I had to drive because the Metro was all jacked up this weekend. Siri must have been psychic or something, because instead of putting me on the highway on my side of the River, she had me drive into the city and get on the highway later. But first I had to take Independence Avenue around the Lincoln Memorial, and then I got to wave to the Washington Monument on one side an the Jefferson Memorial on the other. Three great men, greatly flawed and greatly misunderstood.
I thought it was a fitting tribute to Presidents’ Day. And then I got creeped out that Siri knew this and promptly missed my turn and got lost.
So. To celebrate this day, I’ll post a poem here from a book dad read to us as kids. The book was called “Did Molly Pitcher Say That?” by Ira Glackens and I think this Presidential Poem is superior to the Animaniacs Song if only because they omitted Cleveland’s non-consecutive terms:
Washington, Adams, Jefferson then
Madison, Monroe, and an Adams again
Jackson, Van Buren, Harrison died
The Whigs hated Tyler and cast him aside
Polk kept his promises, Taylor arrived
His lease on the White House was rather short lived.
Fillmore and Pierce were both duds and came next
Buchanan old fellow was sorely perplexed.
Abraham Lincoln through dark bore a light
Johnson stood firm when he knew he was right
Grant was a soldier who smoked quite a lot
Hayes loved Sound Money and Garfield was shot.
Arthur and Cleveland and Harrison run,
Then Cleveland comes back when we thought he was done.
McKinley was shot in a Prince Albert coat
Roosevelt came with a grin and a gloat
Taft was the cheerful one pleasant and stout
Wilson had dreams that would never pan out
Harding had friends you had better not know
Coolidge was cool and Hoover was slow
And Roosevelt had it four times in a row.
Truman was cocky which some do not like
Dwight Eisenhower was best known as Ike.
Kennedy slain in his prime and his flower
Lyndon B Johnson succeeded to power
Nixon’s career had an end unexpected
Ford became chief without being elected
Carter came beaming on foe and on friend
Reagan foretold a conservative trend
Bush was a twig not easy to bend…
… and then add Clinton, Bush again, and Obama. Apologies for the poor punctuation, this is a copy of a copy. More information on each person listed here. I was going to link every President to a page but that’s a lot of work. Go read up on a President you’ve never heard of! Who the heck was Millard Fillmore anyway?! Who had the shorter term: Garfield or Harrison? What is the irony that the first President born in the US was also the only President to not have English be his first language?? Go crazy!!
As mentioned in the previous post, Abner Rainbow, the fighter pilot who flew an astounding 105 missions over Europe, made it clear that he was just doing his job and looking out for the guy next to him, that no one was looking for Purple Hearts or special recognition, and that if we were in his position, we would do the same thing.
I sincerely hope that is the case.
One of my dance partners, who had breakfasted with Wild Bill and was thoroughly blown away by the older man’s stories, said that it was a different culture nowadays. One of us observed that now, the servicemen/women seem more concerned with how they can change the military to fit them than they used to be. It was probably me making the observation because the partner, an active duty serviceman, generally agreed although everyone he knows/works with are all good people.
Maybe this change happened because WW2 was much more urgent, that the fate of the whole of Western Civilization hung on the outcome, and that the current wars of recent memory have been much more abstract in nature? Maybe it’s because we, as a nation, are wealthier and have more material expectations from life, almost like a sense of entitlement? Maybe it’s just something that happened with no explanation?
- A majority of the people we interacted with were retired or active duty military.
- These events are militaristic. The people are really good at drills and precision. Like so. But they’re less serious than a real military thing. Which is fine with me. There is still plenty of “Yes, sir,” and “No, sir,” and they speak in current and past acronyms that start sounding like alphabet soup after too long.
- The community, although not without its politics, is fun – a very respectful group of nerds who get together and talk about the nuances of everything, from thread count in British canvas to why the assassination attempt on Hitler was really a good/bad idea in the long run.
- There’s also the cultural immersion aspect – the sliding scale of authenticity from women’s hairstyles to cutlery to music. And then there’s the sliding scale of authenticity adherence – are his knickers authentic or are they from a 6-pack of Fruit of the Loom from Wal-Mart? (Answer: depends on who you ask.)
- These people do it, more or less, to honor the guys who actually did it, and the most rewarding thing that could happen is for one of them to meet a veteran from a unit they’re portraying and to be told, “Good job.” Naturally, this means the focus tends to be on militaristic things – weapons, tanks/vehicles, strategy, the War Effort, Buy War Bonds, Save Scrap Metal, Uncle Sam Wants YOU. There is less emphasis on the really unpleasant bits. That is, there aren’t a lot of people dressing up like Holocaust victims/survivors. That’s just – no.
- This event was different than Civil War events. Although the CW happened so long ago that we’re now on Robert E Lee VI, the themes of government authority and race are still alive today. But WW2 – the technology and artifacts are much more current, but the themes of stopping a super-race and world domination, are largely irrelevant. (Genocide, on the other hand, is for another post.) It’s an interesting juxtaposition.
- And because I needed to share this: The British guys do a pretty convincing accent. When someone asked where they had learned to speak like that, they answered, “Rosetta Stone.” The little old British lady said, “Oh, I didn’t know they could teach you to have an accent.” (They explained themselves to her, don’t worry.)
Here, have a picture of a big metal tank-y thing.
And an old British car.