On October 20, 1880, just a couple weeks before the U.S. presidential election of that year, the New York newspaper Truth published a letter made up of two short paragraphs signed by James A. Garfield, the Republican candidate for president. Those two paragraphs could have been, as the paper wrote a few days later, Garfield’s “political death warrant.”
Addressed to one H.L. Morey, the letter concerned the immigration of Chinese laborers to America. “Individuals or companies have the right to buy labor when they can get it cheapest,” the letter read. “We have a treaty with the Chinese Government… I am not prepared to say that it should be abrogated until our great manufacturing and corporate interests are conserved in the matter of labor.”
More than 135 years later, that might sound reasonable enough. But in the 1880s, America was caught up in a cascade of nativism and anti-Chinese sentiment. To parts of the American populace—in particular, voters in California and other western states, where Chinese labor was seen as a threat to white workers—this was an outrage…
The 1880 election was going to be very close. It was the first election after the end of Reconstruction, and while the Republicans were still the party of Lincoln, they were divided among themselves. Garfield had been nominated at the longest Republican National Convention ever, after 36 rounds of balloting in which neither of the two leading candidates, Ulysses S. Grant and Senator James Blaine, was able to command a majority. Democrats controlled the South and much of the West. To win, Garfield would have to sweep the North and the West Coast…
The “Morey letter,” as it quickly came to be known, was a classic October surprise, an attack in the waning days of a campaign meant to land a death blow. But the letter also raised some pressing questions…
An all-too-true (and all too resonant) story of 19th Century fake news: “The Enduring Mystery of James A. Garfield’s Immigration Scandal.”
* Richard Brinsley Sheridan
As we double-check our sources, we might send eloquent birthday greetings to William Jennings Bryan; he was born on his date in 1860. An orator and politician from Nebraska, he was a dominant force in the populist wing of the Democratic Party, standing three times as the Party’s nominee for President (1896, 1900, and 1908). He served two terms as a member of the House of Representatives and was Secretary of State under President Woodrow Wilson (1913–1915, a position he resigned because of his pacifist position on World War I).
He was perhaps the best-known orator and lecturer of the era. A devout Christian, he attacked Darwinism and evolution, most famously at the Scopes (“Monkey”) Trial in 1925 in Tennessee; an ardent populist, he was an enemy of the banks and the gold standard (c.f., his famous “Cross of Gold” speech).
These are interesting times for the concrete industry. After the misery of the 2008 financial crisis, construction in America is back in rude health, albeit patchily. Texas, California, and Colorado are all “very hot,” attendees say, as places where new hotels and homes and offices are being built. Demand is so high in these states that concrete-pump manufacturers are apparently having trouble filling orders. Employees worry that with baby boomers retiring, there isn’t the skilled labor force in place to do the work.
But America’s public infrastructure is still a mess—rusting rebars and cracked freeways stand as miserable testaments to a lack of net investment. It’s a complex and cross-party problem, as James Surowiecki has described in The New Yorker. Republicans have shied away from big-government investment– though of course Trump paved his pathway to the White House with pledges to build roads, hospitals, and, of course, a “great great wall”– and the increasing need to get the nod from different government bodies makes it hard to pass policy. For politicians keen on publicity, grand plans for big new things are exciting. But the subsequent decades of maintenance are thankless and dull…
Georgina Voss reports from World of Concrete, the concrete and masonry industry’s massive trade gathering—a five-day show that attacts more than 60,000 attendees.
How the construction business and the politics of the moment are mixed for the pour: “Welcome to the SXSW of Concrete.”
* Günter Grass
As we wait for it to set, we might recall that it was on this date in 1845 that a method for manufacturing elastic (rubber) bands was patented in Britain by Stephen Perry and and Thomas Barnabas Daft of London (G.B. No. 13880/1845).
In the early 19th century, sailors had brought home items made by Central and South American natives from the sap of rubber trees, including footwear, garments and bottles. Around 1820, a Londoner named Thomas Hancock sliced up one of the bottles to create garters and waistbands. By 1843, he had secured patent rights from Charles Macintosh for vulcanized india rubber. (Vulcanization made rubber stable and retain its elasticity.) Stephen Perry, owner of Messrs Perry and Co,. patented the use of india rubber for use as springs in bands, belts, etc., and (with Daft) also the manufacture of elastic bands by slicing suitable sizes of vulcanized india rubber tube. The bands were lightly scented to mask the smell of the treated rubber.
EarthCam, The Andy Warhol Museum, and St. John Chrysostom Byzantine Catholic Church present a special Andy Warhol experience: “The Warhol Cams.”
* Andy Warhol
As we settle in, we might recall that it was on this date in 1941 that the National Gallery of Art was completed. It was officially “received” the following day by President Franklin Roosevelt from Paul Mellon, the son of Andrew Mellon, whose gift funded the construction and whose collection of Old masters constituted the core of the new museum’s collection. Now materially expanded, it remains open, free, to the public.
Dutch piano restorer Frank Bernouw has painstakingly restored a stunning Hupfeld Phonoliszt-Violina, a self-playing, multi-violin orchestrion that plays a variety of concertos quite beautifully, if not a bit mechanically. This unusual instrument was invented in 1907 by Ludwig Hupfeld AG and “dubbed the “8th wonder of the world”…
Three violins (each with only one active string) mounted vertically were played by a round rotating bow made of 1300 threads of horse hair, according to the program on the roll of perforated paper. The small bellows replaced the violin player’s fingers, pressing on the strings to obtain the necessary notes. The piano can be driven either unaccompanied or together with the violins. It controls 38 accompaniment keys with 12 high notes (one octave) in extension. The whole pneumatic systems are controlled by an electric engine of uninterrupted current.
* Victor Borge
As we reach for the rosin, we might send intricately-melodic birthday greetings to Baroque composer and multi-instrumentalist Georg Philipp Telemann; he was born on this date in 1681. Telemann was and still is one of the most prolific composers in history (at least in terms of surviving oeuvre) and was considered by his contemporaries to be one of the leading German composers of the time—he was compared favorably both to his friend Johann Sebastian Bach, who made Telemann the godfather and namesake of his son Carl Philipp Emanuel, and to George Frideric Handel, whom Telemann also knew personally. He remained at the forefront of all new musical tendencies and his music is an important link between the late Baroque and early Classical styles.
All you need is a ball and a wall.
The mantra of handball players everywhere is also a manifesto on the sport’s accessibility. A deceptively simple game with a steep learning curve, handball — in one form or another — has been played since at least the 15th century, when its earliest recorded occurrence (1437) has King James I of Scotland ordering the blocking of a cellar window that was interfering with his courtyard play.
In 1884 the rules for modern handball — in short, you hit a ball against a wall with your hand until your opponent fails to return it — were made official by Ireland’s Gaelic Athletic Association, and the rest is history…
The perfect game? “‘Tennis for savages’: A visual history of handball in America.”
* Mae West
As we revel in the “twack,” we might recall that it was on this date in 1915 that Wilbert “Uncle Robbie” Robinson, a career major league catcher who had become the manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers, decided to try to set a record of sorts by catching a baseball dropped from an airplane being flown 525 feet overhead. The team was in Daytona Beach, Florida for spring training and in the market for a publicity stunt; they settled on the idea of a world-record catch. And when all of his players demurred, Uncle Robbie agreed to do it.
The Dodgers recruited Ruth Law, an aviatrix in town to drop golf balls in another publicity stunt, to execute the “throw,” but at the suggestion of a member of her ground crew, Law substituted a grapefruit (from a mechanic’s lunch box) at the last minute and tossed that from her cockpit instead of the rawhide.
The grapefruit hit Robinson in the chest– and made such a mess that he thought he had lost his eye (because of the acid burn and the blood-like splatter that covered him). But he twigged to the gag when he saw his teammates burst out in laughter. Outfielder Casey Stengel, later a successful manager himself, claimed to have convinced Law to make the switch; but Law herself told the true story in a 1957 interview. From this point on Robinson referred to airplanes as “fruit flies.”
Wilbert Robinson was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1945.