Archive for the ‘Middle nineteenth century (1848-1861)’ Category

It contains more than 30,000,000 books.  It has more than 100,000,000 items from various collections.  Are you bilingual?  Good, this place has materials written in 460 different languages.  It houses invaluable music collections, including some of the first recorded sounds in existance.  It has one of the original Gutenberg Bibles.

Yep, the Library of Congress has just about anything you could want to read, watch, or listen to, and thousands of items swell the inventory every day.  In fact, a couple of weeks ago, it was announced that the Library of Congress had struck a deal with Twitter, allowing it to keep a digital record of Tweets.  Um…yay?  It spans four buildings, three of which are dedicated to our second, third, and fourth Presidents.

But in 1851, the Library didn’t have four buildings.  It had just one.  There were no Tweets.  And apparently, that building didn’t have a sprinkler system…or maybe it did, and it hadn’t been tested.  Regardless, on December 24, 1851, the Library of Congress caught fire.  Before the flames could be extinguished, more than 35,000 books had been destroyed.  By today’s standards, that’s a mighty small percentage of the total collection.  But 160 years ago, the Library contained just 55,000 books.

What makes the loss more painful to take is that much of Thomas Jefferson’s personal collection was among the charred remains.  If you recall, after the Library was burned for the first time (when the British sacked the capital during the War of 1812), Jefferson sold his books to the government to seed the new library.

Today, you can see what’s left of Jefferson’s collection somewhere on the Library of Congress’ 800+ miles of shelves (a few are shown above).  And I bet if you look up at the ceiling, you’ll see a bunch of sprinkler heads.

I may be back this evening, but if not, have a safe, wonderful Christmas Eve.

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“For Eliza Hamilton, the collapse of her world was total, overwhelming, and remorseless.  Within three years, she had had to cope with four close deaths:  her eldest son, her sister Peggy, her mother, and her husband, not to mention the mental breakdown of her eldest daughter.”

So begins the epilogue to Ron Chernow’s sweeping and masterful biography of Alexander Hamilton.  The first five years of the 19th century were hard for the wife of our nation’s first Treasury Secretary.  But her life was far from over, and the strength she displayed after the sudden death of Alexander more than matched that of her first forty-seven years.

She worked hard to preserve her husband’s legacy, particularly as the Federalist party faded from prominence and then disappeared altogether in the 1820s.  She gathered his notes and questioned his contemporaries extensively in an effort to keep his achievements alive.  When no one stepped forward to write a biography, she tapped her son John Church Hamilton to perform the arduous task.

She possessed a deep well of forgiveness for her husband’s disastrous affair with Maria Reynolds, but much less so for James Monroe, whom she blamed for leaking the story.  Thirty years after the fact, the former President paid her a visit, hoping that time had taken away the sting of her hurts.  Her cool response was, “Mr. Monroe, if you have come to tell me that you repent, that you are sorry, very sorry, for the misrepresentations and the slanders and the stories you circulated against my dear husband, if you have come to say this, I understand it.  But otherwise, no lapse of time, no nearness to the grave, makes any difference.”

But this devoutly religious widow did more than protect Alexander’s legacy.  She spent much time serving orphans and widows herself, cofounding (in 1806) the first private orphanage in New York, where for many years she was one of its directors.  She worked tirelessly to keep the orphanage funded and keep the financial records straight (a talent she may have learned from Alexander?).

Much of this good work was done while she had little means of support herself.  Alexander had died with a sizeable debt, which flew in the face of Anti-federalist accusations that he “stole from the government coffers” and had secret British-funded bank accounts.  In fact, as a veteran of the Revolution, Alexander Hamilton had refused not only the pension to which he was entitled as an officer, but also the parcels of land promised to officers.  He did this because, as a member of Congress, he wanted no one to accuse him of bias when he addressed the issue of veterans’ compensation.  Following his death, Eliza had received these allocations from President Madison as back payments.

She finally left the Grange and settled with her now-widowed daughter in Washington, D.C.  At 91, she still remained lucid and full of life.  She worked with Dolley Madison to raise money for construction of the Washington Monument, and enjoyed the company of many who stopped at her parlor to marvel at one of the last remaining witnesses to the American Revolution.

She kept her wits until the end, along with her strong faith and her love and devotion to Alexander.  And on November 9, 1854, this 97-year old wonder entered her eternal rest, as the nation her husband worked so hard to bring together catapulted itself toward fracture and destruction.

Eliza was laid to rest next to Alexander, who had departed more than a half century before.

Recommended Reading: Alexander Hamilton

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As an Iowa resident, I’m supposed to be making jokes about Minnesota, not celebrating her.  Maybe it’s just a Midwest thing, but Iowans make fun of Minnesota and Minnesotans are quick to return the favor.  But today is the day we put all ribbing aside to bake a cake in honor of the “Land of 10,000 Lakes”, because on May 11, 1858, Minnesota was admitted to the Union as its 32nd State.

I’ve visited the state a bundle of times, and it’s beautiful.  The trees are abundant, the lakes are wonderful, and the mosquitoes are Texas-sized.  It’s really a great place, though I wouldn’t want to live there…Iowa winters are bad enough.  My trips have usually been to the Twin Cities area (Minneapolis/St. Paul), where more than half of the state’s 5+ million residents (and some really good friends of mine) live.  The people are friendly (contrary to the jokes we make), intelligent (contrary to the jokes we make), and progressive (contrary to the jokes we make).

Minnesota is also known for lots of stuff.  It’s the home of the Mississippi River.  It’s home to the Mall of America, which I’ve visited a few times.  During one visit, I got roped into riding the log-ride at Camp Snoopy, and then enjoyed walking the mall soaking wet for the next two hours.  Yeah, that was brilliant on my part.  It’s home to musicians like Bob Dylan and Prince, actors like the late Eddie Albert and Winona Ryder, and TV personalities like Craig Kilborn, who put Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show” on the map in the late 90’s.  There is also Garrison Keillor’s “A Prairie Home Companion“, which our family listened to every Saturday night for years.  The Chatterbox Cafe (where Dorothy presides), Bertha’s Kitty Boutique (for people who care about cats), and Powdermilk Biscuits all brought a taste of Minnesota language, culture, and humor to our house.

Periodically, I would pack my computer up and drive up to White Bear Lake for the weekend.  A bunch of guys would meet at a hotel or apartment complex, we’d network our machines together, and play computer games (mostly flight simulators) for the weekend.  Terry, Chad, William, Bert…if any of you guys are reading this, that was GREAT fun!!!

But my favorite Minnesota thing is, without question, Mystery Science Theater 3000…only the greatest TV show ever.  Owned by Best Brains, Inc., it was produced in Hopkins, MN…the home of one of my best friends from college.

Happy Birthday, Minnesota!!

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