Tuesday, May 3, 2016

May 3: Polish Constitution Day

Constitution Day (Święto Konstytucji 3 Maja or Święto Narodowe Trzeciego Maja) marks the promulgation of the Polish Constitution in 1791, the first in modern Europe (that of the French Revolutionaries came into being only in September of that year). Banned by the communist regime, the holiday was once again officially recognized in 1990.

The Constitution remained in force only until a new Partition of Poland in 1793, but its influence was profound. Professor Marek Zebrowski summarizes:

The Enlightenment Era in Poland brought an economic revival as well flourishing of arts and literature. Writers such as Hugo Kołłątaj and Stanisław Staszic postulated far-reaching political and social reforms and laid the groundwork for the Polish Constitution. The process was officially launched in 1787, when Ignacy Potocki was selected to coordinate the project. A lively constitutional debate ensued and lasted almost four years. It pitted two camps against each other—the reformists who wanted to strengthen the government and extend voting rights beyond the landed gentry, and the powerful landowning class that was loath to relinquish their cherished privileges.
The successful vote for the 1791 Constitution was a result of a carefully planned surprise, practically tantamount to a constitutional coup d’état. Most of the Sejm’s deputies were on holiday and procedural calls for a quorum were ignored. Supporters of the Constitution occupied the chambers and the public gallery, and their overwhelming presence secured a passing vote. Since saving Poland’s uncertain future was paramount in the minds of its drafters, the new Constitution was a pragmatic mixture of progressive and conservative ideas. It called for a return of the hereditary monarchy and it restricted some privileges previously granted to religious minorities. On the other hand it abolished the liberum veto law, extended legal protection to a wider sector of Poland’s citizens, and restored the right of the monarch to nominate ministers that would be responsible to the Sejm. The progressive features of the 1791 Constitution, such as the habeas corpus provision that covered all property owners and a clear statement that all power emanates from the will of the people, were clearly rooted in sixteenth-century legislation and political theories of such reformists as Andrzej Frycz-Modrzewski (1503-1572) and Wawrzyniec Goślicki. . . .
The May 1791 Constitution was translated into French, German, and English and many prominent figures, including Thomas Paine and Edmund Burke, praised Poland’s progressive thinking and democratic spirit.
These objects and documents associated with the promulgation of the Constitution and the subsequent revolutionary upheavals are from the great Czartoryski Museum in Kraków. (Closed for extensive renovations for several years, it may reopen in 2018).


Extensive discussion and English translation of the Constitution from Wikipedia.

Monday, May 2, 2016

May 2: Polish Flag Day

Early Polish nationalists and the interwar republic celebrated May 3 as a national holiday, recalling the promulgation of the Constitution of 1791. The communist regime instead celebrated May 1, the international labor holiday, emphasizing class over nation. Although the former was restored to the calendar after the fall of communism, May 2 arose as a new holiday, mid-way between the two, in 2004.

The official Polish tourism website explains:
Polish national colours are one of the few in the world of heraldic origin. They derive from the colours of the coat of arms of the Kingdom of Poland and the coat of arms of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. In the Polish flag, the white symbolises the white of the Eagle, which features on the coat of arms of Poland, and the white of the Pursuer – a knight galloping on horseback, which features on the coat of arms of Lithuania. Both charges are on a red shield. On the flag, white is placed in the upper part and red in the lower because in Polish heraldry, the tincture of the charge has priority over the tincture of the field.

The red and white colours were first recognised as national colours on 3 May 1792, on the first anniversary of the signing of the Constitution of 3 May. They were officially adopted as the colours of the Polish State by the Sejm of the Kingdom of Poland in 1831 during the November Uprising. After Poland regained independence, the appearance of the Polish flag was confirmed by the Legislative Sejm on 1 August 1919.
Here, the British and Polish flags fly over a tent of the forces of the Polish Government-in-Exile in Scotland during World War II.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Liberty, Government, and the Press in One Sentence

In the course of working on a revised version of an older essay on the history of periodicals, I had occasion to consider what sorts of documents or objects might illustrate it, so I'll share a few here.

* * *

“Where liberty does not reign, it is fear that governs”

autograph sentiment, 1878, from journalist and publisher Émile de Girardin (1802-81), whose conservative La Presse (1836) introduced the penny newspaper to France. He later moved toward the center of the political spectrum, turning against Napoleon III and opposing the forces of reaction under the Third Republic.

Amherst Officials Reveal Design for New Roundabout

As any Amherst resident or commuter knows, the intersection of East Pleasant and Triangle Streets is one of the worst in town. It is a vital link between downtown, North Amherst, Main Street, and UMass, but at rush hours, cars attempting to make turns across oncoming traffic lead to long delays as frustrated drivers bide their time in line.  Solving the problem has been made more difficult by the unusual geometry of the intersection, whose streets do not meet at neat right angles.

The Town considered all possibilities, from least to most intrusive. Resignalization would not solve the problem, and adding new turn lanes was ruled out because that would take green space from beloved Kendrick Park on Pleasant Street and would now become more difficult on Triangle Street due to the presence of the much-maligned Kendrick Place by Archipelago Investments. That left the roundabout as the most practical option: the smallest footprint, the smoothest traffic flow, and the greatest safety for automobiles, cyclists, and pedestrians. Both the Public Works Committee and Select Board endorsed the proposal last month.

Doubts remain

However, the public harbors strong doubts and reservations, even above and beyond general objections to any change. Despite reams of studies proving the greater safety of roundabouts, residents, in emails and personal appearances before the Public Works Committee and Select Board, expressed fears about the fate of pedestrians--particularly the elderly--trying to negotiate the intersection. Other residents worried that intoxicated UMass students stumbling home to their dormitories would be injured or killed. Concerns only grew when Town officials said the raised crosswalks that some requested were not practicable. Indeed, the system of crossings and islands does look intimidating and confusing.

A bold solution

As a result, Town engineers and planners made an accelerated push to revise the design in a way that maintained the integrity of the basic plan while taking these public concerns into account. This week, they finally revealed the conceptual design (so-called 50% stage), shown here in computer-assisted renderings:

The head of the Department of Public Works explained,  "We think this really kills, well, not just two, but a whole bunch of birds, with one stone."

The bold plan reserves the streets for automobiles, while giving bicyclists and pedestrians a separate, elevated roundabout. And because neither level is any longer bound by the awkward geometry of the existing streets, access angles will be uniform. Another benefit is that the raised roundabout and access ramps eliminate the need to take any more green space for asphalt paving.

A final bonus would be the illumination of the roundabout at night. Beauty aside, the raised surface and extensive lighting would help UMass students to wend their way home safe and sound, alcoholic haze or not.

 "It's a win-win situation, he said." "The people spoke, we listened. That's why we call it 'Open government To the MAX.'"

Asked, "Don't you think this is out of scale with the surroundings?" "Will it work?" "Is it safe?" and "Isn't it too expensive?" he replied, "No. Yes. Yes. No."

Vox populi

Opinions heard from the public of course varied in the town "Where only the 'h' is silent."

The Public Art Commission was thrilled, calling it "a big kinetic sculpture."

A local developer, speaking off the record, called it "a major step forward." In fact, she said, it could be a model for the almost equally problematic North Amherst Center intersection, adding, however, that "it would be even better if we could let market forces rather than big government drive the project. These things are always better done with private funds (not mine, of course)."

A Hampshire College student said that he would now be inspired to design an intersection for his "Division III project" (senior thesis) next year.

A representative for the Chamber of Commerce said the roundabout would be like a beacon, showing that Amherst was no longer afraid of change. Meanwhile, a spokesperson for the Business Improvement District was already musing on ways to take advantage of the landmark: "West Springfield has "The Big E" [Eastern States Exposition]. Amherst could become the 'Big O.' Kids could decorate it for holidays. We could light it up in different colors like the Empire State Building whenever there's a holiday (or a terrorist bombing)."

However, negative comments were more common. One nearby resident called it "ghastly, like something out of 'The Jetsons.'" Another feared that all the UMass undergraduates residing at the nearby five-story Kendrick Place would attempt to throw or fire projectiles into the round target-like configuration. Another worried that the physical forces acting upon people traveling the circular route would cause cancer.

Meanwhile a representative of residents who live in neighborhoods declared: "This is what happens when you let the camel get his nose under the tent: first "The Refrigerator" and then 'The Cheese Wedge' [disparaging names for Boltwood Place and Kendrick Place, by Archipelago Investments], and now, this . . . this 'Cider Donut.' Yes, that's it." She continued, "I'm sure this is happening now because the anti-Town Meeting people won the referendum on creating a Charter Commission. This is why we need Town Meeting all the more."

Another member of the group added, "I live in a different part of town, but this is an affront to us all, completely out of keeping with the neighborhood character."

Her companion added,
I am just heartbroken and concerned for our future. It used to be so nice here, you know. We had that empty Chrysler dealership before they turned it into that noisy Bertucci's pizza restaurant. And where that awful Kendrick Place--that dormitory--now stands was a used furniture store in an old house, and then it became a vacant lot with bare soil and that rusty wire fence. We had historic rural charm and open space. You can never get that back.
However, yet another resident, while questioning the need to change the familiar intersection at all, did concede that it might have something to offer:
It offers a welcome relief from all the masculinist new architecture here in town, with those harsh angles and horrid tall walls, thrusting upward. Isn't it about time for something more nurturing, something we can embrace? And I like the idea of a circle because there's no front or back: it's democratic, egalitarian. Though there is that pole in the middle. I'm not too crazy about that. I find it threatening. They should fix that.
No matter which side people are on, the project isn't going to happen anytime soon, given that the funding is not available yet and the town has ruled out taking funding from other road projects. And so, the residents of Amherst will have plenty to ponder as they sit in their cars, stuck in traffic.

*Don't forget the dateline.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Easter Listening

Wishing all my friends who celebrate Easter a joyous holiday and weekend.

When we think of holiday music, most of us probably think first of Christmas rather than Easter, in part because the former was and still is deeply associated with other folk traditions of celebration, for which reason the Puritan settlers of New England--and their descendants for many generations--did not have much use for the holiday.

Still, Easter produced its share of great works, above and beyond Bach's great Passions and Easter Oratorio.

Here, a few selections from what I have been listening to this week.

Lutheran choral music from the transition of the Renaissance to the Baroque can, like even Bach's music, be an acquired taste--to the uninitiated, it may seem too understated and repetitive--but once one comes to understand it, it is a taste well worth acquiring. Heinrich Schütz (1585-1672), the greatest 17th-century German composer, born exactly a century before Bach, composed the Christmas and Easter Historias late (1660) and early (1623) in his career. Together, they constitute a drama in music, a miniature pendant to Händel's "Messiah," which likewise spans both holidays.

The Seven Last Words of Christ on the Cross, drawn from the Gospels, were a natural subject of musical composition for Holy Week. Schütz set the German texts to music in 1645. Here, and especially in the other works on this recording, such as the Magnificat, one clearly discerns the influence of his years in Venice.

Franz Josef Haydn's Seven Last Words, by contrast, was originally composed as a purely instrumental piece in 1786, though he later added a choral version, as well as settings for string quartet and piano.


Haydn, who created the work for a church in Cadíz, recounted the story of the commission to his biographer A. C. Dies (1, 2), but also published a brief explanation himself in the preface to a new edition of the work (1801):
Some fifteen years ago I was requested by a canon of Cádiz to compose instrumental music on the seven last words of Our Savior on the Cross. It was customary at the Cathedral of Cádiz to produce an oratorio every year during Lent, the effect of the performance being not a little enhanced by the following circumstances. The walls, windows, and pillars of the church were hung with black cloth, and only one large lamp hanging from the center of the roof broke the solemn darkness. At midday, the doors were closed and the ceremony began. After a short service the bishop ascended the pulpit, pronounced the first of the seven words (or sentences) and delivered a discourse thereon. This ended, he left the pulpit and fell to his knees before the altar. The interval was filled by music. The bishop then in like manner pronounced the second word, then the third, and so on, the orchestra following on the conclusion of each discourse. My composition was subject to these conditions, and it was no easy task to compose seven adagios lasting ten minutes each, and to succeed one another without fatiguing the listeners; indeed, I found it quite impossible to confine myself to the appointed limits. 
* * *
Finally, a leap into the modern symphonic literature. (I have my father to thank for introducing me to this one.) Unlike Schütz and Haydn, Josef Bohuslav Foerster (1859-1951) is little known beyond the circles of specialists, but he became a leading figure in the Czech musical generation that followed his mentors Smetana and Dvořák. Unlike their music, his did not make extensive use of Bohemian national idioms and was closer to that of his friend Gustav Mahler. Conductor Lance Friedel calls the Fourth Symphony, entitled, "Easter," Foerster's "masterpiece."

disc details
Foerster himself recounted the circumstances of its composition in his autobiography:
In Hamburg in the year 1904, seized by the spirit of Holy Week, I began writing my Fourth Symphony on Good Friday. I had no precise concept of the overall plan and was at first undecided whether to carry it through as a meditation on Good Friday.
As the first bars already indicate, I wanted to compose the work in a rich polyphonic vein. The first movement too shape very quickly, and I found that its tragic character and relatively slow tempo urgently demanded a strong contrast. My childhood years then came to my mind, especially my Easter vacations, which I was permitted to spend with my grandfather at Osenice.
The desired mood was thus produced. In the first movement, the Easter season as experienced by an adult; in the second, the same seen through the eyes of a child. There, the grief-laden path of the Saviour bearing his cross; here, the first verdure, the anemones and primroses, the spring breezes and shepherd's song. Then the slow movement, in praise of solitude and its magic; a prayer with two themes which ultimately flow together. The last movement, a fugue with three themes (of which the second is derived from a Gregorian chant), developing into a celebration of the Saviour's resurrection, the movement culminating in an exultant hymn, interrupted three times by our native chorale, On the Third Day was the Lord Arisen.
That excerpt comes from the liner notes to an old LP recording by Václav Smetáček with the Prague Symphony Orchestra (Nonesuch Records, 1972), but you can hear it here:


Palm Sunday Donkey again

I suddenly realized that, immersed in work, I had let Palm Sunday pass without again sharing a picture of one of my favorite types of religious folk art: the Palm Sunday donkey.

From the vaults, here's last year's post.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Schiller and Lotte: postcard commemorating a poetic marriage, 1905

Authors' marriages deserve to be a subject of study in their own right, if only because they tended to loom so large in the bourgeois literary histories and biographies of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

The German equivalent to the marriages of Percy Shelley and Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin or Nathaniel Hawthorne and Sophia Peabody is arguably that of Friedrich Schiller and Charlotte von Lengenfeld, often held up (and sentimentalized) as the ideal literary union and model of domesticity.

The third in a series of six postcards depicting the Schiller's life, issued on the centennial of his death in 1905, this one is entitled, "Own Home."
• At right, we see a portrait of "Friedrich Schiller, Professor of History in Jena 1789-1799."
 • At left, "Schiller's spouse Charlotte, née von Lengenfeld. Born 22 Nov. 1766, died 9 July 1826."
The center vignettes depict, respectively, the church in which they were married and their first house:
• Church in Wenigenjena*) Schiller married here 22 February 1790.
• Schiller-house in Bad Lauchstädt*) Betrothal in Lauchstädt 3 August 1789

*) after drawings by Schiller's spouse
It is of course indicative of the time and place that Charlotte is here generally referred to  only as Schiller's wife, and indeed, that the description of the wedding mentions only "Schiller" getting married. Times were indeed different.

Chronicle of a wedding

As for the wedding itself, Gero von Wilpert's Schiller-Chronik, issued in anticipation of the Schiller bicentennial (Stuttgart, 1958) provides a convenient summary of the big day:
February 22. Wedding day. Early with Charlotte and Karoline to Kahla, where the mother-in-law is picked up around 10-11; from there around 2 directly to Wenigenjena (arrival around 5), where around 5:30 the wedding quietly took place under the direction of the Kantian theologian Adjunct G. L. Schmid in the presence of only the mother- and brother-in-law, so as to foil all the attempted surprises on the part of students and professors. Following this, return to Jena, where the evening is spent in tea-drinking and conversation. _-- Frau von Lengenfeld gives the couple a space of their own, but it is not yet an independent household, and rather, just a few additional rented rooms, and they still take their midday meal with Frau Schramm, Lotte employs a maid, Schiller, a manservant. -- The mother-in-law stays another 8 days, Karoline approximately 5 weeks in Jena with Fräulein von Seegner. Apart from that a solitary life, closer association only with Prof. Paulus.

Undivided attention

Because the card dates from 1905 and was thus produced before the major change of 1907, it has no divided back in the fashion to which we are accustomed, i.e. space for the address at right and message at left. The reverse side informs the purchaser, "This side for the address only." People either sent cards without messages--the image alone serving as the greeting--or scrawled them on or around the illustration on the front, as best they could, for example, on this card celebrating Schiller's birthplace of Marbach am Neckar, from 1896:

If you're curious about the postal rates for the wedding card, they were even provided for the writer: "U S, Canada and Mexico 1 c. Foreign 2 c."

That the language is English and currency is American raises another issue: Although most of the Schiller anniversary cards were of course produced in Germany for Germans, not a few emanated from the United States. The publisher's imprint on this one reads, "A. Selige. Pub. Souv. Post Cards. St. Louis." Missouri was one of several centers of German settlement. The firm of Adolph Selige, active from 1900 to 1920, produced mainly cards on western or midwestern themes, so this one was intended for a more specialized audience, thanks to the large population of German immigrants or citizens of German origin. A useful reminder of the ever-evolving definitions of "American" identity and multicultural politics, among other things.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

21 February 1916: The Battle of Verdun Begins

This month's artifact of the moment:

A century ago began one of the fiercest battles of a war that has come to stand for unprecedented slaughter. When the fighting on the western front during the Great War changed from the anticipated war of movement to the unexpected war of position, military leaders on both sides in vain sought a way out of the stalemate.

Operation Judgment

As 1915 drew to a close, German Chief of Staff Erich von Falkenhayn presented a plan to the Kaiser:
The strain on France has reached breaking point--though it is certainly borne with the most remarkable devotion. If we succeed in opening the eyes of her people to the fact that in a military sense they have nothing more to hope for, that breaking point would be reached and England's best sword knocked out of her hand.

A massive assault against the right target would "compel the French to throw in every man they have. If they do so the forces of France will bleed to death."

That target was the fortified area around the Verdun, a city with great symbolic resonance in French history. An ancient Roman fortress, it also lent its name to the treaty that in 843 divided the empire of Charlemagne among his successors. The fall of the fortress during the French Revolutionary Wars in 1792 had exposed Paris to the threat of capture. By contrast, in 1870, it was the last fort to fall to the Germans in the Franco-Prussian War. Despite the presence of new outlying fortifications built in the wake of that defeat, it was weakly defended in 1916: the garrison was small, and its guns had been removed for use on other fronts.

The Germans assembled overwhelming force and began "Operation Gericht" (Judgment) on 21 February with a massive assault. In the words of John Keegan:
Among the 542 heavy guns were thirteen of the 420mm and seventeen of the 305mm howitzers that had devastated the Belgian forts eighteen months earlier, and to supply them and the medium artillery a stock of two and a half million shells had been accumulated. The whole of the French defensive zone on a front of eight miles--one German division and 150 guns to each mile--was to be deluged with preparatory fire, so that 'no line is to remain unbombarded, no possibilities of supply unmolested, nowhere should the enemy feel himself safe.' Falkenhayn's plan was brutally simple. The French, forced to fight in a crucial but narrowly constricted corner of the Western Front, would be compelled to feed reinforcements into a battle of attrition where the material circumstances so favored the Germans that defeat was inevitable. If the French gave up the struggle, they would lose Verdun; if they persisted, they would lose their army.
After early German gains, the French rallied to the defense, desperately resupplying the city via what became known as the "sacred road" (Voie sacrée) and subjecting the German attackers to devastating artillery fire. The fight thus ground on for nearly a year, bleeding both armies rather than merely the defenders. Combined casualty estimates for the two sides range from around 714,000 to 936,000. Finally, in late October, the French recaptured the key fortress of Douaumount, and by mid-December, they completed the counter-offensive.

To "The heroes, known and unknown, both dead and living"

In November, the municipal council of Verdun (meeting in Paris) ordered a medal struck to honor the heroic defenders. Each 37-mm bronze medal came in a small leather pouch stamped with the name of the city and holding a certificate.

The certificate, which depicted the medal and bore the hand-stamped seal of the city, read:
     The heroes, known and
unknown, both dead and living,
who have triumphed over the
barbarians' onslaught and im-
mortalised her nam[e] throughout
the world and for ages to come,
the Town of Verdun, inviolate
and standing on her ruins, dedi-
cates this medal in token of her

The obverse of 37-millimeter bronze medal designed by Émile Vernier (1852-1927) depicts a defiant Marianne (symbol of the Republic) wearing a military uniform and the new army helmet, one fist clenched in defiance, the other holding a sword, poised for the offensive. Around the rim is the watchword of the defenders, "They shall not pass."

The obverse depicts the Porte Chaussée of Verdun between palms, with the word "Verdun" above and the starting date of the battle, 21 February 1916, below.

This unofficial medal was eventually issued in a variety of forms and sizes for all who had fought in the Verdun sector, broadly defined, at any point during the war.

"sacrifices . . . made in a most promising cause"?

Falkenhayn summarized his achievements:
The enemy nowhere secured any permanent advantages; nowhere could he free himself from the German pressure.  On the other hand, the losses he sustained were very severe.  They were carefully noted and compared with our own which, unhappily, were not light.

The result was that the comparison worked out at something like two and a half to one: that is to say, for two Germans put out of action five Frenchmen had to shed their blood. But deplorable as were the German sacrifices, they were certainly made in a most promising cause.
History has begged to differ. Falkenhayn had to relinquish his position as Chief of Staff, replaced by Paul von Hindenburg, the hero of Tannenberg who would go on to become President of Germany under the Weimar Republic and reluctantly appoint Hitler as Chancellor. And that is not the end of the ironies. Among the French soldiers captured in the battle was a young Charles de Gaulle. His commander was Philippe Pétain, who achieved fame for his defense of Verdun. In 1940, following the fall of Dunkirk, they briefly served together in the war cabinet before becoming archenemies, as Pétain took the reins of the collaborationist Vichy regime, while de Gaulle led the Free French from London.

* * *
Source of quotations:  John Keegan, The First World War (NY: Vintage Books, 1998), 277-86

Friday, February 19, 2016

Japanese American Day of Remembrance, 2016 (and unintended consequences)

Serendipity is an interesting thing. As noted in last night's post, a Minneapolis paper just ran an editorial about plans to restore historic early nineteenth-century Fort Snelling. Stressing the opportunity that the site provided to teach residents about later history with relevance to the present, the article observed inter alia: "For example, the fort’s use as an intelligence training center for Japanese-American troops during World War II led to the state’s first sizable Japanese-American settlement." The situation was similar in neighboring Wisconsin where, for example, the capital city of Madison had only one Japanese-American family until the war. And here's another connection: after we moved from the Twin Cities area to Madison, I went to school with the daughter of one of the soldiers who had received his intelligence training at Fort Snelling.

Today is the anniversary of notorious Executive Order 9066 of 1942, which mandated the internment of not only Japanese enemy aliens but also Japanese-American citizens. Although, on what has become Japanese American Day of Remembrance, we rightly stress the injustice of that act, the Minneapolis news story reminds us that the wartime experience of the Japanese American population proved in the long run to be transformative in more ways than one.

This 1942 book epitomized the atmosphere that led to the internment order.

* * *

Past stories on the Interment and Japanese American Day of Remembrance.

Save the Fort: a textbook illustration of how historic preservation can link past and present

It was a distinctive sight: early nineteenth-century fortifications overlooking the Mississippi and Minnesota rivers on what was once the frontier. The greatest and most iconic remnant was the great Round Tower, said to be the oldest surviving building in Minnesota. It was moreover a sight I saw every week as a child, when my parents drove from suburban Bloomington to Saint Paul.

The Tower was so iconic in part because it was one of the few well-preserved parts of the original Fort. Added to and used continuously through World War II, the site deteriorated thereafter. Although designated a National Landmark, the Upper Post was, as I noted some years ago, placed on the list of "most endangered" historic sites in 2006.

There is a new call to restore and rehabilitate the Fort in time for its bicentennial in 2020, and the reasons are powerful. The editors of Minneapolis Star Tribune this week made a good case for this major effort and expenditure, citing, as I did several years ago, the striking range of historical episodes that the site witnessed, though these associations are unfortunately anything but common knowledge. It is logical for preservationists and public historians to concentrate on early history--the firsts--but if we do so at the expense of all that came afterward, we do both history and the present an injustice:
But representation of what came before and after the fort’s first decade would be added. There’s a rich story to tell: the long Dakota ties to the spot and the tragedy of the 1862 Dakota War; the fur trade of the 17th century; the fort’s significance to U.S. westward expansion; the presence of African-American slaves, including Dred Scott, and the contributions to two world wars. Attention would be paid to the fort’s role in diversifying Minnesota’s population, society CEO Stephen Elliott promises. For example, the fort’s use as an intelligence training center for Japanese-American troops during World War II led to the state’s first sizable Japanese-American settlement.

Telling more of Fort Snelling’s story should allow more people to see themselves in Minnesota’s past. That in turn should deepen their connection to this state and its future. The Legislature must act this year to make that vision a reality in time for the fort’s 2020 bicentennial. They shouldn’t let that chance slip away
This is exactly what historic preservation should be about.

What first prompted me to write about the Fort back in 2010 and 2011 was another childhood memory--or rather, a romantic legend. I had learned that Count Zeppelin made his first balloon ascent from Fort Snelling's Round Tower while serving as an observer with the Union troops during the Civil War. According to that scenario, he was hooked on aeronautics and the rest, as they say, is history. Or was it? Read on.

h.t. National Trust for Historic Preservation.