Monday, November 28, 2016

My Little Book-Historical Connection to Alice's Restaurant

This book is my copy of the English edition of Ernst von Salomon's bestselling Fragebogen (The Questionnaire [1951]).

Von Salomon (1902-72) was a German right-wing extremist of the interwar years, implicated in several acts of political violence, including the assassination of German Prime Minister Walther Rathenau. Though he never gave up his extremist beliefs, he moved in heterodox arch-conservative circles and claimed that he never became a Nazi. He was nonetheless briefly imprisoned as one after the War. Several years after his release, he published his memoirs, for which he sarcastically employed the format of the lengthy questionnaire (Fragebogen) on past political activity that the Allied occupation forces used to implement their de-Nazification policy.

The translator is the World War II intelligence officer and novelist Constantine Fitzgibbon, who also produced the English version of the memoirs of Auschwitz Commandant Rudolf Höss. Ironically, his half-brother Louis Fitzgibbon became a noted Holocaust denier. 

The late Robert Wistrich was unsparing in his portrait of von Salomon as a typical "noble fascist" (as the German term has it): a violent extremist who had contributed to the death of German democracy and then claimed to have moral or practical qualms about the vulgar Nazis and their terror, yet profited from the regime and its backing, and after the war was unrepentant, drawing a false moral equivalence between Nazism and Allied occupation. The book, he said, "was a bitter, cynical personal testament, which exposed his utter indifference to questions of guilt and repentance."

The blurbs on the back cover, among my all-time favorites in this genre, are in the same spirit as Wistrich's sketch. (Hugh Trevor-Roper was the historian of Tudor-Stuart England who, while working as an intelligence officer in 1945, was tapped to write the account of The Last Days of Hitler [1947].)

I acquired this at Paul's Books, one of the great used bookstores in Madison, WI (I went to school with the kids and knew the late owner, as well as his widow, who maintained the store and always greeted me effusively whenever I returned in later years). I bought it because I was taking classes and doing research on Nazism. It turned out to command my interest for other reasons, as well.

It has to be one of the more unusual items in my library: because it is an "association copy," valued for the connection to the author or owner rather than for its intrinsic nature. In this case what makes the book unusual is not just the fact that it made its way from the northeast to the midwest, but the "Alice's Restaurant" connection. How it got to Paul's bookstore, I have no idea.

Alice's Restaurant

Many (particularly those who lived through or developed an affection for the era of the counterculture) will know this modern folk classic and the backstory. If not, the Massachustetts Cultural Council's "Mass Moments" explains:
[On November 28, 1965] 20-year-old Arlo Guthrie was convicted of littering in the Berkshire County town of Stockbridge, and the song "Alice's Restaurant Massacree" was born. The son of legendary musician Woody Guthrie, Arlo and a friend were spending Thanksgiving with Alice and Ray Brock at the couple's home in a former church. Alice asked the boys to take a load of trash to the town dump. When they arrived, they found that the dump was closed, so they threw the trash down a nearby hillside. Guthrie turned the story of their subsequent arrest and court appearance into a best-selling record.

The story of "Alice's Restaurant" begins and ends at a church in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. By the 1960s, the small, pine Gothic Revival building had lost its congregation. The Episcopal diocese put the building up for sale, and in 1964, Alice and Ray Brock purchased it. After a formal de-consecration ceremony, the young couple moved in.

The Brocks were a creative and charismatic pair who had been influenced by Jack Kerouac and other members of the Beat Generation. Ray was an architect and woodworker, Alice a painter and designer. Both worked at a private school in nearby Stockbridge. They transformed the former church into a quirky but welcoming place where their students and other young people could find refuge from "establishment pressures," especially the Vietnam War and the draft.

Ray and Alice served as surrogate parents for the young women and men who camped out, sometimes for weeks at a time, at the church. The neighbors were not happy about the arrangement. They viewed the Brocks and their guests as drug-using, long-haired hippies. Agitated residents honked their car horns and yelled as they drove past; they wrote letters to the editor protesting the presence in their community of what they called a "beatnik commune."

It was in this context that police officer Bill Obanhein reacted so strongly when the church group was implicated in the Thanksgiving trash dump. That evening, the Brocks received a call from Obanhein. He had spent "two very unpleasant hours" going through the debris until he found an envelope with the Brocks' name. Alice confirmed that Arlo and his friend were the culprits. Obanhein summoned the boys to the police station.

"Officer Obie" later admitted that he had no sympathy for longhaired, nonconformist teenagers, although he conceded that they were basically "good kids." He decided to give them a scare and make an example of them so that the town would have no more trouble with hippies. He arrested the pair and put them in a jail cell until a furious Alice Brock bailed them out. Two days later, they appeared before a blind judge and his Seeing Eye dog, who "viewed" Obanhein's photo evidence of the trash dumping and convicted the two young men of littering. He fined them $25 each and ordered them to clean up the trash.

After paying the fine and completing the cleanup, Arlo Guthrie began composing what would take up one entire side of his first album. Eventually 18 minutes long, "Alice's Restaurant Massacree" evolved slowly over the next two years. The first verses written recounted the events of Thanksgiving 1965. Later Arlo added lyrics critical of the Vietnam War. When Alice Brock opened a restaurant in Stockbridge in early 1969, the song found its refrain, "You can get anything you want at Alice's Restaurant." Then, finally, there was the draft. Called before his New York City draft board for a hearing on his fitness for military service, Arlo faced a final question: "Have you ever been arrested?" In the song, his conviction for littering saves Arlo Guthrie from the draft. In reality he was classified 1A, but his lottery number never came up.
I first learned of the incident when I was in middle school. We were having a sleepover at a friend's house, and when we got up the next morning, my friend's mother said, "Alice's Restaurant is on." Because her name was Alice, I at first thought she was just referring to her breakfast menu, but then she played the album in its final version with the Vietnam lyrics, and I made another step forward in my cultural literacy.

A Birthday in Massachusetts

Back to the book. The owner, whose rather conventional bookplate graces the inside cover, wrote a long inscription on the flyleaf, recounting bicycle travels in Massachusetts with friends, culminating in a birthday celebration at which several friends signed the volume.

The last two names are those of Ray and Alice Brock. Not a book I would ask my close friends to sign, and an odd circumstance for future hippies, perhaps, but such are the discreet charms of book history.


"51 things about Arlo Guthrie’s ‘Alice’s Restaurant’ on its 51st anniversary" (Boston Globe)

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Post-Thanksgiving Book History Post

What to do on that long Thanksgiving weekend after you've eaten your fill and watched too much TV? Turn to your books (or collections).

In this case, it's the ex libris, or bookplate: an interesting testimonial to evolving habits of book ownership, and since the late nineteenth century, a profitable and collectible small graphic genre (1, 2) in its own right.

This one was created by the Massachusetts Society of Mayflower Descendants (not my ancestors, God knows--though I do know more than one student who can claim membership in that elite club). Founded in 1896, the organization soon decided that it needed an ex libris to accompany donations it made.

An "American Letter" by Charles Dexter Allen of Hartford (Nov. 9, 1897) in the British Journal of the Ex Libris Society announced a competition:
The Society of Mayflower Descendants offers two prizes, one of fifty dollars and the other of twenty dollars, for a book-plate design. The plate is to be 4 1/2 by 3 inches, and the design in the centre should be 2 1/4 by 1 3/8 inches. Above this should be the title, "Society of Mayflower Descendants in Massachusetts," and at the bottom, "Presented by," with space for date and name of donor. The office of the Society is in the Tremont Building, Boston.
--Vol. 7 (1897): 178-79, quotation from 178
The following year, Allen reported on the winners. He began with an apology for his long silence:
So many months have gone by without a communication from the American correspondent, that I feel assured these present lines will be read as a decided novelty, and I am not certain that an introduction is not in order ! But really during the hot and hottest months there seemed little doing in matters of interest to book-plate collectors, though, in fact, discoveries were being made, new plates were being designed and engraved, and the ongo of matters was not wholly interrupted. But with the return of weather that makes one think of the fireside and indoor delights, correspondence is resumed and matters of general interest are passed about from one to another.
He reported on the creation of the smallest bookplate in the world (for a miniature book), and then, not bothering with a transition, launched into an update on the Mayflower contest:
Within a few months a competition for a bookplate was advertised by the Society of Mayflower Descendants in Massachusetts, and at a meeting held last March the first prize, fifty dollars, was awarded to Mr. Charles E. Heil, of Jamaica Plain, and the second, twenty dollars, to Mr. Theodore Brown Hapgood, jun., of Boston. At this meeting the sixty-eight designs submitted in competition were exhibited. The successful design has been printed in black with red capitals, and makes a very showy appearance. The lettering is good, and the pictorial design represents two Puritans, one in the layman's dress and one in the soldier's, standing by the sea-shore. At a little distance rides the Mayflower. Mr. Hapgood's design, printed wholly in black, represents the Puritan and his wife en route to church along the bleak shore, gun on shoulder, and clad in the sombre habiliments of the day. The old-style lettering and ornamentation are very pleasing, and one is impressed with the spirit of the design, which is in complete harmony with the picture and with the traditions the Mayflower Society endeavours to keep alive.
--Journal of the Ex Libris Society, 8 (1898): 171-72; here 172
Heil (1870-1950), a member of the newly founded Boston Society of Arts and Crafts (1897; today, the oldest such organization in the nation) came to be best known for his ornithological painting and has been called a second Audubon. Hapgood (1871-1938), by contrast, devoted more time to the world of book art, from binding design, title pages, and illustrations, to the ex libris (along the way finding time for ecclesiastical vestments and other artistic pursuits).

Below is Heil's winning design, from my small collection. The reddish ink has a metallic cast, which, viewed from some angles, causes it to reflect light. The back is gummed.

Reviewing a bookplate exhibition by the Boston Arts and Crafts Society at Copley Hall in 1899, the journal of the Berlin Ex-libris association called this piece "a very beautiful plate!"

I might quibble with that. Even aside from the generally retrograde aesthetic (the minimal nod to modish art nouveau taste in the left marginal column notwithstanding) and corresponding social-political doctrines, the highlighting of the key initial letters on the left is bizarrely violated by the awkward breaking of the word, "Descendants." It is jarring, conflicts with the supreme principle of legibility.

Still, I am very glad to have this historically significant piece in my collection. I don't have a copy of the second-place design, but one day ... who knows?

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Over the River and to Northampton? Did You Know Thanksgiving Poem Author Lived Here?

ICYMI: last month, I posted a short piece on Lydia Maria Child, best known as the author of "Over the River and Through the Wood." Less well known is the fact that she resided in our area as a member of a utopian and abolitionist community, a story preserved and told by the David Ruggles Center in Florence.

Read the rest.

Thanksgiving 2016: Link Dump and From the Vaults

I tend to post something about Thanksgiving every year, so, rather than writing up a long new piece, I'll just share some items in this week's news, along with links to older posts.

In the news:

• From the Library of Congress: Thanksgiving at the end of World War I, ranging from President Wilson's proclamation ("This year we have special and moving cause to be grateful and to rejoice. God has in His good pleasure given us peace.") to posters.

• From Tablet: Ed Simon, "Thanksgiving, the Pilgrims’ American Jewish Holiday: How the biblical narrative of Exodus helped shape the founders’ idea of a secular nation with liberty for all"

• From New England Historical Society: "New England’s First Thanksgiving – Maine Style:
New England’s first Thanksgiving celebrated by European colonists (the American Indians had harvest celebrations of their own long before) came in 1607 in Popham, Maine."

• From Business Insider: Jeremy Bender, "How Thanksgiving took the place of an awesome military celebration" [British evacuation of New York, 1783]

• From Smithsonian (2011): Lisa Bramen, "Thanksgiving in Literature: Holiday readings from Louisa May Alcott, Mark Twain, Philip Roth and contemporary novels that use Thanksgiving as the backdrop for family dysfunction"

• From Scientific American: Dana Hunter, "The Real Story of Plymouth Rock. Learn about the erratic past of one of America's most famous rocks" [history, mythology, geology]

• From Pilgrim Hall Museum: More Thanksgiving Recipes from America's Past (1671 through World War II) 

• And finally, since half of the seasonal articles about Thanksgiving present manifest untruths and distortions of history, while the other half take as their task the correction of these errors (in the process committing more of their own), former Chief Curator of Plimoth Plantation Jeremy Bangs offers, via History News Network (from 2005):

"The Truth About Thanksgiving Is that the Debunkers Are Wrong."

* * *

From the vaults:

• 2008 The Inevitable Thanksgiving Piece : focusing on food and fable as well as historiography: how the holiday came to assume its familiar form. Among my minor favorites are the mystery of the cranberry (pregnant insects?! wtf?) and Pilgrim drinking habits (a shot and a brew).

• 2009 Thanksgiving Day (Thanksgiving Again): brief piece with focus on historiography--contrasting historical approaches of the focus on material culture and the larger narrative (including the long-term consequences), exemplified by James and Patricia Deetz on the one hand and Nathaniel Philbrick, on the other (with links to a variety of topics, from the date of the holiday to presidential turkey pardons and the relation between poultry and dinosaurs).

• 2010 (a) The Annual Thanksgiving History Buffet: a smorgasbord of topics, starting with foodways (eels and sweet potato) and moving on to the conservative canards about Pilgrims, socialism, and capitalism.

• 2010 (b) Thanksgiving Miscellany: e.g. never rocked to the Turkey Gobbler's Ball? Here's your chance.

• 2010 (c) (I must have been on a roll that year): 13 December 1621: The "Fortune" Sails from Plymouth to England (and why the Pilgrims were neither "socialists" nor "capitalists")

• 2012: 22 December 1620: Pilgrims Land at Plymouth Rock (and post-Thanksgiving postprandial link dump)
• 2014 Post-Thanksgiving Digestif (cheers and fears): Emily Dickinson, historic beverages, the turkey industry, Black Friday and late capitalism


Sunday, November 20, 2016

18 November 1830: Death of Adam Weishaupt, founder of the Illuminati

On 18 November 1830, Adam Weishaupt (b. 1748), founder of the Illuminati, died, age 82. Rarely does the modest achievement of a man stand in such disproportion to his historical reputation: the Illuminati stand at the center of one of the world's most enduring conspiracy theories, stretching from the debates over the French Revolution to today's popular culture. (Look it up yourself: it will be a good exercise in information literacy, i.e. separating real historical knowledge from bullshit.)

What I am sharing here is the title page of a little treasure from my personal library: the second edition of the second volume of Weishaupt's Apology of Discontent and Dissatisfaction (1790) a rather tedious (by modern standards; the readers of the eighteenth century were made of hardier stuff) dialogue about religion, philosophy, social change, and the meaning of life: at 366 pages. The book is unbound and remains in its worn blue interim paper wrapper, as issued.

What makes it special to me is actually less the authorship (though that is important) than the ownership: the title page bears the signature of the Friedrich Christian, Hereditary Prince of Augustenborg, in Denmark. In 1791, he granted the great German poet Friedrich Schiller a three-year pension to support him during a period of ill health. Schiller expressed his gratitude by setting forth his evolving ideas about aesthetics in a series of letters to the Prince, which formed the basis for his influential philosophical treatise, On the Aesthetic Education of Mankind (periodical publication, 1795; book edition, 1801).

Friedrich Christian reigned as Duke of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Augustenburg from 1794 until his death in 1814. The stamp of the famous Fyens (=Funen) Diocesan Library of Odense appears on the title page and inside cover, and a manuscript note on the latter indicates the book passed to that institution in 1816.

Created in 1813, the library reflected the theological needs of the clergy but was dedicated to "maintaining the scientific spirit and increasing the sum of knowledge for anybody in the province who loves science." By the 1830s, the Citizen's Library operated out of the same building. In the course of the twentieth century, the collection was merged first with that of the Odense Central Library and then the Library of the University of Southern Denmark.

The theological volumes (3,000 out of the total collection of 30,000) passed to the Library of Fuller Theological Seminary in 1948. (This volume appears in the 1902 catalogue under the category of Christian Morality, subheading Mixed Moral Writings.)

* * *

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Veterans Day in Amherst

Veterans Day is one of those quiet but pleasant holidays in Amherst. Attendance at our modest commemoration is small: far lower than on Memorial Day, which entails a much larger celebration and occurs in generally more pleasant weather, as befits the de facto beginning of the summer vacation season.

Perhaps for that reason, it seems more intimate: not just that the group is smaller, but that it is composed of people who feel a personal or family connection to the holiday, especially veterans and their families. The attendees also seem more representative of the real diversity of Amherst.

A few photos from this year's event, which I attended with other Town officials, including fellow Select Board members Alisa Brewer and Doug Slaughter, Assistant Town Manager David Ziomek, Planning Director Christine Brestrup.

Rev. Anita Morris, chaplain for the Amherst Veterans of Foreign Wars, gives the invocation as Veterans' Agent Steve Connor (who organizes the event each year) holds down her papers in the breeze.

Select Board Chair Alisa Brewer offers greetings on behalf of the Town of Amherst

Victor A. Núñez Ortiz, Salvadoran immigrant, Iraq veteran, and Vice President and Chief Operation Officer of Veterans Advocacy Services.

Amherst native and veteran (Marines; Air Force Reserve) Charles Thompson
(service in the Iraq and Afghanistan theaters as well as Europe, Asia) delivers the keynote

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

November 11, 1920: Interment of the British Unknown Soldier

The mass slaughter of the Great War prompted contemporaries to find new ways to remember and mourn. The fact that many of the millions of fallen remained unidentified led to the suggestion one of their number be honored at a national commemorative site. The tombs of both the British and French Unknowns were dedicated on the anniversary of the Armistice in 1920, the former at Westminster Abbey (pointedly placing the commoner alongside the kings), the latter at the Arc de Triomphe. (The US Unknown was interred in Arlington Cemetery a year later.)

This card dates from the dedication of the British tomb.

The Christian symbolism so often associated with national memory is evident on the exterior, which seems to feature forget-me-nots and/or violas rather than the poppy, which acquired its iconic commemorative status (reproduced in silk) the following year.

Pictured at left of the interior is the Cenotaph (commemorating the war dead but containing no body) in Whitehall by Sir Edwin Luytens, dedicated on the same occasion. It replaced a temporary structure that he had designed for the Victory (Peace) Parade in 1919. The Poetry Library lists the poem among its "lost quotations," whose source remains to be identified.

The anniversary of the end of the war, originally called Armistice Day, became Remembrance Day (the closest Sunday to November 12; since 1945) in the Commonwealth and Veterans Day (1954) in the US.