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rioters

A drawing from a British newspaper showing armed rioters clashing with Union Army soldiers in New York City.

The Writers Almanac taught me that during this week in 1863 the New York City Draft Riots began. I will admit to not even knowing such an event had occurred. It was the bloodiest riot in American history.

Hearing about these riots that happened more than 150 years, a lot of the details seemed much more modern, even contemporary.

The rioters were working-class white men against a new draft law put into place by President Lincoln. The draft was the visible reason for the riot, but there was more going on.

There is something about a long, hot summer that seems to feed riots.

The only riots I have ever experienced were the 1967 Newark, New Jersey riots. They happened this same time of summer (between July 12 and July 17). It was four days of rioting, looting, and destruction. It left 26 dead and hundreds injured.

The Newark riots took place in a time of police racial profiling, redlining, and lack of opportunity in education, training, and jobs. That sounds contemporary.

On that 1863 hot summer during the height of the Civil War, the richest New Yorkers were making money off the war. Poor people were poorer than usual. There was huge inflation.

A good number of working-class immigrant New Yorkers had signed up to serve in the Union Army. Unemployment was high. Workers kept going on strike, but the strikes were broken.

There were many “sensational” newspapers then and their stories heaped the blame for everything bad on Lincoln, black people, and the new Emancipation Proclamation. With the kinds of stories that always occur before war and revolution, newspapers warned working-class white people that black people would now be moving up from the South in huge numbers and stealing their jobs. They claimed that black men were breaking the strikes.

But the Union Army needed more soldiers. Congress authorized the nation’s first draft law, and on Saturday, July 11th, the lottery began, with a blindfolded clerk pulling names out of a hat.

But the wealthy had an out. For $300 you could buy your way out of the draft. In a time when the average New York City worker earned 85 cents per day, it was the 1% versus the 99% of its time.

A group of  firemen who were drafted decided to protest. They showed up at the draft office with their firetruck full of rocks and threw them through the office windows, burned the draft records, and attacked the officers who worked there. Thousands gathered around the firemen and mob mentality took over.

They pulled up railroad and streetcar tracks, knocked down telephone poles, cut telegraph lines, lit buildings on fire, targeted Lincoln supporters, abolitionists and attacked the offices of The New York Times and The New York Tribune. 

Most of all, the mob targeted African-Americans and their businesses and homes owned by blacks and places associated with them, including the Colored Orphan Asylum. At least 11 black men were murdered.

The Battle of Gettysburg had ended just 10 days before the riots began, and on July 15th, troops were hurried from Gettysburg to New York City to put down the rioting. About 6,000 federal troops were eventually there and the riot ended.

The official death toll was conservatively listed as 119. About 20% of  African-Americans left New York City for Brooklyn or beyond the boroughs because of the riots.

That long, hot summer of 1967 caught fire in Newark when two white Newark policemen arrested a black cabdriver. The cabbie was beaten by the officers and taken to the 4th Police Precinct where he was charged with assaulting the officers and making insulting remarks. Local residents saw the cabbie being dragged into the precinct. A rumor started that he had been killed while in police custody.

Actually the driver, John Smith, had been released in the custody of his lawyer. But police rushed out of their station wearing hard hats and carrying clubs and residents gathered there in protest began to throw bricks, bottles, and rocks. The protest moved to City Hall and after midnight false alarms caused fire engines to concentrate on an area along Belmont Avenue in one of the poorest areas of the city. Looters began smashing windows, and threw merchandise onto sidewalks and particularly looted liquor stores.

During this same period, rioting erupted in Plainfield, New Jersey, a city about 18 miles southwest of Newark, that also had a large African-American population and similar conditions.

The riots didn’t improve conditions in Newark, as the NYC riots didn’t stop the draft or improve conditions. The Newark riots began a deeper decline of Newark and its neighboring communities. In the remaining 1960s and continuing into the 1970s, businesses, industry and the white middle class left the city.

I noted that yesterday was the day in 1613 that Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre burned to the ground. It wasn’t arson. The thatched roof caught on fire after a theatrical cannon misfired during a production of Henry VIII. No one died, but the home of Shakespeare’s company, the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, was gone.

That’s history, but what felt more contemporary to me in that story is that after it was rebuilt in 1614, it was closed down in 1642. The Puritans closed all the theaters in London that year. I thought about that and the recent controversy over a production of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar in New York’s Central Park. Caesar was portrayed as a Donald Trump character and, of course he is assassinated by his own senators.

Thankfully, though there were protests, no one burned down the theater. But the media was afire with the topic. Some people pointed out that this updating of Caesar in portrayal without changing the play’s text is not new. Orson Welles did a famous production with Caesar as Hitler. A few years ago a production had a clearly Barack Obama lead and last year a Hillary Clinton female Caesar walked the stage in a white pantsuit and was assassinated. Those two productions didn’t get much media attention.

The Puritans were a Protestant religious faction and another kind of reformed, plain church, strict religious view. At the end of the Elizabethan era, this conservatism went beyond religion to many social activities within England. The Puritans hated theater.

That they were able to close all the theaters should be more shocking to us than it probably seems to most people today. Imagine if the government, pressured by a religion, was able to shut down the theaters for plays (and films?) today. Is it possible?

There is too much anger and ugliness in American politics today, but we still say we value freedom of speech and expression.

Sometimes it feels like our globe is on fire with wars, terrorism and tragedies manmade.

The Globe Theater was pulled down two years after it was closed. It was rebuilt much like its earlier incarnation (with concessions for current safety) more than 350 years later. It operates today and we are still seeing updated productions of Shakespeare’s plays that resonate with issues of the day. That is how it should be.

The Assassination of Julius Caesar

Vincenzo Camuccini (1771–1844) The Assassination of Julius Caesar

Apples – there are 7,500 varieties in an assortment of colors and tastes and textures. They are standard fruits in our stores and enter figuratively into our literature and culture. Thor and the other Asgardian gods relied on apples. They have been found in prehistoric graves and in the middens of bronze age settlements. The Greeks, Romans and Egyptians were all early cultivators. The Tudors had apple cultivators in their royal orchards.

What is the apple’s origin? Some might guess that they emerged from some Garden of Eden. Most scholars of the Bible agree that “apple” is a translation and other fruits or even just the generic “fruit” is closer to the original meaning. Very few people would say the origin is in Kazakhstan.

The plant is Malus sieversii. It is a wild apple, of which there are few left in the world. Kazakhstan is still pretty undeveloped but new development now threatens these wild apples with possible extinction. Not only building, but using the tree’s wood for that building is a threat.

 

The Turkish word for apple is “alma” and the fruit is strong in their culture. One of their biggest cities is named Almaty, and you will find apples abundant in their grocery stores and at roadside stands.

The range for  M. sieversii is sometimes known as an “Eden of Apples” and covers Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan,  Uzbekhistan (former Soviet republics) and a narrow area of China. Wild apples evolved in the “Fruit Forest” that once was a vast tract of land covering nearly all of what is now Eastern Europe and into Asia.

These wild apples, like most heirloom fruits and vegetables, aren’t what Americans want and find in their supermarkets. One clear difference. They are small, unlike the ones we tend to buy that have been bred to be big. In Turkish stores, they are sold fresh and often have leaves intact on their stems.

Traditionally, apples were used fresh, preserved and used for cider, and the “windfalls” (those that fall and are not eaten by humans) are common feed for pigs.

 

M. sierversii along with  M. sylvestris, another variety that is not very tasty and rarely eaten by anyone but deer, are probably the two varieties that started things off. More than 3,000 years ago, the European crab apple and the wild Kazakh apple were crossbred and led to the many varieties we know today.

 

 

applejack

A Scotsman in New Jersey back in 1780 named William Laird established America’s first distillery. He made an aged apple brandy that was called Applejack. It is still sold (as Laird’s Applejack), and as a born and bred New Jerseyan, I feel it an obligation to always have a bottle on hand.

I grew up in a home where there wasn’t a lot of booze. We had some beer in the summer (the Pabst, Schaefer, Rheingold, Piels and Budweiser of the NJ of that time), the odd whiskey sours for an “occasion,” but there was always brandy and schnapps. Brandy is distilled from many fruits. The fancier stuff  – French Cognac, Armagnac, Peruvian Pisco – comes from grapes, but my parents liked blackberry or peach brandy.  Laird’s sells an apple brandy (100 proof), while the Applejack is 35% apple brandy and 65% neutral spirits.

Schnapps also refers to fruit brandies, herbal liqueurs, infusions, and “flavored liqueurs.”  They are made by adding fruit syrups, spices, or flavorings to neutral grain spirits. We always had some peppermint schnapps on hand for “medicinal” purposes. That was a tradition my mother’s Austrian family brought with them. I still  keep a bottle in the house, just in case. “Schnapps” comes from the German word “schnappen“, which refers to the fact that the spirit or liquor drink is usually consumed in a quick slug from a small shot glass.

I heard about Laird’s Applejack in an undergraduate history class at Rutgers and bought my first bottle soon after.

When the Lairds established America’s first commercial distillery in the tiny community of Scobeyville, NJ, they obtained License #1 for a distillery in the state. Back then, Applejack was also imbibed in an unaged form dubbed Jersey Lightning. Laird released an official unaged Jersey Lightning in 2014.

The family tradition is even older. In 1698 Alexander Laird, a County Fife Scotsman, emigrated from Scotland to America with his sons Thomas and William. William settled in Monmouth County, New Jersey. William probably was making scotch back in the old country, but here he turned his skills to using the abundant apples of the New World.

Robert Laird was a Revolutionary War soldier serving under George Washington, and the Laird family supplied the troops with Applejack. Historical records show that, prior to 1760, George Washington wrote to the Laird family requesting their recipe for producing Applejack. The family gave it to him and entries appear in Washington’s diary regarding his production of “cyder spirits.”

lincoln-saloon-menu

I didn’t know that Abraham Lincoln had a “saloon” in New Salem, Illinois. His menu of 1833 shows Apple Brandy sold at 12 cents a half-pint. A half-pint would get you pretty mellow, so a night’s lodging would cost another 12-1/2 cents, and a meal was a hefty 25 cents.

An article in New Jersey Monthly gave some modern apple brandy drinks (Born to Run, Lincoln Park Swizzle, Ol ’55), but I say they have too many fancy ingredients (Aquavit, Framboise, Falernum, Peychauds) to seem like a real Jersey drink that honors the spirit’s traditions.

I have been known to move a Manhattan across the river by using some Applejack, and my wife likes a Jumping Jack (1.5 oz. Laird’s AppleJack, 1 oz. chilled espresso and .5 oz. cinnamon syrup). But most of the time the Applejack or brandy is either straight up or on the rocks just as it comes from the bottle, or, in winter, used in the hot toddies my Aunt Millie taught me to make. After all, traditions are traditions. And, yes, since I had to take a photo of the bottle, I did have some Applejack while I was typing this.

movie poster

World’s first film poster (1895) for L’Arroseur arrosé – Image by Marcellin Auzolle (1862-1942) – Source: moah.org, PD-US, Wikipedia

Auguste Lumière was born in 1862 in Besançon, France. Along with his brother, they played an important role in the early history of motion pictures. Their father had been a painter who moved to photography in its early days.

Auguste and his brother Louis had studied science in Lyon and had a business producing photographic plates.

In 1894, they read about Thomas Edison’s new Kinetoscope. That device was not a “movie” but a “peephole” machine that used illuminated strips of film to create the illusion of movement. The two brothers wanted to build a device to project film images to more than one person simultaneously.

In 1895, they patented what they called the cinématographe. It was pretty amazing. The machine was a camera, developer, and projector all in one device.

They filmed workers leaving their factory in Lyon and had a public screening in December. That screening had 10 films of about one minute each.

These were not fictional “story” films but, as with Edison’s earliest films, documentary clips of everyday life. The one that has received the most attention over the years is one that showed a train pulling into a station head-on. The story is that the audience screamed and that some jumped from their seats with the illusion that the train would come out the screen into the theater.

It is strange that both Thomas Edison and Auguste Lumière didn’t think that their motion picture developments could be moneymakers. Lumière said, “My invention can be exploited … as a scientific curiosity, but apart from that it has no commercial value whatsoever.” Great inventors. Not the greatest businessmen.

The Lumière brothers wouldn’t sell their camera to other filmmakers, such as countryman Georges Méliès. Méliès would go on to produce many highly creative and innovative films on his own. The novel The Invention of Hugo Cabret, and the 2011 film Hugo based on it directed and co-produced by Martin Scorsese, are tributes to the later life of Méliès.

The Lumière brothers cut off their role in motion pictures and moved on to experimentation with color photography. The Lumière company was a major producer of photographic products in Europe during the early 20th century  but the Lumière faded after they merged with Ilford.

sign-on-aol

Do you remember America Online (AOL)? If you were on the Internet in those early days, it is likely that you had an AOL account, Instant Messenger and email @aol.com. Even if you didn’t have an account, you probably heard that modem sound and the “You’ve got mail” message somewhere announcing that there was new mail in your Inbox.

In lives on in You’ve Got Mail, a 1998 romantic comedy directed by Nora Ephron and starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. It is about two people in an online romance who are unaware that they are real life business rivals.

Some people still have @aol.com email accounts, but I’ve heard that if you ever list that on a résumé, you just lost a job.

I definitely don’t miss modems and dial-up access to the Internet, but I feel a bit of nostalgia when I hear that AOL connection sound and the message. We had an AOL account in the late 1980s via AppleLink on my Apple IIe computer that had a 1250 baud modem as its connection to the Internet. Images used to appear line by line as they were downloaded. It was painful. And we were thrilled about being online.

How many of these floppy disks (and CDs) did you get in the mail?

AOL started as a company before email and chat in the 1980s under the name Control Video Corp. that sold a game downloading service for the Atari video game console. By 1985, they had reorganized as Quantum Computer Services and offered an online service named Q-Link. In 1989, they launched an instant messenger program with the “You’ve got mail” message under the America Online name.

In 2015, AOL (as they are now known) was acquired by Verizon Communications for $4.4 billion. The company owns and operates websites such as The Huffington Post, TechCrunch and Engadget, and also offers digital distribution of content, products, and services, to consumers, publishers, and advertisers.

Listen to the AOL logon sound and message.

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