Archive for December, 2016

Ring in the Old (On the Virtues of the “Obsolescent”)

Posted in AMERICANA, CULTURE & POLITICS with tags , on December 31, 2016 by travsd


During this festival of renewal, from deep within a nation a city predicated on change, a post on the virtues of preservation.

I read Matthew Arnold’s Culture and Anarchy a few years back; I can’t imagine that it didn’t help provide the organizational framework upon which I now hang these several long-held ideas. The crux of it is this. America is all about the clean slate, the reinvention, In America, we will sometimes embark on projects to remake ourselves quite heedlessly disposing of the “outmoded” with scant contemplation of the possibility of its retaining or regaining any useful value in the future. In this sense, even our conservatives are not conservative. By contrast, Britain, also a capitalist country, has other social structures which can ameliorate some of progress’s more drastic effects. Often in America we regard conservatism (in the sense of cultural resistance to change) as an unmitigated bad . In our history, there have been occasions when we have regarded many major structures and institutions as expendable. Nothing is sacrosanct. So we tear things down to make way for newer, improved things. But our mania for efficiency and our fetish for the new often leads to a kind of tunnel vision, blinding us to virtues of the old structure that has been superseded. Then years or even decades later, as we are now seeing in the 21st century, a new perspective allows us to appreciate the value of what has been destroyed and we begin to wish that it had been retained, especially in light of the fact that the costs of re-creating them are now painful or prohibitive. Ironically the Gods of cost effectiveness and efficiency resulted in losses.  Here are some specific examples, few of which should surprise our readers.



As I argued in No Applause, vaudeville wasn’t just a style or form of entertainment, it was an infrastructure. To performers, if offered entry level opportunities, training and employment. During the transitional period when it was phased out, it provided movie studios with highly seasoned actors, and performers for live entertainment prologues to film screenings. Abandoning vaudeville meant trusting to luck for talent, and from an audience perspective I’m the first to admit, it has worked out just fine. I am the first to celebrate the fact that contemporary entertainment is in a sort of new Golden Age. What I would argue is that here is a case where the movie studios and tv networks, as well as performers, are missing out. For a short time in the ’90s NBC operated a venue out of HERE Arts Center called PSNBC where they auditioned and showcased potential talent. That’s sort of what I’m talking about. What if movie studios and tv studios operated their own chains of comedy clubs, improv schools & clubs, cabarets and so forth? Sure, with a bar and restaurant attached. It’s a simultaneous revenue stream, marketing for products, and talent development/ recruitment workshop. That’s what vaudeville was, and vaudeville was good. Don’t give me “it wouldn’t work” — I’ll smash your head with a brick.


Similarly, I think the WHOLESALE abandonment of silent film by Hollywood was short-sighted, especially where comedy is concerned. Not just because “of course I do”, but for real reasons which I outlined in Chain of Fools. It would be foolish and weird to argue that all films ought to be silent or even that films should be COMPLETELY silent (sound effects and music have always been part of the package). But SOME stories are best told with little or no dialogue, and genres like comedy clowning and horror can be particularly effective told that way. It is a valid artistic choice to tell a story without spoken dialogue. By abandoning it 100% , the option was lost to make that choice. Because several generations of audiences have gone without seeing silent films, it has become risky and rare for them to be made. There is no inherent, logical reason for this to be so.


Here is one place where the British were wiser. In the US, network radio drama and comedy died in the 1950s when television came in. But just like silent film, audio theatre is a legitimate form. Television doesn’t replace radio, although here in the US it certainly displaced it. Whereas, the BBC never stopped presenting it, and it’s always had an audience. Now, thanks to the internet, it’s coming back in America thanks to streaming audio and podcast, proving that it has always been efficacious. But think of all the wasted time, and all the lost opportunity for writers and performers and other professionals. There was never a reason to kill it.



The abandonment of passenger dirigible service was merely a failure of nerve in the wake of some high-profile disasters. Hydrogen proved dangerous as a lighter-than-air medium, but helium is much less so, and it is used for that purpose by industry to this day. The public remains prejudiced but I think what has been lost is a majestic, charming form of luxury travel, mixing elements of cruise ships with the thrill of flight. Its purpose would be strictly for leisure and tourism, not for getting anyplace in a hurry. Today I think there is a fear in investing in it, so it can’t be “re-started”. This wouldn’t have been the case it had never have been abandoned in the first place.


The rest of the world continues to have it over the US here, at least since the 1950s when America started to abandon train and trolley travel, and devoted its focus to the independence (and voracious consumption) of the automobile. Except for a handful of of key rail routes, most existing train and trolley tracks were abandoned, neglected, torn up. Investment was made in highways. A lot of the public transportation slack was picked up by buses, which are frankly a miserable, uncomfortable, and slow way to travel, in addition to the toll on the environment. Realizing this, in recent years some cities have been reinvesting in “light rail” again. And in so many cases that has meant having to lay track again — an unthinkable stupidity considering this country already had that infrastructure in place. It was short-sighted and self-destructive, I think to place all of our chips on cars, trucks and buses.



Am I right? Who knew Brooklyn would come back, even better than ever? People in Brooklyn, that’s who! Moving the Dodgers to LA must have looked like the future in 1957. But in 2016, when we have both the Nets and the Islanders here, as well as our AAA team the Brooklyn Cyclones, tearing down Ebbets Field seems like blind madness. Flatbush could use a stadium right now, eh? I’m guessing it all seems too cost-prohibitive to start from scratch again, but I just know you’d sell those seats in the Brooklyn of today. Never shoulda left in the first place.



One of the great architectural sins of all time, taking the wrecking ball to that beautiful old station in 1965. Today there are plans to rectify the sin by placing the new station under the majestic post office across the street, and naming it after Senator Moynihan, whose dream it was. But it would have been “cheaper to keep her” in the first place.


Again, in the mid to late 20th century, when many of the Broadway houses became porn theatres, crack dens, or simply condemned buildings, it made business sense, one supposes, to tear many of them down. Who knew that Times Square could be turned around, and a theatre economy would return? All it took was leadership and will. Today there is sufficient demand for more shows in that neighborhood, but building new theatre space (there) is cost-prohibitive. If only they hadn’t razed the architectural jewels that were already there!


Ha ha, yes, THAT’S how old-fashioned I am. Besides the works of Shakespeare, it’s the finest work of art in the English language (with Milton coming in third), but most modern churches have stopped drawing from it, preferring to rely on modern translation. The result, I am convinced, is a grossly impoverished culture, at least among the 83% of Americans who profess to have something to do with Christianity. My point has less to do with religion than with language — and the thought processes that go with it — by the way. Lincoln thought like a poet; modern presidents think like economists. It’s a question of what sort of culture you want to have, and I prefer the soul of Lincoln to the soullessness of modern politicians.



A small example, a sort of Richard Scary example, but not an absurd one. Fireboats were a familiar tool of the FDNY back in the days when New York was much more of a harbor town, full of wooden docks, warehouses, crates and cargo. This changed towards the end of the last century, and the fireboats were almost completely phased out BUT….one proved its efficacy on September 11, 2001, when the water became a crucial means of getting to the devastated World Trade Center. The fireboat John J. Harvey proved her usefulness that day. And while we’re at it, so did ALL of New York’s fire stations. We keep these facilities operating for emergencies. By definition, emergencies  don’t occur every day. But they do occur. Close them down at your peril, bean counters, but more importantly at OURS!


Starting in the 1970s, the development trend began to be about building shopping malls on the outskirts of towns, near freeways, which put stores in historic town centers out of business. And this has never really changed. This is strictly anecdotal, but my experience, almost universally, of towns in New England and upstate New York is one of boarded up windows and “for rent” signs on stores in the formerly beautiful downtowns, with all of the shopping done at malls that everyone has to drive to. And when I’ve traveled to other parts of America I have found the same thing. The downtowns have beauty and character and convenience and tourism potential. The malls are eyesores and identical throughout the nation and the world. They are like a cultural cancer. I wouldn’t shed a tear if every last one of them vanished off the face of the earth!




It is apparently a source of frustration to some Americans, this “gridlock” and compromise which are the core of our system of government. It’s so hard to get things done! That’s how Fascists felt as well. Outmoded! A thing of the past! How much more efficient if just one man can just tell everyone what to do! Well, you have your wish, America. I hope you enjoy your civics lesson. Too bad you didn’t listen better in the fifth grade.

New Year’s Eve in the Movies

Posted in Hollywood (History), Movies, Movies (Contemporary), New Year's Eve with tags , on December 31, 2016 by travsd

In honor of the day, some favorite movies featuring New Year’s Eve scenes. This holiday is often used to mark extreme or catastrophic change in the life of the characters or their environment — a theme for us to contemplate this year in particular when the clock strikes midnight.

the gold rush_new year's eve

The Gold Rush (1925)

Shame on you if you don’t know this movie or this scene. Led on by the supercilious dance hall girl Georgia (Georgia Hale) lone prospector Charlie Chaplin prepares for what he thinks will be a delightful New Year’s party with Georgia and a few friends. He sleeps and dreams a magical time, but awakens to find himself alone and stood up. Warning: don’t watch if you’re alone and depressed!


Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933)

Something about the early Technicolor adds to the eeriness of this, one of the creepiest of classic studio era horror films. The opening scenes depict feisty girl reporter Glenda Farrell making her way through the crowded New York City streets on New Year’s Eve, clogged with carnivalesque revelers. Holidays are always interesting in older films — what people wear, the different ways they celebrated. Farrell’s journey will lead her to a corpse, and eventually to mad wax sculptor Lionel Atwill. 


Every Day’s a Holiday (1937)

Mae West loved to celebrate the period of her early childhood, the gay ’90s, in her films.  Something about the era symbolized relative freedom to her, I think: saloons and bawdy houses and crooked politicians. That’s the milieu of her last true starring film Every Day’s a Holiday, set in Tammany era NYC, with crucial scenes taking place on New Year’s Eve 1900 — just when the city and nation were poised to go from horses and buggies to automobiles.


Sunset Boulevard (1950)

One of the most touching scenes in Billy Wilder’s masterpiece has William Holden briefly escaping from the virtual tomb he has been inhabiting with former silent star Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson) to the relative joy and vitality of a proper New Year’s Eve party at a friend’s house, full of youth and music, and a much more appropriate girlfriend. The moment is a poignant blip, a last chance, a fleeting glimpse into a happy life he’ll never get to have.


The Poseidon Adventure (1972)

At age seven this was my introduction to New Years’s Eve, the first place I heard “Auld Lang Syne”, witnessed a countdown to midnight, saw grownups with noise-makers and party hats. It’s part of the mysterious magic of this film (which is still one of my favorites) that the moment of disaster strikes just at midnight: it’s a new year and everything turns upside down. Celebration turns to tragedy in the blink of an eye. It’s part of the peculiar dream logic and symbolism of movies, and it works extraordinarily well.


Jaws the Revenge (1987)

This is  a most entertainingly terrible movie which has only recently become a new classic around my house. (I never bothered with it when it came out.) It’s predicated on the concept that now-deceased Amity Island Police Chief Brody’s wife Ellen’s most irrational fears are TRUE — that a sentient, malevolent, psychic shark has designs on her family for some reason, and that you get killed every time you are crazy enough to go into the water. That her son managed to become a MARINE BIOLOGIST given such a family dynamic is one of the film’s countless delightful head-scratchers. Lorraine Gary is the film’s star, Roy Scheider having long since decided he had far better things to do. At any rate, the film starts around Christmas (her other son is killed by a shark while people on shore sing Christmas carols), and so the family travels to the Bahamas to forget it all (wouldn’t you choose someplace far INLAND?) At any rate, the New Year’s Eve scene in this film is memorable for being one of tent pole WTF moments, where you go…”H’m, we seem to have lost the narrative thread here.” As Gary and Michael Caine dance and romance each other and talk, and various other characters move around the party and talk, and you’re like, “Wasn’t this supposed to be a thing about sharks?” Oh, but it will be, for Bruce the Shark soon swims the thousand or more miles to the Bahamas from New England just to have another go at this particular family. New Year, same old killer shark!


Boogie Nights (1997)

Much like Mae West’s Every Day’s a Holiday, P.T. Anderson’s porn-industry portrait features a scene on a historically significant New Year’s Eve, in this case not a century demarcation but an important change of decades. The coming of the ’80s (and home video) will mean the end of porn theatres, and the end of the time when the industry had some claims to professionalism. Soon any amateur could grab a video camera and make their own porn and the industry would be glutted. The death of the old era is symbolized by a tragedy at the party — but I won’t spoil it, in the unlikely event you’ve not seen this terrific movie.


New Year’s Eve (2011)

Let’s get one thing straight: New Year’s Eve is a nearly unwatchable trough of expensive garbage. You can just hear Garry Marshall saying, “Ya like good lookin’ young people? I’ll give ya 28 good lookin’ young people — plus Robert de Niro!” I watched a good hunk of this rubbish for the first time last year, and there was one aspect I found very interesting, however. Its structure…of constant cross-cutting between over-expository scenes of diverse people bustling around in anticipation of some major event….feels EXACTLY like the opening act of a DISASTER MOVIE. This feeling is enhanced by the fact that it’s set in New York…TIMES SQUARE, to be precise. A major terrorist target. And I LOVE disaster movies . So I so badly want this to be a disaster movie, to re-cut it, so that instead of a midnight countdown, the climax will be a gigantic wall of water coming from the Hudson River, or a bunch of mid-town skyscrapers toppling like dominoes. And the fact that this DOESN’T happen, in particular, to all these beautiful Caucasian cipher-people, is a total let down.  Roland Emmerich, please step in and give us a new third act for this movie.

Sunday at Film Forum: “Buster Keaton in Steamboat Bill Jr”

Posted in Buster Keaton, Comedians, Comedy, Hollywood (History), Movies, Silent Film with tags , , , , on December 30, 2016 by travsd


This Sunday at 11am, as part of their Film Forum Jr Series, New York’s Film Forum will be showing the Buster Keaton feature Steamboat Bill Jr. (1928), co-directed by Chuck Reisner with live musical accompaniment.

Steamboat Bill Jr. was Keaton’s final independent film, and one of his best. The story: dandified college boy Buster tries to prove himself to his riverboat captain dad, and win the heart of the daughter of his dad’s rival. The Mississippi setting unavoidably evokes Mark Twain.  The climax contains Buster’s most famous film sequence…the brilliantly staged hurricane, culminating in his most well known single shot, with the building facade falling down around him, while the real life Buster stands there frozen praying to God they measured the window right. A movie as beautiful as it is funny. Tickets and info are here. 

For more on comedy film history please check out my new book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Mediaalso available from etc etc etc

Art Startup at Theater for the New City

Posted in CULTURE & POLITICS, Indie Theatre, ME, Protests with tags , , , on December 29, 2016 by travsd

L-R, Michael-David Gordon, Brianna Bartenieff, Crystal Field

See this week’s Chelsea Now for my article on Theater for the New City’s community meeting this week in response to NYC’s announced Cultural Plan. 

It was interesting — I didn’t mention this in my article (it’s more objective than that) but as a private citizen I felt that only a couple of people at the meeting seemed to have any sense of the tidal wave of awfulness headed our way. One of them who clearly did was artistic director Crystal Field, who’s seen a thing or two in her day, not just as a New Yorker, but as a child of Europeans. People with family in Europe the 20s, 30s and 40s all seem to get it. Most people (especially younger ones) all seem to still have their head up their butts or to be in serious denial, and seem to be picturing what’ll be happening six months or six years from now as a PRECEDENTED inconvenience, the kind of stuff we’ve always dealt with. Sure, the concerns most of the people were expressing were legitimate, in the sense that all concerns are legitimate, but my instinct is that most of them are going to be moot. We cannot plan for tomorrow as we have always planned. Much of what you are taking for granted may not be here, including entire government agencies, including a safe or “neutral” or non-hostile environment for self-expression. People seem to lack the imagination to apply what has-historically-proven-to-be-possible to our formerly-fortunate slice of the earth. Where so much is so unknown, I think it is a good idea to plan for it being worse beyond your wildest dreams. If it’s not, that will be a wonderful surprise. If it is, perhaps it won’t be as terrible. Anyway, call me a Jeremiah, call me a Cassandra, but most of all call me a TAXI, because I WANNA GET OUTTA HERE!!! My Chelsea Now piece is here. 

Family in 50 States #16: Texas

Posted in AMERICANA, ME, My Family History with tags , , on December 29, 2016 by travsd


This new series of posts came out of the realization that I have relatives and roots in all 50 U.S. states. My ancestors lived in 14 of them (all on the eastern seaboard or adjacent), and I have already written about many of those folks. But the siblings and cousins of my ancestors kept going west, and this is an attempt, in the spirit of Whitman, to celebrate my connection to every corner of the country. And when I’m done with that, I’ll celebrate all the countries of the world in similar manner. 

December 29, 1845 was the date Texas joined the Union.

Tennesseans were central to the founding of Texas, so it wasn’t surprising for me to find many relatives among early Texas settlers (many more than I’ve listed here in fact). Named as I am after a hero of the Alamo, William B. Travis, the subject has always held a certain romantic interest for me.

Some Notable Texas Relations:

Fort Parker

Fort Parker

One important Texas relative is John Parker, who fought in the American Revolution, was a scout in what was to become Tennessee and Kentucky, participated in Indian “removal” in those areas, was a friend of Daniel Boone’s, and finally, at quite an advanced age, became an important early settler of Texas at Stephen Austin’s behest. He settled his entire extended family near what is now Limestone County, Texas and founded Fort Parker — which was wiped out by Comanches in 1836. This was when Texas was still an independent republic, a good decade before it came into the U.S. Some of the family were kidnapped in the attack, resulting in this famous descendant:


Parker’s great-grandson was the “half breed” Comanche leader Quanah Parker.  My great grandfather was George Washington Parker. We are all descended from the Virginia colonist Richard Parker (1630-1683).


Colonel Ellison & Co. He’s 3rd from the left.

In that same year of 1836, my 4th great aunt Isabel Stuart moved to Brazos, Texas with her husband Jesse Ellison. Their son, named Jesse Washington Ellison became a famous character thereabouts. I found this entertaining description of him in the book Cities of Gold: A Journey Across the American Southwest, by Douglas Preston:

…Colonel Jesse W. Ellison was one of the most famous and colorful stockmen of the Rim country. Born in Brazos County, Texas in 1841. He grew into a “reed-thin, habit-bound, hawk-faced” man whose conviction in his own rightness was unshakable. He relished being on the “right” side of a good fight. He started off as a Texas Ranger fighting Comanches and Kiowas, and then he enlisted for the South in the Civil War. He remained an unreconstructed southerner thereafter, went into the ranching business, and drove cattle up the Chisholm trail to the Kansas railheads. Texas became a little too crowded for Ellison, so he moved his family and livestock farther west. In July of 1885 he arrived in Bowie Station, Arizona with a line of railcars containing two thousand head of cattle and horses…

Here’s another good description of Colonel Ellison. 


In 1835, my 2nd cousin 5x removed Col, Nicholas Copeland (1767-1845,) arrived in Leon County, Texas and wrote this letter to his daughter and son-in-law back in Arkansas:

Col. Nat’l Robbins’ Ferry on Trinity River in Texas, April 25th 1835

Dear Son and Daughter,

It is now time to write you, and give you the information which you have a right to expect respecting us. After leaving you, we journeyed slowly; but we had a tolerably pleasant journey excepting the loss of one yoke of our oxen near the crossing of Trinity. Martin lost 3 oxen near the same place. We are 25 miles west of Col Robbins’ Ferry on the San Antonio road, where we arrived on the 14th January. We like the country better than any that I have ever been in. I do not know that any one of our company has ever regretted coming here. I would recommend you to come here as early as possible next fall, in order to procure you land before all the best lands shall have been selected. Great chances can be had at this time and delay may be to your prejudice. You can obtain from the Government One Sitio of land (4428 English acres) for a little less than One hundred dollars, $61 of which are to be paid down and $35 more in 4 years. The tide of Emigration flows rapidly here from almost all the Southern States and many from the Northern U.S. The lands of the old settlers are selling high. Cotton, Corn, and Cattle are the staple productions of the country. The common price of good second rate cows is 10 dollars. If I dared to advise you as to the best way of coming here, it would be to procure yourself a strong 4 horse waggon to convey your family and such light effects as you may wish to bring along, Anything which you want when here, you can purchase perhaps cheaper at Natchitoches than where you live, In coming here you will cross Red river at Russell’s Ferry about 4 miles from Natchitoches, from which place the road is good and direst to where we live. We have got 10 acres of corn in, it is up now, and looks well. We intend getting in 10 more. There is no doubt but that we shall make our bread, if the season should prove favorable. Remember us kindly to all our friends – and say to them emphatically for me, that I think they ought to leave Jackson and come here, where with industry and frugality they may lay the foundation of a good fortune for themselves and their posterity to the 4th generation. We are all well.  —— I am, my Dear Children
Your Affectionate father

More about the letter here.


Oscar Branch Colquitt (1861-1940), the 25th Governor of Texas, is my 3rd cousin 4 times removed. His father (Thomas Jefferson Colquitt) had tried (and failed) to make a go of the family plantation in Georgia after the Civil War. When it went under, the family moved to Daingerfield, TX, where Colquitt got involved in railroads, then got elected to the state legislature as a democrat, then served as governor, 1911-1915. Among the most significant developments during his tenure was a series of border skirmishes with Mexicans during their revolutionary period. Colquitt was also anti-Prohibitionist, which may have hurt his political success.He ran for Senate in 1916 but lost, possibly due to his pro-German sentiments (his mother’s maiden name was Burkhalter).

Some Other Stories: 

My (4th) great aunt Mary Stuart ( 1793-1857): moved to Lamar County, Texas from Tennessee with her husband James Campbell and their family prior to 1833. This was a dozen years before statehood, and  11 tears before the incorporation of Paris, Texas, where they would come to reside. The Campbells were farmers, and descended from some of the founding families of Tennessee.


Sarilda: back row, center: Mark. gentleman with mustache

My second cousin 4x removed Sarilda Strange (1845-1904) married Marquis de Lafayatte “Mark” Oliver in  San Saba, Texas in 1867.  Oliver’s father Alexander had moved with his family into Texas in 1850. Sarilda was from Missouri.

A (4th) cousin 2x removed Brackett Evans Stewart is listed as having been killed while on a cattle drive in Texas in 1867. He was from Missouri and only 23 years old.

My (3rd) great uncle Thomas Bilbrey Bonner (1814-1900),  moved to Durango, Texas with his large farm family prior to 1870. His wife died shortly after arriving. His 23 year old son died five years later. Previously, Bonner had lived in North Carolina and Tennessee.

My (4th) great uncle Cornelius Jackson (1811-1876) moved with his family to the Fort Worth area circa 1870; his adult son William had moved there prior in 1859. Texas was the last of many hops the Jacksons made during their lives, starting in Fairfield County, Connecticut, thence to New York City, then Alabama, then Mississippi, finally winding up in the Lone Star State. Here’s what Fort Worth looked like in 1870:


My (cousin) 4x removed Anthony Stewart (1828-1885) moved to Brown County, Texas to farm between 1874 and 1877, having previously lived in Alabama, Missouri and Montana.

First cousin, 3x removed Nancy Amanda Comer (1858-1921) moved to Bastrop, Texas with her husband William Kelton and their family from Tennessee in 1876. They were farmers.

My 2nd great uncle Newsom Richard Wolf (1834-1909) moved to Austin with his family between 1880 and 1883. These, too, were farmers.

Aftermath of Sherman tornado

Aftermath of Sherman tornado

Following the death of their father Greenwood Nichols in 1880,  my first cousin 4x mreoved John N. Nichols (1845-1896) and several of his siblings and their families left Lincoln County, Tennessee and moved to Grayson county, Texas. The fact that John and his sister Elizabeth died on the same day in 1896 leads me to suspect they died in the Sherman Tornado Event. The tornado was May 15; their deaths are recorded July 28 but it may have taken that long to find and I.D. the bodies in all the destruction.


The Odoms at Home

A sister of my great grandfather Virgil, Nancy Stewart Odom moved to Cooke County, Texas and started a family sometime in the late 1880s or early 1890s.

Reverend and Mrs. Hale, reading left to right. No, no, it's right to left, but she looks like she keeps in line pretty good nonetheless

Reverend and Mrs. Hale, reading left to right. No, no, it’s right to left, but she looks like she keeps him in line pretty good nonetheless

Sometime before 1900, a first cousin of this generation of Stewarts, Reverend James Henry Hale moved to Karnes County, Texas with his entire brood of adult children and all their families. The reason for this major migration so far eludes my modest research but as a preliminary guess I’ll go with, being a reverend, he was assigned to a church out there.

Several relatives moved to Texas in the 20th century as well, but by now we are getting farther and farther away from pioneer times….

A Cultural Plan for New York City

Posted in Indie Theatre, PLUGS with tags , , on December 28, 2016 by travsd

Just learned about this last night at a special meeting at Theater for the New City. Given what will be happening at the federal level, such plans may be essentially moot, but it is good to know about


The NYC Department of Cultural Affairs and Hester Street Collaborative have launched the development of New York City’s first-ever comprehensive cultural plan. NOCD-NY is excited to be a partner in this process. Through intensive public input and an in-depth evaluation of the city’s cultural assets, the plan will become a roadmap for supporting the entire creative community and expanding opportunities for residents to access and participate in the city’s rich cultural life. For the plan to be successful, we need to hear from you! Visit to learn how to participate in the process.

photo: etccdb (West Indian Day)

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Family in 50 States #15: Iowa

Posted in AMERICANA, ME, My Family History with tags , , on December 28, 2016 by travsd


This new series of posts came out of the realization that I have relatives and roots in all 50 U.S. states. My ancestors lived in 14 of them (all on the eastern seaboard or adjacent), and I have already written about many of those folks. But the siblings and cousins of my ancestors kept going west, and this is an attempt, in the spirit of Whitman, to celebrate my connection to every corner of the country. And when I’m done with that, I’ll celebrate all the countries of the world in similar manner. 

December 28, 1946 was the date that Iowa joined the Union.

I confess that my interest in Iowa increased exponentially when I was researching my book No Applause, when I realized that an inordinate number of important vaudevillians and such-like came from Iowa, including Lillian Russell, Joe Frisco, Harry Langdon, Chester Conklin, William Frawley, and — perhaps the most Iowan act of them of all — the Cherry Sisters. This is far from an exhaustive list, just some of my favorites. Why Iowa would produce all these quintessential vaudevillians is beyond my ken. The romantic in me, however, pictures an equation along the lines of cornfields leading to wanderlust leading to gettin’ the hell out, and that’s probably not a bad generalization. Not to impugn small town America — and Meredith Wilson does make small town Iowa seem pretty idyllic in The Music Man — but it’s just not right for some of us. If they’d beat up a Harry Langdon character in a small town, they’d probably also beat up Harry Langdon.

As for my family connections…

My (5th) great aunt Susanna Cox Depew (1794-?) appears to have moved with her grown children to Wapello County, Iowa after her husband died sometime between the death of her husband (1846) and the 1850 census, right around the time of statehood.

Likewise, my first cousin 7x removed David Stout, a Quaker, moved with his family to Keokuk, Iowa (across the Des Moines River from Illinois and Missouri) prior  to 1850. Several of his nephews and nieces settled in the state with him, as well, and many in this family stayed there permanently while others pressed on further west to places like Oregon, Idaho and Utah. If you know a Stout in Iowa, chances are, we’re related!


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