Saturday, July 14, 2018

FDR Visits Mare Island, 1938

   Eighty years ago today, on July 14, 1938, President Franklin D. Roosevelt visited Vallejo and Mare Island. It was Roosevelt's first visit as President, though he had visited in 1914 and 1920, when he was still Assistant Secretary of the Navy. Roosevelt's visit was part of a two-week whirlwind tour of West Coast military installations.
Roosevelt's motorcade crosses the causeway to Mare Island
   Roosevelt arrived by train in Crockett and traveled by car through Vallejo, where the streets were lined with thousands of well-wishers. During his visit to Mare Island, the President was accompanied by Congressman Frank Buck of Vacaville, California Governor Frank Merriam, and Senator William Gibbs McAdoo. Interestingly, the Vallejo Times Herald made scant mention of Governor Merriam, who was a Republican. The newspaper, and most of Vallejo, were staunchly Democratic at that time.
    Congressman Buck relayed Roosevelt's impressions of his visit in an interview with the Times Herald: "The President was visibly impressed with the reception given him at Vallejo and Mare Island and expressed keen pleasure and amazement at the growth of the yard that he has not visited since 1920" Congressman Buck said.
Roosevelt's car stopped at Alden Park on Mare Island. Congressman Frank Buck is seated to Roosevelt's left. Governor Frank Merriam and Senator William Gibbs McAdoo are in the seat behind Roosevelt.
    "He rated the causeway as a big improvement, remarking on the difference over the old wooden piling."
   "During the drive through the yard to the Administration Building President Roosevelt said that he recognized faces of several men hw had known as leadingmen and masters on former visits to Mare Island."
   "When we entered Vallejo the President was impressed with the growth of the city and wanted to know if 'this is really the city limits of Vallejo.' When I informed him that it was he pointed out that it has grown considerably since he last visited here."
   "The President told me," Buck said, "that he deeply appreciates the reception by Vallejoans and was glad that he had followed the suggestion for a visit to Mare Island and Vallejo."
    "Times-Herald publisher (and future state senator) Luther Gibson also accompanied the presidential party. "Yesterday I enjoyed the greatest experience of my entire lifetime," Gibson said. "It was one I will always remember; one I never dreamed would be mine. To be part of the caravan that escorted the President of the United States through Vallejo and Mare Island and on to Treasure Island and San Francisco - all this I never believed would happen to me."
   "Vallejo did great credit to herself," Gibson continued. "The great masses of our people lining our streets, cheering and waving American flags, surely convinced our President that we are solidly behind him in his efforts to make our country a better place to live in."
   "It was a great thrill to be in his caravan, with Congressman Buck and the other Vallejo representatives. To actually ride for many miles with the President, see the many crowded streets and cheering throngs, was an inspiring experience."
   Roosevelt would make one more visit to Mare Island in 1942.
FDR shares a smile with shipyard commander  RADM David Worth Bagley and an unidentified woman.

Friday, May 25, 2018

A Civil War Spy in Vallejo

The U.S. Civil War divided the loyalties of countless Americans, turning neighbor against neighbor and family member against family member. Actress Pauline Cushman refused to allow the War to keep her from practicing her profession on stages throughout the South, despite having lived much of her life in the North. Cushman publicly professed her loyalty to Jefferson Davis and the Confederacy, while at the same time she was discreetly gathering information and intelligence that she turned over to Union military officials. In recognition of her clandestine efforts for the Union cause she was made a brevet major by General (later President) James A. Garfield. President Lincoln subsequently named her an honorary major. After the War, Cushman supported herself in part by embarking on a speaking tour, which brought her to Vallejo in January of 1873. The Vallejo Evening Chronicle of January 10, 1873 announced her lecture as follows:

LECTURE TONIGHT – “The lecture of Miss Major Pauline Cushman, at Farragut Hall, comes off this evening. The lecturess will give a history of her career during the war of the Rebellion; narrating the hardships and perils which she underwent in the service of her country. Miss Cushman although a Southron, born and bred, having been matured and educated in New Orleans, the hot-bed of secession, proclaimed her allegiance to the Old Flag at the outbreak of the war. In the capacity of a scout, combining with her woman’s wit, a masculine fearlessness and intrepidity, she rendered important assistance to the army of the Union. Miss Cushman has the reputation of being a fluent and pleasing speaker; her lecture tonight can hardly fail to draw a full house.”

The following day the Evening Chronicle recapped the highlights of her program:

Miss Major Cushman - Reminiscences of the War

Farragut Hall
“The lecture of Miss Major Cushman at Farragut Hall, Friday evening, was not as largely attended as might have been desired. The dull times and bad traveling were in a great measure responsible for the slimness of the audience. The lecturess is very prepossing [sic] in appearance, and is about thirty years of age. In her introductory remarks she explained the reasons which had induced her to enter the lecture field. She had purchased a piece of property in Chicago, after the close of the war, and it had been swept away by the great conflagration. She was thus left without any means of support, and necessity had dictated her action. The speaker then carried her audience back to the time when she was an actress upon the boards of a Nashville theatre. This was at the earlier portion of the war. The city was under martial law, and General Boyle was the commander of the Post. As her relations were all Secessionist, one of her brothers being a colonel in the Rebel army, Miss Cushman was from the first supposed by the Rebels to be a sympathizer with the Southern cause. She detailed the circumstances which lead to her entering the secret service of the Federal army, at the request of General Boyle. Of her drinking a toast, at a preconcerted arrangement with the General, to Jeff Davis and the Southern Confederacy, on the stage; of her mock arrest by General Boyle; of her release; of her discharge by the manager of the theatre, who although an excellent Rebel himself, had too much regard for his own interests to keep in his theatre, a person, who he thought, might bring him into difficulty with the authorities. The lecturess detailed the consummation of the plot between herself and the General. How she was expelled beyond the Union lines, and sought her friends in the South as a refugee. She spoke of visiting Hillsboro and Libby prisons, and the lecturess detailed with great pathos and feeling, the sufferings of the poor Boys in Blue in those loathsome and horrible places. Her final arrest on suspicion, by the Rebel authorities, and her long journey down to Hamilton, Georgia, under the custody of the noted guerilla Morgan, were spoken of. Miss Cushman speaks of Morgan as a man of much suavity of demeanor, and says that he treated her with the greatest courtesy while she was under his charge.

John Hunt Morgan

The “damning proofs” of Miss Cushman’s real character were soon discovered. The plans of Rebel fortifications which she had placed within the heel of her shoe, were discovered, and she was condemned to be hung. She asked to be shot instead. But the authorities were inexorable; she had been convicted of being a spy and must die a spy’s death. She was then in Nashville, Tenn. The hardships and privations which she had undergone during her captivity had had their effect upon her frame, and she was lying upon her bed, sick almost unto death. Even the cruelty of the Rebels could not permit the execution of a woman in such a condition, and so the enforcement of the death sentence was postponed. But the hour of her deliverance had now arrived. A forward movement was made by the Union Army, Bragg was sent flying from Nashville, and the gallant heroine was saved. The lecturess spoke of afterward seeing Morgan while confined in the Columbus penitentiary. How he recognized her and said that “the boot had been placed on the other foot” since they last met. “But,” said he, “I am only going to stay here a few days.” He told the truth, for a few days after, the daring and wonderful escape of the guerilla from prison was announced. Miss Cushman spoke for over an hour, and during that period enlisted the fullest attention and interest. She is a very prepossessing speaker and has a most pleasing address. The masculine boldness so disagreeably conspicuous in many lecturesses, is with her, lacking. She is a true woman having all the gentleness and modesty which characterizes true femininity. Miss Cushman, we understand, is a sister of the late Charlotte Cushman, the famous tragedienne. This is the first lecture which the speaker has delivered in this State and her second on this Slope, she having lectured at Virginia City shortly before her arrival in Vallejo.”

Cushman’s post-Civil War life was not an easy one. Married three times, she was widowed twice and divorced once. She also had three children, two of whom were raised by other family members. The third, an adopted daughter, died in childhood. In addition to lecturing, she briefly operated a hotel in Casa Grande, Arizona. Later, nearly destitute, she moved to San Francisco where she worked menial jobs. Ill health and arthritis brought on an addiction to morphine, and Cushman died of an overdose in San Francisco on December 2, 1893 at age 60. She is buried, under her married name Pauline Fryer, in the Presidio of San Francisco.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

New Exhibit - “Georgia Street: Ferries to Dairies – A History of Vallejo’s Main Street”

Georgia Street is not a particularly long street (4.1 miles), nor is it a very old street (some parts only a few decades), but it has thousands of stories to tell. From the ferries that docked at its foot to the dairy farms that once marked its eastern end, Georgia Street encompasses a wide array of building styles, commercial activity, neighbor- hoods, churches, schools, and varied modes of transportation. The history of Vallejo’s “Main Street” is the subject of the Museum’s newest exhibit, on display in the Hall of History through September 1st.
     Vallejo’s infamous “lower Georgia” was once the home of saloons, bordellos, and gambling dens – the playground of sailors on liberty. That gaudy side of our history has been well preserved in the art of Dorothy Herger and the writing of Brendan Riley. But Georgia Street is much, much more. It was also Vallejo’s main shopping district, home to department stores like Sears, J.C. Penney, City of Paris, Levee’s and Crowleys.  Heading further east, today’s “Heritage District” was the home of prominent citizens and eye-catching Victorian architecture. Longtime residents will recall driving over “the Hump” at the railroad tracks. Others will recall that a stretch near the intersection of Georgia and Tuolumne Streets was once mostly populated by Italian families.
     A post-WWII housing boom characterized the stretch of Georgia Street east of Highway 40 (now Interstate 80) and those neighbor-hoods continued to expand in more recent years into the east Vallejo hills. Today, at the easternmost end of Georgia Street, hikers can access the Bay Area Ridge Trail to gain a sense of what the region looked like before the growth of our city. Visit our newest exhibit soon to learn more about this interesting and historic thoroughfare.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

“Eight-Point Perspective: Diverse East Bay Artists” January 20 - March 24, 2018

     A new exhibit in the Museum’s Hall of History features eight East Bay artists working in a variety of media. “Eight-Point Perspective: Diverse East Bay Artists” was organized by Vallejo native Doug Heine, whose work was featured in a solo show at the Museum last spring. Although planning of the exhibit has been underway for several months, finding a connecting theme or narrative for the show was elusive, according to Heine. “Mainly because of the diversity of media and styles of the eight artists, it soon became apparent that this diversity was the theme,” says Heine. “Diversity is what the East Bay is known for, so I hope everyone will enjoy seeing the art and hearing the artists speak about their creations.” Each artist will speak briefly about his/her work at the opening reception on Saturday, January 20 at 1:00 p.m. Here are the artists featured in the exhibit:
    Katie Hawkinson is a Bay Area Abstract Painter with an ongoing interest in color and light, and capturing visually something of what it feels like to be alive. She feels a strong connection to makers and painters from the beginning of time from all over the world.  Katie is inspired by cave paintings, Roman frescoes, Indian miniatures, early American folk art, through twentieth century abstraction and beyond. Katie teaches Painting at Stanford’s Continuing Studies Department and Drawing and Two-dimensional Design at UC Berkeley’s Architecture Department.
       Doug Heine is working with industrial as pigment on aluminum, which can feel like reaching into the unknown. Although an abstraction, the work has an elusive, mysterious quality that harkens to the ever-expanding cosmos.
       Stan Huncilman was born in Indiana. After graduating from high school he left home with no particular destination in mind. His travels led him to stints as a welder in the shipyards of Louisiana and as a machinist in a Vermont foundry. Not long after leaving Vermont he joined the Peace Corps and went to Ecuador to teach in a trade school for orphans. After the Peace Corps he eventually settled in San Francisco California and began his formal art education. He attended San Francisco State University and the San Francisco Art Institute. He received his MFA in Sculpture from the Art Institute in 1984.
       Joseph Slusky is best known for his whimsical painted metal sculptures made from recycled scrap metal. Influences include metal toys, LA car culture, Constructivism and other twentieth century art movements. The sculptures explore realms of the subconscious and are fossilizations of the imagination. Joe taught drawing and three-dimensional design UC Berkeley’s Architecture Department for thirty-two years
       Abstract painting called Bonnie Thomas first, only to be taken later with photography's compositions and focus on the small and minute beauty within the every-day experience. She then began to alter the captured image to discover a unique combination of the orthogonal edge, the organic world and her inner self. The explorations prominent in her latest work are the contrast between dark and light, the chasm between the expressed and unexpressed, and the questions that may represent joy, fear or that part of the human experience which eludes us. With this exploration, she believes the work takes her deeper into the unknown parts of herself within the greater context of the natural order.
       Maren Van Duyn is a senior designer at Scientific Arts (the people that did the giant Glove at AT&T Park). With them she has done large murals at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco and the natural history section of the Oakland Museum. Earlier she did theatrical sets in New York City.
     Gale Wagner feels his calling as a maker was a gift at birth, followed by the good fortune of living a life full of passion for creating stuff to be shared with others. His sculptures have been many – large & small, heavy & light, solid & hollow. Pure joy in the creative process, coupled with love and respect for all materials used – steel, paper, glass, stainless, copper, bronze, stone, wood, rubber, air, space – always at play with gravity & balance. The hope is that the viewer will feel something.
   John Wehrle has had an extensive career creating site-specific artworks for public spaces. A multi-disciplinary artist, John has fabricated elaborate installation works combining text, painting, photography, ceramic tile or relief sculpture for libraries, banks, buildings, and freeway walls. His critically acclaimed work includes monumental paintings for   the de Young Museum, the Los Angeles Olympics and Berkeley Transit Plaza. “I am an artist who is   most comfortable making large scale narrative paintings in unsuspected places. I put myself in the Western Tradition of Tiepolo, Andrea Pozzo, Breughel, Church, Eakins, the anonymous panoramic painters of the 19thcentury, Hopper and the LA Fine Arts Squad. I like a work that has a sense of mystery, ambiguity. If there is a political message to my work it is probably closest to an anarchist with OCD.  WYSIWYG.