June 6, 2020

A View from My Porch:  Great Leaders and Great Speeches, Part 2

Nazi Aggression through “A Rain of Ruin from the Air” on Hiroshima

Part 1 ended with a review of Theodore Roosevelt’s extension of the Monroe Doctrine to enable the United States to exercise “international police power” in the Western Hemisphere. I continue my review of significant speeches with one of Winston Churchill’s wartime speeches.

As noted last time, my selection is based wholly on my judgment that the speech is notable, or an important contribution to history. These speeches are arranged chronologically, but they are not contiguous. A passage taken directly from the text or transcript of the speech is delineated by quotation marks. Otherwise, the essay includes my own (and others’) analyses of the content.

6. Winston Churchill “We Shall Fight on The Beaches”:

This famous photo shows then Prime Minister Winston Churchill (center) on the balcony of Buckingham Palace on VE Day — May 8, 1945 — after victory in World War II had been declared. Standing to his right are King George VI and Princess Margaret while to his left are Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother and then Princess Elizabeth, who now still reigns as Queen Elizabeth II.

Churchill demonstrates the skills that able leaders display when speaking to their nation in times of crisis. This address to the House of Commons occurred on June 4, 1940, just after the rescue of the British Expeditionary Force from the coast at Dunkirk. “Beaches” is often cited as one of the defining speeches of World War II. At that time, France was falling to the Nazis, and the threat of an invasion of Britain seemed a near certainty; so much so that Hitler had given the plan of invasion the code name “Operation Sea Lion.”

Photo by Frederick Tubiermont on Unsplash

Churchill addressed the House of Commons to reconfirm, despite the near disaster at Dunkirk, the goal of “victory, however long and hard the road may be”, that he had declared in his May 13, speech (see below).

“Beaches” was the second of three major speeches given during that period in 1940. The others are the “Blood, Toil, Tears, and Sweat” speech of May 13, and the later “Finest Hour” speech of June 18. 

The speech was also an appeal to the Americans, who were still watching the war from the sidelines. Churchill eloquently and honestly informed the British of what was facing them all: “Even though large tracts of Europe and many old and famous States have fallen or may fall into the grip of the Gestapo, and all the odious apparatus of Nazi rule, we shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end”. 

“We shall fight in France; we shall fight on the seas and oceans; we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air. We shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be.

We shall fight on the beaches; we shall fight on the landing grounds; we shall fight in the fields and in the streets. We shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender. And even if this Island, or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, would carry on the struggle.”

He ended with a gesture to America: pleading that, “in God’s good time, the New World, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old.”

7. FDR’s Four Freedoms:

US President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Original color transparency taken by Leon A. Perskie, Hyde Park, New York, in 1944. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

In his State of the Union Address on January 6, 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt responded to Churchill’s appeal and began to move the United States further away from its post-World War One policy of neutrality. He had watched with fear as Europe fell to the Nazis; and was intent on rallying public support for the United States to take an expanded role in the war beyond the Lend-Lease program that already permitted war supplies be sent to Britain.

He had already initiated a buildup of the military. “I find it, unhappily, necessary to report that the future and the safety of our country and of our democracy are overwhelmingly involved in events far beyond our borders,” stating that, the need of the moment is that our actions and our policy should be devoted primarily – almost exclusively to meeting the foreign peril”.

He noted that, “by an impressive expression of the public will and without regard to partisanship, we are committed to full support of all those resolute people everywhere who are resisting aggression and are thereby keeping war away from our hemisphere. By this support, we express our determination that the democratic cause shall prevail; and we strengthen the defense and the security of our own nation”. 

He referenced his belief that America’s primary role was to support our allies as “the arsenal of democracy”, which he had introduced in a radio broadcast about a week before. “We cannot, and we will not, tell them that they must surrender, merely because of their present inability to pay for the weapons which we know they must have”. At that time, the United States was just nearing the end of the Great Depression, and industry, which had not yet recovered, was reluctant to expand. 

The Defense Production Act was not enacted until 1950, at the start of the Korean War. However, Congress provided FDR with sweeping war powers, which he used to break through that reluctance. These powers ultimately enabled him to requisition supplies and property; and force entire industries to produce wartime products rather than products for civilians. America began producing airplanes, tanks, military vehicles, weapons, warships, and other defense-related products. 

As justification, he stated that, “in the future, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms”. He insisted that “people in all nations of the world shared Americans’ entitlement to these same four freedoms: “the freedom of speech and expression, the freedom to worship God in his own way, freedom from want and freedom from fear”. 

The value of FDR’s many “fireside chats”, which he began right after his first inauguration, should not be under-estimated in moving the nation’s industry into wartime production. His radio broadcasts of “conversations” with Americans were very “well-attended” (e.g., an estimated 60 million Americans listened to his first radio address), and he had gained the trust and respect of Americans, who had grown to appreciate his honesty and straightforward language.  

8. President Truman and the Use of the Atom Bomb at Hiroshima:

President Harry S. Truman c. 1947. By National Archives and Records Administration. Office of Presidential Libraries. Harry S. Truman Library. (ID. 7865583)., Public Domain.

Less than two weeks after being sworn in as President after FDR’s death, Harry S. Truman was briefed by Secretary of War Stimson on the top-secret Manhattan Project, which began in 1942 to develop an atom bomb. He was informed that “within four months, we shall, in all probability, have completed the most terrible weapon ever known in human history”.

After a successful test of the weapon, Truman formed the “Interim Committee” to “advise the president” on matters pertaining to the use of nuclear energy and weapons. The Committee’s first priority was to provide counsel on the use of the atomic bomb to bring war with Japan to an end. 

The group considered four options: conventional bombing of Japan; ground invasion; demonstration of the bomb on an unpopulated area; and finally, use of the bomb in a populated or an industrialized area. Some historians have said that Truman and his advisers made the only decision they could have made in the context of finally bringing the war with Japan to an end. 

Prolonging the war was not an option for the President. His decision to use the bomb was made to prevent the estimated one million casualties associated with a Normandy-type amphibious landing on the Japanese mainland. He believed that use of the bomb would also save Japanese lives, and wanted a swifter close to the war than any other option of force would provide.

Allied leaders had gathered in Potsdam, Germany, after the European phase of the war had ended; and before the final decision to use the bomb in Japan had been made. 

Truman, Churchill, and Chinese Nationalist leader Chiang Kai-shek drafted a declaration that defined the terms for Japan’s surrender and made dire warnings if the country failed to end all hostilities. Soviet leader Joseph Stalin was not part of the group because his country had not yet declared war on Japan.

Truman issued the Potsdam Declaration on July 26, 1945 (jointly with Great Britain, and China), demanding the unconditional surrender of Japan, and warning, otherwise, of “prompt and utter destruction.” The “Declaration” claimed that “unintelligent calculations” by Japan’s military advisers had brought the country to the “threshold of annihilation.”

Hopeful that the Japanese would “follow the path of reason,” the leaders outlined their terms of surrender, which included complete disarmament, allied occupation of certain areas, and the creation of a “responsible government.” It also promised that Japan would not “be enslaved as a race or destroyed as a nation.”

Japan did not acquiesce; and on Aug. 6, and 9, 1945, the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were destroyed by dropping two atom bombs (known as “Little Boy”, and the more powerful “Fat Man”, respectively) At this time, the Soviet Union also declared war on Japan. On Aug. 15, Japan finally and officially surrendered. 

On Aug. 6, 1945, President Truman delivered a radio address while returning home from the Potsdam Conference aboard the USS Augusta: “Sixteen hours ago, an American airplane dropped one bomb on Hiroshima, an important Japanese Army base. That bomb had more power than 20,000 tons of TNT. 

The Japanese began the war from the air at Pearl Harbor. They have been repaid many-fold; and the end is not yet here. 

“These bombs are now in production, and even more powerful forms are in development. It is a harnessing of the basic power of the universe. The force from which the sun draws its power has been loosed against those who brought war to the Far East”.

“By 1942, we knew that the Germans were working feverishly to find a way to add atomic energy to the other engines of war with which they hoped to enslave the world; but they failed”. 

“The battle of the laboratories held fateful risks for us; as well as the battles of the air, land and sea”. We have now won the battle of the laboratories, as we have also won the other battles”.

“Scientific knowledge was pooled; and with American and British scientists working together we entered the race of discovery against the Germans”. 

“We have spent two billion dollars on the greatest scientific gamble in history, and won. “What has been done is the greatest achievement of organized science in history”.

“We are now prepared to obliterate more rapidly and completely every productive enterprise the Japanese have above ground in any city. Let there be no mistake; we shall completely destroy Japan’s power to make war.

It was to spare the Japanese people from utter destruction that the ultimatum of July 26 was issued at Potsdam. Their leaders promptly rejected that ultimatum”. 

“If they do not now accept our terms, they may expect a rain of ruin from the air, the like of which has never been seen on this earth”. 

Some Final Thoughts

President Truman’s decision to drop the bomb was very controversial. At the time, however, the majority of America’s political and military leaders believed that it was the best alternative. “It is an awful responsibility that has come to us.” He also recommended that Congress establish a commission to control the production and use of atomic power within the United States. 

It is refreshing that, like many of his predecessors, and some of his successors, he believed that “the buck stops here”, and he accepted accountability for all the decisions of his administration. Truman valued scientists.

Eleanor Roosevelt with her dog Fala in 1951. By Unknown author or not provided – U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, Public Domain, 

After FDR’s death, President Truman appointed former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt as a delegate to the United Nations, where she served as Head of the Human Rights Commission, and was instrumental in framing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was adopted by the General Assembly in 1948. She often referred to FDR’s “Four Freedoms” when advocating for passage of the “Universal Declaration”.

I could have devoted this essay to the speeches of Winston Churchill, who exhibited the skills required of a wartime leader. Recordings of his speeches, are still available. I find his delivery to be very stirring. 

Churchill, authored his own speeches, and used “repetition” very powerfully in “Beaches”, as did FDR in “Four Freedoms”; who repeatedly used the phrase “by an impressive expression of the public will” (in the full text.) JFK also did so in his “Berlin” speech, which is reviewed in a later essay. 

I’ll wrap this up with an uncomfortable link to the WWII era. Repetition is, in no manner, synonymous with Joseph Goebbels’ Principles of Propaganda; which states, in part, that “if one wrong is reverberated many times, then people will accept that wrong as right”. “The most brilliant propagandist technique will yield no success unless one fundamental principle is borne in mind constantly; it must confine itself to a few points and repeat them over and over”.

With apologies, the alternative to Goebbels is Bob Dylan’s Principle: “Don’t follow leaders, watch the parking meters.” 

Part 3 begins with a speech that defines the advent of the “Iron Curtain”, considers the “Military- Industrial Complex”, and proceeds through the Cold War.

Tom Gotowka

About the author: Tom Gotowka’s entire adult career has been in healthcare. He’ will sit on the Navy side at the Army/Navy football game. He always sit on the crimson side at any Harvard/Yale contest. He enjoys reading historic speeches and considers himself a scholar of the period from FDR through JFK.

A child of AM Radio, he probably knows the lyrics of every rock and roll or folk song published since 1960. He hopes these experiences give readers a sense of what he believes “qualify” him to write this column.

 

Share

A View from My Porch:  Great Leaders and Great Speeches, Part 1

Part 1: Washington’s Farewell through Theodore Roosevelt

I enjoy reading historic speeches. I often find them to be inspiring; and they can fill gaps in my understanding of an important event or period in history.

In this essay, I begin my review of these speeches, and provide some context for the events that precipitated their creation.

These essays will not be an exhaustive survey of the speaking arts. My selections are based solely on my judgment that the speech is notable, or makes an important contribution to history. A passage taken directly from the text or transcript of the speech is delineated by quotation marks. Otherwise, the essay includes my own, (and others’) analyses of the content.

These speeches are arranged chronologically, but they are not contiguous. They highlight leadership during periods of conflict and crisis. 

There has been considerable argument in Congress in the past few years regarding “what the founders and framers really meant” when they drafted the principles passed on to us in the Constitution, So, I’ll begin with a review of the first president’s farewell to the nation.

1. George Washington’s Farewell Address:

Portrait of George Washington, circa 1850. Public domain.

Washington wrote his “Address” near the end of his second term as president, working closely with Alexander Hamilton in the final draft. He also had input from James Madison; so, it represents the collective wisdom of some key players in the split from Great Britain and the founding of the United States. His “Address” was never presented as a speech, but was a public letter to the American people; and published in a Philadelphia newspaper, the American Daily Advertiser, on Sept. 19, 1796; and then, in newspapers throughout the country. His letter included three principles:

First, the importance of unity; “You have, in a common cause, fought and triumphed together. Your Union ought to be considered as a main prop of your liberty, and that the love of the one ought to endear you to the preservation of the other”.

Second, he cautioned that “the worst enemy of government is loyalty to party over Nation”. Dominating regional loyalties could lead to factionalism and the development of competing political parties. He warned that, “if Americans voted according to party loyalty rather than the common interest of the nation, it could foster a spirit of revenge”, and “enable the rise of cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men who would usurp for themselves the reins of government”.

 Third, he warned of the “danger of foreign entanglements” He believed that partisanship would open the door to “foreign influence and corruption.” He advocated that the United States be on good terms with all nations, especially in commercial relationships. “Inveterate antipathies against particular nations, and passionate attachments for others, should be excluded.”  He believed that a foreign policy based on neutrality was the safest way to maintain national unity and stability.

2. Emerging American Foreign Policy – The Monroe Doctrine:

Portrait of James Monroe, 1819. The White House Historical Association. Public domain.

It became evident in the first quarter of the nineteenth century that European powers were trying to reassert their influence in the Americas. Russia had tried to expand eastward into Alaska, and Spain was establishing new colonies in Central and South America.

Consequently, Secretary of State John Quincy Adams, on behalf of President James Monroe, began to articulate America’s foreign policy direction. In an address to the House of Representatives on July 4, 1821, Adams asserted that the United States is “the defender of freedom against the corruption of Europe, and should not let itself fall under the influence of any of those ‘old’ countries.”

“America, with the same voice which spoke herself into existence as a nation, proclaimed to mankind the inextinguishable rights of human nature, and the only lawful foundations of government.” “She has, invariably, though often fruitlessly, held forth to them the hand of honest friendship, and generous reciprocity.”

Two years hence, President Monroe proclaimed, in a Dec. 2,1823 Address to Congress, a new foreign policy initiative, largely drafted by Adams; that will always be known as the “Monroe Doctrine.”

This new policy forbade European interference in the American hemisphere, and also declared America’s neutrality in future European conflicts. It stated that “further efforts by any European nation to take control of any independent state in North or South America would be viewed as “the manifestation of an unfriendly disposition toward the United States”.

3. Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address:

Abraham Lincoln, the US’s 16th president. Public domain.

Lincoln delivered his second inaugural address on March 4, 1865. The capital city was a mess at that time, with mud-soaked streets and over-flowing hospitals treating Civil War wounded. The event occurred at a time when victory over the Confederacy was imminent, and slavery in all of the United States was proclaimed “ended”.

Sherman completed his march through the south, and Grant was confronting Lee at Petersburg. There was concern that, because of the teeming rain, Lincoln would not be able to take the oath on the steps of the Capitol. However, the sun appeared as he rose to begin his speech.

In an account of the event in the New York Times, Walt Whitman “noticed that a curious little white cloud, the only one in that part of the sky; had appeared like a hovering bird, right over him.”

Lincoln did not speak of victory, but of sadness. He sought to avoid harsh treatment of the defeated rebels by reminding the thousands in attendance of how wrong both sides had been in imagining what lay before them when the war began. “Both parties deprecated war, but one of them would make war rather than let the nation survive, and the other would accept war, rather than let it perish.” 

Lincoln spoke of the unmistakable evil of slavery. “To strengthen, perpetuate, and extend this interest was the object for which the insurgents would rend the Union, even by war. Neither party expected the magnitude or the duration that the war has already attained. Neither anticipated that the cause of the conflict might cease with, or even before, the conflict itself should cease” … (i.e., The Emancipation Proclamation).

He continued: “Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continues until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword; and as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said; “the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.”… (Psalm 19:9)

Lincoln ended his inaugural address : “With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the  nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.” 

Abolitionist Frederick Douglass noted that the many African Americans in attendance, which included troops who marched in the inaugural parade, applauded vigorously, but were, “wonderfully quiet, earnest, and solemn during the speech.”

4. Booker T. Washington’s Atlanta Compromise Speech:

Booker T Washington. Public domain.

B.T. Washington was born a slave in Virginia in 1856. After Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, he moved with his family to West Virginia, which had joined the Union during the Civil War as a free state.

As a young freeman, he worked his way as a janitor through Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute (now Hampton University), and attended college at Wayland Seminary (which is now Virginia Union University). In 1881, he co-founded and became the first president and principal developer of what is now Tuskegee University.

He was advisor to several presidents, and the most influential spokesman for black Americans from the latter part of the nineteenth century through the first quarter of the twentieth century.

On Sept. 18, 1895, he gave a speech that would open the “Cotton States and International Exposition” in Atlanta. The “Atlanta Compromise” speech was the first address by an African American to a racially-mixed audience in the South. He asserted that vocational education, which gave black Americans an opportunity for economic security, was more valuable to them than social advantages, higher education, or political office.

In return for African Americans remaining peaceful and socially separate from whites, the white community needed to accept responsibility for improving the social and economic conditions of all Americans, regardless of color. He summarized his concept of race relations in this manner: “In all things that are purely social, we can be as separate as the fingers, yet one as the hand in all things essential to mutual progress.”

Many black leaders opposed Washington’s “accommodationist” form of politics. Some historians cite the “Atlanta Compromise” as being responsible for the founding of both the NAACP and the “Niagara Movement” civil rights organizations.

5. American Imperialism — Theodore Roosevelt’s Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine:

Theodore Roosevelt around 1904. Public domain.

European intervention in the Americas resurfaced as a foreign policy issue at the turn of the 20th century. Three European nations had blockaded Venezuela’s ports in an attempt to force Venezuela to pay its international debts, violating the Monroe Doctrine’s declaration that Europe should not interfere in the Americas.

Further, Roosevelt had recently gained, through hostile action, the right to build the Panama Canal; and he believed that any threat to the canal threatened our strategic and economic interests.

Accordingly, to maintain security and ensure financial solvency in the region, the President announced, in his State of the Union address in December, 1904, that, “Chronic wrongdoing, or an impotence which results in a general loosening of ties of civilized society, may in America, as elsewhere, ultimately require intervention by some civilized nation. In the Western Hemisphere, our adherence to the Monroe Doctrine may force the United States, however reluctantly, in flagrant cases of wrongdoing, to the exercise of international police power.”

Thus, the United States will intervene in conflicts between Europe and Latin America, rather than having the Europeans press their claims directly. 

As a result, Marines were sent into Santo Domingo in 1904, Nicaragua in 1911, and Haiti in 1915; and, several more times in the Caribbean and Central America over the next quarter century. America’s relations with our southern neighbors remained strained for many years; and. in 1934, Franklin D. Roosevelt renounced interventionism and established his “Good Neighbor Policy” within the Western Hemisphere. 

Some Final Thoughts

I am impressed with the eloquence of America’s early leaders. I have included only small portions of the actual transcripts of the historic speeches in the above; but, if I have piqued your interest at all to read the entire texts, they are readily available and require only modest search or library skills. 

Note that George Washington was not restricted to two terms. However, in somewhat failing health, he feared that, if he died in office, it would establish a precedent that the presidency was a lifetime appointment. Instead, he stepped aside to make way for a successor, and demonstrated his commitment to democracy, rather than power.

There is a tradition in the Senate, wherein George Washington’s birthday is celebrated by a reading of his Farewell Address on the floor of the Senate Chamber; with readers coming from alternating parties. Although his warnings are still relevant, attendance at these readings has, unfortunately, shrunk. 

Also note that historians cite Lincoln’s second inaugural address as one of the greatest speeches ever made by an American president. 

Finally, Part 2 of this essay begins with Nazi aggression in Europe, and continues through Hiroshima.

Tom Gotowka

About the author: Tom Gotowka’s entire adult career has been in healthcare. He’ will sit on the Navy side at the Army/Navy football game. He always sit on the crimson side at any Harvard/Yale contest. He enjoys reading historic speeches and considers himself a scholar of the period from FDR through JFK.

A child of AM Radio, he probably knows the lyrics of every rock and roll or folk song published since 1960. He hopes these experiences give readers a sense of what he believes “qualify” him to write this column.

 

Share

A View from My Porch: The Rising Waters of Long Island Sound — A Primer on Global Warming and Climate Change, Postscript Now Added

A peaceful summer scene at White Sand Beach in Old Lyme, but what does the future hold for Long Island Sound?

POSTSCRIPT ADDED 04/14: Our home is on a salt marsh alongside a small, tidal river. Over the past several years, we have observed gradual changes in the breadth and height of high tide. Eventually, the borders of our yard directly adjacent to the river were covered with brackish water at high tide to about 25 ft. beyond the riverbank. This occurs regardless of moon phase or the presence of a storm surge.

So, I investigated the scientific literature to seek out the wisdom of the experts in an effort to explain our localized tidal surge. I reviewed reports from respected scientific sources and data from state and federal agencies. The data are troubling. This essay summarizes the conclusions of those scientific and government sources.

I considered postponing this essay pending greater progress on resolution of the COVID-19 crisis, but a recent Mike Lukovich editorial comic in The New London Day showed the “grim reaper” at the front door, complete with hooded black robe and scythe, wearing a sign that says “Climate Change”. The caption reads “Whew, I thought you were coronavirus!”

Life will continue after we finally beat this disease, and return to some sense of normalcy; and we’ll still have those old and ongoing problems like global warming and sea level rise that require our collective attention.

Some Sobering Facts:

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reports that Long Island Sound’s levels have been rising for decades, and its waters are warming; as is Connecticut’s air temperature. Sea level has risen at a rate of 10 to 11 inches per century along the Connecticut coast, which is faster than the global rate. Longer-range projections are that global sea levels will rise one to four feet by 2100. James O’Donnell, executive director of the Connecticut Institute for Resilience & Climate Adaptation (CIRCA) predicts that Long Island Sound levels could rise by 20 inches by 2050.

There is general agreement among climate scientists in Connecticut and across the world that global warming is occurring and human activity is making it worse. The fear is that, unless more is done to curb pollution, the long-term effects of climate change will be devastating. Although there is some occasional dissent in academic opinion, the majority of climate scientists also agree that the rising seas are linked to warmer global temperatures.

The Fundamental Causes of Global Warming:

The impact of climate change is in our hands. Photo by Bill Oxford on Unsplash.

There are gases in the atmosphere that absorb radiation. These “greenhouse gases” are largely responsible for the “greenhouse effect”, which is the warming that occurs when certain gases in the Earth’s atmosphere trap heat; these gases let in light. but keep heat from escaping.

This concept is not new, and was first studied in the late 19th century by Swedish scientist Svante Arrhenius, who concluded that fossil fuel combustion may eventually result in enhanced global warming. He proposed a relationship between atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations and temperature. His research was corroborated in the late 1980s, when scientists began investigating the gradual increase in the temperature of the earth’s atmosphere.

Greenhouse gases include carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, ozone, and water vapor. Of considerable impact are the fluorinated gases, which include the hydrofluorocarbons, sulfur hexafluoride, and several others; all of which are generated as by-products of industrial processes. Although the fluorinates are present in small concentrations, they trap heat very effectively. Note that chlorofluorocarbons, once used as refrigerants and aerosol propellants, were phased out in the 1980s by international agreement.

Other factors that clearly contribute to the Earth’s warming include the accelerated ice loss from the polar ice caps, which are now melting six times faster than in the 1990s. While rising seas may be the most damaging long-term impact of this ice loss, we are also losing the Earth’s natural cooling resource. Finally, the rapid deforestation of the Amazon rain forest in Brazil through unchecked harvesting of trees, clearing and expansion of land for agriculture, and housing development seriously reduces the natural capacity of the rainforest to absorb heat-trapping carbon dioxide; and much more carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere.

The Carnegie Institution for Science reports that Americans contribute more than twice as much carbon dioxide per capita than the Chinese or the Europeans, and have accounted for most of the greenhouse gas that is currently in the air.

The Impacts of Climate Change:

Aerial image of Hurricane Sandy.

New England’s geography makes it particularly susceptible to the impacts of climate change, which include an increased frequency of abnormal and severe weather events. Shoreline flooding is more frequent, and intense wind and rainfall has become much more common across Connecticut.

Long Island Sound is a fairly shallow body of water, averaging just 63 ft. in depth, so small changes in sea levels can have an exaggerated effect when storms come through. Rising water levels, when combined with bigger storms, may produce surges that hit the coast harder and penetrate farther, resulting in flooding that’s more damaging. Two fairly recent examples include Hurricanes Irene and Sandy, which battered our shoreline in 2011 and 2012 respectively, destroying homes, flooding roads and threatening sewage and power plants.

If you want to observe the power of such storms on our local shoreline, walk along White Sand Beach, past the break wall and over our “world class” moon snail shell shingle in a southwest direction up to, and around the Point. You may be astonished with the dramatic changes in beach topography and the amazing size of the timbers that have been deposited far above the high tide mark.

Long Island Sound Lobsters:

In 1999, the lobster population in Long Island Sound crashed; it has never recovered. Although many then considered pesticide pollution as the cause for the dramatic decline in lobsters, most scientists now agree that the warming of the Sound’s waters was the primary cause.

Reversing Global Warming:

Unfortunately, there is no single technological silver bullet emerging to resolve this immense problem. Further, given the geographic, meteorological, and political scope of the situation, it is probably better to focus only on mitigating the problem by stabilizing the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

International Efforts to Curb Climate Change:

The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has stated that “without rapid cuts to carbon emissions, there could be, by the end of the century, a rise in sea levels that would leave 400 million people exposed to coastal flooding each year. They go further and state that, “Scientific evidence for warming of the climate system is unequivocal. There is direct evidence that humans are the main cause of the rise of atmospheric carbon dioxide.”

Consequently, the Paris Agreement was negotiated by representatives of 196 member nations within the United Nation’s Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The Agreement’s goal was to strengthen the international response to climate change mitigation by keeping the Earth’s temperature increase to less than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees. The language was adopted by consensus on December 12, 2015, and signed in 2016. As of February 2020, all UNFCCC members have signed the agreement, 189 have become party to it, and the only significant emitters, which were not parties to the agreement, are Iran and Turkey.

Unfortunately, on June 1, 2017, and only about six months past inauguration, a new “science-light” American president announced that the United States would terminate all participation in the Paris Agreement. He stated that withdrawal would be in accordance with his “America First” policy.

This decision stunned our allies, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that “it’s time to look ahead. This decision can’t and won’t stop all those of us who feel obliged to protect the planet; on the contrary. we in Germany, Europe and the world will combine our forces more resolutely than ever to address and successfully tackle challenges for humanity such as climate change.”

The President’s decision to withdraw could accelerate and worsen the impacts that global warming is already having on Long Island Sound and Connecticut’s environment. He has also proposed cutting federal funding for environmental programs in Long Island Sound and is easing anti-pollution regulations over various industries. He argued that those changes will help the economy.

Despite that decision, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Oregon, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, Vermont and Virginia have all joined a coalition committed to upholding the Paris Agreement and taking aggressive action on climate change.

A Few Final Thoughts:

These are the data. None of this is really new and much of it factored into the Paris Agreement. I don’t know whether “accepting” climate change and sea level rise require a certain belief system or just the ability to understand and embrace scientific fact.

We’re at the point where we need to cut carbon pollution as quickly as feasibly possible. That’s true, whether Earth has warmed 1.0 or 1.1 or 1.2°C above “pre-industrial” temperatures. I believe that these “seemingly modest” increases have given us an unfortunate sense of security regarding the impacts of our changing climate.

In the speech announcing his decision to leave the Paris Agreement, President Trump argued that “even if all the goals in the agreement were met, it would cut global temperatures by only two-tenths of one degree by 2100.” He did not go further and explain why that supported his decision. In contrast, MIT researchers have said: “The real risk with global warming is if it accelerates so quickly that we can’t respond fast enough.”

My next column will examine some of history’s key speeches. I am a reader of speeches made by both American and World leaders. I often find them to be very inspirational.

In closing, former Connecticut resident Mark Twain is supposed to have said: “Everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it”. I am not certain that he actually said that, but this is our chance to prove him wrong.

Postscript to: A View from My Porch: A Primer on Global Warming and Climate Change
By Thomas D. Gotowka
Published April 14, 2020

On April 11, the Washington Post, the New York Times, and several other newspapers published the obituary of S. Fred Singer, a scientist who made key advances in rocketry and atmospheric research in the 1950s and 1960s, who died on April 6 in Rockville, Md. According to the Washington Post, he was “President Trump’s most senior expert on climate change,” presumably assisting in decisions regarding termination of America’s participation in the Paris Agreement.

He was better known in the later years of his life for an unrelenting criticism of the scientific consensus surrounding climate change and global warming.

Siegfried Frederick Singer was born Sept. 27, 1924, in Vienna, Austria. However, after the Nazi invasion of Austria, he was sent to England as part of the “Kindertransport” program that resettled Jewish children. 

He came to the United States in the early 1940s and served in the Navy during World War II, and worked on weapons programs.

He received a Bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from Ohio State University in 1943, and both Master’s and Doctoral degrees in physics from Princeton University in 1944 and 1948 respectively. 

His career was somewhat peripatetic. He conducted some of the initial experiments with high-altitude rockets and satellites, also enabling measurement of cosmic rays and other components of the upper atmosphere. He was a consultant during the start-up of the U.S. space program in the 1950s and later, while working for what is now the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), participated in early efforts to use satellites in weather forecasting.

He held senior academic positions at the Universities of Maryland, Miami and Virginia; and was also chief scientist at the U.S. Transportation Department in the late 1980s and a research professor at George Mason University in the 1990s. He also held senior-level positions at the United States Department of the Interior and the Environmental Protection Agency.

He had “very public” views and promulgated predictions that were usually considered as intentionally outside accepted scientific norms.  For example, he wrote that the “melting of ice caps and the redirecting of rivers could help irrigate the arid Southwest and produce a general improvement to the climate of the North American Arctic.” 

As many of his statements were proven spurious, Singer began a new phase in his scientific career. He adopted a new purpose as an “outsider” seeking to denigrate other scientists, who warned the public about secondhand smoke, greenhouse gas emissions, acid rain and the dangers of a steadily warming climate. “It’s all bunk,” he often said.

In a 2011 presentation at Colorado State University, he attempted to convince the audience that climate change is harmless and helpful to humans. He stated, “Stop worrying; nothing you do will have any effect on the carbon dioxide level in the atmosphere; and, even if it did, it won’t affect the planet.” Worrying about climate change, is a “psychosis.”

Singer founded the Virginia-based Science and Environmental Policy Project to “challenge” government environmental policies based on what he defined as “poor science.” In 2007, he also assisted in the launch of the Non-Governmental International Panel on Climate Change (NIPCC), which was a climate change-doubting counterpart to the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which was established by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), and endorsed by the UN General Assembly in 1988.

Over time, his primary  focus became climate change, becoming perhaps the best-known scientist speaking in opposition to a growing body of evidence that rising global temperatures could have a catastrophic effect on the planet.

As I stated in the original essay, “There is general agreement among climate scientists in Connecticut and across the world that global warming is occurring and human activity is making it worse.”

He had a regular column in the Washington Post. He wrote in 1991 that “There is nothing remotely like scientific consensus that global warming is occurring, or if it is, that it will have disastrous consequences,” and that, “A respectable body of opinion in the international scientific community holds that any climate warming is as likely to be beneficial as harmful, acting as a hedge against global cooling.”

In 1995, he condemned the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences for making a “political statement” by awarding the Nobel Prize in chemistry to three scientists, who demonstrated that chlorofluorocarbon emissions were depleting the ozone layer. I refer you to my essay, wherein I also note that “chlorofluorocarbons, once used as refrigerants and aerosol propellants, were phased out in the 1980s by international agreement.”

Singer was eventually regarded within the mainstream scientific community as a fringe figure and a crank. 

Britain’s ‘Guardian’ newspaper called him the “grandfather of climate denial.” His false assertions about climate change have been largely discredited by scientists from the American Academy of Sciences, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, NASA and NOAA.

Finally, I am only adding this postscript to the essay because his faulty declarations seemed to be heard by lawmakers and some officials who called for the United States to withdraw from international agreements on climate and the environment. As I stated above, he was “President Trump’s most senior expert on climate change,” presumably assisting in decisions regarding termination of America’s participation in the Paris Agreement.

Share

A View from My Porch: Keep Calm and Carry On

Original 1939 UK poster. From Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository.

The title of this essay is derived from a poster designed by the British government in the late 1930s to maintain morale when war against Germany became imminent. This essay roughly considers “a day in the life” of Southeastern Connecticut residents as the COVID-19 pandemic impacts each of us and our collective ability to “carry on” our lives as usual. I will present the key elements of this crisis, drawing from the wealth of real data that have become available, and define some of the terms used by our public health professionals so that you can better understand the basis for the required actions.

The Statistics: 

The Connecticut Department of Public Health (DPH) reported on March 23 that there were 618 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the state; with multiple cases in each of Connecticut’s eight counties. Fifty-four patients were hospitalized, and 12 residents have died. Over 60 percent of Connecticut cases are in Fairfield County.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported over 50,000 cases and nearly 700 deaths across the United States. The World Health Organization (WHO) reports over 415,000 cases and nearly 19,000 deaths worldwide. Note that these numbers change, and probably increase, daily. 

Excuse me in advance, but this isn’t our first rodeo; and we’ve successfully dealt with pandemics in the past. These include the HIV/AIDS crisis that began in the mid to late 1970s, and the 2009 H1N1 pandemic. 

Unfortunately, our response to COVID-19 was late and disorganized with mixed and confusing messages coming from the highest levels of the federal government. As a result, testing for the disease started late, supplies of critical personal protective equipment (PPE) like masks and gloves for health care personnel became scarce, and were not replenished in a timely manner.  The same was true of essential hospital equipment like ventilators, which are the “breathing machines” used for treating patients in severe respiratory distress. 

And so, on March 10th, Connecticut Governor Lamont joined several governors in nearby states and declared both a public health emergency and a civil preparedness emergency. A public health emergency gives the state authority over quarantine, while a civil preparedness emergency grants the governor broad powers over state institutions, allowing him to restrict travel, close public schools, some businesses, and public buildings.

As a result, only “essential businesses”, which include: grocery stores, pharmacies, medical offices, hospitals, childcare, auto repair, banks, and emergency services remain open. Restaurants may remain open, but for takeout and delivery only. Schools were closed on March 31, and there is some thought that they may remain closed through the end of the semester. Hospitals have changed visitation rules.

I will not list the “non-essential” businesses. Tele-commuting is encouraged when at all possible. These restrictions and closures have resulted in significant displacement of workers and unemployment has grown.  

Important Terminology: 

COVID-19 is a disease triggered by a coronavirus, which is a relatively common virus that can cause both upper and lower respiratory tract infections. 

In the past, most coronaviruses weren’t dangerous and caused only mild respiratory problems. However, in early 2020, following a late 2019 outbreak in China, the World Health Organization identified a new type of coronavirus. Officials named this new virus “severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus2 “(SARS-CoV-2)”. This highly contagious and virulent microorganism is the agent that causes COVID-19; which can lead to pneumonia, respiratory failure, septic shock, and death.

Older adults and any individual with a serious underlying medical condition are at higher risk for COVID-19’s more serious complications. The CDC notes that people may be most contagious when they are at their sickest. However, note that many cases are still mild to moderate and not life-threatening. These can be treated at home.

You may have also heard this virus referred to as “novel”, which, very simply, refers to a virus that has not been seen before, or has never infected humans before. As such, it’s unlikely that anyone will have immunity, or antibodies that protect them against the novel virus. 

Public health professionals stress the need to “flatten the curve” as a means of controlling this disease. The curve refers to the rate of growth of new cases displayed graphically (i.e., the projected number of new cases over a specific period of time). A “flattened” curve staggers the number of these new cases over a longer period, so that people have better access to care, and do not overburden the healthcare system. 

Transmission:

The virus is spread primarily from person-to-person, commonly through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes, saliva, or from some hard surfaces on which the virus may live for four or five days and remain infectious for even longer.

Prevention:

The best way to prevent this disease is to avoid being exposed to the virus. The CDC still recommends social distancing to reduce the probability of contact between individuals carrying the infection with others who are not infected. 

The goal is to minimize disease transmission, and its resultant morbidity, and ultimately, mortality. The minimum recommended measures include:

  • Allow six feet of interpersonal space, which means avoid crowded social activities, like going to pubs, bars, and restaurants, sporting events, theaters and cinemas.
  • Wash your hands thoroughly and frequently; use hand sanitizers.
  • Stay home when you are sick. 
  • Use the “usual” coughing and sneezing protocols.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe. 

Testing is a good thing:

It is correct that testing does increase the number of individuals identified with the disease, but it also provides the data required to target resources and plan for future needs. Testing is now widely available. All acute care hospitals have the ability to test, although for those that utilize the DPH lab in Rocky Hill, testing is reserved for patients that have been admitted to the hospital.

There are also a number of outpatient testing sites that use private labs, and do not need to comply with the admission restriction. All sites require a physician’s order, who, at present, must make an appointment for the patient.

Critical and Immediate Issues:

This crisis will not end soon. Only one source predicts an end by April 12, which is Easter Sunday in the United States. Most experts agree that an end date is difficult to predict, but 60 days is feasible.

There is currently no vaccine or “miracle” drug specifically targeting COVID-19 — no antiviral drugs are licensed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat patients with COVID-19. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) and collaborators are working on development of candidate drugs for rapid testing and evaluating re-use of drugs approved for other diseases. Current treatments often focus on protecting against opportunistic infections and alleviating symptoms while the disease “runs its course.”

We do not yet know what the recurrence rate is for patients, who have recovered from COVID-19. 

Americans have never really faced the rationing of healthcare services. It is clear, however, that we must plan for a possible surge of critically ill patients and identify additional space in which to provide care. Unfortunately, it may be possible that our medical professionals will need to make decisions regarding assignment of scarce resources like ventilators. 

I am confident that the United States will allocate resources to support our citizens and small businesses that face economic hardships as we move through this crisis. 

Make certain that you know the source of the information about this disease. The most reliable data comes from Connecticut DPH, Ledge Light Health District, and the CDC. 

Finally, God save the United States if we ever reach the point when we have to value a life lost in this pandemic less than a life lost in an economic downturn (whatever that is.)

Share

 A View from My Porch: Who’s Played Sherlock? Who Did it Best?

Although more than a century and a quarter has passed since publication of Arthur Conan Doyle’s first story, Sherlock Holmes continues to inspire novels, movies, TV, and the stage. I will review some of the actors who played Holmes in this concluding essay in my Holmes duology; and assess how true each was to Conan Doyle’s artistic vision.

Where possible, I’ll contrast each actor’s portrayal with the Holmes described by Dr. Watson, which I have paraphrased as, “His very person was such as to strike the attention of the most casual observer. He was rather over six feet, and so lean that he seemed considerably taller. His eyes were sharp and piercing, and his thin, hawk-like nose and prominent chin gave his whole expression an air of alertness, decision, and determination.”

Note that I occasionally will refer to the “canon” in this essay, which consists of the 56 short stories and four novels written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and published in the Strand Magazine.

This is no easy task. In 2012, one of the world’s most reliable sources, i.e., The Guiness Book of World Records, awarded the title for “most portrayed literary human character in film & television” to Sherlock Holmes, who had already been presented on screen, at that time, more than 250 times. He has been played. in some manner, by nearly 100 actors, including Michael Caine, Benedict Cumberbatch, Christopher Lee, Robert Downey Jr., Ian McKellen, Jonny Miller, Peter O’Toole, Christopher Plummer, and Basil Rathbone.

However, I will focus only on the MSM, that is, the Main-Sherlock-Media, and exclude the “Sherlocks” in parodies like Without a Clue, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes’ Smarter Brother, and The Great Mouse Detective.

Sherlockian Literature After Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Award-winning American playwright, Ken Ludwig, set The Game’s Afoot at a cast party in 1936 Gillette Castle. Published in 2012, the play was presented at the Ivoryton Playhouse in 2017. Jim Bennet, of Mystic, has written three historical mysteries regarding William Gillette under the pen name James Walker; in these, Gillette uses his stage persona as Sherlock Holmes to investigate murders and other crimes. 

In addition, a growing group of authors is writing short stories and novels “in the style of Arthur Conan Doyle”. Many of these “pastiches” are quite accurate in their portrayals and have begun to form a subcategory of popular literature.

Sherlock in the Cinema and on TV

Rather than attempt an exhaustive review of every actor who has portrayed Sherlock in any television or movie production, I will begin this review in the late 1930s with Basil Rathbone’s interpretation, and continue chronologically to the present. 

I feel that any review of Sherlock must also consider the associated Dr. Watson. However, I will not review the concomitant LeStrade or Moriarty characters in this essay.

I don’t pretend to have the expertise of Old Lyme resident David Handler’s character Mitch Berger of Dorset in judging these actors, but I can certainly distinguish good acting from bad; and sloppy dialog from a well-constructed plot. Moreover, in the spirit of some current American politicians, there’s absolutely no science in these assessments, although I’ll start with the null hypothesis that Basil Rathbone is Sherlock, and attempt to disprove that premise.

Basil Rathbone

Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes. From Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository.

In 1939, Basil Rathbone played Holmes in The Hound of the Baskervilles with Nigel Bruce as Watson. They continued through 1946 and completed 14 Sherlock Holmes movies. Almost concurrent with movie production, they also starred in a serialized radio drama, The New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, that aired in the United States from late 1939 through mid-1947. 

With the exception of Hound, these films were only loosely based on Arthur Conan Doyle’s canon, but were updated to reflect the issues of the day. I’m not claiming that all 14 were great cinema; but they certainly were respectable wartime productions. 

So, by mid-century, the Rathbone/Bruce team was recognized and accepted in both America and Great Britain as Holmes and Watson. I’ll reference only two movies to support my claim. 

In Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon, Holmes, disguised as an elderly book seller, smuggles a Swiss scientist and his advanced bomb sight into England just as the Gestapo prepared to arrest him and seize control of his laboratory. Many of the Holmes’ wartime movies ended with a soliloquy by Basil Rathbone. This one always brings a few tears to my eyes.

At the end of Secret Weapon, Holmes and Watson, with a contingent of the British war cabinet, are observing a squadron of Lancaster bombers equipped with the bombsight as they leave for Nazi Germany.
Watson: “Things are looking up, Holmes. This little Island’s still on the map”.
Holmes: “Yes. “This fortress – built by nature for herself; This blessed plot, this Earth, this Rome, this England”.
This latter line is, of course, from Act II of Richard II by William Shakespeare. 

In Sherlock Holmes in Washington, Holmes breaks up a Nazi spy ring operating from a high-end D.C. antiques shop, and recovers the secret microfilmed documents that they had stolen from a murdered British intelligence agent. 

As Holmes and Watson prepare to leave the District, driving towards Capitol Hill, the conversation goes like this:
Holmes: “Look up there ahead – the Capitol, the very heart of this democracy”.
Watson: “Democracy; the only hope for the future?
Holmes: “It’s not given to us to peer into the mysteries of the future, but in the days to come the British and American people will, for their own safety and for the good of all, walk together in majesty, in justice, and in peace”.
In citing Churchill’s then recent address to Congress, Sherlock reminds us of how great that legislative body once was.

While Basil Rathbone was Sherlock, both physically and intellectually, Nigel Bruce regularly presented Watson as a befuddled English gentleman and a somewhat slower associate of Holmes. His interpretation of Watson is inconsistent with the more intelligent Watson of Arthur Conan Doyle’s canon. 

Ronald Howard
In 1954, British actor Ronald Howard began a two-season run of 39 episodes on the American television series Sherlock Holmes. He played a relatively light-hearted and campy Sherlock along-side H. Marion Crawford’s Dr. Watson; who played a sharp, and sometimes aggressive Watson, unlike Nigel Bruce above. Of the 39 episodes, only The Red-Headed League was based on Arthur Conan Doyle’s original body of work. The series included such titles as: The Case of the Texas Cowgirl, and The Case of The Shoeless Engineer. However, there were occasional allusions to the Doyle canon. 

Douglas Wilmer
In 1965, the BBC began its presentation of
Sherlock Holmes with British classical actor Douglas Wilmer as the lead, and Nigel Stock as Watson. This sometimes “noirish” series continued until 1968, with 13 episodes wholly- based on the original stories. Wilmer plays a shrewd, but arrogant Holmes; and sports all the expected trappings: deerstalker cap, pipe, prominent nose, and obsessive nature. Nigel Stock is another affable, but intellectually inferior Watson. 

Jeremy Brett
In the Granada Television series that aired in the UK from 1984 to 1994, Jeremy Brett played a more emotional and physically graceful Sherlock than the predecessor Sherlocks described above. His manner was more “swaggering” with occasional outbursts of passion used to re-focus Watson or LeStrade

His sometimes overly-precise and dramatic presentation quality demonstrate his background in musical theater. He played Freddy Eynsford-Hill” in My Fair Lady. Here’s a clue for you: “I have often walked down this street before; but the pavement always stayed beneath my feet before. All at once am I several stories high, knowing I’m on the street where you live …” 

There were two Watsons over this decade-long series, namely David Burke and Edward Hardwicke. Both played the character as a highly intelligent and intuitive associate of Holmes, and true to Doyle’s canon. Many consider Jeremy Brett’s characterization of Holmes as the defining Sherlock performance. To get a feel for his style, watch this video clip to see Holmes leap the couch at 221B in The Red Headed League.

Benedict Cumberbatch

Benedict Cumberbatch during filming of ‘Sherlock’ in Chinatown, London. From Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository.

Sherlock is a contemporized version of Arthur Conan Doyle’s consulting detective now operating in 21st century London.  Cumberbatch is Holmes, and Martin Freeman is Watson. Thirteen 90-minute episodes were produced in this BBC/PBS series between 2010 and 2017. The Cumberbatch Holmes is more arrogant and self-centered than the predecessors described above, and less-willing to contend with Inspector LeStrade’s plodding manner.

The deerstalker cap is absent, although other traditional detective attire (long coat and scarf) frequently appear. I believe that, although updated with contemporary technology, and despite the unruly hair, Cumberbatch’s portrayal of the character is first rate. His Holmes still has exceptional intellect, is excitable, and delights in “solving puzzles no one else could solve.” 

Dr. Watson is a younger veteran of the Royal Army Medical Corps in the Afghan War than those reviewed above and is certainly played as a more independent “self-starter”. He blogs about their adventures rather than writing by hand for publication in the print media.

However, Watson’s blog provides the pair some unwanted celebrity and  the press begins reporting on the cases and Sherlock’s sometimes eccentric personal life. Their cases, like those in the canon, come from both ordinary people and the British government. 

Jonny Miller

Elementary first aired in 2012, and ran for seven seasons and over 150 episodes. There is little connection to Arthur Conan Doyle’s body of work beyond some character names and occasional allusions to the original stories. 

Elementary is really a “police procedural” with Jonny Miller as Sherlock Holmes, and Lucy Liu as Dr. Joan Watson. Sherlock is a recovering drug addict and former consultant to Scotland Yard, who has re-located to a Brooklyn brownstone in present-day New York City for addiction treatment.

Watson is a former surgeon who has left practice, and is hired by Sherlock’s father to assist in his rehabilitation as his sober companion. Watson’s relationship with Holmes evolves from sober companion, to investigative apprentice, and into a professional crime-solving partnership with Sherlock and the NYPD. 

This Holmes is, of course, indifferent to proper procedure as he works with the NYPD. one critic describes the series as, “pretty good television; the stories are unpredictable, and often draw on contemporary issues like hacking, cyber-espionage, and corruption in international finance. I don’t recall whether the latter was Deutsche Bank. There is a definite “psychological component” underlying the series and the plots often include the characters’ struggles to deal with their many demons. 

Robert Downey Jr.

Downey is not, by any stretch of the imagination, Sherlock Holmes. Others disagree, as a third movie is apparently in progress, beyond Sherlock Holmes (2009), and A Game of Shadows (2011). His interpretation is more vulgar and more cynical than those reviewed above. There is significant violence in the plots, perhaps because the movies are targeting a less-sophisticated and/or a teenaged audience. The first two movies are totally lacking in subtlety and I think of them as the violent video games that you want your children to avoid. 

Some Final Thoughts

I always pass my penultimate draft by my wife, Christina. Her comments were that, “the essay is well-punctuated, but maybe a little obsessive.” I agree that I punctuate well. 

I have watched each of theafore-mentioned movies or TV shows at least once; either on DVD, or for the more recent ones, on television or in the theater. To explain, nine years ago next Halloween, I had just finished a two-year period during which I had almost unlimited time for reading and the media. I wasn’t incarcerated or unemployed; and, although I am a Navy veteran, I was not a member of a ballistic missile submarine team rotated ashore. 

I have also concluded that Senator Blumenthal does bear some resemblance to the Holmes described by Dr. Watson in the first paragraph of this essay; and certainly, his activities as Connecticut Attorney General also required some of the fundamental skills of a “consulting detective”. Our junior senator could, conceivably, be Watson. This is not a political column, so I won’t name any of the more obvious candidates for Moriarty.

The next essay changes focus from human icons to Connecticut’s iconic Long Island Sound and the rising water levels that I have observed from my porch over the past several years

Tom Gotowka

About the author: Tom Gotowka’s entire adult career has been in healthcare. He’ will sit on the Navy side at the Army/Navy football game. He always sit on the crimson side at any Harvard/Yale contest. He enjoys reading historic speeches and considers himself a scholar of the period from FDR through JFK.

A child of AM Radio, he probably knows the lyrics of every rock and roll or folk song published since 1960. He hopes these experiences give readers a sense of what he believes “qualify” him to write this column.

Share

A View From My Porch: An Appropriate Day to Remember Connecticut Icon William Gillette

Gillette Castle, former home of the iconic movie star and playwright, Connecticut-born William Gillette, who died in 1937.

Editor’s Note: Tom Gotowka sent us this piece last week, but we had always planned to publish it today. By an extraordinary coincidence, we now find — thanks to an article sent to us this morning by our friend and regular correspondent George Ryan — that today is the 90th anniversary of William Gillette’s final performance as Sherlock Holmes, given Feb. 12, 1930 at the popular Parsons Theatre in downtown Hartford.
Timing is everything … so many thanks indeed to George for his gem of information and Tom for his fascinating insight into the life and work of Mr. Gillette.

I am going a few miles upstream in this essay towards East Haddam and its medieval gothic castle to consider William Gillette’s impact on how Sherlock Holmes has been portrayed in movies and television. My goal in these essays is to cover the subject thoroughly enough to either satisfy your curiosity, or to pique your interest to pursue some additional research.

Assuming the editor’s forbearance, I will also review, in a subsequent essay, several of the actors who played Holmes or Watson to judge how true they were to either Gillette’s or Arthur Conan Doyle’s artistic vision.

Gillette was born to a progressive political family in Hartford’s Nook Farm neighborhood where authors Harriet Beecher Stowe, Mark Twain, and Charles Dudley Warner each once resided. His mother was a Hooker, that is a direct descendant of Connecticut Colony co-founder Thomas Hooker. Gillette is most recognized for his on-stage interpretation of Sherlock Holmes. He may have been America’s first matinée idol or to put it another way, the era’s rock star.

The Sherlockian Literature

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. See below for photo credit.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote 56 short stories and four novels between the 1880s and the early 20th century that comprise the “canon” of Sherlock Holmes. The stories were first published in Strand Magazine and two of the novels were serialized in that same periodical. 

Holmes defined himself as the world’s first and only “consulting detective.” He shared rooms at 221B Baker Street in London with Dr. John H. Watson, who was a former army surgeon wounded in the Second Afghan War. 

Holmes referred to Watson as his “Boswell” because he chronicled his life and the investigations that they jointly pursued as did 18th century biographer, James Boswell, of Dr. Samuel Johnson.  Watson was described as a typical Victorian-era gentleman and also served as first-person narrator for nearly all of the stories.

Holmes was known for his incredible skills of observation and deduction, and forensic science and logic, all of which he used when investigating cases for his myriad clients, which often included Scotland Yard. He played the violin well and was an expert singlestick player, boxer, and swordsman. He summarized his investigative skills for Watson this way, “Once you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth,” and, “It is my business to know what other people don’t know.”

However, Holmes had shortcomings. He was a very heavy smoker of black shag pipe tobacco, which he kept in the toe of a Persian slipper on the fireplace mantel at 221B. He also smoked cigars and cigarettes. A very difficult problem was called a “three pipe problem.” 

He used cocaine and morphine to provide “stimulation for his overactive brain” during periods when he did not have an interesting case or as an escape from “the dull routine of existence.” This was not really unusual in that period because the sale of opium, laudanum, cocaine, and morphine was legal and often used to self-medicate or for recreation. This habit was worrisome for Dr. Watson, although he once said of Holmes, “He was the best and wisest man whom I have ever known.”

The Holmes stories were immensely popular and Doyle’s last publication in Strand, “The Final Problem,” elicited such public (and Royal Family) outrage, that there were mass subscriber cancellations bringing the magazine to the brink of failure.

William Gillette. See below for photo credit.

Doyle decided to write a stage play about Holmes, set earlier in the detective’s career. He was probably compelled to do so because there already were several Sherlock Holmes on-stage productions, which provided him no income, and were of such poor quality that he felt the need to both protect his character’s legacy and improve his own income stream. 

He drafted the play and shared it with his literary agent, who sent it on to Broadway producer and impresario, Charles Frohman. Frohman reviewed it and said it needed substantial work before anyone would consider production. He suggested that William Gillette be offered the rewriting task. 

At that time, Gillette was already well-known as a talented actor and a successful and prolific playwright. His approach was a significant change from the melodramatic standards in the American theater of the time. He stressed realism in sets, lighting, and sound effects. Holmes Scholar Susan Dahlinger described Gillette’s acting style this way, “He could be thrilling without bombast, or infinitely touching without descending to sentimentality.” 

So, Doyle agreed with Frohman, and Gillette began the project by reading the entire “canon” of Holmes stories and novels. He began drafting the new manuscript while touring in California with the stage production of “Secret Service,” which he had also written.  He exchanged frequent telegrams with Doyle during the process and, with Doyle’s blessing, borrowed some plots and detail from the canon in adapting Doyle’s original manuscript into a four-act play. 

Unfortunately, neither Gillette’s first draft nor Doyle’s original script ever reached stage production. A fire broke out at Gillette’s San Francisco hotel and both manuscripts were lost. So, Gillette began a complete redraft of his lost script, and Doyle was finally able to present a play before the century’s end that he deemed worthy of Sherlock Holmes.

It is worth noting that Frohman perished on the Lusitania in May, 1915, after it had been torpedoed by a German submarine.

In 1899, Gillette was “predictably” cast for the lead role in “Sherlock Holmes A Drama in Four Acts.” Initially presented in previews at the Star Theatre in Buffalo, NY, it opened that November at the Garrick Theatre in New York City, and ran there for more than 260 performances before beginning a tour of the United States and then on to a long run in London, where it received great critical and public acclaim.

He starred in that role for more than 30 years, and about 1,500 productions in the United States and Great Britain. He also starred in the 1916 silent film, “Sherlock Holmes,” which film-historians have called, “the most elaborate of the early movies.”

Playing a role for so many years was not unusual at that time in American Theater. For example, James O’Neill, father of playwright Eugene, played Edmond Dantès, The Count of Monte Cristo, more than 6000 times between 1875 and 1920.

Some Key Elements of Gillette’s Sherlock

Although William Gillette is really no longer a “household name” — except perhaps,here in Southeastern Connecticut, where much of how we imagine Holmes today is still due to his stage portrayal of the great consulting detective. 

Gillette actually bore some resemblance to the Holmes described by Dr. Watson in “A Study in Scarlet.” Watson notes, “His [Holmes’s] very person and appearance were such as to strike the attention of the most casual observer. In height he was rather over six feet, and so excessively lean that he seemed to be considerably taller. His eyes were sharp and piercing, and his thin, hawk-like nose gave his whole expression an air of alertness and decision. His chin, too, had the prominence and squareness which mark the man of determination.” 

Gillette’s Holmes appeared in deerstalker cap and Inverness cape. He smoked a curve-stemmed briar pipe, and carried a magnifying glass.  He crafted a phrase that eventually evolved into one of the most recognized lines in popular culture: “Elementary, my dear Watson.” Gillette’s direct style was said to lend a bit of arrogance to Holmes beyond that which Doyle had depicted —  that arrogance has become a hallmark of Holmes’ portrayal in contemporary movies and television.

And finally, Gillette introduced the page, “Billie,” who had actually been played by a certain 13-year-old Charles Spencer Chaplin during the London engagement. At the end of the run, Chaplin began his career as a Vaudeville comedian, which ultimately took him to the United States and movie stardom as the incomparable Charlie Chaplin. 

Some Final Thoughts

I first learned of William Gillette a few summers ago when I visited his remarkable home, “Gillette Castle” built high above the eastern bank of the Connecticut River. I left that visit impressed with Gillette’s creativity in his design of the doors, light switches, and some of the furniture; wondering about his secret multi-mirror “spying” system, and with the assumption that he was just an eccentric artist who liked trains. 

However, I enjoy the Sherlock Holmes literature; and began reading the “canon” at age twelve. I have certainly re-read many of the stories a few more times. Over the past several years, I began to read several authors who write Sherlock Holmes short stories and novels “in the style of Arthur Conan Doyle.” Some of these “pastiches,” as they are called, are quite accurate in style and continuity of Doyle’s themes. 

In researching this essay, I was surprised with the breadth of scholarly work that is currently available regarding Sherlock and Gillette. There are several national and international literary organizations that have also developed around Doyle’s work.

The Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth offers a “Study of Sherlock” course, wherein students engage in critical reading, thinking, and writing by studying the iconic detective.

Our local expert on Holmes is Danna Mancini of Niantic. He has lectured and conducted seminars on The World of “Sherlock Holmes.” He is active in at least two Holmes literary organizations: The Baker Street Irregulars (NYC) and the Speckled Band of Boston.

Of some note, the Special Operations Executive (SOE) tasked by Winston Churchill to “set Europe ablaze” during World War II, had its headquarters at 64 Baker Street and was often called, “The Baker Street Irregulars.”

So, the ‘consulting detective’ continues to inspire novels, movies, and television.

As noted above, I will review several of the actors who played Holmes or Watson in these media in my next essay, and judge how true they were to either Gillette’s or Arthur Conan Doyle’s artistic vision.

Photo credit for the photo of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is as follows: By Arnold Genthe – PD image from http://www.sru.edu/depts/cisba/compsci/dailey/217students/sgm8660/Final/They got it from: http://www.lib.utexas.edu/photodraw/portraits/,where the source was given as: Current History of the War v.I (December 1914 – March 1915). New York: New York Times Company., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=240887

Photo credit for the photo of William Gillette is as follows: Billy Rose Theatre Division, The New York Public Library. William Gillette Retrieved from http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47de-e15c-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99

Tom Gotowka

About the author: Tom Gotowka’s entire adult career has been in healthcare. He’ will sit on the Navy side at the Army/Navy football game. He always sit on the crimson side at any Harvard/Yale contest. He enjoys reading historic speeches and considers himself a scholar of the period from FDR through JFK.

A child of AM Radio, he probably knows the lyrics of every rock and roll or folk song published since 1960. He hopes these experiences give readers a sense of what he believes “qualify” him to write this column.

Share

A View from My Porch: Lyme Native Ezra Lee was World’s First Commander of an Attack Submarine in Battle

There was a time before our time,
It will not come again,
When the best ships still were wooden ships
But the men were iron men …

Sgt. Ezra Lee, 1749 – 1821, is buried   in the Duck River Cemetery in Old Lyme. Image from Wikipedia Public Domain: painter and engraver unknown, from The Story of the Submarine by Farnham Bishop.

I believe this eloquent verse from Rosemary and Stephen Vincent Benet’s ode to New England’s “Clipper Ships and Captains” can also be used to describe Ezra Lee, the first man to command an attack submarine in battle.

In this essay, I will describe the heroism of this native of Lyme, Conn., and present some key elements of this remarkable period in Connecticut’s history. However, I think that one must have some understanding of his primitive submarine in order to fully appreciate Ezra Lee’s courage.

Bushnell’s Genius

This first submarine, named the Turtle, was designed and built by David Bushnell in what is now Westbrook, Conn.

Bushnell was a farmer, but left the family farm in the care of his brother, Ezra, in 1771 to pursue his education at Yale College. He graduated in 1775. His last year at Yale coincided with the Battles of Lexington and Concord, i.e., the beginning of the American War of Independence.

By that time, several other important events leading to the war with the British had already occurred. They included the Boston Massacre (1770), the Boston Tea Party (1773); and enactment of the Boston Port Act, which was one of five “Intolerable Acts”, implemented in 1774 to punish the colonists after the Tea Party. The law, was enforced by a British naval blockade of Boston harbor, which effectively shut down all commerce and travel in and out of Boston and the Massachusetts colony.

Bushnell was a fervent patriot and felt strongly that defeating the mighty British Navy would require unconventional tactics. He began a collaboration with another member of the Yale community, Phineas Pratt. One of their first projects was the development of an underwater bomb with a mechanical time-delayed detonator – a distant forerunner of contemporary naval mines. It is noteworthy that part of his Yale tenure overlapped with Nathan Hale’s, who graduated in 1773.

Bushnell felt that he could use this underwater explosive against the British if he could develop the means to deliver it to a targeted warship and place it below the waterline.

So, having returned to Westbrook after graduation, Bushnell’s small team, which now included his brother Ezra, turned its attention to developing a vessel that could transport and attach these explosive devices to enemy warships … and the idea of a “sub-marine” was conceived. Bushnell recognized that, to be effective and avoid detection, the vessel would have to be completely submerged for some period of time during the mission; be able to move through the water; and, when ready, return safely to the surface.

Colonial Era Engineering Limitations

With little real successful precedent on which to build, Bushnell’s submarine would be a “true” invention. Clearly, there were many significant engineering and design problems that the team had to resolve. They included building a watertight, pressure-proof, and vertically stable vessel; propulsion – both vertical and horizontal; steering, and vision; and the actual weapons-delivery system.

A key issue was that of developing the means to vary the vessel’s ballast in order to enable submersion and re-surfacing. Bushnell eventually solved these problems and introduced some innovations. For example, he equipped his vessel with an early snorkel-type breathing device and a two-bladed propeller for propulsion.

The Turtle

‘Turtle’ model on dsplay at the Royal Navy Submarine Museum in Gosport, England. The image is published under this license.

I realize that I am over-simplifying here, but I’m trying to avoid getting stuck in the sea-weeds of the Turtle’s design and construction.

The Turtle resembled two tortoise shells, bound together. It was constructed of oak timbers, which were shaped, joined, and caulked at the joints. The vessel was bound with iron bands and covered with tar to ensure water tightness.

It was about 7 ft. long, 4 ft. wide, and 8 ft. from its keel to the top of its brass “conning tower,” which protruded about eight inches out of the water. It had no periscope, but the conning tower contained six glass ports.

The submarine was capable of only carrying one person, who sat upright on a seat roughly resembling a bicycle seat (see photo at left.) Moreover, Turtle was equipped with a depth gauge to measure distance from the surface. a compass for navigating, and a crude ventilator to supply the vessel with fresh air at the surface.

Controls included hand-cranks and pedals for operation of the propellers; a rudder, located behind the operator, controlled by foot; and; an “immersion chamber,” for flooding when additional ballast was required. Turtle submerged and surfaced via brass pumps that took in or expelled seawater as ballast, and 700 pounds of lead weights, which could be let out or retracted as needed.

The Turtle had no real ballast tanks; and the incoming seawater simply flooded the floor of the cabin – leaving the operator knee-deep in water until it was eliminated with the pumps when it was time to surface.

Two tubes, which passed through the conning tower hatch provided fresh air when near the surface. The air supply would last only about 30 minutes, and would soon become foul when the submarine was submerged. The exterior was equipped with a large screw that could be twisted into the planks of a ship’s hull. The screw was tethered by a rope to one of Bushnell’s timed explosive devices.

It is interesting that Bushnell had actually consulted fellow revolutionary, Ben Franklin, to solve the problem of illuminating the Turtle’s interior – who suggested using phosphorescent “foxfire.”

Sea Trials

Turtle was tested after completion of construction in 1775 in the relative safety of the Connecticut River. Ben Franklin observed the initial tests from the shore and was favorably impressed and understood its potential in naval warfare. The Turtle was also recommended to George Washington by Connecticut Governor Jonathan Trumbull. Ezra Bushnell had been trained in operating the Turtle and had assumed that role during testing, and presumably, would also pilot the vessel in battle.

As noted, the Turtle held only a single person, and that person was wholly responsible for bringing the craft to the target and attaching and arming the explosives. That person required substantial physical strength and stamina, incredible focus, and the utter absence of claustrophobia.

There are replicas of the Turtle in Groton’s Submarine Force Museum and the CT River Museum in Essex; which has a cut-away display in which one may experience Turtle’s cabin.

The Bushnell Farm house is located at 1445 Boston Post Rd., Old Saybrook, CT.

The First Mission

The Turtle was ready for deployment by the spring of 1776 – and may have originally been planned for use against the British warships blockading Boston Harbor. However, by that time, the British had ended their blockade and moved their ships north to Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Ezra Lee’s Mission

In July, 1776, a British naval force began to move into New York Harbor, carrying supplies and soldiers. General William Howe and Admiral Richard Howe had essentially shut down western Long Island and New York to the colonists.

The Turtle was transported overland through Connecticut to New York Harbor, which was still in American hands. After arriving in New York, Ezra Bushnell developed a terrible fever, possibly Typhoid, and was unable to carry out any mission.

Brigadier General Samuel Holden Parsons, also from Lyme, then recommended three men to train to pilot the submarine. One of those men was his brother-in-law, Ezra Lee. So, to avoid discovery by the British, David Bushnell returned to Connecticut with the Turtle, and began intensive training of the three recruits. After a month of training, Lee was chosen to make the first attack on a British warship.

General Washington gave permission for Turtle’s first mission on Sept. 6 – an attack on the HMS Eagle, Admiral Howe’s flagship, which was anchored in New York Harbor, south of Manhattan. Near midnight on the 6th, Turtle was towed by a pulling boat from the Battery towards the Eagle. Halfway, Ezra Lee entered the Turtle and secured the hatch over his head. – and a submarine was engaged in battle for the first time against an enemy ship. Later, Lee wrote several letters describing this mission.

It took Lee nearly two hours of pedaling to reach the Eagle. Once there, he took on some ballast, and submerged completely. When he thought he was under his target, he pumped out a small quantity of water from the ballast tank, until a bump indicated he was beneath Eagle, with the auger screw against the ship’s bottom.

Unfortunately, Lee’s attempt to attach the explosive with the auger screw failed, possibly because a metal plate covered the area where he was trying to drill. He was forced to re-surface to replenish his air supply. He submerged again and attempted to drill into another spot in the hull. On that second dive he was unable to stay beneath the ship, and eventually abandoned the attempt.

It is possible that the tide turned during the second attack and Lee was unable to compensate. Lee’s mission was near the southern tip of Manhattan, where the Hudson River and the East River merge. The currents tend to be strong and complex there. So, Turtle would only be able to attack a ship moored in that area during a short period of time when the incoming tide balanced the river currents.

Lee was exhausted, and the outgoing tide threatened to take Turtleout to sea. He ejected all the ballast water and began pedaling with his remaining strength. With the ballast water pumped out, one third of Turtle’s hull stuck out of the water, making it clearly visible in daylight. As the day grew lighter, the British spotted the Turtle, and set out in small boats to confront it.

To divert the patrol and to lighten his craft, Lee released the explosive device that he had tried to attach to Eagle. It drifted towards the East River and soon exploded. In Lee’s words, it, “went off with a tremendous explosion, throwing up large bodies of water to an immense height.” Lee returned safely after several hours on the water and received Washington’s congratulations in person.

Lee did make a second unsuccessful attempt against the British frigate HMS Cereberus, but was discovered and forced to retreat.

An Ignominious Victory

Although Turtle’s missions were unsuccessful in that no damage was inflicted on any British vessel, some historians feel that the venture was, by no means, a failure. They suggest that the explosion led to Admiral Howe ordering the British warships to be repositioned further off the harbor, from which they could no longer maintain their blockade of New York.

Perhaps an intangible psychological victory might also be claimed simply through her use as another unconventional weapon of war employed by the colonists. These also included the guerilla tactics employed by the self-trained and highly mobile militia, which was organized to assemble rapidly and deploy where needed, and aptly named the “Minutemen.”

Note that the National Archives possess a letter that George Washington wrote to Thomas Jefferson in September,1785 about the Turtle, saying, “I then thought, and still think, that it was an effort of genius.”

David Bushnell – After the Attack on Eagle

Bushnell loaded Turtle aboard a fast sloop, hoping that the sloop could slip unnoticed past the British into Long Island Sound and back to Connecticut. A British frigate discovered the sloop, however, and, according to the British, sank her and her cargo. Note that there are many versions of the Turtle’s final days.

In 1778, General Washington proposed the formation of a new military unit to be known as the “Corps of Sappers and Miners” (i.e., combat engineers.) It was organized in the summer of the next year. Bushnell was given command of the Corps with the rank of captain-lieutenant in August, 1779.

Ezra Lee – After the Attack on Eagle

Lee was moved by Washington into the secret service/special forces. He later participated in the Battles of Trenton, Brandywine and Monmouth.

Lee died in 1821. His obituary in the “Commercial Advisor” (November 1821) stated: “Died, at Lyme, on the 29th October Captain Ezra Lee, aged 72, a revolutionary officer. He died without an enemy. It is not a little remarkable, that this officer is the only man, of which it can be said, that he fought the enemy upon land–upon water–and under the water…”

Lee is buried in the Duck River Cemetery in Old Lyme. The inscription on his original grave marker was: “EZRA LEE. / DIED / Aged 72 Years. / He was a Revolutionary / Officer, / and esteemed by / Washington.” Unfortunately, during the colonial era, gravestones were often made from softer types of stone, such as sandstone and slate, which were easier to cut and carve. However, they deteriorated. Lee’s original marker has been replaced with a granite obelisk, but without the full original inscription.

Some Observations by the Author

I am not a native of southeast Connecticut. Rather. I am an émigré from West Simsbury in Connecticut’s northwest hills. I knew almost nothing about David Bushnell and Ezra Lee before visiting the Connecticut River Museum, but I was encouraged to learn more.

Stewart Holbrook, author of “Lost Men of American History,” has claimed that “… had a Longfellow fastened upon him, Ezra Lee would be as well known today as Paul Revere, and it is a pity that he isn’t.”

“Bushnell’s Infernal Machine” sung by New England balladeer Larry Kaplan

This song provides a view of Turtle from the inside. Kaplan is known for his songs of New England and its seas. Visit this link to see the song performed.

Editor’s Note: The author is going a few miles north on the Connecticut River for his next essay to visit William Gillette and review his impact on the cinematic portrayal of Sherlock Holmes.

Tom Gotowka

About the author: Tom Gotowka’s entire adult career has been in healthcare. He’ will sit on the Navy side at the Army/Navy football game. He always sit on the crimson side at any Harvard/Yale contest. He enjoys reading historic speeches and considers himself a scholar of the period from FDR through JFK.

A child of AM Radio, he probably knows the lyrics of every rock and roll or folk song published since 1960. He hopes these experiences give readers a sense of what he believes “qualify” him to write this column.

Share

A View from My Porch: The Second Renaissance of Miss ElizabethTashjian (Connecticut’s “Nut Lady”)

Editor’s Note: We are delighted to welcome a new columnist to our LymeLine family today. Tom Gotowka will write an occasional piece under the title, “A View From My Porch,” and we are going to let him introduce both his column and himself in his own words.  We hope you enjoy Tom’s offerings — as always, let us know your thoughts!

Author’s Note: “A View from My Porch” is a new column that will cover a range of subjects that I believe will be of community interest. It might be literature and the arts, an event, or even something to do with healthcare. I may occasionally stray into a political issue, but this column will not be partisan political (Other publications have that more than covered.) In reality, all I see from my porch is my wife’s studio, a red barn, a network of beautiful gardens, and a salt marsh, but, of course, “a view” is so much more than what one actually sees.

To give you a sense of the experiences that “qualify” me to write this column, my entire adult career has been in healthcare. I’ll sit on the Navy side at the Army/Navy football game. I always sit on the crimson side at any Harvard/Yale contest. I enjoy reading historic speeches and consider myself a scholar of the period from FDR through JFK. A child of AM Radio, I probably know the lyrics of every rock and roll or folk song published since 1960.

My first few columns will take a fresh look at some of Old Lyme’s cultural and historic icons. As such, this first essay is titled “The Second Renaissance of Miss ElizabethTashjian”. The second column covers Naval hero Ezra Lee.

Eliazabeth Tashjian appeared several times on ‘The Tonight Show’ with Johnny Carson.

The Second Renaissance of Miss ElizabethTashjian (Connecticut’s “Nut Lady”)

Connecticut College’s exhibition, “Revisiting the Nut Museum: Visionary Art of Elizabeth Tashjian,” has just closed. I posit that this gallery display of her paintings, drawings, and sculptures, together with the recent Florence Griswold Museum Samuel Thorne Memorial Lecture by Professor Christopher Steiner, “Performing the Nut Museum,” represent the culminating events in this “second Renaissance.” Let me walk you through the facts that led me to this conclusion.

I was introduced to Elizabeth Tashjian more than a quarter century ago (holy cow!) by Colin McEnroe, who now hosts his own show on CT Public Radio and writes a weekly column for Hearst Communications. My wife and I were not yet residents of Old Lyme. This essay begins with a synopsis of her life. However, the crux of this column is my assertion that she became masterful at managing the media, and playing the role of quirky, eccentric artist.

Miss Tashjian was born into privilege in Manhattan in 1912, the daughter of wealthy Armenian immigrants. Her parents divorced when she was 7 years old, and she continued living in Manhattan with her mother. She showed great promise as a concert violinist and pursued music early — and before pursuing her interest in art. She studied at the New York School of Applied Design for Women and the National Academy of Design.

Elizabeth and her mother moved into a 19th century Gothic Revival mansion on Ferry Road in Old Lyme in 1950. Her mother died in 1959 and she continued living there alone. Her father pre-deceased her mother and left no estate.

Nuts were always her passion. This began during her classical arts training in New York City, where she created many paintings of nuts and nutcrackers. These themes would continue throughout her life. She was an active member of Lyme Art Association and frequently displayed her works there.

In 1972, she opened the Nut Museum, which was housed in the dining room on the ground floor of her home. The Nut Museum collection was largely comprised of her own artwork, including over 100 paintings, 20 aluminum sculptures, nut jewelry, and a Nativity scene made completely of nuts. Her art has been described as “visionary”, “avant-garde”, “surrealist”, and/or “outsider.”

She remained unmarried throughout her life. I could not find any reference to any real employment, which allowed her to concentrate wholly on her art. Like her mother, she became a Christian Science healer in mid-life, which may have provided some modest income.

Susan Campbell, writing in the Hartford Courant, described her visit to the Nut Museum: “The first time I met Elizabeth Tashjian, she swooped down the stairs of her Old Lyme mansion to greet me, and I was immediately in her thrall. I remember there was a cape.”

In 1981, Tashjian appeared on Johnny Carson’s “Tonight Show” for the first time. She and Carson “clicked” and her success with him led to many other television appearances, including Letterman, Leno, and others. Her TV appearances usually included one of her songs (e.g., “Nuts Are Beautiful” or the “March of the Nuts.”)

She did not have the same rapport with the other hosts that she had developed in her two appearances with Carson. She often brought a 35-pound coco de mer nut with her to these appearances. The coco de mer, or “nut of the sea” is native to the Seychelles and has an unfortunate resemblance to a woman’s buttocks. She told Carson that “the existence of such a sexually provocative nut utterly refuted Darwin’s “Origin of Species.” Professor Steiner (see below) said “it was arguable whether she was exploited by the media, or exploited it.” His suspicion was that she was the joker, not the joke.

She became known as the “Nut Lady”, which she hated. Preferring words like enthusiast, advocate, culturalist, or visionary.

Miss Tashjian became increasingly reclusive from the mid-1990s through the turn of the century; and her health began to fail. Fortunately, she had found a “champion” in Christopher Steiner, a professor of art history and museum studies at Connecticut College, who was determined to protect her artistic legacy. He remained her supporter and advocate for the rest of her life.

By 2002, she was nearly indigent, in serious debt, and very frail. I won’t provide the terrible details; but she fell into a coma, was declared incompetent, and a ward of the State. The Courts put her house on the market to pay her debts. Despite refusing medical treatment because of her religious beliefs, she recovered, but was confined, apparently against her will, to a nursing home where she died in 2007.

The contents of the Nut Museum had been removed by Professor Steiner while her home was being sold. He had successfully petitioned the Old Lyme Probate Court to recognize the historic and artistic significance of the collection. Unfortunately, Tom Selleck and Henry Winkler were not yet pitching reverse mortgages as financial salvation for the indigent elderly.

And so, begins her “second Renaissance.”  In 2004, the Lyman Allyn Museum in New London launched a show of her work at which she was the guest of honor. Documentary filmmaker Don Bernier completed “In a Nutshell: A Portrait of Elizabeth Tashjian,” a feature-length video about the artist highlighting the diverse roles she assumed during her lifetime, which debuted at Connecticut. College.

Her obituary appeared in the New York Times Food Section in 2007: under the heading,“Elizabeth Tashjian, 94, an Expert on Nuts, dies,” which would have certainly appealed to her sense of irony.

The New Yorker carried “The Nut Lady Returns” in 2005.

The Armenian Weekly provides a detailed account of the Connecticut College exhibition.

Lee Howard’s recent article in The Day, “Reimagining the Nut Lady and her Art,” provides a friend’s perspective:

Share