Rich Wilhelm

Archive for the ‘American history’ Category

52 at 52: Week 01

In American history, history, Music/Memory, Uncategorized on June 10, 2017 at 1:44 am

On my 52nd birthday, one week ago today, I contemplated the idea of posting a weekly column here on Dichotomy of the Dog from now until my next birthday. Each column would compile bits and pieces of my handwritten journal that week. Fifty-two columns at 52. Time to begin.


George Washington slept here. No, really, he did.

D-Day, Valley Forge, Pennsylvania

I spent a few minutes walking around George Washington’s headquarters at Valley Forge on Tuesday, which happened to be the 73th anniversary of D-Day. The bravery and perseverance of those who endured the winter encampment at Valley Forge and of those who stormed those beaches in France in 1944 is so self-evident that it almost seems like a cliché to comment on it. But the truth is that it is impossible to imagine just how brave and how persevering the soldiers of Valley Forge and D-Day needed to be.

Think also of Washington and Eisenhower.  Neither man can quite live up to the enormous mythology surrounding them, but these two generals were exactly the men required for the demands of the American Revolution and World War II.

Clearly, we’re living through some weird times right now. It would be easy to give up hope on the promise of the United States. But the stories of Valley Forge and D-Day give me hope that we will find our way through the current darkness and move on from it. But we need to face up to the darkness with a little bit of bravery and perseverance of our own, and do something positive to combat the weirdness.

A Brief TrumpNote

Honestly, I don’t want to fixate on our current president, who is about as far away in terms of character and integrity from Washington and Eisenhower as can be imagined. But, if I’m going to be true to myself in these weekly columns, then comments on Mr. Trump will emerge. But I’ll try to keep them brief. In this case, I read the following in a CNN article on Trump’s reaction to the recent British terrorist attack:

His tweets on the London attacks may delight his supporters, but they raise questions about whether he is besmirching the decorum that is inherent in the Presidency itself.

As far as I can tell, that train, the Presidential Decorum Besmirchment Express, left the station months ago. Around January 20th.

Thoughts on Al Stewart

Earlier in the week, I rolled my uber-geeky 20-sided Mystical Dice of Random Musical Experience and was directed by them to listen to the three albums I own by the ever-so-slightly proggy British folk/pop/rock singer Al Stewart. As anyone familiar with Stewart’s work might imagine, my repeated listening sessions with Past, Present and Future (1974), Year of the Cat (1976), and Time Passages (1978) led to all kinds of deep thoughts and revelations, some of which I’ll share with you now.

  1. The Time Passages album was one of three free albums I received when I used my powers of persuasion to convince this guy named Steve to join the Columbia Record Club roundabout 1979. We used to deliver newspapers together and I cajoled him with the promise of oh-so-many records for just one penny. The other albums were Steely Dan’s Aja and the inevitable Pieces of Eight by Styx. Because “Renegade” rocked.
  2. Even as an adolescent, I aspired to the kind of melancholic wistfulness embodied in the title track of Time Passages. Sure, I was only a 13-year-old kid pining for the days of being an eight-year-old kid, but my melancholic wistfulness would not be denied, and no song from the late ’70s captures melancholic wistfulness better than “Time Passages.” Other than “Disco Duck,” that is.
  3. That extended instrumental passage in Stewart’s big hit, “Year of the Cat”? It’s all about sex. Specifically, the guitar-into-sax solo continues the narrative set up in the lyrics. The guy is feeling like Peter Lorre in a Bogart movie when he meets the girl, who comes from the year of the cat. As the lyrics give way to the instrumental, the guy and girl are ready to spend the night together. Then, as the last sax notes fade, we hear, “Well morning comes and you’re still with her…” Ooh la la.
  4. This makes me wonder how many other sax solos are about sex.
  5. The sax solo in “Time Passages” isn’t about sex though. It’s about wistful melancholy. However, it does occur to me that the last verse of “Time Passages” could be about the “Year of the Cat” couple. But that’s pure speculation on my part.
  6. Al Stewart has a toe-tapper of a tune called “Warren Harding” on Past, Present and Future. I believe I read that the lyrics contrast Harding’s downward spiral while in the White House with the ascent of an immigrant bootlegger. As a guy who is mentally compiling a list of songs about presidents, I appreciate Stewart’s ode to Harding. I also noted with satisfaction that more recent Stewart albums have included songs about Dwight Eisenhower and William McKinley. I am going to track down those songs.
  7. Al Stewart name drops many historical figures. Everyone from Nostradamus to Henry Plantagenet to Buddy Holly to Warren Harding to Thomas More to Peter Lorre. These days I appreciate anyone who is cognizant of history.
  8. Al Stewart’s song “Song on the Radio” is about a guy driving around, listening to the radio and thinking about a lover who is on his mind like the song on the radio. So, if you happened to be driving around thinking of your lover when “Song on the Radio” came on the radio, then it would be your song on the radio. How meta is that?
  9. There is a sax solo in “Song on the Radio,” but I don’t think it’s about anything specific. Sometimes a sax solo is just about being a sax solo.
  10. Al Stewart might be the “proggiest” of the ’70s singer/songwriters, but that might be because of the trippy album covers, particularly the Time Passages cover, designed by the ubiquitous Hipgnosis. Those sax solos are kind of proggy too, in a Supertramp kind of way.

A Visit to the Maurice Stephens House



Maurice Stephens House, Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, June 9, 2017







Laurel Hill Tales #002: A.G. Heaton

In American history, cemeteries, history, Laurel Hill Cemetery, poem on March 20, 2016 at 8:36 am

I attended an excellent event at Laurel Hill Cemetery this weekend. My friend Pattye, assisted by my friend/Pattye’s husband Tom, led an entertaining and very informative tour focusing on editors, publishers and writers who are buried at Laurel Hill. Walking the grounds and hearing some stories that were new to me — no matter how often you visit Laurel Hill, you will learn something new every time — inspired me for the tour I’m giving at LHC this Friday, March 25, from 10 a.m.-noon (hint-hint). It also put me in the mood to tell another Laurel Hill Tale. This time around: Augustus Goodyear Heaton, shown above along with several photos of his intriguing gravesite.

I had never heard of A.G. Heaton when I first stumbled on his gravesite last September. Up until that day, I had passed the site in my wanderings many times, but one afternoon I was drawn to its patio-like shape, with a monument to Heaton’s parents in the center. Reading his epitaph piqued my interest and I immediately hit Google to learn more.

Before I tell Heaton’s tale, I’d just like to note that I think his gravesite is among the most photogenic sites in Laurel Hill. It invites you to view it and photograph it from a distance, placing it among other stones; but then it draws you in so that you want to study it further. When you do, you’re rewarded with a variety of micro-views on which to focus your camera. The photos included here are just a few that I’ve taken at Heaton’s site. I’ll surely be taking more.

As for Heaton: he was a polymath. He was an artist, although some of his major paintings appear to have gone missing. However, the painting in which Heaton took the most pride, The Recall of Columbus, is in the art collection of the United States Capitol.

When he wasn’t painting, Heaton was often writing. Among Heaton’s works is a book called The Heart of David, the Psalmist. Though I have yet to read it, The Heart of David, the Psalmist is a classic epic. How do I know this? Because Heaton’s epitaph credits him as the book’s author and parenthetically notes “(classic epic).” I’ll take the stone’s word for it, at least for now.

While his painting and writing surely kept A.G. Heaton busy, his most lasting contribution is probably that of a numismatist. That is, a coin collector. In fact, Heaton may the most influential coin collector ever, thanks to an 1893 book called A Treatise on Coinage of the United States Branch Mints.

I love a good treatise. Don’t you?

In his treatise, Heaton suggested in a series of metaphorical bullet points that coin collectors ought to collect coins based on the mint marks that indicate the location where each coin was made. He proposed that the mint mark was the most telling indicator of a coin’s value.

Collect coins based on their mint marks? This was a game changer. No one had ever suggested this before. But any serious, or even casual coin collector, will tell you that mint marks are one of the foundations of collecting U.S. coins.

I intend on blowing the minds of numismatists visiting Laurel Hill for years to come at A.G. Heaton’s gravesite.

Heaton wrote classic epics and influential treatises, but he was not above a little light verse now and then. It should come as no surprise that coin collecting was often the subject of his frothy poetic efforts. One such poem, “The Amorous Numismatist,” is about the arduous efforts of the titular numismatist to capture the love of a beautiful woman by impressing her with his coin collection. It was published as an amusing diversion in one of the leading numismatic journals of the day.

Approximately 80 years later, 14-year-old me, with no knowledge of A.G. Heaton or his work, wrote a poem called “Philatelic Love: Baby I’m Hinged on You.” That’s right. I wrote a poem about a philatelist — that is, a stamp collector — who is trying to capture the love of a beautiful woman by impressing her with his stamp collection. Back in 1979, I shopped “Philatelic Love” around to various stamp collecting journals, in the hopes that it would provide an amusing diversion. I received some bemused rejection letters, I can assure you.

A.G. Heaton and are not necessarily soulmates, but I think our poems make us soulgeeks.

At the risk of embarrassing both A.G. Heaton and myself, I’ll close this entry with “The Amorous Numismatist” and “Philatelic Love: Baby I’m Hinged on You” for your seriously niche-centric light reading pleasure.


The Amorous Numismatist

By A.G. Heaton

An amorous numismatist

Met a fair damsel in a grove

And when he saw he sighed and wist

To have the maid return his love

Said he, “A precious ‘99

Light olive cent I have in store

I treasure much but for thee pine

And feel I love thee almost more”

Said she, *T now am quite content,

My heart and hope are in-no-cent.”

The amorous numismatist

He wept that she could thus repel.

“There is no coin upon my list

That I could love, I think, so well.

I have a charming 1804

And both together I would give,

I’m nearly sure, to thee adore,

Accepted, and with thee to live.”

Said she, “You dwell upon the cent

But not upon the cent-I-meant.”

“If,” said the sad numismatist,

“My cents were bored and linked with wire,

To form a bracelet for thy wrist

And prove the worth of my desire,

If all the rarest of my gold

Were strung, thy tresses to bedeck,

My silver pieces most extolled

Were hung about thy snowy neck?”

“Ah,” laughed the maiden, “Tell me when

I’ll be an acquies-cent then.”

Philatelic Love: Baby, I’m Hinged On You

By Rich Wilhelm                                                                                                            

You’re my special delivery, baby.
I’m really hinged on you.
Your body is in mint condition
and I’m stuck on you like glue.

You’re a ’74 mint set.
To me, you’re worth thousands in love.
To me, you’re a rare inverted error.
You’re my airmail sweetheart, dropped from above.

I’ll postmark you with kisses.
I’ll trade my stamps for you.
Comply with all my wishes
or else I’ll be so blue.

This love can never be cancelled.
I’ll love you day and night.
You’re pretty as a commemorative
and I’m sure this love is right.

I love you dear, of that I’m sure.
I learned your zip code really fast.
I enjoy playing post office so much with you.
I hope this love will last and last.



Laurel Hill Tales #001: William Duane

In American history, cemeteries, Laurel Hill Cemetery, politics, presidential elections, Uncategorized on March 6, 2016 at 4:33 am

Over the course of the last month, I have gotten into a comfortable habit of having my dog wake me up way too early on Sunday morning, walking her, then returning home to drink a cup of coffee and type some words into this blog. It’s now Saturday night and Jolie will still wake me up way early tomorrow morning, but I’ll be headed to Laurel Hill Cemetery to help out with a new tour guide presentation, so I will post tonight instead. As soon as I take Jolie out for her “Jolie After Dark” moment. Stay tuned.

Two minutes later…

OK. So, Jolie has had her moment, I have brewed a cupajoe, I’m listening to side three of the Thank God It’s Friday soundtrack and I’m ready to tell the story of William Duane, a permanent resident at Laurel Hill Cemetery. Tonight, I’m apparently all about cultish disco film soundtracks and rabble-rousing anti-federalist journalists. Huzzah!

As last Thursday’s G.O.P. debate aptly demonstrated, we are living through a period of serious political ugliness. No stone is being left unturned, no bit of a certain candidate’s anatomy is being left unmeasured.

In light of this electoral chaos, some concerned citizens have called for a return to decorum in national discourse. There are those who fear that the coarse behavior we’ve recently seen on the campaign trail and on debate stages is beneath us as a country and I certainly can’t say I disagree. And, of course, many people feel strongly that sex, politics and religion remain the three topics that shouldn’t be discussed around the dinner table. Or on Facebook.

However, the truth is we can’t return to something that never really existed. The political process in the United States has always been noisy and raucous.  The people, the politicians and the press have all done their part throughout this country’s history to add to the obnoxiousness.

Need an example? Let’s go way back to William Duane. Born in upstate New York in 1760, as a young man Duane journeyed to Ireland to learn how to become a printer. From there, Duane headed off to Calcutta, India and became a newspaper editor.

Duane’s stint in India ended in deportation, after the local government took issue with some of his criticism. Duane wound up in Philadelphia, editing a newspaper called the Aurora with Benjamin Franklin Bache, grandson of Philadelphia’s most famous citizen. Duane took over the Aurora following Bache’s early demise (and married Bache’s widow) and continued Bache’s legacy with a newspaper that railed against the Federalist administrations of George Washington and John Adams.

That’s right. William Duane didn’t care for the Father of Our Country or his successor and was happy to let readers of the Aurora know this at every opportunity.

The Aurora‘s tirades continued into the Adams administration, so much so that Duane was arrested twice for violating Adams’ infamous Alien and Sedition Acts.  Undeterred, Duane promptly turned his newspaper’s attention to the defeat of John Adams to his vice president, Thomas Jefferson, in the very nasty presidential election of 1800. Charges against Duane were dismissed after Jefferson took office.

And so it goes. The business of electing a president in these United States has always been at least just-slightly-crazy. And sometimes crazier, as Decision 2016 is demonstrating. And, while I have no idea what words William Duane, now resting peacefully at Laurel Hill, would have for Donald Trump, I think Duane would vote down on decorum and up for noise.

Two final notes on William Duane. First, after retiring from the Aurora in 1822, Duane traveled extensively in South America, eventually writing a book about his adventures. Finally, he had a son, William J. Duane–also buried at Laurel Hill–who had the temerity to tangle with President Andrew Jackson on banking issues. But that is a tale for another time.







Patrick F. O'Donnell

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