Robert E. Lee Retires

Screen Shot 2014-08-28 at 3.26.36 PMOr at least the Al Stone version is retiring. You may have come across this fellow doing Lee impressions over the past many years at various Civil War events. I’ll admit that Mr. Stone does a pretty decent job recreating the look (though he is a little long in the tooth these days), and I’ll go out on a limb here…the sentiment of the legendary Confederate general during the war.

Stone’s past impression reflects the “true,” from a Confederate perspective, story of the War of Northern Aggression. Though Stone is retiring his Confederate gray in 2015, appropriately at Appomattox, he will continue to make a few appearances as Lee the post-war civilian. Said Stone, “It’s time to retire my impression and enjoy the twilight years with my wife and family. I propose to continue teaching the true history of the contest and maybe [make] three to five appearances each year as General Lee, the educator.”

We should remember that when the real Lee settled into his job at Washington College in Lexington, Virginia  – where he served as president for the remainder of his life – he preached a spirit of public conciliation, while privately he remained just about as bitterly partisan concerning the South, the Confederacy, and defeat as anyone. I wonder if Stone will portray the public conciliator Lee or the private bitter one. We shall see…

With compliments,


It’s Okay to Feel Bad about the Gettysburg Cyclorama Building

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The Gettysburg Cyclorama building, which housed the Paul Philippoteaux 1883 cyclorama painting depicting the Pickett-Pettigerew assault, stood in Ziegler’s grove for 50 years. It’s gone now, the “victim” as some might say, of over a decade of rigorous campaigning by proponents of battlefield restoration. There is no need to retell the story of the building’s 2013 demise – plenty have done that before me. Suffice it to say that the battlefield preservationists who wanted to restore that section of the Union line to its 1863 condition were met with stiff opposition from a very vocal group of people who deemed the building a significant historical landmark. I belong to the former group. I found the building to be an intrusive distraction in terms of battlefield interpretation, much like the old observation tower – the Gettysburg National Tower – that came down in 2000.

But I’ll admit that the building had its merits. For one, it was a beautiful example of mid-century architecture, designed by none other that Richard Neutra. Let’s just say that I am a fan of his work and aspire to one day own one of his creations. Screen Shot 2014-08-24 at 10.54.55 AMSecond, this building was in some ways part of the Gettysburg commemorative landscape, playing a vital role in how Americans (read: tourists) interpreted the battle. If you’ve read my work you will know that I find commemorative efforts fundamentally significant in terms of national memory.

But despite its many virtues,  I still interpreted the building as more in line with the Gettysburg commercial landscape – like the National Tower, the old rail system that moved people around the park, and various other attractions that generated revenue while altering the terrain and vistas…many of which are long (and rightfully) gone. Still…in some ways (not all) I was sad to see the Gettysburg cyclorama building go. I have some very fond memories of that place – I wrote part of my UCLA senior thesis within its walls. I used to enjoy sitting on the observation deck admiring both the spectacular views and the mid-century modern styling of the building itself.  I guess I just have a sentimental weakness for cool looking buildings. But in the end, the Gettysburg NMP is better off without it. I think there is room for one more ghost on that ridge – and now students of the battle can better grasp how the terrain looked in July 1863, and thus better understand the history of those bloodiest of days.

With compliments,



The Americanist Independent September Issue Has Hit the Web

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Do you want to know more about the Atomic Energy Commission in the 1950s? Well now’s your chance.

Folger - Amhearst College

How about Standard Oil president and avid collector of Shakespeare, Henry Clay Folger. Well here you go.

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Do the letters of WWII Navy aviator Bill Evans, who fought at Midway, interest you? Well you know where to find them.

Elbe River Tactical at Old Bedford Village - February 2014-4

Have you ever wondered what makes a WWII reenactor tick? Well guess what…

Screen Shot 2014-08-21 at 9.17.46 AMYou’ll see from this shot of the Table of Contents that we are featuring some mighty fine work this month. I encourage you to SUBSCRIBE immediately. There is a miniscule monthly $4.97 fee, which is a lot less than most things you buy throughout the day (for example, a hamburger, a pack of smokes, a drink at a bar, and in some places, a gallon of gas). And unlike most things, these published resources last a lifetime. A good investment. If you a already a member – well great. LOG ON and enjoy.



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Oh, and one last thing, the AI monthly publication is mobile responsive. So if you insist on staring at your iPhone (or other fine device) all day anyway, you might as well be reading something worthwhile. The mobile version supports all the multi-media functions including audio and video, plus it’s entirely searchable. Neat.

With compliments,







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I came across this video yesterday while perusing the Internet for engaging WWII related tidbits. The poster claimed that this was “Rare archival footage of the attack on Pearl Harbor…showing incredible shots of the sneak attack by Imperial Japan.” The individual explains that  “the footage is low resolution, due to the fact that the original has been lost and this is a copy. Shown in the video are the USS Nevada firing at Japanese craft, the USS Oglala rolling over sinking and the USS St. Louis.”


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Navy aviator William R. Evans, Jr.

Things come up on the web all the time claiming to be recoveries – or discoveries – of lost or previously unknown war documents, films, and images. Some are legitimately “new” discoveries or recovered footage, as this appears to be, others are not. You will all remember the recent Battle of the Bulge “uncovered camera” incident that turned out to be a hoax. I guess you can’t believe everything you read on the Internet. How disconcerting.

But the truth is that there are documents out there in private collections and stored away in drawers, closets, and attics all across the land. And from time to time, a few will find their way to publication. My own web-journal, The Americanist Independent, will have the honor of publishing a small collection of personal letters written by Navy aviator William R. Evans, Jr., who fought at the Battle of Midway.  Some of Bill’s words are inscribed in a monument to Indiana servicemen who fought in WWII. You can find them at the Memorial Mall in downtown Indianapolis. His letters to his family will be published in the journal, for the first time, in the September 2014 issue. His words are at once poetic and powerful. They are but a momentary glimpse at the Pacific Theater of war from Pearl Harbor to mid-1942 – a glimpse worthy of attention.

With compliments,



Southern Accents

al67This week The Economist features a short piece concerning southern accents: “Mind that drawl, y’all.” The August  9th-15th issue suggests quite clearly that southern speech continues to draw unwanted attention. In fact, since southern accents tend to elicit such harsh reactions from so many Americans, the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee planned a weekly “Southern Accent Reduction” class. Their tag line was “be remembered for what you say, not how you say it.” The class was cancelled. I guess things did not work out so well even though it is readily apparent that quite a few Americans think southerners sound like dipshits. Case in point: the article sites Jennifer Cramer of the University of Kentucky as stating that people often associate the accent with stupidity and lack of education. And this is not limited to northerners. One study noted children from Illinois and Tennessee saying people with northern accents sounded “smarter” and more “in charge.” Well now. How about that.

If you will, please allow me to speak of this from experience. Though I think of myself as a Californian (Angeleno), I was born in Birmingham, Alabama. My family relocated to the Golden State in 1976. I was nine. When I got to the West Coast, I had the most syrupy sweet southern accent you can imagine – think Gomer Pyle not Ashley Wilkes. Now, nine-year-olds being what they are (vicious, horrible creatures) I was ridiculed and tormented for sounding like a hick (I also wore jean cut-offs, which didn’t help). But the torment didn’t end there. Things got much, much worse. Back in those days California public schools were among the best in the nation (they aren’t any more) and I had to go to summer school to catch up to my peers. In summer school I discovered the performing arts and was cast to play the Wizard in a staged version of The Wizard of Oz. So far so good, right?

Wrong. The casting was clearly the despicable work of some grade school teacher bent on exposing me as a rube. Those of you who are familiar with the Wizard’s last lines as he floats aloft in his hot air balloon will  remember the bellowing: “Bye folks! Bye folks!!” Well in a southern accent this sounds more like: “Bi fokes, Bi fokes!!!” Everyone laughed. Everyone. The kids. The parents. The teachers. Even I thought I sounded like a moron. It was awful.

So awful in fact that little nine-year-old Keith went home and vowed to never sound like a hick again. I would watch TV news personalities and mimic their words as they spoke, especially Hal Fishman on KTLA, realizing even then that news anchors are among the most homogenized when it comes to speech inflection. In short order, and with a LOT of practice, I completely eradicated all traces of my southern accent. I ditched the cut-offs, bought some OP shorts and Vans slip-ons, a skateboard, and I fit right in. Local boy. California.

And you know what? When I went back to the Heart of Dixie to visit they made fun of me there. Even my grandparents said I looked and sounded like a Yankee. Sheesh. A kid can’t win.

Would I follow the same course today if I were not nine and susceptible to seemingly insurmountable ridicule? I doubt it. Generally speaking, I don’t care what people think these days. But I will note that it is really interesting to learn that some things will change very little over the course of nearly four decades. So the next time you overhear someone at the airport say, “Y’all want somthin’ cold, some cold drank?” they might just be on their way to a Mensa meeting.

With compliments,