The other day, I concluded the first of a four-part lecture series on the American Civil War for Brookdale. We started with the causes of the war and ended right at the start of the Peninsula Campaign. When it was over, a few participants came up to me to chat. Mainly a greeting, maybe saying they enjoyed it, or shared a trip they took to a battlefield. But the last person waited until everyone was gone. She said she had a question. “I didn’t want to ask this earlier because you know how people get, but do you see any similarities between now and right before the Civil War began?” My short answer was yes. She was no doubt referring to a few slides I had covering the antebellum years of our history, regarding differences in society. We seem to forget that the lines were not just drawn between pro and anti slavery, but the differences in lifestyles and views aside from that were just too great. Part of me wanted to relate it to now, but it was the first class and, well, you know how people get.
It’s been nearly three years since my last post about Gods and Generals. If you go way back, you may remember my 2011 series when I blogged about the release of the highly anticipated extended director’s cut. This past July was the fifth anniversary of when I was invited to Manassas, Virginia by Warner Brothers to cover the official premiere at the Hylton Performing Arts Center. It was one of the defining moments of my life, and I am proud to call friends a few actors who I watched on-screen since my childhood. Anyway, I have actually stumbled onto some new footage. You’ve probably never seen it. Heck, anyone aside from director Ron Maxwell and those in the editing room probably haven’t seen it. Except for James Horan, who played Col. Arthur Cummings in the First Manassass battle scene. I was looking over some of my old work (I interviewed him in September of 2011; one of many cast and crew members I had the pleasure of speaking to in my blogging adventures) and one thing led to another, and I was on Horan’s website. I started watching a highlight reel of his acting, and lo and behold, there was a clip from Gods and Generals I had never seen before.
Yesterday afternoon I found myself thinking, “I wonder if there are any Pokemon lurking at the museum?” What I was referring to is the Strauss Mansion, headquarters of the Atlantic Highlands Historical Society which was built in 1893. A few hours later, the president of our board texted me asking what I knew, and if there was any way to set our place up as a “Pokestop”. I told her it was all random, where they pop up and what locations get assigned as various roles, but I would check it out. I swung by today and sure enough, our museum is a Pokestop…and I also caught two Pokemon while I was there. If you don’t know what Pokemon Go is, then you have probably been living under a rock for the last week. As this game sweeps the nation and the world, businesses have come up with ideas to turn game-players into customers. Some have offered meal deals for people who play at their restaurant, as well as encourage their location to be used as a safe spot. This notion needs to get museums and historic sites thinking along those same lines.
On April 5th, the Indiegogo campaign for a new Civil War short film titled Our War will be marching into action, in need of fan support to help subsidize the cost of production. The movie is to be directed and co-written by J.D Mayo, who has extensive work with independent films, as well as Civil War historian and reenactor Steven Hancock, who will be producing the film as well as writing the screenplay. Having known Mr. Hancock for many years, I can attest that his passion and knowledge for the American Civil War will make for an interesting film project, which we can be sure will be as authentic and historically accurate as possible. Pre-production has already been underway, with the filming of a teaser trailer featuring the star of the film Ryan Daniel Thompson, who appeared in two episodes of the hit AMC historical drama Turn: Washington’s Spies.
Unlike even some of the oldest cemeteries I have been to in New Jersey on my ghostly travels, none came close to what I saw in Hartford, Connecticut this past week when it comes to tombstone descriptions. Readers of this blog and viewers of my web-series can recall episodes filmed at Rose Hill Cemetery in NJ or the Solebury Baptist Church Graveyard in Pennsylvania, and photo shoots at other old graveyards which are falling apart, some almost forgotten. Located smack-dab in the middle of Hartford, the Ancient Burying Ground (as it is named, though I would not exactly consider it to be “ancient”) is, in my eyes, the model by which old cemeteries should be preserved for the public. It was evident after just a few minutes how strong of a restoration effort has been undergone on the grounds. The oldest stone dates back to 1648, and the cemetery was active for burials until the 1800’s. In just one spot, you can see how burial and death traditions changed throughout history. The “death’s head”, or a winged skull, is prominently located at the top of many stones from the 1600’s and early 1700’s. The skull design can vary regionally. At the Dorsett Old Town Historic Cemetery in Holmdel, New Jersey, the skull itself was a literal skull, an even sort of creepy at that. In Connecticut, though, the skull was a bit more curvy and easier on the eyes. Almost angelic. However, the one fundamental difference in tombstone traditions comes with the labeling.
The Minions are cute. They’re adorable. They’re evil. Well, maybe not exactly evil, but through their stupidity and drive to serve the world’s most powerful master, they usually end up not working for someone you’d invite to Thanksgiving (except the first guy on the list). As seen in the Minions movie last summer, they have been around forever. They first sought to serve a gigantic T-Rex, the world’s biggest and baddest dinosaur since no humans were around. They ended up accidentally killing him by pushing him into a volcano. Then came Count Dracula, who by all accounts, they served well. Unfortunately, when it came time to celebrating the Count’s 357th birthday, they killed him too by allowing sunlight into his castle. Lastly, they ended up in Napoleon’s Army during his ill-fated invasion of Russia. Napoleon’s fate was left up in the air, but it didn’t look good: totally by accident they kind of blew up the general with a cannon.
The Minions then wandered throughout history searching for their next “Big Boss”. After struggling, next thing you know, they end up in the 1960’s. First in New York, then in England. But what happened in the meantime? What mischief, destruction, and evil-doing were the Minions up to between the Napoleonic Wars and the 1960’s? They’re not exactly the best workers because their stupidity and absent-mindedness almost always leads to the death of their boss or some kind of massive catastrophe for whoever they are serving (and no, I checked; they never worked for the US Government). After doing some serious research and digging, I have uncovered four other instances of them popping up throughout history. So, peel back a banana, relax, and enjoy.
Last week, I was called up to the seventh grade classroom at the school I am currently interning at (and have worked for four years). The teacher was doing a lesson on Christopher Columbus, and wanted me to chime in because, “We all know how you feel”. It appears to be widely known, my intense feelings against Mr. Columbus, who I believe did not “discover” anything and contributed more to destruction and genocide than he did anything positive. I was asked to give the other side to the story, and offer a different dimension. I talked for about twenty minutes on the matter. Their textbooks are very brief on him: more of the same sing-song nonsense children have been spoon-fed for years. As it happens, a friend and co-worker of mine at Brookdale Community College, Kevin Connelly, has a child in the class and he took issue with the talk I gave. Over the years, we have gone back and forth on Columbus. We are on opposite sides. To us, its a matter of debate and all in good fun. He actually challenged me to a public debate. While that would not be practical, we elected to carry on with our discussion over email, and then post the final transcript here. We are interested in debating more topics if the interest on this blog is there. Hopefully there will be more in the future. Below is our debate:
It is still unknown to this day how one of America’s greatest and darkest writers met his untimely fate. Edgar Allan Poe was found on the morning of October 3, 1849, wandering the streets of Baltimore in a state of delirium. It has been speculated that this was caused by any number of ailments stemming from overuse of alcohol, tuberculosis, cholera, rabies, or even murder at the hands of a poisoner. He was not conscious long enough to explain what happened, and was even wearing another man’s clothes when he was found. Before he died four days later on October 7, he supposedly yelled out the name “Reynolds!” and his last words were, “Lord help my poor soul”. However, any confirmation of this (as well as his actual death certificate) have been lost to history. Whatever the case, Poe’s death did not signal the end of his fame. Though depictions of him over the years have painted him as a tormented soul whose own inner depravities inspired his work—a man often alone and miserable, toiling away at his desk cranking out stories and poems to make just enough money to stay alive—these are actually quite the opposite of real life. Poe most likely did suffer from depression due to his childhood and death of loved ones over the years, but he actually lived quite comfortably. His works were seen as groundbreaking back then. He was a literary star in his own right. Unlike some authors and artists, it did not take his death or hundreds of years of hindsight to recognize the genius that was there.
The Spy House has been a popular subject in the paranormal section on this blog over the years. Located in Port Monmouth, New Jersey, it has been an alluring location for ghost hunters, psychics, and paranormal tourists for decades. While I have captured my own evidence at the house and I believe it is haunted, my overall research has shown that many of the famous and outlandish myths surrounding the place are false, such as pirates, Revolutionary War spies, an evil sea captain, and Indian chiefs. I was able to trace all of the tall tales (or outright lies if you want to be harsher) to the Spy House’s former eccentric caretaker, Gertrude Niedlinger. We can debate for hours on which stories may have some essence in truth, which have no basis in reality, or if Gertrude did the right thing by making stuff up in an effort to bring attention to the location and save it. This post is not about any of that, though I have links to previous blog posts on the subject at the end of this article.
I was first introduced to George Ryan by my friend Jeff Huber about five years ago. We all served on the board of trustees for a museum, which sometimes was the equivalent of fighting a war. If there was ever something that needed to be said, or something right that needed to be stuck up for, George was the one to do it. We quickly became friends, all three of us sharing a love of the American Civil War. He oversaw accounting for the museum and soon became my family’s accountant. I don’t think there are many people who looked forward to seeing their tax guy in April as much as me, because every time was cause for a conversation about the Civil War in some way. His office contained paintings and artifacts which I used to marvel at. He could talk about anything to anyone, but we more often than not got on the subject of Gettysburg. He used to take scout troops out there camping, and always looked forward to it.