“The City At The Nation’s Front Door”

Hoboken’s hardworking history exudes an undeniable gritty charm—and its view of Manhattan is incomparable.

On September 26, 1918, the Meuse-Argonne offensive began. The attack on the German lines in France lasted for 47 days, until the war’s end, and remains the longest battle in American history. During the assault, Gen. John J. Pershing, commander of the American Expeditionary Force, made his troops a surprisingly blunt promise: By Christmas, he told them, they would be in heaven, they would be in hell, or they would be in Hoboken. Read more »

The House At Hyde Park

A biographer who knows it well tours Franklin Roosevelt’s home on the Hudson and finds it was not so much the President’s castle as it was his formidable mother’s.

For better than four years now I have been writing about Franklin Roosevelt’s youth, seeking the sources of the serene selfassurance that served him and his country so well during the two worst crises since the Civil War. In the course of that work I have spent months at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library at Hyde Park, New York, burrowing through his papers in search of clues. Read more »

The Battle for Grant’s Tomb

It might seem that building a mausoleum to the great general would be a serenely melancholy task. Not at all. The bitter squabbles that surrounded the memorial set city against country and became a mirror of the forces straining turn-of-the-century America.

When Groucho Marx asked, “Who is buried in Grant’s Tomb?” on “You Bet Your Life,” he was offering unsuccessful competitors, battered by his heckling and bewildered by the game, a chance for redemption and some easy money. In return for Grant’s name would come a small prize, some audience applause, and a farewell handshake. As a last effort to reward a hapless guest, “Who is buried in Grant’s Tomb?” soon came to symbolize the obvious. Read more »

Painting The Southland

Most surveys of American painting begin in New England in the eighteenth century, move westward to the Rockies in the nineteenth, and return to New York in the twentieth. Now we’ll have to redraw the map .

TAKING STOCK of painting in the South in 1859, a critic for the New Orleans Daily Cresent concluded glumly, “Artist roam the country of the North, turning out pictures by the hundred yearly, but none come to glean the treasures with which grand and beautiful country of the South and its peculiar life abound.” The reason many artists stayed away was that throughout the eighteenth century and well into the nineteenth, the region’s poor roads, widely scattered population, and almost entirely agricultural economy Read more »

The Great Gun Merchant

For years passengers travelling the railroad between New York City and Albany were stirred from their reveries by a Scottish castle looming suddenly from the Hudson River. An outpost of nearby West Point? The domain of an émigré laird? No, this island fortress was once the private arsenal of the world’s largest arms dealer. Read more »

Olana

High on a hill above the Hudson River Frederick Edwin Church indulged his passion for building an exotic dream castle

“Sometimes the desire to build attacks a man like a fever—and at it he rushes,” the successful young landscape painter Frederic Edwin Church wrote from abroad to his friend and patron William H. Osborn in 1868. Church, his wife, and his young son were on an eighteen-month tour of Europe and the Middle East, but it was clear that he had other things on his mind than the average tourist did. Soon after they arrived home with boxes of “rugs—armour—stuffs—curiosities, etc. etc.Read more »

Fort Washington

Seventh in a series of paintings for AMERICAN HERITAGE

At its northern end Manhattan Island shrinks to a spur of ground three quarters of a mile wide, bounded by the Harlem River on one side and the Hudson on the other. Mount Washington rises more than two hundred feet above the water on the Hudson River side, and it was here in July of 1776 that the Americans built a crude pentagonal earthwork that they dignified with the name Fort Washington. The tragic and ill-considered attempt to hold this position would result in the single greatest blow to American arms during the entire Revolution. Read more »

This Hollowed-out Ground

A site for a proposed hydroelectric project also was the site of a grim Revolutionary War battle.

An opaque fog lay close to the surface of the Hudson River on the morning of October 5, 1777. The awakening bugles of General Israel Putnam’s Continentals at Peekskill on the eastern shore of the river seemed muted by the white and misty blanket. The slow-rising sun burned irregular holes in it, however, and through these the General’s sentinels, who had been posted south of his encampment during most of the summer, saw something that banished their accustomed boredom.

The Lordly Hudson

Over 350 years a mighty pageant of history has moved through the myth-haunted valley of the “Great River of the Mountains”

Orientals were first upon the river. They came by land, and their journey eastward across the continent from its northwest coast to the banks where, their soothsayers had said, they might rest beside a water that-flows-two-ways, had lasted many generations. There is no knowing who first saw the ocean bound current turn about and run toward the mountains whence it came, but the realization of: a prophecy fulfilled must have come upon him with a stunning impact.