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Coming Up In American Heritage

July 2024
1min read

What should we tell our children about Vietnam?…

That was the question an Oklahoma junior high school teacher named Bill McCloud sent out in a handwritten note to men and women who had been prominent movers or observers during the Vietnam War. Politicians and journalists and generals and combat veterans answered him. Secretaries of Defense answered him. Presidents answered him. In the next issue we present a selection of the most telling responses—from Ronald Reagan and Pete Seeger, William Westmoreland and Tom Hayden, and dozens of others. Taken together, their answers form a powerful and moving record of the national conscience.

The 1904 Olympics…

The third modern Olympic Games were held with all the dazzle and glamour of the great St. Louis World’s Fair as a backdrop, and yet they were anything but impressive. The first Olympic marathon in America, for instance, included among the contestants a Cuban mailman who took part in his street shoes, a professional strikebreaker from Chicago, and two Zulu tribesmen named Lentauw and Yamasani who had come over from the Transvaal as part of a Boer War spectacular and thought they’d take the afternoon off to run. Afterward, a disgruntled Hungarian observer reported, “I was not only present at a sporting contest but also at a fair where there were sports, where there was cheating, where monsters were exhibited for a joke.” As we prepare to watch the splendidly mounted spectacle of the Korean Olympics, Peter Andrews takes a look at their raffish, untidy, and occasionally unbelievable ancestor.

Day of the player piano …

They came in with the twentieth century, strident, jolly, and bracing, and the whole nation loved them. In a few years radio and record players had done them in, but during their brief efflorescence player pianos evolved into complex and sophisticated mechanisms that even today can give us a true sense of how giants from Gershwin to Debussy really performed. Joseph Fox recalls the era when “Ain’t We Got Fun” and “Kitten on the Keys” rattled away in a thousand parlors as the paper piano rolls spooled endlessly upward.

Forgotten prophet…

Homer Lea was a hunchbacked dwarf, nearly blind, who in his boyhood nursed ardent dreams of military glory—and grew up to command multitudes in China. More than thirty years before Pearl Harbor, he not only predicted the Japanese victories in the Far East but told just how their conuest of the Philippines would go. Thomas Fleming tells the absorbing story of a life that was part vainglory and part true epic.

Plus …

Carry Wills on the problem of presidential character— along with a brief survey of sexual peccadilloes in the land’s highest office … a tangy and unusual tale of vice, retribution, railroading, and moonshining in Hinton, West Virginia … Thomas Jefferson’s least-known career (it was as an indexer, and he proved to be as formidable at it as he was at everything else)… a Mother’s Day tribute to artists’ moms: Whistler wasn’t the only painter who had one … a close look at one of Tiffany’s most sumptuous confections … seeking history along the St. Lawrence River … and, even though this summary has been perhaps our longest to date, more.

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