Paying Homage to Presidents’ Day Past and Present

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Alexander Hamilton’s final resting place at Trinity Churchyard in Lower Manhattan. 11:30 PM. Photo: JH.

In paying homage to Presidents’ Day, we found two diaries — one from 12 years ago, reprinted below, and also one more recent; both different but demonstrating the need.

Hopefully, these entries will leave you, dear reader, with some kind, considerate, intelligent thoughts about ourselves and our potential as citizens.

Monday, February 20, 2012. Presidents’ Day, a national holiday. A mild wintry cold this past weekend, with a hint of precipitation (formerly a wild snow forecast) on Saturday evening, and a bright sunny Sunday in New York.

In remembering …

January 8, 1790

According to appointment, at 11 O’clock I set out for the City Hall in my Coach – preceded by Colonel Humphreys and Majr. Jackson in Uniform (on my two White Horses) & followed by Mesr. Lear & Nelson in my chariot…In their rear was the Chief Justice of the United States & Secretaries of the Treasury and War Departments in their respective Carriages and in the order they are named. At the outdoor of the Hall I was met by the Doorkeepers of the Senate and House, and conducted to the Door of the Senate Chamber; and passing from thence to the Chair through the Senate on the right & House of Representatives on the left, I took my Seat. The Gentlemen who attended me followed & took their stand behind the Senators; the whole rising as I entered. After being seated, at which time the members of both Houses also sat, I rose (as they also did) and made my Speech; delivering one Copy to the President of the Senate, & another to the Speaker of the House of Representatives – after which, and being a few moments seated, I retired, bowing on each side to the Assembly (who stood) as I passed, and descending to the lower Hall attended as before, I returned with them to my House.

In the Evening, a great number of Ladies, and many Gentlemen visited Mrs. Washington.

On this occasion I was dressed in a suit of Clothes made at the Woolen Manufactory at Hartford, as the Buttons also were.  President George Washington

Federal Hall, Seat of Congress, 1790. Hand-colored engraving by Amos Doolittle, depicting Washington’s April 30, 1789 inauguration.

Today is the birthday of Gloria Vanderbilt, the beautiful and alluring artist, author, actress, heiress and legendary socialite of New York. (Yes, and also mother of Anderson Cooper, the television newsman and personality who is one of her four sons).

Gloria at her book party at Ralph Lauren, with her son Anderson Cooper.

Gloria is a great-great granddaughter of the first Cornelius Vanderbilt, whose grand bronze statue presides over Park Avenue South, commanding his Grand Central Terminal on the elevated roadway leading to upper Park Avenue.

Gloria’s life has been intensely interesting and industrious on many counts and she has lived it fully and constantly right up to her 88th year. She was very proud that she was the first Vanderbilt since that man up at Grand Central, who on her own made a fortune (from her jeans and fragrance businesses) without — or aside from —  an inheritance.

I met her for the first time about 22 years ago when, living in Los Angeles, I had come to New York to research a project about which I interviewed her. I had been well aware of her throughout my life from childhood, for she was always a famous American with that name and that face and that elegant storybook-like presence.

I was amazed (and charmed) on meeting to find her as intensely interesting to be in the company of. Like a great character in an epic novel. She is the only celebrity I have ever met of the very many, who is as intriguing to know as she was to see and hear about. She is also an exceptionally lovely lady. Or I should say: lovely girl because Gloria is still The Girl, make no mistake. Or the girl is Gloria.  I can always hear her voice in my mind’s ear, when she answers her telephone softly, gently but certain: “Hello, this is Gloria.” Next chapter. Happy Birthday Gloria.

The 18-year-old Gloria Vanderbilt photographed by Horst, conjuring a legend.

This was a surprise long weekend for me. I hadn’t realized it until Friday afternoon. I feel like a kid in school when this happens. A free day. Not really, but some of the deadline pressure lightens.

That long entry by President George Washington I found in a book called New York Diaries: 1609 to 2009 (Modern Library). I bought it on Friday afternoon firstly because I’m in it. I love Diaries anyway, as many of you do, and so I would have bought it, anyway. Being included, however, was a bonus.

Click to order New York Diaries: 1609 to 2009.

The book was the idea and organized and edited by Teresa Carpenter, author (“Missing Beauty” – New York Times bestseller), editor (Village Voice), Pulitzer Prize winner, mother, wife and resident of Greenwich Village. She contacted me early last year about the project asking if she could include my NYSD entry about Bernie Madoff right after his swindle was made public, before he went to jail. I was very flattered.

When I got home, I immediately looked for my entry. I recalled writing about it but couldn’t recall what it was that I wrote. I had forgotten the scene I wrote about and so it was interesting to read it over. But as it is with anything you’ve written and read more than once, it quickly is filed away in your brain and it’s on to the next. I then found an entry by Sir Cecil Beaton, written in anticipation to attending Truman Capote’s Ball, the idea of which he loathed but confessed to attending out of intense curiosity.

Then there was a moment about a trunk of a soldier in the Civil War sent home from Virginia to his family in Brooklyn on the Day after Christmas, 1864. The writer tells how he and his mother didn’t open it right away. He explains that he fears his brother George is either dead or a prisoner of the Confederate Army, possibly in Columbia, South Carolina. He adds some detail of what he knows about the horror facing those prisoners. Finally the trunk is opened and therein lay the uniform, the underclothes, the revolver, the various personal belongings of his missing brother.

You are there every minute of that cold, grey, foggy, icy, brown, grey day after Christmas in Brooklyn and the Diarist, you learn at the end is Walt Whitman.

From there I decided to go back to page one and start reading. This book is so engaging for anyone who loves or fantasizes about New York and the thousand thousand things it represents in the reality and in the fertile imaginations millions of people. It’s not only engaging but I’ve learned so much about the city life, including that which I am a part of and unaware of. On another day I’m going to write more about that. But for now on this holiday I can only recommend you go out and get it for yourself. You will not be disappointed and only surprised at how compelling these words – some just a sentence, some a page and a half – of personal entries about New York life for the past 400 years.

Friday was a nice day in New York. It is my day off in my head since I don’t have a deadline. After I left Archivia, I went down a block to Corrado, the sandwich shop on the corner of 70th and Lex. Their sandwiches are the old fashioned kind, two inches thick. I chose the smoked salmon and cream cheese and capers on black bread.

Then I walked back up the avenue toward 79th Street. The sidewalks were busy, as always, but a little quieter as in that neighborhood many often have left to their country houses or for Palm Beach or beyond for the weekend. It was one of those moments where New York is momentarily free and easy with bright sun above and the coat enough to keep me warm and air cold enough to brush my cheek.

On my walk up Lexington, I pass Henry Miller Opticians between 70th and 71st. The store’s manager always has an interesting personally composed and created display which is there for your imagination, curiosity and wonder, This is the current display.
And a couple of blocks up at Bunny Williams and John Rosselli’s Treillage, you see … (they like dogs, incidentally), anticipating Spring since we’re two thirds there, and weather-wise we’re way ahead of schedule.
And then around the corner on 73rd between Lex and Third in front of one of the private houses is this little garden, with some advice for dog lovers.

Back at the apartment, opening my terrace door, I noticed my closest entrepreneur about to begin his shift with the outgoing trash from the building across the avenue. You’ve seen my pictures of this man at work before. He’s very organized, fast and efficient. Friday I learned that he’s also there at the appointed hour that the big plastic trash and rubbish bags are being set out for collection. In fact, he was a little early, but was set up and also having a quick hotdog before he got started. As you can see, he was as ordered as the men supplying him with his 21st century New York bounty. I sat down at my desk to look at my book but quickly got up ever five minutes to make sure I didn’t miss his process. He wasn’t there for more than fifteen minutes before everything was checked out, accumulated, acquired, and bags full, he was gone, on to the next.

I wonder to myself if this guy knows just how smart and resourceful he is. He might now, all things considered. Although, watching him at work and watching him move, and the confidence of his gait as he exits the scene, makes me think he’s on to something good, maybe an objective. This what real growth is. This is what job creation ultimately is. This is New York. That book I just told you about — New York Diaries: 1609 to 2009 — that’s the record. My entrepreneur is the evidence.

Here is the man having arrived just minutes before the product was being delivered. He’s having a quick bite and heading for the receptacle on the corner to throw away the napkin. And then the process begins and fifteen minutes later, it’s a fait accompli and on to the next.

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