Warren G. Harding

Peter Catesby Peter Cates

Warren G. Harding

The 29th former President Warren Gamaliel Harding (1865-1923) was born November 2, 1865, in Blooming Grove, Ohio, the son and oldest of 8 children of George Tryon Harding (1843-1928) and his wife, the former Phoebe Dickerson (1843-1910).

The father was basically a jack of all trades, including farmer, teacher, businessman, veterinarian and doctor who did receive a medical degree. He was also rather lazy and opportunistic but did provide help to his son from time to time while the two had a very close relationship.

A key experience in Harding’s childhood – when he was six years old, his father became part owner of a small town newspaper and little Warren worked as an errand boy for the printer and became quite fascinated with the sights, sounds and smells of the inner workings of a newspaper.

During later years, Harding would share fond memories of growing up on the farm and of rural life but he detested doing chores, much preferring socializing with his friends in town. And his ability to win friends and influence people manifested itself early.

Meanwhile Harding’s mother thought her son would make a good preacher, even though his grades were average, and got him admitted to Ohio Central College . He took to college life socially, did intermittent debating, played althorn in the school band and edited the yearbook but had no interest in preaching; he even admitted he didn’t know what he wanted to take up as an occupation.

After graduating from college in 1882 at the age of 17, Harding taught briefly, studied law and sold insurance ; nothing clicked there.

Meanwhile the family had moved from Blooming Grove to Marion where Dr. Harding was cultivating greater Ohioan opportunities for his medical practice. The son moved in with them, loved the social life of Marion as well and became a reputable manager of finances for the local baseball team and marching band.

Harding at age 18.

At 18 in 1884, Harding and two friends bought a struggling newspaper in Marion, the Star, for $300 and the mortgage on it. It floundered for a few years but managed to survive and Harding bought out the two friends.

The Star was at first politically neutral but eventually became a mouthpiece for Republican ideals, especially since the businessmen around Marion who bought ads were card carrying Republicans.

In 1891, Harding, at 26, married 31-year-old Florence Kling De Wolfe, a rich widow with a young son, and she helped him on the business end of the newspaper while he wrote the editorials and won even more friends and influence in town , particularly in calling Marion the finest small city in the state to raise a family.

In 1898, Harding won a seat in the Ohio State Senate and quickly became the most popular politician at the State House. Like all good politicians, he remembered everyone’s name, was a great poker player and could charm squabbling members of the Ohio Republican party into reconciliation with each other.

Due to a certain laziness, Harding was lacking in political expertise but soon made the acquaintance of Harry M. Daugherty, a shrewd lobbyist and political fixer who never won an election himself but could guide others to victory.

When Daugherty first saw Harding, he immediately sensed future presidential potential. Their immediately begun friendship got Harding elected as Lieutenant Governor in 1902.

But by 1904, the Ohio Republicans were engaged in unholy internal warfare and Harding refused to run again as he wished to distance himself from these divisions.

Another reason – the Democrats were dominating state politics, an occurrence usually as rare as hen’s teeth.

After losing campaigns for governor in 1910 and 1912 , Harding won election to Congress as Senator in 1914.

His Senate career in terms of achievement was not that good but he continued to exude phenomenal charm; Harding loved people and they loved him in return.

Warren G. Harding and vice-presidential candidate Calvin Coolidge won the White House by seven million votes over the Democrat ticket of fellow Ohioan James M. Cox, who had served two terms as governor, and his vice presidential running mate, former assistant Secretary of the Navy, Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Harding and Coolidge campaigned on an isolationist back to normalcy platform while Cox and Roosevelt were supporting progressivism, social reforms and entry into the League of Nations, a forerunner of the United Nations. The voters were tired of anything international after World War I and wanted the normalcy and enjoyment of private life.

Volumes have been written about the scandals and corruption of Harding’s two-year presidency and his sudden death in a San Francisco hotel on August 2, 1923, at the age of 57, so, for reasons of space, I move on to a note of sympathy that his widow wrote to President and Mrs. Coolidge when their son Calvin Jr. died from blood poisoning at the age of 15, not long before she died at 64 from a kidney ailment: “No matter how many loving hands may be stretched out to help us, some paths we tread alone.”

REVIEW POTPOURRI: Maine Novelist Ruth Moore

Ruth Moore

Peter Catesby Peter Cates

Maine Novelist Ruth Moore

Maine novelist Ruth Moore (1903-1989) was born on Gott’s Island, spent several years as an adult out of state, and published the very successful novel Spoonhandle in 1946, which was adapted for the 1948 movie Deep Waters; the money enabled her to move back to Maine for the rest of her life.

During the 1930s, Moore was active in the NAACP , having begun working as a researcher. In 1930, she traveled to the Deep South where her investigation led to the release of two African-American men who had been falsely accused of murder.

A very powerful opening in Moore’s 1943 novel The Weir which takes place on one of the outlying islands along the Maine coast resonates on a universal level with any of us who sat through long years of school in quiet desperation:

“Sayl Comey went to school every day, but it seemed to him that things got worse instead of better. He couldn’t get used to the routine, and he couldn’t see any sense in what went on. In class he presented a face of bleak and absolute boredom.”

A writer well worth checking out.

The Adventures of Superman

George Reeves

My favorite childhood TV show was The Adventures of Superman, starring George Reeves (1914-1959). One particular episode started the 1953 season, 5 Minutes to Doom, which guest starred Dabbs Greer (1917-2007) as an innocent man wrongly sentenced to the electric chair. The depiction of the chair itself has stayed in my memory for decades, it was so well filmed.

Arvo Volmer

Arvo Volmer

Now 60, the quite gifted Estonian conductor Arvo Volmer recorded the 7 Symphonies, Finlandia, Valse Triste and Violin Concerto (with soloist Adele Anthony), of Finnish composer Jean Sibelius between 2007 and 2010 with the Adelaide Symphony of Australia for the ABC Classics label on 4 CDs; while these performances don’t have the craggy power of other conductors (Sibelius used the entire string/woodwind/brass/percussion apparatus of the modern orchestra to evoke the rocky ocean landscape, fields, woodlands and hills that are so similar to our own Maine), they do have a lot of poetry and are quite effective on their own terms.

For anyone new to classical music, I recommend sampling any of the many YouTubes of Sibelius’s music, especially the stirring patriotic Finlandia, the rhythmically gripping Violin Concerto, the powerful 1st and 2nd Symphonies with their rich outpourings of gorgeous, brilliantly sustained melody and the haunting mystery of Valse Triste and the otherworldly Swan of Tuonela.

Country Music Anthologies

During the early 1980s, Time Life Records marketed a series of LP anthologies devoted to country music artists and sold them by mail and through supermarkets.

They included Hank Williams, Chet Atkins, George Jones (of course), Johnny Cash, Elvis, Barbara Mandrell, Tammy Wynette, etc.

I recently listened to the one devoted to Waylon Jennings (1937-2002) which contains nine selections drawn from his albums for RCA Victor and include Brown Eyed Handsome Man, MacArthur Park, Ladies Love Outlaws and Love of the Common People.

The man knew how to communicate a song in an impressive manner.

REVIEW POTPOURRI: Thomas Woodrow Wilson

Woodrow Wilson

Peter Catesby Peter Cates

Thomas Woodrow Wilson

The 28th president, Thomas Woodrow Wilson (1856-1924), had been a professor of history and president of Princeton University before being lured into New Jersey Democratic party politics, and he soon found out that he enjoyed politics a lot . In the three-way race of 1912, Taft and Roosevelt split the vote among Republicans, thus assuring Wilson the White House.

A little more background: Wilson was the son of a Presbyterian minister, was born in Virginia but spent most of his childhood in Georgia where his father had taken another church position and moved the family.

He got degrees from Princeton and Johns Hopkins and studied enough law at the University of Virginia Law School and through home study to get admitted to the bar in Georgia where he practiced for a short period of time.

But he was drawn back to academic life and taught at both Bryn Mawr College, in Pennsylvania, and Wesleyan University, in Connecticut, after which he was offered a professorship at Princeton in 1890 .

Wilson wrote at least nine books and numerous articles; I highly recommend his five volume The History of the American People, published between 1901-1902, which I own and read most of, finding his narrative gifts superb.

After teaching there for 12 years, Woodrow Wilson was appointed president of Princeton, in 1902, and brought about a reorganization of the curriculum with an emphasis on campus life being one of serious study and not socializing. But he absolutely would not allow any African-Americans admission.

In 1910 Wilson was elected governor of New Jersey and served for two years before he was elected president of the United States.

Wilson had a world view mixture of Deep South Confederacy racism as a believer in segregation, progressivism when it came to such issues as workman’s compensation, regulation of public utilities and cronyism in government and, later in his presidency, internationalism in his pro-active participation in the Paris peace talks and his fight to establish the League of Nations. There is a vast amount of material on the pros and cons of his eight years in the White House, in particular his last two years after suffering a series of strokes.

Wilson was married first to Ellen Axson (1860-1914) who was studying art in New York City but gave it up to be a wonderful helpmate to her husband and gave birth to three daughters, Margaret, Jessie, and Eleanor.

Jessie married a Harvard professor Francis Sayre, Eleanor her father’s Secretary of the Treasury William McAdoo, while Margaret remained single indulging her love of culture and beauty (a photograph shows her listening to records which resonated with yours truly on a very personal level.).

In 1915, Wilson met a widow Edith Bolling Galt (1872-1961), and initiated an ardent courtship; by December, they were married.

After Wilson’s incapacitating strokes, the country was pretty much being secretly run by the First Lady, Wilson’s physician Dr. Cary Grayson and his private secretary Joe Tumulty while Vice-President Thomas Marshall was kept out of the loop.

After leaving the White House in 1921, the couple moved to a house on S Street which has since become a tourist attraction.

On Veterans Day in 1923, the former president summoned enough strength to give a brief speech to people gathered in front of his house in which he stated:

“I have seen fools resist Providence before and I have seen their destruction, and it will come upon these again, utter destruction and contempt; that we shall prevail is as sure as that God reigns.”

On February 3, 1924, Woodrow Wilson died at the age of 67; his successor Warren G. Harding had passed away the previous August and been succeeded by Calvin Coolidge, who was among the tiny group of mourners at Wilson’s funeral held at the S Street residence.

REVIEW POTPOURRI: Ray Charles & 101 Strings

Ray Charles

Peter Catesby Peter Cates

Ray Charles

My first experience of Ray Charles (1930-2004) was as a kid in the early ‘60s watching Dick Clark’s American Bandstand in which the singer made an appearance singing his megahit Georgia on My Mind. I remember being struck by his combination of calm stage presence with consummate timing and delivery.

An ABC/Paramount 45 record from 1963 contains two really good examples of his rhythm and blues artistry:

No Letter Today, in which the singer is dubbed in a duet with himself, and backed by “his orchestra” conducted by the exceptionally gifted jazz arranger Gerald Wilson.

Take These Chains From My Heart, in which the singer is joined by the Jack Halloran Singers and arranged and conducted by Marty Paich.

Both sides were produced by Sid Feller and released in 1963 as also part of the album, Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music, an album that broke the barrier between soul and country and western music. And both sides can be heard via YouTube.

A personal note: my grandmother Annabelle Cates (1888-1974) received a Christmas present of a two-LP set featuring the hits of Ray Charles and, despite her otherwise old-fashioned taste in music, enjoyed this album, in particular Hit the Road, Jack.

Jazz singer Anita O’Day (1919-2006) recorded two staples at a 1947 jam session- Sometimes I’m Happy and – that were released on a ten-inch 78 record on the Signature label. Among the vocalists who learned their craft with the big bands during the World War II 1940s that included Sinatra with Tommy Dorsey, Peggy Lee with Benny Goodman, etcs. Anita O’Day had a uniquely charming way with rhythm, melody, phrasing and timing and both sides can also be heard on YouTube.

101 Strings

101 Strings was the creation of businessman D.L. Miller, of Pennsylvania, who recruited this number of players from such orchestras as the Hamburg Philharmonic and arranged for recording sessions that started in the late 1950s and resulted in a sizable number of very inexpensively priced LPs on his Somerset/Stereo Fidelity label.

The albums included hit songs of the era, Gypsy tunes, opera arias, folk songs from countries around the world, Christmas carols, hymns and Broadway and film selections.

The arrangements were skillfully done, making for very pleasant listening. One such album was A Cruise to the Rivieras-Spain, France and Italy and consisted of the following titles: La Mer, Flamenco Fantasy, Estrellita, A Night on the Riviera, Monaco, Sunday in Genoa, and a medley of Santa Lucia, Funiculi Funicula and Sorento. This album is also available for listening on YouTube.

REVIEW POTPOURRI: William Howard Taft

William Howard Taft

Peter Catesby Peter Cates

William Howard Taft

The 27th former President William Howard Taft (1857-1930) had what might be considered the closest friendship possible with his predecessor Theodore Roosevelt. They more than frequently visited with each other, advised each other, encouraged each other, even rebuked each other.

Under Roosevelt, Taft served as Governor/General of the newly-annexed Philippines and, in a strange twist of fate, as Secretary of War at the same time; TR had so much faith in Taft that he used him as his personal roving ambassador at large (no pun intended with Taft’s well known obesity of over 300 pounds) and as a diplomatic mediator in setting up peace talks between the Russians and Japanese during their 1905 War.

When the 1908 Republican Convention occurred, Roosevelt, due to his own popularity with the voters, pretty much had control of its delegates, got his friend easily nominated as the front runner and a Republican president another four years in the White House, an achievement not to be achieved again until the Reagan/Bush years of 1980-1992.

An interesting anecdote in Christine Sadler’s 1963 book America’s First Ladies tells of a vicious blizzard of an ice storm that “tied up transportation all along the Atlantic coast, left thousands of inaugural visitors stranded on trains and roads leading into Washington, and temporarily halted the sending of telegrams. President Roosevelt said the storm was aimed at him and would abate when he got out of town, but Taft replied, ‘You’re wrong; it’s my storm. I always said it would be a cold day when I got to be president of the United States. ‘ ”

At the actual inauguration ceremony, Taft’s youngest son Charles brought along a copy of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island in case he was bored by his father’s speech; it proved to be a very interesting speech which 11-year-old Charles enjoyed immensely. The boy never even cracked his book and his father considered the boy’s attention a personal compliment.

Taft himself had always set his ambition on being Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court but his wife Helen (1861-1943) pushed him into politics and he lacked the will to resist her.

However, once in the White House, Taft, while still believing in Roosevelt’s policies, steered a more cautious middle ground between the traditional Republicans who detested Roosevelt’s aggressive “bull in a china shop” progressivism and the progressive Republicans who wished to continue where Roosevelt left off.

He also basically disliked the job, didn’t try very hard to achieve much and had an ultra-cautious Vice-President James Sherman (1855-1912) who made Taft seem like a radical progressive.

Meanwhile, the First Lady suffered a physical collapse and some paralysis of her facial muscles which left her an invalid most of the first year (She did eventually recover much of her health and lived to see oldest son Robert elected to the U.S. Senate in 1939.).

As mentioned in an earlier column, Taft lost in the three-way race of 1912 in which Roosevelt’s Bull Moose candidacy split the Republican vote and was quite happy to turn the White House over to Woodrow Wilson.

Finally in 1921, President Warren G. Harding (1865-1923) appointed Taft to his dream job as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court where he would do fine work, would swear in both Calvin Coolidge and Herbert Hoover as president in 1925 and 1929, respectively, and would retire in February 1930, one month before his death from a heart ailment at the age of 72.

REVIEW POTPOURRI: A few vintage films

Peter Catesby Peter Cates

Adam Had Four Sons

Ingrid Bergman

Amazon Prime has a large array of vintage films that I have been lately bingeing on and I recently viewed a few choice ones:

1941’s Adam Had Four Sons starred Ingrid Bergman (1915-1982), Warner Baxter (1888-1951), Fay Wray (1907-2004), Richard Denning (1914-1998), and Susan Hayward (1917-1975).

The story begins during the early 1900s and ends just after the end of World War I, depicting the lives of a wealthy stockbroker Adam Stoddard (portrayed with professionally honed suavity by Warner Baxter), his ailing and very nurturing wife (Fay Wray, best known as the young woman in a night dress being carried by King Kong in his hand as he clambers up the Empire State Building in the 1933 film classic), and their four sons from when they are young boys to full adulthood and military service in 1917-18 France.

Richard Denning, who was perhaps best known for the 1950s TV show Michael Shayne, portrayed the eldest son Jack with commendable skill; fans of Jack Lord’s Hawaii Five-O may remember his calming authoritative presence as the governor for the first few seasons.

A central presence was Ingrid Bergmann as the governess. She was captivating but I found her much more so with Humphrey Bogart in the following year’s Casablanca and in 1947’s Bells of Saint Mary’s with Bing Crosby.

The venomous character in the film was the gold digger Hester who charms one of the younger brothers into marrying her and then starts playing everyone else against each other.

A commendably entertaining love story/soap opera combination.

My Foolish Heart

Susan Hayward

1949’s My Foolish Heart has Susan Hayward portraying a much more sympathetic woman struggling with alcoholism and an unhappy marriage; we find out why with flashbacks to when she falls in love with a young officer before he goes off to World War II (and featuring the consistently reliable Dana Andrews, 1912-1992). I used to find Hayward’s characters much too abrasive but here she completely drew me into the story. Critics trashed it but the public loved it. Highly recommended.

Behind Green Lights

William Gargan

Two suspenseful film noirs – 1946’s Behind Green Lights is an engaging account of the chaotic activities inside a big city police station among the front desk cops, the detectives, the newspaper reporters, the morgue attendants and the ordinary citizens who drop in voluntarily or under involuntary duress.

The plot begins thickening when a driverless car jumps up on the sidewalk with a dead body inside.

William Gargan (1905-1979) portrays the police commissioner in charge of the investigation and the interrogation of a lady who was last seen in the victim’s apartment before he was thrown in the car (the lady was very convincingly and compassionately portrayed by Carole Landis (1919-1948) who very sadly committed suicide two years after the film’s release at the age of 29 by overdosing on barbiturates.)

Gargan had a successful career in movies and television until 1958 when, as a chain smoker, he contracted lung cancer and had his larynx removed; afterwards he had to speak into a voice box and became celebrated as a zealous campaigner against the perils of cigarettes for the remaining 20 years of his life.

Please Murder Me

Raymond Burr

1956’s Please Murder Me has Raymond Burr (1917-1993) as a defense attorney with a different name from the one he portrayed for nine years on CBS’s Perry Mason beginning in 1957 , only a year after this film’s release.

He defends a woman who has been charged with murdering her husband and, convinced of her innocence, gets her acquitted, only to find out she’s guilty. The client’s manipulative malevolence was very persuasively conveyed by the brilliant young Angela Lansbury (1927-2022).





REVIEW POTPOURRI: Theodore Roosevelt

Theodore Roosevelt

Peter Catesby Peter Cates

Theodore Roosevelt

As the 25th former President William McKinley was slowly dying in a bed chamber, in Buffalo, New York, of a gangrenous infection from Leon Czolgosz’s bullet, Vice-President Teddy Roosevelt (1858-1919) was still vacationing with his family high up in the Adirondacks 400 miles due northeast in the Empire State, but felt the increasing urgency necessitated that he hurry to Buffalo.

The first seven hours of descent down the steep, slippery, curving trails to the trains were via horse and buggy, the driver instructed by his lone passenger to proceed at full speed.

This incident conveys the frequently much too brash boldness with which the first President Roosevelt proceeded through life. He was a total believer in the active strenuous life, both physically and intellectually.

Roosevelt could box, wrestle, hunt wild game and rope steers with expertise. He also mastered languages, speedred two or three books a day and wrote several highly acclaimed volumes of history.

I wrote in an earlier column of how McKinley and Roosevelt had a very wary relationship. Basically, it boiled down to McKinley having serious misgivings about Roosevelt’s much too brash boldness versus his own circumspect caution and consummate diplomacy in his career as a public servant; to the credit of both men, each believed in doing what was right.

There is a fascinating photo of President McKinley and Vice-President Roosevelt sitting together on the White House porch but neither one is smiling. Supposedly, McKinley, who had seen a lot of bloodshed as a Major in Civil War battles, was turned off by Roosevelt’s Rough Rider enthusiasm in seeing duty in the Spanish-American War while Roosevelt considered McKinley, according to biographer Edmund Morris, “a cold-blooded politician.”

President McKinley and Vice-President Roosevelt

I admit to a bias towards McKinley as a more decent human being the more I read about him, whereas Roosevelt has increasingly struck me as a combination of the bull in a china shop, personally enjoying upper class luxury and hobnobbing with his rich and famous friends while maybe pretending to have sympathy for the common man and being one himself.

But Roosevelt’s presidency did achieve much in the government trust busting and other such crusades. Health and safety standards in industry were enforced . Roosevelt fought for preservation of wilderness park lands, spearheaded the building of the Panama Canal, and mediated peace talks to end the 1905 war between Russia and Japan.

There have been hundreds of books written about Roosevelt. Years ago, I read Hermann Hagedorn’s 1954 The Roosevelt Family of Sagamore Hill, the author having been a close friend of TR and the family, and having access to droves of letters, journals and other archived materials. The book recounted much first hand knowledge about Roosevelt’s personality with his family and friends at home – Sagamore Hill being the mansion in Oyster Bay on the northernmost end of Long Island, New York, where he resided most of his adult years.

Alice Roosevelt

Roosevelt’s first wife Alice Lee (1861-1884) died two days after giving birth to a baby girl named Alice. She also died the same night as Roose­velt’s mother, a double tragedy that traumatized Roosevelt so much that he left his daughter in the care of his sister Anna and moved out west to the Dakota badlands to be a rancher for two years.

Edith Roosevelt

In 1886, he returned East and married Edith Carow (1861-1948) who gave birth to five children. She epitomized classy poise and dignity, displayed phenomenal gifts at managing five very rambunctious children and yet would join her husband and kids on horseback rides through the woods surrounding the Sagamore Hill estate.

She and stepdaughter Alice had a contentious relationship; she had known Alice’s mother and made a hurtful comment that, if her mother had lived, she would have eventually bored her father with her insipid personality.

However, daughter Alice could hold her own with the sharp tongue; she once summed up her father’s ego-driven need to be the center of attention everywhere: “He wants to be the bride at every wedding, the corpse at every funeral and the baby at every christening.”

After leaving the White House in 1909, Roosevelt remained active in both public and private life. He hoped that his like-minded friend Howard Taft, whom he helped win the Republican nomination and presidency, would continue his policies but Taft became his own man.

In 1912, Roosevelt ran as an independent Bull Moose candidate against Taft, splitting the vote and giving the White House to Democratic candidate Woodrow Wilson.

All four Roosevelt sons served in World War I, inspiring much pride in their father but tragedy struck in mid-1918 when youngest son Quentin was killed in France at the age of 21.

After that Roosevelt basically lost his own will to live and died on January 6, 1919, of a heart ailment, at the age of 60.

REVIEW POTPOURRI: Elisabeth Ogilvie

Elisabeth Ogilvie

Peter Catesby Peter Cates

Elisabeth Ogilvie

The consistently intriguing Maine Speaks anthology contains a short story, Scobie, by Elisabeth Ogilvie (1917-2006), which was first published in the August, 1951, issue of Woman’s Day magazine.

The story is set in a fishing village along the Maine coast and is recounted from the point of view of a first person unnamed narrator who is living presently in the early 1950s and, in visiting with a childhood friend, Rhoda, is recalling memories of those 1920s or ’30s yesteryears when the village only had “a general store, a filling station, a sardine factory, a fish-and-lobster buyer, and a fifteen-room hotel that catered for three summer months to artists and elderly people….” and in particular of an eccentric named Scobie who lived for a year on the very edge of the village in a “pinkie” or discarded boat with his well-trained pet baby pig, Barnaby.

The story has a very commendably achieved sense of time and place in its details of local color but the main plot in its depiction of the girls interactions with Scobie when they visited him a few times (and without their parents’ permission) was unfortunately a bit wooden and desultory.

Still, one paragraph stood out in its vividness, when the narrator is describing her father’s job as a warden of the village “fisheries”:

“At the far curve of the harbor, away from the sardine factory and the big wharves, there was a regular settlement of lobstermen, who preferred to live in sight of the harbor and the moorings rather than in the town. Their houses, with neat white clapboards or silvery shingles, were sheltered by the spruce woods behind; the grassy ground sloped down to the shore, where their boats were hauled up for painting; and their traps were stacked against wildrose bushes and blackberry vines. My father spent a lot of time over there.”

The potential for further reader interest in the lives of these inhabitants in a separate universe from the other villagers may have been a lost opportunity.

Ogilvie was a Massachusetts native but, in 1944, she moved into a 33-acre farm, on Gay’s Island, in Cushing, where she died from a stroke in 2006. She published more than 40 novels, mostly based on life in the islands along the Maine coast; along with an autobiography.



April 1 was the 150th birthday anniversary of composer Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873-1943). YouTube contains a highly recommended recording of his ever justly popular 2nd Piano Concerto, which he composed in 1901, after recovering from a deep depression through the help of hypnosis from a Doctor Dahl. The performance is a 1960 Columbia Masterworks collaboration between pianist Philippe Entremont and the late Leonard Bernstein, with the New York Philharmonic.

It was the first LP I ever owned of the work and its power and poetry had a uniquely gripping eloquence of its own. The second movement was slowly paced and milked for maximum sentiment while the concluding 3rd movement was paced with lightning speed until the magnificent concluding three minutes when, with slower tempos, the music exploded with beauty.




William McKiinley

Peter Catesby Peter Cates

William McKinley

In a speech given at the Pan-American Exposition, in Buffalo, New York, on September 5, 1901, (one day before he was shot by the psychotic anarchist Leon Czolgosz), the 25th President William McKinley (1843-1901) stated that “Isolation is no longer possible or desirable….The period of exclusiveness is past.”

During his first term in office, McKinley would be faced with the challenges of the Spanish-American War in Cuba, an armed insurrection in the Philip­pines and the Boxer Rebellion in China ; and the annexation of Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Hawaiian Islands. But he showed gifts of leadership that were both firm and quietly unobtrusive.

His main political goal, one that had pre-occupied him since he was first elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1876 as a Republican from Ohio, was the protective tariff and, after an exhaustive study of its intricacies, concluded that protectionism benefitted both American industry and the working people, guarding them from the unregulated cheap foreign goods.

Within 14 years, his McKinley Tariff Act of 1890 attracted much criticism but gave Congressman McKinley additional fame throughout the country. The tariff imposed rather high rates on agricultural and manufactured products from abroad yet, strangely, raw sugar was not taxed.

Interestingly, a reciprocity agreement on the tariff provided elbow room for any sitting president to impose additional duties on goods from nations if they were extorting extra duties on our exports .

At the 1888 Republican Convention, McKinley attracted the attention of the multi-millionaire manufacturer Mark Hanna (1837-1904) whose strategic talents and personal wealth would help McKinley win the White House in 1896 and 1900. As with many such behind-the-scenes individuals, Hanna’s own rise to power would make a fascinating case study in the political science realm.

William McKinley Jr. was born January 29, 1843, in Niles, Ohio, to William (1807-1892) and Nancy Allison McKinley (1809-1897). Being the seventh of nine children, he had three brothers and five sisters. His father operated an iron foundry but the business started floundering when McKinley was attending Allegheny College, in Pennsylvania, necessitating his withdrawal to go to work as a schoolteacher and store clerk to help support the family.

When the Civil War started, McKinley joined the 23rd Ohio Regiment and moved up its ranks to the post of Major under the command of Rutherford B. Hayes, who called McKinley, because of his performance during some very bloody skirmishes, “one of the bravest and finest officers in the army.”

When the war ended, McKinley studied law, was admitted to the Ohio bar and shared a partnership in the city of Canton with an elderly judge who soon retired and handed over his practice to the younger man. He moved with assurance in society and soon became interested in politics, campaigning for his former commanding officer Hayes (who by now was a close friend) when the older man successfully ran for governor and later president.

As an eligible bachelor in Canton society, McKinley attracted the ladies but set his sights on the beautiful and well-connected Ida Saxton (1847-1907) who was quite attracted to the young lawyer in return.

They married in January 1871, and a baby girl, Katherine, was born on Christmas Day of that year. They were a very happy and financially prosperous couple with a wonderful future in the works.

But then tragedy struck . Just before their second daughter was born in 1873, Ida’s mother, to whom she had been very close, died; the baby girl, also named Ida, was born but only lived a few months; and finally in 1875, their daughter Katherine died at the age of four from typhoid.

Already having suffered a physical and mental breakdown when she lost her mother and baby daughter, Ida had taken great comfort in Katherine and might have recovered most of her health, but losing Katherine, too, resulted in Ida being an invalid for the rest of her life, clinging to her husband with brief periods of remission during which she went to social gatherings with him. Among the ailments were epilepsy and later phlebitis.

One of her hobbies was crocheting bedroom slippers and she made several thousand pairs .

She and her husband also opened their homes to children from both sides of the track who needed a place to stay during daylight hours and always provided them with lunch, both when residing in Canton and later in Washington D.C., on up to and including the White House years, and she became known as “Auntie McKinley.” It was believed by friends and family as a way of sublimating her grief at the loss of her daughters by giving attention and affection to other children who needed it.

However, she did encourage her husband’s political career even as she was totally dependent on him.

For reasons of space, I now move to the aftermath of when McKinley was shot by Czolgosz on September 6, 1901. The president was beginning to improve a few days later but then gangrene set in around the wound in his stomach and McKinley died on September 14, his wife by his side and his last words to her were those of a favorite hymn, “Nearer My God to Thee, Nearer to Thee.”

Leon Czolgosz was tried quickly and sentenced to death in the electric chair on October 29, six weeks after McKinley’s death.
McKinley’s first vice-president was Garret Hobart (1834-1899), a very shrewd New Jersey lawyer and politician who became a very close friend while in office but he died before the first term ended.

At the 1900 Convention, McKinley allowed its leaders to pick his running mate, Theodore Roosevelt; McKinley accepted him but the two men had a wary dislike for each other.

Then fate intervened and Teddy was president until 1909, when he was succeeded by his own hand-picked choice, William Howard Taft, their stories for later.


Joseph Conrad

Peter Catesby Peter Cates

Joseph Conrad

Joseph Conrad (1857-1924) has recently become my favorite novelist of all, supplanting such favorites as Graham Greene, John Le Carre, and Nathaniel Hawthorne. His combination of slyly understated wit, of a very perceptive awareness of the hearts of darkness in all hu­man­kind and of his own genius level of mastery of English as a second language are seen in his Lord Jim, Typhoon, Victory and Under Western Skies.

I have been slowly but surely reading his 1913 novel Chance, a book that others find not one of his best; I disagree most vehemently.

The story focuses on a young woman Flora de Barral who runs off to sea in holy wedlock with a Merchant Marine Captain Anthony who is more than old enough to be her father. The novel deals, quite captivatingly, with the repercussions of this marriage. The Anthonys simply want a private life in which they mind their own business but are surrounded by people who make it impossible.

Much of the time in this novel, Conrad uses the first person narrator Charles Marlow who is constantly brooding on the significance of everything he sees and hears with respect to the couple.

One situation has Marlow conversing with an unnamed acquaintance about the gap between people with real integrity, such as the Anthonys who , through no fault of their own, get caught up in absurd, even traumatic situations; and the people who think they’re better than everyone else, but are actually ignorant, if not downright destructive guttersnipes:

“‘They say,’ pursued the unabashed Marlow, ‘that we laugh from a sense of superiority. Therefore, observe, simplicity, honesty, warmth of feeling, delicacy of heart and of conduct, self-confidence, magnanimity are laughed at, because the presence of these traits in a man’s character often puts him into difficult, cruel or absurd situations, and makes us, the majority who are fairly free as a rule from these peculiarities, to feel pleasantly superior.’ “

One could say that Conrad had a very cynical view of human nature but what distinguished him from other writers with a similar worldview was his having made peace with this cynical view and the sense of humor he maintained.

Finally Conrad incorporated elements of his own experiences as a Merchant Marine officer from the age of 18 to 37 when he left that life behind to devote himself full time to writing into his fiction, especially drawing on his own travels to the Far East and other such exotic locales. The grand impersonal immensities of the ocean and its depths, combined paradoxically with its ability to shelter the individual from the toxic humanity on land, held ardent fascination for him, as seen in another quote from Chance, in which the chief petty officer is on night watch:

“The very sea, with short flashes of foam bursting out here and there in the gloomy distances, the unchangeable, safe sea sheltering a man from all passions, except its own anger, seemed queer to the quick glance he threw to windward where the already effaced horizon traced no reassuring limit to the eye.”

One highly recommended novel.