Monday, May 31, 2010

History of Memorial Day

"The 30th of May 1868 is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers , or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village, and hamlet churchyard in the land. In this observation no form of ceremony is prescribed, but posts and comrades will in their own way arrange such special services and testimonials of respect as circumstances may permit." --- General Order No. 11 - General John A. Logan, Grand Army of the Republic, May 5, 1868.

The commemoration was originally known as Decoration Day. The name Memorial Day was first used in 1882. By the late 1800s, many communities hand begun to celebrate Memorial Day to honor Americans who died in all wars. In 1971, Congress declared Memorial Day a national holiday to be celebrated the last Monday in May.
The picture is of the Fredericksburg National Cemetery luminary which was held this year on May 29th with more than 15,300 candles honoring those who gave their life for this country.

Friday, May 21, 2010

West Point Admission Test - 1867

The 1867 Guide to West Point and the U.S. Military Academy with Maps and Engravings contains a description of the admissions examination. I was impressed by its difficulty and I wonder how many of today's high school seniors could pass. The requirements in each area are summarized below:

1. Reading - Read with facility from any book, giving the proper intonation and pauses, and to write portions that are read aloud for that purpose, spelling the words, and punctuating the sentences properly.

2. Arithmetic - Demonstrate proficiency in the primary functions of addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. Be able to convert decimals into "vulgar" fractions such as 0.750 into its fractional equivalent 3/4.

3. English Grammar - Exhibit a familiarity with the nine parts of speech and the rules in relation thereto, and must be able to parse any ordinary sentence. Parsing a sentence means to break a sentence into parts, explaining the grammatical form, function, and interrelation of each part.

4. Descriptive Geography - Name, locate and describe the natural grand and political divisions of the earth, and be able to delineate any one of the States or Territories of the American Union, with its principal cities, rivers, lakes, seaports and mountains.

5. History - Name the periods of the discovery and settlement of the North American continent, of the rise and progress of the United States, and of the successive wars and political administration through which the country has passed.

These tests were administered via recitations at the blackboard in the presence of other classmates. No pressure here!

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Casino near Gettysburg

There is a new battle raging around Gettysburg, PA. This time its between the Civil War Preservation Trust (CWPT) and a group called Mason-Dixon Resorts, LLC. The Mason-Dixon Resorts folks want to build a casino about one-half a mile from the battlefield. The project will feature 307 hotel rooms, 600 slot machines, and 50 table games. The complex will also have 2,000 parking spaces. Jim Lighthizer and the people at CWPT are opposed to the project and want to see it defeated like the one they prevented four years ago.

This is another example of battle that historic preservationists wage with developers. Unfortunately sitting in Texas, I lack the proper perspective to evaluate the project. As a historian I want to see the battlefield preserved and protected from commercial encroachment. But the fact is I don't live in Gettysburg or Adams County. I visit the park occasionally and these trips don't include assessment of the local economy and employment rate. Some commercial enterprises are required by park visitors --- hotels and restaurants. After a hot and humid summer day at the park those indoor and outdoor pools sound inviting.

So the issue comes down to the gaming and here is where I have problems. Does the community really need a casino? The smoke filled rooms are hazardous to your health and pocketbook. I find that an establishment where the odds of success are stacked against me is not a place that I would want to frequent.

The casino environment is at odds with the family and educational environment contained at the national park and cemetery. This type of business can have a negative effect on the community. In a scholarly study that appeared in The Review of Economics and Statistics, the researchers found that the rate of crime was 12 percentage points lower in non-casino communities. They note that the first two or three years there is little or no effect, but in the fourth and fifth years most forms of crime begin to increase in casino communities.

So I think I'll place my bets and money with the Civil War Protection Trust