The Irreplaceable James Edgar

A mother embarrased. Jim Edgar beams.
He is the first Santa and he’s happy with that.
He hoped history would forget–the frightened cries.
On his lap. Unexpected. A joyous warmth, even though.

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Written for Trifecta’s Week Ninety-eight challenge:

Charles Dickens, in A Christmas Carol, wrote “There is nothing in the world so irresistibly contagious as laughter and good humour.” We are giving you exactly 33 words to make us laugh out loud and spread some festive cheer. Visit Trifecta at their site….

This isn’t so much a laugh, but I hope it does bring a smile.

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James Edgar

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In a world of forgotten people, James Edgar deserves to be remembered especially today.

An immigrant from Scotland, he arrived in Brockton, MA in 1878. He established his dry goods store and by 1890 was running a flourishing business. He was known to stand on the roof of his building tossing pennies to the children below, and hired unemployed youth for his department store despite not needing any new employees. Every summer, he would hire every available trolley to bring children to a park for a massive picnic; Mr. Edgar paid for everything and would often dress in costume for their amusement. One year, he came dressed as Uncle Sam.

As the first store Santa, “Big Jim” took his cue from the 1860s Thomas Nast cartoons of the Jolly Old Elf. Instead of sitting like a king awaiting the children, he wandered the store greeting eager faces. Soon, families from as far as Boston would make a day of visiting Santa. In 1890, the trip to Brockton would require a lengthy train ride. Jim greeted every child with a friendly smile, and a hearty laugh. There have been hundreds, probably thousands, of store Santa’s since, but Big James Edgar deserves his place in history beside all our other beloved legends.

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Utile Dulci

Dawn broke in waves of sulfur. The horses could sense the anxiety. Bloody ford had cleared. It flowed crystal blue again. He stepped out of the tent. A stout forty bereft of a sickly youth. In a blue military coat and a blue polka-dotted handkerchief tied around his thick neck. His eyes flared an eagerness that had been kept in check.
The ground was hot. The plants were sweating in the early July morning. Roosevelt looked calm and cool.

He’d paced for the last two days: The fight was over, but he yearned for more. This war was his chance to become a gentleman. He was nothing but overdramatic. Even on the battlefield. He rose at sunup. Religiously. He cleaned his rifle, polished the bayonet, and saddled his horse. A ritual he’d begun in Texas, brought to Florida, and then to Cuba. He tightened his jacket. Straightened his handkerchief. Mumbled a missive about invading San Juan. A glance. Officer’s tents. Reminding himself he needed to spell it out for his superiors.

The newspapers had gotten America into the war. That there were men recording the events on their behalf was to be expected. Keeping tabs on their splendid little war. Recording the progress. Reporting the heroics. Infantry tripping over photographers in the musty trenches. Unwieldy cameras and tripods sacrificing themselves to the Spanish sniper. Roosevelt had seen them. He knew them. He courted them. A friendship rose between the Harper’s Weekly man and Roosevelt.

William Dinwiddie, the Harper’s man, stood beside Roosevelt at the foot of San Juan Hill. It was a friendship of convenience. Dinwiddie seeking a worthy story. Roosevelt seeking notoriety. Dinwiddie wasn’t a soldier. He was dressed like the rest. He followed them into the trenches. Ducked the Mauser rifle fire raining down from fortified positions atop the hills. Unlike his brethren in the trenches, he came armed with a notebook and camera. Roosevelt brought him along. Dinwiddie marched with the riders; riders who walked instead of rode. Riders who’s horses stayed in Florida. A cavalry that fought on foot.
–Don’t report, don’t report.
He repeated this mantra. At the sight of cavalry marching. At the sight of officers sniped before they could rally a charge. At the sight of hesitation. Of cowardice.

Leaning over the rails, watching the pallid blue water roll past the SS Yucatan’s black hull Dinwiddie and Roosevelt found a kinship. Dakota Territory. Roosevelt had built the Elkhorn Ranch to cure a western itch. The ranch was a failure. The cattle lost. He’d come back to New York with stories of capturing thieves and hard winters. He’d made both an enemy and a friend in a wealthy rancher. Marquis de Mores. He’d left New York an asthmatic and scrawny. He’d returned a barrel-chested, western-toughed. The itch never abated. Dinwiddie, too, had spent time in the Dakotas. A reporter. A photographer. Working for the Bureau of American Ethnology. He’d told Roosevelt of his days in the wilds stretching from the Dakota’s to southern Arizona photographing the Tohono O’Odham Indians. They spoke in longing phrases and romantic tones despite their rough-hewn facades. Dinwiddie had followed the charismatic man through the steaming jungles knowing a story would always surface.

A photograph. He wanted a photograph. One of Roosevelt’s rabble–an Indian from Arizona–came. Gather your camera. A warm Caribbean gust carries a stifling din over the camp. There was always concern that the humidity would rot the leather bellows, and a replacement for his Rochester Optical was far away. As the soldiers meticulously maintained their weapons between fights, so did Dinwiddie with his equipment. –Better, he thought, than having a cheap paper bellow. The camera sat on a field table. Burnished mahogany. Polished brass fittings catching mid-day sun. A tripod to match the wood.
A legend. The stories were eagerly read by thousands across New England. Roosevelt leading the charge. Roosevelt dodging the snipers. The notion that the bullets found it offensive to assault his personage. Not that these stories have any truth. Roosevelt disobeying orders. Ordering a charge beyond his command. A legend is born in ink and words.
–Always, always, Dinwiddie reminded himself, find the power hungry and live in their good graces.

Atop Kettle Hill. Three different units. Dinwiddie surveyed the image before him: the 3rd Cavalry on his left, Roosevelt stood proud in the center beneath the U.S. flag surrounded by his 1st volunteer cavalry, and the 10th Cavalry on the right. Setting up the camera below. Capture the falling sun against the breasts of the men. The flag barely moving in the stifling stillness. Roosevelt stands victorious. The plate is exposed. Posterity captured.
–Another one, the Indian says, only the 1st.
–He’d want it that way, Dinwiddie told himself. Of course he would. Posterity doctored.

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The above piece was inspired by the word “doctor” from Studio 30plus (though it missed the deadline to post) and by the recent “selfie” that President Obama was caught in during Nelson Mandela’s funeral service.

I won’t reproduce the “selfie” here since I would suspect that many of you have already seen the photo, but that picture got me wondering what picture would define this current Presidency: The funeral “selfie” or Peter Souza’s photo of the President sitting in the Oval Office with the portrait of Lincoln, the Emancipation Proclamation, portrait of George Washington, and bust of Lincoln in the background. One photo seems authentic while the other more staged. Here is the Souza photo:

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Photographs have been widely used to manipulate our history, and I couldn’t think of a better occasion than the Roosevelt Rough Rider photograph to highlight this. There were two Dinwiddie photos taken that day, as illustrated in the story, but one has become iconically related to Teddy Roosevelt, while the other tends to be spartanly published. Here are the two Dinwiddie photos:

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The first highlights Roosevelt and his Rough Riders. The second brings in all the units involved in the capture of Kettle Hill, San Juan. Roosevelt’s Rough Riders were not in the initial wave scheduled to assault Kettle Hill; they were reserve units until Roosevelt ordered his own charge. This is a little quibble in history. Yes, Teddy probably disobeyed orders. Yes, Teddy’s Rough Riders walked because they were hurried out of Miami for Cuba and had left most of the horses behind. Yes, there were men from the U.S.’s largest papers on the island. This is what matters the most; Roosevelt understood this fact and used it to his advantage. His larger-than-life persona bled through the ink printed in the nation’s papers catapulting him to the Vice-Presidency. Dinwiddie’s doctored photo was one of TR’s legacies to the Presidency. Through which lens will history view the Obama Presidency? A “selfie” or Souza’s?

About the title: Utile Dulci is one of my favorite Latin phrases. It means “the useful with the agreeable.”

Expectations

“Am I really this shallow?”

*****

Valerie and I were introduced through common friends.
I had tried the mingles and the harmonies and the matches but despite their claims, no one really caught my eye. There were nice girls. There were women wrapped in their own lives. And there was me not really sure what I was looking for.
We chose a restaurant on a crowded street; a restaurant we knew would be busy, loud, and could afford us a chance to disappear should the night go south. I got there first and sat at the bar scanning the people who came in watching for the girl my friend described. Great, she’s twenty minutes late, I bitched to myself.
She sat at the other end of the bar doing and thinking the same thing.
Awkwardly, our eyes caught one another and then we had a long distance laugh.

*****

That was three dates ago.
“Valerie might just be the one,” I cheerfully told our friends. Encouraging smiles and comments followed.

*****

I knew about her accident.
She didn’t talk about it, but I knew from friends it had been bad. It had been foggy, the traffic had slowed approaching a crest on the freeway, and the semi behind her didn’t see it. Weeks were spent in rehab. It was a hurt she’d rather not relive.

*****

“You animal,” she purred as we kissed.
When she invited me to her apartment, I’ll admit I was surprised. She’d seemed so distant. I couldn’t figure out if it was me, her, or her accident. When she leaned over and kissed my lips, surprise became elation.
“I want to make love to you,” she said as she set my hand on her thigh.
And then I had to excuse myself.
Now, I find myself standing in front of the mirror questioning my own expectations.
“Seriously, Valerie is a great girl,” I tell myself in the mirror.
A fucking amputee great girl, the animal in me replies.

___________________________________

word count: 328

Studio 30+: hurt

 

 

Trifecta: “animal” 3rd definition: a human being considered chiefly physical or nonrational; also this nature

The Death Mask

Many in town knew her to be clairvoyant.

I didn’t believe it until now as I look down at the face that I pull from the plaster. I wonder now what we can sense and if I will recognize the moments before my own death.

I would suppose an explanation is warranted.

I arrived at the White House and was invited in by one of the servants. The Mrs. was out. The president had reluctantly accepted her proposal to have a mask made, and he sat still on the stool while I began draping the fabric around his broad shoulders, past his long legs, and onto the floor. He said nothing while I applied the oil to his face, and while the wet plaster set, he sat almost resigned to a moment of deathly peace; the plaster became a mask to keep out the horrors of this war. I couldn’t help but look at his hands; his hands were thin, gauntly appendages of a man who once wielded an ax on the frontier. I stared for fifteen long minutes while the president said nothing. I asked him to twitch, first his nose, then scrunch up his nose to his eyes, and finally slowly work his jaw. The mold fell off his face in six large pieces and were caught in the cloth. After it was all done, he looked at me and thanked me for the moments of rest and peace he had. I asked if he was well.

He replied: “I am very unwell.”

He rose, picked up his glasses, hat, and walking cane, and left the room.

That moment was two months ago. Now, the city is draped in black and the funeral train will depart for Chicago tomorrow. I hold what is now the last image of the president’s face and wonder if he knew as well.

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Trifecta Writing Prompt: Mask 3rd definition : a protective covering for the face: gas mask; : a device covering the mouth and nose to facilitate inhalation: a comparable device to prevent exhalation of infective material: a cosmetic preparation for the skin of the face that produces a tightening effect as it dries

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Death Masks of American Presidents

A common myth is that Abraham Lincoln’s “death” mask was made post-assassination, but it was created by Clark Mills in February 1865 two months before his assassination. It was the second of two masks created of the president–the first was done in 1861. Lincoln reluctantly had the second mask done, and it has always fascinated me that he would sit for it two months before his death… premonition or not?

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A sculpture mold of the Clark Mills life mask of Abraham Lincoln.

Other U.S. Presidents also had death/life masks made of them… here are a few others.

George Washington

President Washington's mask was also created prior to his death. Created by Jean-Antione Houdon 1785

President Washington’s mask was also created prior to his death. Created by Jean-Antione Houdon 1785

James Garfield

President Garfield was the 2nd president to be assassinated. He lingered on for 80 days after being shot which can be seen in his death mask–he had lost over 100 pounds between being shot and dying. (On a fun trivia aside, Garfield’s assassin, Charles Guiteau, chose his .44 British Bulldog because he thought it would look good in a museum).

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Woodrow Wilson

Wilson’s face and hand were cast by Dr. Vladimir Fortunato, a sculptor affiliated with Johns Hopkins Hospital, in 1924

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Zachary Taylor

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After Zachary Taylor’s sudden death in 1850, his wife ordered that his body not be embalmed nor would a death mask be made. This does little to put to rest the many conspiracy theories surrounding Taylor’s death, including those that argue he was assassinated.

William McKinley

Speaking of assassinations, here’s the third president to be assassinated.  McKinley’s mask was created by Edward Pausch of Hartford, Conn.

McKinley's Death Mask is unusual because it is of the entire head, not just the facial features

McKinley’s Death Mask is unusual because it is of the entire head, not just the facial features

This Trope Is A Croc

I think it began when word went out to gather near the great ship at a specific time. We joined the masses of creatures, some now long extinct, and listened to the message. Of course we were a bit smug when we heard the news, but so were the water fowl and the fish–you can’t forget about the fish. And yet, none of them have gotten a bad reputation. Just because we had a toothy, wide smile and slunk away knowing that we’d survive without his help doesn’t mean that we should be chastised as the Leviathan who would destroy worlds according to your Bible. Of all the character traits Noah could have passed down to you, his petulance hurts us the most.
And it didn’t stop in Biblical times. Today, we are type-cast as the evil ones, the villains, the beast lying in wait within the depths of murky waters and castle moats. Seriously though? Castle moats? When was the last time you saw any of us hanging around in Europe aside from in a zoo?
We’ve spent a millennium trying to reverse this stereotype, but it doesn’t help when the power of Disney corrupts the minds of children who grow to adults who make movies that corrupt more children. From Tick-Tock to Brutus and Nero–of course they were named after two of Rome’s “greatest” right?, we just can’t get a break. I might just be easier for us to bowl a turkey… mmmm, turkey! Keep it together… than to try to change history.
I offer you this: When it comes down to it, we are no more different than the “nobler” creatures of the forest who hunt, kill, and devour. The Lion, the Bear, the Fox are just like us. And you, for that matter, are not that much different than I. You hunt and stalk and prey on weaker species; sometimes just for the thrill of it.
Next time you want a villain, consider yourselves.

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Trifecta: turkey, 3rd definition, three successive strikes in bowling