American Heroes, American history, D-Day, Great American Battlefields, history and travel, Lost and Found, Normandy, Sites to see in the world, Still Current, The Normanday American Cemetery and Memorial, Travel, Uncategorized, What to See in France, World history, World War II

Three Stories of Heroes of Normandy

 

So many of our young gave so much for many others two

The long rows of markers at the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial. Photo by Author

I love history shot

Ron Current

On our recent trip to France we did as most Americans do and visited Normandy, the site of the World War II D-Day invasion.

Besides the beaches where the landings took place the most moving stop we made was the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial. Although the cemetery and memorial are a peaceful and a reverent tribute to those that had made the ultimate sacrifice for freedom, not much is told about those resting there.

In this post I’ll tell three stories of heroes that rest there: one of the Sons of a famous American President, one of two brothers whose story inspired an Academy Award winning movie, and the story of a wife’s unending love, and her search for the love of her life.

But first here’s a little information about the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial.

Thousands of visitors come each year to walk among the rows to shining white markers,  but what most visitors don’t know is that this beautiful cemetery on the bluff overlooking Omaha Beach is actually the second resting place for those soldiers killed in the D-Day invasion.

The location of the first cemetery of those American’s killed during D-Day.

 As you drive along the Omaha Beach road you’ll see sandwiched among the rows of summer cottages is a small white memorial that reads, “THIS MARKS THE SITE OF THE FIRST AMERICAN CEMETERY IN FRANCE WORLD WAR II SINCE MOVED TO AMERICAN CEMETERY N.”I.”

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Site of the first American D-Day cemetery. Photo by Chris Coffin

 

It was here on June 8, 1944, two days after the invasion, that those killed were laid to rest. After the war ended their remains were moved to the current cemetery and memorial.

 

 

 

The Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial

The Memorial to those American's who that fell during D-Day

The Memorial at the Normandy Cemetery. Photo by Author

The Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial occupies 172 acres on a bluff overlooking Omaha Beach and the English Channel. From different areas within the cemetery you can clearly see the English Channel and Omaha Beach below. There was once a path you could take down to the beach, but that’s been closed.

The Spirit of American Youth Rising from the Waves by Donald De Lue.

“The Spirit of American Youth Rising from the Waves.” Photo by the Author

There are 9,387 American soldiers buried there, and although most are from the D-Day invasion there are also those from other World War II engagements as well. Not all those resting there are men; three American service women are interred there. There’s also one World War I hero buried there, which I’ll cover later.

The center piece of the memorial is the statue by Donald De Lue entitled, “The Spirit of American Youth Rising from the Waves.”

Along the inside walls of the monument are maps depicting the D-Day invasion, and behind the memorial is a wall that’s engraved with the names of those who are still missing in action. Some of these names now have a bronze star next to them; this denotes that the soldier’s remains have been found and identified.

Among the notables buried at the Normandy American Cemetery are three Medal of Honor recipients, and two sons of President Theodore Roosevelt.

Theodore “Ted” Roosevelt Jr.

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Theodore “Ted” Roosevelt Jr. Photo from Wikipedia, public domain

My first story is of Theodore Roosevelt Jr., son of President Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt. Eventhough his father was one of the most a famous American presidents not much is said about Theodore Roosevelt Jr. But in doing the research for this post I found that in some ways “Ted” Roosevelt was more heroic than his famous father.

Ted Roosevelt already had an outstanding career, not only in the military but also politically, by the time World War II broke out. He had served in World War I and after he had served as the Governor of Puerto Rico and the Philippines. When America entered World War II Ted was one of the first to step up again in helping to defend his country, even though he now suffered with a heart condition, which he kept secret from the Army.

At the time of the D-Day invasion Roosevelt was a Brigadier General. On that terrible morning of June 6, 1944, Roosevelt commanded the 8th Infantry Regiment on its assault on Utah Beach. Roosevelt was the only general to take part in the landings, and at 56 years old he was also the oldest person.

Roosevelt was one of the first off the landing craft, wadding to the beach leading his men. Once on the beach he discovered that they had landed at the wrong position, and that’s when made his famous comment, “We’ll start the war from right here!”

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Theodore Roosevelt Jr. grave. Photo from Wikipedia, public domain

Another interesting fact about the D-Day invasion and the Roosevelts is that just down the coast at Omaha Beach another Roosevelt was also leading his men ashore. Captain Quentin Roosevelt II, Ted’s son and Teddy’s Grandson, was among the first wave to hit Omaha Beach.

Ted’s heart condition, and other health problems caused by his WW I injuries, along with the stress from the D-Day assault, finally took their toll on the warrior. On July 12, one month after the invasion, he suffered a heart attack and died. Theodore Roosevelt Jr. was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor and a promotion to a two-star, Major General.

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Quentin Roosevelt’s grave, next to his brother Ted. Photo from Wikipedia, public domain

I mentioned that there is also one World War I soldier buried at the Normandy Cemetery, and that’s Ted Roosevelt’s younger brother, Second Lieutenant Quentin Roosevelt. Quentin was a fighter pilot in World War I, and was shot down over France. The Roosevelt family had his body moved next to his brothers.

 

 

 

The Niland Brothers: Preston Niland and Robert “Bob” Niland

Niland brothers

In the foreground the graves of the two Niland brothers, Preston and Robert, side by side. Photo by Author.

Preston Niland

2nd Lt. Preston Niland. Photo from Wikipedia, public domain

Preston Niland was a Second Lieutenant in the 22nd Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Division. Preston was killed on June 7, 1944, during the second day of fighting, near Utah Beach.

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Sergeant  Robert Niland. Photo from Wikipedia, public domain

Robert “Bob” Niland was a Technical Sergeant with the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division. On June 6th, 1944, while his company retreated from Neuvilli-au-Plain during a major counterattack by the Germans; Bob, with two other men, volunteered to stay back and hold off the Germans with machinegun fire. Although the other two men survived, Bob Niland was killed in action.

Both brothers are buried side by side, and their graves are one of the most visited at the cemetery; the reason is because their story was the inspiration for an Academy Award winning film about World War II.

Bob and Preston were two of four brothers from Tonawanda, New York. All four brothers: Bob, Preston, Edward and Fred “Fritz” had joined the service to fight in World War II.

After both Bob and Preston had been killed, and it was believed that their brother Edward had also been killed by the Japanese in Burma, the Army pulled the last brother, Fritz, from the fighting. They did this so that at least one brother would survive. Fritz would spend the rest of the war as an MP in New York City.

The story of the Niland Brothers would loosely be used by Director Steven Spielberg’s in his 1998 film, “Saving Private Ryan.”

The story does ends somewhat happily when it was found that Edward had only been captured by the Japanese. He was released on May 4, 1945.

Fritz died on November 1st 1983, and his Brother Edward in February of 1984.

A Wife’s Unending Love

From love story to mystery to discovery, WWII widow remains devoted

Peggy and Billie Harris on their wedding day. Photo from DoDLive, public domain.

Peggy Seale had finally met the love of her life, 1st Lt. Billie D. Harris, while she worked at Altus AFB Oklahoma. They had been exchanging letters for some time, but that meeting in the base hanger was their first face-to- face. It was love at first sight.
In 1943 Peggy and Billie married in Florida, where Billie was finishing his fighter pilot training. However, their honeymoon was short lived; six weeks later Billie was shipped off to England, and the war.

Lt. Harris was assigned to the 355th Fighter Squadron/354th Fighter Group, whose missions were to fly as escorts for bombers supporting the Allied retaking of France.

Because of the high secrecy needed during the war Peggy only heard from Billie very sparingly, and when she did it was only in short notes. Peggy knew that she would have to wait for Billie to finish his tour of duty before she could see him.

Lt. Harris had completed from 60 to 100 missions, and was eligible to be sent home. However he took one more mission. On July 17, 1944, Harris was again flying his P-51 fighter as an escort when his plane was hit by German anti-aircraft fire.

As his plane was going down Billie had more than enough time to bailout, but ahead, directly in the path of his plane, he saw the French Village of Les Ventes. Billie then made the choice to use his time instead of bailing out, to steer his plane away from the town.

The people of Les Ventes were outside, after hearing the anti-aircraft fire, standing in the town’s main square, when out of the black night sky they saw an Allied plane on fire heading directly towards them. As they watched, knowing that sure death was coming, the plane slowly banked away, crashing in a nearby woods.

Some men from the village ran out to the crash site were the found the pilot dead. After the Germans released Harris’s body the villagers buried him in the town cemetery’s war heroes section. The whole village attended his funeral, and the flowers that covered his

The Grave of Billie D Harris

1st Lt. Billie D. Harris’s grave. Photo by Author

grave were said to have been knee deep. In 1946 Harris’s body was moved to another cemetery, and then finally to the new Normandy American Cemetery at Colleville-Sur-Mar.

Believing that Billie was on his way home Peggy sat in excited anticipation, but he didn’t arrived. Peggy contacted the Army and was first told he was already back, and then on his way home, and then missing in action. These changing stories would continue throughout the war. Even after the war Peggy couldn’t get a direct answer as to what had happened to her husband.

For 60 years Peggy would try every avenue to find out what had happened to her Billie, and all she ever got was the same bureaucratic run around. But still she persisted. Someone had to know something on what had happened to Billie. She searched and waited, but never remarried.

Each year, for 60 years, the Village of Les Ventes had honored the pilot who had sacrificed his life to save theirs. They even named the village main street after him, “Place Billie D. Harris.” And each year they’d hold a parade to celebrate his sacrifice.

Even though Harris was no longer buried in the village cemetery, the town continued to visit and decorate his grave at the Normandy American Cemetery, thinking that he had no family to remember him.

As the 60th Anniversary of the Liberation of France drew near, the town wanted to do something really special for their hero; the problem was, they really didn’t know anything about him, except his name. What was his family like, and what part of Canada was he from. Yes, they thought Billie was Canadian.

It was an article about the towns 60th Anniversary celebration for their Canadian hero that caught the attention of Mr. Huard, president of the Normandy Association of the Remembrance of Aerial, who contacted Les Ventes Village Councilwomen Valerie Quesnel to inform her that Billie D. Harris wasn’t Canadian, but rather American.
Quesnel then visited the Normandy American Cemetery to talk to Huard and confirmed what he had told her.

Now knowing that Harris was an American Quesnel knew what country to go to get the correct information they were looking for. Quesnel wrote to the United States National Archives were she was sent copies of 1st Lt. Billie D. Harris’s military file.

Meanwhile, Billie’s Cousin, Alton Harvey, had come to Peggy’s rescue to help her find Billie. Instead of making more useless calls Alton decided to personally go to the National Archives himself to see if they had anything on Billie. When he requested information on his cousin he thought it would take months to get anything, instead it only took a few minutes. The secretary was able to find Harris’s file quickly because someone else had recently requested those records, Valerie Quesnel.

This was unbelievable! Alton contacted Valerie, who then contacted Peggy. Finally after 60 years of searching, wondering, and praying Peggy knew what had happened to her Billie, and where he rested.

Peggy Harris, after so many years of not knowing, finally visited her husband’s grave. While in France Peggy also visited Les Ventes, where the citizens welcomed her with

From love story to mystery to discovery, WWII widow remains devoted

Peggy Harris at her Billie’s grave. Photo from DoDLive, public domain.

open arms, the wife of their hero.

Peggy was taken to the site where Billie had crashed, by the last living member of the village who had witnessed it.

Every year that she was able Peggy would return to visit her Billie’s grave. And when she wasn’t there she would have flowers sent on their wedding anniversary, Billie’s birthday, Valentine’s Day, Memorial Day, and other occasions.

On November 12, 2012, at a special assembly honoring Veterans, the Altus AFB Blue Knights Honor Guard performed a flag folding ceremony in honor of 1st Lt. Billie D. Harris. The flag was presented to Peggy Harris by Col. Ted Detwiler, 97th Operations Group commander.

Also for his service, 1st Lt. Billie D Harris was awarded two Air Medals, the Distinguished Flying Cross and 11 oak leaf clusters.

When asked why she hadn’t remarried Peggy would answer, “Billie was married to me all of his life, and I choose to be married to him all of my life.”

Just three stories of many

What seems to be endless rows of shining white markers, also holds thousands of stories of the heroes lying there. These are only three of the many.

If you’d like to visit these graves from my post you’ll need to ask at the cemetery office for their location, because there is no special identification on them.

Sources:

Gorstein, Ethan. “The story if the vanishing husband.” kiwi report, kiwi report, 23 July 2017, http://www.kiwireport.com/story-vanishing-husband.
Wittkop, Erin. “WWII Widow Finds Husband’s Resting Place 60-Years Later.” DoDLive, DOD Social Media, 20 Nov. 2012, http://www.dodlive.mil/2012/11/20/wwii-widow-finds-husbands-resting-place-60-years-later.
“Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial.” WIKIPEDIA , Wikipedia , July 2018, en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Normandy_Amereican_Cemetery_and_Memorial.
“Niland brothers .” Wikipedia, Wikipedia, July 2018, en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Niland_brothers.
“Theodore Rossevelt Jr.” Wikipedia, Wikipedia, 16 July 2018.
“Theodore Rossevelt Jr.” Wikipedia, Wikipedia, 16 July 2018, en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theodore_Roosevelt_Jr.

 

 

 

 

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The History of the Alamo, Part IV: From Warehouse to Roadside Attraction

PostcardTheodoreRooseveltSpeechAtTheAlamo

This 1904 postcard shows the crowd filled Alamo Plaza during a visit by President Theodore Roosevelt. Roosevelt spoke from the second floor balcony of the Hugo & Schmeltzer store, which was build over the Long Barracks. It was on this ground that men died, and it also shows the lack of respect  for this hollowed ground.

I love history shot

Ron Current

By the late 1800’s the urban sprawl of San Antonio, created by Samuel Maverick and other developers, had all but strangled the hallowed ground of the Alamo battlefield. The mission/fort compound was soon forgotten, where so many brave men had fought and died, their blood baptizing its very earth, was nothing more than just another city plaza. All that was left of the famous fort were three building, and even those would become lost to commercial development. 
In this post I’ll cover the Alamo’s post-army period when the buildings that remained continued to fall victim to further degradation, as developers, the City, and the State saw the Alamo’s grounds as little more than for commercial use.

Where Jim Bowie died
The Alamo’s main gate building was no longer called the Low Barracks, but the Galera. It was there in a room to the right of the gate that James Bowie was killed in his sick bed during the 1836 battle. Now, without its connecting walls, it sat alone, in the middle of the vastness between the de Valero and Alamo Plazas.

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James Bowie (1796-1836)

To City officials the Galera was nothing more than an eyesore. Besides sitting in the middle of two large plazas a large pond would form when it rained, where the main gate’s entrance had been. This was likely caused by the depression left by the fort’s defensive Lunette, which the Mexican Army had filled in after the 1836 battle. The City Council didn’t care about the buildings historical significance; it was in the way and had to go.

In 1866 the city began demolishing the Galera, which was abruptly halted by the Catholic Church. The Church claimed that the building belonged to them, and the City had no right in tearing it down. As the City and Church squabbled over who had the rights to the building it sat in partial ruin, becoming a real eyesore. On March 7, 1869, on what was the 33rd, plus a day, anniversary of the Battle of the Alamo, the San Antonio Daily Express newspaper began a campaign, not to save the building where Jim Bowie had died, but to force its demolition.
Two years later the City paid the Catholic Church $2,500 for the Galera, with the stipulation they’d tear it down. Even though the “eyesore” Galera was gone it didn’t stop the City from later granting a permit for another commercial building to be constructed on its site.
With the demolition of the Low Barracks only two of the Alamo’s original buildings remained. But these too would continue to be degraded, with a total lack of their historical importance.

Honore Grenet (1823-1882)
After the U.S. Army left the Catholic Church received an offer of $20,000 for the purchase of the Long Barracks from local merchant Honore Grenet. Grenet had a grand idea to convert the building into a large, two story shopping center. And with the wide Alamo Plaza at its front everyone would be able to see his store unhindered.

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Honore Grenet’s grave at San Fernando Cemetery #1

As soon as the Church accepted Grenet’s offer he began ripping up what the Army had built over the Long Barracks, adding his own outlandish design over what little was left of its original walls. Grenet’s thought was to capture the idea of the Alamo battle by making his store look like a fort, complete with turrets and wooden cannons. Although it was horrendous in what he did to this historic structure, these types of extravagant designs were very common for commercial buildings at the time. But it also showed the total disregard by Grenet and the City in preserving what was left of the Alamo. And it gets worse!
Adding further insult to the Alamo Grenet took out a lease on the Alamo’s church, which he used as a warehouse for his store. Tourists coming to San Antonio to see the famous Alamo were allowed, for a fee, to tour the inside the church. One visitor in 1882 complained of the smell of cabbage and Limburger cheese inside the historic building. And it just wasn’t cheese and vegetables that were kept in the church, the carcasses of beef, pigs and sheep were hung in the church’s cool, dark side rooms. At times the blood stains from these animals were mistaken by the ill-informed visitor as being those of the fallen heroes.

The Alamo church and Hugo-Schmeltez

The Alamo Church after Hugo & Schmeltzer’s purchased Grenet’s building. Notice the extensive windows and doors cut into the side of the church by the U.S. Army

When Grenet died in 1882, the shopping center/Long Barracks was sold to another mercantile company, Hugo and Schmeltzer. However, the new owner couldn’t use the Alamo church as a warehouse any longer; the Catholic Church had sold the building to the State of Texas three years earlier, also for $20,000, rescuing it from commercial hands.
A new era was about to begin for the Alamo’s church, but not it’s Long Barracks.

Restoring some dignity to the Alamo

Interior_of_the_Alamo,_San_Antonio,_Texas

Postcard showing the interior of the Alamo church after the State of Texas removed the second floor. Notice the windows still cut into the church’s side.

With the State now owning the Alamo’s church, and with public pressure mounting to preserve what was left, the City of San Antonio began to start feeling patriotic, or at least somewhat historically responsible. They petitioned the State for custody of the Alamo church, which was granted.
The City didn’t have much funding, so any attempt to completely restore the church to its original look was out of the question. They were able to remove the second floor, but the other changes made by the U.S. Army were much too extensive.

Interior_Alamo,_San_Antonio,_Texas two

This postcard shows the first museum by the City of San Antonio and the State of Texas inside the Alamo church.

Besides the two windows cut into the top of the church’s front (which I wrote about in Part III) the Army had also cut larger windows and doors throughout the rest of building. Removing those would have to wait.
The City did create the beginnings of a museum, and they hired a local historian by the name Tom Rife to watch over the church. Rife also gave tours to the ever growing numbers of Alamo pilgrims. To those that came from all over the United State, and the world, to see where Travis had written his inspiring letter and where Davy Crockett had fought and died, were greatly disappointed, and some were even horrified, at what they saw.

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The Alamo church with the Hugo & Schmeltzer building in the background

What they saw was this historic building hemmed in on all sides, with a ghastly two story mega-store overshadowing it on the left, and a row of saloons and small shops lined up on its right, and there sitting in the middle was the Alamo; looking much like a roadside tourist trap.
When March 6, 1886, the 50th anniversary of the fall of the Alamo, came and was hardly noticed by those having custody of the Alamo it caused an outrage amongst the patriotic faithful , one being the San Antonio Express newspaper (the same paper that demanded the removal of the Low Barracks years before) who wrote an editorial demanding that a more historic and patriotic society be formed to save Texas history, and the Alamo.

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The Alamo church, hemmed in by Saloons, stores and Hugo & Schmeltzer

This cry was heard by two Angels, with a strong Texas history, who would first join forces to save the Alamo, but then battle over their differing visons.

Some of the Sources Used:

Thompson , Frank. “From Army Headquarters to Department Store.” The Alamo: A Cultural History, Taylor Publishing, 2001.
Nelson, George. “The Alamo at the Time of Civil War.” The Alamo: An Illustrated History, third Revised Edition, Aldine Press, 2009, p. 95 and 98.
Lemon, Mark. “Lunette, Low Barracks.” The Illustrated Alamo 1836: A Photographic Journey, State House Press, 2008, pp. 22,24,28,30.
“Alamo Low Barracks and Main Gateway.” Texas Historical Markers on Waymarking.com, Waymarking.com, 2018, waymarking.com/waymarks/WM3DJ6_Alamo_Low_Barracks_Main_Gateway.
Wikipedia . “Alamo Mission in San Antonio.” Wikipedia , Wikipedia, 28 July 2018, en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alamo_Mission_in_San_Antonio.
“Honore Grenet.” Billion Graves, Billion Graves, billiongraves.com/grave/Honore-Grenet/12052402.
“Historic Photos of the Alamo.” Search: Historic Photos of the Alamo, Google, http://www.google.com/search?q=historic+photos+of+the+Alamo&rlz=1C9BKJA_enUS69:.

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The History of the Alamo, Part III: From Forgotten to Army Depot

 

The three ruined Alamo buildings

Drawing by John A. Beckmann of the three ruined Alamo buildings stated as being in 1845, before reconstruction. However, please note that the church has the two upper windows in this drawing , which weren’t added until the roof was in 1849.   

I love history shot

Ron Current

In this post I’ll continue the story on how the almost forgotten Alamo battlefield was slowly erased by the City of San Antonio as it grew and expanded. Sadly, one of the main contributors to this urban sprawl was a man who had a direct connection with the Alamo and its fallen defenders.

I’ll also tell how the Alamo’s main buildings survived, and how the ruined Alamo church became how it looks today.

First, I’ll start with the Alamo defender who, for his personal gain, almost single handed destroyed the hollowed grounds. 

Samuel A. Maverick (July 23, 1803- September 2, 1870)
In Texas history Samuel Maverick is best known as a mayor, land speculator and developer of San Antonio in the mid-1800’s, and its also said that his name was the source for the term, “being a maverick, “ a person of independent thinking. But beyond this Samuel Maverick also had a direct connection to the Texas Revolution, the Battle of the Alamo, and was a major influence on what became of the Alamo battlefield.

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Samuel A. Maverick 

Samuel A. Maverick came to San Antonio from South Carolina in 1835, at the very start of the Texas Revolution. He took part in the Siege of Bexar and afterwards became a member of the Texan garrison at the Alamo. During the Alamo’s siege Maverick left the fort on March 2, as a courier for Travis and also as a representative for the garrison at the convention for Texas Independence, thus escaping the final battle.

In 1838, Maverick began buying up land grants around San Antonio, believing that the city would explode with new settlers from the United States now that Texas was a republic. That same year he moved his family into one of the remaining houses that had been part the forts west wall. While living there he continued purchasing the remaining lands on and around the Alamo compound, including the rest of the old west wall. In his development of that area he demolished what traces of the west wall that remained.

Maverick claimed a deep attachment to the Alamo, and wanted to live close to where his friends had fallen. He built himself a grand two-story home which sat where the Alamo’s west and north walls had met. This area would have been the location of one of the Alamo’s cannon platforms, and most likely where Travis had met his death.

Ten years later Maverick subdivided the lands on the west, north and northeast sides of the Alamo battlefield, including where the main body of the Mexican army had attacked the north wall. Maverick’s “Alamo Village” would cover the north wall battlefield completely.

Maverick laid out all the lots, streets and the Alamo Plaza itself, giving it the look we see today. Maverick may have felt close to his fallen hero friends, but his developments were one of the main contributors the demise of  the Alamo battlefield.

Thanks to Maverick what had been the Alamo’s west wall was now a row of commercial buildings, and its north wall would be taken over by a massive Federal building. By the 1840’s all that remained of the Alamo fort was its three large buildings: the Long Barracks (the old Convento), the Low Barracks (what had been the forts main gate), and its Church.

These historic buildings where in an advance stage of deterioration: the roofs of the Long Barracks and Low Barracks had collapsed, weeds were growing out of the building’s walls, and animals, bats, and birds made their homes there. What remained of the Alamo sat vandalized, slowly decaying, and mostly forgotten.

The Alamo under the Army (1847-1878)

In 1847, during the Mexican-American War, a 29 year old American soldier named Edward Everett, who was unable to join his command in Mexico because of an injury, was assigned by his commander, Col. John Hardin, to collect information on the local history and customs of San Antonio. Everett, who was also an accomplished artist, began sketching the different sites and missions around the town, including the Alamo ruins. Many of the images we have today of the Alamo during this period comes from Everett’s work.

alamo-storage in the 1860's

Wagons delivering supplies to the reconstructed Alamo church, now a warehouse for the U.S. Army depot, circa 1860

In 1849 the U.S. Army leased the church and Long Barracks from the Catholic Church to be used as a quartermaster depot. To save cost Captain James Ralston proposed using the Alamo’s buildings as foundations. However, Everett, who had become the Captain’s clerk, convinced Ralston to use only the Long Barracks and Low Barracks, leaving the church as a historic relic. It’s interesting to note that Everett considered the Alamo’s church as a historic relic, but not its other two buildings. It could have been a lack of the locals not knowing the true history of the Alamo battle, or was it again the allure of the church’s façade that drew Everett away from the historical fact that it was in the Long Barracks where so many defenders and Mexican soldiers had fought to the death, and the Low Barracks where Jim Bowie had died.

Ralston put Everett in charge of turning the Alamo’s two buildings into offices, living quarters, workshops, and storage rooms. Under Everett’s direction the Low Barracks was re-plastered and a new roof added. However his reconstruction of the Long Barracks was the most drastic to the original building. Most of the Long Barrack’s interior and some of its walls were removed. The second floor was in bad shape, but Everett used what he could, and even extended the length of the second floor by adding new walls. Further changes were made by cutting additional windows and doors into the buildings thick stone walls.

Although Everett left the ruined church intact he did order for the rubble that littered its interior be cleaned out. It was reported that during this a few skeletons and artifacts attributed to the 1836 battle were found.

Although Everett and Ralston wished to keep the church as it was the new assistant quartermaster had a different idea, not only for the Alamo’s church but its other two buildings as well.

Major Edwin Babbitt was placed in charge of making the site ready as an Army depot. Babbitt wanted to tear down all of the Alamo’s buildings; even those that had been rebuilt by Everett, and construct all new structures on the site. If Babbitt had gotten his way it would have been the complete loss of the Alamo.

But General Thomas Jesup strongly disagreed with Babbitt. Gen. Jesup saw that the reconstructed Long and Low barracks were more than adequate, and that the church’s thick, high walls would make a strong foundation for a third building. Although Gen. Jesup over ruled Babbitt he also had over ruled Everett’s vision of keeping the Alamo church as it was. Jesup’s order would bring about the way Alamo church looks today.

The reconstruction of the Alamo church was a major undertaking. The first thing that the engineers needed to do to make it useable was to add a roof. But before they could do that they needed to raise the walls of the church with new stone and make it even. Once that was done they were able to add a wooden gabled roof that ran from the front to the back of the building, using a hip design on its eastern end. However the roofs western peak couldn’t be finished that same way, it would made it look unsightly. That problem was solved by architect and stonemason John Fries.

It was Fries who came up with the design for the Alamo’s now famous “hump.” Where Fries actually got this idea is lost to time. Although we can’t picture the Alamo today without its hump it wasn’t much appreciated at the time.

Originally the church only had windows on each side of its main door and one over it, but when the army added the roof they also added a second floor. To help get sunlight into this room they needed to add more windows. Those two windows you now see near  the top on both sides are what were cut into the building by the army; and if you look closely you’ll see they don’t line up.

The Alamo

The Alamo Church as it looked in the late 1800’s 

The United States Army continued to use of the Alamo buildings up until the Civil War. After Texas seceded from the Union the Confederate Army used the buildings from 1861 until the wars end. After the Civil War the U.S. Army again occupied the Alamo until its depot was moved to Fort Sam Houston in 1878. After the Army left the three Alamo buildings once again came under the control of the Catholic Church.

By that time the Catholic Church had little use or need for the buildings. It was then that a local merchant approached the Church, making them an offer they couldn’t refuse. An offer that would once again change the look, and history, of the Alamo, and not for the better.

Some of the resources used:

Thompson, Frank. “From Army Headquarters to Department Store.” The Alamo, A Cultural History, Taylor Publishing , 2001.
Nelson, George. The Alamo, An Illustrated History. Cenveo Printing, 2009.
“Samuel Maverick .” Wikipedia, Wikipedia, May 2018, en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Samuel_Maverick.
“Alamo Mission in San Antonio.” Wikipedia, Wikipedia, 2 July 2018, en.m.wikipedia/wiki/Alamo_Mission_in_San_Antonio.
Selcraig, Bruce. “Remembering the Alamo.” Smithsonian.com, Smithsonian.com, 1 Apr. 2004, http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/remembering_the_alamo-101880149/.

 

 

 

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American history, James Madison, Still Current, The Articles of Confederation, The Bill of Rights, The United States Constitution, Uncategorized

We the People: A brief history of the United States Constitution and its first ten amendments Part three: “A bill of rights is what the people are entitled to against any government on earth,” -Thomas Jefferson.

First Congress of the United States

The 1st Congress of the United States of America, 1789

I love history shot

Ron Current

We’ve been on the incredible journey toward the birth of a nation. Its beginnings were in the words of the Declaration of Independence, words that projected a vision of a nation for its people. This vision however wasn’t reflected in the first two documents of governance, the Articles of Confederation and the Federal Constitution that followed.
This is best described by B.J. Lossing in his 1848 book, Lives of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence, when comparing the differences, “The former (the Declaration of Independence) was based upon declared right; the foundation of the latter (Articles of Confederation) was asserted power.” Lossing goes on to explain, “The former was based upon a superintending Providence, and the inalienable rights of man; the latter rested upon…,” Lossing then uses this 1839 writing by John Quincy Adams, “… sovereignty of declared power – one ascending for the foundation of human government, to the laws of nature and of nature’s God, written upon the hearts of man – the other resting upon the basis of human institutions, and prescriptive law, and colonial charters.”
What Lossing and Adams were saying was that in their quests to form a new government the framers lost that grand vision laid out in the Declaration of Independence, and instead focused too much on the rules of order and the laws of governess.
Thankfully this was about to change, as the 1st. Congress of the United States began their work on crafting a Bill of Rights.

 

 

The 1st. Congress of the United States of America begins fulfilling its promise
With the Constitution finally ratified on June 21st 1788, the 1st Congress of the United States came together for the first time in New York City, then the capital of the country, at Federal Hall on March 4th 1789.
The Federalist had faired pretty well with representation in the new congress, having gained the majority of the seats in both the House of Representatives and the Senate. But now they needed to begin working with the Anti-Federalist to fulfill the promise made to gain ratification, and that was to amend the new Constitution to include a bill of rights.
As the 1st. Congress came together to begin the bill of rights debate the big question was, how do you go about amending the document? Articles V gave the Congress the ability to amend, make changes, to the Constitution, but not the form it should be done in.
Enter, again, James Madison

JamesMadison

James Madison (1751-1836)

As I presented in Part I, James Madison had been one of the most vocal at the constitutional convention in not seeing a need for a bill of rights in the Constitution, but as the debate went on during the convention, and after Washington and Jefferson had written to him, he began to see the concerns that the Anti-Federalist and States had. He was now willing to work on amending the Constitution with a bill of rights.
Madison, now a congressman, feared that a contentious argument on what form the amendments should take, and what those amendments should be, could drive Congress into calling for a second constitutional convention, and in doing so bring the entire Constitution into question. Still a Federalist he was determined to preserve what he had worked so hard on, and the only way he saw to avoid a Constitution/bill of rights issue was to take the lead in writing those amendments himself.

The Virginia Declaration of Rights
In writing his proposed amendments James Madison again turned to the sources he’d used with the Constitution: the Magna Carta (Great Charter) of 1215, the English Bill of Rights of 1689, as well as other existing state constitutions. But mostly he turned to his own state’s Virginia Declaration of Rights of 1776, that pre-dated the Declaration of Independence by almost a month.

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George Mason (1725-1792)

The Virginia Declaration of Rights is one of the most pivotal documents in the early forming of our government and our national vision. Initially drafted by George Mason, who had also proposed adding a bill of rights to the Constitution at the constitutional convention, the Virginia Declaration of Rights was use as seed material not only by Madison, in the Constitution and Bill of Rights, but also Thomas Jefferson when writing the Declaration of Independence.
Here’s an example of what I mean: in Article I of the Virginia Declaration of Rights it states, “That all men are by nature equally free and have certain inherent rights… they cannot, by any compact, derive or divest their posterity; namely, the enjoyment of life and liberty…and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety.” What Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of Independence was, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
The influences of the Virginia Declaration of Rights is found throughout the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, but it’s most obvious usage is by Madison in the Bill of Rights. This is very obvious in the Virginia Declaration of Rights’ Articles 12 and 16, which would become part of the first amendment, and its Article 13 that’s in the second amendment, and also Article 9 in the eighth amendment. I’ll be reviewing this in my upcoming posts on the individual ten amendments.

 

Madison’s first proposed amendments 
On June 8, 1789, James Madison presented his nine proposed amendments to the House of Representatives. Two of these proposals read as follows:
“First. That there be a prefixed to the constitution a declaration that all power is originally vested in, and consequently derived from the people.”
And another was his fourth proposed change:
“Fourthly. That article 2nd, section 9, between clauses 3 and 4, be inserted these clauses, to wit, ”The civil rights of none shall be abridged on account of religious belief or worship, nor shall an national religion be established, nor shall the full and equal rights of conscience by in any manner, or in any pretext be infringed…”
As you can see from these two examples that Madison’s original idea was to make the amended changes directly onto the main body of the exciting Constitution itself, in fact rewriting articles and sections themselves.  But both the House and the Senate where concerned with amending the Constitution by that method.
Congress’s fear was from the public perception of the amendment process. Although the Senate was closed to the public the House wasn’t, and their concern was that the citizens watching, as Congressman Fisher Ames of Massachusetts put it, “dissection of the constitution” so soon after its implementation could be seen as a sign of instability among the citizenry watching, causing them to lose confidence in the new Constitution, and its government.

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Roger Sherman (1721-1793)

It was Congressman Roger Sherman of Connecticut who proposed to the House that the amendments not be made to the existing ratified document, as Madison had proposed, but rather placed separately at the bottom, keeping the original document to, “remain inviolate.” The House also voted to have a preamble added to the beginning of the list of amendments. This preamble was added to explained why these changes were being made, and to what end. Again in hopes of keeping the public’s confidence in their new government (please read my Part Two post on the preamble).
The House debated Madison’s nine amendments for eleven days, in which time they took his original nine, rewriting them into twenty, one sentence paragraphs. They continued to revise and combine those amendments until they finally agreeing on seventeen. Also, the House removed most of Madison’s preamble, feeling that it was to close to the wording of the Declaration of Independence, and added the phases: “freedom of speech, and of the press,” which would finally be incorporated into the first amendment.

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Original copy of the Senate’s markup to the proposed amendments

On August 24, 1789 the House sent their seventeen proposed amendment to the Senate for their review and revision. The Senate then made twenty-six additional changes of their own, which included the elimination of the rest of Madison’s preamble, and removing the extension of parts of the Bill of Rights to the states as well as to the Federal government. In their process they condensed the House’s seventeen amendments to twelve. These changes were approved by the Senate on September 9, 1789.
On September 21, 1789 the two versions were taken up by the House-Senate Conference Committee that resolved the differences between the two versions. What they presented to Congress were twelve Constitutional Amendments that were then approved in a joint resolution of Congress to be sent to the States for ratification on September 28, 1789.

 

The Process of ratifying the Bill of Rights
For the twelve articles approved by Congress, under Article V, to become part of the Constitution they had to be ratified by each State’s legislature, according to Article VII of the Constitution. Each one of the twelve had to be separately voted on and ratified by at least three-fourths of the 14 States (Vermont had been added to the Union during the ratification).

Of the twelve amendments that were sent only ten gained the needed states. It was Articles Three through Twelve that received the needed 11 state minim for ratification. These became the first ten amendments to the Constitution, the Bill of Rights.
One of the interesting facts about the Constitution is that it doesn’t set a time limit for ratification to be accomplished, and the 1st. Congress also failed to set a time limit. So, the original Article’s One and Two, that didn’t make the original state ratification, were still considered pending, and open for ratification. So what has happened to those two amendments?

Article Two, which dealt with Senators and Representative’s pay, originally only received seven states approval when first presented. However when there was a national protest over Congressional pay raises in the 1970’s it was again revived. This article then picked up the additional states needed for ratification becoming the Twenty-seventh Amendment, eighty seven years after it was first presented.
As for the original Article One, which deals with the number of Representative in the House, it missed ratification by only one vote, and is still pending, needing only an additional 27 states approval to become another amendment to the Constitution.

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The Bill of Rights, in the National Archives

Madison’s legacy

James Madison fathered the two documents that created our United States government, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. But he was more influential with one than the other. It’s been stated that without Madison there would have been a Constitution, but without him there wouldn’t have been a Bill of Rights.

With the Bill of Rights added to the Constitution the full vision set forth in the Declaration of Independence was now realized. The government of the United States of America was now more than just laws and procedures, but with guarantees of personal freedoms for its people.

Upcoming Posts on this subject

What other influences may have guided Madison and the others to choose those particular guarantees? What was the original wording presented by Madison, then  changed by the House of Representatives, and then the Senate?  And did that effect the intent then, or now. The late Justice to the Supreme Court Antonin Scalia stated that the Constitution, “Says what it says;” but does it really?

Please read my other posts on We the People:

Part One: “…In order to form a more perfect Union.”

Part Two: “…in order to prevent misconstruction or abuse of its powers…”

Some of the resources used:

Bill of Rights Institute . “James Madison.” Bill of Rights Institute, Bill of Rights Institute, billofrightsinstitue.org.
Wikipedia. “United States Bill of Rights.” United States Bill of Rights, Wikipedia , 2 July 2018, en.m.wikidia.org/wiki/United_States_Bill_of_Rights.
“The Bill of Rights becomes law.” This Day in History, History, http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/the-bill-of-rights-becomes-law.
National Archives. “Why a Bill of Rights?” National Archives, Archives.gov, 15 Aug. 2016, http://www.archives.gov/amending-america/explore/why-bill-of-rights-transcript.html.
Greenslade, Bob. “A Re-Write of the Bill of Rights through the Preamble.” Tenth Amendment Center, Tenth Amendment Center, 14 Dec. 2010, tenthamendmentcenter.com/2010/12/14/a-rewrite-of-the-bill-of rights-through-the-preamble.
“Virginia Declaration of Rights.” Wikipedia, Wikipedia, en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Virginia_Declaration_of_Rights.
“Anti-Federalism.” Wikipedia, Wikipedia, en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anti-Federalism.
“Bill of Rights.” Bill of Rights Institute, Bill of Rights Institute, http://www.billofrightsinstitute.org/founding-documents/bill-of-rights/.

Lossing, B. J. Lives of the Signers of the Declartion of Independence. WallBuilder Press, 2010.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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American history, Lost and Found, The Bill of Rights, The United States Constitution, Uncategorized, World history

We the People: A brief history of the United States Constitution and its first ten amendments. Part two: “…in order to prevent misconstruction or abuse of its powers…”

The Preamble to the Bill of Rights photoshopped

The Preamble to the Bill of Rights

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One of the thrills I get when writing and researching for these posts is finding those little pieces of history that aren’t always presented in the regular telling’s. But when added to the narrative gives the stories so much more depth, and a much clearer understanding. However, what it also ends up doing is to completely change the direction of my original idea.

So it was when I was doing research for these posts on the Bill of Rights. I discovered a little piece of  its history that hasn’t always been included in the writings on the first ten amendments. I believe that knowing about, and understanding, what this often left out piece of  the Bill of Rights has to say goes to the very essence of the purpose, and the intent of the framers when they crafted the Bill of Rights. To better present this I felt it needed an entire post of its own. 

I’d now like to address the preamble to the Bill of Rights, which went before the listing of the amendments.

Preambles

Having a preamble added to their documents was of extreme importance to our framers: the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights all have one.

So what’s a preamble? Dictionary.com defines a preamble as: “an introductory part of a statute, deed, or the like, stating the reasons and intent of what follows.” The preamble was the beginning statement that set the purpose of the document and what it was set up to do.

Federal Hall New York, the first house of the Congress

Federal Hall in New York City, the first capital of the United States (March 4, 1789- July 1790)

The preambles we know also paint a vast vision with inspiring words, such as these from the preamble of the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal…” and “That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…” And from the Constitution: “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union… do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

The framers did not release an important document without a Preamble. However, its interesting to note that the preamble to the Bill of Rights has been left off most printing, even those published by the government.
One of the books I’ve been using in writing these posts is, “Lives of the Signers of the Declaration of independences” by B.J. Lossing. In his book Lossing includes: the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. Each of them includes their preambles, except the Bill of Rights. He only printed the introductive paragraph, leaving out the important following three paragraphs, especially the second paragraph that gives the reasons why these amendment were added in the first place. And this book was first published in 1848.

So why has the preamble to the Bill of Rights so often been left off? I haven’t been able to find the answer to that yet. However there is a preamble, and it’s very important for you to know what it says. And I’m sure you’ll see the Bill of Rights in a different light after you’ve read it.

So here’s the text of the preamble to the Bill of Rights in

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John Adams, Vice President and President of the Senate during the Bill of Rights debate

its entirety:

 

CONGRESS OF THE UNITED STATES
begun and held at the City of New York, on Wednesday the fourth of March, one thousand seven hundred and eighty-nine.

THE Conventions of a number of the States, having at the time of their adopting the Constitution expressed a desire in order to prevent misconstruction or abuse of its powers, that further declaratory and restrictive clauses should be added: And as extending the ground of public confidence in the Government will best ensure the beneficent ends of its institution.
RESOLVED by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, two thirds of both the Houses concurring that the following Articles be proposed to the Legislatures of several states as Amendments to the Constitution of the United States, all or any of which articles, when ratified by three fourths of the said Legislatures to be valid to all intents and purposes as part of said Constitution; viz.:
ARTICLES in addition to, and Amendment of the Constitution of the United States of America proposed by Congress, and ratified by the Legislatures of the several States, pursuant to the fifth Article of the original Constitution.

Armchair Analyzing the Preamble

In reading the above preamble you see that the first paragraph basically states that these articles are an act of the First Congress under the new Constitution while in session in City of New York. The third paragraph states that two thirds of both the Senate and the House of Representatives are presenting these articles (twelve at that time) to the states for consideration and ratification, and how that’s to be done. The fourth paragraph introduces those following amendments as ratified under Article V of the Constitution.

The real meat to the purpose and intent for these amendments, and to the changes to the Constitution, is clearly addressed in its second paragraph;
The second paragraph begins with: “THE Conventions of a number of the States, having at the time of their adopting the Constitution expressed a desire…” This clearly says why the Congress created these amendments, because several States, and other groups within those States, had BIG issues with the Constitution as it was presented for the ratification process. The issue of a Bill of Rights, or the lack of one, in the presented Constitution threated its very ratification (I’ll go deeper into that in my next post).

The preamble then goes on to state what these amendments are supposed to accomplish: “…in order to prevent misconstruction or abuse of its powers…” The “it” in this line is the Federal Government. These amendments are to keep the Federal government from overstepping its bounds by taking away certain States and the peoples rights, then becoming a monarchy or tyranny.

It then explains how these amendments are going to prevent that possible abuse of power: “… that further declaratory and restrictive clauses should be added…” This line says that through these governmental restrictions guaranteed by these amendments will stop government infringement on the certain people’s civil liberties as outlined in these amendments.

The paragraph ends with:“…And as extending the ground of public confidence in the Government will best ensure the beneficent ends of its institution…” This says that with, and through, these amendments that the people will trust the government more, and this will be a benefit for both.

So you see, the Bill of Rights amendments are not to protect the people from foreign governments, but from the government of the United States of America.

Now that you’ve read the Bill of Rights’ preamble, and my own humble analysis, we’re ready to dive into the history of how these ten amendments came about, how did James Madison, the Federalist, came to be the one that spearhead the writing of these amendments. And what did I mean by “twelve” Bill of Rights amendments?

Stay tuned, my next post will be on the crafting of the Bill of Rights.

And please read my post: We the People: A brief history of the United States Constitution and its first ten amendments Part One: …In order to form a more perfect union.

Sources used:

Lossing, B. J. Lives of the Signers of the Declartion of Independence. WallBuilder Press, 2010.
“The Preamble to the Bill of Rights.” Revolutionary War and Beyond, Revolutionary War and Beyond, revolutionary-war-and-beyond.com/preamble-bill-of-rights.html.
Martin. “Preamble to the Bill of Rights.” What Would The Founders Think?, What Would The Founders Think?, whatwouldthefoundersthink.com/preamble-to-the-bill-of-rights.
“Preamble to the Bill of Rights.” Office of Government and Community Relations, Drexel University, drexel.edu/ogcr/resources/constitution/amendments/preamble/.
“Preamble to the “Bill of Rights”.” Adask’s Law The Profit of Injustice, Adask’s Law The Profit of Injustice, 17 Apr. 2011, adask.wordpress.com/2011/04/17/preamble-to-th-bill-of-rights/.
National Archives. “The Bill of Rights: A Transcription.” Amercica’s Founding Documents, The U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, http://www.archives.gov/founding-docs/bill-of-rights-transcript.

 

 

 

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American history, Detroit, Detroit history, Famous Train Stations, history and travel, History in Time, History of American Businesses, Lost and Found, Michigan Central Train Station, Sites to see in the world, Still Current, Train Travel, Travel, Uncategorized, What to see in Detroit, What to see in Michigan

Detroit’s Michigan Central Train Station: a rising phoenix on the city’s skyline.

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Michigan Central Train Station as it was in 2015

I love history shot

Ron Current

One of the first things you see when driving into Detroit on I-75 is the large, and looming, Michigan Central Train Station. To me, standing tall and alone, it looks like a tombstone; a tombstone for a city that seemed to have given up on itself.
For too many years the Michigan Central Station has stood in ruin, its windows broken out and the building surrounded by a chain link fence that tries to protect an already ravaged grand lady.

However, this is not a post of gloom, but rather one of hope and vision.
I’ll begin with a little history of the train station and then I’ll go into what we hope is its new, and exciting, future under its new owners.

A magnificent expression to 20th century progress

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The back of Michigan Central Station, with the train gate at the bottom. June 22, 2018

Michigan Central Station’s story began in 1914, right after the former stationed burned down in 1913, when Michigan Central Railroad decided to build a world class train station on its main rail line. They hired the firms of Warren and Wetmore and Reed and Stem, who had also built New York’s Grand Central Terminal, to do the design and construction.

The architects chose the Beaux-Arts Classical style for the station’s design, and to handle the rail company’s workers a 18-story office tower was added, making Michigan Central the tallest train station in the world at that time.

When it opened thousands of travelers would embark or disembark from one of the more than 200 trains that arrived or departed daily. These passengers could then take one of the many street or interurban railcars that converged there to get to their final destinations. Such notables that came through Michigan Central were Presidents Hoover, Franklin Roosevelt, and Truman, as well as Charlie Chaplin and Thomas Edison. Over 3,000 employees occupied the many offices in the station’s tower. In those pre-automobile days public mass transportation was how you got around, and Detroit’s Michigan Central Station was one of the crown jewels in the country.

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the ruined Michigan Central Station grand lobby during the open house June 22, 2018

Henry Ford’s development vision

But the station had a major downfall; it was built on the south west side of the city, far from Detroit’s downtown. This was done because the station was to be an important part of a master plan to develop that area of the city. Henry Ford, even though he didn’t own the station, was a major contributor in these plans. Ford had bought up land around the station in preparation for this new development; however the Great Depression put an end to those plans.

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The station’s concourse taken during the open house on June 22, 2018

The station continued to thrive through the Second World War, after which it began a slow decline as cars and airplanes took over as the public’s mode of transportation. In 1971 Amtrak took over operation of the station, they made some repairs to the building and reopened the main lobby. But in 1988, with passenger rail traffic almost nonexistent, the last Amtrak train left Michigan Central on January 6th.

The now vacant and abandoned station became a target for scavengers and defacers: stripping the building of its fixtures, marble, wiring, and plumbing. Graffiti now covered its once elegant walls.

The Moroun years

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The hall way that travelers took to catch a streetcar to the city. It also where the stations shops were located. Taken on June 22, 2018.

Eight years later, in 1996, Manuel “Matty” Moroun, who owns the Ambassador Bridge that links Detroit with Winsor Canada, took possession of the station. Moroun didn’t do much with the building until 2000, when he demolished its train shed to help convert the property to a freight depot for the Canadian Pacific Railway. But this usage didn’t last long, four years later Moroun closed the station permanently in 2004.

The relationship between Moroun and the City of Detroit, in regards to the train station, is interesting. In 2006, the city named the station as a “Priority Cultural Site.” But in 2009, even though Moroun owned the building, the City Council voted to demolish it. The station’s demolition was only stopped when Stanley Christmas, a Detroit resident, sued the city under the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966.

Little was done to renovate the old station until 2011 when Moroun, with the city’s help with funding, replaced the tower’s roof, removed some of the asbestos, and drained some of the water from the basement.

In 2015 electricity was restored to the building, and for the first time in years the main lobby was illuminated. In addition Moroun acquired a permit to install a new freight elevator. Also in 2015, after a land swap with the city, the Moroun family agreed to install windows throughout the building.

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This was the station’s restaurant. Taken on June 22, 2018.

A very special occurrence happened during the “Detroit Homecoming” celebration in September of 2017. The station was opened for an event for the first time in twenty-nine years.

There was excitement for the future of the old building when on March 20, 2018 the Detroit News reported that the Ford Motor Company was in talks with the Moroun family on purchasing the station. And on June 11, 2018 the Moroun family confirmed that the Ford Motor Company was now indeed the new owners of the Michigan Central Station.

With Ford, it comes full circle

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The front of the Michigan Central Station, June 22, 2018

William Clay Ford, the great-grandson of Henry Ford, spoke on what the future prospects were for the Michigan Central Station under Ford Motor Company. They plan on doing a total restoration and renovation of the historic site. Not only the station is to be renovated but also the Detroit Public Schools Book Depository building next door is included in their plans. These two buildings, as well as the surrounding land, will become a campus for Ford’s futuristic autonomous vehicle division. The projected target date for completion of this project is 2022.

One of the big question asked of Ford is: will there be trains in Michigan Central’s future? And although Ford can’t answer that question for sure, they did say that they’re leaving the passenger tracks in place, just in case.

With Bill Ford’s commitment he picks up right where his grandfather left off in the 1920’s, reviving a neighborhood centered on a magnificent and grand building.

Taking a look inside the station

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After the announcement on June 19th Ford opened the train station to the public to tour on the weekend of June 22-25. My wife and I were among those who patiently stood in line for an hour and a half to enter, and experience this historic event.
As we walked in the expansive waiting area, along the halls where shops had been, stood looking up at the skeletal remains of the concourse’s roof that held the glass skylight and the

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The line of those that wanting to experience history

dark cavernous room that was the station’s restaurant, we weren’t depressed by the acts of destruction and neglect that was before us. No, we were encouraged by the possibilities to come.

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The colonnade that connects the station’s main lobby and to its concourse. Taken June 22, 2018

The rising of this Detroit phoenix says a lot about a community. A community that’s tired of the decay, and wanting to build to a new and positive future. From Ford’s commitment, to the over 20,000 people that came to see what was and learn of what will come, this is what will redefine Detroit.

There was one selfless act that I’d like to mention, and it may seem small to some, but is really meaningful to the stations history and of one person’s desire to help; as I had stated, the interior of the station had been stripped of everything that might be of value. One of those items was the brass clock face that was on the station’s gateway.

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The returned clock face

Right after the announcement was made by Ford the company got a phone call; it was from the person who had taken the clock. Without giving his name, or asking for any form of payment, he told them where they could find the clock. This important part of Michigan Central’s history will once again be back home, after restoration by the Henry Ford Museum.

In closing, I look forward to the day when I drive into Detroit on I-75 and not see a tombstone, but rather a beacon to what can be accomplished when you have a vision.

Because with a vision, there is always hope!

The photos in this post were taken by me, and the following website was used for background information in my story.

Wikipedia. “Michigan Central Station.” Wikipedia, Wikipedia , 20 June 2018, en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michigan_Central_Station.

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American history, history and travel, History in Time, Still Current, Texas history, The Alamo, Travel, Uncategorized

The History of the Alamo, Part II: From Fort to forgotten

 

The Alamo Church in ruin 1848

1847, the Alamo church in ruin by Edward Everett

 

 

 

I love history shot

“Remember the Alamo,” was the battle cry at San Jacinto on April 21, 1836, were the forces of Sam Houston defeated Santa Anna’s army ending the Texas Revolution. Yes, Texans remembered the battle, and what Santa Anna had done to the defenders in that battle, but they soon forgot the Alamo battlefield and its buildings. On May 29, 2017 I published the article “The History of the Alamo: Mission to Fort,” in this post I’ll continue the story, taking the Alamo as a fort through the Mexican and Texas Revolutions, how the Alamo was almost lost before the 1836 battle, and the neglect it suffered after the fighting ended.

 

The Alamo under the Spanish
At the beginning of the 19th Century the Spanish increased the numbers of troops stationed at the old Alamo mission to help combat the intrusions by Anglo-American from Louisiana. This brought the need for a military hospital to be set-up within the mission; this would be the first hospital in Texas. The hospital was most likely in the Convento building (today’s Long Barracks). The Alamo’s unfinished and rubble filled church was mostly unusable.
Even though Spanish Mexico was afraid of wholesale attacks by Anglo Americans they were still open to immigration by American’s. In 1806 one of those Americans that petitioned for settlement in Texas near the Alamo was the blacksmith Daniel Boone, a relative of the famous frontiersmen.

During the war of Mexican Independence (1810-1821) the Alamo was occupied back and forth by both Spanish Royalists and Mexican Rebels. Other than being used as a military post, hospital and prison the Alamo saw little action during this war.

The Alamo under Mexican control
After Mexico won its independence the Mexican army continued to be stationed in the old mission. However the first threat to the Alamo came in 1825, when the need for funds caused the local political chief Saucedo to ask the Governor of the Mexican State of Coahulia y Tejas to sell the stones of the Alamo to raise cash. In 1827, the Coahulia y Tejas State Legislature approved of the selling of the stone.

Anastasio_Bustamante

Anastacio Bustamante

Before the sale could begin Anastacipo Bustamante, the new commandant of the Eastern Provinces, demanded that the order be suspended. Bustamante saw the need for the Alamo to be a permanent post for the Mexican army because of the increase of illegal immigration by Americans into Texas. Bustamante would be the first to save the Alamo from destruction, nine years before the famous battle.

 

The Alamo during the Texas Revolution
In 1835, as the rebellion in Texas began to unfold Mexican President Santa Anna sent his brother-in-law, General Martin Perfecto de Cos, with 500 soldiers to Bexar (San Antonio) to strengthen that post . Cos ordered 330px-Martin_perfecto_de_cosimprovements made to the Alamo’s defenses: digging trenches, building platforms and ramps for cannon, a wooden palisade was built across the open gap between the church and the Low Barracks, strengthening the crumbing north wall, and building a gun platform at the rear of the church from the rubble inside. On this platform were placed three cannon that could fire over the walls of the roofless church.
After the Battle of Gonzales on October 2, 1835, which officially began the Texas Revolution, Gen. Cos found himself constantly on the defensive: losing at Goliad, Concepcion, and finally surrounded in Bexar itself by the Texan rebels. The Battle of Bexar began as a fifty-six day siege and ended in a bloody house to house fight. The battle ended with Gen. Cos surrendering after being promised that he and his men would be paroled. Here’s an interesting twist of history, at the Battle of Bexar the Mexicans were inside the Alamo and the Texans attacked from the outside. Also, the Alamo’s defenses used in the Battle of the Alamo were those built by Cos.

Cos and his men did not honor the terms of their parole, meeting Santa Anna and his army heading north they returned and helped to retake the Alamo in the 13 day siege and battle.

Santa Anna

General Santa Anna

After Santa Anna retook the Alamo in the predawn of March 6, 1836 he prepared to pursue Sam Huston and the Texan army. Not wanting to leave his rear open for a counter attack he ordered Gen. Andrade, his commander in San Antonio, to rebuild the defenses of the Alamo. As Santa Anna and his army marched off to the northeast work began instantly on rebuilding the walls damaged in the battle. Most of this work of rebuilding was done by those Mexican soldiers wounded in the battle.
After losing at the Battle of San Jacinto Santa Anna sent counter orders back to Gen. Andrade to now destroy all of the Alamo’s defenses: its walls torn down, the gun platforms ripped up, and the canons spiked and disabled, making them unusable. This would be the first destruction of the Alamo compound.

oldalamo

This 1849 daguerreotype is thought to be the first photo of the Alamo church

 

The Alamo becomes a source for building materials 

Soon locals were using the stones and wood from the Alamo for building materials. By 1842, just six years after the battle, all that remained of the Alamo were a few of the buildings that were on west wall, these being rebuilt as homes. The missions major buildings: the Church, Long Barracks, and Low Barracks laid in ruin. For most Texans the Alamo sat forgotten, with only a few tourists visiting the ruins.

But this was only the beginning of what was to befall the battle site that Houston called to remember. I will continue my narrative of how the Alamo continued to survive, and of the changes that are predicted to come.

Resources:

Nelson, George. The Alamo: An Illustrated History. Third Revised Edition, Aldine Press, 2009.
Thompson, Frank. The Alamo: A Cultural History. Taylor Publishing Company, 2001.
Wikipedia. “Timeline of the Texas Revolution .” Wikipedia, Wikipedia , 27 Mar. 2018, en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Special:History/Timeline_of_the_Texas_Revolution.

Also read my post: The History of the Alamo: Mission to Fort 

 

 

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