Remembering the Lusitania: A Century Later

Remembering the Lusitania

Remembering the Lusitania

May 7, 2015: A good story never gets old, even a century later. It was 100 years ago today that the RMS Lusitania sailed on its final voyage with more than 1,900 passengers on board. The British luxury liner departed New York City’s Pier 54 on Saturday, May 1, 1915. Throngs of well-wishers lined the pier to watch this floating palace embark on its 101st round-trip Trans-Atlantic passage. Passengers were on edge as the crossing was being made during wartime. World War I was well underway and Germany’s submarine fleet was becoming more brazen where its targets were concerned.

The first six days of the Lusitania’s journey were pleasant and uneventful. But all that changed on the seventh day. The passengers on board included Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt, the heir to the Vanderbilt fortune; Charles Frohman, acclaimed Broadway Manager and Producer; and Mary Picton Stevens and her husband, Ogden Haggerty Hammond, a state legislator and businessman.

On Friday, May 7, the Hammond’s were enjoying afternoon tea in the first class lounge. The morning fog had lifted and the sun was shining as the ship approached the Irish coast eleven miles away. All seemed mundane until they felt a strong vibration. Ogden went on deck, inquired about what happened, and was told everything was fine. However, the passengers on the other side knew better. For they saw a white streak barreling through the water. Everyone’s greatest fear was now realized in an instant.

The Lusitania had been targeted, and torpedoed, by the Germans. At first all was calm before folks realized what had happened and clamored for lifeboats and life vests. Ogden wanted to return to his cabin and get life vests, but Mary was adamantly opposed to the idea. Instead they went to the stern side of the ship and climbed into a lifeboat. They thought they had been spared, but they were not. As the boat was lowered, one of the crewmen lost his grip. Ogden grabbed for the rope to help ease the plunge, but to no avail. His hands were torn in shreds and the boat, and passengers, were tumbled into the frigid waters.

“I went down and down, with thirty people on top of me,” recalled Ogden. “I thought I never could come back and must have been partly unconscious, for I can only remember getting almost to the surface, sinking back again, and doing this three or four times. Then I was hauled in some boat, but no one else from the boat that fell was ever seen again.”

His beloved Mary was among the nearly 1,200 passengers to perish including 128 Americans. The irony is that it was Mary who was insistent on making the voyage on the Lusitania despite warnings from the German Ambassador and pleas from her husband not to leave. But Mary was determined to cross the ocean to help victims of WWI. Her devoted husband would not let her make the journey alone so he joined her leaving their three young children home – Mary, 7-years-old, Millicent, 5-years-old, and Ogden, Jr., 3-years-old.

The Stevens, like the Vanderbilts, were another wealthy family. On the day the Lusitania set sail, Mary Picton Stevens signed a will worth more than a million dollars. In the will she created trusts for her three young children. Little did she know she would never see her husband or her children again. Nor would she see her middle child, Millicent, be elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.

With many great tragedies, there are many good reads. One of the earlier books was published was in 1956 by Adolph and Mary Hoehling entitled, The Last Voyage of the Lusitania. Next on my reading list was The Lusitania written by Colin Simpson in 1972. And three decades later was Lusitania: Epic Tragedy by Diana Preston. The latter was so well done and well-researched that I thought it would be the last of the Lusitania books. But earlier this year, best-selling author Erik Larson came out with Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania. Like his predecessors, he has written another captivating account of the tragedy. However, if you are interested in learning more about Ogden Hammond’s experience and survival Millicent Fenwick: Her Way is still the only book that provides his gripping account leading up to the voyage, the trip itself, and the aftermath.

For those of you who would like to hear more about Ogden’s heart-wrenching story, I will be speaking in New Jersey on Saturday, June 20, 2015. Hope to see you there!

Lusitania: 100th Anniversary & its ties to a famous NJ Congresswoman

Saturday, June 20 – 10 a.m.

Parsippany Library

449 Halsey Road

Parsippany, NJ

Saturday, June 20 – 2 p.m.

Warren Library

42 Mountain Blvd.

Warren, NJ

Millicent Fenwick’s Birthday

Millicent Fenwick

February 25, 2015 – Today would have been Millicent Fenwick’s 115th birthday. And despite passing away more than twenty years ago she continues to live on. In the past few weeks, I’ve received three Fenwick related requests. The first was for permission to use a photo in the book of a young Millicent with her sister, Mary, and mother, Mary Picton Stevens Hammond, the latter of whom died on the Lusitania. The photo will be used in an exhibit opening this fall about New Jersey during the decade from 1910-1920. The exhibit will highlight the sinking of the Lusitania by the Germans in 1915 and the photo will represent a New Jersey life lost in that tragedy.

The second inquiry came last week and it was about Fenwick’s self-pity quote, one of many memorable quotes attributed to Fenwick. And the third request was about giving a Lusitania related talk to commemorate the centennial of the Germans torpedoing the Lusitania which resulted in nearly 1,200 deaths, including Mary Hammond and 127 other Americans as well as passengers from more than 20 countries. For someone who has been deceased a long time both Millicent Fenwick and her mother are still getting a lot of traction.

For more about the Lusitania, see my blog post from May 7, 2013

https://sixdegreesofmillicent.wordpress.com/2013/05/07/the-lusitania/

Selma

UnknownBelieve it or not, I didn’t think about my new year resolutions until a few days after the ball dropped in Times Square. Once again, “the year of the book” tops my list. Here’s hoping that 2015 is the year I finally finish writing the Katzenbach biography. It’s particularly frustrating to sit on the sidelines as debate rages over the new movie Selma and the ensuing controversy of LBJ and his support, or lack thereof, for voting rights. Katzenbach and I talked about Selma and he made it very clear that Voting Rights was a priority for the Johnson Administration with or without Selma.

Like many, I’m anxious to see the movie and glad that today’s generation will have an opportunity to bear witness to the violence that was unleashed on Bloody Sunday – March 7, 1965 – in Selma, AL. There is no controversy about whether the movie portrayed what happened that day accurately, and the two subsequent marches on March 9 and March 21; the latter of which fulfilled the original goal to march from Selma to the Alabama State Capitol in Montgomery.

One thing is clear, this movie has gotten people talking about history and facts, what biographer doesn’t love that!

The Honorable Marge Roukema

imagesAnother day, another passing. Today New Jersey lost former Congresswoman Marge Roukema who was 85 years-old. She was a Republican elected in 1980; the same year Ronald Reagan won the presidency. Her first term in office would be Millicent Fenwick’s last term in Congress, but neither women knew that at the time.

As a freshman, Roukema sought Fenwick’s sage advice. Back then Fenwick was known for the uncanny amount of time she spent on the House floor. What most didn’t realize was that her time was more calculated than her peers gave her credit for. That became clear to me when I interviewed Roukema. She relayed how Fenwick told her “You need to sit on the floor to get to know your colleagues. Get to know them, not only in committee, but on the floor when debates are going on. It is then you can learn to judge whose opinions you can trust, and whose opinions you must be skeptical of. Be able to evaluate them.”

“That was wonderful advice,” said Roukema. “The first year or so I spent a lot of time on the floor listening to debates . . . and got a sense of things. Not only the issues but a sense of the evaluation of the people that were presenting things and who was being superficial and political and who was being substantive and incisive. It was excellent advice. Of course, she [Fenwick] was always there. Third row on the aisle.”[i]

What I did not know until today was that Roukema was the longest serving woman in the House of Representatives, serving eleven terms from 1981 – 2003. Since 2003 New Jersey has not sent a woman to Congress, but all that has just changed. Last week, Assemblywoman Bonnie Watson Coleman, a Democrat, was elected to the House. When she takes office in January she will be the first woman elected to Congress from New Jersey since Roukema retired more than a decade ago. It’s about time.

[i] Amy Schapiro, Millicent Fenwick: Her Way (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2003), 153.

John Doar

Today the nation learned that we lost another hero from the Civil Rights Era – John Doar, He worked alongside Nicholas President+Obama+Awards+Presidential+Medals+1o6TF0QDodvlKatzenbach at the Department of Justice and served as the head of the Civil Rights Division during Katzenbach’s tenure as Attorney General. Like Katzenbach, Doar was at many pivotal events in this nation’s fight for equal rights. It was John Doar who escorted James Meredith when he desegregated Ole Miss in 1962, and it was Doar who helped diffuse a tense situation in the wake of Medgar Evans murder a year later. And it was Doar who successfully prosecuted and got convictions in the highly publicized murder case that gripped the nation of three civil rights volunteers, Michael Schwerner, James Chaney and Andrew Goodman.

A couple of years ago, fellow author and friend, Henry Gallagher, led the charge for John Doar to be recognized for his service to this nation with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Gallagher succeeded in his quest and in 2012 President Barack Obama awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom to John Doar. Just this week the White House announced this year’s recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom and among the nineteen individuals who will receive this honor are Michael Schwerner, James Chaney and Andrew Goodman posthumously.

While I was fortunate to meet John Doar on several occasions and chat with him about Katzenbach, he was a man of few words. He always agreed to an interview, but actually scheduling it proved to be a challenge and one that I never accomplished.

On this Veteran’s Day while we remember and salute those who have served and currently serve to protect this nation and the freedoms we enjoy, we also remember another a freedom fighter – John Doar, may he rest in peace.

101 Great New Jersey Books

imagesThis year New Jersey is celebrating it’s 350th Anniversary. As part of that celebration, the New Jersey State Library, Rutgers Library, and the New Jersey Historical Commission developed a list of the 101 best New Jersey books and Millicent Fenwick: Her Way made the cut!

I’m in good company. Other authors on the list include Sylvia Nasar for her biography, A Beautiful Mind about John Forbes Nash, Jr.; David McCullough for his book 1776 shedding new light on the Revolutionary War; and Phillip Roth’s classic Goodbye, Columbus. More recent titles include Junot Diaz’s award winning novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao and This is How You Lose Her.

Here’s the full list of great New Jersey books:

101 Great New Jersey Books List

GENERAL HISTORY
1. Patricia Bonomi – The Lord Cornbury Scandal: the Politics of Reputation in British America
2. Charles Boyer – Old Inns and Taverns in West Jersey
3. John Cunningham – This Is New Jersey
4. Giles Wright – “Steal Away, Steal Away”: a Guide to the Underground Railroad in New Jersey
5. Graham Russell Hodges — Slavery and Freedom in the Rural North: African Americans in Monmouth County, New Jersey, 1665-1865
6. Michael Immersa – Newark’s Little Italy: the Vanished First Ward
7. Nelson Johnson – Boardwalk Empire: the Birth, High Times and Corruption of Atlantic City
8. Robert Kurson – Shadow Divers: the True Adventure of Two Americans Who Risked Everything to Solve One of the Last Mysteries of World War II
9. Marc Mappen – Jerseyana: the Underside of New Jersey History
10. Dermot Quinn – The Irish in New Jersey: Four Centuries of American Life

FICTION (SET IN NJ)
1. Mary Higgins Clark – On the Street Where You Live
2. Harlen Coben – Fade Away
3. Junot Diaz – The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
4. Janet Evanovich – Four to Score
5. Richard Ford – The Bascombe Novels
6. Nathan Heard – Howard Street: a Novel
7. Curtis Lucas – Third Ward, Newark
8. Joyce Carol Oates (ed.) – New Jersey Noir
9. Philip Roth – Goodbye, Columbus
10. Joe Vallese & Alicia Beale – What’s Your Exit?: a Literary Detour Through New Jersey

CHILDREN & YOUNG ADULTS
1. Judy Blume – Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret
2. Eileen Cameron – G is for Garden State: a New Jersey Alphabet
3. Wende and Harry Devlin – Cranberry Thanksgiving
4. David Lubar – Dunk
5. Joyce McDonald – Swallowing Stones
6. Carol Plum-Ucci – The Body of Christopher Creed
7. Mary Pope Osborne – Revolutionary War on Wednesday
8. Ann Rinaldi – Time Enough for Drums
9. Gertrude Chandler Warner – The Boxcar Children: The Boardwalk Mystery
10. David Wiesner – Flotsam

SCIENCE, BUSINESS & NATURE
1. Thomas Belton – Protecting New Jersey’s Environment: From Cancer Alley to the New Garden State
2. Joanna Burger – A Naturalist Along the Jersey Shore
3. Jack Connor – Season at the Point: the Birds and Birders of Cape May
4. Ernest Freeberg – The Age of Edison: Electric Light and the Invention of Modern America
5. Jon Gertner – The Idea Factory: Bell Labs and the Great Age of American Innovation
6. Wheaton Lane – From Indian Trail to Iron Horse: Travel and Transportation in New Jersey, 1620-1860
7. John McPhee – The Pine Barrens
8. Robert Sullivan – The Meadowlands: Wilderness Adventures at the Edge of a City
9. Richard Veit – Digging New Jersey’s Past: Historical Archaeology in the Garden State
10. Peter Wacker & Paul Clemens – Land Use in Early New Jersey: a Historical Geography

POLITICS
1. Paul Clemens – The Uses of Abundance: a History of New Jersey’s Economy
2. Ovid Demaris – The Boardwalk Jungle
3. Steven Hart – The Last Three Miles: Politics, Murder, and the Construction of America’s First Superhighway
4. Bob Ingle and Sandy McClure – The Soprano State: New Jersey’s Culture of Corruption
5. Alan Karcher – New Jersey’s Multiple Municipal Madness
6. Duane Lockard – The New Jersey Governor: A Study in Political Power
7. Richard McCormick – New Jersey: From Colony to State, 1609-1789
8. Gerald Pomper – The Political State of New Jersey
9. Salmore & Salmore – New Jersey Politics and Government: the Suburbs Come of Age
10. John Wefing – The Life and Times of Richard J. Hughes: the Politics of Civility

BIOGRAPHY & MEMOIR
1. Martin Duberman – Paul Robeson: A Biography
2. Gillan, Gillan and Giunta – Italian American Writers on New Jersey
3. Howard Greenfeld – Ben Shahn: An Artist’s Life
4. Walter Isaacson – Einstein: His Life and Universe
5. S. Mitra Kalita – Suburban Sahibs: Three Immigrant Families and Their Passage from India to America
6. Sylvia Nasar – A Beautiful Mind: a Biography of John Forbes Nash,Jr., Winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics, 1994
7. Amy Schapiro – Millicent Fenwick: Her Way
8. James Still – Early Recollections and Life of Dr. James Still
9. Patricia Tyson Stroud – The Man Who Had Been King: the American Exile of Napoleon’s Brother Joseph
10. Mary Walton – A Woman’s Crusade: Alice Paul and the Battle for the Ballot

NEW JERSEY AT WAR
1. Michael S. Adelberg – The American Revolution in Monmouth County: The Theatre of Spoil and Destruction
2. Joseph Bilby – “Remember You Are Jerseymen!”: a Military History of New Jersey’s Troops in the Civil War
3. Joseph G. Bilby, ed. – New Jersey Goes to War: Biographies of 150 New Jerseyans Caught up in the Struggle of the Civil War
4. Kevin Coyne -Marching Home : to War and Back with the Men of One American Town
5. Mark Di Ionno – A Guide to New Jersey’s Revolutionary War Trail : for Families and History Buffs
6. David Hackett Fisher – Washington’s Crossing
7. William Gillette – Jersey Blue: Civil War Politics in New Jersey, 1854-1865
8. Arthur Lefkowitz – The Long Retreat: The Calamitous American Defense of New Jersey, 1776
9. Mark Lender – One State in Arms: a Short Military History of New Jersey
10. David McCullogh – 1776

ARTS & POETRY
1. Meredith Bzdak and Douglas Petersen – Public Sculpture in New Jersey : Monuments to Collective Identity
2. Walter Choroszewski – New Jersey, a photographic celebration
3. Alan Ginsburg – Howl
4. Robert P. Guter – Building by the Book: Pattern Book Architecture in New Jersey
5. Joyce Kilmer – Trees and Other Poems
6. Robert Pinsky – Jersey Rain
7. John R.Quinn – Fields of Sun and Grass: An Artist’s Journal of the New Jersey Meadowlands.
8. Gerald Stern – This Time: New and Selected Poems
9. Lynd Ward – Vertigo
10. Walt Whitman – Leaves of Grass
11. William Carlos Williams – Paterson

REFERENCE
1. Joan Burstyn – Past and Promise: Lives of New Jersey Women
2. The Lenape-Delaware Indian Heritage:10,000 BC to AD 2000, By Herbert C. Kraft.
3. Joseph Felcone – New Jersey Books. Vols. I & II.
4. Maxine Lurie & Marc Mappen – Encyclopedia of New Jersey
5. Maxine Lurie, Peter Wacker ( eds.) & Michael Siegel – Mapping New Jersey: An Evolving Landscape
6. Clement Price – Freedom Not Far Distant: a Documentary History of Afro-Americans in New Jersey
7. Helen Schwartz – The New Jersey House
8. Donald Sinclair – New Jersey Biographical Index: covering some 100,000 biographies and associated portraits in 237 New Jersey cyclopedias, histories, yearbooks, periodicals and other collective biographical sources published to about 1980
9. Skinder-Strauss Associates (pub.) – Manual of the Legislature of New Jersey
10. John Snyder – The Mapping of New Jersey: the Men and the Art

RECENTLY PUBLISHED
1. Peter Ames Carlin – Bruce
2. Junot Diaz – This is How You Lose Her
3. Mark Di Ionno – The Last Newspaperman
4. Charles Graeber – The Good Nurse: A True Story of Medicine, Madness, and Murder
5. George Kirsch – Six Guys from Hackensack: Coming of Age in the Real New Jersey
6. Cathy D. Knepper – Jersey Justice: The Story of the Trenton Six
7. Marc Mappen – Prohibition Gangsters: the Rise and Fall of a Bad Generation
8. Barksdale Maynard – Princeton, America’s Campus
9. Holly Metz – Killing the Poormaster: a Saga of Poverty, Corruption, and Murder in the Great Depression
10. Maxine Lurie and Richard Veit – New Jersey: A History of the Garden State

This Day in History

Millicent Fenwick CoverSeptember 16, 2014: It is hard to believe, but 22 years ago today Millicent Fenwick quietly passed away in her sleep at her Bernardsville home. I guess the old adage that time flies is true as it doesn’t seem like it’s been more than two decades since she left us.

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