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Happy Birthday, Millicent

56cf67328a0fe.imageA few hours ago, Millicent Fenwick’s hometown newspaper, The Bernardsville News, posted a photo of the Millicent Fenwick statue at the train startion in the heart of town entitled “Millicent Dressed for the Weather.” It was accompanied by this caption:

“We are glad to see someone is watching over our beloved former Congresswoman Millicent Fenwick whose statue graces the sidewalk near the Bernardsville Train Station. The scarf no doubt is just the ticket in this blustery, late winter weather. But the shoe? Beats us.”

IMG_8952What the newspaper probably didn’t realize is that today would have been Millicent Fenwick’s 106th birthday. Clearly someone with a sense of humor remembered the significance of February 25th. Why the shoes? Because Garry Trudeau famously depicted Lacey Davenport in a Doonsebury election year cartoon that read “Davenport: As indispensable as sensible shoes.” On the bottom it said “Paid for by her chums.” This Trudeau original hung proudly in Millicent Fenwick’s bathroom.

Although she passed away in 1992, she is not forgotten. Happy Birthday, Millicent!





Cabin John Ice-Cream Truck War

IMG_6070I had not been to Cabin John Regional Park since I read about a rash of car break-ins in the parking lot. But today we decided to go with a mission in mind. My son needed a hiking stick. His school’s theme for the month of August is camping and this month his take home project is to create and decorate a hiking stick. Of all the local parks, Cabin John, nestled in the woods, seemed to be the perfect place to play and find that perfect hiking stick. Within seconds we found one.

While I held the hiking stick, my son climbed and played. We heard the ice cream truck come and go. My son had never been to an ice cream truck so he does not yet associate that recognizable musical chime with ice cream even though we hear it every time we are at Cabin John Park.

Awhile later we were on the lower half of the playground, close to where the truck stops, when I heard that familiar sound. The children near my son were excited for ice cream. He looked at me quizzically. I took his hand, asked if he wanted ice-cream (yes), and then we rushed to get in line as there was only one family left in line by the time we decided to join.

My son looked at the pictures on the side of the truck and chose the blue shaved ice. As the ice cream driver went to prepare the shaved ice, a man in a maroon shirt seemingly came out of nowhere and whacked the side of the ice cream truck with a long iron rod. He hit it with such force I was taken aback and stepped back as I was worried about my son and just thankful that he wasn’t hit in the process. I’m not even sure if this man saw us or not, but he was only inches away. He started yelling something about having a permit for his ice cream truck and our driver apparently did not. Both men shouted at each other and both men called the police.

IMG_6073By now a crowd had gathered. Parents were curious about the police presence and children stood staring as many of them wanted ice cream, but sweets were no longer being served; just verbal jabs.

My ice-cream driver told me that I was a witness and he wanted me to talk to the police when they arrived and I agreed. It’s hard to say how long it took for the police to arrive, maybe 5-10 minutes, maybe less. But they arrived in force. There were multiple police cars and at least three officers.

They handcuffed the driver of the permitted truck for assault. One officer talked to him and took his statement while another officer took a statement from the other driver. At this point my son was tugging at me and wanted to leave. I didn’t blame him. I didn’t expect to get a serving of police officers the first time he ordered from an ice cream truck. I went up to one of the officers, said I was a witness and that the driver wanted me to give a statement, but my son wanted to leave. He took my statement. I described what happened, gave my driver’s license for identification purposes, and then my son decided he wanted to stay. So we continued to eat the shaved ice and play while parents asked me what happened and if I tweeted it out so they could retweet. I confessed to being somewhat illiterate when it came to social media. This is the best I could do.

At the end of the day, neither driver was arrested. The driver with the permit was allowed to leave and eventually the driver without the permit was also allowed to drive away. The police officer I spoke with said that many of the ice cream trucks don’t have permits. I for one had no idea a simple summer pleasure could become so complicated.

IMG_6074I feel for the driver with the permit, but at the same time do not condone that kind of violent outburst in an environment full of children. He made it very clear that trucks without permits are taking away his business. I’m not sure what the solution to this problem is? More enforcement? No more ice cream trucks? I for one don’t plan on buying ice-cream at Cabin John again anytime soon. As for my son, he apparently wasn’t traumatized because when we left he asked for more ice-cream.


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

Burlington County Republican Women


Amanda and Grace

As much as I hate to admit it, it’s been ten years since Millicent Fenwick: Her Way was published. On the book tour I met many fascinating people and spoke at all sorts of incredible venues. This past weekend that experience came full circle when the Burlington County Republican Women invited me to speak at their Second Annual Tea.

State Senator Diane Allen

State Senator Diane Allen

The invitation came at the suggestion of New Jersey State Senator Diane Allen whom I met on the book tour when she received a public service award. All these years later she remembered and I had the pleasure of speaking at her home on the bank of the Delaware River where the tea was held. The rains had subsided and the sun was trying to peek through. The setting couldn’t have been more serene and the participants couldn’t have been more engaging. Some women brought their daughters and nieces and others brought their mothers. Among the youngest was 11-year-old Grace whose mother is a former state judge and 12-year-old Amanda who attended because she wants to be a writer.

Amy Schapiro and former State Senator Cathy Costa

Amy Schapiro and former State Senator Cathy Costa

On the other end of the spectrum was former Freeholder and former 7th District State Senator Cathy Costa who was full of stories about standing up to her male colleagues and who was the first Director of the New Jersey Division of Alcohol Beverage Control. Other women in attendance included Burlington County Sheriff Jean Stanfield and Delanco Township Mayor Kate Fitzpatrick, among several elected officials.

Given the recent passing of Senator Frank Lautenberg I was asked to speak about the 1982 Senate campaign in which Millicent Fenwick lost her first election at the age of 72 to political newcomer Lautenberg. Fenwick should have won, but she was her own worst enemy. She refused to spend money to counter her self-financed challenger and she refused to hit the campaign trail if Congress was in session. I could go on and on about the long list of reasons why Fenwick lost, but basically she did everything wrong, and didn’t listen to her advisors, compared to Lautenberg who did everything right from defining the issues to advertising. But the women in attendance didn’t need a campaign 101 since most of them have already had success at the ballot box. And it was encouraging to see so many young people in attendance, hopefully shaping a new generation of female elected officials.

Linda, Lisa, Sen. Allen, and Amy

Linda, Lisa, Sen. Allen, and Amy

A special thanks to Senator Allen for hosting and Lisa Conte and Linda Hughes for organizing!

The Lusitania

LusitaniaAfter a long hiatus, Six Degrees of Millicent is back. And it’s only appropriate that there is a connection between today, May 7, and Millicent Fenwick. To historians and trivia lovers May 7, 1915 is the day a German U-Boat torpedoed the Lusitania, a British luxury liner. To Millicent Fenwick it was the day she lost her mother.

Her parents were among nearly 2,000 people who set sail on the Lusitania for the cross-Atlantic voyage from New York to Liverpool, England. Like the Titanic, the Lusitania was the biggest and best of its day. Unlike the Titanic, there were warnings that danger lay ahead. The Germany Embassy took out an ad in the New York Times warning passengers not to sail on the Lusitania because “a state of war exists between Germany and her allies and Great Britain and her allies  … and travelers sailing in the war zone … do so at their own risk.“

Despite the warnings, Millicent’s mother, Mary Picton Stevens, would not alter her travel plans. She did, however, draft and sign a will prior to her departure. Millicent’s father, Ogden, tried to change his wife’s mind but to no avail. Realizing she was going no matter what, Ogden accompanied his wife as he didn’t want her to make the journey alone. As fate would have it, Mary was among the nearly 1,200 dead and her loyal husband, Ogden, survived. Millicent was just five-years-old when her mother died leaving a gaping hole in her young life.

In the current issue of Smithsonian there is an article about “8 Famous People Who Missed the Lusitania” and Millicent is included in that story. To read more about her and the other famous people who were not aboard the Lusitania that fateful day visit:



In Memory of Nicholas deBelleville Katzenbach

Today is a day the I’ve been dreading, but knew would come. Even though Nicholas Katzenbach was under hospice care the news of his passing last night is still hard to bear. I spoke to him on the phone recently and he sounded strong, the way I will remember him.

As a biographer it’s tricky confronting the end of your subject’s life. I didn’t want to be an intrusion and just wasn’t sure where that line is drawn. Should I call? Should I visit? Should I write? Should I give them their privacy? I still don’t know the answer.

Katzenbach is much more than the subject of my next book, and, in fact he has become an important part of my life, as is the subject of any biographer.  Their lives start consuming our own. The significant days in his life dot my calendar. If you read this blog regularly you’ve noticed that – January 17 (birthday), February 23 (shot down over the Mediterranean), and June 11 (the stand in the school house door).

And, now today, there is another date to add to the calendar – May 8th, but that date is already etched in my mind. May 8th is also the anniversary of the death of another important person in my life – my grandmother.

Right now what gives me solace is that the broader public is learning what I already know, that Katzenbach was a national treasure whose life was intertwined with some of the most historic events in the latter half of the twentieth century from the struggle for civil rights to the Vietnam War and everything in between – The Cuban Missile Crisis, The Cuban Prisoner Exchange, Ole Miss, the Stand in the School House Door, the swearing in of LBJ, the Warren Commission, the passage of the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act, the Tonkin Gulf Resolution, the Pentagon Papers, the Pueblo, and so much more.

While I’ve already written the ending to my book, Katzenbach’s life now has an end too.

In some sense there is an irony that on the day it was learned that an unsung hero of the civil rights movement died, the President of the United States, the first African-American, advocated his support for same sex marriage.

I’m not sure if there is such a thing as a perfect marriage, but if there is it was the marriage of Lydia Phelps Stokes and Nicholas deBelleville Katzenbach who were married for 65 years. She is feisty and ever bit his intellectual equal, not an easy feat. My sympathies go out to Lydia and the rest of the Katzenbach family.

Six Degrees of Millicent – First Anniversary

One year ago today I started this blog – Six Degrees of Millicent – and a year later I’m still at. As a biographer there are serendipitous connections to your subject everywhere and it’s fun to share those stories through this blog.

As you can tell from the name. the blog started out as six degrees of Millicent Fenwick, the subject of my first book, and more recently has morphed into a blog about my second biography, “Leading Justice: The Life of Nicholas Katzenbach” scheduled to come out next year.

This blog gives you a double dose of the many intersections I discover between my subjects and the present. And if you don’t know who Millicent Fenwick or Nicholas Katzenbach are, hopefully you will enjoy learning about them as much as I have.

Like all bloggers I encourage you to share this blog with friends, comment on posts, like it on facebook, and subscribe (top right) or follow it so you can be notified each time there is a new post (usually a couple times a month).

Below are some highlights from the past year and they can all be found in the Archives:

Green Eyes, February 23, 2012

The Jackie Kennedy Tapes, September 14, 2011

Take Three, August 31, 2011 about the Martin Luther King, Jr.  Memorial

As Indispensable as Sensible shoes, August 11, 2011

The Stand in the Schoolhouse Door, June 11, 2011

Biographers Unite, May 28, 2011