Sunday, January 27, 2013

Reusing, Reducing and Recycling Since 1776

Today, there are countless monuments throughout the city of New York. Monuments celebrating achievements by individuals & groups, some honoring the memory of those whole have given the ultimate sacrifice and others that display the grandeur of the city. These monuments are dedicated to New York natives, American heroes and events that have dot the landscape of our past. Heck, there is even an entire street dedicated to being a monument, it's better known as the Canyon of Heroes. But there is one monument that is perhaps the most famous New York City monument, and no one has seen it for the last 237 years. The site where this monument once stood is passed by thousands of people on a daily basis, the painting that depicts the monument is also just as famous and it is the first example of recycling in American History. The monument I am talking about is that of King George III's monument that once stood at Bowling Green. Never heard of it? Well there's a reason, it's called the American Revolution.

So in short here is why there was a gigantic statue of King George in Bowling Green; he was the God damn King of England that's why. But seriously, he was the King and New York was the crown jewel of his American colonies. The statue was built in 1770. Why? Well after Parliament placed some big time taxes on the colonies the discussion of Independence began to grow across the colonies. So, the jolly ol' King decided he'd try to curb some of that Independence rubbish, and had parliament repeal the Stamp Act. In return the colonists, mainly those dirty Tories, felt the need to honor the King with this ridiculous statue. The statue itself was pretty impressive though. Roughly weighing around 4,000 pounds and stood a little over 2 stories high.It depicted the King in Romanesque garb and mirrored the famous Equestrian Statue of Marcus Aurelius.  However, as we know the chummy relationship between us and them, didn't last too long.
By 1773 the statue became a prime target 18th century versions of Banksy and other graffiti artists. The powers that be quickly passed anti-graffiti laws to stop the vandals, and even put up a protective cast-iron fence, which is the actual fence still at Bowling Green today. Yet over the next few years angry colonists would hop the fence, climb up the statue and draw a mustache on the King George's gold clad face. The statue's days were number as 1776 rolled around. The War of Independence was getting started, the colonies were being swept by the inspiration of Thomas Paine's Common Sense, the British evacuated Boston, there were skirmishes and battles throughout the colonies, the Second Continental Congress was in session, the Liberty Bell rang for the first time and oh yea, there was that little thing written by Thomas Jefferson storming out of Philadelphia, you've probably heard of it, the Declaration of Independence. Now, it did take some time for the Declaration to spread through the colonies, but it hit New York first. So to inspire the city of New York and mainly his troops George Washington had the Declaration read aloud on July 9, 1776, where today New York City Hall is located. And this was the beginning of the end for Georgie Boys statue.

By now the crowd was all hopped up on Liberty & Freedom, so naturally they went looking for British stuff to trash. Lead by the Sons of Liberty, the crowd marched down Broadway, unopposed of course, and had their eyes squarely locked on that disgustingly gaudy monument to that British swine sitting on his big pile of money that he wrongfully took through the unjust taxes levied on the Americans. Ok, maybe I just got a little carried away, but come on how could I not. So as the crowd  gathered at Bowling Green the goal was to topple the statue as a sign of defiance. Once the two ton statue was pulled down, the head of King George was removed and marched through the streets of New York on a pike, but at the end of the day is was recovered by those despicable Loyalists. The fate of the statue is somewhat of a mystery surrounded by folklore. Legend has it the statue, along with the decorative post finials that surrounded the monument, were shipped to a Connecticut foundry and was turned into 42,000 musket balls, all which would be used by the Continental Army. The monuments pedestal  was then used as a tomb and later be used as part of two different mansions front steps. So you can see that nothing from the statue was left to waste, making this perhaps the first steps of the going green movement. But is there anything left today of the statue? And if so, where is it?

Today, not much is left of the statue. The base was rediscovered in 1880 during renovations to one of New York's finest homes, that of Cornelius Van Vorst . Upon discovery it was handed over to the New York Historical Society. The statue itself only remains in a few fragments, also located at the NYHS. Roughly eight pieces survived.  The pieces are made up of parts from George's sash, the horses body and also part of the horse's tail. The parts all have traces of the gold gilding that once covered its lead base.That is all that's left. A few small lead pieces of lead, a slab of 18th century concrete, and the memory of a memory. Today, Bowling Green is one of New York's oldest parks, visited by daily by tourists from around the world, crisscrossed by people working downtown in the financial district and a hang out spot for students in the local schools, but do any of them know what took place there in the summer of 1776, or it's importance? It was a true act of defiance by the citizens of New York, an example of the toughness of the citizenry and defines a turning point in which the Revolution would then never be stopped. Again, the events that took place that day are slowly being forgotten today, however that day defines Revolutionary America's attitude towards the British and how the Declaration & the events of 1776 really sparked and fueled the Revolution, put more important the citizens of New York and the long road the city had ahead of it.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Grover Cleveland and His Baby Momma Drama

When people think about Grover Cleveland, which probably isn't often, the first thing to come to mind is that he was the only non consecutive two term President. Aside from that, Grover Cleveland is one of those Presidents that is being lost to history. His Presidency was lack luster at best. The Presidential Succession Act (1886), the Interstate Commerce Act (1887) and the Dawes Act (1887) are the main highlights of his career as President. Cleveland was also at the dedication of the Statue of Liberty, even though he was weary of immigrants of Asian ethnicity, but that is a different story for another day. The real juicy stuff about Cleveland happened before he was President, when he was just emerging on the political scene of the great city of Buffalo.

On a freezing December night in 1873, Grover Cleveland was taking an evening walk on Swan Street. While he was out and about he ran into the very attractive Mary Haplin, a 38 year old sales clerk. Now this was not a chance encounter, Cleveland had the hots for Haplin and was in the process of courting her for the last few months. As they chatted Cleveland invited Haplin to dinner at the Ocean Dining Hall & Oyster House, fancy shmancy. The dinner was fine, they laughed, conversed, wined and dined. After Cleveland picked up the check he walked Haplin home. It is here that things get ugly. According the Haplin, Cleveland forced himself on her, aka raped her. Afterwards, Haplin demanded Cleveland leave and never see her again. Six weeks later, you guessed it, Haplin was pregnant.

Haplin gave birth in September of 1874. She named her son Oscar Folsom Cleveland, on a side note the boy was named after Grover's BFF, who Grover would then ironically marry his daughter even though he was 27 years older than her...moving on. Once Cleveland caught wind that the boy was born he turned his sights on sweeping everything, the baby, Haplin, the attack, etc, under the rug. Cleveland had little Oscar forcibly removed from Haplin and placed in the Buffalo Orphan Asylum. Then he had Haplin thrown in the loony bin, even though the doctors at the Providence Lunatic Asylum found nothing wrong with her. Haplin was later released as the incarceration was just forced by the abused of political power. After this Cleveland and Haplin's lives would go in complete opposite directions.

By 1881, Cleveland was elected mayor of Buffalo, on a platform based on clean-government. In 1882, he made his way to Albany, as he was elected Governor of New York. By 1884 he was dubbed "Grover the Good" by the Democrats, who in all fairness were probably unaware of his scandalous past. it was in 1884 that things got even worse for Haplin. Because Cleveland was now in the national spotlight, everything about him came out. However, Cleveland's people described Haplin as "a sexual plaything" with a drinking problem. Oh yea and on top of that, that she slept with three to four married men, who were all cronies of Cleveland. The Cleveland PR team even saved his image stating, "Cleveland saw the matter through in the most courageous way, and that his indifference to the boy was due to doubts about his fatherhood." Nice save Grover, but not everyone bought the story. Throughout Cleveland's Presidential campaign he was taunted with the jeer, "Ma, Ma, Where's my Pa, Gone to the WHite House, Ha, Ha, Ha"

So we know what happens to Cleveland, go to DC, becomes President, marries a girl 21 years younger than him and then get re elected and sails off into the sunset. But what about Halpin? Well, Haplin lived out her life as a widowed mother of two. A church going woman who was well respected by her peers. She died in 1902 with barely $200 to her name. But what can we take away from the events between Haplin and Cleveland? Well first we see that not much has changed. Politicians are still using their positions to have sexual escapades. From Bill Clinton, to John Edwards, Newt Gingrich, Arnold Schwarzenegger and so on, men in power are still having affairs and then trying to hide them for as long as they can. I guess what we can learn is that it is impossible to hide things like that, the truth always makes its way out. We can see that these women are always the ones blamed and usually are the ones to carry the burden for the rest of their lives. Mary Haplin said on her deathbed, "Do not let the funeral be too public. I do not want strangers to come and gaze upon my face. Let everything be very quiet. Let me rest." I think that best sums up how these women feel, while Cleveland's last words were "I have tried so hard to do right." You can see how Cleveland moved on as if nothing happened, while Haplin relived it everyday. So next time your out discussing the worst person in American History, don't be afraid to through Grover Cleveland's name in the conversation.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

El Viejo Luchador!!! What I Learned on My Vacation.

That's right I took an actual vacation this year. I was able to get away over the holidays to the tropical country of Ecuador. Why Ecuador you may ask? Well it just so happens to be the country my beautiful fiancée Emily was born in. During my trip (which actually was my third time there) I enjoyed amazing food, good people, cheap alcohol and the finest beaches in South America, but enough about my trip. The nation of Ecuador has a rich and deep history, but one person reigns supreme in the history of Ecuador. Across the nation: streets, schools, military bases, hotels and so on all bear his name. His face is everywhere, and he is unmistakably the Ecuadorian hero. His name, José Eloy Alfaro Delgado, or Eloy Alfaro for short. He was an Ecuadorian President but more importantly he was a man of the people, and is often an overlooked figure in South American History.

Alfaro was born in the small town of Montecristi, June 25, 1842. Aside from being his birth place of the great Alfaro, the town is also famous for its production of Panama Hats, which now you know don't actually come from Panama, but from Ecuador. Now Alfaro's life would be the life of a political mover and shaker, which was most likely an influence from his father. His father was don Manuel Alfaro y González.
 Mr. Alfaro Sr. was originally from Spain, but lived in Ecuador as a political exile. Eloy was locally educated in Montecristi and would assist in his father's business after schooling. Alfaro was a rebel. He was a anticlerical liberal and was quite fearless. He partook in several armed combat excursions throughout Ecuador. Alfaro's "balls over brains" characteristics are exemplified at the Battle of Alajuela. There, while fighting the Conservative Government, Alfaro was engaged in a naval fight, his ship sank and saved himself by holding on  to a barrel for dear life, while another version states he swam back to shore after the ship sank. Either way Alfaro was a man who lived by his convictions and his quest for freedom and liberty. It would be from here on out that Alfaro would cement himself into Ecuadorian History as perhaps the greatest of all the Ecuadorian leaders.

Alfaro would quickly learn that fighting tyranny was no easy feat. He would have many ups and downs in his war for liberty. His fight was long, roughly from about 1860 until 1895 he fought against the oppressive government,  and because of that Alfaro would become known as the "Viejo Luchador" or for those not familiar with the Spanish language, the Old Warrior. Alfaro would eventually work his way through the minefields of 19th century Ecuadorian politics and find himself on the verge of becoming President. Riding a wave of liberal policies and progressive thought, he'd find himself in Quito. In 1895, the Ecuadorian Liberal Revolution took place and Alfaro was leading the charge. During the revolt, Alfaro personally showed then sitting President Vicente Lucio Salazar the door and assumed leadership of the nation. Alfaro would the lead the country from January of 1897 until September of 1901. In that short time he would take the small nation of Ecuador from old world thinking and put it on the path to being an example of 20th century progressiveness, liberal thought and all around utopian society.

Under Alfaro's guidance Ecuador's theocratic government was dismantled and a separation of church and state took place. He also pushed for education reforms including all the high schools within the city of Quito and at the Escuela Politecnica Nacional, where an emphasis on the sciences and technology had been implemented under the new President. After his term was over Alfaro continued to stay active in making Ecuador a better nation. In 1906, he again led a revolt and retook power with not only the support of the military but of the people. This time Alfaro would hold office from 1906 until 1911. In that time he continued to change the face of Ecuadorian politics, the standard of living and continued to extend personal freedoms. Again, education was a main focus. He ordered construction of numerous schools throughout the nation, both free and private. He gave the people freedom of speech, a right previously unknown to the Ecuadorian people. Along with that, civil marriages and divorces were also legalized. There was a constant suppression of the religious influence on government, especially the Catholic Church. Under Alfaro, no new monasteries or convents were built and much of the Church's land was seized and given back to the people or used for public works programs. The crowning jewel of the Alfaro administration may have been the Ferrocarril Transandino. This was a railroad project connecting Ecuador's two largest cities, Quito and Guayaquil. With Alfaro at the helm, times were good in Ecuador. Education, work, civil liberties and advancements all took place under the watch of Alfaro, but dark days were in Alfaro's future.

In 1911 Alfaro was removed from office, due to pressure from the Catholic Church. Not being one to walk away from a fight, again Alfaro made a push for the Carondelet Palace. However, it didn't exactly go according to plan and he was captured in Guayaquil. In a weird ironic twist, Alfaro was transported as a prisoner to Quito on the same railroad system that he ordered constructed. Once in Quito, President Carlos Freile Zaldumbide showed mercy on Alfaro, mainly due to his popularity with the people, and had him exiled to Panama. Again, Alfaro thumbed his nose at the opposition and returned to Ecuador in January of 1912 and again attempted another coup, but was stopped by General Leonidas Plaza and jailed. It was then on the night of January 28th that a group of pro-Catholic soldiers attacked the prison Alfaro was held in. Under the motto "Viva la religión y mueran los masones" (Long live religion and death to the Freemasons.), they enraged a mob and lead a charge for Alfaro. And of course even in South America, the Freemasons are thought to be the root of all things evil. After the prison walls were breached, Alfaro and his men were dragged to death through the cobble stone streets of Quito. Once the mob had their fill of vengeance for Alfaro anticlerical views, they then piled the corpses and burnt then in what is present day El Ejido. A few days later remains believed to be Alfaro's were buried in Quito, in the middle of the night by his supporters and friends. Later they were exhumed and transported to Guayaquil in the 1940s. It wouldn't be until 2007 that Alfaro would finally rest in peace, as current President Rafael Correa would exhumed some of Alfaro's ashes and have them interred in his home town of Montecristi.

So is Eloy Alfaro Ecuador's Che Guevara? A face on a t-shirt that teenagers wear as a rebellious statement?  Or is he a symbol of liberty? Or even Nationalism? It seems that in Ecuador he is all that and more. He is the most overlooked icon in the subject of liberalism. He believed in a separation of church and state, freedom of religion, industrialization & modernization, workers rights and the rights of indigenous peoples. He enacted these ideas through reforms led by the government. It was during this time that the Ecuadorian identity was found, no longed would the people be held under the thumb of the Catholic Church. However, in the steps Alfaro took to take power, he rewrote the playbook for Ecuadorian politics. After Alfaro, others tried to duplicate him yet never could get the support Alfaro had, thus leading them to take different and ineffective routes.  Yet in the end, Alfaro is held in the highest of regards amongst Ecuadorians. His legacy within the country parallels that of our own American progressives, Wilson, Roosevelt, Taft and so on, but without the tragic ending of being dragged through the street. The ideas of Alfaro are now again resurfacing not just in Ecuador, but through Latin America and the world. Again, the life and times of Alfaro are another example of humanity's struggle and fight for equality, freedoms and liberty.