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Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The Vin Fiz Lands in Elmira

The Vin Fiz leaving Sheepshead Bay, NY on
September 17, 1911. Image property of the author.
Copyright © 2013. All rights reserved.

On September 11, 1911, the Elmira Star-Gazette reported that:

C. F. Rodgers, the young aviator backed by Ogden Armour [of hot dog fame], will pass over Elmira the last of this week on his record-breaking aeroplane flight from New York to Chicago. If things go right, Rodgers should reach this city the second or third day out of New York. In all probability he will make a stop in Elmira, whether or not he spends the night here.

“Vin Fiz” was the name of a new grape-flavored soft drink that sold for a nickel and was hailed by the Vin Fiz Company [a division of the Armour Company of Chicago, Illinois] as “refreshing and invigorating.” The new product, however, presented one large marketing problem –it tasted terrible. The company, knowing that it needed a very special scheme if they were to sell their product, came up with a novel idea to boost its popularity. The marketing team chose an aviation stunt to promote their soda pop. The Vin Fiz people decided that a good way to spread the word of their product was to endorse and financially support an aviator in this effort.

“The Architect and the Artist:
FDR, Olin Dows, and the New Deal Post Office Program”

Copyright © 2013 All rights reserved.

A happy coincidence brings to us today a unique opportunity. The cornerstone at Rhinebeck’s new Post Office is about to be laid as a part of this ceremony of dedication. The Post Office has been built by the Secretary of the Treasury, who is with us. It has been turned over to the Postmaster General, who will use it and who is also with us. Their Royal Highnesses, the Crown Prince and Crown Princess of Denmark and Iceland have come to us, having voyaged from Denmark through the Panama Canal to San Francisco and back across the Continent.[1]

It is unknown if these royal guests were offered hot dogs during their stay with the Roosevelt’s as they were, famously to the King and Queen of Great Britain later that same summer, but the dedication of the Rhinebeck post office on May 1, 1939 nearly overwhelmed the modest Hudson Valley river town. Novelist and Rhinebeck resident William Seabrook would state that the building’s dedication was “without doubt the most thoroughly dedicated small-town post office in the Western Hemisphere.” Seabrook would go on to describe celebrities, news reels, sound trucks, an army of metropolitan reporters and camera men, and the first female photojournalist for Life magazine, “Margaret Bourke-White thrown in for good measure!” The day began with a parade which included marching bands and mounted state-troopers, but also included, because of the royal presence the Danish Girls-Scandinavian-American Society. After a somber invocation, Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau Jr. was first to speak, an unusual choice if one did not know that the architecture and the mural artwork inside the post office were both the product of bureaus under the auspices of the Treasury Department. Morgenthau symbolically handed the post office over to postmaster general James A. Farley,[2] and then FDR himself gave the dedication address.[3]

FDR was photographed at the event standing behind a podium, the metal braces that supported his frame barely visible. He began his speech with his first memories of Rhinebeck:

Half a century ago—I do not feel that it was that long—a small boy was often driven through the town of Rhinebeck by his father and mother to visit his great-uncle and aunt at their home south of Barrytown.

Then, as I grew older, I came to know something of the history of these river towns of Dutchess County, and to develop a great liking for the stone architecture which was indigenous to the Hudson Valley.[4]

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Three Poetic Monologues from Redwing, New York

Copyright ©2013. All rights reserved by author.

TUBMAN GREENE: Redwing, 1888

My father traveled fast and traveled far,
away from warmer rivers, warmer land--
all time, he said, a single guiding star
and charity from one brave woman’s hand.
My mother followed, praying that my name
could be my own when I was born, held free
of master’s choices, master’s whip, the same
as any baptized white child’s days would be.
What hunger? What sharp terror must have torn
their breath as they ran hiding in the dark,
each cellar, church, and barn, each field of corn
or fog-swept swamp dark hell but for her spark?
They’ve raised me thanking God that their first son
has lived to honor her for what she’s done.


HARRIET GREENE: Redwing, 1888

He loves me well, my brother. I'll defend
his words of loyalty and history 

against the fools who sneer so mightily 
at what he swears—the truth!—will finally end 
the way life's river has been forced to bend 
for those of us with color, who may be 
the sanest creatures highest God can see, 
but must endure the way the waters wend. 
What can he ask of me? I'll gladly give 
my breath the way the woman whose dear name 
I hold in reverence helped our parents live 
within a world of whitest deadly blame. 
But who am I? A girl in love with life— 
the one I'm making, free to be a wife.


IRIS BIRDWELL: Redwing, 1888

I see him all the time, the boy I loved.
His smile under the quickening oak tree 
green leaves hiding gold, his hair 
smooth upon his forehead, brown 
as the deer we glimpsed one twilight 
from a curving wooden bridge.

I hear him play piano again 
midsummer where small bats flew close, 
the moon as round as the watch on his vest 
while his hands moved the polished keys 
under the columned roof where a wedding 
would join two souls next day.

I touch him, ten years, twenty gone:
my fingers light upon his brow, his palms 
where I traced the lines I thought 
we would share together. Chautauqua, 
and the lake at sunrise, calls of ducks 
on water black to blue.

Katharyn Howd Machan studied creative writing and literature at the College of Saint Rose and at the University of Iowa, taught college for five years, returned to graduate school for a Ph.D. in Interpretation at Northwestern University and, now as a full professor, has been teaching on the faculty of the Department of Writing at Ithaca College ever since. In 2002 she was named the first poet laureate of Tompkins County, New York. Her poems have appeared in numerous magazines (Nimrod, Yankee, The MacGuffin, Snake Nation Review, Hanging Loose, Dogwood, Runes, Slipstream, Beloit Poetry Journal, South Coast Poetry Journal, Hollins Critic, The Salmon, West Branch, Seneca Review, Louisiana Literature, etc.) and anthologies/textbooks (The Bedford Introduction to Literature, Poetry: An Introduction, Early Ripening: American Women’s Poetry Now, Sound and Sense, Writing Poems, Literature: Reading and Writing the Human Experience, etc.), and in 30 collections, most recently Belly Words: Poems of Dance (Split Oak Press, 2009), When She’s Asked to Think of Colors (Palettes & Quills Press, 2009), The Professor Poems (The Main Street Rag Publishing Company, 2008). In 2000 she was awarded the Ann Stanford Poetry Prize from the University of Southern California by judge Dana Gioia for her poem “Tess Clarion: Redwing, 1888” and in 2006 the Luna Negra Prize from Kent State University for her poem “Gingerbread.” In 2012 she edited Adrienne Rich: A Tribute Anthology for Split Oak Press.