“Do You Remember the Fun of Him?”

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“Do you remember the fun of him, Mrs. Robinson?  It was not only that he was a great man, but, oh, there was such fun in being led by him!”

Today in History, May 6, 1895:

Theodore Roosevelt is sworn in as the President of the Board of Police Commissioners of New York City, effectively, the Police Commissioner. That’s right, TR was a cop. He instituted numerous policies to root out corruption in the city’s police department, making several enemies along the way. Officers on the beat grew used to Commissioner Roosevelt showing up at all hours of the day and night. The corrupt officers hated him; the honest officers loved him. He was tireless and relentless, a trait his family was well aware of, and that the national politicians were soon to become well acquainted with.

At this point in his storied life, Roosevelt had “built his body” as a sickly child, successfully completed studies at Harvard, traveled Europe, become a NY state legislator, lost his mother and wife the same day after the birth of his daughter, and secluded himself to the Dakota Territory in grief.  While in the west he took on his persona as a “cowboy”, having chased and captured thieves, fought in barroom fights, raised cattle, and hunted frequently.

NYC was TR’s hometown, and when he got the job as Police Commissioner he was driven to rid not only the police department but the city of it’s rampant corruption.  He would make “Midnight” walks around the city, catching officers sleeping or taking solace in the bawdy houses.  He also worked against real corruption within the department, making enemies.

Roosevelt also took steps to provide the officers training, firearms and equipment they’d never had before, intent on making them into a professional agency.  These efforts won him many fans within the rank and file.

One of his less popular actions…obviously a mistake…was when he ordered all of the houses of liquor closed on Sunday.  The only problem is that the high society Roosevelt did not realize working class German and Irish voters worked 6 days a week…Sunday was their only day to “throw one back.”

Of course after his adventures on NYPD Roosevelt went on to be Under Secretary of the Navy where he helped build a modern force, the Colonel of the Rough Riders in Cuba, NY Governor, Vice-President, President, and then adventurer and hunter.

You never know what will be the final epitaph or testimonial for someone.  To this day it can be argued whether Theodore Roosevelt was more hated or more loved by the officers he worked with.

However a chance encounter at his funeral near Sagamore Hill, Oyster Bay, NY in January of 1919 proves TR’s influence for me.

As the mourners trailed out after the service, a Police Captain stopped Roosevelt’s sister, Corinne.  It had been nearly a quarter century since the man had worked for “The Commissioner.”  Do you know how much time hardens a policeman?  The Captain was in tears, overcome.

“Do you remember the fun of him, Mrs. Robinson?  It was not only that he was a great man, but, oh, there was such fun in being led by him!”

 

 

 

Death had to take Roosevelt sleeping, for if he had been awake, there would have been a fight.” -Vice President Thomas Marshall

Today in History, January 6: 1919 –

“Death had to take Roosevelt sleeping, for if he had been awake, there would have been a fight.” -Vice President Thomas Marshall. President Theodore Roosevelt dies at Sagamore Hill, Oyster Bay, New York in his sleep of a heart attack. “Teddy” had taken every last drop of adventure and worthiness that he could squeeze out of life in the preceding 60 years.

Roosevelt had been a sickly child; constantly plagued by breathing problems, he could rarely play with the other children. His father, Theodore Sr., a remarkable man himself, told “Teedie” that if he wanted to have a successful life, he would have to take charge and force his body into the form he needed to match his intellect. Roosevelt did just that. He took exercise as his “raison detre” until he was barrel chested and of vigorous health. Each time he became sick during his life, he would simply work through it.

As a young man, while serving in the New York Assembly, Roosevelt’s wife and mother died on the same day…February 14, 1884. Roosevelt fled into the west, becoming a rancher and for a time a lawman in the Dakota Territory. The experience would strengthen him and give him a background people respected.

During his life he was a state rep from New York, the Police Commissioner for New York City, Governor of New York, the Assistant Secretary of the Navy (he oversaw the building of a modern US Navy while his boss was not paying attention), he led the “Rough Riders” (1st Volunteer US Cavalry) up San Juan Hill in the Spanish-American War, became Vice President, and the President after President McKinley was assassinated.

As President he defined the modern presidency, breaking up monopolies, seeing that mistreated workers got a fair shake, sent the “Great White Fleet” around the world establishing American as a world influence, saw the Panama Canal built, saw the establishment of the National Parks Service, and countless other accomplishments.

He worked tirelessly for the American people. After the Presidency he traveled extensively, going on an African Safari, and exploring an unknown region of South America, “The River of Doubt”; a region so treacherous that it was considered a no-man’s land. He nearly died in the mapping of the river, now called “Rio Roosevelt” in his honor.

All of his male children fought in WWI, and the only reason Teddy didn’t was because the Democrat President (Wilson) refused to let him, afraid Roosevelt would run against him in the next election and win. One of his sons, Quentin, would be shot down over France and be killed. That was the last straw for the “Old Lion”. He mourned dreadfully until his death.

One of his other children, Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., would be the only General to go ashore with the troops at D-Day in WWII; Teddy Jr would die of a heart attack himself several weeks after the Normandy invasion. The entire world would mourn President Roosevelt’s passing; he had become larger that life, a hero to people the world over. The quintessential American. And in case you couldn’t tell, my favorite Hero.

“Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”

 

Today in History, November 26:  1942 – The motion picture “Casablanca” premieres in New York City.  The movie that would become a screen classic would be released to theaters in the remainder of the country on January 23, 1943.

The film was set in Casablanca, Morocco in December, 1941.  This time frame is important to the viewer if not the players.  Rick Blaine is an exiled American who owns a high-end bar.  Between continuously matching wits with the local French authorities and Nazis, Rick manages to barter for immigration papers for those fleeing the Nazis and to deal with an old romance interest who re-enters his life…Ilsa.  “Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine.”

The film is at heart a romance, but at the same time a gritty war thriller.  Humphrey Bogart was well accustomed to playing the heavy, and did so well.  Ingrid Bergman did an excellent job playing the femme fatale, but by the time the show is over, one is hard pressed not to find Claude Rains’ portrayal of Captain Louis Renault to be the most compelling.

The plethora of one-liners definitely added to place Casablanca at the top of any “greatest” list, even 75 years later.  Near the end of the film, Rick and Louis are caught at the airport by Nazi SS Major Strasser.  Louis ends up shooting the Major.  As Louis’ troops rush up in response to the shot, Louis says hastily, “Major Strasser’s been shot.  Round up the usual suspects.”

It is important to note the film was released less than a year after the Pearl Harbor attack at a time when the question of who would be victorious was still a very open discussion.  Those viewing the movie most likely had fathers, brothers and sons fighting on a steaming, miserable island named Guadalcanal or on ships in the same theater.  Less than a month earlier (November 8) American soldiers and sailors took part in the landings of Operation Torch assaulting French North Africa.  This would include fighting the Nazis and the Vichy French (French sympathetic to or under the thumb of the Nazis.)  These battles would include Morocco and the Naval Battle of Casablanca between Allied, German and Vichy French naval forces.

All of this was the backdrop for the premiere of Casablanca.  How much more real, how much more emotion, must have been involved seeing it for the first time in 1942.

Evacuation Day

Today in History, November 25: 1783 –

After seven years of occupation, the last British troops depart New York City, three months after the Treaty of Paris was signed ending the American Revolutionary War.

At the outset of the war Gen. George Washington had wanted to fight to keep NYC, but after losing tactically to British forces, had to flee with his army in the dark of night. NY would remain in British hands throughout the war.

After the last British troops left, Gen. Washington entered the city to great fanfare from its citizens.

He would later be inaugurated as the first President in the city that would become the nation’s first capitol.

Tragedy on the 79th Floor 


Today in History, July 28: 1945 – A US Army Air Corps B-25 “Mitchell” bomber, lost in the fog over Manhattan, crashes into the Empire State Building. The same type aircraft had been utilized in the Doolittle Raid over Tokyo in 1942. The airplane had missed the Chrysler Building, but in diverting from impact with that skyscraper, turned into the Empire State Building, then the tallest building in the country. The aircraft’s high octane fuel severely damaged the structure, several of her parts landed on or in nearby buildings, and one of her engines caused an elevator to fall. the safety features in the elevator stopped it’s free-fall, and the woman occupying it was saved just before the engine landed upon it. All three crew members and 11 workers in the building were killed.