Monday, June 30, 2008

On his cross-country trip in 1953, Harry Truman gave a speech at the Bellevue-Stratford Hotel in Philadelphia. The hotel is best known as the site of a 1976 American Legion convention at which more than 200 people were stricken with a mysterious pneumonia-like malady. More than thirty eventually died of the illness, which was attributed to a bacterium in the hotel’s air conditioning system. The illness has come to be known as Legionnaires’ Disease.

If, as Holiday Inn likes to say, the best surprise in the lodging business is no surprise, then the worst is probably death. Naturally the outbreak had a deleterious effect on business, and the Bellevue-Stratford was forced to close by the end of that year. Since then it had been bought and sold, opened and closed, and remodeled and renamed many times. In its present incarnation it is a combination upscale mall/office building/boutique hotel known simply as The Bellevue.

Last Thursday I went up to Philadelphia for the day and visited the Bellevue. The once-ornate lobby has been subdivided into shops, including a Polo Ralph Lauren and a Tiffany. But a few original details have been preserved. The Grand Ballroom, where Harry delivered his speech, is still there. So is this magnificent Tiffany stained-glass window:

In any event, I have completed the manuscript. Yesterday I submitted it to the publisher. Now I am on pins and needles waiting to hear what my editor thinks of it.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

It has been brought to my attention (thanks, Howard) that today is the 100th anniversary of the death of Grover Cleveland. I'm sure we all remember where we were when we first heard the news. Anyway, raise a glass tonight in memory of good old Stephen (his real first name). Better yet, raise two. But not consecutively.
I'm checking some facts in the book and need to find answers to the following questions:

1. What is Woodrow Wilson clutching in his right hand in his official White House portrait? (Click here to see it.)

2. Using the latest technology, how long does it take, on average, for a farmer to plow five acres?

More to follow, I'm sure...

Thursday, June 19, 2008

I’ve recently been researching the Korean War for my Truman book. Best I can tell, here’s what happened:

After World War II, Korea is divided, more or less arbitrarily, at the 38th parallel. Then, in 1950, the North (bad guys) invades the South (good guys) and captures Seoul. We send troops, re-take Seoul. North counterattacks, takes Seoul again. We counter-counterattack and take it back again. In 1953 a ceasefire is signed. The new border is pretty much the same as the old one. Everybody’s where they were when it all started, except a million people are dead, poor Seoul is in ruins, and Hollywood’s got plenty of fodder for a smashing sitcom.

Anyway, I thought it might be a good idea to visit the Korean War Memorial on the National Mall. So I did. It’s actually a rather nice memorial. It’s made up of 19 stainless steel statues of soldiers on patrol. There’s a long granite wall with the inscription “Freedom Is Not Free,” etched in one end. It really made me think. At least until this idiot started loudly jabbering away on his cell phone:

But I digress. I really think Harry Truman would like this memorial. It’s straightforward. It’s not abstract. Boy did Harry hate abstract art. “I dislike Picasso, and all the moderns – they are lousy,” he wrote. “Any kid can take an egg and a piece of ham and make more understandable pictures.”

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Click here to read a great article about the pros and cons of men going shirtless in public.

Oh wait - there are no pros.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Sorry I haven’t posted anything in a while. The book is due July 1 – two weeks from today! – so I’ve been busy with that. With nothing exciting to report, I thought you might enjoy watching this old TV commercial, which I found at the blog Fire Joe Morgan. It proves there really is something about an Aqua Velva man. Something odd and slightly creepy.

Friday, June 06, 2008

On Judge Mathis today, the defendant explained why he punched the plaintiff thusly:

"He was garnishing a knife!"

Thursday, June 05, 2008

I’m stuck in the Indianapolis airport, hoping to catch a flight back to Washington, but everything’s messed up because of bad weather in the Midwest.

I came here to do some last-minute research for the book. Yesterday I visited the hotel that Harry and Bess stopped at in Richmond, Indiana. It’s a retirement home now, and while I was there I gave a presentation about the trip. It was attended by seven residents, two of whom dozed intermittently throughout. Still, I thought I did a pretty good job.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Great quote on the reality TV show "The Mole" tonight: A contestant bragging about his powers of recall said, "I have a photogenic memory."