Tokyo Park Inspired Washington’s Cherry Trees

March 27, 2016 /
Ramble Under Cherry Trees, Takashima 1897

“No other flower in all the world is so beloved, so exalted, so worshipped, as sakura-no-hana, the cherry-blossom of Japan.” — Eliza Scidmore, The Century Magazine, May 1910 It’s now blooming season in Washington. That means cherry tree fever along the Tidal Basin in Potomac Park. The display offers our own “Mukojima on the Potomac,” as Eliza Scidmore envisioned it more than a century ago. She got the idea from the popular cherry tree park in Tokyo known by that name. Bruce and I made our annual pilgrimage to see the cherry blossoms on Saturday morning, under a clear but…

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Eliza Scidmore, ‘Downton Abbey’ and a Debutante

March 6, 2016 /

OK, fellow “Downtown Abbey” addicts. I managed to find a connection between the TV series and Eliza Scidmore, the subject of my book. The line runs through Cora Grantham, the American-born mistress of Downton Abbey. Julian Fellowes, the show’s writer, has said Cora represents American heiresses of the late 19th century who married into the British aristocracy. The press dubbed them “dollar princesses.” The most famous of them was Mary Leiter, who led a glamorous life as Lady Curzon. Her father, a wealthy merchant from Chicago, made a fortune in partnership with the department store mogul Marshall Field. Fellowes stressed…

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LibriVox Adds Scidmore Writing on Alaska

June 18, 2015 /
LibriVox NatGeoMag Vol. 5

Eliza Scidmore has made her debut on LibriVox, the free online service of audio books in the public domain. LibriVox has started adding back volumes of National Geographic, some containing articles by Scidmore. I discovered LibriVox a couple of years ago and am now a big fan. The selections consist of only older works — but so many! A lot of them are works I knew about and am happy to read for the first time, with access is so easy, and free. Some books by John Muir, for example, and by the British traveler Isabella Bird (a contemporary of…

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‘Pen Pal’ in Japan Aids My Book Research

December 17, 2014 /
Ichiro Fudai

This is Ichiro Fudai. We’ve never met. But he and I have corresponded online for many weeks, after he learned about my book project on Eliza Scidmore through a TV program that aired during my research trip to Japan in 2013. Ichiro, who has visited the United States and has an excellent command of English, lives in Japan’s Iwate Prefecture. He first contacted me about a connection to Eliza Scidmore’s story in his hometown of Hanamaki. A close friend of Eliza Scidmore late in her life, Inazo Nitobe, hailed from Hanamaki. Ichiro, a manager for the city and a keen…

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Robert Caro Stresses ‘Sense of Place’ in Biography

October 16, 2014 /
Robert Caro

There’s no greater master of biography writing today than Robert Caro. I recall being mightily impressed with his keynote speech at the 2011 conference of Biographers International Organization (BIO). So I’m grateful to Steve Weinberg, a journalist and biographer (and one of my former journalism profs at the University of Missouri), for flagging this article in The Daily Beast. It describes the evolution of Caro’s ground-breaking first book, on New York developer Robert Moses: The Power Broker’ Turns 40: How Robert Caro Wrote a Masterpiece. Caro’s keynote speech to BIO discussed the importance of place and setting in writing about…

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In Boston, Biographers and a Special Letter

June 15, 2014 /
BIO conference 2014 in Boston

Anyone writing life stories has a great resource in Biographers International Organization. The group began five years ago through the efforts of prize-winning author James McGrath Morris and others to provide collegiality and support in the often-long slog of writing biography. I’ve attended three of BIO’s annual conferences. They seem to get better every year, and I got a lot from this year’s gathering, held in Boston in May. Three colleagues from my book-writing group in Washington also attended.  While in Boston I did some research at the Boston Public Library. Serendipitously, I found a letter that helped me resolve…

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At 1876 World’s Fair, Scidmore and … Irish Oatmeal!

November 26, 2013 /
McCann Oatmeal

When you’re working on a book involving U.S. history, you see connections everywhere. The latest for me is steel-cut oats, which I love for their chewy nuttiness. Oatmeal really fuels you to start the day, without the hunger pangs I usually get around 11:00 when I have my other standard breakfast: Greek yogurt with berries and meusli. The only drawback is that old-fashioned oatmeal takes 30 minutes to cook. Waiting for the pot to boil a few days ago, I noticed an intriguing link to a chapter I’m working on for my biography of Eliza Scidmore. The steel-cut oats I…

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Marking the Anniversary of Eliza Scidmore’s Death

November 5, 2013 /
Eliza Scidmore Gravesite

November 3 was the anniversary of Eliza Scidmore‘s death. Today I received photos from Mina Ozawa and Kaoru Onji, who paid a visit to Scidmore’s gravesite in Yokohama. I met both woman last spring during a research trip to Japan. Together, they work to keep the memory of Eliza Scidmore alive through an annual memorial ceremony at her gravesite during cherry tree season in Japan. The somber tone of this autumn scene is a sharp contrast from the view I saw at the cemetery during my visit in April, when the overhanging cherry tree was in glorious bloom. Eliza Scidmore…

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Shut Out From the Library of Congress

October 2, 2013 /
Study desk Library of Congress

Bruce and I are now a 100-percent furloughed household. He’s in a “non-essential” federal job and thus on unofficial R&R. And here’s what the government shutdown looks like from my little spot in the universe. It’s my tiny “study desk” room at the Library of Congress, on the fifth floor of the Adams Building. I’ve spent tons of hours there, often working late into the evening doing research for my biography of Eliza Scidmore. Because the library is shuttered, the books I’ve had on reserve are off limits for the time being. No advance ordering of any more books online,…

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Eliza Scidmore Slept Here … and Here

July 28, 2013 /
Club Hotel Yokohama

In my research for a biography of Eliza Scidmore, I’ve tracked down various places where she stayed. She was quite a vagabond, so there were many. Some are pictured here (most are now demolished).   Atwood-Buck House, Madison, Wisconsin   Georgetown Visitation, Washington, D.C.   Steamer “Idaho,” Juneau, Alaska, 1887   Club Hotel, Yokohama, Japan   Brunswick Hotel, Boston   Shoreham Hotel, Washington, D.C.   1837 M St., N.W., Washington, D.C.   Stoneleigh Courts, Washington., D.C.   Foreign General Cemetery, Yokohama

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