A Scidmore Story Link in My Ohio Hometown

September 14, 2012 /
Rufus Dawes

How seductive historical research can be. You start out looking for one thing and end up down a rabbit hole that takes you along a path to some other delightful connection. I’ve just encountered that while researching the Civil War record of Eliza Scidmore’s older half-brother, Edward P. Brooks. Soon after the shelling of Fort Sumter and President Lincoln’s call for 75,000 Union volunteers in April 1861, Edward Brooks joined the 6th Wisconsin  Volunteer Infantry Regiment. The men left Madison in July and spent the first six months on guard duty in Washington. They camped for a while at Arlington…

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Mayborn Conference Gives Me Biography Fellowship

August 31, 2012 /

Last month at the Mayborn Literary Nonfiction Conference in Grapevine, Texas, I received the organization’s annual fellowship in biography. The award provides an “emerging biographer” with writing time during a short-term residency in the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, north of Santa Fe, N.M. I’ll be working on my biography of Eliza Scidmore. The best part of the prize is a period of mentoring by the prize-winning biographer James McGrath Morris. Jamie sponsors the award along with his wife, Patty. They make a casita adjacent to their house available to the fellowship winners. Besides supporting this fellowship, Jamie…

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Reading at ‘New Mercury’ Series in Baltimore

July 6, 2012 /

Last Saturday night I read, along with three other nonfiction writers, at the Windup Space in Baltimore as part of the monthly New Mercury Readings series. Many thanks to Deborah Rudacille and John Barry for inviting me. I read from my book in progress on Eliza Scidmore, describing some scenes from her 1883 journey aboard the steamship Idaho when it visited Glacier Bay. Reading aloud is a great way to hear the rhythm and storytelling qualities of a piece of writing. Getting to Baltimore turned out to be a frantic experience after the intense storm that hit the Washington area…

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Andrew Carnegie, Libraries and D.C. History

June 27, 2012 /
Carnegie Library D.C.

Last week the Library of Congress held a seminar on Andrew Carnegie‘s legacy of establishing public libraries in the United States and other countries, beginning in the late 19th century. About 1,600 were built in the United States. One of them is at Mount Vernon Square in Washington. Today it houses the Historical Society of Washington, D.C., and affiliated Kiplinger Research Library, where I found useful information for my biography of Eliza Scidmore.      At a reception there this month, I met up with Stephen H. Grant, a fellow member of the Washington Biography Group. He’s writing a book…

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Guest Blogging on Eliza Scidmore at ‘Viral History’

March 28, 2012 /
Geishas Tea Ceremony NGS

Ken Ackerman, the author of books on J. Edgar Hoover, “Boss” Tweed and other larger-than-life characters, writes a blog on people, politics and the world, Viral History. He offered me space today to write about Eliza Scidmore while the cherry trees are in bloom. Visit his blog and check out my post.  

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Happy Birthday, D.C. Cherry Trees!

March 26, 2012 /
Yukio Ozaki Tidal Basin

The cherry trees are blooming, and Washington is now celebrating a very special event: the centennial of its first trees donated by Japan. On March 27, 2012, First Lady Helen Taft stood by the Tidal Basin and planted the first of 3,000 flowering cherry trees sent from the mayor of Tokyo. The Japanese ambassador’s wife planted the second one. Eliza Scidmore, one of the few people present that day, watched her dream come true after nearly three decades. Read my article about it at National Geographic’s “News Watch.”

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Cherry Tree Planting in March 1912 Shaped Public Face of Washington, D.C.

March 26, 2012 /
Helen Taft motoring

From NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC SOCIETY NEWSROOM Originally posted March 26, 2012, on National Geographic Voices Blog (Under the transition to Disney partnership in 2020, National Geographic removed previous blog content by contributors. The article below is copied as it appeared on the site.) The cherry trees are blooming in Washington. Tuesday, March 27, 2012, marks 100 years since First Lady Helen Taft and the Japanese ambassador’s wife, Viscountess Iwa Chinda, planted the first two trees. No photographs of the event exist, and newspaper accounts were sketchy. But historical records offer a picture of what happened that day and how it came…

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Quoted as ‘Scidmore Scholar’ by Washington Post

March 14, 2012 /

The Washington Post published a special supplement today spotlighting the 100th anniversary of the city’s Japanese cherry trees. Reporter Michael Ruane quoted me at length in his very good article about Eliza Scidmore. She’s finally getting her due, after being overlooked for a very long time.  

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Smithsonian Has Scidmore Photo Collection

March 8, 2012 /
Chilkat Wome Scidmore photo

Remember back in the ’60s and ’70s when travel was such a big deal that everyone took hundreds of slides? And insisted on sharing them. As you sat for what seemed like hours watching poorly cropped and focused images projected on a white sheet hung across a wall in the living room. Today, with cellphones, digital cameras, TV shows and relatively cheap air fares, we’re all so jaded about the wonders of distant places. In Eliza Scidmore‘s day, travel was still exotic. The Smithsonian’s National Anthropological Archives has a collection of photos and lantern slides she took during her travels.…

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At National Geographic, Scidmore Photos and Samurai

March 7, 2012 /
Rice worker NGS

Photographs from Eliza Scidmore‘s days in Japan are going on display at the National Geographic Society in Washington starting today. The exhibit is twinned with an exhibit on samurai. Included are two dozen hand-colored photos from the early 1900s, which the National Geographic attributes to Eliza Scidmore. Some were published in National Geographic; others are from the Society’s archives and have never been shown before. Proper labeling of photo credits was a murky practice a century ago. So it’s not clear which photos Eliza Scidmore might have taken herself and which she acquired from professional photographers or studios. Scidmore was…

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