MOMENT OF SILENCE

May 30, 2016

By Arthur H. Gunther III
ahgunther@hotmail.com

When my double Great-Grandfather Robert Wilhelm Guenther left Appomattox and then his mustering-out as a Union soldier in June 1865, he accomplished the greatest feat of his four-year “career” — he survived.
So many of his comrades did not — in the First and Second Battles of Bull Run, the defense of Washington, D.C., Chancellorsville, Gettysburg and other fights for the independent light and heavy artillery of the three New York State regiments records seem to have Robert serving in, 1861-1865.
Except for an uncle — Winfield — who lost three fingers in the Battle of the Huertgen Forest in World War II, my direct line of Gunthers has not suffered harm or the ultimate sacrifice in any war since the family left Prussia about 1850. That means we do not have that certain mourning so deep within, especially on Memorial Day.
I — we in the family — can and do show added respect on Veterans Day for Uncle Winnie, yes, but the true Memorial Day has been left to those Spring Valley, N.Y., and other families we grew up with whose thoughts surely moved away from the annual parades, the flags, the political speeches, the decorated bicycles kids used to ride.
We have all seen the gold stars moms and dads hung in their front windows when a child — and the grownup is always a child, even in death in war — does not ever, ever, come home. But back in the heart he (she) is, tucked in emotionally even if the physical can never happen again in that upstairs bedroom.
We all know that no mother ever feels the same again, no father, no sibling. Communities may regain their daily rhythm. World War II and other honor rolls may be removed and permanent memorials placed in public parks. New young are born, parents pass on, the village changes. There are more Memorial Day parades, and, sadly, more mothers, especially mothers whose pangs of loss are as acute, more so actually, than that in childbirth and directly tied, forever now, to that life-altering moment.
So, this Memorial Day is not for recalling Civil War or other war survivors. That respect comes on Veterans Day. This is Memorial Day, and we who still stand, we who have no family connection to ultimate sacrifice, must find a moment of silence before the barbecue is lit, the pool attacked, the time off from work happens.

THE ST. GEORGE ROUND TABLE

May 23, 2016

By Arthur H. Gunther III
ahgunther@hotmail.com

A shiny new hotel has opened in Nyack, N.Y., a Hudson River village that for decades was the work home of newspaper stiffs like me. I hope The Time Nyack enjoys success, but I wish today’s media had added color to press reports of its opening.
Though Nyack now has three hotels/motels — The Time, the West Gate Inn and Super 8 Nyack — it once boasted the St. George on Burd Street, up just a bit from the docks and the ferry to Tarrytown. The longtime hotel, one of a number in what was once a summer resort town, was next to one of the homes of the Nyack Evening Journal, precursor of the original Journal-News in Rockland County, N.Y., for which I toiled 1964-2006, and catacorner to The Nyack Star, an early 1900s competitor. Therein lie many of the stories born of the old St. George.
Once there was a ritual in newspapers that brought scribes, compositors, printers, editors, photogs, even the lowly copy boys who often later proved the genius of the profession to the brass rail for a drink or two or maybe too much. Long before the Hi-Ho tavern offered “high mass” after deadline for we stiffs, often at no or little cost, there was the St. George. You didn’t have far to go from the office.
Competing newspapermen and women shared war stories (there are tales like that even in the sticks). These ink-stained wretches also likely explained the plots of the novels most of them were meaning to write but never would.
An assortment of Damon Runyonesque characters, not unlike those at Dorothy Parker’s famed Algonquin Round Table in 1920s New York City,  would hit the bar at the St. George over its many decades, especially in the 1900s until about 1940. Two such people were Charlie MacArthur, Helen Hayes’ husband, who lived up on Broadway, and Ben Hecht, his fellow Chicago newspaper pal from Upper Nyack. These two had already written the bible play of the profession — “The Front Page” (1928) — and staged the Broadway production (later there were famous movie versions) at the old Nyack Women’s Institute, now part of Nyack College. Pals forged in the brotherhood of the street beat, they bought houses not far from one another in MacArthur’s hometown and now lie for eternity at Oak Hill Cemetery. One can only guess at their many conversations off the St. George rail.
At least one president slept at the St. George, and it was the stepping-off point for  local Suffragettes lobbying Albany. During World War I, before American entry, part of the St. George hosted a passport factory and spy ring for the Germans, according to a piece by John Patrick Schutz in the January 2, 2011, online Nyack News&Views.

Reported Schutz: “The German high command realized it needed spies in the USA. They also needed to find a way to get thousands of experienced sailors and officers back from Hoboken and onto German naval vessels. German and Austrian nationals and ex-pats formed a spy ring with offices in Chelsea using the engine rooms of the impounded liners in Hoboken to make fire bombs and germ-warfare canisters of tetanus, meningitis and hoof-and-mouth disease. The communications branch of the spy ring and a faked U.S. passport factory were located in the St. George Hotel in Nyack. And who was the head of this very sophisticated ring? Johann Heinrich Count von Bernstorff, no less than the German Ambassador to the United States.”
Wonder if any of my fellow ink-stained wretches picked up on that story, or were the drinks too many?
When I walk in Nyack these days, I am always pulled to Burd Street, to the echoes of the St. George, as much as I am to 53 Hudson Ave, where the great presses churned at deadline in the birth of another daily edition. Lucky stiffs, we.

  The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached via ahgunther@hotmail.com. This essay may be reproduced.

STILLNESS AT WEIDEN

May 16, 2016

By Arthur H. Gunther III

ahgunther@yahoo.com

Weiden, Germany — On a recent walk here in the centuries-old farmland of this Bavarian region while visiting family, I came upon a war memorial, a bit worn and not as cared for as when it was dedicated perhaps 20 years ago. Such remembrances often suffer that fate because life moves on, and the “now” is for the living.

Every town in every nation has a war memorial, if only in the books of the churches, synagogues, mosques or in family Bibles. Somehow, lists are made, notations entered, prayers said, heads bowed, and then daily tasks take over. Life moves on.

And it has in Weiden, a small, prosperous community in prosperous Bavaria, not far from Munich or the large World War II Wehrmacht and First World War Bavarian Army training bases, some held — still — by the U.S. military. Neatly kept homes surround the platz or town square with its ancient buildings, people go about their work matter-of-factly, and there is a hum that contents. Residents enjoy strolling in the square, shopping, eating. The sounds of war are so very distant now, and generations are removed from its horror.

Who can argue against that? Certainly the war dead would have wanted such living, having sacrificed for it.

Yet on my quiet walk, which is the best walk, passing winter straw in fields just like those in my boyhood in Rockland County, N.Y., listening for the freight train so easily heard in the stillness, looking at barns that survived bombing, the Weiden war memorial seemed at once out of place. It seemed an intrusion in that bucolic scene. But quick quilt took over, and I walked to a block of stone on which appeared the  names of the men — young mostly — of Der Erste Weltkrieg (First World War). I read the many names with reverence, as you must do, and then looked at an even bigger column of  names from the Der Zweite Weltkrieg, the second world war.  It was then that I stood without any movement, for a very long moment. I stared at one family name, a family which had lost three men in 1914-1918 and then seven in 1939-1945. Ten gone. One family.

Walking back to my son’s temporary home in Weiden (his wife is a U.S. Army physician posted to the base at Grafenwohr), I glanced at a very old farmstead and wondered if one of those first three German men had dressed field horses with plowing harness or had wrestled with each other in the hay. Did their fathers or sons or uncles do the same just before 1939? Had any of them seen the winter straw or heard the far-off train whistles in those quiet moments of boyhood?

And in America, in any small town, in Rockland County, in France, England, Allied nations, Axis countries, did those young people whose names now stand out on war memorials do any of the things you do in peaceful times? And what of the civilian casualties, especially those in the Holocaust?

  “I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can, only as one who has seen its brutality, its futility, its stupidity.”

– General Dwight D. Eisenhower

     The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached at ahgunther@hotmail.com This essay may be reproduced.

FAMILIAR SHADOWS

By Arthur H. Gunther III

ahgunther@hotmail.com

Even if people once in our lives have left us or we them, or if circumstances — changes — took them away, there is certainty in familiar shadows, a feeling more than apparition actually, that besides you is the person long gone.

You may be walking down a childhood street where you haven’t been for quite a while, looking at old, tan-colored sidewalks you are sure you trod, as did your parents, grandparents, friends, classmates, so many others. If you are not on the smartphone and perhaps just a little bit into a daydream, you will see her, or him or them on those sidewalks — familiar shadows. Perhaps you then have a chuckle or a recalled conversation or the faint memory of a happening way back. Nice visit.

Maybe you are in a public building — a theater — or on a playing field, and you glance up at the scoreboard or screen and remember a familiar place and its people. In that instant, decades can be removed, and you can almost hear the sounds of that time, smell it, feel it and recall those you knew.

Familiar shadows come to us in dreams, of course, almost as when you lived with those people. Old banter, even argument, certainly feelings can take place as if the subconscious was the real deal, not waking life.

You can be talking to someone today, when, without tip-off, a familiar person appears in thought or as shadow on that part of that particular couch.

Surely in our increasingly busy lives when sound bites and word bites are the staccato background for multiple tasking, there isn’t much time to chill, to hang out with familiar shadows. But here’s the thing: Sometimes they don’t give you a choice, and they just pull you away. Such moments can be heartwarming, reaffirming.

The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached at ahgunther@hotmail.com As always, this essay may be reproduced.

SI BARBER’S LOOK AT ‘TRUE’ ROYALTY

Rose Queen of Hale, Leoni Topping with consort Denby. "She was driven through the village in an open top classic car. Seventy children followed behind in an open top bus and Rosebuds travelled in a trailer."

Rose Queen of Hale, Leoni Topping with consort Denby.
“She was driven through the village in an
open top classic car. Seventy children
followed behind in an open top bus and
Rosebuds travelled in a trailer.”

May 1, 2016

By Arthur H. Gunther III

ahgunther@hotmail.com

Americans share a “document of intent” with our British cousins. For our former royal mother country, it is the 1215 Magna Carta, which actually was reissued, modified and was more relevant to the rights of 13th century barons than those of the common man. The American version is the combined 1776 Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights and the Constitution, all of which are closer to protection of the ordinary citizen than the Carta but really not written for the inclusive common man and certainly not in that time for women. Yet the “intent” of each of these shared-roots documents, British and American, have come to be popularized as the mission statement for democracy. As President Franklin D. Roosevelt put it in his 1941 Inaugural Address, “The democratic aspiration is no mere recent phase in human history . . . It was written in Magna Carta.”

The translation today is that democracy derives from the people, even if in 1215 and 1776 the people were not the ordinary folk. If democracy works  — and America is still trying to get it right despite this scary presidential election — then the people rule in equality or at least move closer to that goal, “ordinary democracy.”

There is an Englishman I know who passionately believes in such democracy and who has published a book to celebrate it. It is by gifted photographer Si Barber and is titled “Queens of Lesser Realms, English Folk & Carnival Royalty.”

(“Sometimes secular, sometimes affiliated with the church or local industry, the carnival queen has been a feature of English rural life since the Medieval times, their appearance often marking the high point of summer, just before the harvest and the highlight of the agricultural year,” as the press release for the book notes.)

Si, a lensman who prefers to work in film not digital format, a challenge in itself, has proven to be an astute observer of humanity.  He has covered 12,000 miles of England to find “Queens of lesser realms by virtue of their nobility, wisdom and courage,”  and in doing so has celebrated community spirit and, so, what the common man and woman does and does so well. (Sounds like the modern interpretation of the Magna Carta.)

The author notes that the book was “curated in the 90th year of the birth of Her Majesty Elizabeth the Second. …” It is a “photographic gazetteer concerning certain notable persons of the English carnival & traditional festival, their associates & celebrant.”

Here we view many pretty women, such as the “Queen of Long Itchington, Elisha Thorne Bowmaster,” a carnival royal in 2014 with crown, the British flag and gay balloons. There is “The Coronation of Queen Aimee Bridgett of Newark,” who rides in a float. And “May Princess of Skegby, Jasmine Hannant,” representing a village where residents have organized a fair to re-ignite lost community spirit.

There is even an “Arthritis Gala Queen” (Shannon-Chelsey Kennedy), who stands proud amidst the red, white and blue. Barber, who has added witty and affectionate captions to each photograph, notes, “You can choose to blame your circumstances on fate or bad luck or bad choices. Or you can fight back.”

There are 100 well-shot, un-posed images in fine reproduction in this book, with locations such as Sutton on Sea in Lincolnshire, Northamptonshire, Kent, Essex and Greater London. The book is already in the British Library and is sure to be future reference since it documents disappearing tradition and related charity.

Barber, who hails from King’s Lynn, Norfolk, has put together images of what may be a vanishing England as “Queens of Lesser Realms” announces the “survival of local ‘royalty’ ” amid the “distractions of the iPhone.” The book is the result of a more than three-year journey across 42 English counties to find the “participants in the ancient and often overlooked rituals of English country life.”

When you look at the images of these women, children and some men in Barber’s book, you will not see the proclaimed English royalty, no more than traveling across America will you meet just the rich and powerful. The essence of a democracy is in its people, its truly ordinary folk who are actually extraordinary in their existence.

Si Barber has chosen to celebrate the real value of the Magna Carta, its evolved “intent,”  by hailing English county tradition. Long live the queens and kings of that realm!

(“Queens of Lesser Realms” is published by Eye Ludicrous, ISBN 978-1-78280-737-7. Contact Si at mail@sibarber.co.uk)

 

The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached via ahgunther@hotmail.com This essay may be reproduced.