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Henry Ward Beecher and the love triangle that gripped the public in the 1870s

If your emotions we’re caught up in the swirl surrounding Meghan and Harry . . . If your feelings were buffeted by the off-again on-again relationship of J.Lo and A-Rod . . . Then you should have been alive in the 1870s when public domestic squabbles were very good. A few weeks ago in this […]

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The first man in space, a controversial Union advocate, and possibly reviving the Verse and Vision videos: newsletter, April 23, 2021

This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,374) on Friday, April 23, 2021. The ongoing fight to make public records public traditionally has been led by state press associations and independent members of the news media. As such, it has been viewed by state legislators and the public at large as self-serving. […]

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Rose Dugdale and the stolen Vermeer

Rose Dugdale’s life, in the 1950s and 1960s, seemed to be on a straight path of privilege, success, and accomplishment. Dugdale had been born in 1941 to an upper-class family in Great Britain. She spent her early years on vast ancestral estates and grew up to be a beautiful and pleasant young lady. When she […]

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Yuri Gagarin, the first human in space 60 years ago this month

Sixty years ago this month, a Russian named Yuri Gagarin shocked the world by leaving it – and then returning 108 minutes later. Gargarin, a Russian cosmonaut, became the first human to escape the earth’s bounds by blasting into space aboard a Soviet Vostok spacecraft on April 12, 1961. Prior to the Soviet announcement of […]

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Millions of Cats, Passing notes, the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, and more on Opening Day: newsletter, April 2, 2021

This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,369) on Friday, April 2, 2021.     The 2019 college admissions scandal that resulted in the indictments of more than 50 people — most of them the well-off and well-intentioned parents of college-aged children — was based on an idea that many people carry […]

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1940s lady

The first of the modern female reporters, Handel’s revival, baseball’s Opening Day: newsletter, March 26, 2021

This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,374) on Friday, March 26, 2021. Some of the best news of the week concerns one of my favorites: libraries. The recent stimulus bill passed by Congress and signed by President Joseph Biden contains $200 million to aid public libraries. That amount sounds like a lot, […]

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Coleridge and his Rime, Hastings and his impeachment, and the messy path toward the 20th amendment: newsletter, March 19, 2021

This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,381) on Friday, March 19, 2021. The phrase “spring planting” denotes more than just an activity for me. It’s a season. Lots of things happen. Yes, I get to literally dig into my garden with unbounded ambition that should be tempered by experience — but […]

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Warren Hastings, the guy caught in the middle

What do the British East India Company and the second impeachment trial of Donald Trump have to do with each other? To answer that question, we need to take a quick romp through 500 years of history with a short side trip to Boston. The man caught in the middle of all of this is […]

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Thaddeus Stevens, the unsung hero of racial equality

To look at Thaddeus Stevens’ picture, you don’t see a political hero. You see a rough face perched on an unusually large and protruding lower lip. He appears to have a permanent frown etched on his visage, like he hasn’t enjoyed a joke since he was about six years old. Stevens was played masterfully by […]

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Spy novels with a dash of humor and irony, an advocate of racial equality in the 19th century, and the results of denying readers: newsletter, March 12, 2021

This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,392) on Friday, March 12, 2021.   One of the writing roles that I have never pictured myself fulfilling is that of a memoirist. Tell other people’s stories, I would say to my journalism students, not your own. Your job is to write about other people, not yourself. I […]

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America’s first female presidential candidate, the passing of musical legends, and another Heads and Tales podcast:newsletter, February 19, 2021

  Those of us who have accumulated lots of birthdays have the privilege of looking back across the years with a certain level of bemusement and objectivity. The half-century point is always a good marker, and for the past few weeks, I have been thinking about my life a half-century ago. It was a significant […]

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Victoria Woodhull, our first female presidential candidate, spent election night in jail

Victoria Woodhull, on the night of November 5, 1872, should have been at home with her husband and family or possibly somewhere with friends and companions. It was the evening of the presidential election of 1872, and Woodhull had a special interest in its outcome. During that campaign, Woodhull had been the first female presidential […]

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Ben Franklin’s method of making friends out of enemies

The highest compliment that you can give someone is not to make a public knowledge moment of their appearance or of their talents and accomplishments. Even when sincerely given, words of this nature are shallow, cheaply rendered, and temporary. They may also be disputed. No, the highest compliment comes with words such as, “I need […]

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Elizabeth I, England’s great failure as a monarch. Really?

You may have grown up thinking – if you thought about it at all – that Elizabeth I of England was one of the Great British monarchs in the history of the kingdom. After all, she reigned for nearly 45 years during the age of Shakespeare and the flowering of the English language. By clever diplomacy, she kept […]

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The Sherlock Holmes look, Elizabeth I’s mediocrity, Heads and Tales, and Highsmith at 100: newsletter, February 5, 2021

This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,401) on Friday, February 5, 2021.     The ability to learn is one of our highest values. Gathering facts and information and marrying them to our previous knowledge and experience is the essence of what it means to be human. But what about our […]

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Heads and Tales, my new book; Arséne Lupin and his creator; the man who first burned Washington; newsletter, January 29, 2021

This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,480) on Friday, January 29, 2021.   This pandemic and the necessary isolation that it has caused forced us all to change our habits, particularly our ways of socialization. Every organization that I know of has had to change the way it conducts its business […]

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The man who sacked Washington, D.C. – and feared the letter ‘c’

From all accounts, Admiral Sir George Cockburn (properly pronounced co – burn) was a courageous, though often flamboyant, warrior for the British admiralty. The only thing that he really feared, apparently, was the letter “c.” Cockburn led the British forces that sailed up the Chesapeake Bay in August 1814, landed at Benedict, Maryland, and marched northward. His battle-experienced and […]

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Heads and Tales: Caricatures and Stories of the Famous, the Infamous, and the Just Plain Interesting

My latest literary and artistic efforts are coming to fruition in the next couple of weeks with the publication of a new book: Heads and Tales: Caricatures and Stories of the Famous, the Infamous, and the Just Plain Interesting. The book will be in paperback and ebook form, but it will be accompanied by something else: a podcast […]

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Picturing the inauguration for the first time

Presidential inaugurations have taken place in America every four years since 1789 when George Washington first took the oath of office, but it was more than 50 years after that event that the public saw a news image and got an idea of what an inauguration really looks like. That image, however, was not seen first by Americans. […]

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Charles Lindbergh

Unity and the lack thereof – American style

In the immediate aftermath of political campaigns, the winner (and sometimes even the loser) appeals for “unity,” which often means in real-speak, “I want you to agree with me now that I am in power.” Such appeals, possibly well-meant, rarely have much effect on either supporters or opponents. But it sounds good, and it’s expected. […]

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