In harrowing detail, the author details how 1910's "Big Burn" ravaged almost 3 million acres of national forest. The newly formed forest service triedIn harrowing detail, the author details how 1910's "Big Burn" ravaged almost 3 million acres of national forest. The newly formed forest service tried to control the fire abut failed. The fire wiped out towns, and hundreds of people were killed.
The book also details the history of the National Forest service and its first leader, Gifford Pinchot. Pinchot was the country's first national forester, but business interests in Congress vetoed efforts to provide the organization with proper funding and manpower. "Not one cent to scenery," said one senator.
Although Yellowstone National Park was established in 1872, much of the western woods were given "to commerce, to settlement, to profit." Pinchot, Teddy Roosevelt, John Muir and others wanted to save the land. According to Pinchot: "The earth, I repeat, belongs of right to all its people, and not to a minority, insignificant in numbers but tremendous in wealth and power."
Pinchot & TR, old friends, came up with the idea of conservation, and in the final weeks of Roosevelt's term, he issued a proclamation that added 16 million acres of land, in six states to the national forest system.
Pinchot falsely believed forest fires could be contained. In 1910, after a dry summer, the fire started. As the fire grew, smoke covered towns, and ash and embers rained down. Separate blazes combined into a firestorm that moved over 50 miles an hour, with tips of trees exploding.
As it grew and worsened, the small of force of forest rangers was augmented by the military, including the 25th Infantry, the Buffalo Soldiers (who proved the mettle fighting the Big Burn). Soon, the country called up additional help - miners, immigrants, even convicts; the effort eventually numbered 10,000 men.
There are horrifying passages of people getting burnt alive, trapped in towns, hiding in tunnels of stifling air amid dead bodies, people seeking shelter in shallow creeks as flaming trees fell upon them. Whole towns were wiped out (and some western "towns" were filled with saloons and prostitution; in one town 1 in 5 people was a hooker).
Many of those who made it out alive suffered severe burns, blindness, and scarred lungs. Shortly after the burn, the first rain and snow fell.
In the aftermath, clouds and soot drifted throughout the west, and soot even dropped over parts of New England. The government failed to pay many of the victims for their injuries, and even refused to build a proper cemetery for the worker's graves. But it also gained national attention to the plight of the forests and the forest service, and conservation became a national moral issue, and it also added concern for forests in the East, as well.
One of the main rangers - Pulaski, invented a tool that is still used by forest rangers. (And Pulaski and Pinchot are still thought of as the first forest ranger heroes).
Perry Baker, AKA Dr. Pierre Bernard, AKA the Great OOM. The book contends that he was one of the main people responsible for the 'birth' of hatha (phyPerry Baker, AKA Dr. Pierre Bernard, AKA the Great OOM. The book contends that he was one of the main people responsible for the 'birth' of hatha (physical) yoga in America. He was surely one of the American movement's seminal figures, and along the way ran a country club, founded a minor league baseball team, owned an airport and hobnobbed with the rich & famous.
Tantric and hatha yoga had fallen out of favor in India, but one follower of the traditional hatha yoga (Sylvais Hamati) came to the US in the late nineteenth century. He met and taught Perry Baker, and molded him into Pierre Bernard. Bernard adapted Hindu tantrism with his own philosophy.Tantrics believe in the purity of the human body, and from this came hatha yoga, the system of postures and breathing that is well known now. (Some tantrics utilize taboos - drugs, alcohol, sex - in their rituals.) Bernard was also influenced by the Transcendentalists (Emerson was familiar with Sanskrit literature) and the Theosophists.
Bernard became so adept at yoga breathing he illustrated the Death Trance in San Francisco, where he was able to have doctors inject needles into his flesh and show no emotion. In California he formed a cult-like group that mixed traditional yoga with some scandalous sexual practices, until he was essentially run out of town and moved to New York.
He believed that sex was not only natural but had the potential to be sacred, and blamed sexual problems (insufficient sex, celibacy, overdose) for 99% of divorces. "Until one has loved, the years are wasted."
In New York City he set up yoga clinics, was arrested when 2 teenage girls claimed he had abducted them (the charges were later dropped), and also had two Vanderbilt women befriend and financially support him.
He moved his operation to Nyack, where he created the sprawling Clarkstown Country Club, which would eventually house a library of 7000 books, one of the best Sanskrit libraries in america. The club mixed vigorous exercise (including baseball), diet, yoga, hard work, lectures and 'healthy living'; it was a truly American endeavor and became a major sport for the devoted, the curious, and the rich & famous. (Even Pete Seger's family went there).
He hosted elaborate dinners, parades, circuses (he owned several elephants), parties, and became a major figure in Nyack commerce and politics. in Nyack he built baseball stadiums, dog tracks, an airport, and became becoming president of the State Bank of Pearl River in 1931.
Was he responsible for the "birth" of yoga in America? There were others who were spreading the word before, during and after him. But at the time, his club was the only working yoga ashram in the US, and he was regular fodder for newspapers - both the scandals and the positive side. And many people he influenced went on to spread the word: his nephew later went to India and returned to the US and wrote an important book; actors came to Clarkstown and took yoga back to Hollywood.
All in all, a lively read on a little known figure in American history....more
Politicians and the media stoking up the public to wage war on a third world country? Imagine that.
This well written book details how Teddy RooseveltPoliticians and the media stoking up the public to wage war on a third world country? Imagine that.
This well written book details how Teddy Roosevelt, WR Hearst, Henry Cabot Lodge & others did all they could to lead the US into what's now known as the Spanish American War.
Some longed for war to prove their - and their country's - manliness; Hearst looked to sell more newspapers; others sought to make America an imperialist country.
Against the war were the mugwumps and William James, who said "Man is once and for all a fighting animal; centuries of peaceful history could not not breed the battle instinct out of us." He praised a different kind of courage, and longed for the country to engage in the "moral equivalent of war" - drating young people into The Peace Corps rather than the Army. President McKinley was also against the war, and was later burned in effigy after the Maine explosion.
Cuban rebels had longed sought independence from Spain, but feared US help would come with US control of their country.
250 men were killed when the Maine battleship exploded in a Cuban port, most likely due to a coal fire in hull - the coal bunker was next to the gunpowder magazine - this was really a design flaw, which was known but hidden.
Hearst published accounts of factual and non-factual accounts Spain's brutality in Cuba, as well as lurid accounts of Cuban women being raped by Spanish soldiers, including front page drawings of half naked women being examined. ("Yellow Journalism" comes from Hearst's newspaper, which had yellow tinted comics featuring the Yellow Kid.) Hearst sailed his yacht to Cuba and was in the thick of the fighting.
Hearst hired Frederick Remington to create illustrations of the war; Clara Barton was also in Cuba during the war.
In the war, Dewey led the naval battles in the Philippines, where the decks were sprinkled with sand so sailors wouldn't slip on their own blood. The US also fought in Puerto Rico.
But the US was unsure of what to do with the Philippine islands, and there herded civilians into wretched camps and even borrowed from the Spanish "the water cure" - pouring water down a prisoners mouth to simulate drowning.
Despite the fact that the war was supposedly fought for Cuban independence, no Cubans were allowed at the surrender ceremony, and afterward Cuba was ruled by a class tied to US interests. American troops were called in in 1902 and 1906 to quell civil unrest, and Cuban-American relations suffered for the next century.
To its credit the war helped unite North & South, 40 years after the wounds of the Civil War. It also forged an alliance of US and Britain, which has lasted to this day.
What a fascinating family. Bronson Alcott was a writer, thinker, educator, and idealist, while Louisa May was a proficient author. But this is as muchWhat a fascinating family. Bronson Alcott was a writer, thinker, educator, and idealist, while Louisa May was a proficient author. But this is as much a history of nineteen century America as it is a family biography, for they were close friends or associates of Thoreau, Emerson, Hawthorne, John Brown, Margeret Fuller, etc. ...more
What a great mix of politics (capital vs labor) , crime (dynamiting & murder) & entertainment (the birth of Hollywood). Fascinating charactersWhat a great mix of politics (capital vs labor) , crime (dynamiting & murder) & entertainment (the birth of Hollywood). Fascinating characters, an intriguing plot, and excellent writing. Blum truly makes history come alive.... ...more