One More Book

Selected essays from Bruce E. Mowday:

America’s Lost History
Who is this William Penn?
Will anyone remember Bayard Taylor?
What is trench art?

For anyone remotely connected to Pennsylvania the question seemed absurd. “Who is this William Penn?”

The young man was serious. I met him at the Downingtown Farmers Market on a recent Saturday morning. Don Ervine, owner of Tally Ho Coffee, introduced us. Don and the man, who recently moved to the area, were talking history and Don thought I might enjoy joining the conversation.

The young man was schooled in Connecticut and said he was taught very little about the settling and the founding of the nation other than what took place in New England. To his credit he professed an interest in delving into the nation’s past. In his defense Don indicated the man was not born in the United States.

If William Penn is fading from history, what about Bayard Taylor? The connection between Penn and Taylor came earlier this week as I was working on a book on Gettysburg with Craig Caba, who controls the fabulous J. Howard Wert Gettysburg collection. Wert, who was involved in the Battle of Gettysburg and collected priceless items from the battle and other important events in American history, was friends with Taylor, an internationally acclaimed writer in the mid-19th century. Taylor’s brother was killed during the Battle of Gettysburg.

When I told Craig of the movement to take Bayard Taylor’s name off the Kennett Square library, Craig was appalled. Taylor was one of the nation’s leading men of letters, Craig pointed out. If William Penn is lost to history will Taylor be far behind if his name is wiped from the library’s title?

My third thought on America’s lost history came on Thursday during a discussion with antiques dealer David Taylor. We talked about the waning lack of interest in historical items and how the antiques trade has suffered in the last two decades. People don’t value historical items.

Dave said he had to close his shop outside of Kennett Square several years ago because he couldn’t sell enough items to pay his one employee, let along other fixed costs. One item he specifically mentioned was trench art. He said at one time trench art – art crafted by soldiers during a time of war – was highly collected. The articles told a lot about the feelings of the common soldier. If the art isn’t valued it will be discarded.

The United States is losing sight of its past and we are suffering in so many ways.

Bruce Mowday
September 4, 2015

The History Books Are Closed

School’s out! Another school year has passed and the history books are closed.

Were the history books even opened? Just what was taught in our schools about our history?

The answers to those two questions will be different, depending on individual schools in the area. My conclusion is based on my experiences in the past month or so speaking to home school and middle school students in Lancaster and Chester counties, Boy Scouts and book talks and signings in Maryland, Pennsylvania and Delaware.

The teachers and administration at the Swift Middle School in Quarryville put on a great program by inviting several volunteers with knowledge of the Civil War to talk and demonstrate aspects of one of the most important events of our nation’s history. Groups of students spent 20 minutes with a volunteer and then proceeded to the next one. By the hand-written notes I received, the day had a positive impact. The principal also agreed. The school also had a field trip planned to Gettysburg which was a bonus for the students.

Learning local history is also important and the Coatesville Area School District invited me to speak at all three middle schools on the history of the city. Coatesville is celebrating its centennial as a city. By the questions asked, students were interested in the local history. The best comment came from a teacher who said a student became interested in reading because of a history book.

The home school parent wanted history of Downingtown and I spent a delightful morning with them walking around borough streets. The Boy Scouts asked me to talk about the Civil War battle of Antietam in the days preceding their visit to the site.

Now, for some not so good comments from teachers.

During a book signing in Delaware I had a chance to talk to a teacher from the Wilmington area. Little or no history is taught in those schools as budget cutbacks have wiped history from the classrooms. At a Pennsylvania book signing a teacher from a suburban Philadelphia district commented wars and battles are not taught because they are not politically correct.

As a country we are in trouble if classrooms are not teaching the history of our country. There is no way to instill the values of the Constitution or to explain the foundation of our country and government without the teaching of history.

Closed history books are a big problem.

Bruce Mowday
June 15, 2015

Concise Writing

“Is that all you have Mr. President?”

The question was reportedly asked of President Abraham Lincoln after he gave his famous Gettysburg Address on November 19, 1863. Lincoln replied in the positive. His few appropriate remarks lasted about two minutes and was delivered after Edward Everett talked for more than two hours. Of course Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address has had a powerful impact on American history while Everett’s address is mostly forgotten.

Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address came to mind after a conversation I had with a friend last week. The friend quoted a popular historian/author who said writing concisely is difficult but one usually gets more information from a tightly written book than a volume that comprises a thousand pages.

You can’t judge a book by its cover or its title. I’m reading a book about Lincoln and the title indicated the book is about Lincoln’s relationship with the media. I was intrigued by the subject but the author so far has recounted the history of the United States in detail during the early 1800’s. Good research and writing but the minutia, for me, has his buried the message promised in the title.

Two weeks ago I was in Washington, D.C., for celebrations of the 150th anniversary of Lincoln’s second inauguration address. In the speech Lincoln made famous the phrase “with malice towards none and with charity for all.” The address has been called the second most famous political speech in American history because it addressed reconciliation with the South and was delivered as the Civil War was concluding. The whole speech was only several hundred words.

Some time ago I had a talk with a fellow author who asked about the word count of a recent book. She expressed surprise because in her world of self-publishing the length of my manuscript wouldn’t support a proper binding. Authors shouldn’t be writing to fill pages. Authors should be researching, writing and succinctly delivering a message.

Concise writing is difficult but effective.

Bruce Mowday
March 23, 2015