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American Heritage MagazineApril/May 2006    Volume 57, Issue 2
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Moving On

Thoughts on Travel From Jefferson to the Grateful Dead

In 1997 Penguin Books published the American Heritage Dictionary of American Quotations. Assembled by Margaret Miner and Hugh Rawson (who writes our “Why Do We Say …?” column), it immediately proved an invaluable resource to the editors here and, when not being consulted in the line of duty, a great pleasure just to read around in. Now the dictionary is back in a revised and enlarged edition, having shed our banner in favor of Oxford’s, alas, but nonetheless as stimulating and engrossing a reference book as you are likely to find. Here, to mark our current issue, are some of the entries under “Travel” from The Oxford Dictionary of American Quotations.

[Traveling] makes men wise but less happy.

—Thomas Jefferson, letter to Peter Carr, 1787

No man should travel until he has learned the language of the country he visits. Otherwise he voluntarily makes himself a great baby—so helpless and so ridiculous.

—Ralph Waldo Emerson, Journal, 1833

I love to sail forbidden seas, and land on barbarous coasts.

—Herman Melville, Moby-Dick, 1851

Generally speaking, a howling wilderness does not howl; it is the imagination of the traveler that does.

—Henry David Thoreau, The Maine Woods, 1864

Afoot and light-hearted I take to the open road,
Healthy, free, the world before me
The long brown path before me leading wherever I choose.

—Walt Whitman, “Song of the Open Road,” in Leaves of Grass, 1855.

In our time the poet Louis Simpson asked:
Where are you, Walt? / The Open Road goes to the used-car lot.

—“Walt Whitman at Bear Mountain Bridge,” 1963

I can wish the traveller no better fortune than to stroll forth in the early evening with as large a reserve of ignorance as my own.

—Henry James, “A Summer in Europe,” published in The Nation, 1872

To forget pain is to be painless; to forget care is to be rid of it; to go abroad is to accomplish both.

—Mark Twain, letter to Dr. John Brown, 1876

I have discovered that most of the beauties of travel are due to the strange hours we keep to see them.

—William Carlos Williams, “January Morning: ‘Suite,’” in Al Que Quiere!, 1917

My heart is warm with friends I make,
And better friends I’ll not be knowing;
Yet there isn’t a train I wouldn’t take,
No matter where it’s going.

—Edna St. Vincent Millay, “Travel,” in Second April, 1921

Winter is coming and tourists will soon be looking for a place to mate.

—Will Rogers, “Daily Telegram,” October 27, 1932.

Tourists bothered Rogers. He wrote to President Calvin Coolidge from Europe in 1926: “We, unfortunately, don’t make a good impression collectively. . . . There ought to be a law prohibiting over three Americans going anywhere abroad together.”

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

—T. S. Eliot, Four Quarters: Little Gidding, 1940

I rather expect that from now on I shall be travelling north until the end of my days.

—E. B. White, Stuart Little, 1945

What a long, strange trip it’s been.

—The Grateful Dead, “Truckin’,” words by Robert Hunter, first performed August 18, 1970


 

Why do we say “G.I.”?

By Hugh Rawson

Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s surgeon, Col. Roger O. Egeberg, stepped on a semantic land mine when he casually referred to MacArthur’s troops as G.I.s. The general immediately exploded: “Don’t ever do that in my presence… . G.I. means ‘general issue.’ Call them soldiers.” It seems safe to assume that Colonel Egeberg never made that mistake again.

Today, of course, most people use G.I. approvingly when referring to enlisted personnel. (But beware of calling a Marine a G.I.!) The abbreviation crops up all over the place, particularly in headlines and captions, where writers look for ways to cram news into tight spaces, as in, from The New York Times, G.I.S TO PULL BACK IN BAGHDAD (Feb. 2, 2004) and G.I.S TO INCREASE U.S. SUPERVISION OF IRAQI POLICE (Dec. 20, 2005).

Also testifying to G.I.’s staying power over the years is its appearance in a great many combinations. Among them: G.I. Joe, an enlisted man; G.I. Jane, a member of the Women’s Army Corps (WAC) in World War II, but nowadays any female soldier, as in a Christian Science Monitor headline, COMBAT FOR G.I. JANES IN IRAQ (Jan. 27, 2005); G.I. bride, a foreign woman married to an American soldier; G.I. gin, cough syrup; and G.I. Jesus, a military chaplain (of the Christian persuasion).

While General MacArthur took G.I. to mean general issue, the term also has been interpreted over the years as standing for garrison issue, government issue, general infantry, and galvanized iron. And as it happens, the last, which might seem to be the least likely, is the true progenitor. In brief, this is the sequence:

G.I. appears in Army inventories of galvanized-iron trash cans and buckets from the early twentieth century. The oldest known example, “Bucket, G.I. on strap near axle under body,” refers to cavalry maneuvers near Fort Riley, Kansas, in 1906 (in A Dictionary of Soldier Talk, by Col. John Elting et al., 1984).

During World War I the meaning of G.I. can was extended to include heavy German artillery shells and large bombs, while G.I. itself began to be applied in the MacArthurian sense of “general issue” to such items as G.I. shoes, G.I. soap, and G.I. brushes. Soldiers probably began referring to themselves as G.I.s during this war or shortly thereafter, but no examples have been found in writing prior to 1935, when the abbreviation was recorded as slang for an enlisted man.

The transition from trash cans to soldiers may have been aided by the roughness and toughness of galvanized iron. According to an anonymous sergeant, who had served in the Army for many years, the term originally was considered insulting because “a man who was G.I. was crude or uncouth” (American Speech, December 1946).

The underlying negative association with galvanized iron may have been what really irritated General MacArthur, even if Himself didn’t recognize it.

—Hugh Rawson


 

Screenings

Larry McMurtry: Writing westerns from Hud to Brokeback Mountain
By Hugh Rawson

The recent success of Brokeback Mountain—at the box office, with critics, and in numerous awards presentations—has put before the public an American West very different from that of the traditional Western. It comes as no surprise that the screenplay for Brokeback Mountain, adapting Annie Proulx’s short story, was co-written by Larry McMurtry (with Diana Ossana). For more than four decades, in novels, essays, and screenplays, McMurtry has been giving Americans his own vision of the West, one that today is probably more pervasive than that of anyone except John Ford.

Yet McMurtry’s vision is deeper, darker, and more inclusive than Ford’s ever was. McMurtry Country extends from the mythic era of the Texas cattle drives in Lonesome Dove to the suburbs of modern-day Houston in Terms of Endearment. While Peter Bogdanovich’s film version of McMurtry’s novel The Last Picture Show was quite justly praised for its Ford-like qualities, in truth the clarity and toughness of McMurtry’s script dispelled the lingering romantic mist of Ford’s West.

Ten of McMurtry’s novels have been made into feature films, television movies, or TV series. Here are the five best:


Paul Newman is the contemporary cowboy in this enormously successful adaptation of McMurtry’s first novel, Horseman, Pass By, set, in the words of Pauline Kael, “in the Texas of Cadillacs and cattle, crickets and transistor radios.” Martin Ritt directed, and the starkly handsome black-and-white photography is by James Wong Howe. Patricia Neal, saying her lines in a sexy Texas drawl, plays the housekeeper of the Bannon ranch, and the knowing looks and sharp exchanges of dialogue between her Alma and Newman’s Hud give the film a constant tension and tingle.

Hud is cold-blooded and unprincipled, representing the new predatory spirit of the West, which is meant to contrast with the nineteenth-century values embodied by his father, Homer (Melvyn Douglas). Brandon de Wilde, who called to Alan Ladd to come back at the end of Shane, plays Hud’s teenage nephew, Lon. He does not call to Paul Newman to come back at the end of this film.

Writing about Hud in his book In a Narrow Grave: Essays on Texas, McMurtry said, “the screenwriters erred badly in following my novel too closely.” He may be the only novelist in history to make that complaint. (Neal won an Oscar for Best Actress and Douglas won for Best Supporting Actor.)


A landmark in American movies, the first great success for Peter Bogdanovich, and one of the best American films ever about the heartbreak and desolation of small-town Western life, in this case modeled after McMurtry’s home-town, Archer City, Texas, in the early 1950s. As with Hud, McMurtry judged the film version of his third novel to be better than the book. He may be right, but in this case one of the reasons for the film’s greatness is the brilliance of McMurtry’s screenplay, which extracts and highlights the novel’s best features.

The superb cast includes Jeff Bridges, Timothy Bottoms, Ellen Burstyn, Cybill Shepherd, Eileen Brennan, and two Oscar winners for supporting actress and actor, Cloris Leachman and Ben Johnson.


With the exception of Jack Nicholson’s raucous performance as a former astronaut, the best things about this blockbuster 1983 hit come from McMurtry’s novel about a 30-year relationship between a mother and a daughter (exquisitely played in the film by Shirley MacLaine and Debra Winger). Directed by James L. Brooks from his own screenplay, the film is soft in precisely those places where McMurtry’s writing is sharp, but the production is redeemed by the showcase it provides for great actresses to strut their stuff. The film won five Academy Awards: Best Picture, Brooks for Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay, Nicholson for Supporting Actor, and MacLaine for Best Actress.


The Citizen Kane of television Western mini-series. Simon Wincer directed and William D. Wittliff did the screenplay, wisely sticking to McMurtry’s Pulitzer Prize–winning novel at nearly every turn. The mini-series format lets the viewer live in the world of Tommy Lee Jones’s Woodrow Call and Robert Duvall’s Gus McCrae in a way that even an epic theatrical Western would not have allowed. Again the cast is impeccable, including Diane Lane, Anjelica Huston, Glenne Headly, Danny Glover, Robert Urich, Chris Cooper, D. B. Sweeney, and Frederic Forrest as the renegade half-breed Blue Duck, perhaps the most blood-chilling villain in the history of Westerns.


Clocking in at 180 minutes, this is the second-best TV Western ever made, after Lonesome Dove. If it has a major flaw, it’s that like its predecessor, it would have been better at twice the length. Adapted by Cynthia Whitcomb from the most historically based McMurtry Western novel, and directed by Rod Hardy, it features unprecedentedly accurate and vivid characterizations of Calamity Jane (Anjelica Huston), Buffalo Bill (Peter Coyote), and Wild Bill Hickok (Sam Elliott). Melanie Griffith is heartbreakingly lovely as the real-life brothel madam and author Dora DuFran, possibly the best role of her career. Gabriel Byrne, Jack Palance, Floyd “Red Crow” Westerman, Tracey Walter, Russell Means, Liev Schreiber, and Reba McEntire (as Annie Oakley) are in the cast too, and you wish there were more of all of them.

—Allen Barra


 

The Buyable Past

Quezal Glass
By David Lander

A pulled-feather vase.
A pulled-feather vase.
(COURTESY OF LILLIAN NASSAU LTD.)

While Tiffany and Steuben are the most recognizable stars in the iridescent art-glass galaxy, Quezal gleams right alongside them. The firm’s guiding force, Martin Bach, joined Louis Comfort Tiffany’s staff as a glass chemist in 1892, the year before the famous designer’s Favrile products first appeared, and left around 1900 with the company’s for-mulas. In 1902, after working as a trolley conductor, Bach, along with an ex-Tiffany glass blower named Thomas Johnson and three others, incorporated Quezal, which they named after a brilliantly plumed Central American bird.

A jack-in-the-pulpit vase.
A jack-in-the-pulpit vase.
(COURTESY OF LILLIAN NASSAU LTD.)

Quezal, which operated for just under a quarter-century, turned out household glass objects from compotes to candlesticks as well as an array of lampshades to enhance the glow of that still relatively recent innovation, the incandescent bulb. Designs followed the prevailing Art Nouveau path and were naturalistic, often deriving their forms from flowers. Many items were colorfully veined or overlaid with looping glass threads. Quezal’s “crisp, vivid, and colorful decoration … is distinctively precise, symmetrical and restrained,” the collector Malcolm Neil MacNeill wrote in a 1998 essay published by the magazine Antiques.

A shade vase.
A shade vase.
(COURTESY OF LILLIAN NASSAU LTD.)

If the attention of that prestigious journal increased col-lector interest in Quezal, which had been somewhat obscure, Tiffany remains the premium-priced brand. Jack DeStories, who one afternoon last November sold more than 300 pieces of art glass at Fairfield Auction, his Newtown, Connecticut, gallery, credits the Tiffany “aura” and “the half-million-dollar prices” the very finest pieces command. But hand-some Quezal shades for single-bulb light fixtures can be had for a few hundred dollars. DeStories knocked down a plain but beautifully shaped 10-inch-high jack-in-the-pulpit vase for $2,300 during his November auction, and a taller, more ornate version was recently offered for $11,000 at Manhattan’s Lillian Nassau Ltd., a long-established blue-chip Art Nouveau shop whose customers have included Barbra Streisand and the Beatles.

—David Lander


Resources

Little accurate information about Quezal was known before MacNeill’s two-part piece appeared in the January and July 1998 issues of Antiques; be sure to get hold of this authoritative history at a library or by searching the Internet. Glass Threads, the catalogue for a 2004 Museum of American Glass exhibition delineating stylistic ties among Quezal and three competitor companies, Tiffany, Imperial, and Durand, is available from Wheaton Village (www.wheatonvillage.org / 800-998-4552).


 

Civil War Show-and-Tell

Two big new books find fresh ways to illuminate an ever-fascinating subject

Jay Wertz’s book comes packed with goodies.
Jay Wertz’s book comes packed with goodies.

Nearly every week, one or two books about the Civil War arrive at our offices. A recently published pair of ambitious works in this category show that innovative approaches can help a reader see familiar material in new ways.

The American Civil War: 365 Days, by Margaret E. Wagner (Abrams, 752 pages, $29.95), was published in cooperation with the Library of Congress and takes advantage of that institu-tion’s unparalleled collection of Civil War prints, photographs, documents, and artifacts. Each day of the year gets a two-page spread, most of which is given over to sumptuous pictures and informative text that are unrelated to the date. These entries are loosely organized into 12 categories (Irrepressible Conflict, Wartime Politics, Army Life, etc.), and taken together, they show how the causes of the war, its conduct, and its aftereffects went far beyond the battlefield, reaching into every corner of the country and every level of society.

Less exhaustive but more varied in format is The Civil War Experience, 1861–1865 (Presidio Press, 66 pages, $50.00), by the historian Jay Wertz. Each spread covers one stage of the war in roughly chronological order, with four or five illustrations per page. Tucked or bound into the pages are reproduced documents that can be taken out and read—letters, a Con-federate soldier’s parole after Appomattox, maps, newspapers, orders, soldiers’ drawings. Also included is a 70-minute CD of readings from contemporary sources.

Neither of these books is the first place you’d look to find the date of the Battle of Pigeon’s Ranch. But when it comes to conveying both the epic sweep and the humanizing details of this greatest of American traumas, they will be hard to beat.


 
 
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