Oct 262016
 

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The Erie Canal opened on this date in 1825 with New York governor DeWitt Clinton of New York pouring a keg of Lake Erie water into the Atlantic Ocean. Originally the canal ran about 363 miles (584 km) from Albany, on the Hudson River, to Buffalo, at Lake Erie. It was built to create a navigable water route from New York City and the Atlantic Ocean to the Great Lakes.

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The men who planned and oversaw construction were novices as surveyors and as engineers. James Geddes and Benjamin Wright, who laid out the route, were judges whose experience in surveying was in settling boundary disputes. Geddes had only used a surveying instrument for a few hours before his work on the Canal.[16] Canvass White was a 27-year-old amateur engineer who persuaded New York Governor DeWitt Clinton to let him go to Britain at his own expense to study the canal system there. Nathan Roberts was a mathematics teacher and land speculator. Somehow these amateurs built a massive canal that overcame enormous obstacles of engineering, learning as they went.

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Construction began July 4, 1817, at Rome, New York. The first 15 miles (24 km), from Rome to Utica, opened in 1819. At that rate the canal would have taken 30 years to complete. The main hold-ups were felling trees to clear a path through virgin forest and moving excavated soil, which took longer than expected, but the builders devised ways to solve these problems. To fell a tree, they threw rope over the top branches and winched it down. Soil to be moved was shoveled into large wheelbarrows that were dumped into mule-pulled carts. Using a scraper and a plow, a three-man team with oxen, horses, and mules could clear a mile in a year.

The remaining problem was finding labor, and increased immigration helped fill the need. Many of the laborers working on the canal were Scots Irish, who had recently arrived in the United States as a group of about 5,000 from Northern Ireland, most of whom were Protestants who had enough money to pay for their own transportation. However, Irish immigrants were usually assumed to be Catholic, and many laborers on the canal suffered violent assault as the result of misjudgment and xenophobia.

Construction continued at an increased rate as new workers arrived. When the canal reached Montezuma Marsh (at the outlet of Cayuga Lake west of Syracuse), it was rumored over 1,000 workers died of “swamp fever” (malaria), and construction was temporarily stopped. However, recent research has revealed the death toll was likely much lower, as no contemporary reports mention significant worker mortality, and mass graves from the period have never been found in the area. Work continued on the downhill side towards the Hudson, and when the marsh froze in winter, the crews worked to complete the section across the swamps.

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The middle section from Utica to Salina (Syracuse) was completed in 1820, and traffic on that section started up immediately. Expansion to the east and west proceeded, and the whole eastern section, 250 miles (400 km) from Brockport to Albany, opened on September 10, 1823 to great fanfare. The Champlain Canal, a separate but interconnected 64-mile (103 km) north-south route from Watervliet on the Hudson to Lake Champlain, opened on the same date.

After Montezuma Marsh, the next difficulties were crossing Irondequoit Creek and the Genesee River near Rochester. The first ultimately required building the 1,320-foot (400 m) long “Great Embankment” which carried the canal at a height of 76 feet (23 m) above the level of the creek, which was carried through a 245-foot (75 m) culvert underneath. The river was crossed on a stone aqueduct 802 feet (244 m) long and 17 feet (5.2 m) wide, with 11 arches.

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After the Genesee, the next obstacle was crossing the Niagara Escarpment, an 80-foot (24 m) wall of hard dolomitic limestone, to rise to the level of Lake Erie. The route followed the channel of a creek that had cut a ravine steeply down the escarpment, with two sets of five locks in a series, soon giving rise to the community of Lockport. The 12-foot (3.7 m) lift-locks had a total lift of 60 feet (18 m), exiting into a deeply cut channel. The final leg had to be cut 30 feet (9.1 m) through another limestone layer, the Onondaga ridge. Much of that section was blasted with black powder, and the inexperience of the crews often led to accidents, and sometimes rocks falling on nearby homes.

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The Erie Canal had a huge economic and cultural impact from the outset. It greatly lowered the cost of shipping between the Midwest and the Northeast, bringing much lower food costs to Eastern cities and allowing the East to ship machinery and manufactured goods economically to the Midwest. The canal also made an immense contribution to the wealth and importance of New York City, Buffalo, and New York State. Its impact went much further, increasing trade throughout the nation by opening eastern and overseas markets to Midwestern farm products and by enabling migration to the West.

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The Erie Canal was an immediate financial success. Tolls collected on freight had already exceeded the state’s construction debt in its first year of official operation. By 1828, import duties collected at the New York Customs House supported federal government operations and provided funds for all the expenses in Washington except the interest on the national debt. Additionally, New York state’s initial loan for the original canal had been paid by 1837. Although it had been envisioned as primarily a commercial channel for freight boats, passengers also traveled on the canal’s packet boats. In 1825 more than forty thousand passengers took advantage of the convenience and beauty of canal travel. The canal’s steady flow of tourists, business people, and settlers lent it to uses never imagined by its initial sponsors. Evangelical preachers made their circuits of the upstate region and the canal served as the last leg of the underground railroad ferrying runaway slaves to Buffalo near the Canada–US border. Aspiring merchants found that tourists proved to double as reliable customers. Vendors moved from boat to boat peddling items such as books, watches, and fruit while less scrupulous operators sold patent medicines or passed off counterfeit money. Tourists were carried along the “northern tour,” which ultimately led to Niagara Falls, just north of Buffalo, becoming a popular honeymoon destination. In fact, my wife and I spent our honeymoon there in 1986.

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Two villages competed to be the terminus: Black Rock, on the Niagara River, and Buffalo, at the eastern tip of Lake Erie. Buffalo expended great energy to widen and deepen Buffalo Creek to make it navigable and to create a harbor at its mouth. Buffalo won over Black Rock, and grew into a large city, eventually encompassing its former competitor.

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Since Buffalo is the terminus of the Erie, Buffalo wings have to be the celebratory dish – the first dish my wife and I had on our honeymoon. At the time we had never heard of them because they were not anywhere near as popular or as widespread as they are now. There are several different claims about how Buffalo wings were invented. One of the more prevalent claims is that Buffalo wings were first prepared at the Anchor Bar in Buffalo by Teressa Bellissimo, who owned the bar with husband Frank. Several versions of the story have been circulated by the Bellissimo family and others:

  1. Upon the unannounced, late-night arrival of their son, Dominic, with several of his friends from college, Teressa needed a fast and easy snack to present to her guests. It was then that she came up with the idea of deep frying chicken wings (normally thrown away or reserved for stock) and tossing them in cayenne hot sauce.
  2. Dominic Bellissimo told The New Yorker food writer, Calvin Trillin, in 1980, “It was Friday night in the bar and since people were buying a lot of drinks he wanted to do something nice for them at midnight when the mostly Catholic patrons would be able to eat meat again.” He said that it was his mother, Teressa, who came up with the idea of chicken wings.

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Cayenne pepper, hot sauce, and melted butter are the basis of the sauce, which may be mild, medium, or hot. Typically, the wings are deep-fried in oil (although they are sometimes grilled or baked) until they are well browned. They are then drained, mixed with sauce, and shaken to coat the wings, completely covering them in the sauce. To cover the wings completely you should place the cooked wings and sauce in a lidded contained, close it up and shake vigorously until the wings are coated on all sides. Originally Buffalo wings were served with celery sticks and blue cheese dressing. This may seem like a strange combination, but the first time I had it I was a convert. Who knows what the actual story of the origin of Buffalo wings is, but putting together chicken wings, hot sauce, celery, and blue cheese sure seems like a last minute emergency dish made late at night from what odds and ends happen to be around. It’s a winner in my book.

May 212015
 

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On this date in 1927, Charles Lindbergh touched down at Le Bourget Field in Paris, completing the world’s first solo nonstop flight across the Atlantic Ocean AND on this date in 1932 bad weather forced Amelia Earhart to land in a pasture in Derry, Northern Ireland, and she thereby became the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic. Of course, this was no coincidence; Earhart chose the date of takeoff as a deliberate homage to Lindbergh. All the same, I like it.

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Six well-known aviators had already lost their lives in pursuit of the Orteig Prize ($25,000 for the first solo NY to Paris flight), when Lindbergh took off from Roosevelt Field on his successful attempt in the early morning of Friday, May 20, 1927. Burdened by its heavy load of 450 U.S. gallons (1,704 liters) of gasoline weighing about 2,710 lb (1,230 kg), and hampered by a muddy, rain-soaked runway, Lindbergh’s Wright Whirlwind-powered monoplane gained speed very slowly as it made its 7:52 am (07:52) takeoff run, but its J-5C radial engine still proved powerful enough to allow the Spirit to clear the telephone lines at the far end of the field “by about twenty feet [six meters] with a fair reserve of flying speed”. Over the next 33.5 hours, he and the Spirit—which Lindbergh always jointly referred to as “WE”—faced many challenges, including skimming over both storm clouds at 10,000 ft (3,000 m) and wave tops at as low at 10 ft (3.0 m), fighting icing, flying blind through fog for several hours, and navigating only by the stars (whenever visible), and dead reckoning before landing at Le Bourget Airport at 10:22 pm (22:22) on Saturday, May 21. The airfield was not marked on his map and Lindbergh knew only that it was some seven miles northeast of the city. He initially mistook the airfield for some large industrial complex with bright lights spreading out in all directions. The lights were, in fact, the headlights of tens of thousands of cars all driven by eager spectators now caught in “the largest traffic jam in Parisian history.

A crowd estimated at 150,000 spectators stormed the field, dragged Lindbergh out of the cockpit, and literally carried him around above their heads for “nearly half an hour”. While some damage was done to the Spirit (especially to the fine linen, silver-painted fabric covering on the fuselage) by souvenir hunters, both Lindbergh and the Spirit were eventually “rescued” from the mob by a group of French military fliers, soldiers, and police, who took them both to safety in a nearby hangar.

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On the morning of May 20, 1932, Earhart set off from Harbour Grace, Newfoundland with a copy of the Telegraph-Journal, given to her by journalist Stuart Trueman, intended to confirm the date of the flight. She intended to fly to Paris in her single engine Lockheed Vega 5B to emulate Charles Lindbergh’s solo flight. Her technical advisor for the flight was famed Norwegian American aviator Bernt Balchen who helped prepare her aircraft. He also played the role of “decoy” for the press as he was ostensibly preparing Earhart’s Vega for his own Arctic flight. After a flight lasting 14 hours, 56 minutes during which she contended with strong northerly winds, icy conditions and mechanical problems, Earhart landed in a pasture at Culmore, north of Derry, Northern Ireland. The landing was witnessed by Cecil King and T. Sawyer. When a farm hand asked, “Have you flown far?” Earhart replied, “From America.” The site is now the home of a small museum, the Amelia Earhart Centre.

Both Lindbergh and Earhart received national and international awards following their flights and were lionized by the public; both wrote autobiographical works that were best sellers; both suffered personal tragedy; and both capitalized on their fame for social causes. But they were very different people, especially in the latter case.

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Lindbergh’s main cause in the lead up to U.S. involvement in World War II was to try to persuade the U.S. to stay out of it. His motives are not entirely clear and I think the accusations that he was a closet Nazi are overblown. There is no question, however, that until Pearl Harbor his public statements are heavily tinged with fascist sympathies:

I was deeply concerned that the potentially gigantic power of America, guided by uninformed and impractical idealism, might crusade into Europe to destroy Hitler without realizing that Hitler’s destruction would lay Europe open to the rape, loot and barbarism of Soviet Russia’s forces, causing possibly the fatal wounding of western civilization.

We can have peace and security only so long as we band together to preserve that most priceless possession, our inheritance of European blood, only so long as we guard ourselves against attack by foreign armies and dilution by foreign races.

We must limit to a reasonable amount the Jewish influence … Whenever the Jewish percentage of total population becomes too high, a reaction seems to invariably occur. It is too bad because a few Jews of the right type are, I believe, an asset to any country.

Lindbergh’s personal life leaves a certain amount to be desired also. It was not until almost three decades after Lindbergh’s death in 1974, and two-and-a-half years after his widow’s in 2001, that their children and the public learned that from the late 1950s until his death Lindbergh had maintained three secret families in Europe which included seven out-of-wedlock children born by three different mothers. In late July 2003, one of the largest national daily newspapers in Germany, Munich’s Suddeutsche Zeitung, reported that Lindbergh had fathered three children by German hat maker Brigitte Hesshaimer (1926–2003), who had lived in the small Bavarian town of Geretsried just south of Munich. By the time of the publication of German biographer Rudolf Schröck’s book Das Doppelleben des Charles A. Lindbergh (The Double Life of Charles A. Lindbergh) two years later, however, it had been further revealed that Lindbergh had also fathered four other such children in Germany and Switzerland with two more mistresses. Beginning in March 1957, Lindbergh had established romantic relationships with Brigitte Hesshaimer, her sister, Mariette, a painter living in Grimisuat in the Swiss canton Valais with whom he had two children, and with Valeska, an East Prussian aristocrat who was his private secretary in Europe and lived in Baden-Baden with whom he had two more children, a son born in 1959 and a daughter in 1961. All seven children had been born between 1958 and 1967.

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Earhart undertook twin missions after her transatlantic flight along with extensive record setting flying exploits. On January 11, 1935, Earhart became the first person to fly solo from Honolulu, Hawaii to Oakland, California. Although this transoceanic flight had been attempted by many others, most notably by the unfortunate participants in the 1927 Dole Air Race which had reversed the route, her trailblazing flight had been mainly routine, with no mechanical breakdowns. In her final hours, she even relaxed and listened to “the broadcast of the Metropolitan Opera from New York.”

That year, once more flying her faithful Vega which Earhart had tagged “old Bessie, the fire horse,”[N 12] she soloed from Los Angeles to Mexico City on April 19. The next record attempt was a nonstop flight from Mexico City to New York. Setting off on May 8, her flight was uneventful although the large crowds that greeted her at Newark, New Jersey, were a concern as she had to be careful not to taxi into the throng.

Earhart again participated in long-distance air racing, placing fifth in the 1935 Bendix Trophy Race, the best result she could manage considering that her stock Lockheed Vega topping out at 195 mph (314 km/h) was outclassed by purpose-built air racers which reached more than 300 mph (480 km/h). The race had been a particularly difficult one as one competitor, Cecil Allen, died in a fiery takeoff mishap and rival Jacqueline Cochran was forced to retire due to mechanical problems, the “blinding fog”, and violent thunderstorms that plagued the race.

Between 1930 and 1935, Earhart had set seven women’s speed and distance aviation records in a variety of aircraft including the Kinner Airster, Lockheed Vega, and Pitcairn Autogiro. By 1935, recognizing the limitations of her “lovely red Vega” in long, transoceanic flights, Earhart contemplated, in her own words, a new “prize… one flight which I most wanted to attempt – a circumnavigation of the globe as near its waistline as could be.”

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Accepting a position as associate editor at Cosmopolitan magazine, she turned this forum into an opportunity to campaign for greater public acceptance of aviation, especially focusing on the role of women entering the field.[63] In 1929, Earhart was among the first aviators to promote commercial air travel through the development of a passenger airline service; along with Charles Lindbergh, she represented Transcontinental Air Transport (TAT) and invested time and money in setting up the first regional shuttle service between New York and Washington, DC. (TAT later became TWA). She was a Vice President of National Airways, which conducted the flying operations of the Boston-Maine Airways and several other airlines in the northeast. By 1940, it had become Northeast Airlines.

Earhart joined the faculty of Purdue University in 1935 as a visiting faculty member to counsel women on careers and as a technical advisor to the Department of Aeronautics. Early in 1936, Earhart started to plan a round-the-world flight. Not the first to circle the globe, it would be the longest at 29,000 miles (47,000 km), following a grueling equatorial route. With financing from Purdue, in July 1936, a Lockheed Electra 10E was built at Lockheed Aircraft Company to her specifications which included extensive modifications to the fuselage to incorporate a large fuel tank. Earhart dubbed the twin engine monoplane airliner her “flying laboratory” and hangared it at Mantz’s United Air Services located just across the airfield from Lockheed’s Burbank, California plant in which it had been built.

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Although the Electra was publicized as a “flying laboratory”, little useful science was planned and the flight was arranged around Earhart’s intention to circumnavigate the globe along with gathering raw material and public attention for her next book. Her first choice as navigator was Captain Harry Manning, who had been the captain of the President Roosevelt, the ship that had brought Earhart back from Europe in 1928.

Through contacts in the Los Angeles aviation community, Fred Noonan was subsequently chosen as a second navigator because there were significant additional factors which had to be dealt with while using celestial navigation for aircraft. He had vast experience in both marine (he was a licensed ship’s captain) and flight navigation. Noonan had recently left Pan Am, where he established most of the company’s China Clipper seaplane routes across the Pacific. Noonan had also been responsible for training Pan American’s navigators for the route between San Francisco and Manila. The original plans were for Noonan to navigate from Hawaii to Howland Island, a particularly difficult portion of the flight; then Manning would continue with Earhart to Australia and she would proceed on her own for the remainder of the project.

If anything this doomed effort made Earhart much more famous that she already was, and speculations about what happened at the end continue to make headlines. Where did she crash? Did she crash? Did she survive? All the stuff of sensational journalism and continued interest in a legend. It has often been said that her fame would not be anywhere near as great nowadays had she not disappeared. The public loves a mystery.

What to cook? What to cook? What to cook? Two different people with two different histories. There’s an elegant gin cocktail called “Aviation,” but I’m not a big fan of drink “recipes.” Nor do I want to focus on one or the other by presenting Lindbergh’s or Earhart’s favorite dishes, or some such. So I’ll weasel out by celebrating TWO U.S. heroes with the great U.S. classic: the hamburger. But not just any old hamburger – the bacon blue cheese burger, to my taste buds one of the world’s greatest dishes.

I had my first bacon blue cheese burger when I was a young professor in Purchase, NY, one of the most atrocious sites for a college. It has clusters of multi-million dollar houses, corporate headquarters (including Pepsi across the road), a Quaker meeting house, a library, an overworked Post Office, a deli, and three bar/restaurants. The Hilltop was my dean’s “office east” after hours and the place I first sampled the burger of choice. It was not brilliant – they used blue cheese dressing and indifferent meat. But they introduced me to the great secret: toast the bun. Here’s the basic idea.

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©Bacon Blue Cheese Burger

This burger is best made over charcoal.

Crisp 2 strips of bacon and keep warm.

Grill a ¼ lb burger patty, made with freshly ground sirloin, over the coals for about 5 minutes per side, or until it is nicely browned on the outside, but pink and juicy on the inside.

Wrap 2 oz of shredded blue cheese in foil and place it on the grill to melt. Use the best cheese you can find such as Stilton or Roquefort. Toast the bun at the same time.

Assemble the burger by putting the patty on the bottom half of the bun, then add the cheese, then the bacon cut to fit, then the top of the bun.