Al Smith Poster in CNN Anchor Jake Tapper's Office

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Al Smith Poster in CNN Anchor Jake Tapper's Office

If ever anyone needed wonders if I exaggerated with my documentary the magnitude of Al Smith's life and political career when compared to the history of the United States, CNN anchor Jake Tapper's office might be a good place to look.

Credit: Brooks Kraft/ Getty Images

Credit: Brooks Kraft/ Getty Images

The largest poster in his office from several angles appears to be one for Smith. If you believe that CNN is "fake news" and that Tapper doesn't have credibility, I challenge that and tell you that anyone who understands the importance of Smith also understands and believes in his message. Smith was "a man for the people".

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3rd Anniversary for Tennessee Mountain View

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3rd Anniversary for Tennessee Mountain View

Three years ago today I released the abandoned exploration film Tennessee Mountain View.

The loss of the Mountain View Hotel changed the landscape of Gatlinburg, but it also changed the tone and tenor of the town. Or at the very least it showed how far leaders would go to compete for tourism dollars with ‘action-packed’ Pigeon Forge: a historic hotel was destroyed to put up carnival rides.

This sort of competitive utilitarianism drove much of the development of Sevier County for decades, leading to everything from rampant cabin-building on mountainsides to towns taking on hundreds of millions of dollars of debt to construct enormous events centers to attract tourists.

’Progress’ always trumped ‘preservation’ until the Great Recession. There seems to be a bit more awareness now of heritage, but it could be that banks just won’t loan money for some of the more audacious development ideas.
— Greg Johnson, Opinion Columnist, Knoxville News Sentinel

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History is Repeating Itself on Immigration

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History is Repeating Itself on Immigration

In a time when the issue of immigration is consistently on the front pages of newspapers in the U.S., today I share the Author's Preface from Oscar Handlin's 1958 book Al Smith and His America:

On both sides of the Atlantic, in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries a vision took hold of men’s imaginations, a vision so close to reality as to be utterly convincing.

America was the promised land, the society of open opportunity, where every man, whatever his background or origin, could move to the place to which ability entitled him. The poor could grow rich, the weak powerful and the humble proud if their talents justified it. The lad born in the log cabin could some day dwell in the White House.

The Statue of Liberty in 1905. (Credit: Henry G. Peabody and Detroit Publishing Co., Library of Congress)

No matter that the dream was not altogether true to life—inherited wealth and distinguished parentage did make a difference—still it was true enough to lead on, in faith, the millions of Europeans who became Americans. To the immigrants and to their children this was the most hopeful aspect of life in the United States. They could not escape the contrast with the society they had left behind in which status was rigidly fixed and opportunity conned to a fortunate few. Here the whole community profited through finding the abilities it needed when and where it needed them.
Syrian immigrant children play on the sidewalks of New York in the early 1900s. (Credit: George Grantham Bain Collection, Library of Congress)

Syrian immigrant children play on the sidewalks of New York in the early 1900s. (Credit: George Grantham Bain Collection, Library of Congress)

So much greater, therefore, was the shock to discover as the twentieth century opened that artificial barriers to opportunity were being raised in contravention of these ideals. The challenge to the traditional conceptions of equality and opportunity produced a dark episode in American history. Al Smith, who lived through it, was peculiarly its victim. The society which miraculously opened to him his greatest opportunity spitefully tripped him up when he attempted to seize it.

Syrian immigrant children pose on a stoop in New York at some point between 1910 and 1915. (Credit: George Grantham Bain Collection, Library of Congress)

The buoyant optimism of Americans has often deceived them into thinking that their whole history was one great success story. Yet the failures have, in their own way, been as significant and as important as the successes. The life of Alfred E. Smith had a full measure of both.
— Oscar Handlin, Author

Experience the life of Al Smith by watching my documentary The Sidewalks of New York on YouTube. Here's the trailer.

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Two Uncovered Bernard Gussow New York Pieces

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Two Uncovered Bernard Gussow New York Pieces

In addition to the Bernard Gussow (1881-1957) piece from a previous blog, here are two more from Up From The City Streets: A Life of Alfred E. Smith. I searched the web and can't find any traces of these two pieces elsewhere, so you're likely seeing these here for the first time.

On the left, Al Smith and his family lived at 25 Oliver Street for much of their lives, with the exception of the time they spent in the Governor's mansion in Albany, New York. On the right is Tammany Hall, the political stronghold of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

This page was scanned at a very high quality, and a black and white effect was added to remove the faded color of the now 90-year-old pages from the 1927 book.

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