history

It’s Victory Day, an only-in-Rhode Island institution since 1975

August 11th, 2014 at 12:01 am by under Nesi's Notes, On the Main Site

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Like Del’s, Victory Day is a uniquely Rhode Island tradition.

Rhode Island is the only state that still observes an official holiday marking Japan’s surrender at the end of World War II. It’s been that way since 1975, when Arkansas dropped the holiday – having already rechristened it “World War II Memorial Day” – and reportedly gave state workers their birthdays off as a consolation.

Read the rest of this story »


Some things never change – Rhode Island economy edition

May 28th, 2014 at 10:08 am by under Nesi's Notes, On the Main Site

Rhode Island A History McLoughlin via BNIn 1978, the late Brown University historian William G. McLoughlin published “Rhode Island: A History,” a short book timed to the nation’s bicentennial that tracked the development of the Ocean State from its founding as a colonial refuge to what was then the present day.

The 1970s were a difficult economic time for Rhode Island. In addition to the national problem of stagflation, the state was reeling from President Nixon’s decision to pull the U.S. Navy out of Quonset, eliminating thousands of jobs. Some argue the state has never really recovered from the blow.

Writing in the wake of the Navy pullout, McLoughlin finished the book with an appropriately dreary take on the state’s economic condition and its prospects – one that still sounds surprisingly familiar in 2014:

In 1946 the state budget was only $20 million a year and the sales tax only 1%; today the state budget is well over $500 million, the sales tax is 6%, and on top of it, there is now a state income tax. Taxation of business and property taxes in the cities have virtually reached their feasible limits without business expansion. The state’s corporate income tax is 2% to 3% above the national average. The constant effort to find new sources of revenue recently has led to a state lottery, dog racing, jai alai, and other forms of gambling. …

Since 1929 Rhode Island has consistently had one of the highest unemployment rates in the country. In 1975 unemployment figures rose above 15%. Although the state’s population increased by 17% from 1950 to 1975, manufacturing jobs in that period declined from 125,000 to 109,000 and all jobs from 240,700 to 233,900. No new industry has arisen to take up the slack in textiles, though jewelry manufacturing is increasing slightly, and tourism is a major source of income during the summers. Service jobs, state and federal agencies, and education have provided most new employment since 1932. But since that data, the economy has been increasingly dependent on regular grants of assistance from the federal government. With long tenure common among its congressional delegation, as happens in any one-party state, Rhode Island has managed to get a goodly share of that federal income. One of the most important sources of federal aid has always been the United States Navy, whose bases in Newport, Middletown, Portsmouth, Quonset (where the Quonset hut was invented), and Davisville made the navy the state’s largest single employer from 1945 to 1973. But when President Richard M. Nixon closed the bases in 1973, except for training purposes, the state suffered its most severe economic blow since 1929. Every political leader since 1930 has campaigned on the promise of bringing new industries to the state and more jobs for the people; but despite earnest effort, none of them has succeeded.

A decade later, McLoughlin’s take would look too gloomy: Rhode Island’s unemployment rate fell to a record low of 3.8% during the late 1980s. But he only had to wait a few years to see the state struggling once again, thanks to the banking crisis of 1991. The first half of the 2000s also saw unemployment drop to a low level, only to soar and stay elevated during and after the Great Recession.

(book cover: Barnes & Noble)


New Year’s Day marks 79 years since RI ‘Bloodless Revolution’

January 1st, 2014 at 12:11 pm by under Nesi's Notes, On the Main Site

Happy New Year! Click here to read why today is one of the most important days in Rhode Island history.


RI farmer gave the White House Thanksgiving turkeys for years

November 27th, 2013 at 6:00 pm by under Nesi's Notes, On the Main Site

Massachusetts gets all the glory when it comes to the first Thanksgiving, but Boston Globe columnist James Carroll says Rhode Island’s founding father deserves credit, too:

The November feast, with turkeys and cranberries, is a creation myth, starring Miles Standish, William Bradford, and the Wampanoag chief, Massasoit. But the figure who most powerfully created American consciousness, coming a little later, was one who risked everything to rebel against what was begun in Plymouth. What we celebrate on Thanksgiving isn’t the theocracy of Massachusetts, but the ideas of Roger Williams, a Puritan who defended the right, one could say, to be religiously impure.

That would make Roger Williams just one more part of Rhode Island’s history with this most American of holidays.

For starters, the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe that famously helped the Pilgrims lived not only in Massachusetts but also in what is now eastern Rhode Island; the Narragansett Tribe had a harvest feast of their own known as Nickommoh.

Thanksgiving didn’t really take locally at first, according to a 1904 article in The New England Magazine:

The earliest mention of Thanksgiving in the records of Rhode Island Plantation is 1687. But attempts to create Thanksgiving Day in Rhode Island did not prove very successful. Whether the people were ungrateful or only stubborn is not known, but it is said that when Governor [Edmund] Andros ordered them to appear, to celebrate certain days, which he set apart as days of thanksgiving, the order was so contemptuously carried out that several persons were arrested for disobedience of the King’s ordinances.

Rhode Island has given Thanksgiving headaches to other leaders, too.

In 1802, President Thomas Jefferson remarked that he “regretted very much the late conduct of the legislature of Rhode Island,” which hadn’t joined the rest of New England in proclaiming a day of thanksgiving. And in 1939 Rhode Island’s Republican governor, William Vanderbilt III, was among those who refused to go along with FDR when he tried to move Thanksgiving up a week.

Rhode Island’s most famous contribution to Thanksgiving, though, has probably been its turkeys – most notably thanks to a Westerly farmer by the name of Horace Vose (1840-1913), “the poultry king.”

Vose was “known all over the United States as the man who has furnished the Thanksgiving Turkey to every President from Grant to Roosevelt,” The New York Times reported in 1906. The White House Historical Association has more details:

Vose began raising turkeys with his uncle in the mid-1850s and in 1873 sent a splendid Meleagris gallopavo to President Ulysses S. Grant, beginning a tradition that would last for over four decades as presidents, their families and guests enjoyed Vose’s Thanksgiving and Christmas largess.

After looking over the best flocks in Rhode Island and Connecticut, Vose, a major poultry supplier to the New York market, selected the presidential bird with great care. Vose’s chosen turkeys never weighed fewer than 30 pounds and sometimes topped the scales at 50 pounds.

Vose always slaughtered and dressed the birds and then shipped them express in a box addressed to the president at the White House. Occasionally Vose had competition. In 1913, former congressman South Trimble of Kentucky, then Clerk of the House of Representatives, sent a turkey to President Wilson; Trimble’s turkey weighed 30 pounds in contrast to Vose’s 37, but Trimble claimed his bird, which had been fed a diet that included red peppers, was much more flavorsome. It is not known which bird won the “honor” of gracing the Wilson table that Thanksgiving Day.

When Vose passed away in December 1913 (just a few weeks after Thanksgiving) it made the front page of the old Providence Evening News, which eulogized Vose as being “known throughout the land as the purveyors of turkeys for White House Thanksgiving dinners since the time of President Grant.”

As for me? I’m thankful for you, dear readers. Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!

(clippings: Hedges Herald of Hedgesville, Montana, Nov. 18, 1913; New York Tribune, Nov. 23, 1902)

A version of this post originally ran in 2012.


Happy Columbus Day from Nesi’s Notes

October 14th, 2013 at 10:02 am by under Nesi's Notes

Today is the day Rhode Island discovered its exploding Italian-American population, 103 years ago.


How LBJ eased out Rhode Island’s US Senator T.F. Green

September 3rd, 2013 at 1:25 pm by under Nesi's Notes, On the Main Site

Richard Baker, the U.S. Senate’s historian emeritus, relates a classic story about a local legend:

When Senator Theodore Green of Rhode Island became chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 1957, he was 90 years old. Intelligent, hard-working and well-liked, Green was no longer up to piloting this important cold war-era committee. Senate Majority Leader Lyndon Johnson lacked the authority to remove committee chairs, but he found his opening when a Providence newspaper in 1959 demanded that Green retire. Johnson told the beleaguered senator that he shouldn’t put up with such abuse. Green agreed and decided to step down. But then the leader overplayed his hand and the elderly senator decided he should stay. L.B.J. finally engineered a face-saving way for Green to yield with dignity intact.

For a longer version of Baker’s story, check out this terrific little bio of Green (via Ian Donnis).

• Related: New Year’s Day marks 78 years since RI ‘Bloodless Revolution’ (Jan. 1)


Remembering the fight for Labor Day in 1890s Rhode Island

September 2nd, 2013 at 5:00 am by under Nesi's Notes, On the Main Site

R.I. Central Labor Union newspaper, 1893

In the modern age, many American holidays’ roots have been largely forgotten, becoming more like Britain’s bank holidays than specific celebrations. Labor Day is one of those, which is too bad, since it has a rich local history of its own.

Scott Molloy, a professor at URI’s Schmidt Labor Research Center, retold the story in a 1993 issue of Old Rhode Island magazine:

In the midst of the financial panic of 1893, Rhode Island workers secured a long-sought ambition – the establishment of the first Monday in September as a legal holiday.

The state’s horny-fisted sons and daughters of toil had marched, petitioned, and agitated for over a decade. Rhode Island workers witnessed New York and Oregon pass holiday legislation in 1887, and by the spring of 1893 most other states had followed suit. The General Assembly, under the prodding of elected representatives from various mill towns, finally joined the bandwagon, and Governor Russell Brown signed the authorization.

Read the rest here. I’ll be back tomorrow – have a great Labor Day!

• Watch: RI AFL-CIO President George Nee on Executive Suite (Sept. 1)

(image credit: Quahog.org)

This post was originally published in 2012.


It’s Victory Day, an only-in-Rhode Island institution since 1975

August 12th, 2013 at 5:00 am by under Nesi's Notes, On the Main Site

The Providence Journal, Aug. 14, 1945

Like Del’s, Victory Day is a uniquely Rhode Island tradition.

Rhode Island is the only state that still observes an official holiday marking Japan’s surrender at the end of World War II. It’s been that way since 1975, when Arkansas dropped the holiday – having already rechristened it “World War II Memorial Day” – and reportedly gave state workers their birthdays off as a consolation.

“The tenacity of Rhode Island in celebrating August 14 deserves special attention for its interplay of state, local, national, and even international politics,” Len Travers writes in the “Encyclopedia of American Holidays and National Days.” Indeed, The New York Times reported as far back as 1957 that “V-J Day” was “always a big legal holiday in Rhode Island.”

The holiday was established here in 1948, three years after World War II ended, but by the mid-1980s – with Japan’s economic might growing – there was a lively debate about whether it should be scrapped. Japanese officials said Victory Day was harming trade between the two nations, and a local Chamber of Commerce official called the holiday “embarrassing.”

Gov. Ed DiPrete tried to transform Victory Day into Governor’s Bay Day, and former Barrington Rep. Sandra Barone pushed to rename it “Rhode Island Veteran’s Day” or ”Peace and Remembrance Day.” At one point the Rhode Island Japan Society even hired lawyers to press a case against the name, and in 1990 lawmakers passed a resolution saying “Victory Day is not a day to express satisfaction in the destruction and death caused by nuclear bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.”

(more…)


Forget ‘Team of Rivals.’ Did this Brown prof inspire ‘Lincoln’?

January 22nd, 2013 at 11:06 am by under Nesi's Notes, On the Main Site

A Brown University professor is at the center of a debate about whether his book was the real inspiration for the movie “Lincoln” and its acclaimed screenplay by Tony Kushner.

The New Republic’s Timothy Noah first made the case that Kushner’s main source wasn’t Doris Kearns Goodwin’s bestselling “Team of Rivals” but a much less famous work: “Final Freedom: The Civil War, the Abolition of Slavery, and the Thirteenth Amendment,” a 2001 book by Michael Vorenberg, associate professor of history at Brown.

Vorenberg is surprisingly sanguine about Noah’s suggestion. “Films don’t have to have footnotes, and it’s hard to imagine how film makers could pay everyone who happens to have contributed to knowledge about a particular subject,” the professor said.

Noah wasn’t satisfied: “Clearly Kushner is well within his rights to help himself to narrative details that he found in ‘Final Freedom’ and elsewhere. Nobody owns history. But even if Vorenberg isn’t troubled, I find it (on his behalf) a bit disappointing that neither Kushner nor Spielberg has acknowledged what a valuable resource they had in ‘Final Freedom.’”

As for Kushner, the playwright eventually acknowledged to TNR that he read Vorenberg’s “fantastic” book but also argued it wasn’t the key source that Noah thinks it was. Either way, Vorenberg says he doesn’t mind: “If my book helped add accuracy to the film,” he told Slate, “I can take some pleasure in that.”

​(photo: Brown University)


New Year’s Day marks 78 years since RI ‘Bloodless Revolution’

January 1st, 2013 at 5:00 am by under Nesi's Notes, On the Main Site

T.F. Green

New Year’s Day isn’t just any holiday in Rhode Island. It also marks one of the most consequential turning points in the state’s political history.

It was on New Year’s Day in 1935 that Governor T.F. Green and his allies carried out what became known as Rhode Island’s “Bloodless Revolution,” a seizure of state government by the Democratic Party that remains one of the most breathtaking power grabs in American history.

“It was perhaps the most dramatic session in Rhode Island’s legislative history as Democrats yesterday overthrew what they characterized a ‘Republican feudal system,’” the Associated Press declared in newspapers nationwide the next morning. “The 50-year-old Republican domination in this state is in shambles today,” the Christian Science Monitor agreed. The New York Times labeled it “a startling coup.”

To this day the Bloodless Revolution’s legacy is contested. The late former Gov. Bruce Sundlun, a Democrat, argued it “straightened us out politically, and gave us a good cabinet-style government, which continues today.” But former Coventry Rep. Nicholas Gorham, a Republican, complained that “Rhode Island’s Animal Farm began in 1935, with the ‘Bloodless Revolution.’”

(more…)


Rhode Island’s colorful, conflicted history with Thanksgiving

November 22nd, 2012 at 4:00 am by under Nesi's Notes, On the Main Site

Massachusetts gets all the glory when it comes to the first Thanksgiving, but Boston Globe columnist James Carroll says Rhode Island’s founding father deserves credit, too:

The November feast, with turkeys and cranberries, is a creation myth, starring Miles Standish, William Bradford, and the Wampanoag chief, Massasoit. But the figure who most powerfully created American consciousness, coming a little later, was one who risked everything to rebel against what was begun in Plymouth. What we celebrate on Thanksgiving isn’t the theocracy of Massachusetts, but the ideas of Roger Williams, a Puritan who defended the right, one could say, to be religiously impure.

That would make Roger Williams just one more part of Rhode Island’s history with this most American of holidays.

For starters, the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe that famously helped the Pilgrims lived not only in Massachusetts but also in what is now eastern Rhode Island; the Narragansett Tribe had a harvest feast of their own known as Nickommoh.

Thanksgiving didn’t really take here at first, according to a 1904 article in The New England Magazine:

The earliest mention of Thanksgiving in the records of Rhode Island Plantation is 1687. But attempts to create Thanksgiving Day in Rhode Island did not prove very successful. Whether the people were ungrateful or only stubborn is not known, but it is said that when Governor [Edmund] Andros ordered them to appear, to celebrate certain days, which he set apart as days of thanksgiving, the order was so contemptuously carried out that several persons were arrested for disobedience of the King’s ordinances.

(That story might offer solace to Governor Chafee, if it weren’t for the fact that Andros was soon deposed.)

Rhode Island has given Thanksgiving headaches to other leaders, too. In 1802, President Thomas Jefferson remarked that he “regretted very much the late conduct of the legislature of Rhode Island,” which hadn’t joined the rest of New England in proclaiming a day of thanksgiving. And in 1939 Rhode Island’s Republican governor, William Vanderbilt, was among those who refused to go along with FDR when Roosevelt tired to move Thanksgiving up a week.

Rhode Island’s most famous contribution to Thanksgiving, though, has been its turkeys – mostly thanks to a Westerly poultry farmer by the name of Horace Vose (1840-1913).

Vose was “known all over the United States as the man who has furnished the Thanksgiving Turkey to every President from Grant to Roosevelt,” The New York Times reported in 1906. The White House Historical Association has more details:

Vose began raising turkeys with his uncle in the mid-1850s and in 1873 sent a splendid Meleagris gallopavo to President Ulysses S. Grant, beginning a tradition that would last for over four decades as presidents, their families and guests enjoyed Vose’s Thanksgiving and Christmas largess.

After looking over the best flocks in Rhode Island and Connecticut, Vose, a major poultry supplier to the New York market, selected the presidential bird with great care. Vose’s chosen turkeys never weighed fewer than 30 pounds and sometimes topped the scales at 50 pounds.

Vose always slaughtered and dressed the birds and then shipped them express in a box addressed to the president at the White House. Occasionally Vose had competition. In 1913, former congressman South Trimble of Kentucky, then Clerk of the House of Representatives, sent a turkey to President Wilson; Trimble’s turkey weighed 30 pounds in contrast to Vose’s 37, but Trimble claimed his bird, which had been fed a diet that included red peppers, was much more flavorsome. It is not known which bird won the “honor” of gracing the Wilson table that Thanksgiving Day.

As for me? I’m thankful for you, dear readers. Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!

(clippings: Hedges Herald of Hedgesville, Montana, Nov. 18, 1913; New York Tribune, Nov. 23, 1902)

Due to an editing error, an earlier version of this article reported Horace Vose’s birth year incorrectly.


Brown prof’s book explores decline of ‘breadwinner liberalism’

October 11th, 2012 at 5:00 am by under Nesi's Notes, On the Main Site

Brown University history professor Robert Self is out with a new book, “All in the Family: The Realignment of American Democracy since the 1960s,” and it sounds like it could be interesting. The conservative scholar Kay Hymowitz reviewed the book for The Wall Street Journal:

[Self] has heroically researched the history of the culture wars from the early 1960s to the present. He offers a provocative analysis that accounts for today’s alliance between small-government and social conservatives, on the one hand, and welfare-state and social liberals, on the other.

Mr. Self begins his history by describing “breadwinner liberalism” as the status quo of the early and mid-1960s. The architects of the Great Society assumed the primacy of male-earner and female-homemaker families.

By the late 1960s, male breadwinners were beset from all sides. … The traditional male-headed family was an anachronism.

But, the author concludes, breadwinning men weren’t disappearing; they and their female supporters were just changing political parties.

Self joined Brown as an assistant professor in 2004 and became an associate professor in 2006. He contributed an op-ed to NYTimes.com in August criticizing Republicans – little surprise, then, that the latter half of Hymowitz’s review says Self’s book “descends into a partisan tract” toward its later chapters.


RI first noticed its Italians on Columbus Day, 102 years ago

October 8th, 2012 at 9:45 am by under Nesi's Notes, On the Main Site

one take on Columbus’ arrival

Rhode Island is observing Columbus Day today, marking the Italian explorer Christopher Columbus’ arrival in the Bahamas. Though the holiday has been controversial here in recent years, it appeared from this morning’s light traffic that most people still celebrate it with a day off work.

Italians immigrated to Rhode Island in huge numbers during the latter half of the 1800s. In 1850, just 25 of the state’s residents were from Italy; by 1900, the number had swelled to 9,000, according to the late Rhode Island College professor Carmela Santoro and her 1990 book “The Italians in Rhode Island.”

The state first celebrated Columbus Day along with the rest of the nation in 1892, to mark the 400th anniversary of Columbus’ arrival. But “Rhode Island scarcely realized the volume of Italian immigration, however, and also its effect in the number of Italian residents of the state, until the first observance of Columbus Day as a public holiday in 1910,” the historian Charles Carroll later wrote.

(more…)


Remembering the fight for Labor Day in 1890s Rhode Island

September 3rd, 2012 at 5:00 am by under Nesi's Notes, On the Main Site

R.I. Central Labor Union newspaper, 1893

In the modern age, many American holidays’ roots have been largely forgotten, becoming more like Britain’s bank holidays than specific celebrations. Labor Day is one of those, which is too bad, since it has a rich local history of its own.

Scott Molloy, a professor at the University of Rhode Island’s Schmidt Labor Research Center, retold the story in a 1993 issue of Old Rhode Island magazine:

In the midst of the financial panic of 1893, Rhode Island workers secured a long-sought ambition – the establishment of the first Monday in September as a legal holiday.

The state’s horny-fisted sons and daughters of toil had marched, petitioned, and agitated for over a decade. Rhode Island workers witnessed New York and Oregon pass holiday legislation in 1887, and by the spring of 1893 most other states had followed suit. The General Assembly, under the prodding of elected representatives from various mill towns, finally joined the bandwagon, and Governor Russell Brown signed the authorization.

Read the rest here. I’ll be back tomorrow – Happy Labor Day!

(image credit: Quahog.org)


Happy Victory Day, an only-in-Rhode Island institution since ’75

August 13th, 2012 at 10:11 am by under Nesi's Notes, On the Main Site

The Providence Journal, Aug. 14, 1945

Like Del’s, Victory Day is a uniquely Rhode Island tradition.

The Ocean State is the only one that still observers an official holiday marking Japan’s surrender at the end of World War II. That’s been the case since 1975, when Arkansas dropped the commemoration – which by that point it had already rechristened “World War II Memorial Day” – and, the AP reported, gave state employees their birthdays off to make up for its loss.

“The tenacity of Rhode Island in celebrating August 14 deserves special attention for its interplay of state, local, national, and even international politics,” Len Traveras writes in the “Encyclopedia of American Holidays and National Days.” In the 1980s, Japanese officials said it was harming trade between the two nations; a Chamber of Commerce official called it “embarrassing.”

There have been attempts to rename the holiday, which was established here in 1948, three years after the war ended. Governor DiPrete tried to transform it into Governor’s Bay Day, and others have pushed for “Peace and Remembrance Day” or “Rhode Island Veteran’s Day.” At one point the Rhode Island Japan Society even hired lawyers to press a case against the name. But protests from veterans and traditionalists have always won out.

“Who did the attacking, them or us?” Rene Bobola, a World War II veteran, asked in 1993. “I don’t think they have any right to tell us they don’t like V-J Day because we won the war.”

There’s no question the Second World War had an enormous impact on Rhode Island. More than 100,000 of the state’s residents served in the war, and 10,000 were killed, injured or lost. WRNI’s Scott MacKay captured the war’s significance in a 2010 essay:

If ever a state was at the center of the American war effort in World War II, it was Rhode Island. From Westerly to Woonsocket and everywhere in between, Rhode Island was focused on winning what has become known as, in Studs Terkel’s famous words, “The Good War.”

Newport was home to the Atlantic destroyer fleet, where thousands of sailors trained for service abroad. Quonset hosted thousands of troops who built Quonset huts and trained engineers and Seabees to work on ships. PT boats were built in Bristol and the man who was to become the most celebrated PT commander in history, John F. Kennedy, received his training at the navy’s station at Melville. …

But the naval presence was only a small part of the Rhode Island war effort. When Franklin Roosevelt said that the United States would become the arsenal of democracy, he could have been speaking about Rhode Island. A state that suffered through the Depression suddenly blossomed into an industrial powerhouse when war came. Liberty ships were made in Providence, torpedoes in Newport, army blankets and uniforms in textile mills all over the state. The machine shops of the Blackstone Valley thrummed with parts for guns. Even the jewelry makers flourished, turning out medals for the armed forces.

This is an expanded version of a post originally published in 2011.


Why RI Dems sided with Strom Thurmond on civil rights in ’48

August 10th, 2012 at 5:00 am by under Nesi's Notes, On the Main Site

T.F. Green (left), McGrath and Truman

One of the most famous convention speeches in American history is Hubert Humphrey’s 1948 address to that year’s Democratic National Convention, where he called on the delegates to approve a stronger civil rights plank over the opposition of everyone from President Truman on down. Humphrey’s victory catapulted him to national fame.

Robert Caro retells the story of the speech in “Master of the Senate,” volume three of his magisterial LBJ biography, and then describes the vote (emphasis mine):

In the vote on Humphrey’s minority plank, Truman’s Missouri, [Senate Minority Leader Alben] Barkley’s Kentucky, Democratic Chairman Howard McGrath’s Rhode Island, and of course the southern delegations all voted no.

Missouri, Kentucky, the Old Confederacy and … Rhode Island? Strange company.

The reason was McGrath, who had quite a career. A New Deal Democrat from Woonsocket, he got his start in public life as Central Falls’ city solicitor, then served as FDR’s Rhode Island U.S. Attorney (1934-1940), Rhode Island’s governor (1941-1945), Truman’s solicitor general (1945-1946), Rhode Island’s U.S. Senator (1947-1949) and finally Truman’s attorney general (1949-1952).

As the above anecdote notes, McGrath was also Truman’s DNC chairman and the campaign manager for his surprise 1948 victory. From the sounds of it, though, McGrath was no Dixiecrat – he fought lonely, often losing battles for civil rights legislation as a senator and as attorney general. But his personal finances apparently caused him some political problems.

A sad coda to McGrath’s career came in 1960, when he ran against Clabiorne Pell and Dennis Roberts (Elizabeth Roberts’ uncle by marriage) in the Democratic primary to succeed T.F. Green as U.S. Senator. Pell won, of course, and kept the seat for 36 years; McGrath died six years later at 62. The McGrath Judicial Complex in Wakefield is named for him.

(photo: Truman Library, via Wikipedia)


A reminder that Roger Williams was quite a fascinating fellow

July 23rd, 2012 at 10:38 am by under Nesi's Notes, On the Main Site

Governor Chafee isn’t the only one who remains deeply touched by the legacy of Rhode Island founding father Roger Williams, who died 329 years ago. Martha Nussbaum, the prominent University of Chicago law professor, invokes Williams in her new book (emphasis mine):

Finally, there is the need for “sympathetic imagination” on the part of citizens. Here the United States has long taken the lead, cultivating respect for religious differences since the 17th century, when Roger Williams founded Rhode Island, the “first colony (anywhere in the world, it seems) in which genuine religious liberty obtained for all.” Nussbaum is particularly impressed with Williams’s respectful treatment of the Narragansett Indians, whose language and culture he struggled to understand at a time when most of the colonists thought of them as beasts or devils.

Quite a legacy. (What would Williams have thought about the Narragansetts’ casino frustrations?)

• Related: WSJ, NYT look at ‘exasperatingly admirable’ Roger Williams (Dec. 30)


Read Bob Ryan’s classy Boston Globe tribute to Ben Mondor

June 25th, 2012 at 5:36 pm by under Nesi's Notes, On the Main Site

Bob Ryan – whose Boston Globe column will be dearly missed after he retires this summer – traveled to Pawtucket last week for the ceremony honoring the late Ben Mondor, who saved the PawSox in the 1970s. The resulting column is a must-read for Rhode Islanders:

PAWTUCKET, R.I. – He did not want the stadium named after him, and he more than likely would not have been too thrilled about what they were doing to perpetuate his memory now, but when you leave so many people behind who loved and respected you, the issue is out of your control.

That is why visitors to McCoy Stadium will now find a life-sized statue of the truly beloved Ben Mondor just outside the left-field foul pole, adjacent to what is known as the “Mondor Gardens.” At the base of the statue is an oft-heard Mondor passage that sums up his outlook on being involved in baseball:

“We’re blessed to make our living playing a little kid’s game on a field of freshly cut grass under God’s blue sky.”

Read Ryan’s entire column here.

• Related: Pawtucket celebrates birthday at former mayor’s stadium ‘folly’ (Aug. 23)


Photo: Clinton, Jack Reed and Claiborne Pell on Air Force One

June 21st, 2012 at 3:47 pm by under Nesi's Notes, On the Main Site

U.S. Sens. Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse took to the Senate floor this afternoon to mark the 40th anniversary of President Nixon signing Pell Grants into law. Named (later) for U.S. Sen. Claiborne Pell, the college financing program provided more than $100 million to nearly 30,000 Rhode Islanders in 2009-10.

Over the last 75 years, just three men – all Democrats – have held Rhode Island’s Class II Senate seat: T.F. Green, from 1937 to 1961; Pell, from 1961 to 1997; and now Reed, who was a congressman when he won Pell’s Senate seat upon the elder statesman’s retirement.

All this is really just my excuse to post this great old photograph of Reed and Pell conferring with President Clinton on Air Force One in the 1990s, which Reed’s office dug up at my request:

Fun fact: If Jack Reed retires at the same age as T.F. Green, he’ll be in the Senate until 2043.


How the D-Day news unfolded in Attleboro, 68 years ago today

June 6th, 2012 at 5:00 am by under Nesi's Notes, On the Main Site

Today is the 68th anniversary of D-Day, when Allied troops began the invasion of France and the final assault on Nazi Germany during World War II. Once again, then, here’s a reprint of a story I wrote for The Sun Chronicle looking at how the paper and the city of Attleboro experienced D-Day as it happened:

It was just past midnight on June 6, 1944, and most of The Attleboro Sun’s employees were asleep at home. Only Frank Feeney was sitting in the darkened newsroom, listening to a shortwave radio and keeping vigil by the AP teletype, when the news finally came.

Feeney listened closely as bulletins trickled in from Nazi Germany, hinting at a major Allied offensive under way off the coast of France. (more…)


Watch: A rather young Lt. Gov. Richard Licht on CNN in 1988

May 8th, 2012 at 1:25 pm by under Nesi's Notes

Long before he was Governor Chafee’s operations chief as director of administration, Richard Licht was Rhode Island’s Democratic lieutenant governor and a credible U.S. Senate challenger to Chafee’s father John in 1988. (Frank Licht, Richard’s uncle, had booted John Chafee from the governor’s office 20 years before.)

Chafee beat Licht by nine points that November, but this CNN clip – with footage of a youthful Mr. Licht – shows the lieutenant governor was taken seriously and the race was seen as “a dog fight”:

(Can anybody figure out what thoroughfare that is at the start of the CNN clip?)


Bill Simmons makes fun of Providence’s pathetic NBA team

April 16th, 2012 at 4:19 pm by under Nesi's Notes, On the Main Site

Apparently a decade in Los Angeles hasn’t cured Bill Simmons of his Massachusetts superiority complex.

From his latest Grantland column (emphasis mine):

Do you realize Charlotte has a chance to finish with the NBA’s worst winning percentage ever? The ‘73 Sixers own the worst 82-game record (9-73); the ‘99 Grizzlies own the worst strike-shortened record (8-42); and the ‘48 Providence Steamers set the records for fewest wins (they went 6-42) and most times someone said, “They put a team THERE?” (215,563 times and counting).

Hey Simmons, the team’s name was the Providence Steamrollers, thank you very much. And I’m sure they did the best they could during their very short three-year existence.

(image credit: NBA.com)


Happy 57th birthday, WPRI – watch vintage videos to celebrate

March 27th, 2012 at 6:00 am by under Nesi's Notes, On the Main Site

Happy birthday to – us! WPRI 12 turns 57 years old today.

As I related a year ago, WPRI came on the air as WPRO-TV on March 27, 1955, with the backing of the old Cherry & Webb clothing store. The station has had eight parent companies in the intervening years; our current parent, Providence-based LIN Media, has owned WPRI since 2001.

Paul Darling, who worked for Channel 12 and WPRO radio in the 1950s and ’60s, has self-published a book called “We Were Pioneers” filled with great photos from the era; you can click through the whole thing here. You can also read about our fancy triangular headquarters in this 1975 issue of RCA Broadcast News [pdf].

Last year at this time the oldest YouTube clip of WPRI was this groovy 1982 sign-on, but now the Wayback Machine has served up a short station ID from 1978 (plus the tail end of a spray creme commercial):

And here’s a terrific compilation of three station promos that aired on June 23, 1990, during a Saturday night telecast of “The Man With One Red Shoe” on ABC, our network at the time. The promos feature Walter Cryan, Karen Adams, the Bristol 4th of July Parade and Almacs – how Rhode Island can you get?


Happy 34th anniversary of the Blizzard of ’78, Rhode Island

February 6th, 2012 at 6:53 pm by under Nesi's Notes, On the Main Site

My colleague Tony Petrarca reminded me this evening that today marks 34 years since the Blizzard of ’78. Remember when it used to snow here?

Providence got a record-breaking 27.6 inches of snow. The images from the storm we saw in Governor Garrahy’s obituary are still astonishing. Here’s the cover of the old Evening-Bulletin’s “snow edition” 34 years ago today (via Quahog.org):

The storm was so epic that the Projo actually published a hardcover book recapping it, “Blizzard: The Great Storm of ’78 as Reported in the Pages of The Providence Journal and The Evening Bulletin.” You can still buy the Projo’s book used for $15 on Amazon. Nowadays they’d publish a Kindle Single.

(As an aside, what are we going to show to mark historical events if we stop printing daily newspapers? A screenshot? An iPad?)


Former Rhode Island Gov. J. Joseph Garrahy is dead at 81

January 25th, 2012 at 9:59 am by under Nesi's Notes, On the Main Site

Former Rhode Island Gov. J. Joseph Garrahy, who will forever be associated with the Blizzard of ’78, has died at the age of 81, multiple sources tell WPRI 12.

More details here, including the Garrahy family’s statement plus reaction from Jack Reed, Lincoln Chafee, M. Charles Bakst, Joe Fleming and Charlie Fogarty. Garrahy’s death comes the same week as the passing of Bill Dugan, his former chief of staff and close friend, who died Monday in North Providence at the age of 80.

Update: Statements from officials remembering Garrahy are flooding into the newsroom. We’re collecting them all on this page if you want to read them.

Also, you should watch our video obituary – the photos of the State House buried in snow during the Blizzard of ’78 are still astonishing. We have a photo gallery, too.

Update #2: The Journal has posted a nice obituary by Russ Garland. It’s interesting to read his comments about money in politics. Fun fact: Garrahy demolished Buddy Cianci in the 1980 gubernatorial election, winning 74% of the vote to the once-and-future mayor’s 26%.

(photo: University of Rhode Island)


Chafee cabinet member’s father-in-law ran against … Chafee

January 11th, 2012 at 6:00 am by under Nesi's Notes, On the Main Site

Talk about a team of rivals.

Governor Chafee’s new chief of staff, George Zainyeh, ran against him twice for mayor of Warwick. Chafee’s director of administration, Richard Licht, is the nephew of the man who defeated Gov. John Chafee in his 1968 reelection campaign.

Add a third one to the list. Rosemary Booth Gallogly, the veteran budget wonk who is Chafee’s director of revenue, is the daughter-in-law of former Lt. Gov. Edward P. Gallogly, who ran against John Chafee in 1964 – and lost by the largest margin of any Democratic gubernatorial candidate that year, despite a national landslide for LBJ’s party.

In an email, Gallogly said it’s “not surprising in a small state like Rhode Island that there would be a connection that exists between two politically active families. In fact, the governor’s waiting area has some campaign collectibles of my father-in-law’s political pursuits.”

Edward Gallogly had a long career in Rhode Island public life. A graduate of Providence College and Boston Univeristy School of Law, he was first elected as a state senator in 1954, then lieutenant governor in 1960. LBJ made him Rhode Island’s U.S. Attorney in 1967, and he served as chief judge of the Family Court from 1969 to 1986. He died in 1995.

(photo: University of Rhode Island)


When Chafee backed Romney in the New Hampshire primary

January 10th, 2012 at 2:56 pm by under Nesi's Notes, On the Main Site

It’s a safe bet Lincoln Chafee never planned to be in New Hampshire today getting out the vote for Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign. Four decades ago, though, their fathers were joined at the hip ahead of the first-in-the-nation primary.

From 1966 to 1968, Rhode Island’s then-governor, John Chafee, played a pivotal role in marshaling support for the doomed presidential bid of his fellow liberal Republican, Gov. George Romney of Michigan. The very different roads their sons traveled subsequently are a reminder of the GOP’s transformation in the years since.

Both Chafee and Romney were first elected governor in 1962 and easily reelected two years later despite a Democratic landslide for candidates from LBJ on down. As leaders of the GOP’s apparently ascendant moderate wing, they were involved with the Ripon Society, a centrist Republican think tank that criticized Goldwater’s campaign.

The pair won resounding reelection victories again in 1966, a banner year for Republicans, and Chafee emerged immediately as one of Romney’s strongest backers for president – as well as a potential vice presidential nominee in his own right. He even penned the foreword to a biography of the Michigan governor.

(more…)


On Caucus Day, still waiting for RI’s first presidential candidate

January 3rd, 2012 at 12:32 pm by under Nesi's Notes, On the Main Site

Regardless of whether tonight’s Iowa Caucuses are won by Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum or Ron Paul, one thing is for sure – the victor won’t be a Rhode Island resident. Again.

No Rhode Islander has been picked for the national ticket of one of the two major political parties since the Democratic Party’s establishment in 1828 and the Republican Party’s creation in 1856, said Chris Barnett, spokesman for Secretary of State Ralph Mollis.

The last Rhode Island resident to make the ballot was Richard Walton, who was the Citizens Party’s vice-presidential nominee in 1984. Walton and his running mate, Sonia Johnson, won 240 votes in Rhode Island against the Reagan-Bush and Mondale-Ferraro tickets.

“As anyone who receives email from the R.I. Green Party forum knows, the Warwick resident is still politically active,” Barnett added.

(more…)


RI was only state to recognize all-black militia before Civil War

January 3rd, 2012 at 5:55 am by under Nesi's Notes

Your Rhode Island history lesson of the day, courtesy The New York Times (emphasis mine):

Building on this legacy, black men in cities from Cincinnati to New Bedford, Mass., organized militia companies named for famous men of color …. Such state-chartered militia groups, the forerunners of today’s National Guard, were then the backbone of the armed forces. But the 1792 Militia Act had limited service to white men, so black units never received state charters or weapons (the exception was Rhode Island, where the black vote was a major factor, resulting in official recognition of the state’s black militia in 1855). Instead, they had to pay for training and weapons themselves.

Anybody know why the black vote a much bigger factor in Rhode Island than elsewhere during the 1850s?


From the vault: The wonkiest New Year’s Eve ball-drop ever

January 2nd, 2012 at 5:30 pm by under Nesi's Notes, On the Main Site

Have you ever wondered what a Nesi’s Notes New Year’s Eve TV special would be like?

Well, it would probably bear a resemblance to the commentary Ben Grauer offered on “The Tonight Show” as the ball dropped in Times Square on New Year’s Eve 1965. He manages to get in an increase in the payroll tax, the Dow Jones Industrial Average, a possible subway strike, the war in Vietnam and more (no pensions, alas):

Eat your heart out, Ryan Seacrest.