Until recently, many, if not most, Americans had not heard of Harriet Tubman.  When Secretary of the Treasury Jack Lew announced that her likeness would be added to the front of the $20 bill replacing Andrew Jackson many people wondered who she was and what had she accomplished to merit that honor.  After all, Jackson was a former President of the US and a hero of the famous Battle of New Orleans in the War of 1812  (and, ironically, a slaveholder).   I, myself, had a very sketchy knowledge of Tubman.  My research for this blog disclosed that she was, in fact, a very accomplished and compelling figure in US history.  Read on, and see for yourself.

Araminta Ross was born circa 1822 in Dorchester County, Maryland.  The exact date and place are unknown.  This was not uncommon, as records of slaves’ birth dates were often sketchy.   We do know that her parents were slaves, and she had many siblings.  As a child, she suffered a very serious head injury when a slave owner hit her (accidentally) with a heavy metal weight.  She nearly died, and it caused her to suffer from severe headaches, epileptic seizures, strange dreams and visions throughout her entire life.  In circa 1844 she married a free black named John Tubman. Such “blended” marriages were not uncommon on Maryland’s Eastern Shore at the time, because of the plethora of freed blacks in the area.  Sometime after, she changed her first name to Harriet, which had been her mother’s name.

In 1849 Harriet and her two brothers escaped.  They got away, but her brothers later chose to return and took her with them.  It is unclear why, but one of them had just become a father and may have wanted to reunite with his family.  Shortly thereafter, Harriet escaped again, this time without her brothers.  Her exact route was unknown, but she was surely aided by the so-called Underground Railroad, which was a network of safe houses run by abolitionists and sympathizers (many of which were Quakers) that aided runaway slaves. During the days, in order to evade detection, she would often hide in the marshes and swamps that proliferated the area.  On one occasion, the owner of the house in which she was hiding had her perform yardwork, in order to blend in as part of the household.  Years later, she said that upon crossing into Pennsylvania she had such a feeling of relief and awe that she “felt like [she] was in heaven,” and [she] “looked at [her] hands to see if [she] was the same person.”  It is hard for us to imagine those strong feelings.

Over a period of eleven years Tubman returned to the Maryland area over a dozen times to rescue slaves.  It is estimated that she personally escorted 70 slaves to safety and provided detailed instructions to 50 or so more.  Her ingenious planning favored arranging  escapes in the winter (when the nights were longer and potential witnesses would tend to stay indoors) and on Saturday nights (which provided a longer head start because newspapers did not print runaway notices until Monday).  Quick thinking was also a necessity.  One time, while riding a train she spotted one of her former slave owners nearby.  Fearing he would recognize her, she quickly grabbed a newspaper lying nearby and pretended to read it.  Her hope was that he would not think it was she, because he knew she was illiterate.   The deception worked.

Tubman was never captured, never even suspected, nor were any of the slaves she guided.  She was fond of saying “I never ran my train off the track, and I never lost a passenger.”  She was so successful that the renowned abolitionist, William Lloyd Garrison, nicknamed her “Moses” (for obvious reasons).

In the years immediately preceding the Civil War Tubman became associated with John Brown, the notorious activist, some would say, “terrorist,” who was a strong proponent of using violence to destroy slavery.  She was not, however, present when he raided Harpers Ferry, and, thus, was not tainted by that ill-fated escapade.

Tubman was active for the Union during the Civil War.  Among her many accomplishments:

  1. She helped map certain marshy and swampy areas with which she was familiar for Union armies.
  2. She provided critical intelligence that assisted in the capture of Jacksonville.
  3. She nursed wounded union soldiers in army hospitals in the South.
  4. She became the first woman to lead an armed assault during the war.  The attack against a  group of plantations along the Combahee River in South Carolina resulted in the rescue of over 750 slaves.

In her later years she retired to her farm in Auburn, NY, which she had purchased in 1859 from none other than Senator William Seward, a prominent politician from the area who was to run for president in 1860,  and who, in later life would be responsible for the purchase of Alaska from Russia for a pittance.  In addition, she became active in the Women’s Suffrage movement, working alongside luminaries such as Susan B. Anthony.

Eventually, she became penniless, and was forced to rely on donations from friends and well-wishers to survive.  She died in 1911 from pneumonia.


Tubman was widely respected and admired during her lifetime, however, following her death she became a national icon.  Consider:

  1. She has had countless statues, plaques, schools and memorials named in her honor.
  2. The federal government established two national parks in her honor – one in Maryland and one in Auburn, NY.
  3. Literary honorariums include two films, biographies and an opera.
  4. In 1944 the US launched the SS Harriet Tubman.
  5. In 1978 the US Postal Service issued a stamp in her honor.
  6. A survey taken late in the 20th Century named her as number three on a list of the most famous civilians in American history before the Civil War. Can you guess the two ahead of her?  See below.
  7. She has even had an asteroid named after her (#241528).
  8. And, now the $20 bill with her likeness.  By the way, don’t go crazy looking for the new bill just yet.  The Treasury estimates the new bills will not be ready for circulation until 2030.

Due to the foregoing,  one can easily discern the reasons for placing Tubman’s likeness on the $20 bill.

Answer:  Betsy Ross and Paul Revere.



My darling and devoted wife claims I have very limited knowledge of pop culture.  Perhaps, but let’s test your knowledge.  You know the drill: no peeking at the internet.  Good luck

  1. Each of the following has hosted the Academy Awards, EXCEPT:

(a)  Anne Hathaway;  (b) Paul Hogan; (c) Jay Leno; (d) Jon Stewart

2.  Shonda Rhimes created each of the following tv shows, EXCEPT:

(a) “Grey’s Anatomy;” (b) “Scandal;” (c) “The Catch;” (d) “Chicago Medical”

3.   Which famous entertainer was born in Steubenville, Ohio?

(a)  Dean Martin;  (b)  Bing Crosby; (c) Jack Benny; (d) Liberace

4.  All of the below were “American Idol” judges, EXCEPT:

(a) Steven Tyler; (b) Kara DioGuardi; (c) Simon Cowell; (d) Smokey Robinson

5.  Name the original host of the tv game show, “Jeopardy.”

(a)  Don Pardo; (b) Art Fleming; (c) Pat Sajak; (d) Bill Cullen

6.  Each of the following was a member of the Marx Brothers, EXCEPT:

(a)  Gummo; (b) Bammo; (c)  Chico; (d) Harpo

7.  Which child actor debuted in the tv show “Little House on the Prairie?”

(a)  Ed Furlong; (b) Richard Thomas; (c) Jerry Mathers; (d) Jason Bateman

8.  In the famous Abbott and Costello comedy routine “Who’s on First,” the name of the second baseman is:

(a)  What; (b) When; (c) Tomorrow; (d) I don’t know.

9.  Each of the following entertainers was born on Long Island, EXCEPT:

(a)  Jerry Seinfeld; (b) William Baldwin; (c) Mariah Carey; (d) Andre Levins

10.  Who was Marion Mitchell Morrison?

(a)  James Cagney; (b) Jimmy Stewart; (c) John Wayne; (d) Clark Gabel

11.  According to Nielsen, the top rated tv show for the week of March 28, 2016 was

(a)  “NCIS”; (b) “60 Minutes;” (c) “Empire;” (d) “Big Bang Theory”

12.  Each of the below is a member of the 2016 “Saturday Nite Live” cast, EXCEPT:

(a)  Pamela Tola; (b) Numa Lahtinen; (c) Melissa McCarthy; (d) Andre Wickstrom

13.   Fox news host Bill O”Reilly was raised in

(a)  Levittown, NY; (b)  Boston, MA; (c) New York City; (d) Pittsburgh, PA

14.   Taylor Swift won her first Grammy in:

(a) 2008; (b) 2009; (c) 2010; (d) 2011

15.    Who played “Rhoda Morgenstern” on the “Mary Tyler Show?”

(a)  Valerie Harper; (b) Betty White; (c) Chloris Leachman; (d) Rose Marie

16.  Alfred Hitchcock directed each of the below movies, EXCEPT:

(a) “Psycho;” (b) “Marnie;” (c) “The Birds;” (d) “The House of Wax”

17.   Which Kardashian is married to former NBA player, Lamar Odom?

(a) Kloe; (b) Kim; (c) Kourtney; (d) Kendall

18.     “The Dancing with the Stars” season 1 winner was

(a)  Emmitt Smith; (b) Jennifer Grey; (c) Kelly Monaco; (d) Shawn Johnson

19.  Which of the below actors played “Danno” on the original “Hawaii 50” tv series?

(a)  Al Harrington; (b) Buddy Epsen; (c) Larry Manetti; (d) James MacArthur

20.  Which of the below actors played “Newman” on “Seinfeld?”

(a) Wayne Knight; (b) Jerry  Stiller; (c) Brad Garrett (d) Ben Stein

ANSWERS: (1)  c;  (2)  d; (3) a; (4) d; (5)  b; (6) b; (7) d; (8) a; (9) a; (10)  c;  (11) d;  (12) c; (13) a; (14) c; (15) a: (16) d; (17) a; (18) c; (19) d; (20) a.


Well, there you have it.  Hopefully, it’s not too easy and not too hard.  Let me know how you did.


Number 42.  Does that have any special meaning for you, or is it just another number?   Baseball fans, civil rights advocates, and students of history will recognize it as the uniform number worn by Jackie Robinson of the Brooklyn Dodgers.   It should be noted that that uniform number has two other major significances:

  1. It is the only number to have been retired by every major league baseball team (1997); and
  2. since 2004, every year on April 15 on what is known as “Jackie Robinson Day,”every player wears that number in tribute to Jackie Robinson in recognition of the anniversary of his debut in the major leagues in 1947.  On that historic date Jackie became the first African American to play in the major leagues since the 1880s.  Remember, in 1947 segregation was the law of the land.  The Brown Supreme Court decision integrating public schools would not come until 1954.  Even the armed forces would not be integrated until 1948.

Jack Roosevelt Robinson was born on January 31, 1919 in Cairo, Georgia.  His parents chose his middle name in honor of President Teddy Roosevelt, who had recently died. He was the youngest of five children.  One of his older brothers, Mack, would later earn some notoriety by winning the silver medal in the 100 meter dash in the 1936 Olympics.  Jackie’s parents were sharecroppers and barely scraping by, so in 1920 they moved to Pasadena, California seeking a better life.

In high school and college Jackie excelled in five sports – baseball, basketball, football, track and tennis.  Basically, he was an all-around athlete who excelled in any sport he tried.  At UCLA he became the school’s first athlete to “letter” in four sports (all of the above except tennis).  One of his teammates on the 1939 UCLA football team was the future actor, Woody Strode.  Ironically, statistically, at least, baseball was his worst sport of the four.

In 1941 Jackie left UCLA just shy of graduating to play semi-pro football, but in early 1942 he was drafted and stationed at Fort Riley in Texas.   He applied for admission to OCS.  Initially, his application was rejected as few blacks were accepted at the time, but following a personal appeal from Joe Louis, the reigning heavyweight boxing champ, he was accepted.

Jackie’s tenure in the army was marred by one unfortunate incident in which his fiery temperament got him in trouble.  While riding an Army bus one day the driver told him to move to the back.  Jackie refused. As a result he was nearly court-martialed for insubordination and other trumped up offenses.  A conviction would have changed the course of his life and, possibly, the country’s as well, but he was acquitted.

In 1945 Jackie signed to play for the Kansas City Monarchs in the Negro leagues.  Unbeknownst to him, Branch Rickey, President of the Brooklyn Dodgers, was looking for a Negro to break the major leagues’ “color barrier,” which had been in place since the 1880s.  He had compiled a list of the best players in the Negro leagues and was evaluating them for suitability.  There were many players better than Jackie, notably Satchel Paige and Josh Gibson, but due to age, temperament and other factors, they were all eliminated in favor of Jackie.  Rickey knew the first player would have to “turn the other cheek” to a great deal of verbal, physical and emotional abuse.  Otherwise, it might be many more years before the next Negro got a chance.  When he told Jackie this, Jackie was shocked and replied “Are you looking for a Negro who is afraid to fight back?”  Rickey’s famous reply was that he was seeking a Negro “with guts enough not to fight back.”

To make a long story short, Rickey signed Jackie.  He played for the Montreal Royals, the Dodgers AAA minor league affiliate in the International League, in 1946.  He “tore up” the league, winning the MVP award.  The next year he made his debut in the major leagues.  To me, his debut was one of the most significant events not only in baseball history, but also in the country’s history.

There was tremendous resistance not only from other Dodgers, but from players on other teams as well.  Luckily, Dodger management was behind Jackie 100%.  When some Dodgers players threatened to quit, strike or demand a trade, the team’s manager, Leo Durocher, a fiery, no nonsense person himself, nipped the rebellion in the bud.   He declared: “I do not care if the guy is yellow or black, or if he has stripes like a f****** zebra.  I’m the manager of this team, and I say he plays.”  Players on other teams also threatened to strike, but the commissioner quelled that rebellion quickly as well.  Nevertheless, Jackie had to endure a tremendous amount of prejudice and abuse on and off the field (name calling, spiking, being hit by pitches, separate lodging and restaurants on the road, etc.).  Eventually, other blacks would join him in the majors.  Their life was very difficult, and some could not survive, but many more did.


Rickey chose well with Jackie.  In baseball parlance, he “knocked it out of the park.”  Attendance soared and not just in Brooklyn but in every other city as well.  Black people came in droves to see their hero, Jackie Robinson, play.  In those days, attendance was the primary source of ball clubs’ revenue, so Jackie made money for everyone.

Not only did Jackie “take” all the abuse without incident, he starred on the field and became an integral part of one of the most storied teams in baseball history, the “Boys of Summer.”  In a ten-year period from 1947-1956 that team dominated the National League.  It won six pennants, lost another in a playoff and lost another by one game.  Among Jackie’s many MLB accomplishments:

  1. Rookie of the year in 1947 (the first one).
  2. National League MVP in 1949.
  3. Appeared in six World Series.
  4. World champion in 1955.
  5. First ballot hall of famer in 1962.
  6. Member of the MLB All-Century team.

Jackie was extremely versatile,  Although he came up as a second baseman, he also played first, third and the outfield.  Many times, he was among the league leaders in fielding at his position.  He was one of the best “clutch” players I have ever observed.  He could beat you with the bat, the glove or on the bases.  I have never seen a better baserunner or a tougher competitor.   When on base, he would drive the opposing pitcher crazy with his antics.  He was always a threat to steal a base.  I saw him steal home in the 1955 World Series.  When caught in a rundown he often escaped, which, generally, was a rarity.  His aggressive style of play was unique for the 1940s and 1950s.

As far as his extreme competitive nature, one story will suffice.  In the decisive third game of the 1951 playoff with the NY Giants, when the Giants’ Bobby Thompson hit the game winning home run, all the Dodgers left the field immediately with their heads down in defeat.  All except for Jackie.  He watched and made sure that Thompson touched all the bases on his home run trot.  He would not accept defeat until Thompson had completed his circuit.

Jackie retired from baseball after the 1956 season worn down by age and diabetes, but he did not retire from life.  For example, he became very active in the civil rights movement; he became the first black to serve as vp of a major corporation (Chock Full O’Nuts); he went into broadcasting; and he acted in a movie of his own life story.

Ultimately, however, his fierce competitiveness could not overcome ill health.  Jackie died on October 24, 1972 at the relatively young age of 53 from complications of heart disease and diabetes.  I’m sure that all the stress he had to endure on the playing field also contributed to his early demise.

Jackie’s legacy, however, lives on.  There are countless, statues, schools, parks and roads named in his honor.  Moreover, every time a black or other minority takes the field in the major leagues, the NFL or the NBA, he owes a debt to the pioneer who made it all possible,  Jack Roosevelt Robinson.



Which presidential election would you consider the most significant and controversial in US history and why?  Would it be the 1932 election in which FDR routed Herbert Hoover, which led to the New Deal and the eventual end to the Great Depression?   Perhaps, you would select the 1876 election in which Rutherford B. Hayes defeated Samuel Tilden?  (For you non-history buffs, on Election Day, Tilden, the Dem, won the popular vote and captured 184 electoral votes to 165 for Hayes, the Republican, with 20 electors in dispute.  After much negotiation, in order to avoid a constitutional crisis the powers that be agreed to a controversial compromise deal in which all 20 electoral votes were awarded to Hayes making him president.  In return, the GOP agreed to withdraw all Federal troops from the former Confederate States ending the controversial Reconstruction period.)   Or, perhaps, you would favor the 2000 (“hanging chad”) election in which the dispute was eventually resolved by the Supreme Court, along straight political lines, in favor of Bush 43  over Al Gore?   Or, is it this year’s election with all the twists and turns that have and may still occur?

In my opinion, it is none of those.  The nod goes to the 1860 election won by Abraham Lincoln.  Here’s why:

  1.  The country was sharply divided over slavery, not only North vs. South, but also in some of the newly settled territories, such as Kansas and Texas.  The slavery issue had been dividing the country since colonial days, percolating like a simmering volcano ready to explode.  Politicians, as is their wont, had been loath to make the hard choices necessary to resolve it.  Instead they had delayed decisive action  repeatedly.  By 1860 the issue had come to a head as several southern states were threatening to secede from the union over it.  Secession, if allowed to stand, would have destroyed the nation, perhaps, even enabling the European powers to gobble up the pieces.  The next president would have no choice but to deal with it once and for all.
  2. The political situation in the country was in disarray.  The nominations and general election were wide open.  The Democratic Party had difficulty settling on a nominee.  Finally, it nominated Stephen A. Douglas.  Douglas was unacceptable to southern Dems, so they nominated Vice President John Breckenridge, of Kentucky.  The Union Party nominated former Tennessee senator John Bell.  The fledgling GOP was unable to agree on a candidate prior to the convention.  The major contenders were William Seward, a veteran politician who had held several political offices, notably Governor of NY, Ohio Governor Salmon Chase, former Missouri congressman Edward Bates, and a little known, relatively inexperienced former congressman from Illinois named Abraham Lincoln.
  3. There were no primaries in 1860, so the GOP convention was wide open.  Seward was the front runner, but he had a lot of enemies.  (Sound familiar)?   One that you may have heard of was the prominent publisher Horace Greeley (“Go West, young man.  Go West.”).  They spread the word that Seward, who was not without controversy, was anathema to many people, especially in the key states of Illinois, Indiana, Pennsylvania and New Jersey.  Since Breckenridge was the consensus heavy favorite in all the southern states, the GOP felt it had to win virtually all of the northern ones.  Therefore, there were doubts concerning Seward’s electability.  Consequently, his appeal waned.
  4. As Seward began to fade, more and more delegates turned to Lincoln.  Lincoln had not been considered a major candidate prior to the convention, and in most years probably would have been ignored.  But, this was not a normal year.  The country was on the brink of civil war, and the GOP was desperate to win the presidency.  Lincoln’s only hope had been to bide his time and hope for an open convention in which he could become a compromise candidate.  His strategy worked as he became perceived as a compromise moderate candidate who could carry the above key states.
  5. He was nominated on the third ballot.
  6. Here’s a lesson for today’s fractured GOP.  Seward, though spurned by the Party hierarchy at the convention he had entered as the front-runner, still campaigned vigorously for Lincoln.  His support, especially in NY, was crucial to Lincoln’s narrow victory.
  7. As we know, historians generally rank Lincoln as one of three or four greatest presidents.  Ironically, if not for the confluence of various unlikely events and circumstances as noted above, he would never have been elected or even nominated.  His greatest achievement, what I believe to be the greatest achievement of any of our presidents, was to preserve the Union by winning the Civil War.  Freeing the slaves was a very significant by-product, but Lincoln always said his main objective was to keep the union intact.  Freeing the slaves was a means to that end and not universally popular at the time, even in the North.  In fact, it was one of the main factors that led to his assassination.
That, my friends, is why I consider the 1860 election to be the most controversial and significant in history.  Think about how different US history would have been if Lincoln had not been elected president.  History has demonstrated that he was the right man for the right job at the right time.  Lucky us!
I would stipulate that a case could be made for other elections.  If you have a differing opinion, I would love to hear it.
My conclusion will be a short quiz, a “quizette,” if you will.
1.   Name the only presidential election that resulted in the president and vice president being from different political parties.
a.  1792
b.  1796
c.  1788
d.  1860
2.  Name the first political party to hold a national convention.
a.  Whig
b.  Democrats
c.  Republicans
d.  Anti-Masonic
3.  Which two states are not “winner take all” in the general election?
a.  Hawaii and Alaska
b.  Missouri and Vermont
c.  Maine and Nebraska
d.  Montana and Kansas
4.  Where is the last primary?
a.  DC
b.  California
c.  South Dakota
d.  North Dakota
ANSWERS:  1.  (b) [In 1796, as in 1788 and 1792, there were no separate candidates for VP.  The second place finisher (Thomas Jefferson – a Republican) became the VP under John Adams – a Federalist)].  2. (d);  3.  (c); 4.  (a)


Opening Day. Mention those words to any sports fan, and, immediately, he knows what it means and to which sport it pertains. Not football, not basketball, not hockey. OD means that another season of Major League Baseball is beginning. Baseball fans look forward to OD every year. Local newspapers step up their coverage of the local team in anticipation. Many of them even print a daily countdown of the number of days remaining until OD. In addition, OD occurs in the Spring, a season that symbolizes a new beginning and one which most people anticipate every year.

Most fans will acknowledge that baseball is no longer the most popular sport. In fact, according to TV ratings, betting interest and most fan polls, football has superseded baseball. However, baseball, which has been played in the US in some form since the 1840s, is part of the social fabric of America. Most men remember their first game of “catch” with their father or their first baseball game. In fact, I have a more detailed recall of a World Series game I saw with my father in 1956 than I do of ballgames I saw last year.

Every fan is optimistic on OD. Every team starts with the same 0-0 record. No one has lost a game yet. Every team still has a chance to make the playoffs, and as we have seen in recent years, once you make the playoffs anything can happen.  Many fans and even some reporters place undue emphasis on the opener forgetting or ignoring the fact that the season consists of 162 games. Over the course of a baseball season even the best teams will lose approximately 60-70 games. To many fans, a win OD means the season will be outstanding; a loss means the team “stinks.”

For many years, MLB had scheduled the very first game of the season in Cincinnati, usually on the first Monday in April. This was in recognition of the fact that the Reds were the first professional baseball team. The team was formed in 1869 as the Red Stockings. Incidentally, they went 65-0 that year, the only perfect season in baseball history.  However, several years ago MLB began scheduling Sunday night games to be televised on ESPN in prime time the night before the “official” OD.  This year there are three “pre-openers.”  The feature game will be the NY Mets at Kansas City,  a rematch of last year’s World Series.  Most teams will open on Monday, although two teams’ openers will be delayed until Tuesday.  Why three “ODs?”  Who knows, although a good guess would be tv.

Down through the years, OD has produced some memorable events, such as:

1. In 1907, the NY Giants, forerunner of the San Francisco Giants, forfeited the opener after rowdy fans began throwing snowballs at the players and umpires. There were not enough police on hand to restore order, so the umpires forfeited the game to the visiting Phillies.
2. In 1910 President Taft became the first President to throw out the “first ball.” In 1950 President Truman threw out the “first pitch” twice, as a righty and a lefty. In total, twelve Presidents have thrown out the “first pitch.”  Will we see President Obama do the “wave” this year?  I can hardly wait.
3. In 1940, Bob Feller of the Cleveland Indians, known as “Rapid Robert” because of his high velocity, threw the only OD day no-hitter in baseball history. As an aside, there were no radar guns in Feller’s day, so one day some officials attempted to “time” his fastball by having him throw a pitch against a speeding motor cycle.
4. In 1947 Jackie Robinson debuted for the Brooklyn Dodgers on OD becoming the first African American to play in the major leagues since the 19th Century.
5. In 1975 Frank Robinson became the first African American to manage in the Major Leagues.
6. In 1996, John McSherry, an umpire, suffered a fatal heart attack near home plate.
7. Early in the 20th Century teams would, on occasion, open with a doubleheader. Doubleheaders used to be quite common, particularly on Sundays and holidays. Now, they are rare, and when they do occur it is usually the result of adding an extra game to make up for a rain-out.
8. Tom Seaver started the most openers – 16. Walter Johnson pitched the most OD shutouts – nine.


Today’s dreary, rainy weather in NY on the eve of the baseball season is more suitable to football.  It reminds me of one of the major criticisms of baseball, that the season is too long.  Many  of the early season games will be played in cold, damp conditions and, perhaps, even snow.  We all know why that is the case – tv money.  The owners like it, because it makes them rich and less dependent on attendance for revenues.  The players tolerate it, because it fuels their astronomic salaries.  As for the fans, well, they will just have to grin and bear it.

Finally, I am reminded of that noted philosopher, Yogi Berra, who is reputed to have said: “A home opener is always exciting, no matter if it’s home or on the road.”