28 December 1863 - Washington, D.C.

Today I visited the Capitol Building to see the new nearly-completed dome. I understand they are still working on the inside.

Original U.S. Capitol Dome in 1846
This isn’t the original dome. That one was completed in 1823 and was made of copper. The country soon outgrew it’s capitol building, and needed to expand. Unfortunately the old dome would be dwarfed by the new additions.

Construction on a taller more elegant dome began in 1855. The Civil War halted the construction in 1861, but President Abraham Lincoln insisted it continue, if only for the moral of this nation.

I had my camera glasses on to record the gleaming bronze statue on top. It had just been placed on the 2nd of this month. I zoomed in to get a better look.

“She is a beauty, isn’t she, sir?” a voice beside me said. “Nearly twenty feet tall.”

I turned to find a man about sixty of African descent. “Yes, she is. Do you know something about the statue?”

“Her name is ‘Freedom,’ and I made her.”

I wasn’t sure if the man was mad, or if he was practicing that infamous American art of “pulling my leg.” “Really? I was told Thomas Crawford sculpted the statue.”

“He did indeed, sir, may he rest in peace. Mr. Crawford was the artist who designed her and made the plaster model in Rome. Someone had to create the mold and pour the bronze here.”

“Ah! So, you were the craftsman who created the finished product.”

“Took more than one man, but I was the foreman in charge.”

“Foundry men are the unsung heroes of the art world. Well, I must say, I am most pleased to meet you, sir.” I stuck out my hand. “May I ask your name?”

“Phillip Reid, sir. I was bought as a slave by Mr. Ferraro, a foreman with the Clark Mill Foundry. They were awarded the contract. I wasn’t the only slave working on the capitol building.”

“The capitol was built by slave labor?”

“Mostly. The fellow in charge of the renovations didn’t seem to mind, being a slave owner himself. Last I heard he was down in Richmond, being President to this here Confederacy.”

“Jefferson Davis!” I found it all too ironic. “I had heard the Confederacy originally wanted to make Washington, D.C. their capital.”

Capitol earlier this year (1863)
“Reckon old Mr. Davis didn’t want to give up all his hard work. Heard he changed the design on the statue, though. Mr. Crawford wanted to put something called a Liberty Cap on Freedom’s head.”

“Ah, yes. Like the freed slaves in the ancient Roman Empire wore?”

Reid nodded. “Mr. Davis had a tizzy fit. Made him change it to a helmet.”

“Did your master allow you to watch the statue being set?”

“What master?” Reid grinned at me. “President Lincoln signed an act outlawing slavery in the District of Columbia back in April of last year. When my old master striked for more money, Mill turned the project over to me.”

“Congratulations on your freedom, sir. I can see why this statue has special meaning for you.”

Reid shaded his eyes to look up at the statue. “Yup, ‘Freedom’ might have been molded by slaves, but she was raised onto her pedestal by freemen.”

I wish I could have told Phillip Reid that one day an African-American would take the Oath of Office in the shadow of his statue. I’m sure he would never have believed me. But then I suppose he would not have believed me if I told him thirty years ago that one day he would be free and his handiwork would crown the U.S. Capitol Building.

You never know what the future might bring.


Merry Christmas from 1863

Merry Christmas to one and all.

This is a Thomas Nast illustration from the current (1863) Harper's Magazine. It shows a soldier on furlough in the center. I'm assuming that is his wife.

The chap in the picture to the left is Santa Claus. Many credit Nast with creating the image we most associate with the gentleman.


Denmark's Answer to the Final Solution

Modern 27th century Copenhagen has managed to save some of 19th century, but like many modern cities, it is now very different. The Danes however have managed to hang onto their love of freedom and equality as I witnessed with the signing of the Constitution back in 1849.

Another reminder of that spirit is a statue now outside Amalienborg Palace. It is a bronze statue of King Christian X, upon his horse Jubilee, erected in the 23rd century. Upon his arm is a Star of David band.

In World War II Germany invaded the tiny country of Denmark, because of its strategic location. Holland had tried to resist before with disastrous results, Germany severely punishing the Dutch for their audacity. Denmark knew it had no more chance of confronting the military super power than Holland. So the Danes surrendered.

King Christian X on Jubilee
Denmark at first was treated benignly, then increasingly more oppressive. The elderly King Christian of Denmark went along as much as necessary, but didn’t hide his disdain for the invaders. Every morning he would ride his horse, Jubilee, through the streets, waving to the cheering Danes, and pointedly ignoring the German soldiers who saluted him. He rode alone without any guards. It’s said one day a soldier asked why the King had no guards, and a cocky teenager replied “We are all his guards.”

Then, the story goes, the Germans ordered all Jews in Denmark to wear a Star of David on their arms, like Jews in the other German occupied lands. The next morning Kin g Christian came out wearing a Star of David band himself. Everyone started wearing one. The bands were made useless.

I hate to tell you this, but this lovely story is a myth. Never happened. We think of the word “myth” as being synonymous with “lie,” but that is not true. A myth is a symbol of a larger truth.

Yes, Christian did ride Jubilee every morning, but he never wore a band, because no one in Denmark ever wore a band. Perhaps this story persists because it is exactly what the King would have done. From the very beginning of the occupation, he let it be known that he did not approve of anti-Semitism. A Dane was a Dane, whatever their religion or ethnic background. When a synagogue was targeted by arsonists, Christian issued a statement condemning this action. The vandals and the newspaper instigators were severely punished. The Germans left the Danish Jews alone, if only to secure Danish cooperation.

Then in 1942, Hitler sent King Christian a long glowing telegram, congratulating him on his 72nd birthday. King Christian answered with a curt “My best thanks, King Chr.” This insulted Hitler. He recalled the German ambassador from Denmark and kicked the Danish one out of Germany.

George Duckwitz
On the 28th of September, 1943, Georg Ferdinand Duckwitz, a German diplomat, Nazi party member and Gestapo insider, warned Hans Hedtoft, chairman of the Danish Social Democratic Party, that the Gestapo planned to round up the Danish Jews on 1 October. This date was chosen because it was Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, a very holy day when Jews would most likely be home celebrating. Bit like rounding up Christians on Christmas. Hans Hedtoft warned the Jewish leaders and the Resistance. News spread like wildfire by word of mouth to all the Danes.

There is one story that an ambulance driver was told by a passing acquaintance to go warn all his Jewish friends about the arrests. He didn’t know any Jews. So he procured a telephone book and looked up Jewish sounding names. He would drive to their house and warn them. If they said they had nowhere to run, he put them in the back of his ambulance and drove them to Bispebjerg Hospital.

He was not the only one bringing them in. Dr. Karl Koster, the Chief Surgeon, put his organizational skills to work. Beds were quickly filled up with healthy Jews “rechristened” with non-Jewish names on their charts. Out buildings were quickly filled up. Nurses and doctors began hiding them in homes. The hospital was just one impromptu rescue operation of many.

The Gestapo came to round up the Jews. They only found 5% of the nearly 8,000. The other 95% were hiding in attics, basements and churches of friends, associates and total strangers. Everyone knew this was a temporary measure at best. Soon the Germans would be looking beyond Jewish homes.

Fishing boat arrives in
 Sweden with Jews
Nobel Prize winner, and Danish physicist, Niels Bohr and that German chap, Duckwitz, who had given the warning, worked to get Sweden to accept the Jewish refugees. The Jews were then secreted across the short strait to the neutral country, hidden inside fishing boats. Sweden did its best to help the homeless, often penny-less, escapees.

Meanwhile, the about 450 Danes arrested were taken to Theresienstadt concentration camp in Czechoslovakia. They were not given up by Denmark. They received packages from the Danish Red Cross with life saving food and hope. Enclosed in each package was a letter from their King telling them they had not been forgotten. I wonder how many Jews died in the concentration camps from sheer hopelessness, feeling no one cared? Over 85% of the Danish Jews survived the concentration camp. Considering that most of the Danish captives were those too old or too sick to run, that is truly remarkable!

Swedish Red Cross buses saving Danish Jews
 As the allies closed in, the Nazis often killed those left alive in the concentration camps. Not at Theresienstadt. The Swedish Red Cross negotiated for the release of the Danish Jews. No doubt fearing repercussions from Denmark, the Germans loaded the captives onto Red Cross buses and took them to Copenhagen, put them on boats and shipped them to Sweden. It must have been bittersweet for the refugees, driving through, but not stopping in their beloved Denmark.

Along the roads, Danes lined up and cheered their escaping countrymen. The passengers waved back, sobbing. It’s said one old man, jumped to his feet and began singing the Danish national anthem. Everyone else on the bus joined him. Well, everyone but the German guards, who told them, at gunpoint, to shut-up and sit down.

Weeks later the Nazis were history and Denmark was once again free. The Jews returned to a big welcome. Most found their homes had been watched over by neighbors. Those less lucky were given compensation from the Danish government to get them back on their feet.

One chap found one of his books missing and became angry. Then he recalled all the other Jews in Europe who had lost everything--their homes, their families, their lives. All he lost was a book. He sat down and wept as it all hit him.

Kirkat Denya (Denmark Square)
Sculpture representing fishing boat
At the Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem there is a row of tree planted, one for each of the righteous who saved Jews during World War II. I don’t believe there are any to the Danes. That would take a whole forest. Instead Israel has parks, memorials, streets and even postage stamps dedicated to Denmark’s rescue.

It’s said one question that was repeatedly asked at the Nuremberg Trials was “Why did you help to kill the Jews?” The answer was always the same: “What else could we do?” Later many writers asked the Danes why they had risked their lives to help save the Jews. Their answer was the same: “What else could we do?”

Some will point out that the Jewish population of Denmark was not huge, that some of the German soldiers in Denmark were not that gung-ho about rounding up Jews, that Sweden was just next door and that a few Danes were anti-Semitic and actually helped in the round-up. However it is estimated that perhaps as much as 99%, of the Jewish Danes were saved. That would not have happened if most Danes had turned a blind eye to their fellow countrymen.

All right, so the statue King Christian with the mythical arm band is a bit of a fib. The truth is far grander.

The Danish Solution: The Rescue of the Jews in Denmark
The website
the documentary on Youtube

The Story of Ellen Nielsen Just one of the countless Danish heroes.

Number the Stars at Amazon by Lois Lowry. The fictional account of how one Danish girl saves her friend. This won the 1990 Newberry Award in Children’s Literature.

A Conspiracy Of Decency: The Rescue Of The Danish Jews During World War II by Emmy Werner at Amazon


The Fairy Tale King

Wednesday, 13 June 1849 - Copenhagen, Denmark

Today I visited the home of one of the most beloved story tellers of all time--Hans Christian Andersen. Since 1845, he has been living at 67 Nyhavn in Copenhagen. It is a quaint neighborhood, despite the fact that these are the city docks, where ships unload.

Andersen is a shy but charming fellow. He appears to live by himself. He graciously took the time to grant me a short interview.

Andersen was born in Odense, Denmark, 2nd of April, 1805. He was apprenticed to a tailor, but decided that wasn’t for him. So he left when he was 14 and came to Copenhagen to become an actor.

However his real talent has always been writing. He published his first story when only 17. It was a ghost story. He wrote more short stories as well novels, poems, plays and travelogues. Then in 1835 he wrote a book of Fairy Tales. It bombed. So he wrote more short stories, novels, poems, plays and travelogues.

He never gave up on Fairy Tales, though. Since 1838 he has published four more volumes. He is currently working on another collection to be printed in five booklets this year, starting in August, and published together in one volume next year.

Andersen told me he had visited England two years ago. He got to meet his childhood hero, Charles Dickens at a party. Dickens made quite an impression on Andersen, but then Andersen made an impression on Dickens. It’s believed Dickens modeled his character, Uriah Heap, on the Dane--well, the physical description, anyway. Andersen didn’t strike me as a back-stabbing yes-man.

I also noticed a photo on a table of a young lady and asked if she was a relative. Andersen picked it up and said it was his friend, Jenny Lind, the Swedish opera singer. The way he looked at the photo, I think he wished they were more than friends.

Then I remembered, Andersen never married. It’s hard to believe a successful writer couldn’t snag a wife. But Andersen is shy and has a habit of falling in love with the unobtainable. It’s believed many of his fairy tales reflect his unrequited love “affairs.” I couldn’t help but feel for the poor chap.

On the brighter side, Andersen’s rising star as a writer will only shine brighter. He will become internationally famous and receive a stipend from the king of Denmark in his old age. Even before he dies in 1875, the city will be already be designing and planning a statue for him at the Town Hall Square.

Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales will never go out of print and he will be loved by generation of children. There will one day even a statue of him in New York City’s Central Park. It will have to be replaced over the centuries because children have worn it down, hugging it and crawling on its lap. I think Andersen would have liked that.

Danny Kaye as Hans Christian Andersen tells the story of
The Ugly Duckling

Hans Christian Andersen the artist? He used to make paper cutouts to entertain children. You can find his collection at The Hans Christian Andersen Museum at his birthplace in Odense.


The Danish Golden Age

 As you know, I came back to 1849 to record the signing of the Danish Constitution on 5 June. I also came to record the end of the Danish Golden Age in the arts and sciences. This age lasted from 1800 to 1850 and was centered here in Copenhagen. Not that everyone threw down there paint brushes and pens on 1 January 1850, of course. They still continued to work. The term “Golden Age” was only coined in hindsight in 1890.

1807 Bombardment (I do appologize)
The Denmark’s Golden Age had less than an idyllic start. In 1794 and 1795, Copenhagen suffered horrific fires that destroyed both the Christianborg Palace and large areas of the inner city. Then in 1801 and 1807 Copenhagen was further devastated by enemy bombardment over a political disagreement with the...ahem...British. (Perhaps I should try to fake an American accent?) By 1813 Denmark was forced to declare bankruptcy. Add to this, they lost a huge portion of their realm when Norway was succeeded to Sweden in 1814.

Henrik Steffens
Perhaps after this low point, Denmark felt it had nowhere to go but up. Architects had a field day rebuilding Copenhagen, giving the city a neo-classical look. Henrik Steffens, philosopher, scientist and poet, gave nine lectures on German Romanticism, inspiring countless artists, composers and thinkers and getting in trouble with Danish authorities, which probably made it all that more romantic.

Perhaps I should explain what Romanticism is. It was a revolt against stuffy aristocratic social and political norms, the dehumanizing Industrial Revolution and the rational ideas of the Age of Enlightenment. It emphasized individuality, inspiration, intuition and strong emotions. The music, art and literature tried too make you feel awe, horror or passion. It brought us everything from Tchaikovsky’s “Romeo and Juliet” to pre-Raphaelite artists to Gothic horror novels. Victorian culture seemed like a tug-of-war between the progress of cold Industrialism and the sentimentality of emotional Romanticism.

Then there was the political aspects of the movement. The Industrial Revolution was making the world smaller with trains and telephones. Romanticism lauded Nationalism, which focused on local folklore, language and customs. That lead to ethnic groups demanding self-determination and revolting against the empires ruling them. Now you see why the authorities were none to happy with Steffens.

If the Danish Golden Age started on a low note, it ended on a high note. A few days ago, Denmark became a Constitutional Monarchy making it far more democratic. The Danes are currently fighting the First Schleswig War but they will beat Prussia. (The Second Schleswig War won’t go as well.) The ramparts around the city will finally be opened up in the 1850s, allowing the city to expand beyond the crowded inner city. Industrialism will really take off in the 1860s, creating new jobs and wealth.

For now, it’s still 1849 and I plan to find as many of the leaders of Danish Golden age as I can. I will tell you about them in my tweets.

Guide to the Danish Golden Age

A company of Danish artists in Rome
painted by Constantin Hansen, 1837
From left to right: Constantin Hansen, Martinus Rørbye, Wilhelm Marstrand, Albert Kuchler, Ditlev Blunck and Jørgen Sonne.
 Lying on the floor is architect Bindesboll.

Hankehøj by Johan Thomas Lundbye (1847)