American History: March ’98 Letters

8/11/1998 • American History Archives, Battle of Manila, Franklin Roosevelt


An interesting prelude to the transcontinental trip by military motor described in “From D.C. to the Golden Gate” (November/December 1997 issue) was conducted by Colonel Royal P. Davidson. He traveled in a cavalcade of eight Cadillac cars, one a fully armored car with cupola and machine gun, for the purpose of showing the performance and reliability of automobiles, particularly Cadillacs.

Davidson’s trek started in Chicago, near the military school in which he taught. The date was June 10, 1915. The route passed through Moline, Iowa City, Omaha, Denver, and Salt Lake City, over mud and rocks, arriving in San Francisco in time for the Panama-Pacific Exposition, July 14, 1915. His crew and drivers were students picked from the Northwestern Military Academy in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. My article “Davidson’s Armored Cavalcade,” in the November/December 1966 issue of Armor magazine, covers his unique cross-country feat, with photos taken by his students/crew.

Colonel Davidson should also be remembered for his work on America’s first partially armored “machine gun car,” built on the Duryea automobile chassis in 1898.

Al Clemens
Springfield, Missouri


My thanks to Robert F. Clarke for his story in the “Recollections: Witnesses to History” section of your January/February 1998 issue. It is a delightful World War II anecdote–with only one flaw. Mr. Clarke refers to “British Eighth Army Rangers” when he apparently means Commandos. The Rangers were the U.S. Army’s equivalent of the legendary British Commandos and were trained at the Commando Depot at Achnacarry, Scotland, in early 1942. Based on the pre-American Revolution Roger’s Rangers, the World War II Ranger battalion concept was the brainchild of Lieutenant General Lucian K. Truscott, Jr., and General George C. Marshall, Army chief of staff.

American History magazine is always highly interesting and revealing. Congratulations!

Michael D. Hull
Enfield, Connecticut


In his article “This Means War!” (January/February 1998 issue) Michael Haydock commented that the USS Olympia sped around Cape Horn as the Spanish-American War broke out.

In fact, this epic run of 15,700 statute miles, which was completed in 66 days and captured the mind and heart of the nation, was not done by the Olympia, but by the battleship USS Oregon. The Oregon’s dash not only proved to the world that the men and vessels of the U.S. Navy were a modern force capable of handling such grueling tasks, but also illustrated the need for a canal across Central America. The canal was later realized as the Panama Canal.

The USS Olympia is, of course, famous in her own right. This plucky cruiser was the flagship of Admiral George Dewey and led the American attack at the Spanish-American War Battle of Manila Bay. It was in this battle that the United States finally proved to the world that she had become a global power.

The 1930s found the USS Oregon on her way to becoming a museum in the state of Oregon. However, with the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Oregon’s Governor Sprague offered to return her to the U.S. Navy. She was stripped of her superstructure and converted to an ammunition hulk. She was broken up in 1956, in Japan.

The irony is that when President Franklin D. Roosevelt heard that the Oregon was to be partially scrapped during World War II, he notified the secretary of the navy that it was with “great reluctance” that he authorized the vessel to be turned over to meet her fate. In the same letter, Roosevelt continued that, “It is my understanding that the Department will take immediate action toward the preservation of the USS Olympia as a naval relic of the Spanish-American war period.”

Through the efforts of many people over the years, and because of the sacrifice of the Oregon, we still have the Olympia today. She can be visited at the Independence Seaport Museum at Philadelphia’s Penn’s Landing. As the sole survivor of the Spanish American War battle fleets, this spring the Olympia will be the scene of ceremonies commemorating the Battle of Manila Bay Centennial. Visitors are invited to come to the vessel on the first weekend in May to see the ceremonies, visit with the vessel’s crew of living historians who recreate life aboard the vessel 100 years ago, and more.

For more information, contact the Independence Seaport Museum, 211 South Columbus Blvd. & Walnut St., Philadelphia, PA 19106, (215-925-5439). More information on the Oregon, Olympia, and Maine are available on the Spanish American War Centennial Website at

Patrick McSherry
Conestoga, Pennsylvania


In “Meet Me at the Hyphen,” (November/December 1997), author K. C. Tessendorf states that George Boldt, manager of the original Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City, lost his “zest and energy” after the death of his wife, Louise. The depth of the renowned hotelier’s grief is a compelling and fascinating footnote to U.S. history.

In 1900 Boldt decided to honor his wife by presenting her with a full-sized replica of a Rhineland castle, which he planned to build in the Thousand Islands of New York. The popular tourist attraction, now known as “Boldt’s Castle,” is accessible only by boat because Boldt had it constructed on Heart Island, which he purchased exclusively for the erection of his mansion. With its great elegance, this 120-room castle was to have rivaled the beauty of the Waldorf-Astoria and remain as Boldt’s ultimate masterpiece. His creation was so opulent that it included a mini-castle playhouse for the children, called the Alster Tower. Boldt also imported exotic animals to roam the premises and even reshaped the island into the outline of a heart. Perhaps his coup de grâce was stringing the island with artificial lamps to dazzle the local citizenry, who had never seen electric lighting before.

Unfortunately, midway through construction tragedy struck when Louise suddenly died. Bereft by the loss, George Boldt never returned to the island and sent orders to the head foreman to halt the project at once. Workers at the site reportedly collected their tools and immediately departed for home. For almost three quarters of a century this tragic monument stood unoccupied and was left to the ravages of the elements, vandals, and souvenir hunters. In 1977 the Thousand Island Bridge Authority acquired the funds needed to restore the property. The present proprietors intend to preserve the memory of George Boldt’s shattered dream, however, by leaving a portion of his castle abandoned to the destructive forces of time.

Joe McElwee
Drexel Hill, Pennsylvania


I was delighted to see in your November/December 1997 issue the “American Album” about the Japanese delegation sent to ratify the first treaty of trade between Japan and the United States. Your readers might be interested to know that at least one artifact of that visit still exists. Colonel Samuel Colt of Hartford, ever the aggressive marketer, presented an 1885 Colt Revolving Artillery Carbine to the second in charge of the delegation. The presentation contains the individual’s name in Japanese and an inscription in English, “with compliments of Colonel Colt”–both engraved on the upper tang. A gift along with others to prompt an increase in foreign sales!

The gentleman to whom the gun was presented was the vice-ambassador, Muragaki Norimase, Awaji-no-kami, and is identified as the third Japanese gentleman from the left in the photo you reproduced. Muragaki’s diary has been translated into English and is interesting reading. There is some evidence that because of the strict orders given to the delegation to have the treaty ratified and returned promptly, some of their activities that were reported in the American press did not get into the diaries.

Charles R. Nichols
Philmont, New York