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Elvis: Iconic or Immoral?

The August 2007 issue certainly gave Elvis Presley a good going over, which should make all of his many loyal fans pleased. However, there is a segment of the population who, though not exactly antiElvis, do not consider him an American idol and who believe that the impact he had on the morality and culture of the nation has a down side. It will be for historians of future generations to finally determine whether the Elvis influence, and all that it has brought about, has been good or bad for the nation as a whole.

Television made Elvis. All the weird facial expressions and body contortions, which contributed so much to his popularity, would have been useless on radio.

Dale Wolf

Omaha, Neb.

Thank you for your article on Elvis Presley. Like everyone else, I think of Elvis as the person who changed not only music but also the American landscape. He wasn’t just a pop idol; he was an American icon.

John Huerta

Warren, Ark.

Poetic Justice

I read with interest “Walking Boston’s Historic Freedom Trail” (October 2007), but the article mistakenly credited the poem “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere” to William Wadsworth Longfellow. The true writer of this wonderful children’s poem is Henry Wadsworth Longfellow; you were perhaps confusing him with the English poet William Wordsworth. I thought I would write to make sure credit was given to the correct poet. “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere” is a wonderful poem that I hope is still taught in American history classes today.

Susan Potter Jewell

Boulder, Colo.

Crime Scene Investigation

Do you think you could get the History Detectives (Dialogue, October 2007) to examine the Lincoln artifacts (Headlines, October 2007)? In all the photos I’ve ever seen of Lincoln, he never wore a flared-top top hat. The stovepipe hat that he typically wore had, I believe, straight sides all the way from the brim to the top. Also, the “blood” on the gloves is primarily at the wrist, indicating that they were being worn when blood running down his arms reached them. I doubt the president was sitting in his box wearing the gloves during the play. Had they been somewhere else, such as on the seat next to him, they would have been splattered with blood.

Rich Turck

Via e-mail

Czolgosz’s Motives?

John Koster’s statement that Leon Czolgosz shot President McKinley “in retribution for the U.S. slaughter of Filipino freedom fighters” (“Death of a Dictator,” October 2007) is unsupported by any of five American history texts I was able to check, or by Internet searches. Maybe it just fits Mr. Koster’s thesis better.

Robert Bradner

Winnetka, Ill.

John Koster replies: McKinley, a kindly man in his personal life, had been portrayed by friend and foe alike as a cartoon flag-draped imperialist in the election of 1900. Elihu Root, McKinley’s secretary of war, said his death was a direct result of propaganda published by William Randolph Hearst’s newspapers, which had whipped up public support for the war in the Philippines before turning on McKinley. “What wonder that the weak and excitable Czolgosz answered to such impulses as these…that it was a service to mankind to rid the earth of a monster,” Root said.

Drawing DNA Distinctions

Concerning your reference to confirmation that Thomas Jefferson had fathered a child with his slave Sally Hemings (Almanac, August 2007). The last scientific evidence I heard of this, aside from innumerable gleeful reference to it as unquestioned fact, was a study some years ago that established that the DNA of the Jefferson family was present in the younger son of Sally Hemings.

Goodness knows, I am not assuming that Jefferson was free from all human desires, but my understanding is that the DNA evidence cannot indict Jefferson individually. And Jefferson himself denied that he had slept with Hemings. Perhaps there are DNA studies since then that I am not aware of that point without question to Thomas Jefferson himself. If so, I would appreciate hearing about them so I can stop getting annoyed every time I read still another assumption that is based on less than the full scientific truth.

Maude McDaniel

Cumberland, Md.

The editors reply: The DNA test results that linked Jefferson and Hemings were made public in 1998. The Thomas Jefferson Foundation at Monticello contends that “the weight of all known evidence—from the DNA study, original documents, written and oral historical accounts, and statistical data— indicated a high probability that Thomas Jefferson was the father of Eston Hemings, and that he was perhaps the father of all six of Sally Hemings’ children listed in Monticello records.”


Originally published in the December 2007 issue of American History. To subscribe, click here