I made a dumb mistake last week and you readers let me have it!
I yanked the Hamilton-Burr duel of 1804 out of Weehawken, New Jersey and stuck it in Viriginia. I could explain this in a lot of ways – the statement was in the middle of a tirade of Virginia getting all the historical credit in their day, so I could say it was a crafty and subtle nod that I intentionally placed that event there, too.
I could also say that, as a bird lover, I simply couldn’t credit Weehawken because the city’s name sounds like an Irishman making fun of a baby hawk.
I could also argue that I was saying it as part of an outline for a historical screenplay I’m writing and that, therefore, accuracy was the least of my concerns.
I could also admit that I was simply careless and went on assumed knowledge that was beyond being out in left field – it was at the far end of the parking lot, trying to think of a way to crash a tailgate party.
Hmmm… let’s go with the Weehawken one. I did it for the birds.
I should have known the duel was in New Jersey because it was a bad thing, and bad things happen in New Jersey. Like Jersey Shores.
I got a call from an old history-minded friend that began one of those old-friend lines, “Bill, I can’t believe that you—!” Mostly I got emails politely correcting me and one that called me paranoid about Virginia, telling me I should maybe start reading history, and giving some derogatory comment about me being a native of Pennsylvania, which surprised me, because my parents always told me I was a native of Indiana. They lied! Go figure!
Still, it’s both embarrassing and inexcusable to make a gaffe like I did. Because the column really had nothing at all to do with Mssrs. Burr and Hamilton – they were mentioned only in passing – I didn’t bother to double-check my research, and I’ll admit that I’ve never been overly obsessed with those men and their arguments and their guns. My lack of interest should have caused me to raise my guard rather than lower it.
Accuracy is important, as Mr. Hamilton learned to his regret. I will be more cautious in the future, especially in regards to dueling vice presidents. In the meantime, I hope certain towns in New Jersey develop a healthier regard for baby hawks.
Now that I’ve eaten crow (a little ketchup helps, and you can floss when you’re done with the feathers), let’s at least take a look at some local history.
I thought it might be interesting to talk a bit about one of our town’s prominent women, Dr. Lula Disosway who served over 20 years as a missionary, first in pre-World War II China and then in Alaska above the arctic circle, before she took up doctoring for the poor in New Bern for the last half of her life.
It quickly became clear that half a column won’t cover that (thanks, Weehawken), so I’ll get to her next week. While digging for her name in newspapers I did find an interesting item in the June 2, 1907 Daily Journal of New Bern.
It was an article about city schools and gave a curious picture to how things ran in that day.
It outlines how the coming school year will divide its goat scholars from its sheep.
“Owing to the pupils that do not care to work diligently there will be a division of all grades up to high school,” the article stated. “The A grade will contain pupils who wish to work, but if they get negligent they will be put in B grade. The pupils in B grade who make up their minds to study and show it by advancing will be put in the A grade.”
I know enough about peer pressure among kids and adults that I can well imagine how that went. A school board today would have to be mighty careful how they worded this rule avoid protests and lawsuits.
The students were also warned that binge studying to pass that final test wouldn’t save them: “To avoid this, the daily record counts as two-thirds and examinations as one-third of the final studying,” the article warns.
The article included a kind of honor roll and it was interesting to see the childhood record of two future leaders in New Bern making it: little third grader Lula Disosway was the top student with a 95½. Meanwhile, two grades over her, Gertrude Caraway scored 94 to top the 5th grade. I doubt that anyone was surprised.
Contac tBill Hand at email@example.com, 252-635-5677, and follow him @BillHandNBSJ.