Once, back when I lived in New York, I went down to Coney Island to have a look around. On Surf Avenue, there was a man with glasses, maybe sixty but energetic, and good-humored, standing behind a table, handing out fliers about some neighborhood development thing or another. He was opposed to it. I got to talking to this guy, and he brought up Fred Trump, Donald Trump’s father, and the various destruction he’d done to Coney Island. To this man, Fred Trump was both laughable and a villain.
Some time after that I looked up Fred Trump’s obituary in The New York Times. He died in 1999. It’s a great obituary, written by Tracie Rozhon:
Frederick Christ (pronounced Krist) Trump was born in New York City in 1905. From World War II until the 1980’s, Mr. Trump would tell friends and acquaintances that he was of Swedish origin, although both his parents were born in Germany. John Walter, his nephew and the family historian, explained, ”He had a lot of Jewish tenants and it wasn’t a good thing to be German in those days.”
His father was a barber who arrived from Kallstadt, Germany, in 1885 and joined the Alaska gold rush. By the turn of the century, he owned the White Horse Restaurant and Inn in White Horse, Alaska, while also supplying food and lumber to the miners.
Fred Trump started a construction business at fifteen. With the money he made he paid for his kid brother to go to college and get a Ph.D.
”He made a great contribution; he filled a very big hole in the market,” Mr. LeFrak recalled. ”We took Queens; he did more in Brooklyn. He was a great builder who rallied to the cause like we did; he built housing for the returning veterans. I guess you could say we’re the last of the old dinosaurs.”
Fred Trump married a Scottish immigrant. When he died they’d been married 63 years.
His estate has been estimated by the family at $250 million to $300 million, but Mr. Trump did not believe in displays of wealth — with one exception. For decades, he insisted on a Cadillac, always navy blue, always gleaming, and always replaced every three years, its ”FCT” license plate announcing its owner wherever he went.
Fred Trump was frugal:
Mr. Trump was a demon for controlling costs. Besides collecting unused nails, Mr. Gordon said, Mr. Trump often performed the exterminating chores in his buildings by himself. ”He became an expert,” Mr. Gordon said.
When it was time to order the thousands of gallons of disinfectant necessary for his thousands of apartments, Mr. Trump gathered samples of all the available floor cleaners on his desk. ”Then he sent them out to a lab and found out what was in them and had it mixed himself,” Donald Trump recalled. ”What had cost $2 a bottle, he got mixed for 50 cents.”
What the guy on Coney Island didn’t like was the destruction of Steeplechase Park, told here by Wikipedia:
After acquiring the site in 1965, Fred Trump intended to build a low-cost housing development. Trump was unable to get a change to the zoning of the area, which required “amusements” only (largely due to the efforts of the Coney Island Chamber of Commerce), and decided to demolish the park in 1966 before it could obtain landmark status. Trump held a “demolition party,” at which invited guests threw bricks through the Park’s facade. Trump bulldozed the majority of the park, save for a few rides and concessions stands, among them the Parachute Jump, that were along the boardwalk.
The housing development never happened though, and Coney Island is a bit of a wasteland.
The story of the demolition party is also told in this book:
This book is incredibly poignant. Charles Denson is a good writer, and his book is very personal. Some it is about how his memories of the park were tied up with his longing for his disappearing father.
One of our most popular posts is on Fred Trump, outrageous, villainous, smiling agent of chaos much like his son.
But we never really thought about Trump’s mother. Mothers should be off limits maybe? Even Trumps have mothers. A hasty misreading of this Kellyanne Conway quote:
Got us to look into it.
Stunned to find Trump’s mother was a Gaelic-speaking immigrant from a remote Scottish island.
Hailing from the Outer Hebrides
She was raised in a Scottish Gaelic-speaking household with her second language being English, which she learned at Tong school where it was reported she was a star pupil. Mary attended the school up until the eighth grade. Her father was a crofter, fisherman and compulsory officer (truancy officer). According to one profile, she was “brought up in an environment marked by isolation, privation and gloom.”
Wow. She’s pretty much from the Iron Islands.
You can see her interviewed in 1994 on Irish television, RTé, here. She has an interesting accent. She speaks of her love of Irish and Scottish music.
She claims Trump is meeting Steven Spielberg?
George Armstrong Custer.
Hear me out. It’s true that Trump’s not a military man, but as he says:
And he was educated at the New York Military Academy which went bankrupt and was sold to Chinese investors.
Both were weird about their hair.
Trump obvs, but Custer had a toupee and used all kinds of scented pomades.
It’s interesting that Trump never drinks. Maybe it would take the edge off? Custer gave up drinking after an ugly episode in his youth and would drink milk at cocktail parties.
Vain about appearance to an almost absurd degree.
Both kind of OCD.
Wrote popular self-aggrandizing books.
(Custer’s fellow officer Frederick Benteen, who hated Custer’s preening and vanity and bragging and “pretentious silliness,” called it My Lie On The Plains, which is a good slam.)
Survived stupid moves that cost others dearly.
Trump blunders forward, somehow ending up ok but leaving defaulted creditors in his wake. Custer’s Civil War and post-Civil War career can sound similar, but with dead cavalry instead of money:
Custer’s abrupt withdrawal without determining the fate of Elliott and the missing troopers darkened Custer’s reputation among his peers. There was deep resentment within the 7th Cavalry that never healed.
A lot of plunging in blindly.
Impulsive, jump in and figure it out style marks both of their careers.
Wild swings in career.
Trump’s companies declared bankruptcy four times. Custer was courtmartialed and relieved of duty only to be called back in time to get everybody killed.
Had ambition to be president?
This one’s debatable but the argument’s been made that it’s possible when Custer was driving into the Indian encampment at Little Bighorn without waiting for anyone else he had the idea that the news might get out in time for him to get the 1876 nomination for president. A crazy plan.
Not sure what will happen to Trump and his followers.
We know how it ended for Custer:
Drawn for us by Red Horse, who was there.
One significant difference is that Custer was physically brave and very good with animals, whereas Trump appears to be a huge wuss and bad with animals.
(Got this idea from reading Son Of The Morning Star for possibly the fifth time? How cool was Evan S. Connell?:
Helytimes began in 2012. Our idea was
- become good at writing for the Internet
- a writer should have a website
- have a space to collect, digest and share items of interest.
We’ve tried to come up with a mission statement or guiding purpose, but the truth is, this is stuff we had to get out of our head.
The healthiest thing to do was share it.
The best way to put it might be a place to share crazy interesting things we’ve come across.
Since then we’ve published over 1,050 posts. We’re just now starting to get good at it, in our opinion.
Here are the twenty-one most popular posts:
The moral here is probably that we should start a local LA news-and-takes site written by other people.
One lesson here might be to have more local LA journalism written by other people. Keep meaning to start a whole site for that but I do have a full-time job plus several other projects.
In our opinion the most successful post on Helytimes was
although it didn’t crack the top 21, just felt like a time where we added something of value to the Internet and readers responded.
It’s about the work of the Naval Aviation Photographic Unit, also known as the Training Literature Field Unit No. 1, assembled by the great photographer Edward Steichen.
One thread of Helytimes is attempts to reach into the past and find the sources that give us understanding of the past.
Two personal favorites:
This has been the annual performance review and address to the Helytimes readership:
That photo taken by one of Steichen’s guys, Wayne Miller:
Helytimes endorses Hillary Clinton for President.
Election coverage can be found here.
Two of the more popular posts in this site’s history are Fred Trump and American historical figure who reminds me of Trump
Ran into four all-star Americans at the polls:
Kevin Drum voting guide if you live in California. (Interesting to note that Mother Jones herself didn’t want women to vote:
Jones was ideologically separated from many of the other female activists of the pre-Nineteenth Amendment days due to her aversion to female suffrage. She was quoted as saying that “you don’t need the vote to raise hell!” Her opposition to women taking an active role in politics was based on her belief that the neglect of motherhood was a primary cause of juvenile delinquency.
Is it ridiculous or cool that a California voter has to make themselves a sheet like this:
I say: ridiculous! Tempted to vote no on 63 because this seems like a legislative issue, as do many of these.
Would love to hear it if I’m wrong! helphely at gmail or the comments.
If you’re looking for something to read while rechecking Nate Silver, let us suggest:
The ten year anniversary of Helytimes rolled around without our really noticing. We started this website* in February 2012. The posts from that month are as clear a reflection as there is of the idea (extinct links and lost images are a curse but come w/t/territory).
There wasn’t a master plan. “I should know something about writing for the Internet.” The directness is powerful (and frightening): what writer of the past wouldn’t have dreamed of an instantaneous worldwide publishing platform you could control? A piece published on Helytimes generates a link that’s as accessible as a link to The New York Times. How could we not try that? Authors had websites; I’d published two books and hoped to do more. The magic of putting up pieces that entered the great Google library, the creation of a personal wondermuseum, it seemed fun.
A strong sense memory lingers about the day of origin: I was in my office on the TV show The Office. Across the hall was my college Alison Silverman. Our offices were in an annex trailer in the parking lot, which often roasted in the sun. Inside between our offices was a treadmill people sometimes used. That was a funny time and place. I told Alison I was thinking of starting a blog and I remember not having any reaction at all. It was like I said I’d had a salad for lunch. But what was I expecting?
WordPress provided the structure. I’m not sure I’d recommend WordPress, it feels flimsy, it feels like it could collapse tomorrow. GoDaddy sold us the URL. Although GoDaddy’s name and TV ads make it seem ridiculous, they are really dependable, we’ve never had a problem. I copied a simple design template my cousin was using and off we went.
Since then we’ve published 1,624 posts. Some of the most popular are:
– a guest post by Hayes about a local political issue, No on Measure S (No prevailed, and thank goodness). This post shows the value of possessing an easy distribution platform
– a post about the alleged subject of Gordon Lightfoot’s song Sundown. People Google this person and find the site, it’s celebrity gossip.
– a comparison of the UK in size to California. Another Google inbounder.
– Mountaineering movies on Netflix (needs updating, The Alpinist and 14 Peaks both great)
– an investigation of whether the last joke Abraham Lincoln heard was funny
– a consideration of how a mosaic at Disney World was made by Hanns Scharff, one of the Luftwaffe’s top interrogators (and revealing insights in interrogation)
– a look into the darkness of Donald Trump’s father and the destruction of Coney Island
Anything about Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger will pop.
We consider Record Group 80 to be kind of a signature post.
Ten years as an amount of time is significant. We once heard an interview with Joseph Campbell, he was talking about a young student who was asking Campbell about whether he thought he, the student, could make it as a writer.
Well, can you go ten years without making it?
was Campbell’s question. A good question to ask.
What would “making it” mean? We don’t profit off this website, but it’s very valuable as as storehouse of material that caught our attention. And it feels contributive. It’s brought about many connections and friendships of great value, even if you can’t put a price on them.
Once I was talking to a guy who knew a thing or two about SEO and metrics and online business about the site. He suggested we should pick any one specific niche and go deep, make that our thing. For instance, “Navy photos.” But that’s not the idea (and it would be boring).
Once I was talking to a successful Hollywood type guy who’s a reader of Helytimes. I asked him what I should do to get more readers. He looked at me like I was kind of an idiot.
Write about the Kardashians
That’s not the idea here either.
This isn’t any kind of business. During the lifespan of this website we published a book, wrote several other books, wrote lots of television, co-hosted hundreds of episodes of The Great Debates. This is a straightup side project. But sometimes that’s where the life is.
My life times out so my growing up parallels the Internet growing up. My age 18 was close to the Internet’s age 18. So I followed and tracked the rise of what we unfortunately have to call blogging.
Andrew Sullivan was an early one. Blogging eventually burned him out and he had to stop. Matt Yglesias was my near contemporary in college (I don’t think I ever met him). He seems built to be a blogger and has made a job of it. That takes stamina, focus, and drive we don’t have.
Hot takes aren’t the game around here. Unless they’re hot takes on something from like the 15th century.
We maintain this site out of desire to clean out the brain-attic, to keep an independent publishing vector open, to settle anything that’s gnawing at us, to share (and clear the mind of) passions, obsessions, curiosities and discoveries.
Over the years we’ve had a worldwide readership, lured in some surprising customers, lost one contributor to death by tragedy, and had some touching comments. The funniest people reach out to us. Usually about content we never would’ve thought anyone would care about.
We made a scratchmark on the cave wall, which, what else are we here for?
So, onward! Thanks for reading, we really appreciate you.
* the word blog just isn’t a winner, is it folks?
Compelled by John Kelly, Boston Marine turned Trump babysitter / White House chief of staff.
John Kelly, like Robert E. Lee, is brave, self-sacrificing, dignified, and wrong.
It’s possible to be noble and admirable and honorable and really wrong. Like, a force for wrongness.
Watched his entire press conference re: presidential respect for fallen soldiers. Found it very moving. He mentions walking for hours in Arlington National Cemetery to collect his thoughts. Maybe he should send the president.
In one of the infinite amazing connections of American history Arlington National Cemetery was built on the grounds of Lee’s wife’s house.
What about General Robert E. Lee?
The single greatest mistake of the war by any general on either side was made by Robert E. Lee at Gettysburg, when he sent Pickett’s and Pettigrew’s divisions across that open field, nearly a mile wide, against guns placed on a high ridge and troops down below them, with skirmishers out front. There was no chance it would succeed. Longstreet told him that beforehand and Lee proceeded to prove him right. Having made this greatest of all mistakes, Lee rode out on the field and met those men coming back across the field— casualties were well over fifty percent—and said, It’s all my fault. He said it then on the field; he said it afterwards, after he’d gotten across the Potomac; he said it in his official report a month later. He said, I may have asked more of my men than men should be asked to give. He’s a noble man, noble beyond comparison.
(from the Paris Review interview with Shelby Foote)
Why did people love Robert E. Lee so much? He was handsome, for one thing. Here’s Elizabeth Brown Pryor going off in her Six Encounters With Lincoln:
They liked Lee too because he reminded of them of George Washington.
Is this interesting?: two of the most prominent American slaveholders, Washington and Lee, only owned slaves because they’d married rich women.
Lee’s wife was Martha Washington’s great granddaughter.
Anyway: whatever, it’s time for some new statues!
John Kelly made his most recent remarks about Lee on The Ingraham Angle on Fox News.
During that appearance, Kelly says something not true, that the events in the indictment came from well before Manafort knew Donald Trump. Not true, if we believe Slate’s helpful timeline. Manafort and Trump have known each other since the ’80s.
Didn’t Manafort live in Trump Tower off the money he made as a lobbyist for dictators?
Kelly also says that the part about where got wrong what Fredrica Wilson said at the FBI dedication, that part “we should just let that go.”
Also brooooo! What is American history up to the Civil War but a history of compromises?
Happened to read an interview in PRISM, a publication of the Center For Complex Operations, with John Kelly yesterday. He’s talking about his career leading the Southern Command, ie Central and South America.
This was not my experience talking to Latin Americans. More than one South American has pointed out to me that in their countries, “the troops” are not assumed to be good guys or on your side.
Didn’t love this:
We need more Marine generals like Smedley Butler:
I wish John Kelly would also remember the time Henry Lee put himself in harm’s way to defend the freedom of the press.
During the civil unrest in Baltimore, Maryland in 1812, Lee received grave injuries while helping to resist an attack on his friend, Alexander Contee Hanson, editor of the Baltimore newspaper, The Federal Republican on July 27, 1812.
Hanson was attacked by a Democratic-Republican mob because his paper opposed the War of 1812. Lee and Hanson and two dozen other Federalists had taken refuge in the offices of the paper. The group surrendered to Baltimore city officials the next day and were jailed.
Laborer George Woolslager led a mob that forced its way into the jail, removed the Federalists, beating and torturing them over the next three hours. All were severely injured, and one Federalist, James Lingan, died.
Lee suffered extensive internal injuries as well as head and face wounds, and even his speech was affected. His observed symptoms were consistent with what is now called post-traumatic stress disorder.
Need to learn more about this!
Maybe a statue of James Lingan, outside Prospect House?:
One last bit from Shelby Foote:
Bud, history always has bias! You don’t think this guy
thought Lee was cool, if only because they looked alike?
Does Ta-Nahesi Coates get tired of having to say the same stuff over and over?:
“History’s history,” says John Kelly on The Ingraham Angle. Is it?
Personally, when I think about John Kelly’s life, I’m prepared to cut him some slack, but man. I can’t say he “gets it.”
Thomas Ricks, as always, has the take:
The comment of Kelly’s that hasn’t gotten the attention it deserves is when he half-jokingly suggests (around 26:41)
that they’re gonna replace the Washington Monument with Andy Warhol.
Hearing all these points about The Al Smith Dinner.
There is something grotesque about a white-tie banquet with the wealthy and powerful laughing about how they’re all on the same team. On the flip side, there’s something great about the wealth and powerful laughing about how they’re all on the same team if the team has some common, positive values.
The Al Smith Foundation raises money for the sick, the poor, and the orphans of New York. It honors a great, cheerful, positive public figure who rose up from poverty to run for president despite religious prejudice.
The dinner is an old-fashioned truce. Swallowing the noxious flavor of eating with your opponent is how societies can function and remain peaceful.
History offers many stories about how deeply fucked up things get when someone violates the tradition of a ceremonial truce:
People who jockey for political power should have to sit there and be made to at least pretend to be humble.
IMO this is a great tradition even if only for giving us this wonderful gif of Mitt Romney ironing himself.
Through a friend from my Catholic childhood, I got to go and sit up in the rafters a couple times. McCain, who must’ve known he was about to lose, gave one of the best performances I’ve ever seen.
Obama smashed too, of course.
Perhaps the two funniest candidates in American history?
Made it to the Romney/Obama one as well.
I remember a guy younger than me in the crowd was pumped, felt sure Romney was gonna win.
Watched this year’s on C-Span. Man, it was gnarly. Here are some takes:
- The #1 thing holding Donald Trump back is that he’s too sensitive. If he had a thicker skin, if he could laugh off attacks on himself, believe he could’ve won. Hillary was right about the “baited with a tweet” thing. If he had one ounce of Reagan’s ability to laugh something off Trump could’ve pulled it off.
- Al Smith’s nickname was The Happy Warrior.
Which candidate can be said to be more Happy Warrior? Thought Hillary did a good job of Happy Warrioring at the second debate, under very tough conditions:
and it worked for her!
- Much of the preliminary business of the Al Smith Dinner is talking about how much money has been raised for charity. As you listen to that, it’s hard not to be revolted by Trump’s total scumminess on charity. My perception was the room grew angrier and angrier at Trump as they heard this, and so were primed against him by the time he got up there. A politician is one thing, but a rich guy who gives nothing to charity? That sucks. That’s the complete opposite of the values of this dinner.
- For someone on the verge of achieving a lifelong dream she’s worked impossibly hard for, Hillary seems miserable. What is the lesson there? Is it campaign fatigue and going to bed every night with a knot in the pit of her stomach? Is it the regular reminders that a lot of people, probably a majority, just kind of don’t like her? There’s something real devil’s bargainy in the cruel twists that seem to meet Hillary’s ambitions.
(should admit I am 100% in the tank for Hillary. Even her soldiering on in the face of all this I admire. Will the rest of the media admit as much?)
- This event must be as close as possible to a pure nightmare for Donald. New York’s elites laughing and booing at him. In front of him and behind his back. Read anything by or about Trump: his greatest fear/source of rage is being mocked by Manhattan.
This headline would’ve appeared to Trump if he summoned the vision serpent. We are caught in a snobs vs slob death spiral. A sharp commentator points out there was a real Nelson Muntz aspect to Donald at this dinner:
Is Nelson in his way a sympathetic character? Trump’s father was a nasty piece of work, has there ever been a bully who wasn’t bullied?
- Hillary had some great jokes but she is not great at comic delivery. Then again, who’s the best over-70 year old joke deliverer? (Gotta thank Medina for asking that one). My first picks: Mel Brooks or Bill Cosby.
- Katie Dunn’s parents would only let Al Smith marry their daughter when he promised he would never become a professional actor (per Caro’s The Power Broker, p. 117). In those days you went into politics because everybody liked you.
- There’s a lot terrible about the Catholic Church, but in my experience growing up around the Catholic church I saw a lot more attention to and help for the sick, the old, the poor, the dying, the disabled, the mentally ill and the homeless than I’ve seen outside of it.
In Al Smith’s day the Catholic Church provided a social welfare system for the poor and the unfortunate and the immigrant. Other churches did the same thing. Think how many hospitals are named after saints. As far as I understand it the Mormon church still does. The Catholic Church in America is in a managed decline.
What will fill the social welfare vacuum? Who will take care of the poor, the sick, the immigrant, they dying? Who should?
Sometimes it seems like the domestic political argument in America is between two answers: “the government” and “nobody/family/somebody’ll handle it/I don’t know but not the government.”
Bill Clinton and George Bush both succeeded at least in pretending to find happy compromises, “the third way,” “compassionate conservatism,” etc. For awhile I felt like Paul Ryan was doing a decent job of at least pretending, too. But man when Trump came along he went the sniveling way. Is he more dangerous and more vile than Trump?
- “They’re laughing at us” might be Donald’s campaign theme. From The Washington Post:
It’s a horrible feeling to be laughed at and it takes dignity to rise above it. Watching him at the Al Smith dinner, in a way I almost felt bad for him. If I could give Donald Trump advice I would tell him to relax and return to being a clown version of a rich guy. It was a good job and he was well-compensated. But he doesn’t listen.
In a way DT feels like a dangerous, bitter, vile version of this guy:
- Al Smith’s father was an immigrant. Not from Ireland though, from Italy. (Ferraro = blacksmith = smith). His mother’s parents were immigrants from Ireland. A frustrating thing about this election is we couldn’t have a serious talk about immigration. How much should we have? From where? Infinite? If not infinite how do we sort out who can come?
Wait! You can’t be shut down for summer! I need my Helytimes!
writes reader Melanie in Nashville. Aw, thanks! Don’t worry, there’s tons to read… in the archive!
There have been over 560 posts on Helytimes. Here are the ten most popular:
Off the charts most popular post, because of people googling supposed inspiration/John Belushi partyfriend Cathy Smith
Those’ll keep coming over the summer!
Disney + Nazis will bring ’em in.
A personal passion
Feel like this is my wheelhouse, summarizing dense history of the general reader, but it’s a lot of work to write posts like this.
6) Ships’ Cats
I mean, for Convoy alone.
The “it man” of Norwegian literature!
Just a real great story.
This blew my mind, some of the best writing I’ve ever read on WWII.
About Pete Carroll, Nick Saban, and Bill Belichick
Now, here are just some personal favorites:
Here’s stuff related to a current project:
Here is some backstory on Donald Trump, lately in the news:
You can also browse yourself by category. Probably the deepest holes are
See you later!