Saturday, November 27, 2021

The Rittenhouse Decision and Its Implications

The Kyle Rittenhouse trial had me reeling and consequently I dashed off a Letter to the Editor of my local Palm Beach Post newspaper, one that had to be limited to 200 words.  I sent it to Bruce Rettman, my longest tenured friend from our college years.  I’ve written about our friendship in this space before.  The first such time I included another terrific essay he wrote.

When I sent my piece to him, he responded with something he wrote, not necessarily for publication, but he just wanted to “let it out,” his own reaction to the Rittenhouse decision.  While space made me focus on one aspect, our society’s increasing permissiveness for carrying military style weapons, his is broader, making him ask why he should even stay in this country, the title of his piece, appropriately, I Would Leave.

I thought it was excellent and he agreed to allow me to publish it here.  And as my letter to the Post was restricted in length, I take this opportunity to add back what I had to cut out to make the paper’s length restrictions: 

The absence of sensible gun control laws led directly to the jury’s decision.  They could reach no other verdict in a society which not only allows for the possession of military style weapons but increasingly promotes “Stand Your Ground” laws, either explicit or implied.  Our society and its leaders have actively advanced the 2nd amendment to an absurd degree.  In this respect our judicial system has been rendered as ineffective as another branch of government, Congress.  Gerrymandering and the effort of Republican states to appoint electors to the Electoral College who might be amenable to not certifying future election results also have frightening implications for The Republic’s future. 

As students sixty years ago Bruce and I recited John Masefield’s On Growing Old, never imagining it would happen to us.  Now we come together in that unimaginable future, and find ourselves in a nation we no longer recognize, one slouching towards autocracy.

I Would Leave 

by Bruce Rettman

If I were younger, I would leave the United States of America and make my life in another country.  The trial in Kenosha gives us yet another example of our broken, barbaric society giving legitimacy and permission to a person, in this case an adolescent, to carry a military assault weapon on the street and to use it to commit murder.  Our judicial system has constructed laws that put such action in the category of reasonable behavior so that a jury must return a verdict of not guilty.  A murderer is free to kill again.

I would leave.  What kind of society elects Donald Trump as its president and on his behalf attacks the capitol threatening the lives of legislators and bringing death and destruction to the building that stands as a symbol of our democracy?  What kind of country elects representatives who become leaders of one of its major political parties and defend such action?  We are a society in violent decline plagued by the prejudices that have haunted our history.  We have shown ourselves unequal to resolving our national crimes.

I would leave, but where would I go?  I would go to a society that does not allow its citizens to bear arms and does not have an armed police force.  I would go to a society that offers universal health care.  I would go to a society that advocates the end of the use of fossil fuel and not only takes climate change seriously but does what it can to save the planet from the ravages of our wanton destruction.  I doubt we will act to save ourselves, and I have little faith the USA will do what decent people should do.  We would rather fund what has brought us to prominence.  The USA will continue to fund a military that fights to protect wealth.

What decent person does not advocate for free education? Who would support a system that creates elite colleges and preparatory schools attended for the most part by people of substantial means?  I would look for a society that housed and fed the poor and the elderly and did not complain that such action constitutes entitlements that burden the rest of us.  I would look for a society that offered child care so that the very young and their parents could live healthy lives.  I would look for a society that guaranteed food and shelter for all of its citizens. 

The USA is over.  I know without a reasonable doubt that the United States is not, as most all of its elected leaders feel required to repeat, the greatest country in the world. Rather, it is a country of savage cruelty, at home and abroad, that is responsible for the suffering of people around the globe.  We are a military state and have been at war incessantly, war without end.  I would look for a society at peace with itself and the world. 

I would leave the USA.

My November 25 letter in the Palm Beach Post:



Tuesday, November 16, 2021

The Season of Ebbing


I am at the age of trying to make up for lost time, time that was primarily devoted to the duties required of a man of the 20th century, the hunting and gathering, attracting a mate, raising a family, and of course forging a meaningful career.  But how things change; it appears one does not have to work much anymore, just day trade memes and SPACs and buy Bitcoins.  Also, now that traveling is more a thing of the past, we of that certain age are left with managing our health and pursuing deferred dreams which, for me, involve mostly writing and piano.

I’ve had little formal training in either.  To write, one must, well, write.  I’ve done most of that in this blog space, but creative writing, particularly the genre I’m drawn to, the short story, is different.  The best training is reading creative fiction, both the short story and the novel and I’ll include drama as, in essence, plays are short stories in dialogue. The profundity of the old aphorism, “so many books, and so little time” is taking on a breathless truth.

Consequently, I try to read at least one short story daily, all with other reading.  Recently, somewhat inexplicably, that occasionally has meant returning to novels I read ages ago, ones I might have looked at differently as a younger man.  I have also dipped into some young adult literature.

Yes, “YA” as they say in the library world.  My parents were not readers and I had no real reading guiding light.  In fact, it wasn’t considered “cool” by the crowd I ran around with in my early school years.  So, my reading was confined to school assignments and occasionally science fiction.  I enjoyed Jules Verne in those days, as well as some of the then contemporary Sci-Fi writers, Asimov, Bradbury.  So I never got to read a young adult book.  In my defense, YA was not yet a formal category of writing, but there were numerous books that would have been appropriate, had I only known. 

Making up for lost time is my mantra.  Recently I read the obituary (read them regularly now, wonder why) of Gary Paulsen, just a couple of years older than I, and we shared similar childhood difficulties, his reaction very different than mine: “Paulsen’s teenage years were tumultuous and when things were particularly rough at home, he escaped by running away to the woods where he hunted and trapped animals to survive.”  I “survived” by getting out of the house as much as I could and running around with the wrong crowd.  I like Paulsen’s approach, but what did I know of surviving in the woods as a NYC boy?

Paulsen captured his wide range of self reliance experiences in some 200 published works, his most famous being Hatchet, the story of a 13 year old who is being flown in a small plane to the northern regions of west Canada to join his father for the summer. So, being the new YA reader that I am, I got the book!  

The protagonist’s parents are divorced (mine, unfortunately, were not) and his mother gives him a hatchet as she knows he might find it useful in the woods. Neither she nor he knew that his life would depend on it.  Remarkably our young hero, Brian, lasted for two months in the woods with only his hatchet after the pilot of the small plane had a fatal stroke.  Brian actually controlled the plane well enough to belly dive into a lake and make it out, with his hatchet.

Reading the book I felt I was starting to make up for my own lost childhood.  Needless to say, it is an easy, fast read, but nice pacing, suspense and an opportunity for the reader to project himself into the story.  Paulsen uses certain word repetition for effect.  I found myself thinking of ways to survive while reading about Brian’s ordeal, projecting my 13 year old self into the story.  I remember that person, not a confident boy, and neither was Brian until he was forced to grow up in a hurry and forage for food and shelter, with only his hatchet as a tool It conjured up the unforgettable Tom Hanks movie, Cast Away in my mind (I wonder whether the writer of the film owes some attribution to Paulsen).

I recognized the author’s foreshadowing of the possible resolution to his predicament, the plane being so far off course, in the middle of nowhere.  Paulsen plants that solution early on but never mentions it again until the end.  And the end of course, is uplifting, Brian becoming a local news item for a while, but, becoming a man in just a couple of months, with a new outlook on life.  This is exactly the kind of fiction I should have been reading as a 13 years old, the kind which cries out, ‘read more!”

At the same time I was rereading one of my favorite author’s earlier novels, Straight Man by Richard Russo.

It takes a “straight man” to get the laugh from the insanity surrounding him.  Is the world gone crazy and is “Hank" Devereaux Jr. the only sane person in the book, in spite of his behavior for which he is persecuted?  When I originally read it I laughed uncontrollably, but now, in a later stage of life, I see this work as philosophical as it is funny.  Ocumen’s Razor, which Hank claims to be guided by in figuring things out, keeps getting twisted by human interactions.

I originally read it when I was about the age of the protagonist.  Then, I identified with him.  Rereading, it is still funny but more meaningful than I remember, a great balance between poignancy and hilarity.  Plus there is some stunning writing.  The following could have been written by Updike: "Basketball is a beautiful game for a tall, graceful man like me.  At times I'm overwhelmed by its beauty that I lose touch with reality.  When my shot is falling, when I'm moving across the lane and back out to the perimeter for my jumper, I forget my age and position in life."  (That would be in his 50's, a tenured professor at a mediocre Penn. college.).

Without getting into the details of plot (and there are many characters and subplots), this tale of small-town American university life, brings us through Hank’s midlife crisis as the temporary chairman of his University’s English Department, or as his friend Tony Coniglia puts it, “…youth is the Season of Deeds. The question youth asks is: Who am I?  In the Season of Grace we ask: What have I become?”

It is a hilarious labyrinthine path that leads us on Hank’s journey through the remnants of his “Season of Deeds” to his “Season of Grace,” a concept he still rebels at:  “…I conclude that if William Henry Devereaux Jr. is less than ecstatically happy…it must be because he has not fully accepted his good friend’s invitation to join him and Nolan Ryan and Dr. J., and Nadia Comaneci, and all the others who have lost their best stuff, in entering the Season of Grace.”  And yet, he is relatively at peace at the end, especially after a surprisingly effective kumbaya conclusion, all the characters coming together, a celebration of life, the humor and the sadness all connected by our friends and families.  And that’s what it’s all about, isn’t?  We’ve got Company!”

Thursday, November 4, 2021

Our Short-Term National Memory

To illustrate the topic of this entry, only about a month ago the worry was the end of the financial world as Congress was playing political brinkmanship with the National Debt ceiling.  After circling the wagon train, preparing for the worst, hark, the sound of the cavalry bugles at the last minute, Congress agreeing to raise debt levels, extending the issue “all the way” to December 3.  Meanwhile, the financial markets resumed its steady march to the heavens, particularly as the Federal Reserve is between a rock and a hard place, not wanting to raise rates. Clearly, the Treasury cannot afford to pay more interest on the steadily mounting debt.  Short term memory: everyone has conveniently forgotten December 3.  Soon it will be headline material again, a hot potato political issue.

Meanwhile, the Trumpublicans are pleased about the recent elections, demonstrating that their lord and master showman’s prestidigitatorial gas lighting can still opiate the American mind.  Simple formula, tar all Democratic candidates as “socialists” or associate them with the big bad wolf (Critical Race Theory, something most Trumpublicans cannot explain), and equate any reasonable COVID policy with a “loss of freedom.” Nice little sound bites for somnambulistic sheep.  However, no doubt their obedience has been nurtured by the intransigence of the progressive wing of the Democratic Party.

The most serious reminder of our short-term national memory, however, is the upcoming (only two more months) one year anniversary of the most serious domestic attack on our native soil since the Civil War, the January 6th insurrection.

We all watched it.  Our elected representatives experienced it.  We have the evidence how it was masterminded, what the end game plan was, and several Senators and Congress people who decried it during the immediate following days, now have all conveniently whitewashed it and have allowed the architects of that horrible day, unfettered by consequences, to do it again, perhaps now more “legally” given voting law changes in Republican states, redistricting, appointments of State Election Commissioners who will do what they are told as well as conservative judges at the local levels of Government.

Imagine if this attack was orchestrated by the Duchey of Grand Fenwick – we’d be bombing the hell out of them.

Why our Justice Department cannot swiftly act on this matter defies understanding.  Are our political system and the American psyche so poisoned?  Even our 4th Estate seems to have left the scene of the crime.  The montage of headlines the day after this egregious breach of democracy was filled with outrage.  Where is it now? 


Friday, October 8, 2021

Hagelstein Brothers; 122 years of Photography in New York City

This entry consolidates (and amplifies) the information collected in this space on the history of Hagelstein Brothers, Photographers, a firm that flourished for 122 years after being established a year after the Civil War.  They were pioneers in so many areas that the Eastman Kodak Photography Museum eagerly accepted some of their work I was able to collect over the years.  As the last generation in line to inherit the business (which I declined) I felt an obligation to document their contributions to commercial photography in New York.  Through this blog, researchers, former employees, even former customers offered further information on the firm. 

My hope was to publish one definitive history on Wikipedia.  I have previously submitted pieces for the “people’s encyclopedia” before but that was when it was relatively new, and although I know how important it has become as a central repository of knowledge, it has also acquired the trappings of a government onto itself, with its own rules and volunteers to patrol its pages.  This is understandable as otherwise people could publish fabrications and self serving articles.  Their technical requirements are now more demanding as well (beyond my patience to learn).

Wikipedia cautions that articles about “family…or anything else you're closely affiliated with” are not acceptable.  It says the topic must be "notable... [and] it must itself have been addressed in outside reliable sources….[T]his means the topic must have been written about in newspapers or magazines or books. Not blogs….Not self-published websites.”  Well that pretty much eliminates all the research and good faith publishing I’ve done and as someone who is “family” in this submission, my work might immediately be suspect to Wikipedia’s volunteer editors.  The possible result as they put it is to summarily delete it. 

Bypassing Wikipedia also enables me to personalize it to some degree, injecting the perspective of my own experience.  When I do so, it is with objectivity, mostly my remembrances having worked there summers as a teenager.  I thank the people who noted my early articles and sent information to supplement them, including Hagelstein Brothers prints they had from the 19th century and forwarded digitally.  Also, one photographer, Jim Cummins who began his career at Hagelstein Brothers, contacted me with his recollections.  As he is from a long line of professional photographers who worked at Hagelstein Brothers, I incorporate his comments here:

Hagelstein Brothers was a commercial photography studio at 100 5th Avenue in Manhattan. They started as a portrait studio on the lower East side in 1866, just after the Civil War. Through the years they transformed into a commercial photography studio photographing everything from jewelry to large setups and events. They could photograph everything. At the helm of this studio were the brothers Bob and Phil Hagelstein. They were not just good Photographers but were innovators who had cut the template on how commercial photography was done in New York and elsewhere. They closed in 1988 after 122 years in the business. What made Hagelstein Brothers unique was not just the fact that both brothers were good Photographers but Phillip was good at marketing. They were the first in using color film when their competitors were still using black and white.

I was fortunate to have worked there from 1959 through 1960. Although I was an art student, I always had an interest in photography and this was the perfect place to learn the craft. From setting up sets to lighting to matting and stripping of negatives. (There was no Photoshop back then). I learned how to light an entire room with one light and how to use an 11X14 view camera. This is an education that I could not have gotten going to a school. This was on the job training. The knowledge I got working at Hagelstein Brothers has stuck with me to this day. I've been a Photographer for 54 years.

Some of the many things I learned from Bob and Phil were quality and the ability to be able to photograph any and everything. 

So, I publish this originally “Wikipedia-intended” article here and will reference this link in my prior entries on the topic.  Thus, anyone searching for information on the company will ultimately be led here.


Hagelstein Brothers, Photographers 


 The cofounders of Hagelstein Brothers, Carl (Carl Philipp Wilhelm) and Philip (Anton Philipp Wilhelm), immigrated to the United States in the mid-19th century.  Gertrude Wilhelmine Kirschbaum Hagelstein who, as the widow of Wilhelm Hagelstein (born Dec. 10, 1794 and died sometime in 1842), embarked to America on March 20, 1856 from Prussia, Port of Cologne, at the age of 48, giving up her Prussian citizenship and those of her children.  Gertrude was the daughter of Philipp Kirschbaum, a factory overseer in Bergenhausen, Germany.  Perhaps, as a widow, with seven children, she saw better opportunities for them all in America.  She brought with her six of her children among whom were Carl Philipp Wilhelm (26 years old) and William (Adolf Theodor Wilhelm, 16 years old).  Philip (Anton Philipp Wilhelm, born March 12, 1833) arrived sometime before his mother and siblings.

What happened between the family’s arrival at Ellis Island to the end of the Civil War is relatively unknown; although it appears they settled in Brooklyn.  William was drafted into the Union Army and he survived the war, returning to Brooklyn and went into the metal fabrication business.  Carl went to California to make his fortune but came back after the war. 

Philip Hagelstein (Great-Grandfather)

At the end of the Civil War brothers Carl and Philip were ready to start or buy a business.  On June 7, 1866 they paid $1,450 for the “lease, goodwill, stock, and fixtures for entire and contents of the Photographic Gallery and business carried on in the upper part of the premises of 142 and 142 ½ Bowery in the City of New York, “or about $25,000 in today’s dollars.  Perhaps Carl did make his fortune but Philip (my great-grandfather) was the driving force behind the business.  Presumably he knew or studied the business of photography.  Jeremy Rowe who has been “researching photographic studios and operations in New York City from the birth of photography to ca 1880” published a valuable article on the importance of New York City photographers to the development of photography in the Daguerreotype Journal (follow the prompts to Page 16)

In his Bowery studio Philip originally specialized in fine Daguerreotypes and portraits made on wet plates, working with the limited materials available at that time. Examples of his Daguerreotypes dating from 1860 to 1870 were included in the Eastman Kodak exhibit during the 1939 New York World's Fair.  About 1880 he began to pioneer in commercial work for manufacturers and gradually developed this specialty.  In 1900 portrait work began to be discontinued and attention was focused on two special fields, one dealing with the manufacturer's merchandising needs, and the other consisting of reproductions of paintings for artists and publishers.

Philip’s son Harry Philip (born 1/26/1885 and died 1/3/1953 – my grandfather) entered the business around 1905; and around 1915 he moved the business from the Bowery to 100 Fifth Avenue where it flourished (completing its transition to a commercial photographic firm from portrait and arts photography) through the depression and two major wars.  HB made a major coop by being named the official photographer of the famous 1913 Armory Show which brought Modern Art to America.

Perhaps if photographic technology stayed the same the firm would have pursued arts photography as its major business.  When arts photography was flourishing the firm made direct negatives from 11 x14 to 24x30, and reproductions in black-and-white, sepia, and hand colored prints on platinum paper which were sold to publishers and art dealers.  They made exquisite reproductions of noted paintings which were done on platinum papers.  This part of the business was discontinued due to the entry of mechanical printing processes, such as photogravure and color printing.

Harry P. Hagelstein (Grandfather)

Harry P. had a sister Kate who was given part of the stock in the business when their father, Philip, died in 1919.  Kate eventually gave her stock to two of her sons, William and Harry McClelland, and when Harry P. died in 1953 he left his stock to his sons, my father Harry R. (who went by the name of Robert, born April 17, 1916 and died on March 19, 1984) and my Uncle Philip (born 06/27/1911 and died 05/14/1999).  Other equal shares of Harry P.’s stock were left to his daughters, my aunts Marion, Lillian, and Ruth.   

Eventually the sisters’ shares were sold to my father, Robert who began to run the business after my grandfather’s death.  His photographic skills were acquired first on the job and from being a signal corps photographer in WW II.  He was active in the closing years of the war in Germany and was part of the occupying force, returning home in January 1946.  Although it was said that Jack M. Warner, the son of the legendary movie mogul, invited him to join him in Hollywood after they collaborated on some WW II training films, Robert decided to return to the family business.  

Robert (Father) and Philip (Uncle)

By the 1950s Hagelstein Brothers had become one of the leading commercial photographers in New York City.  His cousin, William McClelland, was the lead photographer outside the studio, travelling to customers’ showrooms or to the Furniture Exchange building, while his other cousin, Harry, ran the photo printing departments.  My father was the leading studio photographer.  His brother, my Uncle Philip, a graduate of Columbia University (who perhaps gave up a more lucrative career in finance to be loyal to the family business), focused on marketing and bookkeeping.

Robert Hagelstein (Father) in 100 5th Studio

A decade of business success followed in the 1950s as the studio was able to print huge quantities of glossy photos which were used as salesmens' samples for their customers, the majority of which were furniture and lamp manufacturers.  By the 1960s the firm was making its transition to color photography and color prints. 

Business strategy, succession planning, and personality clashes gradually led to the firm’s demise.  Robert had been grooming me, his son, Robert Philip, for succession by employing me as a student from the age of 13 during the summers, (first working as a delivery boy, then in the black and white printing department, and then as a studio photographer’s assistant, and finally in the color processing lab), with plans to send me into the Signal Corps upon my graduation from high school.   Instead I chose to go to college and eventually became a publisher. 

Robert Philip Hagelstein

Sometime after I decided not to participate in the business, my father bought out his cousins’ share in the business and he and his brother Philip continued on their own, still employing the old business model of producing prints (now mostly color) for salesmen.  Gradually the business declined and finely they lost their lease (or couldn’t afford it) on their penthouse studio at 100 fifth Avenue, a gothic architecturally designed building built in 1906 which was being repurposed for high end businesses with “new, modern lobbies that create an edgy, innovative look designed to appeal to a new generation of corporate entrepreneurs.”   

This ultimately forced them to move to 46-02-37th Avenue in Long Island City, only to oversee the company’s total demise a few years later.  142 Bowery, the birthplace of the photography studio, was sold with four other attached buildings, for $47 million dollars in 2015. These were among the few remaining Federal period buildings in the area.

All in all, it’s a remarkable history of a studio which was established a year after the end of the Civil War and the three generations of Hagelstein men who ran the business until it finally folded on June 9, 1988, 122 years and 2 days after it was established.  The records of Hagelstein Brothers and, more importantly, hundreds and hundreds of Daguerreotypes and glass plate negatives were destroyed in the early 1990's when my Uncle Philip's home (where they were stored) had to be sold and he went into a nursing home suffering from dementia.  Regrettably no interest at the time was expressed either by libraries or museums and there was no place to store them.  Today, they would have all been digitized.

Some of the original Daguerreotypes from the firm as well as two trade catalogues of Hagelstein Brothers are now housed in the George Eastman museum, so some of their early work can be seen there.