California Heritage Council
Currrent CHC Newsletter

SEPTEMBER, 2009, NEWSLETTER

We are evaluating the ship for a 2010 Award, nominated by member Richard Torney. After the tour, our meeting begins at 3:45 PM downstairs in “#2-hold” near the Museum & store. There is no free parking, however, some restaurants and bars at Pier 39 validate parking for 2 hours at the Pier 39 Garage. Prospective members and guests welcome. Please bring contributions for the reception that will follow the meeting.


I am sad to report that past president and loyal Board member, Bob McMahon, passed away on September 19th from liver cancer. Ironically, the first meeting I attended, as a new CHC member in 1974, was on the S.S. Jeremiah O’Brien and Bob McMahon was our President. After a delightful tour of the ship, Bob held our meeting al fresco on the deck. I was immediately struck by his wonderful sense of humor. Bob was an extremely popular President and also planned several memorable trips for us to the Napa/St. Helena area - even after his presidency. As time went on, due to living in St. Helena, Bob and his wife, Alyce, mainly attended special events (such as our recent Grass Valley trip), and never missed an Awards’ or Holiday dinner. We honored Bob at this year’s 50th Anniversary Awards’ dinner as one of our past presidents in attendance that evening. I feel very fortunate that I knew Bob McMahon and so looked forward to seeing and talking to him at our events. I know that all of you that knew Bob feel the same way. He was “one of a kind” and a very special man. If you wish to send condolences to Alyce McMahon, her address is 645 Greenfield Road, St. Helena, CA 94574. At this early date, I am not aware of a memorial service. Dianne Rowe


President’s Message - Bill Applegate:

Greetings CHC members and friends,

Its September already and Fall begins on the 22nd. I hope you enjoyed your Summer. As you read this, keep in mind the CHC’ s support for a national heritage history museum on the Presidio that pays tribute to the Presidio and the Golden Gate Bridge as landmark heritage monuments.

“Liberty” seems to be the heritage word of the month with a number of significant observances that recognize our precious freedoms. 9/11 or Patriot Day observed in honor of all those who lost their lives as a result of the terrorist attacks against the United States on September 11, 2001

· 9/14 75th Anniversary of the San Francisco Veterans Administration Medical Center , a facility which leads in outstanding care for generations of defenders of our liberty

· 9/17 U.S. Constitution Day , also known as Citizenship Day

In honor and remembrance of the signing of the U.S. Constitution (September 17, 1787) and in recognition of the Americans who strive to uphold the duties and responsibilities of citizenship. September 17 - September 23 is Constitution Week.

· 9/27 The last Sunday in September is Gold Star Mother’s Day, as a public expression of the love, sorrow, and reverence for Gold Star Mothers, mothers who have lost a son or daughter in the service of our country and liberty.

Liberty” structures, physical or conceptual, are built to serve a purpose…to support and sponsor liberty for all generations. Our Constitution does. The Liberty Ships did. The French recognized this when they gave us the Statue of Liberty.

Alexis de Tocqueville a Frenchman and great advocate of democracy warned of a liberalism that leads to a soft tyranny…which grows subtly and eventually becomes so oppressive and overarching that it leads to totalitarianism, in the end a hard tyranny really.

A kind of soft tyranny was evident in the recent stubborn campaign (failed in the first attempt) to impose an inappropriate modern monstrosity on the hallowed grounds of the Presidio, in violation of our heritage, and against the people’s will. Let’s keep vigilant for other such unsuitable projects, and let’s keep up CHC support for a national heritage history museum on the Presidio.

The United States Constitution, as the oldest written charter of government in the world today, is much like any precious heritage monument we seek to preserve. As long as we recognize and respect the original intent and plan of its architects, while reinforcing its foundation and protecting its purpose, the Constitution will succeed and democracy will be sustained. ….and so will our unalienable Rights to Life,Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

So in this spirit of “Liberty” I look forward to seeing you at the CHC meeting September 24 at 3 pm on the National Liberty Ship Memorial the USS Jeremiah O’Brien, the last active survivor of the D-Day invasion of Europe in 1944.

Chair of the Board Remarks - John Hodges:

I love flags. I collect them and fly them from our own flagpole in Grass Valley. My interest is such that I have been asked by the Nevada County DAR organization to talk to them in October about the "heritage" of our own unique set of US flags. And since CHC will be boarding the Jeremiah O'Brien for our next meeting, let me tell you a story of our country and our heritage and how this all ties together in a very, very current way.

In 2002 the Secretary of the Navy instructed all ships at anchor to fly the "First Union Jack" until instructed to the contrary. Now the Union Jack is a flag of red and white alternating stripes with a rattlesnake image on it with the words "Don't Tread On Me" The Navy will fly that flag as instructed until the war on terror is won.

Those of you who have attended any political rallies or tea parties lately will recall a yellow flag with a coiled snake on it with the same words as the Jack. That yellow flag is called the Gadsden flag and it isn't just a symbol of the American government. It's a symbol of shared American values -- especially our highest common value: freedom, according to www.foundingfathers.com.

I love the stars and stripes but the meaning of Old Glory can get mixed up with the rights and wrongs of the perpetually new-and-improved government. The meaning of "Don't Tread on Me" is unmistakable.

There's also an interesting history behind this flag. And it's intertwined with one of American history's most interesting personalities, Ben Franklin.

"Benjamin Franklin is famous for his sense of humor. In 1751, he wrote a satirical commentary in his Pennsylvania Gazette suggesting that as a way to thank the Brits for their policy of sending convicted felons to America, American colonists should send rattlesnakes to England.

Three years later, in 1754, he used a snake to illustrate another point. This time not so humorous.

Franklin sketched, carved, and published the first known political cartoon in an American newspaper. It was the image of a snake cut into eight sections. The sections represented the individual colonies and the curves of the snake suggested the coastline. New England was combined into one section as the head of the snake. South Carolina was at the tail. Beneath the snake were the ominous words "Join, or Die."

This had nothing to do with independence from Britain. It was a plea for unity in defending the colonies during the French and Indian War. It played off a common superstition of the time: a snake that had been cut into pieces could come back to life if you joined the sections together before sunset.

The snake illustration was reprinted throughout the colonies. Dozens of newspapers from Massachusetts to South Carolina ran Franklin's sketch or some variation of it. For example, the Boston Gazette recreated the snake with the words "Unite and Conquer" coming from its mouth.

I suppose the newspaper editors were hungry for graphic material, this being America's first political cartoon. Whatever the reason, Franklin's snake wiggled its way into American culture as an early symbol of a shared national identity. The snake symbol came in handy ten years later, when Americans were again uniting against a common enemy.

In 1765 the common enemy was the Stamp Act. The British decided that they needed more control over the colonies, and more importantly, they needed more money from the colonies. The Crown was loaded with debt from the French and Indian War.

Why shouldn't the Americans -- "children planted by our care, nourished by our indulgence," as Charles Townshend of the House of Commons put it -- pay off England's debt?

Colonel Isaac Barre, who had fought in the French and Indian War, responded that the colonies hadn't been planted by the care of the British government, they'd been established by people fleeing it. And the British government hadn't nourished the colonies, they'd flourished despite what the British government did and didn't do. In this speech, Barre referred to the colonists as "sons of liberty."

In the following months and years, as we know, the Sons of Liberty became increasingly resentful of English interference. And as the tides of American public opinion moved closer and closer to rebellion, Franklin's disjointed snake continued to be used as symbol of American unity, and American independence. For example, in 1774 Paul Revere added it to the masthead of The Massachusetts Spy and showed the snake fighting a British dragon.

By 1775, the snake symbol wasn't just being printed in newspapers. It was appearing all over the colonies ... on uniform buttons ... on paper money ... and of course, on banners and flags.

The snake symbol morphed quite a bit during its rapid, widespread adoption. It wasn't cut up into pieces anymore. And it was usually shown as an American timber rattlesnake, not a generic serpent.

We don't know for certain where, when, or by whom the familiar coiled rattlesnake was first used with the warning "Don't Tread on Me." We do know when it first entered the history books.

In the fall of 1775, the British were occupying Boston and the young Continental Army was holed up in Cambridge, woefully short on arms and ammunition. At the Battle of Bunker Hill, Washington's troops had been so low on gunpowder that they were ordered "not to fire until you see the whites of their eyes."

In October, a merchant ship called The Black Prince returned to Philadelphia from a voyage to England. On board were private letters to the Second Continental Congress that informed them that the British government was sending two ships to America loaded with arms and gunpowder for the British troops.

Congress decided that General Washington needed those arms more than General Howe. A plan was hatched to capture the British cargo ships. They authorized the creation of a Continental Navy, starting with four ships. The frigate that carried the information from England, the Black Prince, was one of the four. It was purchased, converted to a man-of-war, and renamed the Alfred.

To accompany the Navy on their first mission, Congress also authorized the mustering of five companies of Marines. The Alfred and its sailors and marines went on to achieve some of the most notable victories of the American Revolution. But that's not the story we're interested in here.

What's particularly interesting for us is that some of the Marines that enlisted that month in Philadelphia were carrying drums painted yellow, emblazoned with a fierce rattlesnake, coiled and ready to strike, with thirteen rattles, and sporting the motto "Don't Tread on Me."

In December 1775, "An American Guesser" anonymously wrote to the Pennsylvania Journal:

"I observed on one of the drums belonging to the marines now raising, there was painted a Rattle-Snake, with this modest motto under it, 'Don't tread on me.' As I know it is the custom to have some device on the arms of every country, I supposed this may have been intended for the arms of America."

This anonymous writer, having "nothing to do with public affairs" and "in order to divert an idle hour," speculated on why a snake might be chosen as a symbol for America.

First, it occurred to him that "the Rattle-Snake is found in no other quarter of the world besides America." The rattlesnake also has sharp eyes, and "may therefore be esteemed an emblem of vigilance." Furthermore,

"She never begins an attack, nor, when once engaged, ever surrenders: She is therefore an emblem of magnanimity and true courage. ... she never wounds 'till she has generously given notice, even to her enemy, and cautioned him against the danger of treading on her."

Finally, "I confess I was wholly at a loss what to make of the rattles, 'till I went back and counted them and found them just thirteen, exactly the number of the Colonies united in America; and I recollected too that this was the only part of the Snake which increased in numbers. ...

"'Tis curious and amazing to observe how distinct and independent of each other the rattles of this animal are, and yet how firmly they are united together, so as never to be separated but by breaking them to pieces. One of those rattles singly, is incapable of producing sound, but the ringing of thirteen together, is sufficient to alarm the boldest man living."

Well, the anonymous writer was Ben Franklin and the first officer of the US Navy was Christopher Gadsden and he subsequently presented to Congress the yellow standard we now call the Gadsden flag. But George Washington, history tells us, preferred a background of red and white stripes and that brings us full circle to the First Union Jack now flying on the Jeremiah O'Brien.

PS: for those of you who just thought the Gadsden flag was a flag of rebellion and totally disassociated with pride in our government, shame on you. That view shows how far from the true history of freedom we have drifted as this flag simply cries out for unity, today, as it did in 1776.


Minutes of the July 30, 2009 Board of Directors & Members Meeting held at the San Francisco home of Board Member, Marsha Calegari. Directors Present: William Applegate, Marsha Calegari, John Hodges, Herb Konkoff, Chris Layton, Mai Kai Lee, Bill Palmer, Betty Ann Prien, Reed Robbins, Claire Skall, Yusuf Uraiqat, Sue Walima, Gary Widman. The meeting commenced at 4:00 PM; President Applegate presiding.

50th Anniversary Awards Dinner Report - Dianne Rowe: Attendance: CHC members and their guests: 52; Presidio Historical Association: 16; Award recipients and their guests: 57 for a total of 125 attending. There was approximately $350.00 in revenue (including the silent auction) after expenses.

Presidio Concours d’Elegance Report - Bill Applegate: There were approximately 150 cars entered, including two classic cars entered by John Ritchie, in honor of Redmond Kernan. A Redmond Kernan trouphy was awarded to the best car in the show. The Concours was sponsored by the Presidio Historical Association and they plan to make it an annual event. Perhaps next year CHC can become more involved in this event.

Presidio Update - Gary Widman: Fisher has withdrawn his proposal for a museum on the Main Post and many alternative sites are being investigated. The Presidio Trust is still proposing to tear down the Bowling Alley as well as go ahead with a hotel and new restaurant. A new appointment to the Presidio Trust was announced: John Reynolds is a former National Park Director and lives in D.C. A motion was made by Gary, asking CHC to co-sign a letter to be prepared by the Presidio Historical Association, addressed to the Presidio Trust, asking them, among other things, to take a break from its high-pressure multiple and simultaneous administrative processes. After the studies and plans provide the missing facts that are necessary, they should retract or repropose and plan for a future that will warrant and will draw the support of the public and insure the best possible long-range future for this important historical site. This motion was seconded by John Hodges and unanimously approved.

Doyle Drive Replacement Project - Herb Konkoff: Herb introduced his guest, Joe Kaufman, a Civil Engineer. Mr. Kaufman outlined the original retrofitting concept after the 1989 earthquake. The cost was estimated at 420 million dollars. The estimated cost today, after several alternatives were proposed, is 1 billion+ dollars. The current width is 68' and they are proposing a width of 148', including 24' of shoulder which Mr. Kaufman feels is excessive. The short tunnel is also 148' wide and Mr. Kaufman feels the second tunnel is unnecessary. If they rebuilt the western viaduct vs. putting in a tunnel, they would save 150 million. Mr. Kaufman suggests that CHC write a letter proposing the width be 75-80', retrofit the western viaduct and eliminate the tunnels. A variance would be necessary regarding the standard width for shoulders. It could cut 400 million dollars out of the project and get it completed more quickly and with less traffic delays and less damage to this hallowed ground. A motion was made by John Hodges to allow Mr. Kaufman to draft a letter to be sent to the Board of Supervisors, Senator Feinstein and Boxer, Nancy Pelosi, Gov. Schwarzenegger, and many others. This motion was seconded by Chris Layton and unanimously approved.

Old Business - Extension of California Street Cable Car. In Winchell Hayward’s absence, guest John Stenson spoke about the history of the cable car and his supervisory work on the cable cars. Mr. Stenson is now retired from the City & County of San Francisco. He stated that, in the 1940's, Mrs. Hans Klusman organized a “Save the Cable Car” movement. The City made a new cable car every 2 years which helped pass the skills on to new workers. Now cable cars are rarely made. Mr. Stenson felt that, in order to gain any interest in extending the California Street line, the tourist angle needed to be emphasized. As it is now, the California Street Cable Car is of little interest to tourists because it goes nowhere. If it was extended to take passengers very close to Japantown, the merchants may get behind it. If it went as far as Presidio Avenue, tourists could easily connect with a bus that takes them into the Presidio. The Trust is in favor of extending the F-line along Marina Blvd. and into the Presidio. Marina residents will never approve this proposal. Perhaps the Trust would lend its support for the extension of the California Street Cable Car. Winchell Hayward has drafted a letter and it is being reviewed by Chris Layton and President Applegate.

The meeting adjourned at 6:30 PM. A reception followed.


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