Category Archives: Iconic Images

ITPL Ep 033 featured image

Episode 033 The Ten Commandments in US History: The Making of an American Icon

This week at In The Past Lane, the podcast about history and why it matters, we look at the fascinating history of the Ten Commandments in the U.S. You might think that a history of the Ten Commandments would be situated in Israel, but it turns out that it’s a very American story. In fact, over the last 150 years Americans have found many imaginative ways to embrace, reimagine, and repurpose the Ten Commandments. To learn more about this story, I’ll talk with historian Jenna Weissman Joselit about her book, Set In Stone: America’s Embrace of the Ten Commandments.
Subscribe to ITPL - ERIAmong the many things we’ll discuss:
* The great Ten Commandments Hoax of 1860.
* How Americans came to embrace the Ten Commandments as an icon of religious devotion.
* How the Ten Commandments have served as an emblem of order and stability in times of wrenching social change in US history.
* Why Jewish Americans after World War II promoted the idea of an American Judeo-Christian tradition with the Ten Commandments as its iconic expression.
* How some late-19th century Americans supported a proposal to make knowledge of the Ten Commandments a requirement of US citizenship and a proposal to create a national holiday to honor the Ten Commandments.
* How the famous 1956 Cecil B. DeMille film, “The Ten Commandments,” helped promote the idea of erecting Ten Commandments monuments in the US.
* How Americans have come to use the Ten Commandments as a template for everything from the Ten Commandments of Safe Driving to the Ten Commandments of Healthy Relationships.
* Why monuments of the Ten Commandments have become the focus of so many First Amendment controversies.

ITPL Ep 033 Joselit book coverAbout Jenna Joselit Weissmanwebsite

Further Reading

Jenna Weissman Joselit, Set In Stone: America’s Embrace of the Ten Commandments (Oxford, 2017).

Katherine Orrison, Written in Stone: Making Cecil B. DeMille’s Epic, The Ten Commandments (1999).

Dr. Laura Schlessinger and Stewart Vogel, The Ten Commandments: The Significance of God’s Laws in Everyday Life (1998).

Music for This Episode

Jay Graham, ITPL Intro (

Kevin McCleod, “Impact Moderato” (Free Music Archive)

Lee Rosevere, “Going Home” (Free Music Archive)

David Szesztay, “Joyful Meeting” (Free Music Archive)

The Bell, “I Am History” (Free Music Archive)

Production Credits

Executive Producer: Lulu Spencer

Technical Advisors: Holly Hunt and Jesse Anderson

Podcasting Consultant: Darrell Darnell of Pro Podcast Solutions

Photographer: John Buckingham

Graphic Designer: Maggie Cellucci

Website by: ERI Design

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Social Media management: The Pony Express

Risk Assessment: Little Big Horn Associates

Growth strategies: 54 40 or Fight

© Snoring Beagle International, 2017


Episode 013 Why We Pledge Allegiance, Betsy Ross, & More

This week, in honor of the 100th anniversary of Flag Day, we take a look at several intriguing flag-related stories. Here’s the lineup:

  1. Why Do We Pledge Allegiance? Here’s the little-known stosubscribe-buttonry behind this revered American ritual and the fears that inspired it. Did you know the Pledge was written by a socialist? Or that it’s wording has been changed twice? Or that the original salute was dropped during World War II because it too closely resembled the fascist salute of Nazi Germany?
  2. Next, I interview Kimberly Staub, the Manager of Collections and Exhibitions at the Betsy Ross House in Philadelphia. She’ll tell us how Betsy Ross was “discovered” as the woman who made the first American flag in the 1890s – more than a century after the flag was created. And she’ll explain to us how the museum has changed it’s focus over the past decade to tell a larger story of colonial women in the late-18th century.
  3. Finally, I drop some fun and interesting flag-related facts on you. Do the flag’s colors red, white, and blue officially symbolize anything like courage or sacrifice? Listen and learn, people.
The original flag salute as described by Francis Bellamy. Because it bore an unwanted resemblance to salutes used in fascist Italy and Germany, it was replaced with the hand over the heart.

The original flag salute as described by Francis Bellamy. Because it bore an unwanted resemblance to salutes used in fascist Italy and Germany, it was replaced with the hand over the heart.

Episode 013 notes and credits

Recommended Reading

Charles Weisgerber's 1893 painting of Betsy Ross presenting the American flag to George Washington and Robert Morris. This painting played a major role in popularizing the Betsy Ross story/myth.

Charles Weisgerber’s 1893 painting of Betsy Ross presenting the American flag to George Washington and Robert Morris. This painting played a major role in popularizing the Betsy Ross story/myth.

Jeff Gammage, “Flag Day loses importance but lives on in Philadelphia,” Philadelphia Enquirer, June 14, 2008.

Jeffrey Owen Jones, “Meet the Man Who Wrote the Pledge of Allegiance,” Smithsonian Magazine (November 2003)

Marc Leepson, “Five myths about the American flag,” Washington Post, June 12, 2011

Kelli Marshall, “The Strange History Behind The Pledge Of Allegiance,” Talking Points Memo (September 15, 2015)

Marla Miller's biography of Betsy Ross inspired the Betsy Ross House to rethink the way it presented the BR story.

Marla Miller’s biography of Betsy Ross inspired the Betsy Ross House to rethink the way it presented the BR story.

Marla R. Miller, Betsy Ross and the Making of America
Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, “How Betsy Ross Became Famous: Oral Tradition, Nationalism, and the Invention of History,” Common-Place (October 2007).

Music for This Episode:

Jay Graham, ITPL Intro (courtesy,

Kevin McCleod, “Impact Moderato” (Free Music Archive)

Jason Shaw, “Acoustic Meditation” (Free Music Archive)

The Bell, “I Am History” (Free Music Archive)

The Bell, “On The Street” (Free Music Archive)



Lady Liberty Had Something Else in Mind – The Statue of Liberty Originally Had NOTHING to Do with Immigration                                                                 by Edward T. O’Donnell

ITPL - Check Out ITPL Podcast image (for blog)The story of the Statue of Liberty provides an excellent opportunity to examine how the icons and traditions a society holds dear often originated with very different purposes and meanings. Put another way, it allows us to ponder yet another example of one of my rules of history—namely, that nothing “has always been.” It was not until decades after 1776 that Americans began to consider the Declaration of Independence a sacred document. Thanksgiving only became a major national holiday after the Civil War. Freedom of speech, despite its enshrinement in the Bill of Rights, only acquired its broad definition in the early 20th century. And the Statue of Liberty, long a symbol of America’s revered tradition of welcoming the world’s “huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” originally had nothing to do with immigration. That association developed in the mid-20th century, some fifty years after its grand coming out party in 1886.

To raise funds for the pedestal on which the Statue of Liberty would stand, the arm and torch were sent to America in 1876 for display at the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition.

So what did the Statue of Liberty stand for in 1886?  The answer is found in its origins as a gift of the French people to celebrate republican government as established in the American and French Revolutions. The brief version of the story is as follows. A French legal scholar, political leader, reformer, and abolitionist Edouard Rene de Laboulaye proposed in 1865 (some accounts say 1870) the idea of the French people funding the creation of a monument to American independence to mark the centennial of the American Revolution in 1876. Laboulaye hoped the monument would strengthen ties between France and the U.S. and inspire his fellow French reformers to restore republican liberties being suppressed under the rule of Napoleon III. Laboulaye eventually secured the services of sculptor Frederic Bartholdi who, after years of delays, eventually commenced work on the Statue in 1875.  The Statue’s arm and torch arrived one year later to be displayed at the Philadelphia world’s fair. As the rest of the Statue arrived in crates by 1883, Americans raised the money for the pedestal on Bedloe’s Island in New York Harbor. By the fall of 1886, as the Statue neared completion, officials planned a massive celebration to accompany the unveiling.

Lady Liberty holds a tablet with the inscription, July 4, 1776, to commemorate the birth of the American republic.

That the Statue had everything to do with celebrating republican ideals and nothing to do with immigration is further demonstrated by the full name assigned it—“Liberty Enlightening the World”—and its symbolism. Lady Liberty carries in her right hand the torch of liberty and in her left a tablet inscribed with July 4, 1776. Moreover, she faces the Atlantic Ocean and Europe. Her message is clear: Hey, Europe and the rest of the world—you want some of this American peace, prosperity, and progress? Well, then rid yourself of monarchs, aristocracies, established churches, and fixed classes and embrace republican government.

A million people turned out to see “Liberty Enlightening the World” unveiled.

That was the central message at the gigantic civic celebration that attended the Statue’s unveiling on October 28, 1886. More than a million people gathered in New York City for the festivities (which, incidentally, included the first ticker-tape parade), including President Grover Cleveland, members of Congress, representatives of the French government, and other foreign dignitaries.  The theme of this grand civic celebration and the many speeches and editorials that marked it was a celebration of the American republic and the belief that it stood as an inspiring example to the rest of the world.  “We will not forget that Liberty has here made her home,” declared President Cleveland in his speech. Its radiant light, symbolized in the Statue’s torch, would radiate outward to penetrate the “darkness of ignorance and man’s oppression until Liberty enlightens the world!” The only reference to immigrants was a negative one from railroad magnate Chauncey Depew, who declared republican self-government and not “Anarchists and bombs” as the best remedy for the social unrest then rocking the nation (1886 was the year of a record number of strikes and the Haymarket bombing), unrest many associated with radical immigrants spreading dangerous ideologies like socialism and anarchism.

If the Statue of Liberty originated without any consideration of immigration, then what about the poem, “The New Colossus” that is so closely associated with it?

With silent lips. “Give me your
tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses
yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your
teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless,
tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the
golden door!”

Emma Lazarus, a Jewish-American poet, wrote “The New Colossus” in 1883. But it would be 50 years before it garnered attention for its message connecting the Statue of Liberty to the theme of welcoming immigrants.

Written in 1883 by Emma Lazarus, it clearly celebrated the Statue as a beacon of hope to immigrants seeking freedom. But the historical record shows that this idea began and ended with Lazarus. No one paid any attention to the poem. Three years later, no one mentioned it at the unveiling ceremony. None of Lazarus’ obituaries or eulogies mentioned in when she died in 1887.  Even when a wealthy New Yorker in 1903 paid for a bronze tablet bearing the poem to be attached to the base of the Statue (more as a tribute to Lazarus than a celebration of immigration), it drew almost no attention. As late as the 1930s the information provided by the National Park Service (which managed the Statue) told visitors to the Statue that it was a symbol of Franco-American unity and republican liberty.

Of course, that was the official interpretation.  The millions of immigrants who entered New York harbor after the Statue of Liberty was unveiled in 1886 interpreted it as a beacon of hope and symbol of freedom from Old World oppression. Native-born Americans in this period harbored no such warm and fuzzy feelings. The period 1870-1920 witnessed a surge in anti-immigrant sentiment that eventually resulted in immigration restriction in 1924.

“Dumping European Garbage” (Judge magazine, 1890) was typical of the nativist cartoons ca. 1880-1920 that used the image of Lady Liberty to condemn immigration.

Most Americans in this period looked upon the “huddled masses” as a threat to American society, not the building blocks of a vibrant and prosperous multi-ethnic democracy. Indeed, the most common use of the Statue of Liberty image was to condemn immigration.

So, when did the more familiar interpretation of the Statue take hold?  Tellingly, it wasn’t until after Congress sharply restricted immigration in 1924 that Americans began to assign a new meaning to the Statue—that of a goddess of liberty welcoming the “huddled masses yearning to breathe free” (yes, it’s in the 1930s when Lazarus’ poem becomes popular). While this might seem strange, history tells us that it’s actually quite common. Societies often begin honoring something only after it’s gone. Americans despised Native Americans until they were defeated and confined to reservations in the 1880s. Then Americans embraced a romanticized image of Native Americans that remains powerful to this very day.

These days, this image dominates the official US government website providing information to new immigrants about citizenship.

In the case of the Statue of Liberty, writes historian John Higham, “So long as millions of immigrants entered ‘the golden door,’ the Statue of Liberty was unresponsive to them; it served other purposes. After the immigrant ships no longer passed under the New Colossus in significant numbers, it enshrined the immigrant experience as a transcendental national memory. Because few Americans were now immigrants, all could think of them as having been immigrants.” By the 1950s a Museum of Immigration opened at the Statue and record-breaking crowds arrived to tour it.  And so it was that the Statue of Liberty, notes Higham, “gradually joined the covered wagon as a symbol of the migrations that had made America.”

Like I always say: nothing “has always been.”


Follow me on Twitter    @InThePastLane

Sources and Further Reading:

James B. Bell and Richard I. Abrams, In Search of Liberty: The Story of the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island (Doubleday, 1984).

Edward Berenson, The Statue of Liberty: A Transatlantic Story (Yale, 2012).

John Higham, “The Transformation of the Statue of Liberty,” in John Higham, Send These to Me: Immigrants in Urban America (Johns Hopkins, 1984).

Yasmin Sabina Khan, Enlightening the World: The Creation of the Statue of Liberty (Cornell, 2010).

The New York Times, October 28, 1886.

The University of Notre Dame's leprechaun mascot.

Why Notre Dame Originally Opposed the Name “Fighting Irish”

InThePastLane              January 1, 2013             by Edward T. O’Donnell

Notre Dame’s football stadium with “Touchdown Jesus” in the background.

As sports fans across the nation await the big NCAA college football national championship on January 7, 2013, it’s worth exploring the origins of the teams’ names.  The University of Alabama’s team name—The Crimson Tide—originated by chance in the wake of an epic 1907 game against arch rival Auburn. But Notre Dame? How on earth did a college with a French name in the rural Midwest, far from the big cities with large Irish populations, come to be known as “The Fighting Irish”?  The answer reveals a great deal about the struggle for ethnic and religious acceptance in United States history, for Notre Dame originally opposed the name due to its potentially negative connotations and only embraced it in 1927, long after it had emerged a national powerhouse in football.

Notre Dame’s humble origins in 1842 are captured in its original Log Chapel. The University maintains a replica on its campus.

First, a little background. Given Notre Dame’s early history, few would have predicted the eventual nickname Fighting Irish.  Notre Dame, as its name suggests, was founded in 1842 by a group of French-speaking priests of the Congregation of the Holy Cross.  Situated in South Bend, Indiana, it drew Catholic students of all ethnicities from throughout the Midwest.  As Catholic colleges went, Notre Dame soon became one of the best, establishing the first Catholic law school in 1869 and first Catholic school of engineering in 1873.

It is important to note that in this late-19th century period Catholic colleges like Notre Dame, Fordham, Boston College, Georgetown, and College of the Holy Cross represented Catholic—in particular Irish Catholic—upward mobility and yearning for acceptance. Mass immigration since the 1830s had only recently created a sizable Catholic population in the United States, a development most native-born American Protestants viewed with alarm and anger. Anti-Catholicism and anti-Irish sentiment soared and remained a prominent feature of public life until the early 20th century [click here for many examples].

Political cartoonist Thomas Nast routinely depicted the Irish as savage brutes in the pages of the nation’s most popular journal, Harper’s Weekly. This image, published April 6, 1867, portrays St. Patrick’s Day as a bloody melee.

Take, for example, the assessment of a young Theodore Roosevelt in the 1880s that, “The average Catholic Irishman of the first generation, as represented in the [New York State] Assembly [is a] low, venal, corrupt, and unintelligent brute.” Or Harper’s Weekly a few years earlier: “Irishmen…have so behaved themselves that nearly seventy-five per cent of our criminals and paupers are Irish; that fully seventy-five per cent of the crimes of violence committed among us are the work of Irishmen; that the system of universal suffrage in large cities has fallen into discredit through the incapacity of the Irish for self-government.” In short, most Americans viewed Irish Catholics as people prone to violence, crime, corruption, drunkenness, and ignorance. They also viewed them as members of a church that was both wrong theologically and scheming to overthrow the American republic. One of the primary goals behind the founding of so many Catholic colleges in this period, therefore, was to improve the reputation of Catholics in the U.S. by minting generations of respectable, educated, and successful Catholic men.

A scorecard from the Harvard-Yale football game of 1890. Rivalry games such as this drew enormous crowds at the turn of the century.

Notre Dame went about this work in relative obscurity until the emergence of college football in the 1880s and 1890s as America’s second most popular sport (after professional baseball).  In an era before radio and television (not to mention fire codes), it was not uncommon for 30,000 fans to turn out for games between Harvard and Yale, or Army and Navy.  They were the powerhouse teams that Notre Dame eyed as it began its rise.  In the eyes of ethnic Catholics, these schools stood as bastions not only of football prowess, but also of elite Protestant privilege.  As such they became irresistible opponents for Notre Dame.

Knute Rockne first earned fame as a player for Notre Dame, He later took over as coach and led the team to four national championships.

Notre Dame’s football program started in 1887 and gained national recognition by the early 20th century.  A stunning victory over Michigan in 1909 paved the way for contests against other top-level teams.  Notre Dame’s breakthrough moment came in 1913 when, led by captain Knute Rockne, it upset Army 35-13.  The game is considered one of the most important in college football history because it was the first time a team made extensive (17 attempts) and successful (14 completions and two TD’s) use of the little-used forward pass.  Rockne took over as coach in 1918 and guided the team to a succession of winning seasons, including national championships in 1919, 1924, 1929, and 1930.

In 1924 famed sportswriter Grantland Rice dubbed the four members of Notre Dame’s extraordinarily successful backfield The Four Horsemen.

By the mid-1920s, Notre Dame was by far the best-known Catholic university in the nation.  As a consequence, it was the first college football team with a truly national following as Catholics from Baltimore to Boise to Berkeley adopted the team as their own even if they never attended Notre Dame.  These fans, known as “subway alumni,” might root for Georgetown or Holy Cross as their local favorites, but they avidly read the details of Notre Dame’s exploits in the Sunday sports sections.  Irish Catholics especially identified with the David and Goliath quality of Notre Dame’s rise.  As a group, Irish Catholics had begun by the 1910s and 1920s to earn a measure of success and acceptance in a nation long hostile to Catholics.  As they did so, they took enormous pride in the ability of Notre Dame to knock off teams like Princeton and Army.  Keenly aware of this phenomenon, Rockne and his successors made it a policy (which stood until 1975) never to play the other top Catholic college teams.

The team’s success and national reputation increased the pressure on the school to adopt an official nickname.  In the early days of intercollegiate sports, college teams had no nicknames; they simply played as Harvard, Northwestern, or USC.  But by the 1920s teams began to take on nicknames, often courtesy of sportswriters who were always eager to apply a catchy appellation. Most colleges were slow to choose an official name, but as time passed it became clear that they risked having sportswriters or students giving a less-than-suitable name to a college.

The Georgetown “Hoyas” in 1927

Georgetown, for example, gained its name “Hoyas” when its students took to chanting “hoya saxa!” at games—a mixed Greek (hoya) and Latin (saxa) phrase that translates as “what rocks!” The phrase might have referred broadly to the stalwart quality of Georgetown’s defensive line, but—students being students—likely referred more crudely to the players’, shall we say (ahem), testicular fortitude.

The legendary George Gipp carries the ball in 1919 for the as yet unnamed Notre Dame football team.

During its rise to national prominence, Notre Dame had been called many names, including simply the “Catholics,” but also the “Horrible Hibernians” and a host of other undignified appellations.  The first known reference to the team as the “Fighting Irish” occurred in the Detroit Free Press in 1909, but the name failed to stick.  Other nicknames like “Gold and Blue” came and went, as did the “Warriors” and “Ramblers.”   But in 1919, perhaps inspired by a visit to Notre Dame by Eamon de Valerra, one of the key revolutionaries working to achieve Ireland’s independence, the name “Fighting Irish” returned as a favorite nickname among the school’s students.  Rockne soon began using the name when talking to the press.

The turning point in the story came in 1925 when Notre Dame graduate Francis Wallace, then a sportswriter for the New York Post, began referring to the team as the “Fighting Irish” in his coverage of college football (his first choice was “Blue Comets” but that had not stuck).  In 1927 Wallace moved to the New York Daily News, one of the largest circulation papers in the nation and before long the name Fighting Irish was known coast to coast.

Rev. Matthew Walsh, CSC, Notre Dame’s 11th President who in 1927 set aside his reservations and gave official sanction to the name, “Fighting Irish” for the university’s sports teams.

But it still lacked official sanction from school officials.  Understandably, Notre Dame President Fr. Matthew Walsh, C.S.C and other school officials were leery of the name.  It conjured up the longstanding stereotype that the Irish were prone to fighting and violence—the very stereotype Catholic colleges were committed to eradicating.

Yet there was something attractive about the name in a society that worshiped competitiveness and a fighting spirit. Perhaps, if properly presented, the name might make the American public think of the great contributions made by the Irish Brigade in recent wars, rather than the many riots of the nineteenth century in which Irish immigrants played a prominent role.

Notre Dame’s President Walsh was inclined toward this more optimistic interpretation and so when a reporter from the New York World wrote him a letter in the fall of 1927 seeking his opinion on the popular name, Walsh responded:

The University authorities are in no way averse to the name ‘Fighting Irish’ as applied to our athletic teams… It seems to embody the kind of spirit that we like to see carried into effect by the various organizations that represent us on the athletic field.  I sincerely hope that we may always be worthy of the ideals embodied in the term ‘Fighting Irish.’

The valor displayed by Irish regiments, most famously The Irish Brigade, in the Civil War, Spanish-American War, and World War I helped improve the reputation of the Irish in America.

That settled it.  The fact that many of the football team’s players were not Irish (some weren’t even Catholic), generated a few raised eyebrows. But Knute Rockne defended the name: “They’re all Irish to me.  They have the Irish spirit and that’s all that counts.”

The rest is history. The University of Notre Dame went on to win national championships (in addition to earlier ones in 1919 and 1924) in 1929, 1930, 1943, 1946, 1947, 1949, 1964, 1966, 1973, 1977, 1988 for a total of 13 (some say 15, but you’ll have to look up the seasons of 1938 and 1953 to get the details).

The University of Notre Dame’s leprechaun mascot.

In recent years, with teams under pressure from various interest groups to drop names like Redmen and Warriors, one occasionally reads of a movement among some Irish Americans urging Notre Dame to adopt a new name (or at least to get rid of the pugilistic Leprechaun logo and mascot).  But even with a team comprised of only a handful of Irish Americans, don’t expect any change soon.  The faithful wouldn’t hear of it.

You can follow me on Twitter    @InThePastLane

Sources and Further Reading:

Jay P. Dolan, The Irish Americans: A History (Bloomsbury Press, 2010)

John Heisler and Tim Prister, Always Fighting Irish: Players, Coaches, and Fans Share Their Passion for Notre Dame Football (Triumph Books, 2012)

Kevin Kenny, The American Irish: A History (Oxford, 2000)

Jim Lefebvre, Loyal Sons: The Story of the Four Horsemen and Notre Dame Football’s 1924 Champions (Great Day Press, 2008)

Charles Morris, American Catholic: The Saints and Sinners Who Built America’s Most Powerful Church (Vintage, 1998)

Ray Robinson, Rockne of Notre Dame: The Making of a Football Legend (Oxford, 2002)

Murray A. Sperber, Shake Down the Thunder: The Creation of Notre Dame Football (Holt, 1993)

Iconic Image – Ford to City: Drop Dead (Oct 30, 1975)

The New York Daily News ran this cover headline on October 30, 1975 when NYC was on the verge of bankruptcy and appealing to Washington for federal assistance.

In an unfortunate coincidence, given the beating NY took from Hurricane Sandy and the need for federal disaster assistance, today is the anniversary (October 30, 1975) of the infamous NY Daily News headline, FORD TO CITY: Drop Dead. It appeared when New York (and several other major metropolises) were mired in a fiscal crisis and on the verge of bankruptcy. President Ford vowed he would veto any fiscal relief package passed by Congress, saying New York needed to set its financial house in order on its own. And yet, in a move seemingly unimaginable in today’s political climate, Ford, who never actually said “drop dead,” eventually relented and federal loans were made available to the city.