Funny Money

Today I had to park in a parking garage, and when I paid the parking fee I got two dollar coins for change.  When I looked at the coins, I did a double-take and wondered if I had been scammed, because these dollar coins did not look like bona fide American currency.

Seriously, has anybody else seen these?  My coin featured a perplexed-looking Andrew Johnson — arguably the worst President in American history — on one side and the Statue of Liberty on the other.  It is a garish copper color, it feels like it is made of reclaimed metal, and the art on the coin is pretty cheesy.  Is this real American currency?  It looks like one of those cheap metal tokens you’d get if you got change for a dollar at a video arcade.

I’m assuming it is an actual American coin, in which case I fear for the future of the Republic.  Shouldn’t our currency be a bit more carefully considered and aspirational?   Why in the world would we put one of our worst Presidents on any form of legal tender?  For that matter, why do we have to put Presidents on everything?  Can’t we get back to the point where our coins are more symbolic, like the classic walking Liberty half dollar, or more focused on American history and culture, like the Buffalo nickel?  And if we can’t manage that, can’t we at least create a coin that looks like it is worth its face value?

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Dayton Dissed

Dayton has not had an easy time of it lately, and today the folks in the Gem City got some bad news:  NASA denied the bid of Dayton’s National Museum of the U.S. Air Force to be one of the locations where the three active space shuttles, and one experimental model, will be housed after they are retired. Rather than Dayton (and other disappointed cities) the shuttles will be housed at Florida’s Kennedy Space Center, the National Aeronautics and Space Museum in Washington D.C., the California Science Center in Los Angeles, and the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum in New York City.

You can’t really argue with the selection of the Kennedy Space Center or the National Air and Space Museum — one has housed and launched the shuttles for decades, and the other is probably the premier American museum of its kind.  It probably also makes sense to have one of the shuttles on the west coast, and California is a logical location because Edwards Air Force Base was the landing site for some shuttle flights.  But New York City?  Does The Big Apple really need another tourist attraction?  And what is the connection between Gotham and the space program, really?  Proponents of other disappointed sites like Houston, where the Johnson Space Center and mission control are found, think politics played a role.

Dayton would have been a very good choice.  It would be nice to have a shuttle somewhere in flyover country, and the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force is an excellent facility that had terrific, well-funded plans for their proposed shuttle display.  Ohio, too, would have been a good site.  The two most famous American astronauts — John Glenn and Neil Armstrong — both hail from the Buckeye State, and Ohio also is home to the Glenn Research Center in Cleveland.

And it would have been nice to see Dayton get a break.

Fort Sumter, April 12, 1861

It was a time of terrible fear and tension.  Even before 1860 had ended, South Carolina had announced that it had seceded from the Union. Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas followed in quick succession, and the first Congress of the Confederate States met in February 1861.  By March 4, 1861, when new President Abraham Lincoln was finally inaugurated and took office, he faced a full-fledged rebellion — and a newly self-declared sovereign nation.

Fort Sumter, located in the harbor of Charleston, South Carolina — the epicenter of the rebellion — became one of Lincoln’s first challenges.  The day after his inauguration, Lincoln received a message from Major Robert Anderson, the commander of the fort’s garrison of less than 100 men, announcing that Fort Sumter was equipped with only six weeks’ supply of food.  Anderson’s message presented the new President with an impossible choice.  At the time, many southern states — including important border states like Virginia, North Carolina, and Tennessee — had not yet formally decided whether to secede.  If Lincoln withdrew the garrison, wouldn’t that constitute a recognition that the Confederate States were no longer part of the Union and encourage the rebels?  And if Lincoln tried to aid the garrison, wouldn’t the confrontation that was likely to result inflame the passions of the citizens of the uncommitted states and throw them over to the Confederate cause?

After weeks of deliberation, on April 8, 1861, Lincoln notified the governor of South Carolina that he would resupply the fort.  Events then quickly spiraled out of control.  The Confederate government decided to force the evacuation of Fort Sumter rather than permit it to be provisioned.  On April 11, the Confederate commander delivered the evacuation ultimatum to Major Anderson, and in the early morning hours of April 12, 1861, the Confederates announced that the bombardment of the fort would begin in one hour.

At 4:30 a.m. on April 12, 1861, the Confederate batteries opened fire.  Some citizens of Charleston cheered, others wept and prayed.  A few hours later, the Union forces returned fire.  The battle continued for more than 30 hours, until buildings inside the fort were aflame and it became clear that restocking the fort would not be permitted.  On April 13, Anderson surrendered the fort, and the Battle of Fort Sumter was over.  No soldier on either side was killed during the bombardment — although, ironically, one soldier was killed and another mortally wounded during the attempt to complete a 100-gun salute to mark the fort’s surrender.  The rest of the garrison then marched out of the fort, undisturbed, and returned to the North where they were welcomed as heroes.

One hundred and fifty years ago today, the American Civil War began.